NPC creation trends?

Jeff Wilder

First Post
Recently I felt like I've been losing a handle on the details of my M&M campaign (mainly because of my propensity to improvise quite a bit and write notes on literally any flat surface), so I've started synthesizing a "Master Campaign Log." It's got entries for superheroes, supervillains, NPCs and organizations of various allegiances, and "issue summaries" (basically short recaps of adventures).

Anyway, I noticed a significant bias in my NPCs (i.e., those I have created, not taken from other sources), which I thought was interesting:

All of my "good guy" science-oriented NPCs are female, and all the "bad guy" scientists are male.

Good Guys - Dr. Emily Riche (geneticist, Stanford), Dr. Akasha L. Farraq (bioelectrical engineer, Lockheed-Martin), Dr. Valerie Simmons (neurobiologist, AEGIS), Rebecca Aguila (reformed supervillain battlesuit, Seattle), Firmware (gadgeteer)

Bad Guys - Challenger (Tony Stark-level engineer, battlesuit), Grey Gull (weather controller), Dr. Dylan Greene (geneticist, The Labyrinth), Manuel Sanchez (CEO of Sanchez Chamicals, polluting the bay).

It's really a stark divide ... way too much to be coincidence.

It gets more interesting because it doesn't break that way in other areas (magical characters, heroes or villains, and so forth). Just science-types.

Have you ever looked at your NPC creation and seen anything similar? Take a look now!
 
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Relique du Madde

Adventurer
Since I also use M&M (for pbp), the trends I notice are that the characters I make are never used. But seriously, I do notice a lot of similar trends, however, since my characters tend to have low PLs (5-8), these are the trends I see:

1. Characters tend to have lots of devices and or gadgets
2. Weapon arrays are heavily used (gadgets).
3. Bad guys are more likely to have elemental themed powers.
4. Good guys are more likely to have pure archetypes (martial artist, psionist, etc).
5. Lots of templates ("Knights of Round Street Gang Members", "Victoria Town Watcher Training")
6. Bad guys are more likely to have affliction type powers.
7. Bad guys are more likely to have nullification type powers.
8. Good guys are more likely to use "fighting styles" / "martial arts styled" attacks.



BTW, you are able to change he name of the subject yourself. Click on edit, then select the advanced settins options.
 
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I use lots of "leader types", generally using pre-gen minions or followers as the various editions tended to be good about these.

I don't think a fighter with 18 Int and 17 Cha or a wizard with 17 Cha makes a good leader; they still have no leadership abilities or (in 2e or 3.x) social skills.

4e has an entire class (warlord) devoted to leadership, but it's still Strength-based. (No Cao Cao or Julius Caesar here.) So I've combed various sources looking for leaderly monsters and NPCs (both of the "Lead from the Front" and "control troops" varieties) and frequently generated my own NPCs using concepts from these.

The MM2 noble and various hobgoblin and gnoll leader types in the Monster Vault were really handy. I ended up with a 5th-level sergeant and an 8th-level special forces commander that can work with any character class who I'm dying to use. (My PCs are currently only 3rd-level.)
 

I'm very amused by Jeff's initial example of a pattern, because it's quite similar to a pattern that I had a few years ago. Some of the players in my D&D game noticed that female NPCs were always either competent good guys or important villains. The master villain might be female, and a random female town guard would always be reliable, competent, and honest, but the incompetent good guy or minion villain would always be male.

Once I started realizing the pattern I started randomly determining the sexes of most of my NPCs, at least when I think about it in advance.
 

JoeGKushner

First Post
Variety is the spice of life. Thanks to a massive backlog of comics, a wealth of reading material, and of course printed products for my general game of choice for supers, Hero 5th ed, I rarely had to worry too much about duplication of material.

Long before the drug wars in Mexico were the issue they are today, I had gangsters that were smuggling 'super' drugs that allowed their enforcers to become bricks that wouuld quickly burn out.

When one of my friends was running a Nighbane game using Hero, he stopped and asked me to take over. I kept the Nightbane elements and brought in Mechanon with his own plan to take over the world through nanobots, stolden pretty much straight from an X-Men run.

NPC design is based around what the party needs and what I feel like running. I've done everything from the fat cop who loves his grinders to the ultra competent cop who disdans supers for being 'above the law'.

Keeping the setting rich with characters that are friends, rivals, political or otherwise 'untouchable' enemies, and not being lazy and having those same characters be the same for all the players, allows the setting to showcase how someone like 'Wildclaw', one of my players who was a military man Wolverine clone, can be on the same team as Grungetruck, the world's strongest man and goth heavy metal singer.

Their private lives lead them to completely different elements but when they're on the team, they'll have some cross over NPCs.
 

Jeff Wilder

First Post
The master villain might be female, and a random female town guard would always be reliable, competent, and honest, but the incompetent good guy or minion villain would always be male.
So why do we do this? Does it reflect well on us, or poorly, or both, or somewhere in the middle?

Once I started realizing the pattern I started randomly determining the sexes of most of my NPCs, at least when I think about it in advance.
I think I'll start doing that. I can't use dice, because my players (fools! mwahahahaah!) believe that I have everything prepared ahead of time. But the clock, with a second hand, is in my sight-line, so I'll just use that.
 

Jacob Marley

First Post
So why do we do this? Does it reflect well on us, or poorly, or both, or somewhere in the middle?

I think that there are certain archtypes that I just enjoy using. For example, in my campaigns I like to include an elderly halfling woman. She tends to be very wise and is one of the highest level characters in the campaign. She is a powerful supporter of the forces of Law and Good. However, she is also quite frail and can no longer act much in the world. She also happens to be based on my Grandma.

There are others as well. I have based many NPCs on various Sam Elliott characters. There is almost always a Micheal Corleone NPC.
 

Wik

First Post
Oh, this is a fun thread. I think the reason you were doing this is something we see in TV all the time - the Political Correctness of the world. You don't want to make incompetent female villains, as it runs the risk of offending.

Evil science women probably goes against your own sense of how the world should work - which, despite what some neo-feminists might say, is perfectly okay. There is nothing wrong with just innately believing that women who are dedicated science types would naturally be good guys and couldn't exist as bad guys. Or something.

Personally, I have a similar problem with ethnicities. I don't think I've ever introduced a black villain NPC in my game - mostly because in the back of my head, I'm thinking "If he's a villain, my players are gonna think I'm racist", even though I know just how stupid a thought that is. Granted, that really hasn't been a problem in my current campaign, set in the feywild, but still.

Another trend I tend to use is that of bucking stereotypes in games, to the point where it becomes a stereotype itself. Revolutionaries in my games are usually the bad guys. Religious folk are NOT scheming manipulators, but actually believe in the causes they espouse. Those who work for the government or are part of the government are quite often good guys, or at least are not active villains (kings and queens are exceptions to this rule).
 

Nifft

Penguin Herder
Perhaps it's a consequence of the Snowflake Conservation Hypothesis*, which goes like this:

Every NPC deviates from "normal" by a fixed number of traits.​

Unfortunately, since you're a sane male, "female" and "evil" are deviations which compete. To get around this, try building your NPCs by their functional role first, then roll dice to randomly assign them sex, race, nationality, height, weight, eye color, etc.

Cheers, -- N

*) which I just made up
 

ProfessorCirno

Banned
Banned
Moral grey areas. The vast, vast, vast majority of NPCs - both on the side of the characters and against them - lie in grey areas rather then absurd black and white/good and evil. It makes for a much richer narrative and much better drama and experience, where choices are made based on the player and the character rather then stock cliches. Note that this isn't just for humanoids - in my current setting, dragons are most assuredly not color coded for alignment, and one of the major antagonistic movers and shakers are a family of gold dragons. Outsiders aren't good or evil either, but typically alien instead. Devils and angels don't differ on "goodness" but in how they view non-immortals; angels feel they should help non-immortals on their own, devils feel the non-immortals need to earn it (thus why devils make pacts), but neither one is unified in wanting to do good or evil. Perhaps ironically, events in the past caused the angels to withdraw - meaning devils now act for and with non-immortals more then the angels.

Is it any surprise I hate alignment? :p

It also has the added bonus of making actually evil characters seem truly disgusting. If every other orc is a monster, then the general "evilness" is meaningless. If most people in the world are just folks trying to get by, or are doing what they feel is best, or just don't put much thought into it, then having a sociopathic enemy makes them that much more horrifying.
 

I roughly agree with Wik's assessment as to why, although with I think different normative values. From my perspective, avoiding the stock characters of the helpless female character and the good scientist who is always male and so forth is a good thing. Many of my players have complained about seeing those patterns in other people's games, and I've found it annoying in games that I've played in. It's desirable to avoid the sexism inherent in many GMs' presentations of their worlds. But it's only half-way there: the real goal is to avoid simply reversing things into a new set of stereotypes. And that requires either being really careful and skilled at not falling into patterns, or using random mechanisms.

So as I see it, the hierarchy from worst to best practices is:
1. Consistent gender normativity in a game: all scientists and guards are male, all people in distress are female, etc.
2. Exceptional individuals exist, but otherwise gender normativity: some carefully detailed scientist or knight characters are female, but a random cop on the spur of the moment is always male. (This is what I think of as the Battlestar Galactica approach: sure, there are the named character female characters in nontraditional roles, but boy, the extras sure do seem to conform to traditional roles--so you get the female Starbuck leading a platoon of all male Marines.)
3. Reversed and idiosyncratic stereotyping--all the female scientists are good guys, the female knights are always good and competent, etc. In some ways, this is the pattern with the particularly high number of black lieutenants in police shows--it's the token minority in a position of authority.
4. Actually getting past the stereotyping in either direction, i.e. through random means.

All that said, I don't really know why in your case it shows up in scientist characters in particular. :)
 

Firebeetle

First Post
I noticed that I had a great propensity to make "crazy old coot" NPCs, which is pretty much what I am personally. To combat this, I made a list of impressions I can do (even if they are bad impressions) and made that into a table. As long as you avoid catchphrases and don't tell the players you're doing an impression, they work quite well. Most effective is if you ad an ironic element, which is funny for you at least.

This is my current table. You'd have to make your own of course.
roll d20
1. Johnny Carson "That's some weird, wild magic"
2. David Letterman
3. George Bush
4. Kermit the Frog
5. Elmo (yes, Elmo, great kid character esp. if you play him foulmouthed)
6. Emo Phillips
7. Steven Wright
8. Mick Jagger
9. Patrick Stewart
10. William Shatner
11. Mirina Sirtis (y'know, Counselor Troi "I feel something.")
12. David Caruso
13. Forrest Gump
14. Katherine Hepburn
15. Madonna
16. Miss Piggy
17. Mae West
18. Church Lady
19. Miley Cyrus
20. My wife

Not all NPCs, just the ones I like to "ham it up" with.
 


lamia

First Post
Hmm..well, reflecting on my NPCs the main thing I noticed is that all of the main villains are female. There are some minor villains of the male variety, but the G in BBEG stands for girl every single time!

Maybe that is just my subconscious mind rebelling against the fact that in every campaign I've ever been a player in the reverse was true.

Another fun fact: I have way more gay men in my campaign then any game I've played in.

And there haven't been any barmaids, only barmen. They are typically scantily clad and flirtatious That was more on purpose, as over half of my players and myself are ladies.

I should probably seek a balance though. I honestly hadn't noticed the lack of male main villains!
 

Wik

First Post
I've thought about this a bit more, and you raise a good point on your XP post (thanks, by the way. :)) Namely, why only do it with science-types? And to be honest, I'm not entirely sure.

It could be, simply, that you value science more than you might other roles. You think, in your hierarchy of values, that a scientist is more important than a merchant, a soldier, or a doctor. Because of this, you subconsciously ensure that your scientist heroes are all female, lest you come off as offensive. This might especially be the case if you have multiple female players.

Gender roles in entertainment is a huge topic, though. For example, in almost every commercial involving multiple genders, the female is placed in the dominant or lead role - probably because most consumers, even of male-oriented products, are female. This is why, for example, the ads for men's colognes feature beefcake dudes. Even when the woman is in the error, she inevitably comes out on top or as somehow wiser - due both to who the market is, and out of fear of offending.

There's this great example for Corona Beer. There are two commercials involving a guy and a girl on the beach. In the first one, a hot girl walks by, and the guy sort of watches. Without turning her head, the guy's girlfriend sprays him with a lime. Then we see the second commercial, where a hot guy walks by, and the woman watches. The guy shakes her beer out of spite... and without looking, the girl offers him that beer and grabs her own. The idea being, of course, that the girl is always in the right.

The strange thing is, this is how most of us think. I have a female friend who cheated on her boyfriend (long story, it's not entirely her fault, let's just leave it at that), and he forgave her. And nobody was too surprised by this. However, he has just cheated on her, and EVERYONE wants his blood. Never mind that it's a similar situation as hers; the standards have just flipped. This sort of gender divide in our thought processes is pretty complex.

Long story short - I wouldn't be too worried about the behaviour. It's just culture and society ingraining yourself onto you, and you'd be amazed at how much this sort of thing is going on in the world around us.
 

ProfessorCirno

Banned
Banned
One thing I've had people bring up that I do:

So, in my setting, the sort of "main area" the PCs are at is based not on the boring as hell semi-medieval Europe, but rather on the Venetian Republic. That means it's a center of trade and commerce and that there's a huge influx of other races.

...And other ethnicities.

My players have pointed out something I very purposefully set out to do - my games are not just White People Only (and I'm sorry, but dwarves and elves and orcs do not count as people of color unless you actively try to portray a culture with them that isn't "LIVES IN FORESTS LIKES TREES" or "LIVES UNDERGROUND MM BEER"). Both antagonistic and assistant NPCs come from a wide array of locales, be they elves or dwarves...or the darker skinned Maskians from the south, to give one example.

It's something irksome I've found in other games, and I don't just mean tabletop games - video games tend to be rather terrible at this too. Even in the major metropolitan towns, the only humans are the white ones.
 

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