Top 6 ways to use descriptions in your game using basic reporter’s questions
Part 1 NPCs
By Jesse C Cohoon
When faced with the complexities of designing NPCs, after awhile, all of their details can blend together and it can seem a tedious to describe another ranger, fighter, rogue, magic user, bard, etc. Here are some ideas to get the juices flowing:
1. Who. This not only means what they do, but what their personality is, who they are in relation: to the PCs, each other, an organization, etc. How they interact with others- not only the PCs, but other NPCs they deal with, as well as within any organization they’re a part of. If you’re going to give them a title, is it going to be a title that means something, that makes them important, or is it just meaningless “fluff?” Part of who they are could also be viewed in how they dress. Do they dress to impress or do they wear rags? Is their equipment well-maintained or has it seen better days? How do they carry themselves? Are they confident or are they mild-mannered and meek?
2. What. What do they do? Not only what they do, but how well. This is where “stat-ting up” the NPC can come in handy if you wish to do so. If you don’t wish to make them a fully stat-ted up character because they’re not going to see combat, at least note what skills s/he has if you’re using a system that uses them. For instance: If the character has a shop, how good are they at appraisals? How willing are they to barter?
3. Where. Is this person serving the king as a guard, as the cook, or as a lover on the side in the castle? Is this person met deep in the woods, in the local temple, at a merchant shop, or at the monk’s training school? Where does the person live? Where does the person work? How does where you meet them affect how you or the PCs view them? Could where they’re at be a “plant,” i.e., could the gutter rat be a spy for the king or another organization?
4. When. Equally as important as where you meet an NPC is when you meet them. Did you meet them as you’re exiting the king’s chambers? Did you run into them by “chance” in a dungeon after fighting an enemy, ducking into a secret passageway that closed behind them? Did you meet them in a bar late at night and hit it off with them right away? Is the person a morning or night person? Could there be more to their schedule other than them being a “night person?”
5. How. How are you introduced, or how did you meet this person? Did they “accidentally” run into you in the market? Did you meet them in the shop, while looking for that special piece of equipment? Did you rescue them from the depths of a dungeon? Were they some PC’s teacher? Are they the leader of an organization the PCs need to help them out?
6. Why. Why are they where they are? Were they born to this position or was some nepotism involved? Was it hard work and determination that got them there or was it just plain dumb luck? Do they know the difference? Was there any training involved or was it all raw talent that got them to the point that they are at today or was it a combination of both?