Talking to NPCs
What are NPCs
NPC stands for Non Player Character or basically all the people in a game setting that can be interacted with by the players and their characters. It represents all characters who the Players don’t control and under the direction of the Games or Dungeon Master (DM).
Each NPC has a level of detail associated with it. Sometime the NPCs are created on the spot, or fully fleshed out with a specific backstory. Each of these NPCs are as valid as each other and provide enrichment to the game that makes it feel more like a interactive setting instead of a story your just witnessing.
NPCs come alive with their words, description and actions and can become a memorable part of the game.
It should also be noted that personal views of NPCs and statements are not always true, and they can lie, mislead, or redirect characters based on their motivations including how the players have treated them in the past.
A NPC is not going to automatically trust or believe a player character, just because they are a player character. Trust needs to be earned if you want the best possible outcomes from them as they are the extensions of the DM. In the story they can interact with the players, not just describe a scene, item or encounter. A NPC is where most of the Role Play in the term Role Playing Game comes from, without interacting with them, you have reduced the DM roll to a narrator telling the story without being part of it. So fo be fair to your DM’s, talk to the NPCs, strike up a conversation from the point of view of your own character as see what the Role Play aspect of the game can provide.
Why use Fully Fleshed out NPCs
A fully Fleshed out NPC is an existing story hook for a planned narrative or storyline. They represent a specific point of view, goals and information to share with the players and their characters. There are some good and bad points to consider with fully fleshed out NPCs.
I call them Story Driven NPCs.
- They are designed for advancing the storyline not the characters
- Their background is generally linked to one story arc, or one setting. Such as Story Arc of “Curse of Strahd” or Setting such as “Mayor of Town” which does not mean they can’t be used in other storylines, just their main purpose usually defines their character.
- They usually don’t feature in characters personal backstories unless they know the setting well, and incorporating Fully Fleshed out NPCs into a character’s backstory really needs an agreement with the DM over how much they share a past.
- Players should take the opportunity to find out more about these characters as their personal bias could hold the key to what you are looking for in a storyline.
- Personal interactions can also lead to growth and changes to the existing NPC based on your interactions with them. So be aware that they have the potential to continue to grow with the storyline, not simply to be a body count statistic.
- I am happy to allow expansion of existing characters based on interactions where I might ask the players to participate in the design by asking them questions such as what is their hobby, favorite food or more.
Why use new NPCs
A new NPC provides opportunity to integrate the character with the player characters more than just the story. They can be defined by the player interactions, including their name, appearance and personality. Their importance becomes as strong as the players desire to further interact with them.
I call them Character Driven NPCs.
- They are designed to fit a interaction desired by the Players and gain meaning to the story based on those interactions.
- Allowing players to create aspects of the NPC provides them with a connection to the character and story, with the ability to have a character who is meaningful to the group or simply a comic relief.
- Any character created this way can become integral to the ongoing storyline, and can be given pre-existing roles the DM has set aside for newly created NPCs. So just because the DM asks you to name the character does not lessen its importance to the storyline or setting.
- Again the interactions with the NPC builds on the storyline and its character. This can even be based on a PC’s backstory or downtime information. An unnamed NPC gives a friendly wave and walks on, might not get mentioned again. But then again, they may become important later.
Killing off the NPCs does stop the DM interacting with the party, and to some Players this is what the play for. What is not obvious is that NPCs are not always simple monsters there to show how much damage your character can deal out. Here are a few things you lose out on by killing NPCs.
- Key Information – they might have what you need to know in their heads, and not written down. You can lose many storylines be killing the person you were sent to talk to.
- Allegiance – they might be willing to work with you, or secretly already be aligned with your character or group. They do not have to reveal themselves to you, as if you are playing a hero, you should not be killing them, even pathfinders while not all heroes have been taught the value of information over taking a foes life.
- Understanding – they might have an understanding of the area, other NPCs or simply be a known opponent that you learn the weaknesses of, so next time you fight you have a bigger advantage (besides the intimidation factor of having thrashed them previously)
- Story – Each NPC might have an important part to play in the ongoing story, each time you strike them down, a different (potentially unknown) NPC will take on that aspect of the storyline.
- Growth – You end their storyline when you kill them, so you have potentially lost a chance at seeing a character grow into something better. Such as a redemption storyline, a master villain you have fought since first level, a merchant who’s cabbage stand you always seem to knock over. Each NPC death is an opportunity lost.
NPCs are one of the core building blocks of the Role Playing Game world, where each game is different, and every DM is different, so to can every NPC be different. Some use funny voices, accents, or speech patterns to define the character, other will show a picture, describe a smell, play sound or music, to give you something to build upon.
So next time you have a chance to interact with an NPC, start taking notes, because it is not just the DM who needs to be invested in the story and remember what has happened, the Players need to take the time to also invest in the story.
By making the NPC’s an important part of a game session, you can advance both the story arc your playing in, as well as your characters personal story growth. So make sure you take the opportunity when it is available, because you never know when another player might just kill off that NPC for no particular reason.
- 2021-11-02 – Undefined spelling issues resolved.
Concluding a Campaign: Star Wars
This site is constantly under revision, no blog posts are final as this is a work in progress place for me to develop my game settings and rules. Some posts might be placeholders for future content, so feel free to check back later for updated information.