As I was going through my various creations for the New Year, New Challenge, there were two tools I keep referring to--the Universal NPC Emulator and The Everyone, Everywhere List. Both of these are incredibly useful tools that I use both for my frequent Solo games as well as when I'm running a traditional group game. Neither is terribly complicated, but I feel that both could benefit from a proper, if belated, introduction.
The Universal NPC Emulator
The ones I use most commonly are the Description and Motivation tables. Each is divided into two separate tables--Modifier and Noun for Description and Verb and Noun for Motivation. More complicate NPC's might have multiple motivations, but for "quick and dirty" ones, a single one will work. Each of these four tables consists of 100 prompts. You simply roll a percentile die (D100) and compare it to the chart. At the end, you should have a short sentence describing the character. As with any random chart, interpretation is still required, but I generally find that the result is distinctive enough that this interpretation is pretty easy.
I'm creating a town for the PC's to use as a base of operation. I've detailed and created the local Priest, Wizard, corrupt shop owner, tavern owner, and Captain of the Guard. I want the place to be more than a dumping ground for loot, and hope to have some other NPC's to give the place more flavor, but I don't have the time or, honestly, creativity to populate a whole town.
I decide to create a couple of "barflys" in case the PC's decide to interact with fellow patrons of the tavern. I grab the UNE and my percentile dice and see what I can come up.
I first roll for NPC Modifier. I get an 11, which is "lively."
I then roll for NPC Noun. I get a 38 for "laborer."
I then roll for Motivation Verb. I get 43 "deter."
Finally, I roll for Motivation Noun. I get 38 for "the world."
Combining all these, I get "Lively laborer who wants to Deter the World." Interpreting this in the context of a "barfly," I imagine him as a fun and friendly sort, who is great to drink with. He's very invested in the village and immediate surroundings, but doesn't really care much for news of the outside world. If conversation veers to far away, he's quick to disparage other communities. He's not racist--his gnomish neighbor is a fine chap--but any "other" is inherently worse than his fine village.
So, with just a few words, I can get a sense of who this person is, and how they would approach any given discussion or situation. Having three of four of these prepped can hopefully make the tavern a lively place for the PC's to interact with, and maybe even start to know and care about the people of this town above and beyond the "quest givers."
You can get it from Drivethrurpg here. Non affiliated or anything, just a fan of Zach's work.
The Everyone, Everywhere List
Everyone, Everywhere is a short, generic supplement from Erik James Olsrud. It is, simply, a series of charts for names from various cultures or era's, covering a large chunk of the world. Each country/language is given at least three charts of 100 names--male, female, and surname. Many will have two or three each of these categories. You simply pick the appropriate "culture" for the name, and roll two percentile dice to give you a name for that character.
For example, I have my Lively Laborer from above, but he needs a name. I've decided that I'll be using "Danish" for this particular region of my world. Most fantasy games have, well, "fantasy names." But, as I mentioned, I'm bad at coming up with these, and when I try to make up a "fantasy" one, I end up with just a bunch of gibberish. Instead, I use real world analogues to help things appear to make sense. So, I flip to the Danish section of Everyone, Everywhere and roll two d100's.
I picture this NPC as a male, so I go to the Danish Male list. I roll an 11 and get "Balduin."
I then look at the "Danish Surnames" list and roll a 43 for Kierkgaard.
So, the "Lively Laborer" is Balduin Kierkgaard. I decide he's known as "Baldy"--the PC's may or may not ever heard his proper name, but I know it if it matters.
You can get it from Drivethrutpg here. Again, not an affiliate, just a fan.
How I use the UNE and the Everyone, Everywhere List
Both these tools are inherently generic, and thus can be used for a wide variety of games. I use them whenever I'm at a momentarily lost. Generally, I use them to populate a setting--a few quick rolls can give me a dozen or so character that can be slotted in wherever needed. Some will never be used, some will only show up once or twice, and a few will "click" and end up being pretty significant based on the players actions. So, whenever I need to populate an area, these characters can give me the resources I need to fill out the world.
I also occasionally use them for character creation, of course, as I've been doing with the "New Year, New Character" series. Whenever I don't have a clear concept in mind, aa few rolls gives me something to work with. Sometimes, the answer isn't what I'm looking for, but the very act of rejecting results can make clear what it is I do want.
There are other tools out there for coming up with ideas for characters or determining names, and I would never claim that you must use the UNE vs, say, the tables in the DMG. But these are two of my favorites, and I find them endlessly useful and inspiring.