I haven't put together a blog post in nearly four years, but hey! Sometimes you come up with something you feel the need to share. This is one of those situations. Nothing really important...just my own thoughts. Make of them what you will.
Many times I've been told that one of my greatest strengths is creating interesting, fun NPCs. Perhaps people are prejudiced, or maybe I just have a knack for it. Whichever it is, I thought I'd put together a blog post on the subject. I hope that my thoughts help others with creating NPCs as well, but let's get started!
For those who don't know, NPC stands for Non-Player Character. If you're in a game and you buy a cup of coffee from the nameless clerk at the shop, that clerk is an NPC. However, they don't have to be nameless, faceless NPCs. Sometimes it's good to have a stockpile of NPCs just to deal with random situations that come up as well.
1: What role does the NPC fill? This is the first question you need to ask yourself. What sort of role does the NPC play? Is it a rival of a main character? A foil? A bartender at the favorite bar? Or just a serving girl who is going to be seen, then forgotten?
I'm building an NPC for a science fiction game. This character serves the role of a cook on board an exploration ship...and also as chief xenobiologist.
2: Now you have their role, so what makes them unique? Every character, in every game, is unique in some tiny way. Perhaps the mercenary has a tendency to compose music, however bad, in his time off. Maybe the bartender is a former adventurer who retired, and gives drinks to those who give him a good story. Maybe the person just has an oddly colored eye, or a scar where they were burned as a child. Or perhaps the true reason they're unique is that they have absolutely nothing to set them apart from others, or just their personality that's odd.
So this cook/xenobiologist is a bit quirky already, why not make him moreso? This cook is an alien, from an insectoid race that has the ability to mimic other races, within limits, by creating psychic illusions. He's a male, but he enjoys pretending to be a female human, simply because he likes seeing the reactions he gets and theorizing what caused the reactions biologically. The reason he's a cook is because it's his hobby, and he's quite good at it. Besides, that's how he paid his way through college in human space so his degree would be recognized in both nations.
3: So you have a role and what makes them different...how competent are they? This is an important question, especially in a system game. Generally, you should avoid having most NPCs being too competent, unless that's their role. For instance, when a player goes to an NPC researcher, generally they want someone competent enough to give them the information they want. So use discretion, and unless there's a reason for it, don't go overboard with NPC power levels.
The cook is competent, and able to tell the PCs what various creatures are, after some research, and he makes good meals. His illusions are mostly personal, so he won't overshadow them except in very limited circumstances. This is definitely within the bounds of reason, especially as chief xenobiologist.
4: Last, but not least...what's their name? You might think I'm joking, but I'm not. Their name tells you a bit about them in some cases. Maybe it's something normal and simple, like Timothy, John, Leah, or Margerette. Sometimes a simple name is better. Don't forget that sometimes, going for sheer exotic names is just a way to get players to ignore the character's name.
Our itinerant scientist is going to be named Tilkenzak amongst his own people...but among humans, he prefers to go by Tilly.
And there you have it. My own, bizarre version of NPC creation and advice.