Non-Player Characters (NPC)

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NPCs are non-player characters, as opposed to Player Characters (PCs). Player Characters have a roleplayer behind them, directing their actions. NPCs generally do not. NPCs occur in various forms in roleplaying games, but are generally always are treated as side or supporting characters. They usually serve to advance the plot in some way, whether by aiding PCs or hindering them. In other words: NPCs can be benign or malign, depending on the situation.

Some forum RPGs do not allow NPCs at all. Still others have very complex systems of NPCs. Double check with your forum’s rules before you go including NPCs willy nilly. Here are a few typical implementations of NPCs:

Potential NPC Uses

Adding NPCs can create a better scene than just two characters. NPCs do not need to be the focal point of the thread.
Adding NPCs can create a better scene than just two characters. NPCs do not need to be the focal point of the thread. osajus@flickr
  • If your roleplay has stores, traders, or any form of static establishment, it may be that NPCs staff that establishment. It would get quite boring for the roleplayer who plays the bartender to simply have bartending threads over and over again, and so NPCs are a perfect solution in such a case.
  • Your roleplay may allow direct companion-styled NPCs (e.g., a sidekick character that is yours to control and yours alone). Some other RPGs consider this skirting multiple character rules — so again, double check with your game’s rules.
  • Your roleplay may list a selection of NPCs populating a given area for your convenience. These NPCs are usually free for any roleplayer to use — but usually have some kind of backstory, personality, or other pre-defined characteristics. Make sure to read carefully and adhere to NPC information, if it is provided.
  • Your roleplay may simply assume the whole world is populated by a number of unnamed, shifting NPCs. This is common in city RPGs where there are far more people in the area than there are played characters.

Creating a Good NPC

Give Depth to Your NPC

Make sure your NPC is not one dimensional. A flat, characterless NPC is no fun to roleplay with. Pick an astrology sign, a personality type, or similar if you need something quick and easy for a personality.

Remember, NPCs needn’t be shadowy sidearms existing only to support main characters — they can and should disagree with characters, act inappropriately, etc. according to their personality and the situation.

Don’t Give Your NPC Too Much “Character”

Don’t go overboard and try to give them too much character. Roleplay isn’t about the NPC; you don’t want it distracting the roleplayers (yourself included). Try to strike a balance between “totally undeveloped side character” and “fully fleshed character.”

Avoid fixating too much on a “quirk” or particularly outstanding trait — this can get irritating and boring incredibly fast. A small quirk is fine and may enhance the character (physically or in personality) but avoid making them too out of the ordinary in action.

Write a Bio

Groan. Yeah, seriously. If you’re creating an NPC on the fly for a situation, write a mini-bio in your OOC section of the post where the NPC is introduced. It’s easier for you and other roleplayers to reference as the thread progresses. You may remember everything about your NPC, but other players will have to re-read your whole introduction post if they just can’t remember the character’s eye color. Just give an appearance, history, and personality description of the NPC and keep it short. Again, don’t add too much character to your NPC!

You can even leave the history off, if you want — but it may help you write better dialogue for the character. Histories are points of reference, and while it may seem tedious to create a whole biography for a character you’ll use once, it can improve your NPC use!

Throwaway NPCs

Here are a few NPCs you can use in your roleplay. Make sure you change the personality, history, species, and other details to fit your roleplay.

Futuristic Vampire RPG

Name: Azazel Oriax, vampire, 175 years old

Personality: Azazel is very quiet. His voice is surprisingly silken and sweet, though, and his words are unfailingly kind. He is an introverted observer, though he never derides company or companionship.

Appearance: Pale-skinned, as expected, with short-cropped brown hair. Azazel is tall, but lacks any semblance of willowiness — he is thick of limb and broad-shouldered. His eyes are a very pale, icy shade of blue. All of this adds to a generally intimidating appearance; he seems to have a certain sulky surliness about him (in contrast to his personality).

History: Azazel became a vampire at the age of 23. His work as a computer programmer was hardly altered by the change — he kept working into the night. It was almost fifty years before Azazel met a vampire other than his maker; he is under-socialized in the vampire world.

Wolf RPG

Name: Baphomet Geryon, Northern Rocky Mountains Wolf, 4 years old

Personality: Baphomet is outgoing and friendly, though not terribly bright. Though clumsy, Baphomet desires nothing more than to help others — sometimes to his detriment, as he will unwittingly help outcasts, criminals, and outlaws.

Appearance: His eyes are a muddy orange; they appear tawny brown in particularly dim light. His coat is mostly hues of silver, ranging from off-white along his belly to a gunmetal scattered across his back, shoulders, and spine. He is a big wolf, carrying almost 90 pounds on his frame.

History: Baphomet lived within a pack for the first two years of his life, as customary. When he felt it was time to go, he bid good-bye to his mother, father, and younger siblings and set off into the world. He wandered for a very long time, able to sustain himself by feeding on roadkill and small hunting.

Historical Fantasy RPG

Name: Jezebeth de Ravana of the House Amrithai, human, 24 years old

Personality: Jezebeth is a sharp-tongued individual — she is reliable in her ability to make a witticism or point out a flaw in a plan. Her criticisms and snark, though it often gets her in trouble, is about the most apparent thing about her — purposefully. She is a smart woman and prefers others to think her one-dimensional. In certain private company, she speaks at length on any number of high-minded subjects and political dramas.

Appearance: As she is from a southerly kingdom, Jezebeth is an olive-skinned woman. Her hair is long, very dark brown, and often done in magnificently complex styles. She has olive green eyes set slightly wide in her face. Stick-thin and short, she is flat-chested and consists of sharp, straight lines. Her style of dress typically attempts to offset these characteristics.

History: Jezebeth was married to an elderly lord of her kingdom when she was eleven. She found her husband distasteful at best, and refused him at every turn — to the point of eloping with a dashing young prince. This dashing young man made good on his promise and married her — and was killed a few months later when his horse threw him. Jezebeth has entertained but ultimately refused a great numer of suitors since.