On Minor NPC Creation
Hello all, Diviner here to discuss some of the things I like to keep in mind when I come up with NPCs.
I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition my freshman year of High School and really liked all the different race and class combinations that were possible with the system, so I spent hours in math class creating characters with backstories and different abilities that I would like to play. I fully intended to play every character that I created, but as time went by I really began to enjoy the process of character creation.
When developing characters I tend to think them up in small clusters tied together by a specific person, place, thing or event. They may not all have been directly involved with the thing or event, but it serves as a common springboard for their creation. Depending on the setting, I may make the clusters friends, lovers, business associates, or enemies. Some types might include a lone wolf searching for answers to their past, or a gang looking to terrorize the local townsfolk through intimidation or violence.
My current method for creating NPCs looks something like this:
- Are they friends, enemies, or indifferent?
- What do they want?
- How are they going to get it?
- What weapons, if any, do they use?
- What do they look like?
- What is their memorable feature? (A lazy eye? A broken finger? A speech impediment? Etc)
Depending on the importance your players give to the NPC, I add additional depth by asking more questions (do they have a sibling or a childhood nickname? Habit? Expression or catch phrase? Special allies? Useful information? Combat training? Etc) but these aren't needed until the players decide they actually want to interact with this NPC on a deeper level.
I draw inspiration from movies, books, things I see on the internet, or even jokes people have told. I have always liked the characters from crime films and two directors in particular (Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie). Both of these guys usually tell stories involving several characters linked by a specific incident (Pulp Fiction, Snatch). The characters have their own motivations or angles they are playing, along with their strengths to help them and weaknesses to overcome (or that hinder them). I enjoy crime films and have in the past run thief games where NPCs are essential. Nobody wants to talk to the same fat, balding bartender with an ugly wife. But, by giving the fat, balding bartender a trophy wife, things change. Yes, the stereotype has been done before (fat guy with an attractive wife: The King of Queens, Still Standing), but this is just an example on how one subtle difference can help alter the mood and immerse the players in your game.
The last thing I will recommend will be to write down ideas whenever inspiration strikes. I am never writing when I think of new characters. I am always at work, brushing my teeth, tying my shoes, or shopping at the grocery store when I have these ideas. I recommend using a small notepad and pen, but with the advances in smartphone technology, there are several apps out there (if your phone doesn't have one already) to write down a few small notes to transcribe later (or email to yourself.) For my ancient android, I have an app called Color Note (it's free) that I use for this exact purpose. Find an app you like and go from there. But always write. You never know when that gem will come along that will tie your story, campaign, or single adventure together. They will make the game memorable and your players will talk about it for years to come.
That's it for now. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.