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Creating interesting NPCs is challenging for new Dungeon Masters. But it doesn’t have to be. Let’s take a look at three methods for creating interesting NPCs with ease.
The simplest way to create an interesting NPC is to borrow or steal one from the media you consume. This method is popular because its effective and easy. Michael Shea even details it further in Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master. Think of an interesting character from any book, movie, TV series, etc. That character is now the foundation of your NPC. You can use their voice, personality, and motivations.
“But won’t it be obvious that I’m using that character?”
Not as much as you might think. Your NPC likely has a different name. Your attempt at the character’s voice will be unique. Unless you’re really good at impressions, no one will know the difference. But to make your NPC even more unique, keep reading.
Fusing Character Archetypes
To make your NPC more interesting, add another archetype. Choose two interesting characters from any book, movie, TV series, etc. Take the voice of one but the personality of the other. Use the motivations of one but the flaws of the other. Let’s look at an example.
I need a tavern keeper NPC. I’ll use Oprah and Ash Ketchum as inspiration. For Oprah, let’s stick with the “You get a car! And you get a car! Everyone gets a car!” meme thing. For Ash, let’s have the bartender be collecting rare ales. And he’s really annoying about it.
Javed Highburrow runs a respected establishment near the city gates. Everyone who is anyone drinks here. He’s been known to buy drinks for everyone, frantically waving his hands and shouting, “You get a drink. And you get a drink! Everyone gets a drink!” But few can stand a conversation with Javed. He’s obsessed with collecting all 150 rare ales from the region and he won’t shut up about becoming “the very best” ale master.
With a simple fusing of two character archetypes (or real people), we’ve created an interesting NPC with little effort. But we can take things one step further for the best NPCs yet.
The Triad NPC
The Triad NPC is where the right amount of effort meets the most impactful outcome. Just like the last example, we’re going to combine multiple character archetypes. Choose three interesting characters from any book, movie, TV series, etc. Pick aspects from each to create a truly unique and interesting NPC.
Let’s look at a few examples.
Pikachu. Lightning mouse from Pokémon. Kevin Corcoran. Tough-guy detective from Copper. Tyrion Lannister. Witty dwarf from Game of Thrones.
A dwarf detective with mouse-like features. He’s witty and violent. Roots out corruption with a magic lightning dagger.
Trevor Belmont. Monster hunter that likes to drink from Castlevania. Stanley Hudson. Lazy office worker that does crossword puzzles from The Office. Leslie Knope. High-energy, intelligent city councilwoman from Parks and Recreation.
A veteran of the city’s highest council. She’s the most intelligent member but lazy beyond belief. Drinking and crossword puzzles are more appealing than her job and she won’t shut up about all the monsters she’s killed.
That’s it. Combine character archetypes (and real people) to make quick and interesting NPCs for your D&D and TRPG games. I’ve found the sweet spot to be three characters. Let me know how you create interesting NPCs over on Twitter!