Have you ever gone through the issue of creating NPCs in D&D only to have your party not care? If so, your NPCs (nonplayer characters) probably need to be more interesting. Here I will give you some tips and pointers on how to make the most of your NPCs. If you follow these tips, your players will not ignore your NPCs nearly as often, and your world will feel more alive!
When creating NPCS in D&D remember to benefit the party, make mostly nice NPCs, give goals/motivations, and keep notes of your NPCs!
NPCs do not have to benefit the party.
Many times I have talked about how your game should be a world, not just a theater for you players. This means that the world was moving and doing things before your players came and will continue to do so when the players leave. Your players may have a big impact on the world or area they are in, but the world does not revolve around them.
Once you understand this, making NPCs will become a lot easier. If a person is late for work but then bugged by some tourists to give information, would that person stop? Probably not, but what if that person was extremely kind? What if a person is just grumpy and assumes that everyone is bad? Will that person be willing to help the players?
The NPCs I just talked about are most of the time extras, but they can be main NPCs. Your party might, for example, have to work for a stingy mayor who might try to cheat the players out of their reward. This can be a great NPC that makes the players have to barter, negotiate, and add a fun new element to the game.
Making your players like NPCs
creating NPCs in D&D requires your players to like the NPCs or you won’t get far.
Many NPCs you create will in some ways be good for the party but aren’t quite right. The players just don’t get along with that NPC and either kill or ignore them. If this is the case, you need to give the players a great NPC.
The players at this point do not recognize NPCs as
You need to change this. Your NPCs must always have a few important traits in order to be interesting. They need to have goals, a personality, and purpose in order to make an impact in your game.
NPC goals and motivations
When you start an interaction with the players, you must know what drives your NPC. This can be relatively easy to figure out. What does that NPC do for a living? Why does the NPC do that? Is there something strange the NPC is doing? If so, why are they doing that?
With these small questions, you can establish the goals and motivations of your NPC. Let’s give two stories for examples.
Jim is a guard. Players ask a question and I as a dungeon master think ‘dumb guard’ and ask “errr wat?” I already have established that the guard is not bright. Why did he want to be a guard? “To help people!” This simple extra NPC now has a personality and motivation which can intrigue a player. I just did it in one of my games. The player spent ten minutes talking to this person.
What about a main NPC? Well, let’s think why Burto became a crime lord. He had no parents and no love for his entire life. He was spat on by higher-ups, and wanted them to feel bad by taking their stuff. Doing so got him in trouble with the law and he had to become hard to survive. All because the person was a crime lord, we can establish motivations from a simple job.
NPCs have easily defined goals and motivations, but purpose can be a bit more tricky. For an extra NPC purpose is fairly easy. What did Jim do? He was a guard. He kept people safe. For main NPCs, purpose is generally a bit more complex.
Burto was hardened by a life which made him become a crime lord. Now, what does Burto want? Perhaps he simply wants to enjoy life and never feel the way he did as a child. Perhaps Burto wants to help children in need and never see a child-like him again. On the other hand, Burto likes power and wants to kill everyone else who doesn’t help him gain more power.
Now that we have goals, motivations, and purpose our NPC can gain some personality! Personality is the last step that ties the whole package together. Let’s say that the players wanted to interact with Jim more. How do you carry on a conversation? Here is where you find out the NPC’s personality.
Jim is dumb and became a guard because he wanted to help people. This means that he is a good guy, but probably weak-willed and does what people tell him. Jim also isn’t used to really thinking for himself, so he likes to be told what to do.
I decided with this step by step thinking to make Jim a person who likes to talk but has a serious self-worth problem. This made Jim unsure of himself and seem pathetic, making some of the party feel bad.
Personality made this extra NPC force my players to feel something and carry on a conversation.
If you go through all of these steps, your NPCs will immerse the players in the world. Imagine, every single person you meet having their own thoughts and opinions. How much more alive would the world be if your game was like this?
Do it. Make your NPCs have their own goals, motivations, thoughts, and personality. If every NPC you put forth has these things, they will be viewed as real people because they act like real people. If your world is populated with people who can talk freely and not give a scripted response, your players will become completely immersed.
Once your players are completely immersed, they will have feelings about your NPCs. This alone will stop most players from
Main NPCs push forward the
Main NPCs tend to be a bit more complex than their alternative extra NPCs. That is why these NPCs need to have a predetermined sheet. This sheet must include combat stats. (You never know what players will do!) The sheet should also have whatever you will need in shorthand.
Did you give a main NPC an accent? Write it down. What is that NPC’s purpose, goal, or overall view on things? Are they really a villain? Make sure you are intimately familiar with your main NPCs so that when players shatter the plot, you can adjust.
Creating NPCs in D&D requires that they are not flat and boring.
Main NPCs usually have some additional features that go beyond personality, desires, and goals. I mentioned how you should keep notes of whatever you need in shorthand. An accent is an excellent additional feature. Simply write down ‘gruf man’ or ‘silly’ if you need to. Keep it short so that you can remember with little effort and roll with it.
Additional features can also be quirks or unique mannerisms like a tick or twitch. The NPC can have a secret that is hidden from the players. Clues can be given, and the players become interested. Now you have a mystery for the players to solve, and the secret could be something completely unrelated to the players.
These features could be as simple as a terrible piece of fashion that they must always wear, or just terrible fashion in general. Snowy day? Wear a
NPCs as extras do not have a goal they are working toward. Remember Jim? He was a simple guard who wanted to help people. What is he doing to achieve that goal? Absolutely nothing beyond his normal job.
Jim is not trying to find his friend who was kidnapped, or have some plot hook for the players, he is just a simple guard.
Your basic bar owner is another great example. The bar owner wants that money from his patrons, preferably without them breaking everything in his bar. That is all. These NPCs are quite simple in order for you to place them in the campaign at a moments notice. What should you prepare for these extra NPCs that randomly come in?
Extra’s and preparations
This section is going to be short because you don’t need to prepare much. If you have a lot of names you can pull out from the back of your head, you are good on names. If you do not have this skill, open Xanathar’s book and just randomly pick a name.
You do not need a sheet for these characters 90% of the time and do not need to roll their stats unless they are meant to fight. Generally, you will have time to get those extra NPCs in order but know that you do not have to have stat blocks lined up for most, if any, of these NPCs.
How to quickly make Extras
creating NPCs in D&D is a long process isn’t it? Well, it doesn’t have to be!
Quick! What does your NPC do? Why did they do it? Take the first thought that comes to your head and roll with it. Respond after this and stick with that tone of voice given. Are they snobs, rich, poor, hostile? Why?
You can make extras up on the spot just like that. If you have some time, you can roll. I generally roll 1-5 the NPC hates the party or is hostile to them. 6-14 the NPC is neutral to the party, 15-20 the NPC likes the party. I adjust this by making the 15 a 14 at level 3, 14 to 13 at level 5 etc until the players hit level eleven and make 20 an ‘adoring fan.’ This is a fun way to show renown and make NPC reactions completely random.
If you want Combat stats, base it a little bit off your players if the NPC is current party level. I am more interested in making your game come to life and improving your player’s perceptions of NPCs instead of giving you stat blocks to fight players with. If you must still make quick stats, base them off of a monster in the monster manual.
Becoming Main NPCs
Sometimes Extra NPCs can become main NPCs. This is rare so let me explain how this happens. “Oh look a little girl. Let’s take her with us!” Now the little girl has become a main NPC and has to be filled in quickly. How do you do this fast? Roll 1d20 for stats. 1-2 is a 3, 19-20 is an 18. Superfast stat creations, but since this is a little girl and not up to player standards make her level 0 with 1 hp.
If your players are like mine however, “Oh let’s give her a wish from a genie so that she can be as strong as us!” Simply adjust what her stats dictate her to be. If she has an 18 dex, make her a rogue. Very simple stat-wise, but how do you deal with personality and motivations?
This little teenage girl was saved from the abyss and was a rogue. The party had 0 perception skill. Can you imagine a skilled rogue as a teenager with parents who had the perception of blind and deaf old men? And from the abyss no less?
Find something entertaining like this to make your extra into a main. Where they came from, why they became a main NPC, and what that NPC now all of the sudden wants. My little Sabrina forced the players to flee a burning town in a mad dash. What an angel.
Using NPCs in combat
NPCs being used in combat can be complex or simple. If you are using a main NPC, you have the stat block and abilities there in front of you. The problem is that now you must think, ‘what will the NPC do.’ These actions should have some intelligence, but this is what we are most accustomed to.
There is one rule that many new dungeon masters do not understand with main NPCs in combat. DO NOT dwarf the players in combat. Your NPCs should be at best equal or at worst less than the players. Mobs of extras, for example, should get a +1 or 2 to hit and damage with the basic weapon damage. Keep it simple.
Very rarely should your NPCs be better than the players. I have tried to give NPCs good combat skills and characteristics to teach players, but in the end the players didn’t learn anything. Instead, they viewed any NPCs that I give them as a godsend. This is why I encourage you to almost never let your NPCs overshadow your players.
All of these things are to increase the immersion of your world. If your world is alive, your NPCs are alive and the players feel immersed. That being said, you are not perfect and can forget.
Nothing breaks immersion like a dungeon master forgetting about an NPC that the players love and remember. I have told you to keep notes of certain quirks or things to remember in this article, but also keep a not of what happened with the NPC.
When you look back 7 months in the future it is easier to remember that NPC if you can remember what happened with the NPC. We love stories, and even jotting down a few words can trigger you to remember a story. That story will show you how the NPC acted, talked, and became alive.
Keep notes on your NPCs!
Creating NPCs in D&D is important to make your world feel alive. The immersion stops murder hobos and can create many wonderful experiences with extra or main NPCs. I have taught you how to make these NPCs seem alive with goals, motivations, purposes, and personalities. Interested how to do NPC voices? Check this out as well!
If you need to work on making good NPCs for your party then check out this article as well.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!