How to create memorable NPCs for your Dungeons and Dragons game.
Non player characters aren't just cannon fodder or set pieces for your players to destroy. Memorable NPCs can be utilized for any narrative purpose or game play needs. NPCs will usually be the ones to create conflict, and move your dungeons and dragons story forward.
Prepare your NPCs core emotion or personality type
Describe the characters main emotion in one word. Descriptors can be really simple. Nervous, confident, joyful, grumpy, sad, aloof, indifferent, etc.
Once you have a specific word to describe an NPC you can base your entire performance on that one word.
If you would rather improvise during the game, you can prepare a list of random descriptors and personalities to have on hand. You can also prepare a list of random names because we always need to make a new NPC mid game.
How does your NPC character deal with others?
Another way to describe your characters is how they operate in a transaction or negotiation. Are they givers, takers, or matchers?
A giver would offer whatever they can to help and support his friends without expecting anything in return. A giver is happy to work as a team without getting credit for himself specifically.
A taker will manipulate and lie to get whatever they want. A taker will always steal credit for achievements and always keep the glory for himself.
A matcher is someone who will always repay a favor for a favor. If someone does a favor for a matcher, he will feel like he owes them a favor.
This character building idea was taken from reading Give and Take by Adam Grant.
What is your NPCs goal?
NPC goals can be really simple. especially if the character isn't an integral part of your story.
A farmer wants a new plow that works better. A blacksmith who is in love with the prince. A neighbor keeps trying to borrow a cup of sugar. An apprentice who doesn't want to learn her trade. A craftsmen or merchant who needs to hire more help.
If you keep NPC goals simple, your world will be grounded realistically and feel more believable to your players. Not all their goals need to be about avenging their father or finding a secret family heirloom.
With these easy goals set up, you'll be able to direct the conversation for a good role play encounter.
Now that you have a personality, or emotion word, a give or take action and a goal, you can use all three together to tell you what will motive the NPCs actions during your game.
let your characters grow and evolve
Allow your characters to grow throughout the game itself.
Improvise, learn, and adapt your characters just like developing a player character. Find their voice during game play. Be patient with yourself and your characters, let them grow naturally over time. The best characteristics are revealed in game ove the course of many sessions.
Don't forget to write down important things that NPCs say or want. This way your world and characters will be consistent from session to session.
Don't worry about making NPC stats unless you know specifically that they will be fighting the players. If the NPC never sees any combat, you won't need their stats. You can make up or fudge any of their rolls if you need to.
Playe the role of the character, don't be the Dungeon Master
The Angry GM says "Play the character instead of running the game."
While in role play conversation with players, don't try to narrate and manage the game, just act in character and react to what the players do and say.Don't think about what will happen next in the game until the conversation is over. Acting in character will put your focus solely on the role play, the convesation at hand, and your players will feel a deeper conection with that NPC.
You can even narrate with an NPCs voice. How will the NPC will react to what the players are doing? Focus on your NPCs main goal and try to control the conversation in character.
Practice reacting how that character would react to different things.
how helpful is your NPC?
When players want to make weird or uninformed choices, you can use NPCs as the voice of reason instead of the DM talking.
When giving out quests, use NPCs to give players hints about what monsters they might fight or warnings about what dnagers lie ahead. Hopefully, (for their sake) your players are smart enough to ask questions.
Set up characters that the players can go to for advice or help. A wizard who can identify items, a cleric who can heal, and almost evey group has criminal contacts that use can utilize.
Maybe there is a woodsman or ranger who can guide the players through the forest or a hireling who has experience fighting specific monsters.
The opposite is of course helpful too. Nobody will always want the same things that your players want. There will always be difficult NPCs who will be hard to work with or become an obstacel in the players way. Develop your enemies and villians this way to create great tension during a story.
NPC voices and acccents
If you don't want to work with specific accents, you can also consider slightly changing your voice a little bit.
Make a NPC talk a lot faster than your normal voice, or slower. Talk with a deeper or higher voice. These changes are simple and effective. Every time my voice gets lower, my players know that the bear is talking.
Consider differnent characters using filler words. Um... Er... Maybe... break up their sentances to create different speech patterns and recognizable inflections.
You can also use different vocabulary for different types of people. Perhaps your players encounter a well-educated higher class scholar or wizard. They would use fancier words and some magical technobabble. A bum on the street or a barbarian raised in the forest probably won't be using big words.
If you want to get better with accents, you'll have to practice talking a lot in that voice, outside of the game.
Create a personality traight or core emotion.
Are they a giver or a taker?
Does your NPC have a simple goal?
Is this NPC worth developing and growing as a character? How well do the players respond to this character?
How does your NPC reaact to players during converation?
Is the NPC working to help or hinder your players?
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