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Nonplayer Characters

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 78
Chapter 4

Cast of Characters

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 80
While player characters provide the focus and driving force of a game’s plot, over the course of even a single adventure dozens or even hundreds of other characters take their entrances and exits, sometimes aiding, sometimes threatening, yet always contributing something to the tale. These are nonplayer characters, the populations of entire campaign worlds, the monsters and villains of plots crude and nefarious, allies and agents, royals and shopkeeps, and the limitless arsenal of a storyteller’s imagination. For every player character with complete statistics and volumes of background there exist countless NPCs, some just as nuanced and well developed as veteran heroes, others two-dimensional and stereotyped, destined to speak but once before fading back into anonymity. Regardless of their role or impact on a campaign, a GM’s legion of NPCs enables him to weave the tale he has to tell. Some swiftly become favorites, either of the players or GM, and take on roles bordering on the PCs’ significance. Others are challenges to be avoided or overcome, whether reoccurring opponents or ravenous things straight from a bestiary’s pages. Still others exist merely to give color and life to a world, commoners and passersby who merely brush against the PCs in their adventures, aiding, hindering, or simply living their lives as natives of a shared fantasy. Whether recurring or transitory, helpful or menacing, NPCs serve as the living descriptions of a campaign world, each eliciting a reaction from the collected players, and each helping to take the tale beyond the realm of one-sided narrative and into the experience of a vibrant, living adventure.

This chapter delves into the world of nonplayer characters: from designing the types of characters a GM might want to include in his story to making even the most peripheral personalities memorable. Beyond such advice and toolboxes of character creation also comes advice on detailing those most important of NPCs: villains. As with many sections in this book, this chapter can serve as a reference and toolbox for GMs during the course of their games, making use of the tables at the end of the chapter either as aids to give unanticipated characters a little extra flair or resources to provide your favorite NPCs the details they need to be truly memorable. In addition, an NPC Sheet is included in the back of this book for you to record the details of the NPCs you create.

Making NPCs Unique

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 84
Assuming that the GM decides to give an NPC some depth, he will likely want to make her as memorable and entertaining as possible, and might consider the following points to help raise an NPC above a two-dimensional stereotype.

Alignment: Is the NPC’s alignment coherent with her actions? Does her alignment give her any advantages or disadvantages? Alignment should be an effective guideline in defining the behavior and choices of an NPC. Most often, a rigid adherence to a good and evil alignment makes for more memorable characters, but characters whose goals and deeds vary through shades of gray help lend an air of realism to the game world.

Ally: Who is the NPC’s best friend? What is her relationship with the NPC and the PCs? Like the PCs, NPCs often have someone at their side to help them. Designing an NPC’s cohort, hireling, or bound creature as a special ally with a unique personality and cool abilities can be a way to make her master more interesting. Background: What happened to the NPC in the past? Does that affect the PCs in the present somehow? Designing a background for an NPC, the GM can give an explanation for her appearance, behavior, and characteristics, and perhaps for class abilities, special powers, or unique features. An NPC’s background can merge with that of the adventure itself (especially if the NPC belongs to a long-lived race), making her an interesting source of information or even a living witness to some key event in the past.

Object: Does the NPC possess an object that sets her apart somehow? What is this object like and how does it affect the game? An object such as a magic item can work much like an ally in giving an NPC more flair and weight, and can do it with more subtlety and effectiveness than a living creature. In fantasy, a totally unassuming character can become the protagonist of a story only because she possesses an artifact. Borrowing or acquiring the object from its owner can be a goal of the PCs, of course, and can be done through persuasion, bribery, or combat.

Quirks: A quirk can be anything that sets a particular NPC apart: a fondness for garlic, a distrust of elves, the habit of telling the same story over and over, or even a catchphrase such as “my old gran always used to say...” One or two quirks do a lot to convey personality, but beware, too many and the character becomes cartoonlike and ridiculous.

Secret: Does the NPC have a secret? How can it be revealed and what might be the effects of the revelation? The secret can be knowingly kept by the NPC or something unknown to her. In any case, a twist in a major NPC’s background usually entails a twist in the story, and the GM can reveal the NPC’s secret not only to add excitement, but actually to change the course of an adventure. A secret can also be seen as a focal point in an NPC’s background that might shape the character into more than she initially seemed to be.

Voice: An NPC’s voice—accent, tone, and choice of words—is an invaluable tool in conveying personality. Not every GM has the acting talent to present pitchperfect NPCs by voice alone, but most GMs can surprise themselves—and their players—with a little effort.

Life of an NPC

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 86
Once a GM knows what roles he needs NPCs to fill in a game and has a few notes about their specifics, its time to let the NPCs loose in the venue of an actual game. Transforming an NPC from an idea into an actual personality interacting with or facing off against the PCs proves one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of any roleplaying game, often being one of the surest differences between a mediocre game and an extraordinary one. However, it requires not just a measure of acting talent but also fine judgment on the part of the GM to make an NPC feel like an active individual while avoiding common traps that such characters can present.

NPC Boons

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 88
Fantasy literature is filled with examples of characters with wondrous powers who have no interest in being heroes or villains. Sages content to watch events unfold as they will, clerics imbued by the gods with special powers, herbalists with knowledge of special concoctions, all have unique abilities and insights that are theirs alone and, should such characters come to favor friendly adventurers, might use their special influence and abilities to turn the course of entire campaigns. To represent the unique skills and powers of individual NPCs and to grant PCs an occasional rules-related benefit for their interaction with the characters of a campaign’s setting, the GM might devise boons to have certain important NPCs grant those PCs they come to favor.

In short, a boon is a quantifiable, non-monetary way an NPC might help the PCs. This might take the form of a discount on goods or services, a one-time bonus on a specific skill check, or even a simple magical benefit that only that character can provide. The nature of a boon depends more on an NPC’s role in a campaign world than any statistical element. As position in society doesn’t necessarily correlate with class levels or specific rules, boons are largely based on a GM’s sense of logic and campaign believability. A young prince who is merely a 1st-level aristocrat might thus be able to grant a far more favorable boon—granting a pardon, financing a voyage, decreeing a law—than a baker statted out as an 11th-level commoner.

Boons are not wantonly granted, and PCs should not expect to gain useful aid from every NPC they meet. Only NPCs with an attitude of helpful grant such benefits, and usually even then only to PCs they’ve come to trust over a significant period of time or those who have done them meaningful personal services. In such relationships, NPCs are more likely to favor an individual than an entire adventuring party, making it possible for only one party member to be granted a boon while less favored members are overlooked. PCs shouldn’t expect all NPCs to grant boons; some just might not have anything special to provide or aren’t important enough to have much to offer. The success of those who try to extort boons from characters using mind affecting magics is largely up to the GM, as the effects of mundane boons might easily be guessed, while more unique ones might only be known to the NPC. Regardless of the effect, PCs should never have direct control over the granting of boons—PCs never get boons they can grant and cannot force even the closest allies to grant benefits against their will.

What a boon entails varies widely, depending not just on the NPC who provides it, but the tastes of the GM and needs of a campaign. At their heart, boons are intended to be a simple way for GMs to provide PCs with a minor rules-related benefit in reward for developing bonds with NPCs. Boons are never monetary, though they often have a monetary value, and should feel like favors between friends, not something that would change the life of either the characters or NPC. They might occasionally involve established elements of the rules—like a discount on equipment or adding a bonus on a skill check in a specific situation—but such occurrences should prove minor. Boons tend to take three forms: favor boons, skill boons, and unique boons.

Favor: Any character of any class or social level might seek to aid their friends, with favors embodying such benefits. A shopkeeper granting a 10% discount on his goods, a nobleman using his influence to set up a meeting with a local lord, or a retired adventurer loaning someone his masterwork longbow all count as favors.

Skill: Certain NPCs can share their expertise in specific fields or pass their influence on to others. Skill boons are minor bonuses on skill checks that an NPC might pass on to a favored PC. As a guideline, skill bonuses usually grant either a +2 bonus on a skill in a very specific situation— never on all uses of a skill—or a one-time +4 bonus on a specific skill check. For example, a famous merchant might give a character his signet ring, providing a +2 bonus on Diplomacy checks made with other merchants in his home city’s marketplace; a scholar of a lost city’s lore might instruct a PC, granting her a +2 bonus on Knowledge (history) checks made regarding that ruin; or a guardsman might even allow a friendly PC to call in a favor he has with a local pickpocket, granting a one-time +4 bonus on an Intimidate check made against that individual.

Unique: The rarest of all boons, unique boons are special powers an NPC might grant that are exclusive to that character and fall outside the purview of his class’s typical abilities. Unique boons are special abilities too minor to be part of a character’s class abilities or so specific to a story’s details as to require a GM’s customization. A ghost who can grant a favored PC the power to see through her evil illusionist husband’s illusions; a cleric of the god of light who can grant a blessing that causes an ally’s weapons to deal an additional +1 point of damage on all attacks made against the shadowy creatures haunting the nearby catacombs; or an alchemist who can concoct a potion making the drinker immune to brown mold for 24 hours, all might be example of unique boons. As such boons have the most flexibility and the widest potential for exploitation, GMs should limit unique boons to be useful only once or to prove relevant for but a single adventure.

What follows is a list of boons that might be offered by members of each of the NPC classes in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. As it would be impossible to cover all the possibilities of NPC situations and potential boons, the rest of this section should be considered a guide to creating your own boons or a shopping list from which you might choose boons to add to NPCs in a campaign. GMs looking for more specific examples should see Chapter 9, as each NPC therein includes an example boon that might be granted by such a character. Although the boons listed here detail some granted by characters with specific NPC classes, any NPC of any class can grant a boon.

Villains

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 90
A good villain has to be more than just an evil, high-level NPC or monster at the end of a dungeon bash. While the basics of NPC creation covered earlier in this chapter offer advice in developing NPC personalities, no NPC deserves more careful and detailed development than a major villain. To be memorable, a villain has to have a personality, a powerful and believable hold over her minions, and an evil plan that threatens an area significant to the PCs—a settlement, country, continent, or even the world. Villains are arguably the most important type of NPCs— as, after the PCs, they likely receive the most time “on screen”—and the GM should detail them as thoroughly as possible, with complete statistics and full descriptions and understanding of their appearances, personalities, motivations, and every other feature that makes them unique, as all of these elements will likely come up in one way or another as a plot unfolds.

Not every local thug or monster chieftain needs to be a fully realized villain, though. While the PCs will likely face and defeat numerous opponents over the course of a campaign, only the most significant ones or those the GM plans to return to time and time again need to be fleshed out into extensively detailed characters. A villain’s character often proves important to the type of campaign being run and the threats therein—brutal villains typically have brutal means, while more cunning opponents tend toward more subtle plots. In many ways, an adventure is embodied by its main villain or villains, and GMs should take the time to prepare accordingly. GMs hoping to run effective and memorable villains in their campaigns should consider some of the following advice.