Barking Alien once mentioned on his blog that he created something like 300 NPC's to serve as a crew for his FASA Star Trek RPG campaign. My first thought was, "does this man even have a life?" But while that question remains unanswered, the second was, "how on earth could you do that?"
Then it hit me, and I've been trying out the solution ever since. Here's how it works:
First, find some friend of yours who is really into Facebook. I'm talking about the one that has 800+ friends on Facebook. You might also want to look for the friend who has lots of friends from around the globe--that's always helpful.
Then, you just cruise their "friends" list picking out the names of interesting looking people with unusual sounding names. Check their profile; a lot of times they will list where they are from, what kinds of things they are into, etc.
In the name of being not a total creeper, you may want to mix and match a bit. But here's an example:
From: Seattle Washington
Occupation: social-conscious media creator, part time burlesque dancer
Languages: English, French-creole, and Arabic
Description: Multi-racial woman with dyed red hair. Colorful attire.
Storyline: Billie was dancing at a local club when she noticed a local political leader meeting with an lesser-known person reputed to be involved in human trafficking (Billie knows about this through her website). She approaches the PC's, asking for help in uncovering the connection. Plot complications: Billie will continue to dance at the club in an attempt to learn more about the two's plans, but will eventually be recognized by the trafficker and will be grabbed outside the club. The PC's may have to rescue her before she is shipped overseas.
From: Belton, Missouri
Occupation: Technical Animator at movie studio
Languages: English and Old English
Description: Slightly overweight, brown hair, glasses, unshaven
Hobbies: Renaissance Festivals, Bar Trivia nights
Storyline: Austin is trying to develop a new interactive game and wants to know if the PC's would be interested in being "live action models." This would involve them wearing special suits under their clothing that would monitor their actions as they move about. Of course, in order for it to really work, the PC's would have to do something exciting, while not getting into too much trouble at the same time. Theoretically the PC's could engage in some parkour, paint-balling, etc. Complication: the information is later used by a programmer at the same studio to set up the PC's for a real crime, using the computer model of their actions spliced into video footage from surveillance cameras.
See? I got the name, physical description, the job, and the languages spoken from four different friends of the same person. Since my gaming group will likely never encounter the person from the physical description, I could even snatch the photo off Facebook or draw a version of it myself.
I find it interesting that I went with near-future Cyberpunk stories for each of them, probably because it is easier to port modern people into that genre than, say, fantasy. But you could easily tweak it to make them far-future, superhero, etc.
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