hit counter code Breath Life Into Your NPCs
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Breath Life Into Your NPCs
Author: Keith Haney

The life-blood of any role-playing world is the non-player characters. Over the last 23 years I have dutifully searched for ways to breath life into my NPCs. In October’s issue I discussed some elements of this, but it seemed that the subject was worthy of further discussion.C and use that voice or mannerism for all interactions with that character.

I was reflecting back on campaigns I had run or played in over the years with a fellow DM friend. I discovered a common thread to our discussions. Aside from the personal accomplishments of the characters we played, the highlights of our discussions seemed to focus on the exploits and personality quirks of the non-player characters (NPCs). Non-player characters are the characters the Game Master performs to share viewpoints of the citizens of the world with the players. In each campaign it always boiled down to a handful of NPCs that stood out from the rest. What qualities made them more memorable? Both villains and allies were on the list, minor and major players in the unfolding of the story. Planned and unexpected encounters too were involved. The shared factor in all this was the fact that the NPCs seemed to be real. By that I mean they had real thoughts, emotions, goals and desires. Realistic NPCs provide the DM with a strong supporting cast through which to move the plot of the campaign forward.

When the players interact with the NPCs they can expect that the NPCs will act according to their knowledge, class and character. Once the players understand what motivates and NPC it gives the players an opportunity to shape the future of that NPC. Once the party understands an NPC they should be able to expect reactions from that NPC in line with the NPCs character. A good friend of mine, who has been a game master for years, called these triggers buttons.

If you can figure out and push the NPCs buttons you get an understanding of what motivates them and conversely how to control them or manipulate them. As a DM you need to be consistent on these buttons for each NPC. Players are tasked with analyzing the game master and the world and finding a way to make a meaningful contribution to the world. This is a trial and error task requiring judicious study of the DM’s style. Accomplished players will understand how their character fits into the world and which NPCs are the gateway to success and which ones spell doom.

The Dungeons Masters Guide has sections regarding personality traits for NPCs . The random list is not a bad reference if you are hard up for ideas for NPCs, but I find that many of the traits are too extreme and distracting. Don’t use the list randomly. Select a trait that fits your need and then create the persona. Many times I have been caught in a scenario where the players need to interact with a NPC that I have not considered and I have to create one on the spot. A good way to handle this it to create a short list of names in advance of a play session. Pick a name from the list. Take a moment to form a mental image of the character. Give him or her a catch phrase i.e., “Once more unto the breech!” maybe this is a gung ho character with a strong chin and a spirited optimism. Then let yourself go. It this case I might assume that this persona is head strong and overly confident. His “button” could be that he can't endure criticism and will fly off the handle in any case where his integrity, honor, or prowess are cast into doubt.

Encounters like these have created many memorable NPCs and entertaining nights at the game table.