[RPG] How to create and use NPCs that actually matter


My players love to interact with my NPCs in my Savage Worlds game, make friends, allies, enemies, make characters fall in love, etc. But I always end up with either bland NPCs that don't matter much to the game and get forgotten by me, or ones that become spotlight-stealing GMPCs — I'm having trouble making characters in the middle, that matter without them taking over. I haven't figured out how to make NPCs that are more than cannon fodder with bland and unchanging personalities, but less than full protagonists.

The campaign style I'm going for right now is the sort where there are lots of secondary characters in the protagonists' lives and sharing spotlight in battles. Some die, some live, some others get a fanclub. Making those kinds of "in between" or "just right" NPCs who are full of dynamic personality but still secondary is important for that campaign style to work.

How can I make dynamic but secondary NPCs, and how can I manage them over the course of a campaign so they stay that way, neither fading out nor taking over?

Best Answer


Every NPC needs a mop.

Motivation: Why is the character here in the story? What motivates them to act?

Objective: What does the character want to accomplish as a goal in the story? What is the character's overriding goal they must achieve?

Personality: How the character acts as well as their personal appearance.

These three traits help define an NPC. Savage Worlds helps a lot simply due to the Hindrance system which tells you a lot about the character's personality. Edges can also help. A Rich edge having character is going to dress better than one with the Poverty Hindrance.

A Personality Shorthand: Representative Animals

An idea from the Happy Jacks RPG podcast about specifically personality is to steal the mannerisms of a representative animal. So a snake character might talk with a lisp, pretend to be an ally, then betray the characters at a key moment in some way to accomplish their goal. At first they save a key party member and work to get inside the heads of the PCs that they can be trusted. The NPC works with the group for a while until their goal is within reach, then comes the backstab.

A lion might be a loud mouthed but completely heroic and loyal character who fiercely defends the group. An accent like the cowardly lion from Wizards of Oz might make the character stand out, except that they are Brave, sort of post transformation.

A weasel might be a true coward with the yellow hindrance who can be bullied by the group into getting what they want from him. He might also be vengeful (minor) and use his bureaucratic or political power to block the characters later on in the story, making for a plot obstacle. He might stutter or wheeze in some way like a weasel as a mannerisms.

Once you visualize the animal in your mind, jot it down in the character's notations so you don't forget the animal totem personality.