More NPCs and How to Make Them
Something you’ll be creating for your games more than any other creature in D&D will be NPCs. Often these are more numerous than monsters, depending on the campaign I suppose, and so it’s important to have a clear idea about how to make them in a way that is impactful. I always say that you don’t need to plan much when it comes to NPCs, given that there is no way to predict exactly how a conversation with them might play out. I’m going to provide some more examples of NPCs I’ve loved, and the general way in which I build them.
Morlin, the watchful druid — I don’t often like playing druids in D&D because I find it hard to roleplay one in a creative and new way (they’re basically all just in love with nature 100% of the time). Morlin, however, was a druid who had dedicated himself to a particular part of the natural world; humans. Morlin was a male human druid who had decided to live in a large forest, appointing himself the guardian of humans who entered it. The woods were dangerous, and he knew that they had attracted dangerous monsters regularly, so he sought to protect the often less-than-well-prepared species that lived nearby. The first time he appeared was when he saved the party from succumbing to the song of a harpy. Once he had broke the enchantment on them, he took the time to offer guidance and advice for navigating the woods. Morlin struggled with his desire to slay any creature that would kill humans, but choosing a path in life which precluded slaying other creatures to achieve this. Morlin talked as if he was always in a rush, needing to move on, and having 1000 things to check up on. As quickly as he’d appear, he would move on. He truly loved humans though, and would choose to interact with them over other races in the party, just out of his dedication to them.
Igor, the troll hero: I’ve mentioned this character before, and he suited the campaign I was running perfectly because one of the players was a minotaur who was trying to make a name for himself. I was inspired by the story of Drizzt, the drow elf who had become known for his heroics. I wondered what another hated monster might be like if he remained hated despite his heroics, and so I made Igor. I let a friend name him before the game, just picking a random name (names are often a second thought for me). Igor had found himself in a place where he wanted to be accepted by civilized societies, and had participated in some major battles. He had turned the tide of a war between a city and a horde of monsters, and had gone out and rescued a captured hero from a dangerous dungeon. However, despite these deeds, he was still viewed as a monster by almost everyone; he had to come out of hiding to help people, and then quickly return before being slain himself. Igor appreciated the struggle of the minotaur in the party, and offered to mentor him as a monster in a world that won’t accept him. He spoke with a slow, sad voice (like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh), but was kind and generous. Many rumours surrounded Igor before the party met him, and that made for an interesting interaction when they finally discovered what was true and what was not.
In general, to create a great NPC, I focus on having three things. First, I want to know what that NPC loves, specifically what motivates them to be where they are when the players meet them. Morlin loved protecting humans, the bartender might want to make as much coin as possible, the guild leader may be trying to recruit impressive people into his guild. Second, I want to know what the NPC’s struggle is. Igor was not loved by anyone, including the guards who had fought by his side in the recent encounter. The bartender might be afraid of upsetting patrons, and is willing to go above and beyond with the service given to adventurers (who could murder him with a thought), and the guild leader might be constrained by a lack of trust from his subordinates. Finally, I need to have something that makes them unique, even just for that one interaction. Morlin was in a hurry, Igor was slow to speak, the bartender might be trying to keep their attention away from whatever he has behind the bar, and the guild leader might be checking himself out in a mirror throughout the interaction. Flesh them out this way, and you’ll be ready to react organically and naturally when a player starts saying things you didn’t expect.
Morlin always expected people to ask him to come along to hunt a monster, but he (that is, I) was surprised when the players asked him to leave the forest entirely. He had dedicated himself to this particular location, and had just saved the lives of the party, however, they had recently come from a neighbouring country where many more people were falling prey to dangerous natural disasters. They urged him to go there instead, and save far more people with his influence over nature. I was ready to have Morlin respond with a sudden slowing of his characteristic “in a hurry” tone, to show how impactful a suggestion this was.
Igor had come to help the party as they fought a dangerous wizard, and after the battle he was prepared to leave before they could fight him. However, not only did they thank him, but they asked that he take their minotaur (who had been polymorphed into a dog) to get him transformed back and then mentor him. They also agreed to spread the word of his bravery, and talk to the nearby city on his behalf. Because I knew Igor’s motivation and struggle, I could react appropriately; he began to softly cry with gratitude and offer prayers on their behalf. It was an emotional moment because the NPC had enough detail that he could react in a way that was consistent with his story.