Friday, August 14, 2020

So You Need an NPC . . .

 Hey'a, everyone! We're down to two weeks before the I release The Midnight Show into the world! It's hard to believe it's so close; it seems not that long ago that I was trying to cram as much writing time as I could into the day in order to get it done in time to publish properly. Now, instead, I'm wrangling cover issues and waiting for the manuscript to get back from my proofreader. While I wait, I've been putting most of my writing energy towards my D&D campaign . . . which, at the moment, is about 50% making NPCs. Lots of NPCs. Honestly, NPCs (and other realifying miscellanea of D&D worldbuilding, like shops and monuments and non-plot-essential locations and such) are one of the most stressful parts of D&D-writing, mostly because it's such a delicate balance that I never know if I'm navigating properly. After all, I don't want to put a ton of effort into someone my characters may never interact with, but I also don't want to leave myself hanging by not coming up with enough info in advance, especially since it tends to be those NPC that make a D&D world  While I've used several different approaches, they all have their dangers . . . which is what I'm going to talk about today, mostly because, as I said before, it's consuming my life a little bit right now. With that said: so, you need an NPC . . .

So You Need an NPC . . .

  1. The easy way: Do nothing. Just improv. I'm told that some DMs have this as their default for non-plot-essential NPCs, and I'm pretty sure my DM is one of them . . . but how they do it, I don't know. This sounds like it's just asking to get stuck for a name and more at the worst possible moment. And, I mean, I could do what Matt Mercer suggests and have a list of possible NPC names behind my DM screen . . . but if I'm going to go to the trouble of prepping that, I might as well prep more. Right?
  2. The logical way: look at the scenario; see what it demands; go from there. Which, yes, is what practically ends up happening. Semi-significant shopkeepers get a name, a couple major physical characteristics, a few defining character traits or relationships with other NPCs for color, and maybe a note on background if it's relevant (for example, if the owner of a magic shop is a former adventurer). More important NPCs get more detail. Random guards or enemies have a note of their existence and no more. (Of course, sometimes this backfires and your players befriend the random guard they or even the random goblin enemy and the next thing you know, they're attached — which didn't happen in the campaign I run, but did happen in a campaign I play in. Said random guard and random goblin recently came back into the story for a bit with actual class levels.) Anyway. The issue with this method is that your imagination very quickly goes dry, at which point you have to supplement with another method. For instance . . .
  3. The tech way: Use an NPC generator. Yes, these exist. Fantasy Name Generators has one, and there are others you can find with a quick search. As it turns out, though, they're more time-consuming than they're worth. Trust me on this one; I once spent way too much time trying to use them to fill out a market's shops and stalls. For some situations and DMs, they might work, but they aren't for me.
  4. The writer way: Adapt characters from your other writing projects. This is my second-most common fallback for when I'm out of inspiration and need five more NPCs for tomorrow's session. I mean, I have all these characters just sitting around, and I love doing AUs anyway; I might as well put those habits to good use. Sometimes I even put those habits to good use by using them for semi-major recurring NPCs. Hey, it works.
  5. The sneaky way: D&D-ify your favorite fandom characters and wait for someone to notice. If anyone asks, it's an homage. Or a cameo. Or it never happened at all. But, yes, this is my number one way of getting unstuck on NPCs: start with a fandom character, AU-ify them, and then keep making modifications until it works. So far, these have ranged from "So subtle no one noticed" to "The only way no one's going to notice this is if they haven't read the source work." Most of the characters on the latter end of the spectrum haven't been introduced or encountered yet, though, so we'll see what happens if and when we get there.

And for those wondering . . . yes, this also applies to creating secondary and minor characters in novels and other linear prose, though numbers four and five are a little trickier to pull off in those scenarios. If you're a DM (or a writer), which of these methods do you end up using most often? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I'd love to hear your thoughts! But remember: it pays to be polite to dragons.