Steal my notes Matthew Colville on NPCs
Crafting epic NPCs without epic preparation.
"Matthew Colville runs “Running the game”. An inspiring youtube series offering tips & tricks on how to run a D&D game. Among these “NPCs! Running the Game #22”. Continuing the NPC series I’ll take notes and compare them to previous posts."

Matthew Colville

Steal my notes:

  • Voices of flamboyant personalities: With the success of Geek and Sundry’s Critical Role the misconception has grown that DMs need to do voices to make NPCs memorable. And while it’s certainly an effective way to accomplish this it’s hard and fortunately not the only one nor strictly necessary.
  • Less is more: Don’t write detailed backgrounds for your NPCs, less is more.
  • The NPC template:
    • Motivation: What does the NPC want? More often than not this is really straight forward. The town guard wants to go home safely at night, the barkeeper want to run the bar.
    • Perception: How is the party perceived? Over time this perception may change. From the trouble bearing adventurer to the towns savior. This in itself can be a rewarding experience.
    • Personality: What’s the NPC’s personality?
    • Expression: How does the NPC express himself/herself?
    • Position: What’s the NPC's position in the world?

Comparing notes:

  • Less is more: This is in line with the “Brandon Mull on Characters” notes. Good NPCs are relatively flat and predictable. Fulfilling the expectation of that prediction will make your players feel if they know your NPC, making him/her come to life. So keep them simple.
  • Motivation: what does the NPC want? Both Brandon Mull and Sanderson agree on this being the most important note on an NPC! This note also enables you to tell the story of their lives when they weren’t with your players. This “life of the page” enforce the feeling of a constantly evolving, living world.
  • Perception: How does the NPC see the party? In Brandon Sanderson on World-building I noted: “Show don’t tell”. Show your world to you players, don’t just tell them (use exploratory scenes). In Brandon Mull on Characters we found that characters can be shown by how they treat the world and how the world treats them. Taking both together they form an answer on how the NPCs see the players. How do they interact with them?

Next up on the NPC series:

Matthew Mercer on NPCs