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Talia Invierno
Why do so many GMs seem to find the non-throwaway NPCs so hard to come up with? I ask because this I do not understand: I seem to come up with NPC concepts as easily as breathing, reading a book, going outside ...?
The more effort a GM puts into the creation of an NPC the more a GM becomes attached to an NPC. The most well-written NPCs walk a tightrope between NPC and GM controled PC.
To try avoid that what i do occationally is use a favourite [retired] PC as a template. The NPC is a distant relative of some sort that has a LOT of family traits. That gives me an solid NPC but with the separation from me that i don't nearly have the same urge to keep him alive or in control of the situation that can happen with GM PCs.
Wounded Ronin
Err on the side of caution; all NPCs must die!
That's probably it right there Talia, you read many books, have seen many characters. Are able to associate your NPCs with personalities of characters you've read about or seen in film and whammo, instant NPC. I do it too. I learned long ago, this is not something everyone can do.

Talia Invierno
I've seen life. That's all. People all around me. Instant NPCs right there, I'd thought ...?
Not everyone is as creative? Or as free-form thinking?

I think the right question would be... how come people have trouble coming up with realistic, in depth, NPC’s that I believe as people.

hell I can up with an NPC a minute easy. But they are cookie cutters, with little distinction between the two. Comic book extras tend to have exaggerated features and clothing? Why? So they are memorable when they have little to no lines for you to remember them by.

I tend to describe NPCs the same way. What little in personality I can come up with quickly is usually very memorable, taken to the extreme that’s all they are. A single personality trait and a plot device.
The idea behind fleshing out NPCs is typically not for the simple act of fleshing them out by itself. It is to create a framework and archetype that is immediately presentable to the PCs. It may seem a bit utilitarian, but the role of the GM is to present the gameworld to the PCs, and thus you need to create characters that are identifiable right off the bat, as visceral as an image or looking out the window, but also as immediate. If you spend 5 minutes describing a character, your PCs won't be able to keep track of all the details... worse yet, they may lose themselves in the details and thus lose the importance of the big picture without GM intervention. This goes for both throwaway "mooks" and longer-running principal NPCs.

What does this mean? Sometimes you have to use shortcuts... stereotypes, film/book characters, "handles" that the PCs can immediately grasp. The details should be there, but only in the context of the overall run (i.e. have the PCs roll a Perception test to notice something vital). Sometimes you will want to flesh out a security guard that the players are personally interacting with (he's an overweight ork with a bag of Munchos and watching an Urban Brawl game on his portable trid. When he speaks, bits of food fall out of his mouth), but if you do that with everyone, you might be doing the PCs a disservice by presenting details that their characters really wouldn't notice. There is such thing as "hyper-reality", which is best reserved for Stream-of-consciousness-style writing... maybe a UV host or an astral quest, in SR terms.

Yes, it seems "less creative" to not give a detailed family and personality description to each and every single Barney sec-guard. But the players won't notice this, and in the act of presenting the gameworld, you have to reflect what the characters will see, not what the reality is behind the cardboard trees and painted scenes.
I try to give my NPCs one or two vivid details in order to give their personality some feel. Mainly, though, I try to let actions speak for themselves - players learned really fast not to take up a game of darts or even shoot pool with their troll fixer.

What's most important is the feeling or impression that a character is individual. They don't have to actually have a lot of background and motivations unless they're presented with some kind of moral choices in the game world.
Talia, I think that you're not giving yourself enough credit. You seem to have a gift for reading people and transcribing them. This is not flattery. Lots of people on this board have a gift for, say... realistic tactics and weapons that others don't. (FrostyNSO, take a bow.) That's just the way you're wired, and there's no reason to expect others to be the same.

Me, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops observing real people and combining the more notable features of a dozen or so into one person. And some distinguishing 6th world elements, maybe find a picture somewhere and presto. I also have the fortune of working with some fringe elements of society, which gives me some more extreme examples of human behaviour to witness. I don't claim to have especially good interpersonal skills, but I excell (as probably a lot of roleplayers do) with intrapersonal skills.

To put it another way, it reminds me of a definition of 'experience' that I saw once. Experience is not just the events you go through, but what you gain from going through it. Some people are not as attuned to experiencing people.

And I've said it before. Good characters must have depth and breadth. We must ask a lot of whys and what else's.

Sunday, good insight.

I think Shadow also hits on something poignant. When we interact with people IRL, we have to get a read on them in the time we have to interact with them. If I almost hit a drunk with my car, I probably will just think of him as a stumbling drunk, and that's it. However, if I am his counsellor for the afternoon, month or year, I will know all sorts of relevant things about him....
Aha! There it is! We must describe the NPC's in terms of what is relevant to the PC's. If he's just a guy you're gonna shoot or run from in the next few seconds, it doesn't matter if he polishes his shoes or not. However, if you take him prisoner, it suddenly becomes relevant that he works two jobs to keep his family fed. This recognition of relevance is probably what seperates good NPC playing from bad.
Here is something that I just wrote up with some input from above postings.

Fleshing out an NPC is relatively simple process and can add a great deal to your campaign. The purpose of creating an NPC is to create a personality the players can create a mental picture of and interact with.
NPCs of no consequence will often only need a physical description. NPCs should be distinct and easy to recognize. It is best to think of how you want the characters to feel when they interact with this person. Do you want them to feel intimidated, feel superior, or feel on level ground?

Step 1:
What do they look like?
A quick way to come up with an image is to flip through a catalog think of someone at school or work, or to picture a person out of a movie or book.
list body type, posture, stance, facial features, height, weight, skin colour, hair colour, notable features, style and cost of clothing.

How much money do they have and do they appear to have?
How do they speak? Is there an accent, or speech impediment. What is the pitch of the voice?
Do they have some gadget, piece of clothing or object with them that sets them apart from others?
What distinct types of movement does this person do/have that no one else does?

Longer lasting NPCs need a little more flushing out.
Step 2: come up with a name. Combine the names of people you know or have heard of. Name generators can be really awesome for creating one if you are stuck.

Step 3:
background: some quick questions…
How strong are their mental abilities?
Are they perceptive, knowledgeable, intelligent, slow, unobservant
How strong are the physical abilities?
Strong, dexterous, weak, frail, uncoordinated
What are their personality traits?
Aggressive, cheerful, excitable, cowardly
What is the NPC’s occupation?
What is their level of expertise?
Why are they doing what they do?
Are they magically active?
Do they have cyberware?
Do they have bioware?
How do they view corporations?
How do they view shadowrunners?
What motivates this person?
What is this person really good at?

Try and develop one or two distinct details in order to give the NPC some style and distinction. The players will fill the details. It is vital that the character has some slight distinction and has not been molded by a cookie cutter.

For longer lasting NPCs how they view the party becomes important. How do they feel about the party, why are the still in contact with them, and what benefit do they get from knowing the runners. The longer players know the NPCs the more details will be fleshed out. At a minimum, the NPC should have a generic physical description and 1 or 2 notable physical quirks that separate them from someone else. Too tall too thin, wears hat backwards, glowing chains .. .etc.
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