View Full Version : Npc character design: Tricks of the Trade

2015-12-08, 01:36 AM
I've been brewing a d20 system for my group of buds. Lately, I noticed that I've not built much in the way of narrative or npc building. As a result, I decided to ask the playground about their prefered means of designing npc for the adventures of the land.

2015-12-08, 02:20 AM
There's a bunch of guides online about how to give your characters backstories and give them interesting quirks ect...

It has never worked very well for me though. But then the groups I've been in were all about the combat, with the role-play only used to pick on each other.

The best I managed was the 4e power cards all have short ability descriptions. So I'd ab-lib based off those then when making attacks. Like for example with a wizards Phantasmal Assault it was fun thinking up different things that might terrify an enemy.

The provided description:
"A fearsome ogre appears, threatening your foe with a massive club. Or perhaps a snarling drake, or maybe a troll."

2015-12-08, 11:02 AM
I usually design my NPC's based on what I need. If I'm designing a city with multiple quest lines going on, I think of what those quests are, and then make any supporting characters required to push it along. The number of them that you need depends a lot on what kind of interaction you want your players to have with them: having a lot of NPCs might be good for political intrigue or a mystery, because those types of stories need a lot of different points of view and personalities in order to keep things interesting. If the plot is more like a merchant just trying to get you to deliver some cows, then you probably will only need to make the merchant an actual NPC, as well as possibly the person who might be trying to stop you from delivering those cows.

As for their personalities, again, it depends on what role you want them to have within the story. It's a good idea to keep in mind that their main role is to give the players something to bounce off of, so you don't necessarily have to create an elaborate backstory for each one of them, just the ones who might be a longer mainstay within the story, who might require depth in order to justify their being around longer. As a rule, I try to make sure that my NPCs tend to have a higher level of energy, not in the sense of being hyper, but in the idea that they bring life into whatever scene they're in, because that will usually have the effect of raising the players' energy levels as well. Tropes are a good place to start, and while it's always a good idea to try and push beyond that, it's also worth remembering that you don't have to reinvent the wheel for each and every single NPC.

2015-12-09, 01:03 AM
These are both excellent responses. How do you handle stat assignment? Such as making sure that they remain unique and reasonably balanced.

2015-12-09, 02:14 AM
Since you're starting out, KISS (Keep It Simple S*****...DM :smallbiggrin:) I would say to keep your general, basic NPCs' stats average across the board. They're here and gone so it doesn't matter if they stand out. If you have extra time you might give them some relatively superficial trait from a dice rolled list, the NPC is portly, or has a nasally voice, or happens to be munching on a carrot. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary.

You can also use one of many online character name generators and make a decently sized list of names. Jot down the race of the character beside it, mostly that of the predominantly represented race. Make another list with a random selection of minority races. When the players come across another random NPC, it gets the next name on the list. Every so often as appropriate, pick from the minority race list.

The NPCs that you do want to possibly stand out are the usual characters that the PCs will be interacting with, as well as major campaign NPCs. Basic NPCs who return session to session can be fleshed out a bit as you continue. Start out with only a small handful of more fleshed out NPCs and build in the direction that the campaign flows.

If you are able, jot down some notes day to day as you get little sparks of inspiration for anything. When you have time you'll have the notes in which to build.

2015-12-09, 06:11 AM
Step 1 define plot purpose.
Step 2 define setting purpose.
Step 3 set out a setting specific detail to build the character from.
Step 4 flesh put history and personality based on steps 1 through 3.

1 helps the party get from the castle to the fortress.
2 in the setting heis a ferryman, since canals are super common and roads are not.
3 he is tied to a war which happened recently.
4 he lost his leg in the war and became a ferryman because he only needs his arms to move the boat. He has strong opinions about the war and discusses them with the PCs on the ferry ride.

Darth Ultron
2015-12-10, 07:48 PM
I have a bunch of generic npcs premade. With names like ''fighter guard'' or ''nobleman wizard'' or ''bard thief''. And from there can take those stats and make lots of other related npcs quickly. And make unique npcs right off them too. This saves a lot of time as I have like 12 ''guard'' ones and can modify them into 24 other ''guard'' types in just a couple minutes. Over time, you can build a big database.

For personality fiction is a great place to grab a quick personality. Just pick a fictional character and go. This works very well if you pick a character that you know pretty well. They don't even need to be fantasy ones, as all you need is a personality.

2015-12-12, 12:47 AM
On personalities:
Make them follow something.
Their god, their code of honor, their leader, their nose, their greed, their genitals, their stomach, something.

Figure out what they follow and let it lead them around.

Try to create PC-NPC-PC dynamics.
Ways that an NPC can chafe with one PC and ingratiate another at the same time. It makes for interesting situations.

And of course, I'm the type of guy who likes to make a room full of social, emotional, amd political powderkegs and then hand everyone torches and cocaine.

But that's just me.