Memorable NPC’s? Naw.
Now I’m going to start by saying I am not very good at making memorable NPC’s, and to be honest I don’t think many DM’s are. Not from a lack of flair or character that the NPC is presented with from the DM, but because most people will likely only remember their interactions with the NPC.
Example. Many DDAL (Adventure League modules) have reoccurring characters and lots of times the references to them are a name, and the previous module you might have encountered them in. Unless I’ve taken notes, I got nothing.
However, any NPC, no matter how brief, that there was interaction with (besides getting the quest or needed info to move the story along) they will be remembered.
Example. My Wednesday night group tends to make short work of any battles, but any role-playing situation can take out the evening. A simple nights rest at an inn turns into 4 actual hours of the party going off-script. Getting jobs for the bandits who surrendered to us. Looting or at the very least looking through all the stuff any NPC who looks interesting (aka isn’t a peasant).
The number of nameless NPC’s we casually keep track of expands every other session. Recently it was a Noble who knocked out our party druid, who’s timid but heals the paladin of vengeance often. Now the druid had it coming to them, picked a fight with the noble and his guards over a horse whipping.
Paladin of vengeance didn’t feel the need to take out the noble, just annoy them. So the party released his horsed into the wild, got the caravan to leave them where they’re stuck, in the mud, without horses. Then left wanted posters with their descriptions everywhere along the route ahead of them. And careful, their spell-casters so make sure their tied up, gagged, and locked in a trunk for their 5 week trip south… to the nobles family.
Attacked by bandits in a swamp? Threaten them, show you mean business by smashing faces and taking fingers and tell them they have a choice. Rot in the swamp or go collect the bounty on someone impersonating a noble – here’s their wanted poster we picked up (had made) in the last city.
Hey its the Kobalds who surrender to us (aka the Redemption Paladin) a long time ago and we introduced to gambling. What do you mean you guys won big and now you’re on a tour to other gambling tournaments? Good for you, can you put these wanted posters anywhere you stay? Thanks boys!
So ya, lots of nameless NPC’s who are memorable because of party interactions, but those actual NAMED NPC’s – who are you again?
Age of Ravens has some great advice for
- Always Have Names: disagree – a memorable quirk is far more enduring than a ‘name’ – thing can include players also.
- Desires and Dilemmas: really why are they there engaging with the PC’s? This can also include secrets the NPC might have, or shares with a PC. Layers about the NPC “Oh Ralph, you’re daughter needs to be escorted to a party”
- See What Sticks: because not everything works all the time with all the people. Find the Icing – and not the one the gives a penalty in hockey. Physical appearance or personality traits that likely stand out.
- Secondary to Players: They are facilitators to a greater shared story, not protagonists
- Exercise: An NPC Tool: figure out what works for you to create NPC’s you, and your players can remember.
The Collaborative Gamer has a good listing for A System for Creating Memorable NPCs
Creating Memorable People: A Checklist
For each new NPC, roll for:
- Role in Society
- Current Situation
- One Bodily Appearance marker
- One General Appearance marker
- One Memorable Mannerism
Once the players get to know the NPC a little, you might need some more information about them. In that case, you can roll for:
- One Interesting Fact
- One Hope or Fear
There’s a few tables for ideas and randomly generating your NPC as well, matching the categories above. Great ideas I highly recommend looking over!
But the best advice for creating NPC’s is in the 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. On page 89-91 there is a 10-step method for creating an NPC, but its all up to you to fill in the blanks as it is just a guide. Here’s the main points to think about and fill in for NPC’s:
- Occupation & History
- Abilities – high ability, low ability
- Interactions with Others – how do they interact/behave
- Useful Knowledge
- Flaw or Secret
Let the party be a part of the process, let them add lib and create backstories for NPC’s. It doesn’t need to be all on the DM to create every aspect of the world and people in it.