135 NPC Side-Plots

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0148

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Thanks to all the Tipsters who contributed their NPC side- plot ideas! Thanks also to Zenthrus for the edit and compilation work.

Use this chart to help you plan your sessions and NPCs, or print it out for an in-game aid. You might also consider picking your favourite 20, or discarding 35, to make a new dice roll chart of an even 20 or 100 items. Sometimes, skimming through a list of ideas doesn’t stir your inspiration, but randomly selecting one idea and sticking with it helps you work through any NPC or plot knots you might have.

If anyone decides to make a fancy, formatted version, let me know and I’ll post it at the site for download. Also, if you get any ideas for other side-plots, send ’em on in and I’ll append them to the list.


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135 NPC Side-Plots

Roll d135

  1. Is feuding with neighbor over grazing rights
  2. Is a wandering amateur chef looking for new recipes and ingredients
  3. Is a failed adventurer with much emotional baggage who seeks to sabotage other adventurers
  4. Is a shrewd negotiator, but offers extremely valuable information in trade for new information
  5. Is quiet, brooding, and short tempered due to medical problems
  6. Is a pacifist who tries to convert the party to the ways of non-violence
  7. Has a racial enemy or is banned from racially dominant areas
  8. Fears being alone because of a recent incident
  9. Is collecting parlor games from across the lands
  10. Tries to recruit the PCs for some incredibly mundane task (i.e. labourer) regardless of PC objections
  11. Knows of “lots of great adventures” that are, unfortunately, all dead ends
  12. Is a historian, but all the facts are invented (compulsive liar)
  13. Is a travelling madam with company, seeking new employees and better (wealthier) company
  14. Is recruiting for the military or a special guild
  15. Is an outcast for forgotten crimes
  16. Is collecting donations for a charitable fund
  17. Is looking for a particular person with critical spell components
  18. Is on a secret military mission
  19. Is in disguise (for reasons real or imaginary)
  20. Imagines he/she is a ghost in spite of attempts to prove he/she is living
  21. Believes (loudly) that wealth should be spread among all the citizens and tries to redistribute the PCs’ wealth
  22. Is paranoid and over-protective of their town
  23. Is tracking down a villain and vows to kill him/her/it
  24. Has an unhealthy obsession with another person
  25. Is good-aligned and has recently run away from evil parents
  26. Likes to play practical jokes on party members (without revealing culpability if possible)
  27. Is celibate/chaste, but always attracts the opposite sex
  28. Is the bastard son of a famous lord (hates his father; half-brothers would kill him on sight)
  29. Myopic guard — extremely nearsighted but compensates with well developed sense of hearing
  30. Is a binge drinker who tends to get in trouble due to violent, drunken bouts
  31. Trying to find lost love (who is a traveling with a troop of entertainers)
  32. Spy keeping tabs on party for local leader or powerful NPC
  33. Extremely lucky (never seems to do anything right, but somehow escapes any personal consequences)
  34. A “wanted man” sought by a particular non-human good race (i.e. Elves, Halflings, Dwarves, etc.) for some past misdeed or misunderstanding
  35. Greedy — always demands first dibs and/or larger shares when dividing treasure troves based on exaggerated contributions to the party’s success
  36. Is unhappily married and will do anything to get out of it
  37. Is a fan (to the point of fanaticism) of a spectator sport of the time (jousting, cockfighting, bearbaiting, whatever) and has gotten into gambling/stalking trouble
  38. Is heavily in debt and is fleeing/hiding from creditors
  39. Is an outspoken advocate of a controversial political position
  40. Is an aspiring bard and uses the PCs as subjects of his/her newest songs without their consent
  41. Is one of the top artisans at his/her craft, but circumstances beyond his/her control have forced him out of the trade
  42. Is a proud parent and wants his/her child to become an adventurer
  43. Was adopted as an infant and is in search of his/her bio- parents
  44. Is an outcast in the community for no good reason
  45. Is a self-proclaimed matchmaker and tries to set up at least one of the PCs
  46. Is an unwitting thrall to a powerful vampire
  47. Is searching for a lost family heirloom — the heirloom may not have any value other than sentiment
  48. Is on a personal quest for enlightenment, salvation, vengeance, atonement, etc.
  49. Is on a personal quest for power and has made dark pacts with evil outsiders to accomplish this end
  50. Is a vigilante who kills in cold blood convinced that the ends (i.e. eliminating a criminal element) justify the means (using excessive force, killing hostages, etc.)
  51. Is the reluctant heir to some ancient, forbidding, or dark power
  52. Will deal with the PCs only in a specific, non-monetary currency (i.e. gems, jewels, fine art, old whiskey, etc.)
  53. Wants the PCs to “accidentally retrieve” an item while they are investigating clues
  54. Is tainted in some way and tries at all costs to keep the taint a secret
  55. Wants the PCs to deliver a letter to his mother – but he doesn’t know that his mother is really that cackling night hag that the local lord wants hunted down and exterminated
  56. Wants PCs to “lend” him the main plot item after they retrieve it, before they hand it over to the main plot instigator. The motivation could be pure (i.e. item needed to lift a deadly curse) or nefarious (i.e. item used to raise an army of undead)
  57. Suffers from a skin condition which causes his skin to burn and peel in direct sunlight — but is not a vampire
  58. Is a doctor who unwittingly spreads a deadly plague even while trying desperately to find the cure
  59. Suffers from black-outs and is completely unaware of his actions, during the black-out
  60. Is an unsuccessful playwright who has stolen the latest creation of a very well known bard
  61. Is deadly terrified of shadows. He’ll only meet with the PCs in places completely devoid of shadows
  62. Has a craving for rare herbs and spices that unknown to the PCs are used to create a powerful narcotic
  63. Is lecherous and married. Asks the PCs for help sneaking in and out of brothels
  64. Is a voyeur who happens to be spying on the house where the PCs are adventuring
  65. Is a worshipper of a death god(dess) or a necromancer who wishes to serve as a mortician of the city but needs documents proving his/her good intentions/standing
  66. Is extremely obese and is attempting to travel a long distance
  67. Thinks he’s a duck because of a powerful enchantment
  68. Is an anarchist attempting to recruit followers to overthrow the government
  69. Has recently broken up with a lover and now laments
  70. Is pregnant and the father is a noble/priest/etc.
  71. Cannot stop complaining, and will complain to anyone near them but knows key information hidden among the complaints
  72. Has an irrational fear of pants and attempts to “save” anyone who happens to be wearing pants
  73. Sells rice cakes with magic rings inside
  74. Tries to pass off lousy equipment as magical
  75. Sells magical equipment that looks fake or non-magical
  76. Is a lowly beggar with friends in high places who acts as a spy for a powerful wizard or guild
  77. Sells rare and unusual spells
  78. Is the most annoying person in town but befriends the PCs
  79. Is trying to ditch the city guards, who are chasing him for a minor crime
  80. Has had an operation to change his/her race, but still manifests cultural mannerisms of his/her original race
  81. Used to be a powerful adventurer
  82. Is promoting a new religion and tries to convert all who pass by
  83. Is an artist trying to sell his works
  84. Is a writer trying to sell his works
  85. Is a noble trying to swap places with a peasant for a day
  86. Is a very trusting foreigner
  87. Acts as a local guide to the PCs
  88. Has distinctly disproportionate limbs (i.e. one arm longer than the other, etc) that were altered through magic
  89. Is a rich tax collector targeted by several opponents who feel that he/she is unfair or embezzling
  90. Acts as a representative for the Black Market
  91. Desperately needs an item only available through the Black Market
  92. Is a disgruntled worker recently laid off
  93. Is part of a group of traveling musicians seeking a benefactor
  94. Believes that he is the only voice of a powerful god
  95. Rants uncontrollably about unrelated things as if under the effects of a Feeblemind
  96. At first sight, falls madly in love with one of the party members and becomes obsessive/stalks
  97. Is in the process of creating their own masterpiece (painting, pottery, sculpture, etc.) and wants to use one of the PCs as a model/inspiration
  98. Is an opera house maestro who mistakes one of the PCs for the lead in his production and whisks them off to perform
  99. Believes that one of the party members is a long lost relative
  100. Is trying to marry off their eldest son/daughter to one of the PCs
  101. Is being held captive in his/her own home
  102. Has been replaced by a doppleganger
  103. Is seeking political/religious asylum
  104. A bitter rival was just elected into a minor position and NPC wants to ruin his reputation
  105. NPC is a victim of spousal abuse
  106. NPC has invented a new piece of equipment and is looking for a test subject
  107. NPC is seeking support and election for a minor bureaucratic position with a long title
  108. Is a guard or law official who seeks information about who, how and why he was framed for a crime that resulted in his dismissal
  109. Is desperately trying to join a prestigious sports team/league
  110. Is trying to find out how to join a certain secret cult
  111. Is seeking his muse
  112. NPC is squatting and claims an ancient family rite to the site
  113. Is looking for his/her father who disappeared in the area 6 months ago
  114. Seeks his/her father/mother/child who ran away from home
  115. NPC seeks an ex-lover to claim child-support for their bastard child
  116. Is going out at night and mistreating stray animals
  117. Was recently injured in a random attack and seeks his attackers for revenge
  118. Is hiding from local elves who seek him after recently telling several off-colour elven jokes in public
  119. Is trying to fulfill a bizarre request of their employer, but with no luck
  120. Is an informant for the local thieves’ guild with nothing to report and is ready to make something up
  121. Loudly and publicly complains about the local lord
  122. Is looking for a business partner
  123. Is a barber who’s invented a new hairstyle and is looking for customers
  124. NPC’s home burnt down last night
  125. NPC is a merchant looking to open trade with other races and spot a non-human PC
  126. NPC has an injury or disease and is saving up for a heal spell
  127. A meek NPC has a valuable treasure but does not know who to turn to and trust for the sale
  128. Is a skilled amateur gambler looking to break into the pros or find the “big game”
  129. Has been falsely accused and has just posted bail and is now looking for proof of his innocence
  130. Fears he’s being watched and is looking for someone who he can trust to recover a valuable object buried nearby
  131. NPC is looking to buy winter clothing and bedding for their orphanage but wool prices are up due to a local shortage
  132. Is trying to drink himself to death
  133. Has been given a task by his boss and his boss would punish him if it was known he was “wasting time” with the PCs
  134. Wants the PCs to promote her business by wearing or using her product prominently whenever possible (fashionable cloaks, very tasty trail rations, a specific musical instrument, etc.)
  135. Pumps the characters for details about their exploits, then goes around claiming that he himself did these things

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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World Creation Tips

From Strider Starslayer

Lately in the ezine I’ve seen a lot of references to creating people, societies, and even alien races; however, I’ve not seen much mention of the world itself. And though environment has usually been mentioned as having an important role, the focus is usually on the local environment, not the global one.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of working material (i.e. examples of worlds that support life) to go with when looking at planets/worlds, so I generally just pick and mix from a series of categories:


This is where the retaliative heat of the planet normally lies. The poles will be cooler and the equator (with respect to any heating solar body) will be warmer.

  • Fusion: Superhot, generally only stars fall into this category, but who says life can’t develop/exist on a star itself (especially a star that started off as a gas giant but then gained enough matter to exceed critical mass).
  • Thermal: The hottest of the hot planets; water separates into hydrogen and oxygen and burns from the sheer heat; most of the planet is molten rock.
  • Hot: Temperatures are still high enough to boil water but not melt rocks.
  • Temperate: Normalized temperatures, like Earth or Mars.
  • Cold: Temperatures at the equator are below the freezing point for water; however, there may be liquid water under high pressure beneath the ice.
  • Frozen: Temperatures fall well below the level of liquid nitrogen making the atmosphere virtually nonexistent and consisting of hydrogen and other light elements with extremely low condensation points; man-made superconductors operate at these temperatures without needing cooling units and several metals behave like superconductors (i.e. platinum).
  • Theoretical limit: Temperatures are as cold as can be. Even hydrogen will be liquid on the surface of this world, which is most likely not illuminated by a solar body but perhaps belongs to a dead solar system or is a rogue planet (i.e. planet that floats through space not connected to a solar system). All metals behave as if they were superconductors at this temperature.
  • Supercold: Impossible under normal physics, this world is below absolute 0. This is full of interesting options for the physics-minded.

Temperature Shift

This can be a combination of planet size, atmosphere composition, proximity to a solar body, age of the planet itself, and several other factors. It regulates how far the temperature shifts in either direction as the planet goes through its seasons.

Note that, the more profound the changes on the planet, the more hearty the life there is bound to be. Conversely, creatures from Gaia worlds will most likely be unable to cope with even minor temperature/pressure changes without becoming sick.

  • Unnatural: Planet shifts from Fusion to Supercold; some sort of external or internal force would have to be at work for something like this to happen.
  • Extreme: Planet shifts violently from temperatures, covering the full scale of Hot to Frozen in the course of its seasonal year. This could be caused by being very close to a solar body but then being hidden from it by a larger body for a large portion of time.
  • Violent: Planet shifts 3-4 units on the temperature scale depending on the time of the seasonal year.
  • Strong: Planet shifts 1-2 units on the temperature scale depending on the time of the seasonal year (i.e. Mars).
  • Stable: Planet shifts only within the limits of a single temperature on the scale (i.e. Earth).
  • Gaia: Planet does not shift temperature. Whatever it holds, it holds almost without any change at all.
  • Size
    Smaller planets tend to hold a narrow band of life while larger planets will see more genetic diversity over time that will be more likely to find the “perfect” combination to survive on that world and perhaps other worlds.For example, it is more likely that creatures on an extremely tiny planet would barely eke out an existence, whereas creatures on a gigantic planet might have completely adapted to the situation, and those that did not adapt were quickly replaced by the few that did.

Size also has a direct bearing on gravity, though artificially created worlds may be hollow to reduce gravity.

  • Tiny: The planet is barely large enough to be considered a planet and not an asteroid (i.e. Pluto). 0.5g.
  • Medium: Planets like Earth and Mars are of normal size, and have around .5-3g.
  • Large: Planets that are many times more massive than earth but are still planets. 3-7g.
  • Huge: Planets are so massive they are most likely gas giants or artificial constructs. Gas giants will have “islands” of material floating around in them, like a mini- solar system in an environmental soup. 7+g.

For the most part, the “toughness” of a creature will be inversely proportional to the pleasantness of their world. Creatures that naturally have superior genes to humans will come from worlds that have more unpleasant conditions than earth. Creatures that are superior to humans in every category will come from worlds that are downright hellish.

Of course, this only covers NATURAL evolution. Artificial eugenics and other programs to upgrade the species may have taken place but are beyond the scope of an article on planets. Also, a given race may have stumbled upon a genetic code that is inherently superior, but the odds are extremely slim.

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7 Steps For Dealing With Those Pesky Rules Lawyers

From Kristyn Hammond

Roleplaying: a game, a fun pastime, a time when everyone can gather together and be someone else in an imaginary universe one night a week. Inevitably, when the character sheets are before us and we’re knee deep in dice of every shape and color, between the guy with Doritos cheese all over himself and the girl with pink hair, will sit the “Rules Lawyer”. No group is without one and everyone knows who he is but him. So now what? What do you do when getting rid of him is just not acceptable?

Below I have outlined a few ways to deal with rules lawyers who are bent on practicing in your living room or local game shop.

Rules lawyers are perhaps the most annoying of all problem player types. This is often because they are a problem to the Game Master and their fellow players. Several effective ways to handle rules lawyers, and the like, without causing a scene are:

Make House Rules Known

Make any and ALL house rules known to each and every player who walks through your front door with their character sheets and dice in hand. A good way to keep these things under control is to type up and print a list of all existing house rules for each player. This can cut down on “out of character” questioning.

Warn Them Privately

There is nothing that will make you more miserable than making a public point of your local rules lawyer and then have him lash out at the other players out of embarrassment. Also, consider that he could be unaware of his behavior.

Hear Them Out

Sometimes rules lawyers are such for a reason. Perhaps he’s had an unfair GM in the past or he just can’t trust anyone but himself. Whatever the case, let him voice his issues. Show him that you’re not unreasonable and don’t automatically assume he’s wrong and shoot him down every time. Ask him to write it down when he has an issue as writing it down will not interfere with their game.

Show Em’ Who’s Boss

GMs don’t just make up rules. Know your books, look things up, and show your players where you found a rule or explain how you came to your decision. It’s true that the GM has the final say, but don’t abuse this power. Give it to the players straight. Don’t be afraid to look it up, just for good measure. This shows you’re reasonable.

Involve Your Other Players

GMs cannot know every word in every book they own. Most times other players are a vital resource for knowledge. Someone is bound to know.

Give Them A Vote

Before showing the problem player to the door, give your other players a vote. Perhaps they can come up with a creative and fair solution where you could not. This can be done in different ways, such as taking them all aside or holding an e-mail discussion where everyone casts their vote and/or offers suggestions.

Show Em’ The Door

If, when all else fails, your rules lawyer insists on practicing in your living room, ask them to leave. Explain privately that you have warned them, explained yourself, and now they are holding up the game.

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Mobile Gaming Devices

From Pete

Firstly, thanks for the great newsletter. It’s definitely one of the week’s highlights for me.

In the latest issue (#147) there was a tip about using an AlphaSmart keyboard for keeping game notes. I checked out the site and found that my old Sharp organizer would do more for less money. OK, so it doesn’t have a spelling checker and each note is a limited size, but it would do the required job easily. The latest models are much smarter (mine is about 5 years old).

Another alternative is using a PDA. I replaced my Sharp organizer with a Palm unit a couple of years ago and haven’t looked back! Apart from the built-in functions, there are literally hundreds of D&D related apps available for downloading. These range from NPC generators to complete “e- tool” suites, as well as summarised references of various rulebooks. The price of a Palm PDA (and there are other brands) will fit easily into the US$199 range mentioned, even though you can spend as much as a cheap laptop on the up-scale models. I use my Palm constantly, and a pair of AAA batteries lasts a couple of months.

One example of using my Palm relates to introducing my wife to D&D. In this game, we still use 2nd edition rules and my wife could not grasp the concept of THAC0. No matter how we explained it, it didn’t register. This would slow down any combat, as another player would have to roll the hits for her, which didn’t do much for game flow…

On one of my software hunts, I spotted a die roller app that was designed for 2nd ed AD&D. I installed it and plugged in her character’s THAC0 and Voila! Just touch the screen and read off the AC that the character can hit. No need to understand the mechanics of THAC0.

I can already hear the screams of “handwriting recognition sucks!” and have to say that I got used to Palm’s Graffitti in a couple of days. Anyway, there are models available with an organizer-style keypad, or you can buy an add-on.

That’s my 2 cents worth – I hope it helps.

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Here’s another Palm testimonial

From Matthew H.

My “Terminal of Choice” for GMing is my Palm Vx combined with the funky folding keyboard, also from [ PALM ]. It is small, sleek, and self- contained, and when I back its content up to my PC all my writings from the game are accessible to my desktop’s applications.

I am contemplating upgrading the whole kit to the new M505 with a Bluetooth connection. This will mean that I will be able to network to the internet and my home server anywhere my mobile phone can make a connection. I am probably rather geeky but the folding keyboard is just soooo James Bond and really fits the SF RPGs I run.

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Alien Creation Tips

From Logan Horsford

Color The Aliens

What is the color of the aliens? Bright, cheerful colors don’t go well with moody somber aliens. Figure out a color that has some sort of emotional attachment to your audience and be sure to play that up as the major color of the aliens.

If they are a warlike race, scarlet ships (shells, whatever) may convey blood. Black (since space is black and perhaps black ships will be ever so slightly harder to see in outer space) may convey sneakiness. White ships can convey either the ultra modern monster (Star Wars) or a happy race.

Note that you can’t come out and tell the players the color scheme! This is meant to work on a bit of a subconscious level. The colors are to some extent already attached to various archetypical emotions. Play on that.


How fluffy are the aliens? The more cuddly they are and the more child-like they appear, the less likely they will be killing machines. Attempting to make an alien with soft fur into a rabid killer could cause the campaign to lapse into humor. Hard shelled critters are better for that. For example, ‘E.T.’ was a very child-like alien. Imagine the problems trying to make his race mega killers. Movies that have attempted to (Critters) end up being humorous.


What about the aliens’ ships? Their location and feel should reflect the creatures. In the movie “Independence Day” the (single pilot) ships were small and insect like, while the aliens were described as intergalactic cockroaches. In Predator 2 the ship had a lot of fog in it. That helped tell you that the creatures were ‘mysterious’ and synergized with their invisibility abilities. In the TV show “Star Trek” (and for that matter, TNG) the ship corridors are ALWAYS clear of debris. This helps show a kind of utopian society.


Much like the ships, weapons (if any) should convey the aliens’ look and feel. Utopian societies (ST) create a small burn mark and the target falls over dead. These weapons can be set for ‘stun’. What would it convey on an emotional level to your players if the weapon could turn its target inside out in a slow and painful method? Clearly, this weapon would only have one setting — maximum pain. The weapon should look like how the society wishes to be seen. Phasers (ST) look more like cell phones than weapons. The Empire’s weapons (SW) reflect the militant culture.

Again, it is imperative that NONE of these ties should be vocalized to the players. They are things that only the GM should be aware of. If it is not stated in a logical overt method, it will work more on the subconscious/emotions of the players. It is also important not to mix signals – cute and fluffy aliens shouldn’t ride insectoid ships, etc.

By thinking about different ways to convey emotion (not only with aliens but in all aspects) you will bring the culture/aliens more to life.