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DMing 101: NPCs Do’s and Don’ts


Dice

“Roll for stats? Screw that I’ll just make them all 18s…”

Introduction!

This one is so important it took two weeks to write! Or, you know life happened, either way, this week were are going to be talking about Non-player characters. In other words, everybody in the world that isn’t being controlled by one of the players sitting around the table with you. Yeah, those guys staring at you right now as you read this because you never made any NPCs and now you’re panicking. Way to go FailedWell,  your late article has ruined game night! Never fear! Just distract them with random encounters and promises of Mountain Dew while you go over the basics here.

Logo

“Basically, or basically.”

 The Basics

Your NPCs should add to the flavor, and feel of your world, in so much as they are an excellent way of showing how people of the region act. Want to tell your players how the Knights of Bamboozle Hill act, and what they look like, well introduce them to a Knight of Bamboozle Hill! Like dialogue in a book, NPCs allow you to push the story along without all that boring drawn out exposition. NPCs are your voice in the game, manipulate them as you see fit, and use them to further the plot, throw wrenches in your PCs plans, or to simply entertain! (But not too much, we’ll get to that later.) All in all NPCs may be the most important aspect of a game, they are what differentiates an RPG and a Fruit Ninja style hack and slash. Unless of course your NPC is a hacking and slashing fruit ninja…but that’s just silly.

DA3

“See that NPC? That’s a good NPC.”

Do’s Dos, Whatever

First, make them unique. Not every villager is going to sound the same, or react the same to PCs questions, and actions. To make your world believable each major NPC (ones that they’ll interact on a semi-regular basis) should be recognizable, and follow logical patterns. Their favorite color for instance should not be red one day, then blue when the PCs gift them with a red robe or some sort to garner favor. Also, unless you feel completely silly doing it, to the point that it will disrupt your story telling, try and give different NPCs different voices, so that they are more recognizable without you having to tell the PCs exactly who they are talking to at the time.

Second, they should have varying degrees of power. Some NPCs should be weaker than the party, and should act accordingly, showing them respect, and perhaps deference. Some however will inevitably be more powerful, whether that be political power, or just outright brute force. This lends to the feeling that the PCs live in a world that’s real, it gives the world a sense of depth, and allows for rewards, and consequences for their actions when dealing with these people.

Third, NPCs should have a story. Now, the more important the NPC, the more detail you’ll want to go into, you don’t need to know the life history of every farm boy running around the village, but you should have a pretty good idea about where the mayor comes from, and why he reacts to things the way he does. And finally, remain consistent. Unless you are using their change in behavior to indicate something to the players an NPC should generally act the same every time the players interact with them.

Hate

“See that NPC? Kill it with fire!”

The Don’ts (Much Easier)

Don’t let them be insurmountable. This may apply to villains, or perhaps just people that are guiding them along the way. If the players come up with a good enough plan, or work up enough support amongst other NPCs through back channels and the like, everyone should be possible to take down, or at least undermine. We talked about railroading in a previous article, this is just a more focused look. Don’t use your NPCs to railroad, it’s not fun for anyone. Well except maybe you, but I promise it will only be fun for a little while.

The NPC is not your PC. This is sort of a complicated one, because in a sense. all the NPCs are your characters, but you have to be careful and avoid playing them as your own. For one, combat is complicated and long enough that it doesn’t need another guy running around with the party making attack rolls. For another, the game is supposed to be about the players, not about that cool guy you came up with. If you like him that much, save him (or her) for he next time you’re on the other side of the table. That builds into my final point.

Don’t fall in love with your NPCs. You’re going to like some more than others (just like your children) but you have to remember that (unlike your children) NPCs are expendable. Don’t fall into the trap of dues ex machine-ing your favorite NPC out of danger, whether it be from the PCs or the situations that PCs can cause. The NPC is not the hero of the story, don’t make them one. It makes your players feel unimportant, and again like they are being told a story as opposed to living in one.

Well, that’s all I have for you folks today! Press that like button if you did, subscribe if you haven’t and comment down below! Seriously, let us know what you wan’t to hear about next week, or the week after or all the weeks! Till next time, game on.

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About failedwell

Is a semi disgruntled vet who...GET OFF MY LAWN YOU INGRATES!

One comment on “DMing 101: NPCs Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Holly Holiday
    September 13, 2015

    Creating NPCs is one of the most fun and harder parts of DMing for me. Fun because NPCs, like you say, are how you tell the story. Hard because NPCs, just like any good character, should ‘make sense’ – it shouldn’t have motivations like “be evil” but rather “bring civilization to the barbarians.” I do have a favorite NPC that I use a lot – Jan Jansen from Boulder’s Gate 2. He’s great for comedic relief, but I wouldn’t use him for as a main NPC. I’ve never had anyone try to kill him, that would be sad. 😦

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