Real Data vs. Fake Data?

As part of these Operation Whitebox rules I have created some random NPC tables. The stats as far as hit dice and AAC are the ones from the rulebook. I don’t really care about those. The bits I am creating are name and rank for the 10 different nations I am featuring as theatres of operations.

I was talking about this on the Troll Lord Games discord server when someone asked the question as to whether I was using census data to get an accurate distribution of names.

First I thought this was brilliant, why hadn’t I thought of this? Then I tried it and an immediate flaw came to light. Statistically about 30% of all young German men were called Hans, Fritz, Friedrich or Heinz. Making those names more common on a d20 or d100 table is simple. But, as a GM or even as a player, do you want 30% of your NPCs to have the same names?

In my face to face group generic peasants tend to be called ‘Bob’ and that is pronounced in your best Blackadder impression voice. When Bob enters the scene it is possibly because a physical body is needed to open the door for you, or hold your horse or sell you a wombat, but they are unlikely to play a major part in your story.

If you get too many Hans, Fritzs, Friedrichs or Heinzs they start to sound like caricatures. It is also harder to tell NPCs apart, if it they are not meaningless Bobs having multiple NPCs with the same name is not a good idea.

So what I did was create non-statistically accurate tables, that give an equal distribution to every name. This may be ‘wrong’ but it is easier if there are less Friedrich Schmidts than if there are several.

My random military rank tables are just as inaccurate. I could have made them all d100 tables, put all the possible ranks in there and made the Generals 1% and Privates 60% and everyone else in between. What I have done instead is a simple 1d10 list of common ranks for every country. The tables come into play when you are dealing with one soldier, not entire patrols. These are the NPCs that you meet and talk to, maybe at a tea dance, or in a cafe.

We all know that when you are strafing a bridge with a machine gun that nearly everyone on the bridge will be a lowly private. You don’t need to roll a dice to find their rank.

Fake Data

I have a feeling that the fake data would probably fall down in an extended campaign, but whitebox is not designed for extended campaigns. The game only goes up to 5th level because beyond that, a Grunt (Fighter in any other version of D&D) is able to charge down machine gun nests on their own because they have too many hit points to kill. At 5th level you are on the cusp of cinematic realism. To get around the too many hit points problem the game uses a lot of Save vs Death. No one is going to survive a direct it from a tank shell. Save and you may make it behind cover, fail the save and you are dead, hit points or no hit points.

The way I have been playing is that I create a mission, carry it out, and hope I get out alive. I then create a new mission, put a different team together if needed, and then run that mission. This is not the same team/party carrying out every mission.

Seeing as each mission could be in any one of 10 different theatres of operations, each with a d20 table for NPC first/second names for males and females, the chances of you meeting the same person twice is beyond slim.

Was it worth the while to balance the tables? I thnk it was. In my last mission I created 15 named NPCs. Using census data at least two of them would have had the same name. With my table they were each unique. That is not exactly a scientific study but it is enough to convince me.

It is also no harder to find the data. Googling “Famous Germans 20th Century” gives you a whole long list of names that you can pull apart for first and last names, you only have to change one word and repeat the search for French, Italian, Norwegians and so on.

This book should be released tomorrow but I still don’t have a name for it. What do you think of Operation Solo Endeavor [OSE]?

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