The Importance of NPCs In TTRPGs
In tabletop roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons, characters that are played or controlled by the Dungeon Master / Game Keeper are known as Non Player Characters or NPCs for short. Characters that are rolled and played by the players are known as Player Characters or PCs – they are autonomous to their respective players whereas the NPCs have motivations and ideals of their own, which is known by the Dungeon Master or Game Keeper.
Non Player Characters are vital to tabletop roleplaying games as they are fixtures of the world in which the Players and the Dungeon Master are trying to immerse themselves. NPCs can have varying levels of importance and interactions with the party based on their respective roles in the story that is being told. NPCs can function as mere background characters, shopkeepers, merchants, and common folk.
Non Player Characters can also be wealthy nobles, quest givers, warlords, terrifying monsters, and plotting deities. Non Player Characters are essentially all of the other characters in the game that are not explicitly controlled by the players at the table, so they can be whoever and whatever you wish them to be..
NPCs And The Class System
In Tabletop Roleplaying Games like Pathfinder or Symbaroum, the distinction between Player Characters and Non Player Characters is furthered by the Class system. This is what separates the heroes of the game from the general population. Not everyone will be born with the ability to use magic like a Sorcerer, not everyone will train to reach the martial prowess of a Fighter, nor will everyone be able to enact the will of a God like a Paladin or a Cleric. This implies that being a classed character in these games makes them special; it inherently sets them apart from the common soul.
Non Player Characters can also have levels in classes – they too can be unique for the world, be it a retired adventurer or an arch wizard that calls upon the Player Characters to aid in a bold quest. These types of NPCs can become effective companions to the Player Characters, aiding them in times of need or even accompanying them into the dangers of an ancient dungeon. Non Player Characters can fill many important roles as they are one of the ways in which the Dungeon Master or Overlord can tell the story through the voices and deeds of the other characters that inhabit the world apart from the Players.
Non Player Characters with levels in classes can also make for effective adversaries and villains. Perhaps one of the tasks that was given to the Player’s Warlock by its Patron is to defeat another Warlock of the same entity; Having the Player’s Warlock enter a combat encounter with an NPC with Warlock class levels can make for a memorable and engaging scenario.
A good tip for managing these type of Non Player Characters is to remember that Tabletop Roleplaying Games are numerically based in their mechanics, so keeping dynamic Non Player Characters with classes either one to two levels above or below the level of the Player Characters is an easy way to make sure they are powerful enough for the task at hand without outshining the heroes of the story.
NPCs’ Role In The Storyline
There can be other heroes in these stories, there can be characters who could absolutely destroy the Player Characters but they are not as important to the story as that of the PCs, meaning the metaphorical camera lens of your game night should never focus solely or even for a prolonged point on the Non Player Characters because ultimately it isn’t about them.
Yes, they are immensely important, even the most mundane of NPCs add something in the way of quality to your imagined world. They are a way for the Dungeon Master or Overlord to speak to the Player Characters through their world but they are not the main focus of game or at least, they should not be. The world and the story should be affected by the Players and their Characters, not through the actions of NPCs because otherwise, what is the point of playing these games with your friends if you remove their ability to shape the tale?
NPCs Are A Crucial Tool For The DM/GM
Non Player Characters are also important tools for Dungeon Masters for they help enforce the rules of the world; They can be ruling kings, city guards, town mayors or village elders. If a city has a policy that no one may enter with weapons and the party of Player Characters decides to shove their way past the guards; the guards intervene and draw their own weapons. This is the laws of the world not only being enforced but also displayed to the Players and their characters. Perhaps there is a village where all of the inhabitants are Halflings. Strangely, all the men have purple-stained hands while all of the women have purple-stained feet.
.This is a small, if not odd detail but it could lead to the Players discovering this village is renowned for its vineyards and the stained skin comes from those who pick the grapes and those who stomp them. Does this detail have immense consequences for the world? Is the wine that is produced here going to somehow bring about the apocalypse? Unlikely but what it accomplishes is providing some culture or a level of realism in this fantasy realm, which in turn makes this world of make-believe even more believable.
NPCs’ Role In The Lore Of Your Game
Non Player Characters can also function as Lore Drops – especially when there are NPCs like immortal elves who can bestow years of knowledge to the Players. NPCs are a tool for the Dungeon Master to tell the players what they want about the world or the story without doing so directly. If there is a terrible war in this realm, just don’t tell the Players this – have the NPCs tell them and show them how terrible the war is. Have the NPCs run the spectrum on the war as well; some might favor or even profit from the war like a mercenary whereas the farmers who lost their homes in a nighttime raid will likely feel differently about it.
NPCS As Guides
Finally, Non Player Characters can also function as a geographical guide, meaning they can not only point out locations to the Players, such as telling the party that there is a cave nearby from which no one has returned or actually guiding them through an area, such as a Drow agreeing to accompany the party into the Underdark for compensation.
Either way, these NPCs serve as a tool for not just telling the Players about your world or setting up potential side quests but rather for the Dungeon Master or Overlord to show the players what characters in this realm look, sound, and behave like.
The example of the Drow guide could lead to a wealth of roleplaying at your table as this particular NPC would have a different culture, a different knowledge base, and different motivations. Non Player Characters can have as much or as little depth and importance as is needed for the story. I hope this article shares some insight into what an NPC is as well as some of the roles they can take at your table.
How Do You Run Your NPCs?
We hope you enjoyed our breakdown of the importance of NPCs in TTRPGs. Are there any important points about NPCs that we missed? Let us know on social media!