This started off as an entry in my Links of the Week for May 28, but I got caught up in what I was talking about. After about 600 words I decided to pump it up to its own post.
Jim over at Carjacked Seraphim got fired up by my Polyhedral Pantheons series and started exploring how a similar mechanism could be used to create a Polyhedral NPC Matrix. The basis is fairly simple — he uses an icosahedron from Scattergories (d20 with letters instead of numbers). Each face gets assigned a name beginning with that letter, and the NPC is associated with the NPCs found across the edges of the face. Simple and easily applied, and if you need to randomly select an NPC you just roll the die and look up the name — and you have some built-in links to other characters that might be relevant.
In Polyhedral NPC Matrix (Part 2) expands on the previous post to add information on the relationships — ‘bitter enemy’ through ‘trusted friend’ and the subject of the relationship (how they are related — business, warfare, shared history, and so on). If drawn on an dodecahedron (NPCs are on the nodes rather than the faces; the Polyhedral Pantheon worksheet might be useful here) the edges might represent actual ‘personal’ relationships, while the faces might represent secondary relationship — in this case, the subjects of the relationships.
In the diagram to the right, NPC A is related to NPCs B, E, and F. These might be rivals, allies, whatever. Nodes A is also related to NPCs B, C, D, and E through some shared endeavor or interest (this was the gang growing up, let’s say). NPC A is also related to NPCs D, F, O, and N because they went to the wars together, and to NPCs B, F, G, and H because they went into business together (or are competing for business) after the wars. There is a fair amount of coherence between the groups (A grew up with B, C, D, and E but they separated when A and E went to the wars and met F, N, and O; after the wars A and F came back to town and met up with B to go into business with G and H). A is closely linked to B, E, and F, less closely to C, D, G, H, N, and O but still knows of them, and there are relationships even further out.
It is wickedly suggestive that Jim’s subject-of-relationship table is rolled on 2d6. Find one more subject for the relationships and you can map it pretty much directly to this model. In fact, I would be inclined to randomize letter assignment as well, just to break things up a bit. Right now there are at least two groups that would stand out (‘A, B, C, D, E’, and ‘P, Q, R, S, T’), and ‘F, G, H’, ‘H, I, J’, ‘J, K, L’, and ‘L, M, N’ aren’t that much better. I’ll look into making a new worksheet with the letter and number markers fainter so they can be easily overdrawn.
There have been some other suggested refinements. For one, the Scattergories die has fixed letters. Most players probably wouldn’t notice that ‘A-guy’ is always related somehow to ‘T-guy’, but some might. I suspect that before that the players might notice that each NPC is related to three other NPCs (which isn’t entirely bad; the Rule of Three works for a reason… but as I said in that post, ‘The Rule of Two to Five’ is not as cool a name but is a little more accurate).
All in all I’m not certain I would want to run with this and expect it to stay static, but it looks like it could work remarkably well in establishing starting conditions.
Jim took these ideas and went to a very interesting place with them in Polyhedral NPC Matrix (Part 3). He took a bunch of letter tiles (not from Scrabble, but close enough) and tossed them onto a big piece of paper. Some were face up and got circled in red, the ones that were face down were circled in blue. (The letters are written inside each circle, of course.) He’s not sure what precisely to do with these difference, but he now has a dispersed group of ‘letters’ representing NPCs. One possibility that was mentioned was applying this on a map, either drawn on the paper or relating locations on the paper to a map elsewhere (mine are mostly printed on 8.5″x11″, a tad unwieldy for tiles of any real size). This has the potential to be really useful.
It comes to me that if instead he were to do this several times he could have multiple factions or groups in the same area. Scatter tiles — face up is one faction, face down is their primary opposition. Draw edges between them as it seems appropriate (Voronoi diagrams would be killer here — draw the cells then the edges between NPCs cross the edges of the cells… it would likely be disjoint, but that is not necessarily be a bad thing). Repeat for another group (possibly unrelated, or ‘neutral’ to the first pair… or not, if they are in close proximity).
Nice work, Jim. I’m looking forward to seeing where you go with this, and I might do a bit more with it myself.
Thanks for the links! I’m enjoying this exercise, but I’m not quite sure where its going. :) I posted Part 4 today. I overlaid my tile map with Tarantis and some interesting things happened. http://carjackedseraphim.blogspot.com/2012/05/polyhedral-npc-matrix-part-4.html
Very cool, I like how that worked out for you.
If you know where you’re going you can confirm that it’s good, but not knowing where you’re going is how you find new stuff. The first is useful, the second is more interesting and exciting.
One thing I like about random and semi-random techniques like this is that you tend to come up with things you would not have otherwise. People tend to think in terms of what makes sense and would be appropriate, and that tends to be derived from and lead back to cliche. Techniques like this can lead to interesting juxtapositions that are actually interesting — if your players expect things to make sense and something doesn’t, on the face of it, they are somewhat more likely to investigate to find out what’s up.
I recall reading an article somewhere that people find it easier to remember a bunch of names if they all start with different letters (I guess we use hash tables internally?). This method helps you achieve that state of affairs, which is nice.
If I get around to it I might create a script to roll up some NPCs using this approach.