Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday Quick Tip #2 - Recurring NPCs

One of the most important things Dungeon Masters should be incorporating into their campaigns, is one of the easiest to overlook. I'll admit I often struggle to work these into my campaigns, but if you succeed the rewards in terms of immersion, and player interest, are huge.

I'm talking of course about Recurring NPCs. Minor characters, that appear from time to time in the campaign. I'm not talking about the librarian from which the party collects a powerful scroll for a quest, or the mayor who hires the adventurers to slay a foul beast. Although these are NPCs they don't necessarily make a great recurring NPC. Think of your favorite TV shows, there is usually a few main characters, those who show up in nearly every single episode,  but there are some that show up sporadically, a handful of times a season. These are your recurring NPCs.

Nothing drives home to your players that they are playing in a real, immersive world, more than having friends, acquaintances, and allies, that exist outside of the player characters. A favorite barkeep who swaps stories with them, a merchant who is willing to cut them a deal and give them any leads to valuable hordes, a noble or thief who has taken a liking to them, these are the characters that will make your players invested in your world.

Another thing recurring NPCs can be good for is driving roleplay opportunities for players who need the extra push. If you have a player who is a little shy around the table, or letting the louder voices take a tad too much of the spotlight, a recurring NPC that is friends only with their character could be a good option. When your party comes into a town, the NPC could seek out their character, and take a liking to them, while distancing themselves from the others in the party. This NPC could be a source of valuable information, giving the shy player his chance to shine.

If you've seen Star Trek: The Next Generation, there is a character on it named Q that is a great template for a recurring NPC. Q is a powerful god-like alien who can appear whenever he wants, and leave just as easily. He is incredibly powerful, and prone to boredom. In Dungeons and Dragons, a powerful demigod, fiend, angel, planewalker, or wizard could be similar. Coming and going when your players least expect it, often leaving situations messier than they were before. Perhaps offering clues, or items to assist them when they really need it.

Other good ideas for recurring NPCs are: mysterious traveling merchant, shows up when and where he is least expected with strange curiosities for sale, a retired wizard who knows most of the lore of the land and will continue to tell stories to anyone who will listen, or a prince attempting to pass himself off as a commoner in order to connect better with his people.

Recurring NPCs are a great way to keep your players invested. You'll find that they wonder how world events affect their favourites, and try to meet up with them when they're in the area.  Create NPCs wherever your players go and make small note to yourself, and if your players return try to expand upon that character. Since player characters are prone to moving around frequently, think  about having powerful recurring NPCs that can teleport or appear when least expected. Lastly, minor NPCs can often be turned into major NPCs in a later adventure or campaign. This makes your players far more invested in the story.