[Apocalypse World] For Beginners: NPC Starter Kit

All this talk of various forms of prep has reminded me to post my "NPC Starter" prompts for Apocalypse World. They're intended to help a group of beginners, shy people, or people looking for more structure with the setup of the First Session.

The link leads to the full post on the "barf forth apocalyptica" forums:


Any and all thoughts welcome.


  • As you go, write down or draw the connections. I'd have the whole group do it. The combination of choices for any given NPC will tell you what kind of person they are and what they're into. "Ambergrease is obsessed with the Skinner, operates the Furnace, and supplies ammo to the Gunlugger". The MC can throw a single "flavour" detail - a cool "mohawk", a jagged knife, a missing eye - and the NPC pops to life. A couple of provocative questions later, we have a pretty good sense of who Ambergrease might be.
  • edited May 2018
    A fellow gamer mentioned to me that my instructions to "pick 5-6 NPC names" might be misinterpreted to be taken as a personal directive - i.e. that each player should pick 5-6 names.

    Unfortunately, I can no longer edit the original post, so I will clarify here:

    The entire point here is that the entire group is operating with a very small list of NPC names, which each player and each PC references, so that there is a lot of crossover.

    I think 5 names is probably ideal, but I could see a group agreeing to go with 6 or 4, depending on how NPC-rich they want their play environment to be.

    When you set up your game, make a *communal* list of NPC names, 5 by default, and then assign these NPCs relations. As a result, you will have a lot of NPCs who share a mixture of different relationships with various PCs, creating an opportunity for drama, character goals, and surprises.

    I hope that clarification helps!
  • I added another comment, for illustration:

    My recommendation is that, when you use this, you do not detail the NPCs, but choose the relations fairly "blind". At most, have the MC (or any player) describe a single distinguishing feature for each NPC. For instance, you might find out that Dremmer a) has one eye, b) is responsible for maintaining the hardhold's Reactor, c) requires the Brainer's therapy on a regular basis, and d) the Savvyhead believes that Dremmer will bring down civilization as we know it.

    All of that suggests some strong hooks for the MC to develop with this NPC, and can be used, in turn, to set some "first session" scenes (for example, Dremmer coming to the Brainer for "therapy" and explaining the things his missing eye shows him).
  • I've been thinking about doing some short-form AW lately (possibly what I call a "two-shot" - one establishing session, and one session to wrap up), and this might be a good tool for that, especially if we keep an eye on PC-PC conflict and don't get too distracted from it.

    There are a bunch of new/old posters here; I'd love to hear what they think of this simple tool.
  • edited October 2018
    This scenario technique is called "milking" : introducing a new element to a story is costly, so when you need a new one, you first check those that can be reused. Improbability ranks up, but the Rule of Drama hopefully kicks in. This is typical of a game without a setting encyclopedia.
    There are other ways of taking the cost of new elements into account : making exposition sessions (long term), requiring a move to introduce any significant new element (the Quarantine, the Maelstrom). But cramming various roles into the same character is easy. As Paul_T says, there is one risk that NPC-NPC relations will become a thing.
  • Indeed, DeReel.

    In this particular example, I think it's important to remember that one of the basic assumptions of Apocalypse World is a small and tight-knit community where people have shared history, dependencies, and tense relationships. I don't see a danger here of things appearing contrived; rather, the chosen relationships act as a creative constraint for the NPCs we come up with (since we characterize them only after the choices are made) and the implied community we get from each one.

    Essentially, since it's such a small pool of NPCs, the assumption is that we're focusing on these very few people precisely BECAUSE they are so central or important. If an NPC has two meaningful relations with two different PCs, then that is why we consider them a central dramatic character and will focus on them in play.
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