NPCs. You see them everywhere in D&D. Whether it’s the surly barkeep, or the desperate widow, the evil king, or even the Gods themselves, NPCs are essential in order to flesh out your world. They give quests, add flavor, and can even be your party’s worst enemies. Love or hate them, they are a key part of any good campaign. The more attached your players are to your world and more importantly, your NPCs, it can increase the stakes and give your players reasons to be a part of your world.
But how do you make a good NPC to interact with your party? And perhaps more importantly, How do you give your party good characters to bounce off of without them becoming murderhobos? (AKA those players who kill anything and basically anyone they think is just a little suspicious.)
First, aim for a small cast of recurring characters. It helps the players keep track of who’s who, and helps your players build relationships with your NPCs. It also makes life a lot easier for you as the DM. Not everyone has to have an interesting backstory, or even a name, but for those NPCs your party seems to gravitate towards, it helps to make note and add more to.
It also helps to take your player’s backstories and backgrounds and keep that in mind when making the NPCs of your campaign. For example, if you have a rogue in the party, perhaps they have a contact in the local Thieves’ Guild that they could connect with. Or if there’s a noble in the party, think of any royal connections they may have that may be useful in the moment.
Cool tip for NPCs
One cool tip I’ve heard of is to allow your players to say “I know a guy” and let them have some description of how they know the NPC in question. It allows your players to have some control in their own story, and may pull them out of a pinch.
Another thing is to give these NPCs a recognizable trait, to help separate them from everyone else. For example, perhaps the barkeeper is gruff, but loves children and has a soft spot for adventurers. Those are some good traits to build off of, as they can make them memorable . And let your players have fun adding to the characterization as well!
In my own personal campaign, one of the main NPCs, an intern named Wilson, is a bit stuck up, as well as a bit of a fraidy-cat and my party has taken to calling him any other name besides Wilson in order to annoy him. It’s become a running joke amongst the group.
Lastly, make sure your NPCs have goals of their own, some which may help or hinder the party, depending on how the story is structured. Their goals should be something which gives them a reason to be in the story, whether that’s to give a quest, or hinder the other players, or generally have some meaning as to why the players are involved.
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