This is Our Game: How Much Detail for NPCs?

Every month our group of contributors circulates a point about running a D&D game, or some other RPG-centric problem to address. We all stew and think about it for a while, then write up a response. At the end of the month we compile our responses for your reading pleasure.

This month’s question is: How much detail do you give certain NPCs in your game?

Geek Ken I’ve found I need to have a few details sketched out for my NPCs. Trying to completely improvise it means I’m sticking to 2 or 3 types of personalities, so I definitely have to try and prepare something. I do keep details at a minimum and try to offer a thumbnail sketch of NPCs.

I avoid any lasting physical description and focus more on their stature and presence. The broken down old man, with shoulders stooped like he has been defeated by a long hard life, is something that I go after than just saying he is an old beggar with long gray hair and a face wrinkled with age. Just that additional comment on how they move, how they stand, and the sound of their speech goes a long way over just describing an NPC’s race and what armor they are wearing.

I try to keep more important NPC traits as bullet points. How do they carry themselves? I go for one or two overbearing characteristics of their personality. More importantly, I also include how they view the players. Does the NPC trust them? Do they see the characters as equals? These points give me cues on how to play them.

I avoid long descriptions, and try to stick to a few key impressions the players will pick up interacting with the NPC. So I try to leave a little structure with my NPCs, but also leave plenty of room to alter them if needed. I try to avoid complete improvisation, but don’t get the NPC bogged down in so much detail, that I can’t keep them flexible.

Thadeous: A while ago I wrote an article about how unprepared I usually am as far as NPCs are concerned . I have to admit I have not changed much. I still use my fun NPC blanks, and just overlay personality to them as the story unfolds. As far as back story and how each NPC fits into the game I really try to let that be written organically. I wait to see who the players take interest in and why, then if I am creative enough I wrap that interest around the NPC and create a back story to give the players, one that might enhance the interest the NPC holds.

Too often I have spent time creating NPCs with long stories and ties to the adventure only to have the players be interested in some mundane NPC I made up on the fly. I think working with a list of pre-gen NPCs with only basic info allows the players and me to take a blank canvas/NPC and create a masterpiece or killer villain.

Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Geek Ken likes games. Sometimes he likes to blog about them too.

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About Geek Ken

Geek Ken likes games. Sometimes he likes to blog about them too.
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