|Pictured: meat bags full of gold|
This is important because more than likely, the NPC has a purpose. A shopkeeper is always going to put business first. An organization might be interested in recruitment and want to show the PCs what they are about. A quest-giver is there to give a quest.
But after the first one or two meetings, the PCs should learn more about the NPC. That's how to keep the game from feeling like a machine. You aren't just going to see Bartleby the Tavern Keeper for a drink, you're also catching up with him on his recent family troubles and listening to another story (different than the last) about how he lost his leg.
Now, for some NPCs, this isn't particularly feasible. A visit to the King for a quest is usually going to be just that. However, in my games, I try to flesh out a little bit more of an NPC every time the group meets them. This can be done even if the task is mundane or the NPC is relatively minor.
I'm not suggesting that you have to come up with a backstory, family, and favorite color for every NPC. Although, if your group is interacting with an NPC or organization regularly, you should. I'd say after the second meeting with an NPC, you can usually tell how major their role in the story will be. Adjust accordingly.
|Wanna hear about my gangrene? No?|
- Their personality, how they act while accomplishing their goals
- Their ideal, some concept they hold valuable (usually relates to their alignment)
- A person, place, or object they have formed a strong bond with
- A flaw that prevents them from living their ideals, or reaching their goals
If you're playing 5th edition, you likely recognize these aspects of a character as the same ones listed on the front of the 5e character sheet. I really like these as a basis for building a character because they are flexible enough to allow the character to have multiple goals and motivations without having to rewrite them every time.
What this means is that you can have an NPC react based on these traits at the same time they are fulfilling their role as an NPC. A shopkeeper can display their ideal of greed and their flaw of buying rare items no matter what the price, while they still function as a shopkeep. If a blacksmith's daughter has been kidnapped by goblins, there's your bond right there. This man cares about his family.
|There must be more than this provincial life...|
The second table is where the real magic happens.
See, after you've had your first meeting, you'll need to flesh out the NPC a little more. And by using their traits, you can create a memorable scene that still accomplishes the NPC's story purpose. All you need to do is find a reason the NPC would display one of their traits.
This can be accomplished by giving the NPC a mood when they are met. Not only are they here to give a quest, but something else happened in their life - something unrelated. And they are in a particular mood because of it.
After all, nobody is the same emotion all the time. Or maybe they are. That would be a good personality trait or flaw!
NPC Basic Traits
|"This is my happy face"|
- Personality: I try to embody the beliefs of my temple, and feel that doing so is a lifetime's work.
- Ideal: Faith. I believe in the teachings of my temple, trusting that my Deity will guide my way.
- Bond: The temple I work in is very precious to me.
- Flaw: I am quick to trust the word of my temple, sometimes over common sense.
- Personality: I'm used to being the smartest person in the room, no matter who I'm speaking to.
- Ideal: Magic. Through the power of the arcane, mortals can transcend their limited reach.
- Bond: I've had my spellbook for countless years, I'd sooner lose my soul that see it destroyed.
- Flaw: My curiosity has gotten me into trouble more times than I can count.
- Personality: I've learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut as much as possible.
- Ideal: Stoicism. I don't let myself be concerned by the horrible things I've done.
- Bond: I need all the money I can get, for a purpose I don't tell my employers.
- Flaw: It's rare for me to find someone I can bring myself to trust.
- Personality: It's nothing personal, robbing people is just a job.
- Ideal: Dignity. I would never steal from someone who didn't have as much as I do.
- Bond: I need money, badly. I don't like to talk about why.
- Flaw: I'm quick to anger and can get in over my head sometimes.
- Personality: I've got a sharp tongue from years of keeping fools in line.
- Ideal: Freedom. I won't be bossed around, especially by do-gooders.
- Bond: My bandit crew has their problems, but they've become like a family to me.
- Flaw: I can't resist the promise of a big score.
- Personality: I'm protective of those who I care about, to the point of ferocity.
- Ideal: Might. Only the strong can keep themselves alive.
- Bond: My community is the only group of people I can really trust.
- Flaw: Violence is my answer to almost any challenge.
|Dang adventurers, always up on my lawn|
- Personality: I'm generally happy with my lot in life, though I can't help but wish for more sometimes.
- Ideal: People. The people around me are more important to me than any one ideal.
- Bond: My family and friends are very dear to me.
- Flaw: It's hard not to worry about the big things happening in the world, and sometimes it affects my work or relationships.
- Personality: I hide my true loyalties with lies in order to stay out of trouble.
- Ideal: Faith. The world is harsh and unforgiving, but our cult and its ideals will survive.
- Bond: My cult taught me the truth about the world, I won't abandon them.
- Flaw: I'm convinced that my order is being hunted, and I see enemies wherever I go.
- Personality: My word is no different than the word of the cult's patron, and I expect people to heed it.
- Ideal: Power. By my devotion, I will gain the ability to direct my life how I please.
- Bond: The cult's dogma will not be broken as long as I am around.
- Flaw: I rarely trust anyone, especially my peers and subordinates.
- Personality: Nature is the best teacher, if people would only listen.
- Ideal: Nature. The natural order provides all the guidance we need.
- Bond: The area that I live in knows me as well as I know it, I would never let anything happen to it.
- Flaw: It's hard for me to trust those from cities and civilizations, even when they have good intentions.
- Personality: I love being the center of attention, in and out of the ring.
- Ideal: Infamy. I love hearing my name chanted as I make a kill.
- Bond: The ring where I trained has a special place in my heart.
- Flaw: I'll do anything to win fame and renown.
- Personality: I picked up a crude sense of humor from the barracks.
- Ideal: Responsibility. It's my duty to serve my employer's authority.
- Bond: I fight for the people who would otherwise be defenseless.
- Flaw: I obey my employer's authority, even if it causes misery.
- Personality: I'm always polite and respectful.
- Ideal: Greater Good. I believe that the strong must serve the weak.
- Bond: My honor is my life.
- Flaw: I hate to admit my way of thinking might be wrong.
|"I've just had the worst day. Let me tell you..."|
- Personality: I love reading, and am always studying the next spell.
- Ideal: Knowledge. Through learning, we gain the power to influence the world.
- Bond: My master is a great wizard beyond compare, and I trust his word and research.
- Flaw: I'd do anything to get my hands on a rare book or scroll.
- Personality: I make it apparent to everyone I meet that I am well trained and bred from better stock.
- Ideal: Family. Blood runs thicker than water.
- Bond: Nothing is more important than ensuring my family's wealth and security.
- Flaw: My family has a few shameful secrets, and I dare not tell anyone about them.
- Personality: I have a verse for every situation, and I do my best to heed their advice as well.
- Ideal: Piety. Through fervent belief, my God will guide my life to its ideal path.
- Bond: My flock of followers is more dear to me than all else in the world.
- Flaw: I am quick to place trust in those who practice devotion to my God.
- Personality: I've seen a lot of good friends die out there. It's hard for me to make new ones.
- Ideal: Independence. No good came from folks telling other folks what to do.
- Bond: I map the world carefully. My notes are worth the world to me.
- Flaw: If you can't hold your own on the field, I can't put any trust in you.
- Personality: I meticulously plan my next move, including what happens if it fails.
- Ideal: Secrecy. Information is more valuable than gold, unless everyone finds out about it.
- Bond: I'd rather die than betray my employers by revealing what I know.
- Flaw: I don't make friends. In my line of work, I can't afford to.
- Personality: Don't mess with me. I know when people mess with me, and I don't like it.
- Ideal: Greed. I'll do anything for money, you name it.
- Bond: I need money to pay for something important to me. It's none of your business.
- Flaw: I hate to admit it, but I'd murder my buddy if the price was right.
- Personality: We do what we must to survive. Laws and manners have no place in the wild.
- Ideal: Greater Good. Each member must help support the tribe.
- Bond: It is my duty to provide for the rest of the tribe.
- Flaw: I am cold and ruthless to those outside my community.
- Personality: I have a thousand war stories, one for every situation.
- Ideal: Live and Let Live. I don't think there's any ideal worth dying for.
- Bond: I still remember all the names and faces in my old platoon.
- Flaw: Some of my stories involve me doing awful things out of necessity. I'd rather not share those.
Moods Based On Traits
|No mood is good mood|
- Another person recently complimented the NPC's personality.
- A recent event seemed to confirm the importance of the NPC's ideal.
- The NPC recently gained more of/saw an improvement in the thing they are bonded to.
- A goal of the NPC was recently achieved, and they know they were able to do so despite their flaw.
- Another person recently made a nasty comment on the NPC's personality.
- A recent event seemed to deny the importance of the NPC's ideal.
- The NPC recently lost some of/saw a decline in the thing they are bonded to.
- A goal of the NPC was recently failed, and they know their flaw played into the failure.
- The NPC just finished talking to someone whose personality clashed with theirs and they had an argument.
- A person the NPC knows has recently been successful, despite their denial of the importance of the NPC's ideal.
- The thing the NPC is bonded to was recently stolen, desecrated, or injured in some way, and the NPC doesn't understand who would do such a thing.
- A goal of the NPC was recently failed, and they know their flaw was the sole reason for its failure.
- The NPC is worried that the way they act is the real reason they are failing one of their goals.
- Recent events have caused the NPC to believe their ideal is under attack by another group of people.
- Someone or something has recently threatened the thing the NPC is bonded to.
- The NPC is beginning to suspect they will never overcome their flaw and it will lead to their death or downfall.
Some of these are going to lead to your players investigating the reason for the NPC's moods. I say: great! Your players are now invested in your story.
So use these, let them write some of the story for you, and let your players get to know your NPCs. It will literally bring your game to life.
|Just waiting for some adventurers to come along and make this place less dull|