This series follows the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of a fairly inexperienced GM who has recently picked up the hobby after a long time away. It aims to assist new GM’s by examining what worked, didn’t work, and what failed miserably as he spins up new campaigns, modules, encounters, and adventures for his friends and family in Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny system.
I try to browse and interact on the various message boards and Facebook groups devoted to the Star Wars FFG roleplaying game. I try to see what things people talk about and discuss, and sometimes what questions are asked. I have seen a considerable amount of questions about NPC building in the game; more than I expected to see. To me, NPC creation in the RPG is so simple as there are very few rules. Its amount of customization means, to me, it’s the best system for creating NPCs I’ve ever used. For the most part, the game allows GMs to make whatever NPC they need to make with little or no prep time. Combine that with options for minion groups; the crazy amount of weapons, armor, and gear; and the choices can overwhelm some GMs easily. For some, it’s a bit too daunting and many have been looking for some rules of thumb. Some of this is obvious to some players and the information here will appear to be common sense. But for others, some decent rules of thumb would be quite helpful. So… here it goes… a fairly so-so GM’s best shot at giving folks some guidelines when creating NPC threats and using them in the Star Wars FFG Roleplaying games.
First of all, we’ll examine common traits and rules of thumb between the three different types of NPCs: Minions, Rivals, and Nemesis.
I won’t bother explaining the rules behind using minions but a good understanding of them is advised to get the most out of this information. Minions have a few common traits and things you should keep in mind when inventing a minion group. First, they typically have between 4-7 wound threshold, with 5 or 6 comprising a great deal of them. Anything over 7 would be a tough minion just by himself. Remember, what really matters with minions is how many you put in a single group. But for a single minion, stay within the 4-7 range and you shouldn’t go wrong. Minions do not have, nor can they take, strain, so you don’t need to worry about that.
Characteristics for minions means mostly 1s and 2s for all of them. Maybe you can make a case for a 3 in a main characteristic, but mostly you want 2s and 1s in some non-key areas. Again, it’s the number of minions which will determine the skill checks for the minions.
Speaking of skills, how many should you give a minion group? 1-3 makes sense to me generally. Minion groups generally perform a single function in an RPG, so the need to give them too many skills will become a waste generally as they will rarely get the ability to use them in a game. Talents, unless you have a specific narrative case, should also be avoided generally for minions.
Think of Rivals as typical NPCs who are less powerful, to a degree, than the player characters. If you have a single NPC that you don’t need to be a group, a Rival is the way to go. As far as wound threshold, Rivals typically have between 8 and 17 or so. With that statistic, Rivals usually have as much as PCs would basically. Perhaps the low end of the spectrum for a non-combat politician and the upper range for a bounty hunter of sorts.
Characteristics are a lot like PCs too. 2s and 3s should populate a Rival’s characteristics with perhaps one 4 for specific reasons. For skills, 3-6 generally work for mine depending what type of Rival you’re making, and narratively what you want them responsible for in the game. I wouldn’t give them more than 3 ranks in any skill, and 1 or 2 generally do the trick. If they’re a specialist at something, perhaps you could go higher but for this we’re examining rules of thumb. For talents, Adversary 1 is possible but you usually won’t see more than 1 rank in that talent. For other talents, a couple are fine but you generally won’t see more than that. Remember, Rivals are supposed to generally serve a single purpose in your games and won’t be as powerful are your PCs are.
A Nemesis is the big, bad NPC. Meant to be more powerful and more skilled than the characters, they are definitely reserved for key situations or key NPCs in a campaign or adventure. They’re hard to deal with one-on-one and they are the boss in a boss battle. So, as a general rule what should you stat out for a Nemesis?
For wound threshold, mid-teens or so for non-combat NPC is good, all the way up to low 20s for the toughest of Nemeses. For strain, anything in the teens can work, generally in line or close to the wound threshold. Anything more than 20 or so wounds or strain and we’re talking about a serious boss! A politician Nemesis can even have low teens or so. That’s a pretty wide range, but it can be tailored to whatever sort of threat you need.
Characteristics for Nemesis will rival most PCs and exceed them in areas. Don’t be afraid of having mostly 3s and a couple 4s with these. In some cases, if you have an absolute specialist in an area, you can grant a 5. Any more than one 5, however, and we’re talking a bit over powered I think. Skill ranks, feel free to go nuts. Nemesis should have skill ranks like a character close to their level. Having 2-4 skill ranks in key skills is perfectly acceptable.
Talents can get quite diverse for Nemeses as well. Adversary is a key talent almost all Nemeses have; 1 rank at least but 2 is perfectly ok. When you’re talking 3-4 ranks of Adversary, you’re talking a really stout Nemesis. It’s best to save Adversary 4 for the biggest of the big, and Adversary 2 for a good deal of Nemeses out there. For other talents, however, feel free to give all that you see fit. This is the best part of the system, you don’t have to follow rules like the characters do, following trees and such. You can mix and match and customize the exact character you need.
Preparing NPC’s for Your Game
So now that we have some rules of thumb, let’s examine different situations and needs a GM might have, and how to customize these three NPC types to match the encounter you’ve created. This is truly my favorite part of the Star Wars FFG RPG lines. Setup and prep time is so low.
That reminds me, a must buy in my opinion are six different decks of NPC cards that Fantasy Flight offers. Fantasy Flight Games refers to them as “Adversary Decks.” I also took a tip from the Order 66 Podcast and put card sleeves on them. This lets you write on them with dry-erase markers. So I now have over 100 NPC cards of just about anything you could think of. Anytime my characters go in a direction I don’t expect, I just pull out my NPC cards which I categorized and put in boxes. If I need to find a smuggler, for example, I just dive right in and pull one out. It’s so simple. You can find information on the decks offered here and here.
Also, let’s talk a second about initiative slots. I love the fact that minion groups are allowed in this game, so instead of five stormtroopers all shooting, it happens once. It cuts down on the number of initiative slots and makes combat flow smoothly. When you place minions or rivals in your games, make sure you don’t have more than three NPC initiative slots as a rule. More than two or three and you’ll really be bogging the combat down. When I have more than 3 NPCs or minion groups that could act in a round, I usually assign slots only to three of them, and I pick one or two that will not act during a given round. Or, maybe I just give them a single maneuver. This keeps the game moving and doesn’t make things too bumpy when none of your PCs are acting. So it’s not just important to keep in mind how big a minion group is, or how many Rivals to have on the map, but remember how many initiative slots they will take up during a round. For me, three is my max unless there are special circumstances.
Equipment is something we’ll discuss below because that helps really customize your threats. Soak is important as is how much damage they can output in a single strike.
If you want…
… several pesky minion groups, not meant to be deadly…
Put in three or four minion groups with 4 or 5 wound threshold, maybe three or four in each group, and give them weaker or more normal weapons, such as light blasters. This allows you to have several initiative slots, but not really do tons of damage. They should have +1 soak, maybe +2. It gives the PCs a lot to have to deal with but nothing that should take them down.
… strong minions that can pose a threat to your PC’s…
You should put a couple minion groups of four of five minions in your encounter. Give them heavy blasters or auto-fire or something big to hit with. Then give them 7 or 8 wound threshold. This gives a couple groups that hit hard and will take a bit to knock out.
… an average Rival that PC’s should handle easily…
Include one or two Rivals that have in the low-teens for wound threshold. Give them light weapons. Give them equipment that makes sense and a few skill ranks that fit, but don’t overdo it. Don’t give the Rival any ranks in Adversary.
… a very strong Rival that should serve as a decent boss fight…
Give the Rival a rank or two in Adversary. Give them good weapons, perhaps even a lightsaber if dealing with high level characters. Give them mid to high-teens in wound threshold and a decent soak so they can take some hits. Talents like Parry or Reflect or Dodge can help with keeping a Rival like this up.
… a threatening group of stormtroopers…
Stormtroopers in the game are tougher minions. A 5 soak and a heavy blaster and they can hit hard and take a hit. A couple minion groups with say four stormtroopers, then add one or two Rival stormtrooper sergeants. This will make a good deal of threats for the PCs to deal with; ones that hit pretty hard and can take a good hit. Increase minion groups if you need more slots to fire at the PCs. Or increase the number of stormtroopers in each group if you want the group to last longer.
Those are just a few examples. I could invent a hundred more examples, but hopefully this gives the general idea. It’s a diverse system that lets you really fine tune encounters and adjust things so that you can, with little effort, create a challenging encounter for your players without jumping through the hoops of regular character creation. I’m very sure that I forgot several tips and tricks, although these are some of my guiding principles.
What do you think? Anything you’ve found when making NPC’s for your games? Rules of thumb you use? I’d love to hear about some other ideas GM’s have when crafting encounters and NPC’s.
Until next time…!