5 Ways To Make Your Npcs Better & More Memorable

From Marc R. Kinsville

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0037

A Brief Word From Johnn

Although I certainly love to hear myself type, I thought Marc’s tips in this issue were too good to pass up. So, we have another guest article this week about making your NPCs better and more memorable. And, just to appease my ego, I’ve sprinkled a few comments of my own throughout.

A sub-title for this week’s issue could be “Reader Feedback Requested” because I’m asking you to respond with your opinions and tips in a few different places.

What To Do With Reader’s Tips?

The first bit of feedback I’d like is your opinion on what to do with the 20+ emails full of great GMing tips that I currently have. These are emails from fellow Tips readers who have responded to past issues.

This newsletter wouldn’t be much of a success without your support and feedback so I’d like you to decide what I should do with these tips:

  1. Post the tips to a special web page on the RoleplayingTips.com site
  2. Send a Special “Readers’ Tips” Edition of the newsletter once in awhile in addition to the weekly issue
  3. “I don’t care how long the newsletter gets, Johnn, just post all the tips you can!”
  4. Set up a forum/discussion board on the RoleplayingTips.com web site to post your own tips and give feedback on issues (caveat: this requires you to go online to post & read though, whereas email conveniently comes to you…)
  5. Other suggestions welcome

The tips you’ve been sending in are great and should be shared with everyone–just let me know how you would prefer me to do that. Thanks!

Send your vote to [email protected] (with the letter(s) of your choice in the subject or body of the email).

The other requests for feedback are after each of Marc’s tips. The devil (or Baatezu if you prefer is in the details and I’d like your help building the details. A tip like “be crafty” is great but if you get no examples on how to be crafty the tip is not very helpful. So, I’d like you to send examples where requested after some of the tips below and I’ll post them on the web site (or email them by request) for all to use and benefit from.

Johnn Four
[email protected]

I just got through reading Issue 25 ( NPC Parley Tricks:RPT#25 – 8 NPC Parley Tricks ) and I thought I would throw in some stuff I do, or have seen, to help flush out the NPCs a little more.

Drink Plenty Of Liquids!

This may sound silly, but I find that when I GM I tend to be loud and boisterous and my throat gets parched halfway through a game. You have to have some saliva in your mouth in order to keep articulating and speaking as your NPCs. I strongly suggest carbonated water (Perrier). Soda pop and beer work fine too, but too much caffeine isn’t good for you and alcohol has a tendency to make you roll the dice off the table constantly.

[Johnn: I’ve never liked Perrier, but I’ve just discovered a new drink: Perrier or club soda with a freshly squeezed slice of lime or lemon. The fruit adds great flavour, the carbonation still scours the skin off your tongue like a good soda should, and there’s no sugar-low tiring and drying you out afterwards.

Don’t take this drink to the wrong side of town though, if you know what I mean.]

Add Personality Quirks To Your NPCs

This I find is one of the best ways to remind the PCs who it is they are talking to, even if you don’t change your voice at all.

  • I have an NPC that scratches his hair all the time.
  • Usually when I am speaking as an NPC king, I stand up and talk over the PCs heads, even if I am talking TO them.
  • One of my favorite NPCs is a pompous ass who thinks he is good looking. Whenever he talks he smiles a lot and he changes his profile, often sweeping the entire room with his “good looks”.
  • Another NPC I use has a perpetual cold. Whenever he talks, I throw in a sniffle between sentences.

Don’t over-do it though. If you exaggerate these quirks too much it might detract from what you are saying and you will just appear goofy. Be subtle. Folding your hands behind your back will do a lot to convey the attitude of an NPC who is serious or militant. Stroking your chin when you listen to a PC will give off the impression that the NPC is intelligent or very perceptive.

[Johnn: OK, here’s where we as a group can really help each other out. Please email any personality quirks you have used or can think of and I’ll make one big list for everyone to use as a wonderful game master NPC-making tool. Email to: [email protected] ]

Use Clothes And Props

You don’t have to go very far to get them. A simple coat with a hood, a hat, some sunglasses or even a stick can do wonders to add some flair to your NPCs.For example, in my games, there is a strange, yet enigmatic NPC who sometimes shows up mysteriously to give the PCs some advice in the form of riddles. When I announce that this person is approaching the group, one of the PCs immediately jumps up and places a cowl on my head to keep my face hidden.

I still don’t know why my PCs do this, but they have already set it in their minds that this particular NPC keeps her face hidden. It adds to her “mysteriousness” I guess.Sometimes I will have an NPC use a cane or a stick but I generally find that as soon as I place the prop down, one of the players HAS to pick it up to fidget with it. So when not in use, place the prop behind you and out of sight. Players won’t covet what they can’t see.

[Johnn: I’ve got a “Props” issue coming up and would love to hear your props examples, experiences and ideas. Again, when done, I’ll put all your feedback into an online resource for you to tap into. Email to: [email protected] ]

Physical Contact

Yes, yes, I know that this is a big no no, but hear me out for a second. If your players are really okay with this, you can simulate some forms of physical contact.

For example:

  • When an NPC strikes a deal with the PCs, why not shake on it?
  • I have an NPC who is this big “mother-hen” like character who just looooooves the PCs. Whenever the PCs come to see her, she HAS to give them all a hug. So yes, I would physically get up, run around the table and give each player a hug.

Now I would only suggest this with a group that you are friends with. I mean you don’t want to creep anybody out. Usually this kind of physical contact is amusing and usually sends the players into a fit of giggles. But, the players identify the NPC almost instantly with this kind of act and nothing causes the players to give you their complete and undivided attention more than when you touch them in some way.

DO NOT, for the love of all that is holy, hurt the players or make them uncomfortable. Usually I do this just once when introducing the NPC for the first time. After that, trust me, players remember an NPC that shook their hand vigorously or placed a cold hand on their shoulder to get their attention (that cold bottle of Perrier does wonders).

[Johnn: although this is a touchy subject do any of you have other examples? Physical contact does affect us more than words and pictures and it adds another great dimension to the game–just heed Marc’s warnings.

My examples:

  • Whispering in the player’s ear when an NPC does so
  • Pushing the player in the shoulder with your index finger (gently) when a bully NPC does so
  • Laying a hand on a player’s head as a priest does so when giving a blessing or casting a spell

Email other suggestions to: [email protected] ]

Use pictures

Hey look, I’m a 220 lb, 30 year old male. Do you think I can convincingly act out a female NPC who has the looks that can make Cindy Crawford jealous?Get a magazine, flip through some pages and cut out the face of someone who looks appropriate. Then, using a paper clip, attach it to the back of your GMing screen so that all players can see whenever you are playing that particular NPC.

You don’t have to do it for all NPCs, just the ones you feel you will have trouble trying to convey. Don’t use famous celebrities. Use those models you see in magazine cigarette/alcohol ads.

[Johnn: I use Magic cards and other collectible cards for the same use as a prop. Also, RPG books and supplements have great illustrations of people that you can photocopy, cut up and hand out.What other sources can you think of?Email to: [email protected] ]
Graphic of section divider

Thanks again for the super tips Marc. I really appreciated the brevity of your tips and that you sent them numbered and organized like the style of the Tips ezine–that saved me time and makes it easier screen reading for your fellow subscribers.

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four
[email protected]

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Introducing Your Game World

From Gareth

Hi Johnn,

I expect you will want extra material for the issues when you return from your fishing trip.

A little technique my DM uses to get the group fully into character is to dim the lights, have us close our eyes, and while music relevant to the game plays softly in the background, he describes the situation we begin the game in, from right out in orbit around the planet the game is on (this is in a non-spacefaring AD&D game)

Then descending so we can see more and more detail of the game world, taking us from the distant perspective of players into the characters perspective….it gives a great feeling of descending into your character, only takes a few minutes, and when we open our eyes it is to a much more vividly imagined world…

Hope this helps!