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Noble NPCs

by Kenneth Baggaley

In Heretic World (Our Wargame world based on Mystara, no magic), two important elements are Noble NPCs and Random Events. Remember, our players are wargamers, looking for military campaigns. Most players take the role of a general/admiral during some nation's conflict.

Occasionally, this general is also the ruler, but not usually. Only a few players currently role-play rulers, and do so under strict NPC type rules.

So how do we decide conflicts? We created entire NPC families for each of the major powers, and a few lesser nobility as well. They are born, age and die based on charts. Each family member has individual personality characteristics created for them. These characteristics give us a probability for the type of action they might take in a given situation.

Next, we have marriages between families. The alliances and enmities caused by such wedded bliss is food for conflict. And everyone needs heirs.

Finally, we have a random events chart, which generates an event of varying magnitude for different areas at different times. Only the umpire knows who will die/be born, what event will happen where/when, etc. But such events often dictate the course of action the nations will take.

Two other factors - economics and religion - figure strongly in our Renaissance Mystara. I will not go into them in detail here. I will just note their impact (they would be a whole other article!).

Together, these factors are “interpreted” to give us the conflicts we seek. Believe me, once you have these in place, opportunities for conflict sprout of their own accord!

For a simple example: Randomly, an outbreak of piracy (moderate level) occurs along the Heldann coast. Let's say Heldann has had its eyes on the lucrative grain trade from Norwold for some time now. And let's say the Vanyan faithful are desirous of spreading the good word northward. And finally, the Freehold's ruler has characteristics which include Ambition, Bad Temper and Personality (a trait meaning the masses like and will follow him). Viola! The umpire can roll dice, or decide right there, that the Freeholds will undertake the religious re-education of those nasty Oceansend pirates (note that the pirates could have come from anywhere - Heldann just made an “innocent” assumption). Will Norwold barter an alliance with Ostland? Dunadale? Stay tuned...

Ruling NPCs - Families, Houses and Individuals

First, decide how deep you want to go into families. In some other campaigns I ran, I just labelled each province/state as ruled by a Family, and generated a single Leader for that Family. When he/she died, the Family selected another ruler from its (unspecified) members. That way, I only had to roll for one character per Family at any time; I likewise didn't worry about exact relationships and inheritance rules (he could be a brother, cousin, Uncle by marriage, etc.). This is modelled after the Italian Renaissance of the 13th-15th centuries.

For Mystara, however, I went full tilt. Every major power would have a full family “House” rolled for it. For Thyatis, four Houses would share the empire and a shot at the purple robe. For lesser powers, I used the Family model noted above.

In the Renaissance, houses were the controlling entities, not nations. Plantagenet, Valois, Hapsburg, Bourbon, Medici, Guise, Tudor, Orange, Warwick, Bathory, Dracul - each with a coat of arms and a proud arrogant tradition of grabbing everything it can for itself.

Major Powers with houses in my Mystara (and their abbreviations) are : Thyatis-TH (4), Ylaruam-YL, Karameikos-KM, Five Shires-FS, Minrothad Guilds-MG, Ierendi-IR, Soderfjord-SF, Vestland-VL, Ostland-OL, Rockhome-RH, Darokin-DK, Glantri-GL, Wendar-WR, Norwold-NW, Sind-SD and Heldann-HF.

Major powers with only the ruler rolled for are Ethengar-EK, The Desert Nomads-DE, Yavdlom-YV, and the Atruaghin Clans-AG. These are assumed to be tribal cultures, with ruling families being less important than strong individuals.

Minor powers with individual local rulers only include most of the city-states and duchies on the Isle of Dawn-IOD, any colonies/colonial viceroys, Trading Families as in DK, Princely Families in GL, high churchmen of common birth, and any governor appointed to a position of decision (military governor of the recently liberated North, for instance). Note that if the game at some point requires it, full families could be rolled for these individuals as well (I may do this for GL soon).

For Families or Individuals, skip this section and go right to character generation. To create a House, roll a D10 (for smaller families, use a D6). This gives you the number of family members. Next roll a Die for each member. Odd number, it's a male, even number it's a female. So if I rolled a 4, I then roll 4 dice, getting 6,8,6,3 - one male and three very lovely girls. Now for each character, roll a % die to get the age. Don't be afraid to fudge a bit; 91 can be converted to 19, and 88 can be added to get 16. Now use a little logic to convert this group into a family tree. In my example, if I rolled 77, 34, 22, 04, I could say the male is 40, the female of 34 is his wife, 22 is his sister, and 77 is either his saintly widowed mother or his daughter of 14!

Again, use logic. Throw a dead family member on the tree if you need to. Leave young ones unmarried (or widowed) to allow for diplomatic matches. As for “Where did his WIFE'S family come from?” I use a convention called LN, or Local Nobility. This means the said person married into the lower strata of that nation's nobles. While the Crown-Prince wouldn't do this, his third male cousin might (for financial reasons, or such). This gives great leeway to up-and-coming families, scandalous forced marriages, snooty attitudes, etc. I personally moulded several of the LN marriages as deals with the DK trading families, buying their way up, so to speak. Again, very Renaissance.

I usually make each house a set religion. Your preferences may vary.

Now, you have a cast of characters. Let's give them personalities.

Ruling NPCs - Character Generation - Primary Trait

Everybody needs a name. Give each character a first name. Make it logical with the culture (Ylaruam isn't ruled by “Sven”). William could be Guillaume or Wilhelm. Don't worry about nicknames - they will come with time.

Anyone ruling gets a number after his/her name when they take the throne. Don't automatically start from I (the First), unless they House recently came to the throne. Remember, names were often repeated in families, sometimes skipping a generation. Phillip beget Alexander who beget Phillip. Or Louis followed Louis after Louis...

For family names, use the house name. Any other distinction is unimportant (just ask Henry VII of England about “Owen Tudor”). In my convention, all female names end in “a”. Not historical, but I find it easier to track.

Each person now gets one Primary Trait (PT) and several Secondary Traits (ST). How many STs you want per person is up to you. I use 5 for rulers and potential rulers, and 3 for others.

PT is the key characteristic for the NPC. It, more than anything else, determines the driving force in this NPC's life. PT comes in two parts: type and intensity.

TYPE: roll a D6.

1 = Ambition
2 = Good
3 = War (if female, 1-2 War, 3-4-5 Patriotism, 6 Religious fervour)
4 = Greed
5,6 = roll again on type2 chart


1= Ambition
2 = Good
3 = War (if female, 1-2 War, 3-4-5 Patriotism, 6 Religious fervour)
4 = Greed
5 = Religion
6 = Unstable, perhaps mad?

Next, roll a D10 for intensity level:

10 = Hyper
9 = Active
6,7,8 = Normal
3,4,5 = Reactive
1,2 = Slow

So every character has a PT such as HyperGreed, Normal Ambition, or Slow Good. This tells the umpire what the driving force of the character will be, and what the intensity of that feeling is. A hyper character acts every chance. An active more than normal. A normal character perhaps 50/50. Reactive characters act mostly upon actions directed at them. Slow characters are slow to react to anything.

AMBITION will drive a ruler to new claims, expanding the influence of the House, and may cause him to overreach. He won't always go to war, will use diplomacy and marriage, and will not be easily satisfied with his lot in life. GOOD lives for a sense of Law, be it divine right of kings, religious, fairness, or just good-heartedness. A Hyper-Good character will often act as mediator, and attempt to align balance of power situations for the benefit of all Mystara. WAR is self-explanatory. Invade, fight, swords are the first option. He will relish in combat over anything else. Very “old school” for the Renaissance. PATRIOTISM is a deep love of her people and her state. It is militant without donning armour (A female with WAR is probably Joan of Arc!). GREED is acquisition of wealth. Treaties and marriages are for wealth only, land can be milked for taxes or sold. Greed can also mean palaces, jewels, grand balls, costumes, and money spent on favourites. In other words, Greed isn't a miser, just a person obsessed with money (and spending it on themselves). RELIGIOUS goes beyond a strong devotion. NPCs with this PT probably join holy orders or become inquisitors. UNSTABLE means just that - watch out! I play it so Unstable characters roll randomly on the Type tables each time their character is called upon. If they roll a 6, they go temporarily bonkers. Roll every month, on a 4-6 they recover, on a 1 they go permanently ga-ga. For every “episode”, you might decrease the monthly die roll by 1. Permanently gone NPCs are locked up, put in monastic care, done away with or continue to rule (!) as culture dictates. I also give permanents a small chance of temporary recovery, similar to their rolls for losing it.

Thus the PT can dictate a characters reaction to (or pro-active stance on) any event or situation. Plus, it gives the umpire and players some latitude in designing the scenario. For instance, a Hyper character acts on 1-5, an active on 1-4, a normal on 1-3, a reactive on 1-2, a slow on 1, etc.

Ruling NPCs - Secondary Traits

Every ruler gets 5 Secondary Traits (STs). Other noble NPCs get 3 STs. Using percentage dice, roll on the ST Table below. Remember, an NPC can get “Ugly” rolled twice - meaning he's TWICE as ugly! Likewise, Good Temper and Bad Temper cancel out.

ST Table

01-04 = Disloyal Intriguer
05-06 = Loyal Intriguer
07-08 = Extremely good natured
09-12 = Lover
13-14 = Lusty and/or lecherous
15-16 = Energy
17-18 = Unreliable
19-20 = Liar
21-22 = Merciless
23-24 = Revenge-Prone
25-26 = Absolutely Loyal
27-28 = Loyal
29-30 = Slightly Loyal
31-32 = Adonis/Venus
33-34 = Very beautiful/handsome
35-36 = beautiful/handsome
37-38 = Ugly
39-40 = Cruel
41-41 = Slightly cruel
42-42 = Energy
43-44 = Generous
45-45 = Slightly generous
46-46 = Courage
47-50 = Personality
51-54 = Jealous of Family Honour
55-55 = Energy
56-58 = Lazy
59-62 = Charm
63-66 = Wise
67-70 = Cunning
71-72 = Stupid
73-74 = Slightly stupid (dim)
75-77 = Coward
78-78 = Courage
79-82 = Bad Temper
83-86 = Good Temper
87-88 = Arrogant
89-90 = Proud
91-94 = Merciful
95-96 = Courage
97-00 = WILD CARD!!!

Notes: When LOYALTY appears, it means loyalty to house and family. Intrigue means gets involved in plots. LOVERS and LECHERS have lots of bastard children - at least more than normal for the period. PERSONALITY means the people love him, the masses will follow him (good for army leadership). WISE means the NPC has insight into what's going on - he/she knows the score. CUNNING increases the chance for any plan he/she makes to work. TEMPER makes a difference in handling Estates (Parliaments), and in reactions. WILD CARD is umpire's or player's choice. I use a chart of characteristics from Privateers and Gentlemen, used to determine players' “quirks”. This is a great list of petty items - drunkard, duellist, linguist, worrier, solitary, etc. - but gives random characters some interesting twists.

Seeming contradictions don't need to be so. Remember, opposites cancel out (Wise/Stupid). Also, a character who's PT is HyperGood can have an ST of Merciless. Such a person is either merciless to those who don't agree with his definition of good, or maybe he's just merciless with declared wartime enemies, etc. Again, use your judgment. This system will produce a few heroes, a few villains and a lot of muddled people in between... just like in real life!

Finally, I give a 10% chance for a distinguishing characteristic, and a 20% chance for a repeat of such. Roll a D10 - if a 0 shows up, you have a distinguishing feature. This can be good or bad. Roll a D20 and check below. Then roll again, Odd is bad, even is good. It can be large, small, misshapen, strong, unique colour, etc.

Feature Table

01 - Head
02 - Nose (Ah, Le Valios!)
03 - Eyes
04 - Ears
05 - Teeth/lips/jaw (The Hapsburgs' curse)
06 - Hair
07 - Hands
08 - Fingers
09 - Arms
10 - Shoulder
11 - Back (poor Richard III!)
12 - Stomach
13 - Hips
14 - Thighs (Plantagenets had strong ones)
15 - Knees
16 - Legs
17 - Feet
18 - Voice
19 - Breathing
20 - CHOICE!

Remember: when looking for repeat characteristics, you may want to include handsome/ugly/UNSTABLE from the ST/PT rolls above. By the way...I roll PTs at birth. I don't roll for STs until an NPC is 15 years old.

Sorry to clutter up the board, but I thought everyone would appreciate some of the NPC and Random Event stuff we use in our Wargames' group. It could be applicable to your campaigns, since most people don't play rulers, and it gives you a Causis Belli for wars and such.

My next posts will include birth/death patterns and random events. If there's interest, I'll include our economic and religious structures, too.

I know the NPC stuff seems like a lot of work ,but actually, once you set it up, it pretty much runs itself. And it has the FEEL of a real Renaissance world. I mean, what DOES the king of Vestland do if he has no heirs? You really get an appreciation of early modern political dilemmas.

By the way, we also counted every hex by type in Mystara, and assigned rent values accordingly, for the major powers. If you're interested in THAT minute detail, either get a real life or let me know and I'll post it.

Noble NPCs - Births

Each character has been created, named, given a personality and perhaps a title (don't forget to give children and relatives as many duchies and lordships as are available!).

As stated before, some will be married, to Local nobility (LN) or other families. Some will be unmarried, offering opportunities to expand the family power base.

While this may seem like a lot of work, it's not hard to do, and you only need to do most of it once. Once all this is set up, you need only do the yearly adjustments, and the rest takes care of itself. Remember, each NPC can be represented by a single line of data:

Charles (IX) Hebor, Emperor of Thyatis, (68) ActiveGreed, Dim, Arrogant, Good Temper, Generous, Handsome (long noble face)

You might tack historic info under his line, like:

Emperor, 968.

And that's it! The only other thing you need is a family tree. I have a heavy card with the crest (coat of arms) of the House in the corner. A tree is then drawn, showing the marriages, births and deaths of the members of the house. These house cards are the coolest part of the record-keeping, since I enjoy making coats of arms. Even in our very complex Mystara, we have only 16 house cards (plus many individual one person family and individual creations).

For Mystara, I use an unreal convention of increasing everyone's age by 1 year on the first of each year. While it lacks the realism of actual birthdays, it saves me from recording 300 of them! Besides, I reason that cultures could treat “legal age” in this manner. Every NPC need only record the year of birth and death.

Every married woman (or any Male/Female with an ST of LOVER/LECH) can produce offspring between the ages of 16 and 40 (the LOVER/LECH produce bastard children, of course). How fertile they are depends on how large you want your families to be. If you give them a 10% chance of siring, then between 20 and 40 a woman will average 2 children. I personally use the chart below (remember, if the husband is away, or if the couple wants no children , no role is made - physical comfort is assumed achieved otherwise or elsewhere):

Fertility Chart

Woman's age:

16-24 25% chance pregnant 10% problem
25-32 20% chance pregnant 20% problem
33-40 10% chance pregnant 25% problem

If a child is produced, roll to select what month it is due. Then role for sex, PT the normal way. I give a very small 5% chance to produce twins. For noble bastards, I give a much smaller 10% chance pregnancy. LECH could also have a 5-10% chance of catching a disease, as they are assumed less discreet in selection than LOVER types.

If a problem occurs, roll a D6:

1 - no child, wife ok
2 - no child, wife lost in childbirth
3 - no child, wife ill
4 - child born, wife lost in childbirth
5 - child born, wife ill
6 - no child, wife cannot bear children

If the wife is ill, roll a D6 again:

1 - dies 2,3,4 - recovers, cannot bear children again 5,6 - full recovery

The die roll is reduced by 1 for each illness suffered (her condition becomes more fragile).

These roles are all made by the umpire, who records them in his book, and only reveals them to the players as they unfold.

Noble NPCs - Death

Now that you can increase the population, you need a method to decrease it. Wars, executions and plague will “help” of course, but some do die of natural causes. I could not possibly test every character for a death role, so I test by House/Family/Individual. One D6 die is rolled per H/F/I. 1-3, nothing. 4-5, check for one death/illness. 6 - check for multiple deaths/illnesses.

If a check is required, roll a D6 for each character in the H/F/I by age, until you get the one death. Role in the order they are listed here. If you rolled a 6 above, you must check ONCE IN EACH AGE BRACKET, so multiple deaths are possible. Always, at least one death/illness must occur.

Age OK Death Ill
60+ - 1-5 6
0-5 1-3 4-6 -
40-59 1-2 3-4 5-6
21-39 1-4 5 6
6-20 1-4 - 5-6

If an NPC is seriously ill, he/she remains so until recovery. Roll every month. 6-recovers, 2-5, remains ill, 1- dies. After 6 months, the NPC automatically recovers. Again, the umpire rolls at random and records when these events will happen in his book. Also, the umpire has discretion to “Kill off” a character to satisfy the requirement. An 88 year old or frail newborn are logical choices to remove, for gameplay, rather than the 24 year old crown-prince/princess. Be logical.

Sorry if this sounds gruesome; but life goes on for NPCs just like for PCs.