A Little Personality
By Dru Pagliassotti
One of the great mysteries of GMing is how certain nonplayer characters (NPCs) become “regulars” in a campaign. The GM can seldom decide that this or that NPC will become a regular walk-on character. Instead, NPCs seem to take on a life of their own, reappearing in the game until the characters come to expect them or even seek them out. But one thing is for certain. No boring, characterless NPC has ever become a regular.
The most enjoyable NPC personality for a GM to play, needless to say, is one that drives the player characters (PCs) crazy. These are the NPCs they love to hate; the ones who make them groan and roll their eyes. These are the ones that can make GMs cackle with glee as they prep their next adventure.
Here are a few NPC personality ideas to get you started.
BOSSY: This NPC wants to be in control but doesn’t really have any real power behind her, which keeps her Bossy instead of despotic. The NPC knows more than the PCs and flaunts it, trying to tell the characters the best way to do whatever task is before them. What’s most annoying is that a lot of times the Bossy NPC is right. Quote: “No, no, no, it’s supposed to be done THIS way!” Examples: An older sister; a little brother; a retired adventurer; a novice adventurer with nothing but book-learning behind him, a fellow student or co-worker.
LOUD: This NPC thinks he’s everybody’s best friend and shouts his greetings whenever he sees them. He likes to give PCs near-crippling slaps on the back or big bear hugs (inevitably accompanied by the reek of beer or onions or garlic), too. He asks insensitive questions at the top of his lungs and blurts out secrets without any forethought. He knows everybody, though, and isn’t shy about introducing his “friends” around. Quote: “YO! WATCHA PUSSYFOOTING AROUND THERE FOR? C’MON OVER HERE AND HAVE A DRINK!” Examples: Hearty uncle, overbearing aunt, good ol’ boy neighbor, local waiter or bartender, retired adventurer.
NOSY: This NPC wants to know everything and will go to almost any end to ferret out a secret. PCs have to guard their privacy around her, because she’ll listen at doors, read diaries, interrogate strangers, and do just about anything to satisfy her curiosity. This NPC is usually a good source of information, unfortunately. Quote: “Hey, what’s going on? C’mon, you can tell me.” Examples: Pesky younger brother or sister, reporter, sly courtier, worried mother, next-door-neighbor.
SCARY: This NPC is over the edge, from dead-eyed and expressionless to manic and violent. He’s a raving lunatic, obsessed, proactive, and downright dangerous. He’s got major issues. But he knows the street and he’s got espionage or combat skills the PCs sometimes need. They can only hope he doesn’t wig out on them during the investigation. Quote: “Ya got a problem? Huh? Huh? I’ll give ya a problem. I’ll rip yer f***ing lungs out!” Examples: Wild-eyed survivalist, unbalanced ex-veteran preacher, gang member, chopper chick.
SPOOKY: This NPC has weird ideas. Really weird ideas. She may think her mind is being controlled by aliens or cats rule the universe or wearing certain colors on certain days will cause the death of her loved ones. She’s eccentric and, most important, wrong. But she’ll try to convince the PCs that she’s right, and predict dire consequences if they don’t listen. She’s weird but she has an eclectic selection of facts at her command that can sometimes be useful to the PCs. Quote: “Don’t drink that pasteurized milk! The IRA is infecting it with mad cow disease.” Examples: Old lady downstairs, stoner hippy, alien-hunting FBI agent, homeless person, fortune-teller.