NPCing is an important part of our game. Some people don’t really like doing it, but everyone should at the very least appreciate the people who do do it. When I NPC my favorite thing to do is to actually just be a crunchy. Personally I’m not much for a the big flashy roles, like the big bad, or the five man dragon, no I want to be a lowly goblin, or a delicate kobold. I want to be guard #7, or “that pirate over there”. For me it has the least pressure, but it also gives the most opportunity to interact, and create the background of the story. So here I’ve written my guidelines on how to be more crunchy.-
- Understand the narrative.- Whenever we have NPCs at an event, we’re trying to tell some sort of story. Whether it’s a simple forray into a long forgotten castle, or a treacherous trip down memory lane, the EHs have some reason for needing you to NPC. Having an idea of what that is can only help you play the part.
They may not give you much to go off of. They may say something like “Big Bad is leading them down this road to the next encounter, you’re helping.” But that gives you an objective, you’re bait. So work with that. Call out to the PCs, be loud. Get their attention, and let them know you’re something to interact with. But do it in character. Don’t shout “Hey PCs come this way!” when you can say “Gobo smells something yummy!” Any flavor you provide will only add to the experience.
- Don’t be competitive.- Every now and then you see an NPC that just sort of abuses the abilities that comes along with being an NPC, whether that’s the unlimited nature of the lives, or some hefty special calls. And you see them just going through and killing all the players. Whether it’s spawning directly behind them, or tapping their weapons with fireball swings. Sometimes you might ask yourself “Did the EH want them to do that?” but you can usually tell, because if it’s just one NPC, that NPC is just got their competitive spirit going and they need to take a second to cool it down.
- Think about the powers you’re given.- Powers are given for two reasons: To help the narrative, or to provide balance. Are there only three of you NPCing? Were you told you could swing fireball on every swing? Are there 50 PCs? You might want those fireballs. Are there 5 PCs? Well, that might be a different story. Another aspect of understanding the powers you’re given is, making sure you know what they do. If you have some wonky weapon call, understand it before you use it. There will always be that one PC that missed the rules, and doesn’t know that the goblins can insta-scalp him. If you don’t understand it, I would encourage you not to use it until you can get clarification on how it’s supposed to be used. It could be a simple step to the side with another of the NPCs and just asking, but it’ll save some trouble for the roaming Magic Marshall if you can explain what your own powers do.
- Don’t be afraid to provide challenge.- Now that I’ve got you worried about competitively swinging fireballs, I’m going to tell you not to be afraid to provide a challenge. Narratives need challenges, and conflicts. It’s okay to bring the PCs to the brink of failure. It’s okay for them to fail. In fact they should fail sometimes, because then they’ll go get help. They’ll go get help and they’ll come back, and try harder, and if they do win, it’ll be a better memory for them. It will be more fun for them, and that is the heart of NPCing right there.
- Interact. You might think standing in the dark in a field, casually bopping someone on the head is enough. That you’ve done your part. But that’s only one dimension of NPCing. You need to interact as much as you can, whether it’s talking, gesturing, or straight up frontin’. Give them something to interact with and you’ll make the experience better for them.