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Generating NPC Psychology

The problem of simulating the human psyche in a role playing game is a difficult one to solve adequately. There are undercurrents of thought and emotion that are little seen, but form the entire rationale for a character's actions. While a player has no trouble 'acting' out the persona formed by his own imagination, the referee has to generate dozens, or more, and role-play each one in a convincing fashion without merely following some hackneyed stereotype. The referee needs some aid in making this as painless as possible.

What follows is a small attempt to provide such an aid without resorting to simply choosing broad characterizations from a chart. Saying that a non-player character is brave, romantic or some other basic description offers no clue as to how or why a character feels that way. An NPC's personality should be more complex than that.

By describing an NPC's personality with a short series of common features, it should be easy to flesh out how he feels and may act. This short series of personality features can be found in the one of the oldest scales weighing the frailties of the human condition: the seven deadly sins.

The seven deadly sins form a map of man's constant internal struggle between good and evil. Whichever side is winning this struggle within a man, often determines that man's view of the world and his opinions in it. It is his views and opinions that guide his actions and choose his allies in life. Lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, vanity, anger, and jealousy all belong to a list of weaknesses of a man's heart and can be used to describe the weaknesses that an NPC can fall prey to. Conversely, this list can also be used to chart his strengths as well. In each area, he can be on one side or the other, or mostly likely, somewhere in between constantly struggling with moral dilemmas.

All of these characteristics have their place in describing a complete person. By taking a few moments to consider how each 'sin' plays off the others, a fairly complete psychological profile can be formed. Anger, lust and jealousy may combine to form the profile for a brutal sadistic rapist, while vanity drives him mad with shame, compelling him to hide his desires. It is up to the referee to determine whether he merely fantasizes or actually commits heinous crimes of passion. Ebeneezer Scrooge had high values for greed and low values for gluttony. Mother Theresea had low values in everything. A person's persona is a conglomeration of each of these characteristics. The manner in which these characteristics mix determines how an NPC feels and acts.

Roll 2d6 in order to generate the values of each 'sin' for the NPC. Be sure to record each value as it will be used in determining interpersonal relationships. These numbers will probably never change in the course of a character's life, But it is possible if the character comes under extreme psychological pressure. As these ideas are being developed for the sake of describing NPC's and not necessarily player characters, this is usually not a great concern.

Once the values are determined, the referee can provide an in-depth profile using the 7 sins as a guide. This should be an aid to fleshing out important NPC's. While this is in itself not a great improvement over established methods, the use of the results will be an improvement for interpersonal tasks.

The rules for relationships are based on the relationship rules from 'Pocket Empires'. In that game, the social profile of a world is compared to another world, and the average difference is used as a modifier for a roll on an alliance chart. This chart determines any diplomatic ties between the worlds. If the same principle is applied to individuals instead of governments, then it should be easy to see what level of friendship or animosity there is between characters. Only, the psychological profile is used instead of a world's social profile.

The process of determining friendship is more easily shown than explained, thus an example is in order. The relationship between 'Jon' and 'Dave' will be examined.

Only the psychological profiles will be looked at, as the physical characteristics will have almost no impact. The intellectual statistics should have an impact as people will associate better with people of like intelligence and educational background, and social standing will determine the sorts of people a character would be expected to 'hobnob' with.

Sin Jon Dave Difference
Lust 3 7 4
Greed 6 8 2
Gluttony 9 3 6
Sloth 7 11 4
Vanity 8 9 1
Wrath 10 4 6
Jealousy 4 9 5

Having determined their psych profile, they can be compared for similarities. The more alike they are, the better chance there is of friendly relations existing.

The average of the differences are (4+2+6+4+1+6+5)/7 or 4

4 then becomes a die modifier for the relationship table.

To find the value to use for the relationship table, roll 2d6 and subtract the modifier from it. Other modifiers could be fast talk, diplomacy, persuasion or streetwise as (uncertain, confrontation) tasks. The actual mechanics are left to the referee as there are several differing rule sets in use. To attempt to find out the other person's personality profile values, use interrogation, psychology, recruiting, interview and/or streetwise as (uncertain, confrontation) tasks. Disguise can be used to hide your own personality profile due to acting skills.

Once the relationship is determined, it does not change except by voluntarily lowering it or attempting to raise it. No more than 3 levels of change are allowed at any one attempt. Each difficulty level in an attempt allows a one step change in whichever direction the attempter desires. Any interpersonal skill may be used in an (uncertain, confrontational) task. The time increment is left to the referee's discretion.

Level Reaction Description
2 hatred Will physically attack if provoked
3 hatred Will verbally assault if possible
4 strong dislike Will avoid when possible
5 dislike Will not enjoy being in presence
6 neutral Will not like nor dislike person; will typically ignore
7 like Will enjoy being in presence of person
8 like Will enjoy conversing with person
9 like Will seek out person's company
10 like Will cultivate friendship
11 like Will trust person sufficiently to permit sharing/loan of possessions
12 strong bond Will be willing to support person in arguments due to friendship
13 strong bond Will be willing to physically defend person
14 love Will be willing to share home with person
15 love Will be willing to make gifts of possessions
16+ love Will propose emotional partnership (marriage or cultural equivalent)