So a while ago I wrote this idea for a way to randomly generate NPCs that would help to build rich cultures in games. I posted it at story games here, and it got some pretty good attention, and it even got turned into this thing.
I wrote up the whole idea here.
I was always a bit uneasy about the attention the idea got because even though I could see lots of potential for it, I'd never tried it in actual play and I've found a lot of great random generators actually end up sucking when you come to use them, or worse, they're never quite relevant to what you're doing, and they never get used. I was happy to get the chance to try it out then when I started prepping for the Burning Wheel game I'm running.
The game is set in a very ahistorical version of Constantinople, in which the Crusaders never left, and instead established their own monarchy, integrating slowly with the native Greeks and others, and only adding to the city's (by definition) Byzantine power structure. Especially important is the mixture of cultures, with Frankish nobles, a Greek middle class, and Arab and African underclasses. All these create a rich mix that I wanted to reflect in the NPCs in the game. A perfect opportunity to try out my idea.
And it worked out pretty well. The characters I was making were mostly members of the power structure of the city, and the generator gave them great hooks for the PCs to grab onto. It was good for generating powerful NPCs with weaknesses that felt credible and significant. For example, the head of the Glassblowers guild was an Arab with over twenty wives, far more than he could support personally. He angered other members of the guild by drawing on their help to support his huge family. It also worked well for making "Bad Guy" NPCs with understandable motives. Another of the NPCs was a Frankish noble who broke the cultural tradition of believing Peasants to be chattel. One of his motivations for trying to overthrow the monarchy was to establish a more egalitarian society.
So I'm pleased to report that the generator works, at least in that context, and I'll be using it more. I'm creating a Dogs town soon, and I thought it might be interesting for that, though in the end a mpore delibarate approach may be better. We'll see.