James over at Grognardia had a post this morning questioning both the apparent loss of the Rival Adventuring Party (hereafter "RAP") in D&D as well as the amount of information required by a DM to utilize said RAP.
His post got me to thinking. I'm in the camp that likes to have these NPCs mapped out and statted as much as possible. I find it's easier to have a pool of random information to draw on rather than try and come up with it on the fly.
In other words, I like to consider myself a sandbox DM, but a prepared sandbox DM. Let me explain; no, that will take too long...let me sum up. I have a large binder for each of my sandbox games: those big hefty 3"+ binders. Each one is filled with lists of NPCs, descriptions of people, places, things. Random treasure. Maps. Things like this. These binders are constantly expanding as the campaign progresses; if I find something I like or something I need, it goes in there. Each binder is tabbed and organized in what I call a "chaotic anal-retentive style." Included among these binders are several pre-prepared NPC RAPs. I even have separate thumb drives for each campaign; much of the information in the corresponding binder is duplicated in digital form on the drives. This is not only for backup, but also ease of use.
My groups largely use a program called DMGenie. It was the best 3.5 electronic support we found years ago; sadly it's now all but defunct. Fortunately, we have enough coding knowledge among the groups that we can still make it work for our uses. Each of my thumb drives has an NPC file for each of my NPCs, monsters, and yes, the RAPs, just so that they can be quickly plugged in to the program and included in an encounter when needed.
Again: it's partly my own anal-retentive nature that requires this level of preparation. But my DM-style also dictates that I have this information and my players expect a certain level of detail. It may not be completely spontaneous, but it comes as close as I am comfortable. Don't get me wrong: I still love and use the random tables. I just like to have some details already mapped out for me and ready for use when called upon. I find that it honestly takes very little extra preparation time; it's something I can do while the television is on or while waiting for my wife to finish shopping. It certainly feels better filling time this way when compared to the pressure of having six player stare at you while you try and create an NPC's description on the fly (and then try and remember what you said so that it can go in your DM's campaign notebook).
For the next week or so, I'm going to dig into my files and share a few of these individuals with you.