You, Me, and NPC – Building Interesting NPC’s in D&D
I’ve been busy with my top 100 list and Halloween for the past couple of weeks, so I haven’t written much about Dungeons and Dragons. Today I’m getting back to it and look at creating an NPC for Dungeons and Dragons.
This is a topic that I believe that I’ve touched on before, but I wanted to revisit it, because it’s been a while, and I think I wrote about it a bit more generally. Like I did with Greenfang and building out a town in Dungeons and Dragons, I want to go through the process of building out an NPC when I do it on my best days.
So let’s start out with, what is an NPC? An NPC is a non-player character. The players at the table are playing the PCs (player characters), and the DM is controlling the rest of the characters whom they interact with, whether it’s a shop keep, a quest giver, a priestess, or the BBEG (big bad evil guy/gal) of the campaign. Anyone whom the players are going to interact with and hear what they have to say is an NPC.
What do you have NPCs in your game? I touched on this some already, but the big reason is that it helps flesh out your world. If you have interesting NPCs in your game, you are going to have a world that feels more real and it’ll make the stakes of the story seem like they have more meaningful consequences. If the BBEG kidnaps the daughter of the shop keeper who the players always shop with and have gotten to know his family, that has weight for the PC’s.
Do you need to flesh out all of your NPCs? Yes, and no. You never know who the players are going to decide to follow and make important, so it’s smart to have some idea, but it takes work to make a fully fleshed out NPC. So, no, not everyone needs to have a full backstory, only the ones who are important. And that might mean that you have to come up with some of it on the fly, but when you see who the players are interested and interacting with, you can flesh out that NPC between sessions. And if there is an NPC that is going to be important to the story, you can flesh them out ahead of time as well. It would be too much work to flesh out an NPC every time.
What do you need to plan for a fleshed out NPC in the moment? Alright, so your players decided that the shop keeper Weasel Bob was going to be important and their main spot to do business, because he seemed like he was cool. They start asking you what Weasel Bob looks like and if there’s anything interesting about him. The important things to get started in developing your fleshed out NPC in the moment are going to be something about their look and something that they do or is unique about them. And you don’t even have to do all of this.
You don’t? No, you can ask the players to help flesh out an NPC in the moment. If they make the decisions for that NPC, it’s going to create more of a connection to that NPC as well. If you even have a generic shop keep who runs a generic shop and the players ask what the NPC is named, you can ask them to give you a name and what they look like and probably end up with a pretty good Weasel Bob. That also helps you know when fleshing out the character, based off of what the players said in the session, how to create a Weasel Bob that they are going to enjoy.
This technique works well in the moment when you want to have a bar with a number of people in it or to create a few important people in the bar. Have every player at the table go around and tell you about one person or one table full in the bar. Soon you’ll have a lot of characters that you can bring back into the game later and use again to create that richer and more vibrant world. And it means that you don’t have to generate as much content on the fly, because the players are helping to populate your world with NPCs.
So, now we’ve created a bit of a character on the fly in Weasel Bob, he, like I did with Greenfang is going to be the character that I spend some time fleshing out in future articles so demonstrate how you can spend some time and build out interesting and more fulfilling NPC’s in your game. Hopefully there’s been some useful information to grab from the article thus far on why we use NPC’s in D&D and how you can start to generate more meaningful NPC’s on the fly.
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