Naturally, within Dungeons and Dragons as a Dungeon Master, you will create and utilize a vast world of fantasy.
To bring this world to life, you’ll need to create people to fill that world. These non-player characters will range from shop-keeps, blacksmiths, and barkeeps, to nobility, high protectors, and nemesis’ of the realm. Here, you’ll get some tips and tricks on creating NPCs in Dungeons and Dragons. First, a quick breakdown: (This post includes a generic and important NPC character sheet that you are free to use. Keep in mind that you should always fill out a full regular character sheet for important NPC’s because it is very likely that the will be engaging in battle at one point or another.)
- Distinguishing Generic NPCs vs. Important NPCs and Finding Their Purpose
- Creating a Voice for an NPC
- Creating an NPC on the Fly and Generating Lists
- Notes to Take when Playing an NPC
Distinguishing Generic NPCs Vs. Important NPCs and Finding Their Purpose
Your Generic NPCs are typically characters that are in the background of the campaign. They have no particular significance to the progression of the overarching storyline. However, they do serve a purpose. These NPCs are typically your shop-keeps, blacksmiths, tavern owners, stable masters, bar-keeps, your average townsperson, beggars, etc. Generally, a generic NPCs purpose is to serve the players in some fashion or another. Whether it be a trader that has goods your party needs to stalk up on, or a bar patron that one of your players is trying to get some interesting gossip or information from, they will typically provide the player with something small. Things you want to have flushed out with generic NPCs are:
- Class (Barkeep, Fisherman, Farmer, Shop Owner, etc.)
- Basic Affiliations and Opinions (Politics, War, Economy, etc.)
You can flush out every single aspect of every single NPC in your world if you’d like. However, unless your players interact with all of these characters, then I’m afraid you may inevitably be wasting your energy and time. It may also be a good idea to have some basic stat sheets on hand, just in case any of your generics get into a scrap. It happens…..often.
Also, keep in mind that NPCs that start out as a generic one, may become important over time.
Perhaps that blacksmith is the only one left in the world that can infuse magic with ancient weapons. Or that shop-keep knows secrets of an ancient society that holds the key to the plot. These are all things that can be developed over time, so don’t worry about flushing out these plot hooks right away. Let them develop as the story progresses and evolve their purpose.
Important NPC’s are the bread and butter of your story. These can include high ranking members of society, renowned heroes, and sinister villains. The general purpose of an important NPC is to help drive the story forward. Their usual roles in the plotline are: quest givers, companions, plot twisters, and villains. However, their purpose within the world itself will vary. Be sure that you have established what their plotline and world roles are before you go into the details.
Next, you’ll want to setup all the same things you have for your basic NPCs (name, race, gender, etc. *See Above*). However, you’ll need to go deeper. You should try and delve into the psyche of an important NPC. What drives them? What are their goals? Their fears? What characteristics do they like/dislike?
After that, generate a character sheet with their stats, abilities, etc. If you are unsure or rusty on character creation, check out this character build guide. There is also a video associated with this guide. Always keep in mind how you character behave. Are they courageous? Cowardly? Manipulative? Cold or Harsh? Loving? Shrewd? You’ll have to keep their personality in mind as you play these characters. Remember what your goal is for them in the overall scheme of things and don’t get too worked up if things don’t go as planned.
Creating a Voice for an NPC
Although this may not seem like something that is important, it will contribute greatly to the immersion of your game if you give your NPC a voice. When I create a voice for an important character there’s a few things I keep in mind: where they come from and if they have an accent, what race/ species they are, what they’ve been through, what their alignment is, how intelligent they are, and what register their voice should be at. Another thing to account for is body language. This will help your players to engage in roleplay as you are bringing this character to life with how you speak and move.
When making a voice for a generic character, I like to use the seven dwarves method coined by Critical Role’s Talisen Jaffe.
He is an amazingly talented voice actor, and if you want to see him explain the method himself, check out his video for DM tips. You write down these things on a sheet of paper: Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashful, Doc, and Dopey. Then you also write down High, Mid, and Low voice. If you need a voice for what is otherwise a background character with no significance, just set your fingers down on one of these things at random and pick a random voice register. Or you could even make a roll chart out of it to make it more fun. I have found this to be a great method to use when you need a voice off the cuff. This leads us to our next topic:
Creating an NPC On the Fly and Generating Lists
Every now and again, one of your players may say something like, “I want to talk with a random person I see and ask them where I can find someone of authority.” This is an occurrence that can catch a Dungeon Master off guard. There is a way to avoid this situation though. If the players are in a new city, town, or village, the NPC is more than likely some type of commoner. You don’t have to flush out everything about this character, just what race they are, what sex they are, what they look like, what they sound like, their level of intelligence and knowledge and possibly their name.
It’s not likely that your players will come across this NPC again, so a name may not be needed.
However, you may find it helpful to keep a list of generic NPC names in your binder. As far as race goes, you’ll want to keep in mind what the surroundings of the situation look like. Are you in a dwarven city, or a small farming town on the outskirts of a melting-pot capital? Is your party within the underdark, or some other dimension of existence even? You’ll want to have your campaign notes of the area you are currently at within the story to give you a clue of what kind of peoples can be found in that region.
It’s handy to keep a list of common jobs in case your players are curious about this NPC and ask about its occupation.
If your party keeps pressing for answers that you haven’t quite sorted out yet, just remember that not everyone is an open book. Make the NPC guarded about whatever it is the player is asking about, and perhaps make the player make some persuasion checks. You can even have the NPC feel as though it’s being harassed and have them call out for help from local law enforcement. Either the players will back off, be redirected to the main plot….or start a fight which may lead to imprisonment and a juicy escape story. Just be sure you don’t divulge too much and let the NPCs have their own level of conservation.
Notes to Take When Playing an NPC
Now it is vital that when you are playing and creating all of these characters that you take notes. If you don’t, you’re bound to find yourself in a world of hurt and confusion. But what notes should you jot down? Start with the basic attributes of the character (Name, Race, Gender, etc). After that you’ll want to write down its important interactions with the party, and perhaps its demeanor towards your Player Characters. If you have any plot hooks that come to mind for that NPC to fulfill down the road, notate it and come back to elaborate in between sessions. Write down anything and everything that you feel is relevant to that character, whether its specific traits, the kind of voice they have, their notable interactions with the party, etc.
Ultimately how you take the notes on your NPCs is up to you, but I hope that this little tid bit has helped you in some way.
Again, thank you all so much for reading! Please stay tuned for more content, and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more updates. Until next time, happy creating!!
Author: Ven’Orik (Zach)
I’m just a regular nerd with a passion for storytelling and fantasy. Growing up I read books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, and this solidified my love for the genre. I first started playing D&D when I was 13 and have been pursuing it since. I’m just here to share my knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two from all of you as well!