So whenever you play any kind of video game you will inevitably think to yourself “I wonder if I can kill that guy?” Whether it is a chicken, jarl, city guard or quest giver it does not matter it happens. Worry not though because these video games will either punish you or make the NPC immortal or what have you, to not break the game. Either that or you totally break the game and can’t get anywhere anymore. The problem with this is that paper RPG’s don’t have these things and every one of your NPC’s are in a constant threat of being brutally murdered by a PC that doesn’t know what he/she’s doing.

My biggest horror story was a bounty hunter that I spent more than a few hours making, thinking of the background, planning his monolog, and even fleshing out his character traits. Seconds into the encounter it was evident he was going to die. I have a PC that likes to interrupt dialogue with the phrase “I use my feat quick draw and fire both of my guns at him.” At first I tried to capture them in a super Star Wars net to do my NPC intro, the big reveal was ruined by a player who snuck in a fusion cutter and as my NPC tried to get away he gave them the moral problem of basically dirty bombing an entire street full of civilians or letting him go. That took about 3 seconds… So to avoid you totally awesome space bounty hunters from dying I’ve come up with some helping tips that you can use.

Put your bad guy behind an impassable barrier: A view screen, or bulletproof glass, or maybe your vampire is represented by a thrall that used to be close to one of the characters… like pre being a thrall. Any way that you do this you have to remember three things. Don’t ruin the drama with unfairness, know when the ultimate reveal should happen, and if you have to explain it out of game to your players than you’ve done it wrong

  • Make your NPC likable: Not all NPCs are evil and your good guys can come back over and over to crack some jokes, tend bar, or even provide that useful piece of advice. They can be quest givers, sales-people, drinking buddies, or whatever but if a player likes them than they’re most likely not going to be murdered.
  • Make your NPC strong: I had a buddy make an innkeeper for the bar the PCs and to keep them from trying anything gave her a huge war hammer of indistinguishable and ultimate destruction and had said bartender talk about her adventuring career and how she used the gold and plunder to make a huge in that cost a lot of hard earned cash. Cash earned with violence. This shouldn’t be the case for NPCs in combat. If your bad guy NPC just ROFL stomps every PC that it comes up on then you will affect the player mentality. This isn’t Dark Souls people! These threats are made to be overcome… on one life!
  • Make your NPC hidden: Just Google “Sir Bearington” and look up his story… Seriously just do it. Now imagine having a Sir Bearington just being around where the players are. Honestly I add guilty pleasure NPCs into my game all the time and they are all just my little secrets. Of course if a PC wanted to investigate they could pretty easily find some of these things, but they don’t and they really have to reason to, so I get my guilty pleasures, Like knowing my players have actually been at the same bar as Dengar the bounty hunter and just silly stuff like that.

Of course their are other ways to make NPCs live longer and on top of that not every NPC has to be a huge memorable encounter. Sometimes a NPC just exists to be there for three seconds and gets killed, or the PC’s just never get back to that store or whatever. The main thing to remember is to make sure you have fun with it!

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3 thoughts on “Keeping your NPC’s Alive: Tips and Tricks

  1. I like this article a lot! There’s a reason that the bad guys occasionally monologue via hologram in the movies. A smart BBEG knows all the angles; either they eliminate the chance for a fight completely, or could take on the party with little to no challenge.


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