Thursday, April 5, 2012

Yet Another Guide on Creating NPCs, Part 1

Vital elements of any tabletop RPG is for the players to be able to gather information, get a little help with their tasks, or  to have an enemy to focus on. All of these things are accomplished using non-player characters or "NPCs". But makes an NPC tick? How much detail is needed to make one come to life? How much do they know? What niche do they fill in your campaign? I'll strive to answer those questions and a little more.

What Exactly is an NPC?

The answer to this has evolved somewhat over the years, but has remained fundamentally the same. At first, non-player characters were just that, characters in the adventuring party that were commanded by the players but largely managed and roleplayed by the game master. These NPCs were notably Henchmen and Hirelings. I'm not sure if these guys are used much these days, but back in the days of the White Box and supplements, 1st and 2nd Edition AD&D, and the Basic games, they were essential. The Nodwick comic in Dragon Magazine was a parody of how these NPCs were used. (But mind you, Nodwick was a Henchman, not a Hireling!). Henchmen were trusted companions to the party, and stat-wise almost PCs, but not quite. Hirelings usually were relegated to being hired as cannon fodder, so not as detailed or beloved as the Henchmen. Unless the GM was a stickler for the rules, almost every hireling was marked for death, or at least to be used roughly, given a pittance and sent on their merry way after use. All other NPCs were for color, or were the villains who stood in the way of treasure to be had.

During the very early '80s, this seemed to shift along with the out-dated wargaming and dungeoneering paradigms as the empathsis on more roleplaying began to take hold. In order to roleplay, you must have deeper characters to interact with and that add to the ongoing narrative. So the NPCs who were color characters before began to collect more complex personalities, backgrounds and even Henchman-like stats. This evolution has happily continued to the present time.

Nowadays an NPC can be many personae that interact with the party, be it a trusted companion, a hired hand, the city guard, beggar, King, orc, or a villain. In this article, we'll define the NPC as a member(s) of one of a campaign's defined playable intelligent races who can peacefully interact and gainfully reason with the PCs for an prolonged time, and add to the narrative by way of providing color, information, resources, and challenge if needed.