Generic NPCs for Legend of the Five Rings

When it comes to GMing I have to admit that quite often I cheat with NPCs and enemies. Not with their dice rolls but with their stats. Most of the NPCs and monsters in my games consist of only a fraction of the detail that would be found in a complete write up.

A lot of the time I lean towards the bare minimum, noting attributes and skills on the fly as required. I’ll often have an idea of their competencies in my head but until they come into play they’re just that, ideas. Doing so requires a level of system mastery that I don’t currently have with Legend of the Five Rings, especially given it’s a system where antagonists can easily out-rank the PCs. To help with that I’ve put together a generic NPC cheat sheet, which covers all of the essential components other than the school specific abilities. It’s geared primarily towards bushi and courtiers. For shugenja rings will be slightly higher, skills slightly lower. It’s already proven useful in my current Fallen Mountains campaign, hopefully it’ll be of use to other GMs out there.

Miya Tomoko, Imperial Herald

Miya_AnzaiAllegiance: Imperial
Age: 32, Honour: 4.8, Status: 3.2, Glory: 2.1, Insight Rank: 1
School: Miya Herald (Page 230, core rulebook)

Attributes

Air: 3, Awareness: 3, Reflexes: 3
Earth: 2, Willpower: 2, Stamina: 2
Fire: 2, Intelligence: 2, Agility: 2
Water: 2, Perception: 2, Strength: 2
Void: 2

Skills

Courtier (Rhetoric): 1, Etiquette (Courtesy): 3, Lore (Heraldry): 2, Investigation: 1, Sincerity; 1, Athletics: 2, Defense: 2 Horsemanship: 4, Hunting: 3, Iaijutsu: 1, Kenjutsu: 2, Kyujutsu: 3, Animal handling: 1

Background

Miya Tomoko, the Imperial Herald for the Fallen Mountains, serves in the post that has been passed down by her ancestors since the Unicorn Clan reclaimed their territory in the region, triggering frequent skirmishes with the Lion Clan and necessitating the need for a dedicated Imperial presence. Like all heralds she serves the Emperor two fold, delivering missives and declarations to the citizens of Rokugan while constantly observing all that transpires within the region. Due to the numerous small villages and treacherous terrain associated with the Fallen Mountains Tomoko spends little time within Shirayama Toshi, a situation which suits her temperament and desire for a simpler life. As could be expected the numerous samurai of the city court see Tomoko’s position as one which can be politically exploited and during her limited time in the city she is frequently petitioned to endorse their positions or to carry worthless messages on their behalf. Only the Governor makes little effort to influence her actions despite the fact that as an Imperial appointment he could easily arrange for Tomoko to serve him directly.

Tomoko’s desire for a simpler life extends beyond that of merely wishing to avoid the distractions of court. On more than one occasion she has found herself trapped within villages due to snow or landslides, during which times she has been forced to live amongst those beneath her in the celestial order. While most of the samurai caste would find themselves appalled by such conditions Tomoko found love in the embrace of a peasant who was not immediately cowed by her station or Imperial heritage. While such romances are the source of numerous pillow books across Rokugan if anybody were to discover it Tomoko’s position and perhaps even her life would be forfeit. More dangerous, perhaps, would be for a member of court to discover her secret. With it Tomoko would become just another pawn in the never ending game of political maneuvering, subject to the whims of those accustomed to trading the secrets of others.

Plot Hooks

  • General: As a herald Miya Tomoko travels the region extensively, spreading Imperial edicts while also gathering news and rumours. In this position she could easily serve to alert PCs to unusual goings on or movements within the Fallen Mountains, though much of her knowledge is based on little more than hearsay and idle chatter.
  • A secret to protect: Tomoko’s lover has become known to a member of the court and she begs the assistance of the PCs in gaining leverage over those who would blackmail her, all while trying to prevent the PCs from also discovering her secret.
  • The last ride: Peasants from a village on the shores of Lake Ishi summon the party, having found a mortally wounded Tomoko on the shores of the lake. Before she died she called herself Miya Ishi and spoke cryptic messages of “the legion, cannot stand unforgiven.”

Review: Masks by Engine Publishing

This post was originally published over at Nearly Enough Dice.

Masks is the second GM aid book by Engine Publishing, the writers behind the ever popular Gnome Stew blog and presents a library of 1000 memorable NPCs, spread over the Fantasy, Modern and Sci-Fi genres. Masks won the 2012 Gold ENnie Award for Best Aid/Accessory, was nominated for Product of the Year and is available through DriveThruRPG, the Engine Publishing store and in paperback at many FLGS.

WP_000136

The concept behind masks is simple, provide a ready made resource of NPCs that can be grabbed by any GM and dropped into their game with minimal effort. The 1000 (yes there are 1000 distinct and well defined NPCs) are separated first by genre (Fantasy, Modern, Sci-Fi) then once again by their likely relationship to the PCs (Villain, Neutral, Ally). The entry for each NPC then covers just about everything you could need, baring attributes as the book is completely system neutral. Briefly these are:

  • Character name
  • A one line description
  • A quote from the character
  • Physical appearance
  • Suggestions for how to roleplay the character
  • Personality, motivations and background
  • A selection of one word traits

Considering the book manages to collect four characters per page without cramping them together this is a lot of information to draw inspiration from.

WP_000141The genius of Masks isn’t, however, the characters as written; it’s the inspiration that they provide. While I utilise the book on a regular basis I have yet to use a single one of the NPCs within it, finding instead that their presentation makes it easy to mix and match the various aspects presented in the book. If I need a bartender for example I’ll flip through looking for somebody that isn’t presented as a bartender but could be working in a tavern. So my bartender is now a self indulgent intellectual but the motivation and background that provided that one line description doesn’t explain why they’d now be serving ale. I flip a bit more, until I find a background that fits, such as an exiled noble, struggling to find enough work but unable to let go of their privileged upbringing. Now I’ve not just got a bartender but an actual character, somebody the PCs could take an interest in and find something interesting to investigate.

If you’re a GM then Masks is a book that I cannot recommend highly enough, especially if you regularly run sandbox style campaigns where you need a regular supply of interesting NPCs to populate the world.

Rating: 5/5