The Unexpected NPC

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I’m doing something un-f$&%ing-precedented. Earlier today – Tuesday, September 6, 2016 – as I was working on the final revision for an article to be posted tomorrow, I received an e-mail from someone named Sligo. It was just another Ask Angry for the pile, but it dealt with an issue that I was planning to discuss in more detail in a future article. As you know, I’ve been an NPC kick lately. I’ve been talking about NPCs as a game element and about how to bring them into your game for specific purposes. And this Sligo had a really neat question that was very much related to something I wanted to talk about. But, here’s the kicker. Sligo’s question pertains to a game that he’s running on Thursday. Thursday, September 9, 2016. Yeah, yeah, he said he doesn’t EXPECT me to answer before the game. And, yeah, yeah, it’s his own stupid fault for waiting until the last minute to ask.

So, I’m basically busting my a%& to make THIS my article. If all goes well, it will post sometime Wednesday, September 7. At worst, it will go up very early on Thursday morning. And I’m going to e-mail Sligo and let him know. You can go ahead now and skip to the beginning of the article. But I need to explain why I’m doing this.

Unrelated Intro and Apologies to my Supporters

Lately, I’ve been doing a s%&$y job. A lot of crap has happened in my life and one very good thing has happened. And one of the things I have been VERY bad about is keeping some of my promises, especially with regards to my supporters on Patreon. I’m now just beyond the one-year anniversary of my drastic move across half the country which was followed immediately by two bad health scares, a robbery, the resurgence of a chronic illness, and several other major life problems. I’ve started calling it my year from hell and I’ve honestly just thought about quitting, moving back to New York, shutting everything down, and going back to accounting. Forget the site. Forget books. Forget someday having an Angry RPG. Just go back to the accounting world. But I’d hate myself.

None of that s%&$ matters. What matters is that I’ve been bad about keeping my promises. There are certain things that were supposed to happen that, so far, haven’t. Or have been suspended or unreliable. The Megadungeon project – because it is such a heavy project – suffers the most when things suddenly become hard. But there’s other promises too. My Thank You page for Patrons has been kind of broken for a while and needs to be updated. My Secret Stash hasn’t had anything new put it in a while. And I haven’t even thought about running online games. The sad truth is that, in the last few months, I haven’t run ANY games. All of that s$&% needs to change. I haven’t been doing bimonthly video chats. I haven’t started the How to Play podcast.

If I were an employee of mine, I’d fire me. But I’m not. I’m an employee of yours.

Dropping everything to answer Sligo’s e-mail, to me, seems like an olive branch. A way to prove I’m serious about fixing this s$&%. I know – because I can see the numbers – most people don’t care about the Secret Stash or the webchats. Most people didn’t touch the stash even when I was dropping stuff into them. And the webchats never got much play either – what few there were. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are unfulfilled promises.

Now, I realize the only FINANCIAL promise I ever really made was one article a week, four times a month, and I’ve delivered on that. But the rest of the promises weren’t meant to be gravy. They were meant to entice people to pledge their support.

Here’s the point, though. I have certain things I have to get into a workflow – NO MATTER WHAT. For now – FOR NOW – I’m dropping the How to Play Cast. I’m going to have to partner with someone to make that happen. I’ve dropped it as a stretch goal from Patreon. But the rest of the s$&% has to happen. Bimonthly webcast, secret stash stuff, and getting my highest supporters into an occasional game, keeping the Megadungeon and features on track, and then gradually getting Ask Angry back into rotation.

And my feeling on it is this: if I can’t get all that stuff rolling within 45 days – basically, by the end of October, I need to shut down. I can’t keep taking people’s money. So, that’s it. I have to catch up and get rolling or I have to shut down. Because the sad truth is, if I don’t get the site rolling on a regular work flow, I’ll never have the time or energy for my other projects, like writing books or publishing modules or settings. And a man can’t – and shouldn’t – survive on Patreon alone.

Basically, I have a checklist of things that need to happen before October 31. And if I can’t make them happen and keep them happening, I’m closing my virtual doors. No matter WHAT disasters befall me. Because, at a certain point, being an adult means you keep going DESPITE your problems.

Anyway, now on to the article…

Edit: After reading the comments and e-mails, it’s become clear that people have misinterpreted my intentions. The outpouring of support is truly wonderful and I’m really flattered that people think this site is such a valuable resource. I don’t WANT to quit and I’m going to do everything in my power NOT to quit. People are offering to help AND offering more money or apologizing for not supporting the site. 

So, let me clarify some stuff. First of all: money is not the issue. Yes, money has been very tight for me lately because I’ve had several emergencies and because helping my girlfriend move across state lines has been difficult. And I’ve picked up extra hours at the day job accordingly. But I’m not starving. My supporters are extremely generous and the last thing I wanted to do was ask for more money. Please do not edit your pledges because you think I need more money to support the site. That isn’t the issue. 

The issue is that I’ve fallen behind. I’m now putting things out pretty much as quick as I write them. I have no buffer. And that means I’m always behind. And because of that, I’m not focusing time on any of the other projects. Time-wise, I’m treading water. And there is nothing anyone can do about that. What needs to happen is that Angry needs to sit down and put in a lot of overtime and get himself ahead of schedule so he can have a reasonable workflow. And that means he’s got to spend the next 45 days having some sleepless nights and pushing himself extra hard. He doesn’t need help. He doesn’t need anyone working for him. He just needs to have a really hard six weeks of crazy effort to get himself ahead of the game so he can stay there. That’s all. 

The point of this whole thing wasn’t to say “I need to quit because I can’t handle it.” The point was to say to people who have been questioning what’s going on with other projects that I know I’ve been screwing up and failing to deliver on things I promised. And also to say that I know I’ve made apologies before. But apologies aren’t cutting it anymore. I need to man up and do whatever needs to be done. And if I can’t, I have no right to get paid for this stuff. I have to stop taking people’s money if I can’t deliver on my promises. And honestly, if I can’t handle the Patreon, I probably also have no right to ever crowdfund a product. 

I take money seriously. When people are willing to shell out cash, you owe them. You make good on your promises. And if you don’t, you can’t take their money. And I wanted people to know I’m not going to issue any more apologies. I’m going to man up, get this crap on track, and move forward no matter what happens OR I’m getting out of the game because I have no right to be here. 

I don’t want to quit. I am going to do everything I can to not quit. I love writing about games and I love helping people game. And I love the idea of making games someday. But loving something is only good enough for a hobby. If you want to make a living at something, you have to earn that living. In a very backwards way, I was trying to make a promise that I’m going to get this all back on track or die trying. Or fail trying. I’m holding myself to the same standard I would hold anyone else to that I financially supported. 

Please stop upping pledges. Please stop offering to work for me for free. Just keep reading the site and telling me that you like what I do. That’s all I need to do everything in my power to keep going. And that’s what I’m going to do. 

The Unexpected NPC

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been babbling on about how to build and use NPCs in your adventures. I’ve talked about allies and patrons and quest givers and the dreaded DMPC. Eventually, I’m going to talk about villains – major and minor – and contacts and rivals and organizations and resources and all those other awesome uses for NPCs too. But all of those NPCs have one thing in common: they are planned. The GM gets the luxury of actually building them and figuring s$&% out ahead of time. And that helps A LOT.

I mean, if you’ll notice, my advice keeps boiling down to the same basic f$&%ing premises. Run the NPC like you would a character. Know what the NPC knows and what they want and what they fear. Add more details the longer the NPC is “on camera” and so on. And that s$&% is easy if you’re sitting at your GMing desk and making up an NPC to serve a specific purpose in your game.

But all of that gets turned on its f$&%ing head when your idiot PCs CREATE an NPC on the f$&%ing spot.

Now, I’m not talking about some player with an overly detailed backstory filled with old friends and contacts and family members and allies and rivals. We’ll talk about backstory NPCs in the future too. Seriously. I keep a f$&%ing list of the different types of NPCs to talk about. Backstory NPCs are on there. But the thing with Backstory NPCs is that a smart GM is NEVER blindsided by those f$&%ers. The smart GM keeps a list of all the a$&holes the players invent in their backstories as potential screwjobs for later.

What I’m talking about are two specific types of Unexpected NPCs: the Elevated Extra and the Imagined Into Being.

Now, I was going to hold off on this crap. But there’s a GM out there with a problem. And we all know I’m basically like the sweary Batman of gaming, just waiting for someone to light the Angry Signal so I can swoop in and save them. Mainly by swearing at things. Oh, sure, I don’t have Batman’s money and I have no moral qualms about killing people who deserve it, but I do actually have a boomerang somewhere and I wear black leggings sometimes. So it’s all the same.

In brief, Sligo – the GM in question – has a problem. He has an Elevated Extra and he has to figure out what to do about it. So, let’s dive in and see how to deal with Unexpected NPCs. But first, let’s talk about what they are.

The Elevated Extra

The world of D&D is filled with nameless, faceless nobodies. Most of the people who live in the game world are just nebulous clouds of vague narration. There are crowds on the streets. There are nameless urchins badgering the PCs to give a sense of the poverty in the city. There are snooty nobles looking self-important as they walk from place to place. They are no one. They are the wallpaper you hang in the room that is your imagination. Just decoration.

Beyond them, the world of D&D is filled with nameless, faceless nobodies with minor purposes. The gamblers you grudgingly allow the rogue to fleece because the game just won’t move on until the player gets to make some die rolls to scam somebody because, in a game about heroic adventures in deep dungeons, one f$&%er always insists on playing a street-wise conman with no interest in dungeons. Innkeepers serve up booze and act as mouthpieces for minor rumors meant to provide some local color. Shopkeepers gibber away because the players aren’t content with you merely letting them buy equipment from the book because – the gods bless them – they want ROLE PLAY. And, by the way, talking in character to a pointless nobody about nothing is NOT roleplaying. But they are the f$&%ing players and, in the end, it’s THEIR f$&%ing game, isn’t it.

All of those minor nobodies, the wallpaper and the furniture that decorate your gaming word, all of those people are what we call Extras. They are basically props or set dressing. Nothing more.

But here’s what you have to understand about the game world: the players are like the characters in a first-person-shooter. Or, like, Skyrim or Fallout. Those had first-person perspectives, right? The point is, players have cameras mounted on their heads. And as the players sweep their camera heads around the world, the camera focuses on whatever they focus on. You can think of the cloud of nameless, faceless masses as blurry and indistinct and out of focus. But your players might suddenly focus their attention on the urchins. They might try to talk to one. And they won’t be satisfied with a simple narration. They want to have a conversation. Then they ask the urchin his name. And why he’s an urchin. And where his parents are. And dammit, then, the worst thing happens: they start to LIKE the urchin. The next time they need a message carried, they seek out their urchin “friend.” They pay him. And then they start using him to gather information. Him and his urchin friends.

THAT is an Elevated Extra. It’s a nameless, faceless NPC that suddenly found itself on camera. And the blurry, indistinct NPC had to come into focus and become a real person. Because that’s what NPCs do.

Because, remember the rule: screen time equals personality.

The Imagined Into Being

Did you ever play Planescape: Torment? Developed by Black Isle Studios and released in 1999, Torment was a PC exclusive role-playing game set in AD&D 2nd Edition’s weird-as-the-Nine-Hells Planescape setting. And it was an amazing game. It remains, to this day, one of the deepest and most unique role-playing experiences a computer ever churned out. And honestly, it did Mass Effect before Mass Effect was a thing. And one of the unique features about it was that much of the dialogue was driven by role-playing. There were NOVELS and NOVELS worth of dialogue in the game. And much of it was broken into very complicated trees based on how you wanted to behave. And sometimes, the game would let you decided whether you were being honest or lying in what you said. So, you might be asked “do you believe that it is every person’s duty to serve the greater” and the options might be “Yes [Truth]” “Yes [Lie]” “No [Truth]” or “No [Lie]”.

Anyway, one of the running gags was that people kept asking you your name. And because your character was an immortal amnesiac who woke up in a mortuary after being killed for umpteen times on a centuries-old quest even he couldn’t remember, you didn’t know. Seriously. Your character’s name was only ever given as The Nameless One. But when people asked your name, you could choose the option “My name is Adahn [Lie].” Basically, Adahn was a made up name. A bluff. But, Planescape is a world where powerful enough beliefs shape and warp reality. So, if enough people believe Adahn is real, he becomes real. Long story short, if you tell enough people your name is Adahn, you eventually meet Adahn the Imagined in a bar. And if you’ve come to understand enough about the setting, you can get some pretty cool information and prizes out of Adahn by imagining details about him.

And so, I took to calling the OTHER class of NPCs “Imagined into Being” after Adahn the Imagined.

An NPC is Imagined into Being when the players suddenly decide that a certain NPC must exist in the world and they seek that NPC out. For example, in one of my games, the players were trying to solve a crime and they decided there must be an oracle or diviner in a city of wizards who could use magic to give them clues. And damn it if they weren’t right. And that oracle became a useful contact for them later. Most Imagined Into Being NPCs are simply NPCs who must exist somewhere in the nameless, faceless mass of nobodies, but they just haven’t shown up yet. And most appear because the players have specific need of them. But some appear because the players have some weird whim. One player’s monk character in one of my games, for example, was at a loose end after they fled their order because it turned out to be super evil. He was at a loose end and wandering around seeking seers, holy-people, and other monks to try to find some new path to follow. Thus, a lot of NPCs had to be imagined into being just to satisfy this guy’s weird, random wanderings.

Basically, the Imagined Into Existence NPC is just an Elevated Extra whose existence was only ever theoretically. It comes from the PCs giving attention to an NPC they, themselves, decided should exist.

Screen Time Equals Details, But Not All At Once

Now, all of my NPC advice keeps coming down to the same thing, as I’ve already noted. NPCs exist to bring your world to life. NPCs seem alive if they have personalities and hopes and dreams and flaws. The more time they spend on the screen, the more of those details they need to keep them feeling alive. So, it should be obvious that the moment an Extra gets Elevated or an NPC gets Imagined Into Being, you’re going to need some details.

The problem is most GMs intuitively grasp this. That is to say, they recognize that suddenly, an Unexpected NPC exists and now they need to know about the NPC so they can play him, her, it, or them effectively. And then they f$&%ing panic. Seriously. They lose their s$&%.

So, while it is true that you need details, remember that screen time EQUALS details. In the first scene, you don’t need to know THAT much to play an NPC. After all, when the NPC is first invented, they don’t have that much screen time, do they. They have one scene.

In point of fact, lots of Unexpected NPCs never go beyond one scene. So, the GM who panics and imagines an entire existence for this new NPC will quickly discover that most of it was a wasted effort. So, when an Unexpected NPC crops up, we’re never going to try to fully realize the NPC. Instead, we have to understand the NPC as a game construct. That will help us decide how to realize and play the NPC.

The Purpose-Driven Life

Unexpected NPCs usually come into existence for a reason. The problem is, that reason is usually one that only the crazy octopi who live in your players’ brains actually know and understand. Fortunately, players are not subtle creatures and an attentive GM can usually figure out WHY the players are giving the gift of life to a piece of game-world wallpaper or a bit of furniture.

Now, NPCs that are Imagined Into Being usually get Imagined Into Being for very specific purposes. The oracle is a resource for information. The new ninja master is there to provide a hook for character development. And almost all purposes can be broken down into either helping to accomplish a quest goal or helping to accomplish a character goal. Either way, the NPC exists because the players have a plan. And if you listen to the players in the conversation that leads up to “let’s go find the NPC” or “I need to find an NPC,” you’ll usually have some sense of the plan.

The Elevated Extra is often a bit trickier. Elevated Extras are like candy. You know how, when you go to the grocery store, there’s all that candy sitting next to the cash register? And you don’t go into the grocery store intending to buy some small piece of candy. You go there for other stuff but then you notice they have your favorite Take Five bars that you haven’t had in years or they have Tic-Tacs or whatever? So you buy them? Those are called Impulse Purchases. And Elevated Extras are like Impulse Purchases. The players didn’t enter the scene INTENDING to make friends with a new NPC. Instead, they were in the scene and something caught their interest and so they started talking to it.

Some Elevated Extras DO have a purpose. That is to say, the players think that the Elevated Extra might be useful to something they want – quest or character – and so they open a dialogue. But others DON’T. Sometimes, the players Elevate an Extra as an act of exploration. That is to say, they see a thing they can interact with and they want to interact with the world, so they interact with the thing. That’s basically exploration. They are just curious. Other times, Extras get Elevated because the players THINK the NPC is important, but they don’t know why and want to find out. Some players assume that the only reason you might describe street urchins in the market is because street urchins are relevant to the plot in some way. So, they start talking to the urchins in the hopes that the hook will reveal itself.

Purpose Trumps Personality… At First

Now, here’s where things get tricky. In the long run, it is important to create NPCs that feel alive and make the world seem real. But that only applies for NPCs that will be around for a long time. In the short run, though, an NPC is a game element. And it is there to accomplish something. Yes, it is nice when the NPC eventually comes fully to life. But in the beginning, the NPC has to fulfil its purpose.

And understanding all of that will now let us dig into some specific instructions for how to deal with the Unexpected NPC at the table.

A Wild Unexpected NPC Appears…

Now it’s time to get into specific instructions. You’re running a game, it’s going along fine, and all of the sudden you realize that the players have suddenly created an NPC and now you have to run that NPC. What do you do?

What’s the Point?

First and foremost, you have to figure out why this NPC suddenly exists. Are the players looking to accomplish a specific goal with the NPC? Do they want information, resources, world details, or do they just want to alleviate their boredom by interacting for a little while?

The thing is, and this is important, you never EVER assume an Unexpected NPC is going to become a recurring character. Your focus, when the Unexpected NPC appears is just to get through the one goddamned scene wherein it comes into existence and then move on. Now, I know that seems weird. Because some GMs will tell you that recurring NPCs are great and you should always look for ways to add more of them to your game. Well, they are right and wrong. Recurring NPCs ARE great. But you can’t force an NPC to become a recurring NPC. That has to happen organically. And we’ll talk about how it happens later. For now, just understand that the point of the Unexpected NPC is to get through the scene.

Can This Work? Can It Fail?

Way, way, waaaaaaayyyyyy long ago, I talked about how to adjudicate actions. Recall that adjudicating actions is the act of deciding what happens when a PC does a thing. And the very first step is to decide whether or not the action the PC wants to take can actually lead to the goal they want. Well, it is exactly the same for the Unexpected NPC. Once you figure out the purpose for the NPC, the next thing you have to decide is whether interacting with the NPC can bring about what the players want? Can they get information? Can the get resources? Can they make a new friend? Can they make a new contact? Whatever.

And there is no easy way to make that decision. You have to think about the person and the world and decide if it’s really possible. Yes, this orc does have useful information for the PCs. That makes sense. No, this orc won’t ever befriend the PCs because orcs hate humans and elves. Yes, this NPC can give interesting world details. Yes, this NPC will just talk to the PCs for a few minutes so they can have the fun of talking to someone. Obviously, the smaller the purpose, the more likely it is any NPC can fulfil it. Information about a murder or the plans of a specific orcish warlord should be hard to come by. Not everyone has it. Making a new contact or friend should be easier. But not everyone wants new friends or makes them easily. Having a fun conversation is easy. Everyone in the world can be a source of a fun conversation.

Now, once you know the interaction can succeed, you also have to decide if it can fail. Might the PCs NOT make a new contact or friend? Is that reasonable? Is it possible that the NPC won’t give the PCs the information or resources? Can they really FAIL to have an interesting and fun interesting interaction?

Now, obviously, if the players just want to have a fun interaction or learn some world details, the possibility of failure really doesn’t serve any useful purpose. But the bigger or more important or more useful the goal, the more likely it is that failure is a real possibility.

Now, if things CAN succeed and CAN fail, you have an encounter on your hand. And we’ve already talked about what a Social InterACTION! Encounter has to have to work. The NPC needs to have reasons to not help the party. The NPC might also have reasons to help the party or the PCs might have to create those reasons. And if you’re in that position, you need to invent a social interaction encounter on the fly.

I’m not going to rehash that whole article here. This s$&% builds on that s$&%. Go reread it if you need to.

Pick a Word, Any Word

Okay, now you understand the purpose and you’ve decided whether the scene can fulfil the purpose and whether it can’t. You’ve decided whether you need to run an encounter or not. And if you need to run an encounter, you need to figure out those details. But how do you actually play the NPC? How do you bring an NPC to life that didn’t exist until a few moments ago?

The trick is to pick a word. That’s all you need. Remember, right now, the NPC only has to exist for one scene and you know what the NPC is or is not trying to accomplish (or what the players are, it’s the same thing). Now, all you need is to actually play the NPC. But to bring the NPC to life, you can’t just go back and forth with boring narration. You need to get into character. And for that, all you need is one word.

Just pick one. Pick any word. An adjective. A describy word. Angry. Impatient. Friendly. Talkative. Polite. Worshipful. Creepy. Racist. Oily. Conniving. Flirtatious. Scheming. Impolite. Grumpy. Flamboyant. Egotistical. Rude. Happy. Bored. Disinterested. Suspicious. Frightened. Paranoid. Whatever. Just pick one word. And that word describes your NPC.

Now, everything you say as your NPC, say it in that way. Write down that word on an index card and keep it front of you (not where your players can see it) so that every time you open your mouth, you see that word. And don’t worry about overdoing it. Just play it to the hilt. If you’re scheming, be VERY scheming. If you’re friendly, be VERY friendly. It’s okay.

See, the dirty secret is this: everyone is a caricature until you get to know them. Yes, NPCs should be complex and nuanced and deep… after they’ve been around for a while. But, when you first bring one into your game, an NPC is just one trait with a cartoon drawn around it.

Play the Scene

And that’s it. No, seriously. That’s it. That’s all it takes to get you through the first scene with the Unexpected NPC. That’s all you need. Understand the point of the scene, play the scene to either fulfil or fail to fulfil the purpose, and give them one trait. After that, all you have to do is respond to what the players say. It isn’t hard. Just pretend you’re that NPC and see what happens. Whatever comes out of your mouth is fine. I’m not even lying. Running an NPC is just a thing you have to do.

Don’t Be Afraid of A&%pulls

While you play the scene, you might suddenly have a neat idea. For example, it might occur to you that the sage has a particular interest in ancient draconic culture and that might make him particularly enamored of helping the PCs. Or the urchin might have been an escaped slave who was badly mistreated and now he’s prone to intimidation and bullying because of his fear of pain and punishment. Those sorts of details sometimes just pop into your brain or fly out of your mouth.

Sometimes, the details might fly out without any reason. You might not know why the urchin is afraid of being pushed around or why the sage is so excited about this research. It might just be an accident that happens when you play the NPC. Everything is going along fine and then suddenly one of the PCs decides to threaten the kid and you – as the kid – flinch and act terrified.

Congratulations, you just pulled a detail out of you’re a%&. Well, technically, it came out of your brain or your mouth. But, for most people, there isn’t much difference anyway. The point is, if something suddenly happens or seems like fun, just go with it.

In that way, you start to discover details you never invented about an NPC who never existed.

Remember that…

And, by the way, a%&pulls don’t have to be limited to the NPC in question. Organizations, nations, towns, religious rituals, holidays, historical figures, monsters, gods, and demons can all end up in your game because some NPC suddenly started talking about them through your mouth. It seriously happens.

In the Long Run… How a Character is Born

Once you’ve gotten through the scene, you’re okay. You can breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve dealt with whatever random imaginings your idiot players have forced into your world. For the moment. But, here is where things get tricky. As easy as it is to bring NPCs into the world, it’s very hard to take them out of it. Which is good, because NPCs in the world are very useful.

What do I mean?

First of all, once the players have an interesting interaction with an NPC, they might decide they enjoyed the interaction. And then, they might want more. They might start going back to the bar with the crazy innkeeper because he’s so much fun to deal with. Or they might start hanging out with that friendly elf because she’s friendly and the PCs like having friends. Whatever.

Second of all, some purposes for Unexpected NPCs are long-term purposes. For example, once the urchin proves useful at tailing a particular suspect through the city, the PCs might realize that the streetwise urchin has a lot of useful skills to exploit. So, they might return when they need to find out information about a specific location. Or if they need to hunt down a missing person. The NPC, at that point, has become a resource.

Third of all, and this is one of the more interesting ones, someday in the future when you’re writing an adventure, you might see an opportunity to use an NPC that the PCs Elevated or Imagined. After the PCs interrogate the orc and let him escape, now there is an orc running around the world with a vendetta against the PCs. He might join another tribe or gather a warband to fight the PCs. Or he might ally with an enemy of the PCs. Or, hell, if the PCs are good to him, he might betray another leader to them someday.

Here’s the point: keep track of all of your Unexpected NPCs. Once again, this is why I like to use index cards for NPCs. When you first create the Unexpected NPC, you might write down his name and race and one-word trait on an index card. Keep that card. Keep it in your GMing folder or pile or whatever. That way, you can pull it out later. And, more importantly, you can add to it.

See, just like PCs, NPCs become more detailed the more you play them. Things fly out of your mouth or brain or a%& and they make the NPC more complex. And adding that information to a card can help you keep track of it. The index card method is very useful precisely because you can pull out the card and have all the previous information about the NPC at your fingertips. And you can add new details that you “discover” in you’re a$&.

Moreover, between adventures, you can look over your cards and add details too. You might not know why the urchin is so easily bullied, but when you look over his card after the game, you might ask yourself why and come up with a reason. It’s always good practice to look over your NPC roster between games and see what details emerge.

And, obviously, when writing adventures, it’s very useful to flip through your NPC collection and see if any Elevated Extras or Imagined NPCs might return for another guest appearance.

And THAT is how a nonexistent NPC becomes a recurring character people get attached to.

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55 thoughts on “The Unexpected NPC

  1. I do a few things here.

    First of all, I keep a Rumor Table of bits of information I think the PCs might want, written to reflect local colour. Not everything on it is true, but even the false stuff tends to point the PCs in a certain direction. This amounts to a “Topics of Conversation” random generator for interactions that are not limited to a specific transaction.

    Secondly, I keep a random generator to suggest names by race and region.

    Third, I have another random generator that suggests a basic personality trait (pretty much the “Word” suggested by Angry), as well as a quirk, mannerism or distinguishing characteristic which may or may not come into play.

    When I have time, I add the NPC to a roster of NPCs in the area which I keep in a spreadsheet. That spreadsheet contains a number of other random generators that suggest: a possible agenda the NPC has in interacting with the PCs; a possible reason why the NPC may not want to help the PCs; the relationship the NPC has with three other NPCs on the roster (ally, enemy, etc), and in what sphere that relationship has arisen (war, trade, etc.). It also suggests a gender an alignment if I haven’t already chosen those. I pick and choose elements from the random generators that make sense and write a short paragraph including the name, personality, distinguishing characteristic, agenda and relationships. I can run pretty much any interaction from that single paragraph.

    It took a lot of work to set up, cribbing lists from a lot of sources (including Angry’s list of Words, which brought my personality list up to 130), but I can now create an entire village of personalities, wants, fears, love triangles and feuds in an hour or two.

  2. “Because, at a certain point, being an adult means you keep going DESPITE your problems.”
    You are an inspiration to me. I mean it. I like that you admit problems, you admit your own problems and that you always strive to be better. You make an effort to be transparent and level headed. I wish you good luck! I would hate to see you go. I know you are going to give it the best you have.

    I bet the article’s main content is good too, I’m going to read that now, but I wanted to say this.

    Now let’s do something manly, like ride a bear or something.

  3. Scott, we want nothing more than to see you succeed (and continue as our Go-to Guru of GMing). We can help shoulder the load, just call on us.

    A few ideas:
    -One of us could get your backer list updated for you.

    -Someone could type the text of your articles while you dictate.
    >>>Could send an audio recording by email so you wouldn’t have to coordinate a phone call.

    -Another person could write up an agenda of topics for the Bimonthly Webcast while you dictate it.

    -You could forward Ask Angry emails to somebody who would extract the actual questions and put them on Excel or OneNote, sorted by general topic in the tabs and/or sub-tabs.
    >>>This could even be done by sending chunks of the back-logged emails to multiple minions. If done this way, you could have one person merge the different documents together into one master.

    And if you don’t feel comfortable asking one of your backers or other fans, you could put out jobs to do these kinds of things on websites like or You pay the workers a pre-determined fee only after you’re satisfied with the results.

    Honestly though, many of us (me included) would do that kind of thing for you for free. If that feels to you like have players role-play the monsters in combat or letting PCs determine treasure, etc, you have those above options too.

    We care about what you’re doing here and stand at the ready.

  4. I enjoyed the article as usual but must nitpick.

    Your link to your article on adjudicating actions is broken.

    I think you’re missing a bit of a paragraph – “But the rest of the promises weren’t meant to be gravy. They were meant to”

  5. Scott, I appreciate that you’ve been going through a lot, and I’m heartened that you’re trying to get your shit together; I’m working to do that too.

    I’m not running any games currently, but I hope to start before long. And I need your advice; I’m already 100% better a DM since starting to read your articles, and there’s more I need to learn from you. I WANT to see The Angry RPG become a thing.

    So sometime soon, probably when I start running games again, I’m going to increase my modest contribution to your patreon. It’ll still be modest, but more. Because I want you to keep doing what you do, for as long as this is your passion.

    • Hmm… I want to clarify, because I know you weren’t asking for more support. You’re telling yourself (publicly) that you have to get ahead of the work and transition to doing this professionally. So my offer to up my pledge… What I mean to say (and I say it less well than I mean it) is that I want to see that transition, I’m believing that you can do it, and that as you do the value of this site will just go up. So really, I mean I’ll pay you more when you earn it! 😛

  6. Ditto to what Ben C. said. To grow this blog and make it sustainable you need help. Really want to help any way I can. You do solid work here and want that to continue. Email me if interested or add me to your mailing list if you need volunteers in the future.

  7. I just wanted to say that you need to do what you’re comfortable with, but it would be a great loss to see you stop. I’m a far better GM because of you, and I’m extremly grateful to you.

  8. This is honestly the best D&D resource on the internet – bar none. It would be a true, true, shame if you shut down.

    We care about what you’re doing here and stand at the ready.

  9. I am mostly a lurker but this time, I thought the voice of yet another fan/reader could be of use.

    I am poor. Truly poor. The kind of poor who has to worry about keeping the lights on every day because you have way too many bills pilled up. Yet I have been wanting to participate on your patreon from the get go and if it weren’t for my partner not letting me be part of it, I would already have done that – despite all my financial problems.

    And that is because your blog has been an immense help for me. You have put into words things I didn’t think about, you have shown me things I didn’t know before and thanks to reading your blog and musing over the words on it I was able to return to GMing after about ten years away from it.

    See, I’m one of those who started playing young but had a break of several years due to life sucking balls. One of those people whom D&D has helped cope with stuff and is a huge part of their lives. I couldn’t GM because of anxiety issues and to this day I still struggle with them. HOWEVER, you have helped me feel a lot less anxious about a lot of things and have helped me be more confident. I have been GMing again, even if not as often as I’d like or as consistently.

    I believe, obviously wrongly as one could be, that due to my experiences in life, reading your blog since its inception and a specific diploma stuck to my wall that I can understand what you might be going through. I get the pressure, the frustration you must feel because you can’t deliver what you promised. And it sucks, for you and for those who are currently able to support you (And I hope that I’ll be one of those one days).

    And because I am one of those people who want to support you I can say “I’d rather have you write one post a week than to see you closing shop because you have overwhelmed yourself.” Your supporters won’t dislike you, hate you, be disappointed in you or angry if you can’t handle what you’ve promised and you have to cut further back as long as you continue communicating with your public. To us, your readers, it is preferable to have your content less often than to not have it.

    Do the megadungeon series twice a month, ask angry twice a month for example. And, perhaps more importantly to you, put in your head that you are not getting paid solely for the featured article, but the whole shebang (I could be horribly wrong but I do get the impression that being paid for your work is what pushes you to meet deadlines more often than not).
    Maybe you can change how your patreon works. Make it “per column (Megadungeon, ask angry, how to GM, etc etc)” instead of per featured article. Sure, people will have to change how much they donate, but you can just reduce the pledge’s value and still end up with the same. Maybe that could make it click for you and help you get content out.

    I agree with you that you gotta keep going despite your problems. We all have to. But one thing is to keep going and another shooting yourself in the foot over and over again. I don’t know if your current plan is a solution or a bullet on the toes, only you can know that for sure as you know yourself and what makes you tick but what I do know is: A lot of people will miss your content and as stupid as it might sound, miss the chance of supporting and helping you out as you slowly take over the world.

    Now it’s 3 am in my part of the world and I have absolutely no idea on how to conclude my post, so I’ll be redundant.

    Don’t close your shop on us. Find a way to make it work instead. Talk to your supports on Patreon if you don’t want to use the website. Discuss it. We think you are wickedly awesome and we like what you produce. And I want to give you money so keep that bloody shop open until I get a god damned decent job!

    • I’d like to add my voice to this chorus. I often let Perfect knife Good in the kidney and drag it off into an alley, never to be seen again, and it would be tragic if the Angry GM let the same thing happen. I would much rather have SOME Angry than NO Angry if it’s at all possible – there are just too few places I can get good, critical insight about tabletop RPGs without having to sort through the cruft of folk that can’t come up with anything better than ‘always say ‘yes, and’!’ and similar tripe.

      I’ve never actually looked closely at your Patreon until just now, and I am legitimately FLOORED at the high value of what you’re putting out (and I mean your ACTUAL output, not the extra promises) compared to what you’re receiving. The only other Patreon I’ve taken any serious look at is for a long-term acquaintance who, while he has a lot of critical insight about video games, mostly churns out a lot of cruft through his Let’s Plays and Twitch streams. You’re both in about the same ballpark, and while I love the other guy and respect his efforts, my dollar has a lot more buying power in the Angry GM Patreon. I’m not a patron, of anybody, but if I know I can get Angry in perpetuity (or at least beyond October), I might just become one.

      Even if it was just an article a month, it’d still be one hell of a damn deal. If it’s at all feasible, don’t just completely up and close shop. I doubt anybody who isn’t just your average troll would fault you for having to acknowledge you were overambitious when you set out on all this.

      That said, if it comes to that, I respect that your other projects need to come first. You just better be advertising that stuff all over and making sure to keep us informed – if that winds up being the only place to get your particular brand of whatever-you-call-it, I don’t want to miss it.

  10. Angry, this is awesome advice, and this will help greatly as we start the session Thursday. While I had the “luxury” of having a week to figure out what the orc knows and cares about, because this was the last orc in the battle and they decided at the last moment to leave him alive, and we were already past our normal time limit for the session (we had the day off last Friday, which helped!)… not always do we (as GMs) get time to figure stuff out for an unexpected NPC.

    This article (have I said “Thank You” yet? I’ll try not to overdo it.) provides a clear pathway. The DM screen for 5e has some NPC personality tables (grafted from the DMG) but they are sorely lacking.

    Over the years I’ve been maintaining an Access database containing all kinds of great lists. One of the lists contains one-word personality traits, which I just this past week updated to around 150. A button on a user form quickly randomly displays 10 of the words. Coincidence? Perhaps. Anyway, I hadn’t thought about using this list in this context, but it makes sense and easy to do.

    And I keep a pack of index cards in my GM Toolbox.

    (By the way, my database, with a combination of entered names and generated names [prefix+suffix] has the ability to randomly select from over 3.1 million pronounceable unique character names. I’m especially proud of my Tavern Name generator.)

    Anyway, your advice is appreciated, and over the months I’ve been reading your stuff (I’m not quite caught up yet), I’ve put your techniques and suggestions to use. I’m human, I make mistakes, but fortunately my group is good about offering feedback. Having been gaming (and GMing) a bit longer than you’ve been alive, it’s good to know that there are those who not only study the craft of GMing, but are able to teach and share with others their experiences and knowledge. Whether or not you’re able to continue this project in the future, know that at least one of those you’ve touched (virtually… don’t get any ideas!) has benefited and is appreciative of the work you’ve done.

      • I’d have to be real careful, and probably strip a lot of stuff out of it, because a lot of the content was gathered from published sources. I’ll think about it. If I ever do make it available, I’d put it somewhere on my forum site:

        Feel free to check it out – I have threads for my ongoing D&D games as well as discussions regarding the games I’m designing.

          • I spent the last hour or so “cleaning” the database – removing all objects/tables/procedures specific to published games and stuff copied from published sources. There’s still a lot of it left. The only thing I need is to fill out some of the specific D&D name lists for gnomes, tieflings, and dragonborn. Right now, gnomes get the same list as elves, and the other two lists are very short (i.e. I only have 43 entries in the Female Tiefling list)

            There are a lot of “random name generators” available online. The problem is they don’t provide the data source that supports the generator. I don’t have the time and patience to hit “generate,” copy and paste thousands of times to try and get all the names out of their lists.

            However, if people want to contribute name lists in text or Excel format, I’d be happy to include them. Sometime soon, I’ll put the database on my forum site so people can make use of it. It’s open source and has several useful VBA code modules (that aren’t being used in any of the generators), so people can pull the data and do other stuff with it, if they want.

  11. Hi Angry,
    I just popped in and made an account to lend my support over the comment section. I, and everyone else I’m sure, respect your accountability and your advice!

  12. I’d like to echo the comments on the value you contribute to gaming. I personally think that value far outweighs the odd slump, but at the end of the day, you are the one that has to feel comfortable with what you are doing. Although I bet if you just promised less people would be okay with it.

    That said, I think it would be a damn shame if you gave up contributing entirely, and in the unhappy event that you have to give up the big commitment, I hope you can keep the legacy content on here and maybe add the odd article when something piques your interest/anger. I for one would be happy to contribute just to keep the legacy content alive – not just for you, but for the community.

  13. This is so important that I edited it into the article itself.

    After reading the comments and e-mails, it’s become clear that people have misinterpreted my intentions. The outpouring of support is truly wonderful and I’m really flattered that people think this site is such a valuable resource. I don’t WANT to quit and I’m going to do everything in my power NOT to quit. People are offering to help AND offering more money or apologizing for not supporting the site.

    So, let me clarify some stuff. First of all: money is not the issue. Yes, money has been very tight for me lately because I’ve had several emergencies and because helping my girlfriend move across state lines has been difficult. And I’ve picked up extra hours at the day job accordingly. But I’m not starving. My supporters are extremely generous and the last thing I wanted to do was ask for more money. Please do not edit your pledges because you think I need more money to support the site. That isn’t the issue.

    The issue is that I’ve fallen behind. I’m now putting things out pretty much as quick as I write them. I have no buffer. And that means I’m always behind. And because of that, I’m not focusing time on any of the other projects. Time-wise, I’m treading water. And there is nothing anyone can do about that. What needs to happen is that Angry needs to sit down and put in a lot of overtime and get himself ahead of schedule so he can have a reasonable workflow. And that means he’s got to spend the next 45 days having some sleepless nights and pushing himself extra hard. He doesn’t need help. He doesn’t need anyone working for him. He just needs to have a really hard six weeks of crazy effort to get himself ahead of the game so he can stay there. That’s all.

    The point of this whole thing wasn’t to say “I need to quit because I can’t handle it.” The point was to say to people who have been questioning what’s going on with other projects that I know I’ve been screwing up and failing to deliver on things I promised. And also to say that I know I’ve made apologies before. But apologies aren’t cutting it anymore. I need to man up and do whatever needs to be done. And if I can’t, I have no right to get paid for this stuff. I have to stop taking people’s money if I can’t deliver on my promises. And honestly, if I can’t handle the Patreon, I probably also have no right to ever crowdfund a product.

    I take money seriously. When people are willing to shell out cash, you owe them. You make good on your promises. And if you don’t, you can’t take their money. And I wanted people to know I’m not going to issue any more apologies. I’m going to man up, get this crap on track, and move forward no matter what happens OR I’m getting out of the game because I have no right to be here.

    I don’t want to quit. I am going to do everything I can to not quit. I love writing about games and I love helping people game. And I love the idea of making games someday. But loving something is only good enough for a hobby. If you want to make a living at something, you have to earn that living. In a very backwards way, I was trying to make a promise that I’m going to get this all back on track or die trying. Or fail trying. I’m holding myself to the same standard I would hold anyone else to that I financially supported.

    Please stop upping pledges. Please stop offering to work for me for free. Just keep reading the site and telling me that you like what I do. That’s all I need to do everything in my power to keep going. And that’s what I’m going to do.

    • Unfortunately I didn’t see this before making my own comment, but I figured it was something like this.

      I just hope your checklist is reasonable – it’s great that you hold yourself to a higher standard, but I’d hate to see that mean you don’t do any articles at all.

      As you requested, I’ll keep checking the site daily. I probably have since shortly after I picked up GMing again back in March. It’d be a lie to say it’s because of you I did that – but you sure as hell made me better at it. I don’t always agree with you, but you give me a lot to think about. And I like that.

    • Dear Angry,

      I hear what you’re saying. I would like to offer a few words of advice and support.

      I used to be one of those people who would put myself through hell to keep my word. At times I would put myself in a position where I was exhausted, suffered financial harm, and other parts of my life suffered too. I stopped doing this when I realised it wasn’t beneficial to me and it wasn’t even necessarily benefical to the person I had given my word to. What changed me was the realisation that keeping my word was unsustainable personally and also a couple of conversations with people where I’d put myself through hell to do something for them and it turned out it wasn’t that important to them.

      These days I take a different approach. I still tell people I will do things for them. I tend to be quite cagey giving absolute guarantees unless I know the task is very easy. I still work hard to do what I’ve said and most of the time I achieve it. However if something looks like it will take much longer, cost a lot more than I initially expected, or be difficult to complete for another reason, I will talk to the person I’ve got an agreement with. I’ll tell them I can’t do it, it will take take longer, or come to a compromise solution. I don’t think I’ve ever damaged a relationship, personal or business, by taking this approach. People still seem to like me and value me.

      I’ve also been a freelancer (one with an incredibly good reputation). One thing you have to do as a freelancer is be laser focussed on your core activities. If you’re spending time doing something that your customers don’t find that valuable, even if it’s just a small amount of time, stop doing it. Immediately. Update the pledges on your Patreon page, send an email to your existing patrons. Job done. Use this as an opportunity to fine tune your business and make it better. Spend your time where it really counts.

      Also don’t be shy of receiving help. At the moment you may not have the revenue to employ somebody to do the bits you don’t like but if people are willing to take even a couple of hours drudge work away from you a week, take the help. It will make you more likely to succeed at what you really want to do.

      As always, thanks so much for your help and advice on being a GM.

      Regards Giles.

    • You produce great material faster than I can read, let alone use. Thank you. For me, the feature articles are all I would hope for my Patreon support and I don’t mind what they are … Ask Angry, Megadungeon, How to GM, How to Hack your Game … they are all good. I’m guessing that you are determined to do more AngryGM stuff with your time since you left fulltime accounting and you feel responsible for meeting all the Patreon goals. But it also feels like the Patreon goals might not be the priority for you and your readers, even if they sounded good at the time. Would you consider re-working your Patreon goals to align with the feature articles and the AngryRPG so the Patreon helps you with your bigger objectives (e.g., higher Patreon level could get playtest access instead of the current goals)? That would make it fair and open, and people can choose whether they still want to be your Patreon. If you want to deliver on the old Patreon goals you still could for a time, that’s between you and any Patreons at the higher commitment levels. Anyway, just one perspective reading all this. And hoping you’ll continue the work you do that makes so many games better.

  14. I want to add my voice to this lurker chorus. So much that even though the website ate my first damn attempt I’m retyping the whole thing.

    If it’s at all feasible, don’t close up shop. It’s hard to find good critical insight into tabletop RPGs without sorting through the cruft of people who can do little more than utter ‘always say ‘yes, and…’!’ Losing the Angry GM would be a tragedy. I think I also said something about not letting Perfect knife Good in the kidney and dragging it into an alley to never be seen again. I’d much rather have SOME Angry than NO Angry.

    I have only ever seriously looked at two Patreons – yours, just now, and one of a long-term acquaintance who has the occasional useful insight into video game design, but mostly churns out Let’s Plays and Twitch streams. You’re both in the same ballpark, but my dollar has a LOT more buying power at Angry’s place. I’m legitimately FLOORED at what folks are getting for their dollar or five, and I mean what you’ve actually been producing, not what you’ve promised. Nevermind us slobs who’re getting the best stuff for free! I’ve never even seriously considered being a patron before, but if I can get Angry in perpetuity (or at least past October), I think it would be worth it.

    Basically, even if you’ve got to scale back – do less fancy stuff, do fewer special articles, whatever – try not to just completely close up shop. What you do is too valuable. I feel like it’d take a real troll to get well and truly upset that you overpromised when you started this.

    That said, if it has to be, I respect that your other projects are more important. All I ask is you advertise that everywhere you can and keep us informed – if that’s the only place I can get your particular brand of whatever-this-is, I don’t want to miss it.

  15. Add some higher tiers to your Patreon too. It’s crazy that it closes out so low. Allow us to be sustainers. You have knowledge that we want. Let us help 🙂

  16. Angry, you are a light in the darkness. The thought of DMing without your website in the world fills me with tremendous sadness.

    You have my best wishes as you try to get back on track.

  17. I love reading your blog, Angry.

    I understand the stress of feeling like you’re letting people down. However, I hope that you can find a balance point that works for you. I appreciate your ambition and your commitment to your promises, but please don’t let the pressure that you’re putting on yourself poison something that you love. You have a passion for gaming and for writing about RPGs. We love to read your thoughts.

    And somewhere between doing “all the things” and stopping your blog completely, there has got to be a level of activity that is sustainable for you.

    Hang in there.

  18. Hey Angry,
    Since I found your site a year or so ago, you’ve completely changed the way I run my games. I’ve gone from bumbling through situations making half sense and not understanding motivation, to properly structuring my planning and making proper notes as I go.

    If you do choose to stop making this site, I would be very sad, your articles are great and you continue to hone my skills and remind me why I run games, but I’ll still be a better GM because of you.

    I hope you keep this up and find what you’re looking for, but if you can’t find it right now, remember that you changed a lot of people, and maybe give it another go in a few years time, when things are more settled.

    Good luck 🙂

  19. This is the kind of article that leaves me wondering, how in hell does Angry know so much about this shit?

    It feels like if you take any topic (and I mean it) regarding RPG, you’d be able to deliver an original article full of really useful and inspiring stuff.

    Angry, you are my main source of motivation, sometimes when I’m uninspired and don’t want to prepare sessions or run great fucking games you come up with an article like this one and leaves my brain tickling again and now I have to go write down a shit ton of ideas for my next sessions…

    I understand you, and I too wouldn’t want to feel like I’m taking people’s money and not delivering, but even if you’re not doing some of the stuff you promised the stuff you do put out are so far in front of the other DM content that it totally makes up for the stuff you don’t put out.

    IMHO you should keep doing what you’re doing because this shit is gold, and maybe you shouldn’t make too many goddamned promises, you’re just one man, man 🙂

    • Just a small addition.

      Angry, maybe you don’t realize it, but I’m sure you have completely influenced and changed the way many and many GMs run games.

      You have produced probably thousands of “slightly angry” GMs around the world (I myself am from Brazil).

      And many of us have learnt from you all the meaty stuff for free, because it was all available in your site, so don’t feel bad because now we want to contribute to you and show our appreciation, I suspect many of us are supporting you on Patreon because we already grown up so much from your content that we are perfectly happy to support you now.

  20. Hey man, count me in as another voice of support for you and your site. This site has given me so much useful perspective on so many things in gaming. My game is better for it and my players are having a lot of fun!
    I appreciate your coming out and saying where you think you could’ve done better on things. We all have those moments. Keep doing what you do. It’s really great and I’ll read it as long as you write it!

  21. I love your theory articles and all, but every now and again you write something that makes me say “Wow, I can use this in my game TOMORROW and it will change everything!”

    Thanks for the good read. Congrats on your positive transitions and best of luck on the rest of them.

  22. You’ve already gotten all sorts of support, but I’ve got to add mine in as well. I really hope you’re reading all these, just to at least know that there’s one more person out there who supports what you do and would be at a loss if you were to “give up”, especially on yourself. I know you said it’s not quite like that, but not the point.

    I started DMing only 11 months ago, at the beginning of October. I used to try to be DM when i was 10, but didn’t quite know what i was doing at the time. But I have always had an interest. As someone who writes stories, draws monsters, designs video game puzzles, and just generally has a wild imagination, my friends eventually pushed my into DMing for them after our DM at the time was going through a pretty bad life struggle (job change, big break up, family problems). Since then, they want no one else to DM for them. But damn, were those first 5 or 6 sessions rough as all hell. It’s thanks to you in part that I’m a better DM. With each article you publish, we all grow a bit. Even the stuff I’ve figured out on my own and am already doing “the right way” is fun to read, as it puts me in the state of mind that, hey, I’m not awful at this now.

    The first article I ever read of yours, whilst looking up advice on the ol interwebs, was on making “boss” battles more interesting. My group had just finished killing the leader of a bandit camp, and it went horribly. The characters were all level 1 – 2 and there were 6 players. A boss with too high defense, not enough damage dealing, and HP out the ass, and it got to be a VERY long night. After i’d read the article–which was in 3 parts, I believe–I was hooked.

    Since then, I’ve read everything you’ve posted. Hell, I fanboy a bit when you reply to me on twitter (sorry). You are a D&D celebrity in my eyes, and in the eyes of everyone who reads your writings.

    I know you’re not asking people to pledge more, but I’ve yet to pledge and this is driving me to do so. We all want you to succeed. We understand the money isn’t important and that it’s not a driving factor, but damn does it have to help here and there.

    We love you Scott. Do your best, which is what you’ve always done.

  23. Like everyone else, I just wanted to show support.

    First off, your bit about taking money and delivering, hell, you should write an article about that in an op-ed. I admire it.

    Anyhow, just want you to know I empathize. In a 9 month span I had my identity stolen, bought a house, broke my foot, had to move with a broken foot, replaced the entire HVAC becuase the inspector did a crap job (that with the foot surgery is 10 grand up in smoke), lost my closest local friend to them moving across country, survived 2 rounds of layoffs, and lost a parent to cancer. And during all that lost the prior years work on getting healthy.

    The thing is, it’s taken months to recover and resume being the husband i would lIke to be, the employee i would lIke to be, and have a social life. I’m still recovering on health and just now starting to generate content dnd wise. I respect the amount of effort you’ve put in, and think most people would have folded.

    Hang in there, and don’t be afraid to come back in stages. I think you’d be happier getting ahead on 3 things, then getting merely cuaght up on 4. Maybe hold off the games and other things until you’ve got ask angry, megadungeon, and weds article backlogged 2-3 articles?

    You have to do this on your own for you.

    Good luck, and know that I treat your site like tho holy grail.

  24. Here’s an alternative proposal. Forget publishing on this blog if it’s getting in the way of your larger goals. Convert the Patreon into the “Angry RPG Supporters” and allow us to contribute to your efforts to get these big goals accomplished. As rewards for your Patreons you can drop us updates to the Megadungeon when they’re ready (or whatever tidbits you feel are appropriate). Get yourself off the blog post treadmill and give yourself the time to focus on the bigger things. There’s enough content on this blog already to keep us going for years (if we actually take the time to absorb and implement the lessons 🙂 )

    Re-aim the Patreon at your goals. Make it work for you rather than against you.

  25. Angry, your site is the only GMing advice I read anymore. It always feels to me as though you are cutting directly to the heart of the matter in a way few other gaming writers do. Even when I disagree or have a different style of doing things, I still learn something from reading your work. As long as there is an Angry GM site, it will be at the top of my tabletop RPG bookmarks and I will keep reading.

  26. I can’t give out advice on how to manage your time (I’m pretty terrible at it, myself), but I’m always glad to read what you post. I’ve been learning a lot from you, and I’ll be cheering you on.

  27. To let everyone know, the session went well last night, especially thanks to the advice of our swearing guru.

    To recap:
    The party (five 4th and 5th level characters) were attacked near the end of a long rest by a band of orcs, consisting of 12 standard orcs, 2 eye of gruumsh, 3 oroc, and 1 chieftan. Closing in from opposite sites, coming out of hiding, the orcs started the battle throwing their javelins (surprise round). The stupid orcs all missed, of course.

    The spell casters went to work. The bard temporarily disabled three on one side with Hypnotic Pattern, so the party went that direction. The cleric’s spiritual weapon was more of a nuisance. The monk and the rogue went on their usual killing sprees killing off the low-level orcs most efficiently. The two orc spell casters (eye of gruumsh) spent more time buffing their own, though one did manage a successful command spell on the cleric, sending him running out of the battle for a turn, delaying his involvement in the fight.

    The orocs and the war chief were the real threats. Not only did they hit with multiple attacks, they hit hard! A couple PCs were in dire need of the cleric’s ministrations (which kept him from fighting). What turned the battle, though, was when 6 orcs, including one of the orogs and one of the eyes, got caught in another Hypnotic Pattern. This freed up the 1st three that were caught initially, but they really had no chance against the rogue.

    Of course, the sorceress was also quite effective with her spells, being responsible for most of the damage on the chief and one of the orogs.

    Two wounded orcs ran away from the battle, the cowards. The chief, the orogs, and one of the eyes were killed, The surviving eye, as they were about to finish him off, dropped his spear and said, “Don’t kill me!” The monk smacked him with non-lethal damage and knocked him out.

    That was the end of the session last week.

    After reading the advice from Sir Angry, I knew what to do. Using my database of personality traits, I randomly chose one. (The list he provided actually added about 5 or 6 words to the table.) The word chosen as “Steady.” I thought about it, and decided to model his personality after Teal’c from Stargate SG1. More than one episode saw him being interrogated so I had a good example to follow.

    I took “steady” to mean that he is mostly emotionless, despite his hatred and disdain for the party (especially the half-elf in the party). He was slow and careful with his answers, which didn’t make the monk happy (the monk as an INT of 6, and the player has a lot of fun doing stoopid s&@% in these kinds of situations). I had the monk make a to-hit roll with advantage each time he whacked the orc. One time he got a natural 20, which knocked the orc unconscious for 45 minutes. They got relatively honest answers, as he had no practical reason to lie: they attacked the party because their number was 18, and the party only had 5. Seemed like good odds. They were in the area because they were keeping an eye on the human army stationed along the road to the east. He had no idea what they were talking about with regard to their current quest. And he told them about their own camp over the ridge to the south.

    In the end, they agreed to let the orc go. Why? The orc promised to not bother the party, because he had a lot to do when he returned to their camp. He’d take over as the new chief (since their prior chief was dead), and this would take a bit of time. Also, most of the fighting orcs in the camp were dead, leaving only the women, children, and workers. The cleric cast an Augury ritual spell and got a semi-vague response suggesting that they’d be safe for a day, but beyond that, who knew?

    So will they see this orc again? I wouldn’t be surprised. I have a few thoughts, however. Here’s what I imagined happening: When Ingot (I gave him a name, too) returns to his camp, he takes control as the new chief easily enough. However, he lies to his own people that, after the two cowards ran away, he overcame the human party and killed them all. The two cowards were quickly executed, as they’d be the only ones who might suggest otherwise. From this point, he might join up with another camp, take control there, and at some point, come after the party.

    Sounds formulaic and predictable, but hey, they’re orcs, right? And orcs are nothing if not predictable.

  28. Whether you decide to keep at it or retire Angry, know that you’ve left your mark upon the world of gaming, and the wisdom you speak will live on in the games of all of us dice junkies out here. Seriously, thanks for all the work, it’s meant a lot to many of us. As for accidental npcs, one of my favorites ended up being the owner of a upscale inn the PCs used as a home base. The first time invisible stalkers came looking for them and tore up their rooms, the innkeeper told them to take their stuff and get out… Until they threw a pile of platinum at him. So what could I do but put a slick smile on the mans face as he extended a hand saying “the names Benjamin. Benjamin Stafford… You can call me Benny”. And that was it, he was born. A retired level 1 cleric with no spells (basic d&d) who hung up his vestments for the simple life of inn-keeping… Later, the party’s elf was forced to send a lightning bolt down a hallway of the building (had good reason), totally destroying it… Benny had enough, and told them his customers just couldn’t take the disturbance and had fled… So the party threw so much platinum at him he could buy a new inn, but he likes his inn, so he made the PCs silent partners and told them they could build a strong ro in his cellar. Now Benny is one of their mot important contacts in that city, and he came from nothing. I just love that stuff. Sorry for the rant heh.

  29. You’ve made the games I run better. There aren’t many people writing about DMing with skilled analysis; the vast majority of DMing advice is vague, untested, and un-critical. Thank you, sincerely.

  30. I would also suggest GMs need to know when to introduce an Unexpected NPC to correct an imbalance amidst other NPCs. I just watched a campaign blow up a few weeks ago for several reasons, but a big one is because every ally the PCs had either threatened them, insulted them, or misled them. An actual ally to help guide us through that mess would’ve helped.

  31. Angry, I want you to know that we appreciate your work more than you seem to think.

    I know you would like to do better. You wouldn’t mean this much to people if you didn’t strive for it. But you have to believe us when we say it would be a thousand times worse having nothing from the Angry Gm than a few articles every now and then. We all fuck up on promises sometimes and the people who trully appreciate our work will understand that. The fact that you have so many supporters sending messages to cheer you on right now is proof that the relationship people have with this blog goes much further than a couple patreon promisses. They would be raging in the comments otherwise.

    Know this: this blog is now larger than you yourself. People aren’t offering free work or financial support to you as a person so much as to pull some of the weight necessary keep this beautiful site going no matter what.

    if you really feel like you can’t keep your patreon supporters, maybe reach out to us before deciding anything!
    propose a new business relationship you think you CAN manage and let your supporters decide if they want to opt out. I’m sure that would bring much more satisfaction to the people who have supported you so far than losing what you’ve built here because life made your self-imposed standards too much to bear.

  32. Like many, I’ve been reading your articles for a while (two years I think), without any comment or email. But now I want to add my voice to all of those who said you are doing a tremendous job. Thanks to you, I’ve become a better GM, you’ve oppened my eyes on many topics.

    I hope you manage to find a balance that will allow you to fulfill your promises and feel good about the whole website and patreon thing. Above all, it’s important for you to have fun and stay healthy while doing this stuff ! Keep up the good work.

    Does this promise about fulfilling promises means we might actually have the Pathfinder custom monster article ?? .. sorry I know you’ve asked us many time to let this one go.. I wanted to make sure you get some “Angry Energy” out of my comment !

  33. I just wanted to say how much I enjoy the site. Not just the excellent advice, but how you break it down into its component elements and explain it. Keep up the excellent work, Please!

  34. Hi, Angry. This is the first article of yours that I’ve read, but you are my husband’s gaming hero so I’ve heard about every article he’s read.

    And I have mad respect for who your are.

    I just wanted to throw a little reminder your way: you’re not part of a company, you are part of a community. A community that loves and respects you and what you do. A community that would eagerly give you everything rather than see you leave.

    You say that you need to man up and get your shit together. You’re right. Do it.

    But don’t let an inflated sense of pride tell you to walk away if you fail. This community does not accept failure, and we love to give second chances. Be honest with us and we’ll understand. We’ve been there, too. Adjust your plans so that you’re successful. Reallocate your time, ask for more help, spread out the frequency of lower priority publications…do what needs to be done to make it work. We’re standing with you.

    But don’t you dare think that abandoning your community is the correct response to failure. We love watching you live your dream and if you think for one moment that walking away from us is the manly thing to do because your pride is humbled by the fact that we want to pay you when you don’t think you deserve it, you’re wrong.

    I know you’ve been working at this for a long time. I know that deadlines and goals are vital. I totally approve of a 45 day plan with adjusted goals.

    But what if you fail to meet that goal?

    Make a new plan, adjust the timelines, and keep trucking. We’ll wait. Because you WILL get there.

    We need to see that dreams come true, Angry. We need you to be a part of our gaming communities. Your goals can change, your expections can change, your standard of success can change. But no one can replace you. If you leave, you will leave this communty colder, less informed and less fun.

    Please remember that you’re not alone. That this relationship is not a just a business contract. That until we stop funding you, you have all the chances to make it work.

    So do it. Make it work. Let us see you live your dream.

  35. Well, @#%$. I’ve known about your blog for – literally – about 98 hours, but I feel like I have to pile on here and show some love. I’ve not run a game in over twenty years, and was never terribly successful at running one back then. They tended to devolve into infantile arguments about metagaming, role-lawyering, who drank the last soda – bull@#$% like that. I let the rules get in the way of the game. Put down my dice in the nineties and haven’t picked them up since.

    Your writing didn’t exactly get me back into gaming. But it’s made it possible for me to get back into gaming. It’s a long story, but you come out as the hero, so… yay!

    I’m a graphic designer by trade, and I was goofing off in Illustrator one day, and started doodling this map. Three small kingdoms, nestled in between the mountains and the sea. A fantasy realm. Dragons. Giants. Wizards. A vast expanse of ice hiding a forgotten magical city. All that stuff. An academic exercise. Fun way to blow a Saturday afternoon. Set it down, picked it up. Reworked it. Redrew it. Scrapped it. Did it again. Played around with it for a few months in my spare time. And somewhere in there, like a slime mold left too long in an undergrad’s kitchen sink, it developed a life of its own.

    I’ve always been enamored of world-building. I love Tolkien, not for his stories, but for the craft that went into creating an entire pantheon, eleventy-million weird-ass languages, writing out thousands of years of history – because he created Middle Earth. I love Larry Niven for the same reason – this HUGE history that culminates in the Lying Bastard landing on the Ringworld.

    A couple of years ago, my little exercise became something more. A map to a place I wanted to build, and create a history for, and – maybe – to inject characters into and see what happened. Of course, as a non-gamer, that last bit was going to be tricky. Don’t want to write a novel, can’t run a game…. soooo, maybe write it as a setting? Create some system-agnostic book about my little world, with characters and history and monsters and maps and dungeons and story hooks – stories where the characters explore and find forgotten history and dead languages and use those to find long-lost immortal heroes and work with them to build an army and win an impending war between good and evil and and and and and….. it got away from me. It got HUGE. Too much. Don’t have time to create a hundred NPC’s and religions for twenty cultures and maps for a world’s worth of cities and caverns and temples. Somewhere between map draft #97 and the seventeenth version of the Great Wars of the Dragons or some such bull#$%^, it just stopped being fun. Let it go, man.

    So, anyway, last week. (Yes. Literally last week.) I’m looking for something completely unrelated to gaming and stumbled on the 5E Basic Rules, and scanned them. They actually KIND OF made sense. Slick, easy to digest… not perfect, but a @#$%-ton simpler than the old AD&D crap I had to slog through in high school. Dare I hope…..?

    I found your blog while reading up on monster creation, and was sucked immediately into the megadungeon project. Holy hell. This, by any other name, was EXACTLY what I wanted to build. An exploration of a long-forgotten world, wherein the players learn about the past, and use that knowledge to defeat evil. Admittedly, my idea was a little larger in scale, maybe, but that’s the joy of theory – it SCALES. And it made sense, because you speak gaming in a language I understand: profanity.

    I tore through the megadungeon articles in about four hours; they are bookmarked as Important Reference Documents. And I’ve spent every spare minute on your blog since.

    And I’m going to take your advice and run the #$%^ing Starter Set – once I find some @#$%ing players – and then I’ll throw all that @#%$ in the garbage and start fresh. And I’ll take the @#$%ing hedge-trimmers to my big @#%$ing world and cut it down into smaller, digestible pieces, and make some horrible @#$%ing monsters and shifty-@#$ NPC’s and hide artifacts and build dungeons…. and for the first time in 20 years, I’m going to play some @#$%ing D&D.

    Thanks to you.

    Hang in there, and stay @#$%ing angry.

  36. Pingback: October Update: Operation Catch the F$&% Up | The Angry GM

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