Hexed Press

A blog about roleplaying games, mostly but not entirely fantasy, hex crawls, sandboxes, game theory, and those games by TSR and Wizards of the Coast.

An Emotional Rollercoaster

An Emotional Rollercoaster

TLDR Instead of defaulting to a single personality for every NPC, use a couple of quickie tables to create more unique seeming individuals.

Normally I try to flesh out my thoughts to, at minimum, some degree (dubious though those thoughts might be) before posting. However, as part of NaNoWriMo, I’m trying to belt out one post for every day in the month, or try until I start missing death saves, so I just won’t have time to follow my normal process. Instead, I’m going to embrace just letting some thoughts loose as they come to me. We’ll see how it goes.

A topic came up in conversation the other day in which one GM lamented that they had a tough time not making every NPC the party meets feel like the same character, just in a different place, with a different job, with or without a different beard, moustache, and coiffed hairstyle. It’s something that, I think, happens to a lof of GMs that we may be loathe to admit. How often, as a player, does every NPC in a town feel like they’re channeling the identical grumpy Danny Glover character from Lethal Weapon? Maybe you add a silly voice and, if you’re feeling particularly emboldened, an accent of some kind, but, in the end, it’s still that same guy. Hey it’s the tired, grumpy innkeeper! Hey, it’s the tired, grumpy shopkeeper! Hey, it’s the tired, grumpy guardsman! Yeah, it can get tired. Let’s freshen it up a bit.

To start, I found this great chart somewhere. It’s not mine and I’d love to give credit for it but I can’t seem to figure out where I got it from. In any case, here it is:

Wheel of Emotions

it’s basically exactly what we want but it’s dense and daunting and, for some purposes, might actually be overkill. Since I’m a sucker for tables, I decided to break it down into tables that we can use, depending on how deep we want to dive into a given NPC’s psyche. I’m going with three levels, equal to the three rings of the wheel, starting with the broadest, innermost ring.

Basic Emotions

Choose one from the following table or roll 3d6 and consult the table for your result.

Die Result
< 6 Surprise
6 - 7 Fear
8 - 10 Anger
11 - 13 Happiness
14 - 15 Sadness
> 15 Disgust

I tried to weigh the results to match the weights of the slices in the ring so that “happiness” and “anger” will come up more often than “fear” and “sadness” which will come up more than “surprise” and “disgust”. Now, you can stop right here and run with this result. For many single-serving NPCs, there’s probably no need to go further down the rabbit hole than this. However, for more important or recurring NPC, or just for kicks, we can use this initial result to traverse outward across the emotion wheel.

Intermediate and Advanced Emotions

Start with the basic emotion that you chose or randomly rolled. Check the following table to determine the dice to use.

Basic Emotion Die Type
Happiness 1d8
Anger 1d8
Fear 1d6
Sadness 1d6
Disgust 1d4
Surprise 1d4

Roll the dice indicated then check the result. For the advanced emotion, roll an additional die and choose the even or odd emotion that matches the throw result.

Happiness

Die Intermediate Advanced
1 joyful even: liberated; odd: ecstatic
2 interested even: amused; odd: inquisitive
3 proud even: important; odd: confident
4 accepted even: respected; odd: fulfilled
5 powerful even: courageous; odd: provocative
6 peaceful even: hopeful; odd: loving
7 intimate even: playful; odd: sensitive
8 optimistic even: inspired; odd: open

Anger

Die Intermediate Advanced
1 hurt even: devastated; odd: embarrassed
2 threatened even: insecure; odd: jealous
3 hateful even: resentful; odd: violated
4 mad even: furious; odd: enraged
5 aggressive even: provoked; odd: hostile
6 frustrated even: infuriated; odd: irritated
7 distant even: suspicious; odd: withdrawn
8 critical even: sarcastic; odd: skeptical

Fear

Die Intermediate Advanced
1 humiliated even: disrespected; odd: ridiculed
2 rejected even: alienated; odd: inadequate
3 submissive even: insignificant; odd: worthless
4 insecure even: inadequate; odd: inferior
5 anxious even: overwhelmed; odd: worried
6 scared even: frightened; odd: terrified

Sadness

Die Intermediate Advanced
1 guilty even: ashamed; odd: remorseful
2 abandoned even: ignored; odd: victimized
3 despair even: powerless; odd: vulnerable
4 depressed even: empty; odd: inferior
5 lonely even: abandoned; odd: isolated
6 bored even: apathetic; odd: indifferent

Disgust

Die Intermediate Advanced
1 disapproval even: judgmental; odd: loathingc
2 disappointed even: repugnant; odd: revolting
3 awful even: detestable; odd: revulsion
4 avoidance even: aversion; odd: hesitant

Surprise

Die Intermediate Advanced
1 startled even: dismayed; odd: shocked
2 confused even: disillusioned; odd: perplexedc
3 amazed even: astonished; odd: awe
4 excited even: eager; odd: energetic

Once you’ve got these emotional states in hand, allow them to inform how you play the character. Think about why a character is feeling the way it is. Maybe it’s something that can become more than just a touch of color to the scene-- it can add depth to the adventure at hand or become the hook of the next adventure. Let the players explore that space, if they care to, and see where it leads. If nothing else, at least not everyone will be too old for their shit.

Let me know on Twitter if you find this useful (or not) or if you have any suggestions or ideas.