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Thread: Making Memorable NPCs

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    Aug 2012
    Murfreesboro, TN

    Default Making Memorable NPCs

    PC [pee see] Noun
    Player Character: An entity within a scenario controlled by a human player. Usually the hero and/or heroes of a game.

    NPC [en pee see] Noun
    Non Player Character: Entities within a scenario controlled by someone other than a player. AKA, every single other living thing in a game.

    "Wait, EVERY single living thing in the game other than my Players?" I hear you cry. "Even the birds?"
    "Well, yeah, I gue---"
    "Oh no! What have I gotten myself into?!?!?!"

    Fret not my friend, for I'm here to help. In this series of lectures I will help you figure out just what the heck you've gotten yourself into... wait that's not a good starting point... Let me try this again.

    What is an NPC?
    Think of your favorite game. Go ahead. Visualize! Got it? Good. Now think about all the characters in that game be they the one you play, the boss characters or the various monsters you encounter. Think about all those Toads that told you that your princess was in another castle or those annoying shopkeepers who sent you on silly quests to deliver masks or the main bad guy of the entire series. They are the characters that make a game great, what give a game purpose, what allow the the hero to actually be the hero. From the lowly drunk to the king of an entire realm. Without the NPCs, the hero would have no purpose, no one to talk to, no one to rescue, and no one to fight.

    This lecture will help you, the GM, create NPCs that make your game memorable and great. Ready? Well then, let's get started!

    NPC Classes
    First things first! We need to figure out who the NPC is that we're making. More than likely, you'll make the main bad guy first. After all, he's the whole reason your PCs are going on the adventure in the first place. Why not start with him/her/it? Well, main reason is because that the final boss is going to be, in most circumstances, a very high level character and unless your familiar with making those kinds of characters, that kind of task will be difficult until you've had some experience creating PCs and NPCs. so lets start with something completely different: NPC classes

    These classes will be your bread and butter when you want a go-to class for some lowly every day guy we've spent maybe an hour or so creating and The Dungeon Master's guide offers 5 different NPC classes at the DM's disposal for creating basic NPCs: The Commoner, The Expert, The Adept, The Aristocrat, and The Warrior. These classes can be found at the following link on the right hand side.

    The Commoner:
    Commoners are the run of the mill... well... Commoners. They are the plebeians, the beggars on the street, the dunks in the tavern, the innkeeper himself, and the every day people who work the standard 9 to 5. Not very interesting but a necessary class to have if you want to send a mob of angry peasants at the heroes for killing their Evil Oppressive King who they didn't know was evil or oppressive. (More on the Evil Oppressive King later. )

    The Expert:
    The Expert is your local blacksmith, the shopkeeper, the mortician, and pretty much any job you could see needing someone who is an expert at their job. Like the Local librarian who has max ranks in all knowledges. Very useful for adventurers who need information fast. they are basically the NPC counterpart to the Rogue or Bard. The key thing to remember with Experts is that they get to CHOOSE which skills they get as class skills, up to 10 of them. Yes, thats right, you get to choose your Expert's class skills. This makes the expert my personal favorite choice for an NPC class and a very flexible doorway into building a memorable NPC.

    The Aristocrat:
    Aristocrats are the stuck up snobs... most of the time. Barons, baronesses, kings, queens and so forth. Possibly the mayor of a town (and his beautiful daughter who has caught the eye of one of the heroes) has levels in Aristocrat because of their upbringing. These are the people that generally give quests of greater importance than the commoner who lost his favorite drinking mug.

    The Adept:
    Adepts are the NPC counterparts of clerics and wizards. They are the local healers of the church who don't actually have levels in cleric. Possibly, they are the wise men of a small village or the healers of a nomadic tribe. Adepts are interesting in the fact that they cast divine spells but gain a familiar at lvl 2. Quite a bit of flavor there for the creative minds.

    The Warrior:
    Warriors are the most common NPC class that the players will encounter on a regular basis and is the NPC counterpart to the Fighter. They make up the guards of a city or a traveling band of hooligans. They are the fodder the Evil Oppressive King send at the heroes to whittle them down before taking them on himself. The Warrior is the class granted to a vast majority of monsters in the Monster Manual (Drow Warrior, Kobold Warrior, Ogre Warrior and so forth.)

    This is not to say that your NPCs should be limited to these classes. Far from it. In fact, I encourage you to use regular PC classes when making your important NPC characters. This is what makes NPCs much more interesting and memorable in the player's eyes. But we'll get to that later. For now, let's focus on something a little more lowly.

    The Makings of Greatness
    Now that we've learned about NPC classes, let's figure out who and what our NPC is and does, starting with something simple, the Local Blacksmith.

    Our Local Blacksmith more than likely has 1 to 3 levels in expert. More If he's been doing this a long time and he's a man who knows his trade like the back of his hand. As such he'll have four of his class skill as Craft (Armorsmithing), Craft (Weaponsmithing), Craft (Bow Making) and Profession (Blacksmith) and chances are, he'll have these class skills maxed out. He is a blacksmith after all. Why not have them all maxed out?

    Well, maybe he's not the best. Maybe he's a specialist in forging armor. If that's the case, then his Craft (Armorsmithing) skill should most certainly be maxed out AND he should have the skill focus feet to go along with it.

    But where does this leave us? A blacksmith who specializes in making armor and a feat to show for it?
    "Thats not role playing material!" You may shout at your screen. "Thats just a character sheet!" to which i respond, "Keep your voice down, you'll wake the neighbors."

    But it is role playing material! This one class skill and single feat give us the chance to give a run of the mill blacksmith some life! Suppose one of your heroes walks into this blacksmith's shop looking for weapons or something similar? Let's take a look, shall we?

    Felmick had left the celebration at the bar in search of a smith. His family heirloom, broken and sundered in battle, was all he had left of his beloved father and he desperately wanted it fixed. Seeing a sign for a local blacksmith's shop he walks inside, approaches the counter, and lays the cloth that contains the shards of his father's sword on the counter and un wraps it with care. "I need this fixed by the end of the week. Can you help me?" He asks, a look of desperation in his eyes.


    Lets see what happens when we give the sword to our blacksmith that can do everything:

    "I can. It'll cost you 300 gold to get it done but i'll have it back to swinging form before the week is out."
    "Thank you." Felmick says, pulling a small sack of gold from his pouch and laying down. "I shall return when the job is done."

    Was that interesting? Meh. The hero gets his sword fixed, sure, so the player is happy. But where's the fun in walking into the blacksmith's shop in the first place if you could just say, "You find a blacksmith who will have your sword fixed by the end of the week for 300 gold" and call it session?
    If your players make the effort to role-play them actually leaving a party in their honor and seeking out a blacksmith instead, give them what their looking for: story. Let's see what happens when we give that broken sword to our armor specialist blacksmith:

    The blacksmith looks at the sword for a moment and scratches behind his head. "Well, I mean... I could. Certainly no harm in trying. But, well, weapons... they're not exactly my specialty."

    Felmick looks at the blacksmith and asks, "So, your saying you can't repair my sword?"

    "I'm not saying I can't do it," the blacksmith replies, "I'm just saying that you'll probably get it done better at Miss Fal's Cutlery at the pier. Tell her Falster at the Armored Falcon sent you and maybe she'll give you a better price than most. She and I, we have a referral program of sorts. I'm your man if you ever need a new set of armor though, so remember that." He says observing Felmick's chipped and worn armor with a careful eye "Looks like you'll be needing a new set sooner rather than later."

    Felmick gives Falster the blacksmith an odd look. "A woman? As a smith?"

    "Certainly. Smelts and forges swords better than any man I've ever known. Prettier than most of them too." He says with a laugh and a wink.

    Felmick wraps up his sword and picks it back up. "Well then I know where to have my sword repaired. Thank you Falster." He says with a bow. "I will be certain to let her know you sent me and should I ever be in need of a finer set of armor, I know who to come to." And with that he heads to the pier in search of Miss Fal's Cutlery.

    Now how much better was that? A blacksmith with personality, with a lady friend in the businesses, and he and his friend have names! This NPC now has a hold in our PC's mind as "Falster, the man to see if I need armor. He's a really cool guy too. I think he has the hots for this Miss Fal lady." Moreover, it gives the PC a chance to interact with our gruff tomboyish woman weaponsmith who may or maynot have the hots for Falster. Does she? I don't know. You're the GM! It's your choice. The choices are endless when making your NPCs.

    As it stands, maybe Falster the Blacksmith isn't the grandest of NPCs, but he's got personality which is all any player wants from the NPC's he meets along the way. Someone to interact with to make the story come to life on the road to becoming legends and heroes.

    Next time we'll be delving into things other than NPC classes and how PC classes have an effect on our NPCs. But first, here's what we've learned from this session:

    1. An NPC's personality and character is only as strong as the effort you put into developing them, no matter how long you've spent on making their sheet. A random NPC with no stats whatsoever could have a better personality and provide a better experience than a Necromancer at the bottom of a catacombs whos bringing the whole place to life.

    2. Class skills and feats, while providing the mechanics for who our NPC's are, truly are the building blocks for their personalities. They are what represent the NPC's learnings, abilities and pretty much everything about them.

    3. Even those with ranks in NPC classes can be memorable characters in the eyes of the PC. Remember Flaster the Blacksmith? You just remembered the example i set forth up there without even looking didn't you? See? It works.

    4. Probably a quite a bit more that I can't think to include. Oh well!

    See you next session for Part 2 of Memorable NPCs.
    Last edited by RLFHOG3; 09-24-2013 at 01:48 PM.


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