Rival Survivors: Unique Random NPCs

I want to preface this idea by acknowledging that NPC implementation is always going through changes, and that in general a lot more work is planned to improve their behavior. I’m writing this post looking far ahead, in hopes that it may be added if (once!?) the needs-based
AI is complete and functional.

Collapsed for Space

For a while, I’ve felt that the default rate of encountering other random survivors is far too low. Even when turned up to 0.6x I’ve not seen a single one in my half-year-old world. It seems so strange that my own player character was completely alone in a moderately large town that is now somehow fully infested with a population of undead and not a one other living scavenger.

Especially after weeks of staying alive, becoming a distinct presence in the area, and leaving plenty of signs of my survival a la piles of pulped corpses, I think more encounters with other survivors is almost necessary. That got me thinking…

Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup has a pool of unique monsters that wander its procedurally-generated dungeon. They always spawn with the same loot, pose the same threat, and behave the same way even through different playthroughs. What might be a challenge for one game might become a piece of cake in another, depending on your situation and abilities.

Since things do exist in the Cataclysm multiverse that are deterministic, such as the existence of a refugee center full of static-spawned NPCs, and especially given how many groups of survivors you begin to encounter in the mid-game by completing quests, I think there’s a case to be made for pre-determined survivors that enter the world at a certain time post-Cataclysm having survived their own slice of hell and with their own goals.

I think it would be super cool to have static characters with a chance of appearing that possess their own agenda, not being affiliated with (or perhaps being a representative of) factions, and that pose a unique threat or boon to anything encountering them. I’ve always wondered if there is a leader to the Hell’s Raiders akin to The Walking Dead’s Negan. Or if I could encounter that one survivor who wanted to sail to Canada (guy’s gotta be pretty stacked). Or any number of potential player-tier survivors: whoever were those elite survivor zombies before they died, and how did I not manage to encounter them beforehand?

Encountering a unique NPC means both a calculation on whether or not it’s a good idea to stay in the area, to engage them or not. A particularly aggressive unique could seek out the player, hunting them. A stealthy one may make little sound and thieve high-value items. An arsonist could only care about destroying buildings. Perhaps you’ll encounter a persuasive NPC with a silver tongue who tries to recruit you for some group? Perhaps there’s a ranged shooter in the distance you’ll need to stay privy to unless you want to keep your head?

I don’t think adding these static components will alter gameplay much besides adding another layer to encounters. There’s already a strong meta for out-of-character knowledge that presupposes successful playthroughs, such as knowledge of science lab turret locations, or prison layouts, or how to access map extra secrets. I feel like the excitement of saying, “Oh man, Danger Ranger Rick has showed up, how am I gonna move around this town now with him on my tail?” is more of an improvement to the game than it is a detriment.

Plus, look at the success of Escape From Tarkov’s randomness, and how the chaos of unpredictable engagement spurs on creative action and tactics. It also feels incredibly real, inasmuch as it is sometimes frustratingly brutal – just ensure the more powerful uniques don’t stroll onto the map by day 2 and I think most of the foreseeable issues will be largely avoidable.

TL;DR: More random NPCs, please. Add a very small chance for an NPC to spawn from a pool of ‘uniques’ that have consistent gear, behavior, dialogue, and goals across worlds. These NPCs can begin to spawn after a certain time, with more days having passed before extremely dangerous appearances. Uniques may have a special motive, such as hunting the player, destroying terrain, or seeking a specific item. More NPCs means a new layer of depth and thoughtfulness to exploring areas and wandering around places that may have been previously ‘clear’ or safe to the player.

See also for reference:
Unique Versions Of Guns
Unique Locations

I think the NPCs just doing nothing at all is a far greater problem to tackle than getting any more sophisticated at the present time.

I can shoot bandits like target practice all day long. They seem to just 50/50 chance at doing nothing or charging at you without any safety concern.

Oh noes!! He is wielding a friggin sock o’ doom AAHhhhhh!!!


Almost everything is already supported codewise. Will you provide NPC data?

Can we spawn Batman?

…obviously a survivor who consumed too much bird/beast mutagen, not anybody else…

I had no idea there was that much support for something like this already. I’ve got quite a few ideas for characters, which I’ll list below. I’ve cloned a fork of the repository from git to potentially start making headway; how should I proceed? This is the first time I’ve gotten into contributing, so any help would be appreciated (I’ve read all the relevant .md’s already).

When their behavior is consistent and understandable enough to promote having many more NPCs in the game ecosystem by default, I think it will improve the gameplay experience greatly. My feelings are that this idea is nothing more than an extension of that addition to the game, to add even more depth than what random NPCs already will.

As for the survivors I’ve currently got in mind – and feel free to comment or suggest others – here they are:

The Mercenary

Chance to spawn begins once the player starts to take missions from the Representative to kill Raiders and is hired in response. Hunts the player down in a highly aggressive fashion. As a proud violent type, prefers melee, but comes equipped with a handgun if heavily injured or forced to retreat. Tests the player in combat versus fighting styles and good armor. Killing (or otherwise preventing the return of) the Mercenary may set the leader of the Hell’s Raiders into further motion to stop the player.

The Ranger

A rifle-wielding veteran that exclusively engages the player from a distance. Will force the player to think about sightlines and how vulnerable they are in the open (Think MGS3:SE versus The End?). Tactical and somewhat cowardice, they prefer to take strikes of opportunity to try and collect goods for barter, as well as thinning out competition for survival.

The Doctor

A wandering philanthropist undertaking a mission to help people surviving in the Cataclysm. Inventory full of rare and/or useful medical items, some of which can be bartered for, as well as teaches First Aid skill at a discount? Potentially recruitable, as well as a mobile source for bionic installation.

The Pyromaniac

Spawns “attached” to a city and collects any lighters in sight. Periodically lights fires, will stand in the vicinity if a building is being destroyed. Barters for firestarters at a high value, offering other goods collected from the town. Will move to the nearest city once all building tiles have been destroyed by fire.

The Silver-Tongue

Belongs to a neutral third-party of elite survivors. Will seek out the player after they have survived for long or after visiting numerous cities. Will attempt to recruit the player – offering allegiance as well as periodic visits bringing valuable goods, at the cost of exclusive loyalty.

If the player interacts with any other factions after being recruited, all members of the recruiter’s faction will become aggressive and seek out the player in an attempt to seize all their possessions, attacking in the process if the player resists.

The player will need a high speech skill to decline recruitment without making the recruiter immediately aggressive, as the recruiter will twist and manipulate the conversation to bend it in their favor. Hopefully this gives speech skill a bit more value so as to prevent a negative encounter with this party.

The Bookworm

A collector of sorts, desperately seeking out books for their own library as well as to distribute to other factions. Offers high barter value in the form of various faction currencies in exchange for books, or can trade for rare and/or high-level books carried in their inventory. Can and will steal from the player if not present to defend their stash of books, in order of first rarity, then skill level, then number of recipes taught.

There definitely needs to be a mutant and a bionics user on this list, I may come up with something compelling for either later.

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I dig these ideas, definitely looking forward to npcs being a larger part of the game experience.

The Guide for 1st time contributors does a reasonable job of covering new NPCs, new NPC dialogue, and new missions, plus general tips on how to contribute.