The Care and Proper Feeding of NPCs

December 12, 2009 at 6:08 pm (Roleplaying Posts) (, , , , , )

The use of truly good NPCs is one of the most overlooked strategies by any MU* admin or any player anywhere on any game.

You need good NPCs.

  • NPCs help flesh out the people around your PC, so that you don’t have to be an orphan.
  • NPCs help move plots forward by dropping information, being villains, and being victims.  Nobody’s feelings get hurt (mostly!) when ICC happens to these NPCs.  That means you can kill them (mostly) without arguing with anyone over consent.
  • NPCs help flesh out all the roles that should be filled in the game but that just aren’t for whatever reasons.  You can’t get any normal humans?  Time to make a bunch of memorable normal human NPCs then so that people don’t start snarking that the city is filled with nothing but supers, even though there are 18 players RPing in a city of 4.3 million people.
  • NPCs help your players feel like they’re in a vibrant world that goes on around them–that things happen that they don’t directly see and influence.  This makes the world more believable and fun.

Of course, all of this applies when you do NPCs right.  Basic Redshirt #5 evokes no emotion.  The guy we’ve all known and loved and laughed at for years does.   So how do you TRULY do good NPCs?

  • Give your NPC a first name and a last name.
  • When you pose the NPC add physical characteristics, dress, everything that will help players really visualize this guy.
  • When you pose the NPC use quirks, speech patterns, slang, and expressions that are unique to the NPC.  In other words emit your NPC the same way you’d play a character.  Believably and with attention.
  • Have the NPC in question occasionally seek scenes with the player base the same way you would do with a PC.  Be available to play these NPCs should they be requested.  Have them show up in the places they belong (like where they work) again and again.  Let them interact with people and form friendships. (A downfall here is that you might end up playing your NPCs more than your PCs and feeling grouchy about that.  I have, and that’s why I now set a note on my @doing to let people know when I’m ready and willing to play NPCs and when I want to play my own characters, thank you very much).
  • Allow the NPCs to help forward the story but NEVER treat the NPC as nothing more than story fodder.
  • Don’t stat any NPC until some character declares an intention to fight and/or kill said NPC.

You know you’ve put together a good NPC when:

  • People’s characters reference the NPC in conversation the same way they do a PC.
  • You get physically mauled or tomato’d should you so much as breathe the suggestion that you plan to kill off someone’s favorite NPC
  • You get tears and pages of NOOOOOOOO! when you do kill off someone’s favorite NPC
  • People ask for RP with the NPC
  • Many people on the playerbase know who that NPC is.

In short it’s like running a bunch of other characters, only not as regularly and not as in-depth, but with the illusion that you’re doing just that.  It does take a lot of work, to be sure.  However, if you begin to think of yourself as a storyteller participating in a collaborative story, rather than as just a player out for your own adventures and enjoyment, then this process becomes one of world weaving and you have a lot more fun with it.

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