One of the greatest advantages of a prewritten adventure is that everything is laid out. NPCs enter providing their contribution to furthering the plot and exit the scene. Whether they’re a character meant to make it through the entire campaign, or a small mechanization to deliver a special item or piece of information – the adventure has the lighting cues for us to know when we need the actor to make their entrance!
We think about these well-written characters, and compare them with our friends who’ve facilitated the same adventures. We ask them: What do you do differently? What part of their story made your players invested? And recall the moments where your party discovered this character, and how they interactions differed from your peers!
Whether you’re a first time game master or somebody who’s played with the same table for twenty years – it’s never too late to analyze why certain NPCs bring so much life and opportunity to your storytelling. Ask your players what makes your NPCs click! And when you’ve received the feedback, start to analyze what aspects of this can be carried over in new campaigns – and even the following session.
A Curated Personality
The NPC becomes a reliable, beloved member of the party and you as the game master are able to walk amongst your players for pivotal moments of their adventure. You experience their losses, you complicate their convictions while challenging and manipulating them through betrayal and the accomplishment of their goals.
They allow you to cooperate, to inspire and contribute to the world on the ground level – and humanize your experience. The most beloved NPC is a driver in the passenger’s seat and sometimes the vehicle itself – providing the party with helpful direction and sometimes steamrolling them off of an icy passageway in a truly epic moment of villainy.
Let’s go back to the idea of the NPC as a vehicle, to focus on the parts that allow them to run, complete their tasks and offer a service to those using them. There’s sometimes a bit of resistance when it comes to quest givers in modules, either they don’t pander to the party’s interest and/or don’t speak to their joint goals. Are the personality traits unappealing to your players? And if so, how can you develop characters with what your players resonate with deeply.
Front Stories over Back Stories
Finally take some time at the beginning of a new campaign to ask your table a few questions: Whose your favorite fiction character and why? What kind of character motivations intrigue you? Maybe a few people at the table might answer similarly and that is an excellent opportunity to build upon those traits with the next NPC.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I’ve amongst friends is developing the front story to encourage your non-player interactions. How did these characters initially connect? Who watched this adventurer grown into their own?
Try to focus on creating NPCs who have an equal investment in the livelihood of your player characters. Many RPGs have this type of world building in character creation to develop the people who occupy the world around them. If you’d like to apply this sort of mechanic to your session zero – I’d recommend looking at Kids on Bikes, Monster Hearts or even Monster of the Week! Even if you exclusively play Dungeons & Dragons – seeing the overlap between your player character’s past really brings out the opportunities for encounters in the future.
We welcome you to join the Loresmyth Discord server to let us know some of your experiences of how to develop and run compelling, dynamic NPCs at your table!