This week I thought I would describe a tool that I came up with to help me create quick and easy NPCs, called The Ubercharacter Wimp, or TUW.
Three into TUW
The concept is really simple: in a document of some kind, I list the highest and lowest PC scores for each of the stats, as well as the group’s average. I follow that with an alphabetical listing of all the skills known in the game, and again list the low, high, and average totals for each. I make no allowance for magic or feats or anything else – I’m only interested in the total scores.
The document could be on a computer, or it could be hand-written. The first is always more legible and more quickly updated, but since I don’t have a laptop I can use at the gaming table, it’s not as much use to me.
Colour-Code for quick referance
I will typically use different text colours and/or fonts for each of these scores so that they are immediately distinct. Each text colour identifies a different character as the source of the score.
Using TUW for ad-hoc NPCs
When the PCs encounter a generic NPC, all I have to decide is where this character’s abilities will fall, numerically, with respect to the scores PCs. I do this for each skill as necessary, and jot the results down on a sheet of paper dedicated to that NPC.
- If the NPC character is to be poor in comparison to the PCs, I give the NPC the low score for that ability or skill from the TUW. If the ability in question is a defining one for the character, then I may add or subtract 5 from the total to reflect that.
- If the NPC character is to be at the same standard overall as the PCs, I give the NPC the average score for that ability or skill, again with plus-or-minus 5 if the ability or skill is defining for the character.
- If the NPC character is to be at the same standard as the best the team can manage, I use the high score. For defining skills or abilities, I’ll add 5.
- If the character is to be superior to the PCs, I’ll add a further +5 or +10 to the score determined as being “of the same standard”.
- If the NPC character is to be exceptional I will take the highest value shown in any skill category and use that, with the modifiers described above, possibly plus another 5 or 10 for good measure.
You can see how the TUW makes it possible to set a score relative to the overall standard of the PCs on-the-fly, with barely any thought at all.
An Example TUW (abbreviated)
Using a couple of characters I had lying around, here’s an example. Let’s start by looking at the four source characters:
|Ogre Male||Human Female||Elven Male||Orcish Male||-|
|Fighter 5th level+2 LA||Paladin 7th level||Rogue 8th level||Cleric 6th||Level 6 7 8|
|STR 16||17||12||20||STR 12 16 20|
|INT 8||15||17||12||INT 8 13 17|
|WIS 11||17||14||18||WIS11 15 18|
|DEX 10||15||19||12||DEX10 14 19|
|CON 18||18||12||16||CON12 16 18/18|
|CHA 8||16||15||6||CHA6 11 16|
|Appraise 1||4||20||1*||Appraise1* 7 20|
|Balance 3||5||11||2||Balance2 5 11|
|Bluff -1*||5||12||-3*||Bluff-3* 3 12|
|Climb 9||5||17||7||Climb5 10 17|
|…and so on…|
Note that I normally wouldn’t write everything out the way it is shown above – I would do a color-key at the top of the sheet and then write only what is shown in the TUW column. Oh, and for the record, the asterisk next to a skill means that it is being used unskilled.
It’s also worth noting that it doesn’t matter if there are 3 party members or 33 – the middle value is an average not a median or middle value. Calculating this is usually the slowest part of the process, to be honest!
An example of use
Okay, so let’s take the partial TUW above and see how it works.
The PCs meet a merchant on the road. He claims to have been attacked by bandits and his cart stolen. He has been left pennyless except for some gems that he kept hidden on his person; he was going to attempt to sell them in the nearby town, but doesn’t think that they have enough cash in the town to be able to pay him a fair price. He needs hard currency to purchase a new wagon and stock; can these fine adventurers, so obviously prosperous, help a poor merchant who has lost it all begin to rebuild his life?
This NPC is obviously laying it on fairly thick. You would have to be a lot less suspicious than my players are to take this hard luck story at face value. But I give the character a Bluff skill appropriate to the professional fence that he really is, by looking at the Bluff scores on the TUW. I select the highest Bluff (12) and add 5 to get a skill of 17. So it’s my roll of 17+d20 against the PCs Sense Motive checks.
One quick set of rolls later, there is nothing obviously wrong with the tale that the characters can put their fingers on. When the NPC produces the gems in question and offers to sell them – a matched set of rubies – for 500gp each, the rogue makes an appraise check to determine their true worth. He finds that they are worth about 1000gp each, so the price is appropriate to someone who is desperate to sell.
When the rogue attempts to bargain the “merchant” down, I confuse the issue by suggesting to the Paladin’s player that it might be wrong to take advantage of an honest merchant who was down on his luck and offering a fair price. The player decides to play along with this suggestion for his own merriment, and takes the merchant’s side in the bargaining, eventually settling on a price of 600gp each for the gems.
Notice that I’ve been able to make up this entire encounter off the cuff, and have spent all my time roleplaying and steering the encounter, and virtually none thinking about the NPCs stats, description, etc. – in other words, having fun.
Because this was an improv encounter, I have no idea at this point where it will lead. The most obvious possibility is that the Gems are stolen; a close second is that they are fakes. A third option might be for them to be cursed, and the only way to get rid of them is to persuade someone else to take them willingly. Or perhaps they are partially-enchanted magical foci – something the PCs wouldn’t recognise as they have no Mage in the party.
Or maybe the “merchant” was a real merchant after all, and every word of his story is true!
I have plenty of time to make up my mind as the adventure continues. If the Cleric is a little underutilised on the day, I might go with the “cursed” option just to give his character something to do. Or, I might go with that choice if the Rogue starts getting a bit too cocky.
The Secret Of TUW
TUW works because it has a really obvious secret: It combines all the best ability & skill scores that the party can bring to bear into a Ubercharacter who is their equal in all things; it combines all the worst ability and skill scores into a Wimp who is equal to their worst in all things; and it offers a middle ground for run-of-the-mill encounters.
I can use the middle number and add 10 to quickly get a DC for a skill check. I can use the high values for any encounter that is intended to stand a reasonable chance against the PCs, and the low values for any encounter that is intended to target a soft spot in the PC’s armoury. I can tell at a glance which characters are vulnerable to certain skill check requirements, and use that information to create encounters that test that characters. And, finally, I can use it to get some notion of the overall capabilities of the party.
The ultimate secret of TUW is that it’s all useful. Give it a try, and you’ll be amazed at how much improvisational flexibility it gives, and how much it frees you to concentrate on running the game.