GM's, how do you organize your character-snippets?

edited September 2011 in Story Games
So I'm prepping for a game of Sorcerer tonight. Sorcerer is one of those games where you role-play a large number of (hopefully) compelling and sympathetic NPC's.

When I'm doing this stuff, I'll often think of fun little "bits of show business" for role-playing this person or that person. How they look, how they talk, funny stories they might tell, various rivalries and friendships. Right now I'm thinking of a 1950's DJ, "Wild" Bill Acres, and his on-air shenanigans, many of which are making me crack up, and I'm just hoping I remember them for tonight.

But here's the thing--the minute I get to the table, I become the most disorganized person alive. I'm trying to talk to players in real life, process plot-stuff from the NPCs' points of view, and handle mechanics. And often I'm desperately trying to find some little rule tucked away in the text. All the little spiels and fun mannerism stuff gets totally blown away.

Does anyone else have this problem? How do you overcome it?


  • This is the main thing I'm trying to work on right now.

    One thing I do is on the character sheet for the NPC, I put a box, and in the box I write the text I want to say.

    But this is pretty ham-fisted, other people should help us out!
  • For me, it's mostly practice, practice, practice. And I don't mean that in a generalized, "keep doing it and you'll get better at it" way: I mean that I literally practice playing those specific NPCs. I run little dialogues between them in my head, I daydream about scenes they could be in and what they would do in them, I try out different takes on them until I find one that really clicks with me. This is fun, low-impact prepwork at its very best, just working stuff out about characters in those otherwise wasted moments that crop up during the workday or mealtimes or exercising.

    If I come up with something I really, really like, I usually go over it a lot until it's well-polished, and at that point I'm probably going to remember it for a very long time. Still, I'll make notes about it -- I used to keep character info on looseleaf pages in a binder, but I've recently switched to composition books (marked up with tabs and even page numbers + an index), and that's working out well. And things got a lot better when I decided to take a beat and actually READ those notes before jumping into character...often during a game, I feel a lot of pressure to respond immediately, fearing that if I don't, all the energy will leave the table and the game will suck. But this isn't true at all, and I can take a few moments to refresh my memory about how I wanted to play an NPC and get into character without sabotaging the game. In fact, the energy goes UP when I do that, because now I'm bringing out my best material right out of the gate instead of jumping in feet-first and trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing as I go.
  • I like to do mannerisms, but I often find I slip in and out of it, or do the wrong one. so I've been trying to be more organized, and keep just essentials or highlight the important parts. The most important part for me is the NPCs' name and and quick one sentence description of his role. So that I can quickly review my notes and the NPCs goals before I play him, since I keep it short it takes very little time.

    I like to put each NPC of a 5x7 index card. I last ran fate so the card had their Name, role, aspects, top skills, goals, desires and a short description. Then I write notes for me on the back of the card including: their last interaction with the PCs, relationship to PCs, NPCs, locations or props, and the things I want to bring into this session. So usually I just take a quick scan of the back of the card and the highlighted aspect before I play him. I also try to keep cards for location that I hope will be important or make new one on the fly for a location the PC go to, adding aspects to the location card as they come to mind or are declared, and notes of what transpired there.

    The game that was most inspirational to how I now plan and set up was "Full Light Full Steam." I find that creating a situation (linked to the players aspects or goals) and having pre-thought some NPCs, Locations, and Props each with aspects is a great way to start. When I have the time, I like to make a simple relationship map because it helps me understand how the PCs actions effect the NPCs. Beyond that, I try not to prep too much, because it gets in the way of letting the players tell the story and seeing how things play out.

    I have also given up looking for rules while playing, it's often better to just make some decision on the fly, then look it up at a break and say next we will follow this rule. But often the player knows the rule and where it's at because he want to do something special.
  • I don't do a lot of planning. But I do have a fear of not knowing what's going on.

    For rules and game prep, if I need it, I'll write up a cheat sheet, or find one, that puts it all in one place. I have the players responsible for their PC rules.

    For NPCs, I make a list of names that fit the setting with attached personalities. If necessary, I have stats separate from that. I marry the two as needed (Need a slumming diplomat? I make the combo). Often I don't need the stats, so I just cross off the names as I use them and make note of who they are now for future reference.

    Index cards are great. Maybe too loose for you. Otherwise, I use Scrivener to keep all my game notes for a single game/campaign in one place for in between games.
  • James,

    I don't do this well, either. But I think my preferred method would be to collect all the NPCs (or whatever) on one page, and use images and symbolism to convey information.

    For instance, a quick but evocative image (maybe a picture of a weasel for the character you want to be the sneaky coward) for each character is space-efficient and doesn't require for you to read the page to jog your memory, along with their name.

    Likewise, organize the NPCs on the page according to some scheme. If they belong to two different camps, have those with allegiance to one side on the left (with the most strongly aligned on the far left) and those against them on the right, with traitors are unaligned characters in the middle.

    Similarly, color-code. Maybe military characters in red, etc.

    That's my idea, however half-baked!
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