In reading this blog, you have likely seen that I believe in the concept of idea sparks. I think most game masters can come up with NPCs, missions, locations, etc., if they only have the spark of an idea to get them started. I know it works for me, and as most people do, I believe that everyone else is like me, at least GMs are.
So, this is a bit ghastly, but I have found a new pool of NPC ideas: The obituaries. Google something like “notable deaths 2013”. Best if you use a city that is in some way similar to the city you are trying to flesh out (port city, ag city, major rail or highway crossroads, etc.). Avoid terms like “celebrity” and certainly avoid “Hollywood”. You’re not looking for famous movie and TV stars, you’re looking for folks who are more local in nature. Flip through the inevitable photo gallery, even clicking into some of the descriptions if you need more details to build on. You are going to find a parade of local folks: politicians, business types, philanthropists, yes, some entertainment folks too, but not just actors. There are a million stories in the naked city, these are just six dozen or so of them. Each and every one of those people had a fairly major impact on the city who’s newspaper has put them in the annual perspective piece. Shouldn’t they (meaning their fantasy counterparts) also have a place in your city?
As always, you need to make the genre shift. Union officials become guild masters. TV stars become actors in plays or even operas. Journalists probably don’t have a counterpart, unless your world does have a “press”. Be careful - all newspapers have some manner of bias, and they will forget about people from the other side of the political spectrum. Newspapers are also biased in thinking that their employees are famous, when rarely do people actually notice or care about them. Sorry - Print is dead, don’t bother arguing with me.
Yep - It’s a bit gloom and doom to be reading the obits, but the ideas are vast. Not only do you get a small glimpse into their lives, but you know their accomplishments. Famous entrepreneur? Why not place him in your city just before he gets famous? Now you have news for the next few years on how he is growing his business. Socialite? Same thing - place her in time right before her scandalous news breaks. These aren’t just ideas for NPCs, but possibly for missions or even just news about town. The more invested in the city your PCs are, the more they care about what’s going on in town. Even for you non-role players out there. Do you spoon feed news to your players or do you hide the important stuff within a whole bunch of news points and let them sort it out? Well, then you need a whole bunch of news points to sort through, don’t you?