Top Three NPCs and How to Make Them
A great NPC is one that a player can interact with over a long period of time, and discover the depth of their personality. For this reason, it is most important that you decide on an NPC’s motivation and background, not just their looks and character traits. You do not want an NPC that is completely predictable and unwavering. A good NPC is complex, and can respond to new situations in a manner consistent with their background. To help with explaining this, here are my top three favourite NPCs that I’ve run, and why they worked so well. Feel free to drop these characters into your game if you need a quick NPC.
Claggin Strongarm: Claggin is a human man, mid thirties, and is a bartender. He was hired to run the bar owned by a player while they were away. What made Claggin qualified was that he had spent the last 15 years living in a Dwarven city, where he trained as a brewer, and then eventually went on to learn from multiple tavern owners as he sought to learn more and more. He’s a clever, friendly man who understands that a good bartender can make an adventurer any drink, keeps a good stock of alcohols, and picks up the odd rumor to share. When he really shone: A character asked Claggin to make him a very unusual drink from their homeland. Claggin didn’t know the recipe for the drink, but he was a clever man who had been serving adventurers for many years. In response, Claggin called over the local bard who was playing some music, and asked him if he knew the recipe for this uncommon, location-specific beverage. The bard, with his bardic knowledge, knew the drink and after being paid one gold, gladly shared it with Claggin, who served it to the character with a sly smile.
Tellafin Whiteoak: Tellafin is a half-elf druid who lives in, and is caretaker for, a large park nestled in the heart of a human city. His park, which is half public, and half restricted nature reserve, is the last bit of nature that exists in a growing city that has cleared the way for its progress. Tellafin fights an uphill battle convincing the city not to remove the park so that they can build more. He is charged with the protection of nature, but his position is not one of power, and his abilities, though impressive, are no match for an entire city who is set against him. He is a friendly, but nervous man, who is not quick to trust those who are curious about his park. He warms to druids immediately because he appreciates the shared goal of saving the natural world. When he really shone: The party had a druid who was keen on trying to help nature take back some of what had been taken from it. While in the city, she planted some wild foliage and magically grew it until it overtook an entire graveyard. Tellafin sought her out, and when she excitedly told him of the work she had accomplished, he was furious, and berated her for not only putting his position into an even more of a tenuous position, but also because she had created life in a place that was certain to be cleared out; she had grown plants that would simply be slaughtered. Tellafin was not afraid to go from friendly ally to angry local when it was consistent with his character.
The Dirge Singer: This human bard is secretly a follower of a lich who is attempting to rise to god-status, and sends her followers to spread her word. This takes the form of bards who wander to different villages, playing tragic songs and telling woeful stories, bringing sadness through art. They have great skill, and are welcomed as great musicians, but the places they go do not often detect the way they are actually bringing a more ambient mood of despair that affects listeners and the world around them. The Dirge Singer knew a legend of a hidden mansion that was said to be filled with the wealth of a sand giant king who had gone there in search of his love. When he really shone: The Dirge Singer was happy to sit down and talk to the party who were trying to find out about this hidden place, and he was willing to cooperate and make an exchange. However, when the party started to get threatening, pointing out that there were four of them and only one of him, he responded not in anger or fear, but with a smirk. He remained calm, confident in his ability to survive, and reminded them that they were not the only magically equipped adventurers in the world; he had just as much ability to escape as they had to attack, and the party had to shift their tone if they wanted to continue to deal with him. He communicated this not with threats, but in a conspiratorial way, that really made them feel like they were powers among peasants and that their private meeting was something special, which was a great example of a charismatic bard diffusing a tense situation.