Generating Familiar NPCs

Ilya Repin - Religious Procession in Kursk

How often do you dig into the gritty details of the backgrounds that your players have (not) made? I'd wager it's sparse in comparison to the amount of time spent designing towns, dungeons, monsters and loot. Story is tough enough to write, and (speaking from personal anecdote only) a lot of DMs that I've had the pleasure of observing over the years don't always take advantage of an exceptionally convenient tools: The familiar NPC.

NPCs are helpful. Generating NPCs can be a lot of fun. Generating NPCs spontaneously with some player input is even more fun and it can lead to interesting emergent stories.

Here's a table or eight that you can use for that. Note that this junk works best if your players haven't gone through the trouble of writing a backstory that kills off everyone they've ever known and loved. How to use it, you ask?

When your players would, for any reason, run into a new NPC that you haven't already done a lot of prep work for, ALLOW them all to roll a d6. Don't force them - if they don't want an NPC that's related to them, it's probably not a good idea to force it. That said, you'll have to decide the frequency based on how often you introduce NPCs. 1 in 6 is a good rate that I can attest to; I introduce a new NPC every other session or so. If any of the players roll a success on your check, then proceed to roll on table I. If the result indicates another table, roll there to further explain the result. Use your judgement to explain the result, and roll with it. Note that not provided here are a list of names. You'll need that too.

Consult your players while you do this, and get them involved in generating the NPC. It gives them a chance to flesh out their character and opens up an avenue to some roleplay and adventure hooks.

I - 1d10 Familiar NPCs
  1. Blood Relative -> IIa
  2. Non-Blood Relative -> IIb
  3. Estanged friend
  4. Close friend
  5. Family friend
  6. Cohort -> IIc
  7. Rival
  8. Business relation
  9. Class-specific relation -> IId
  10. Unique -> IIe

Rolled up something interesting? I hope so. Some of these don't need a second table, but for any that indicate moving to another table -> check them out below.

IIa - 1d10 Blood Relatives
  1. Father
  2. Mother
  3. Sister
  4. Brother
  5. Half-Sister
  6. Half-Brother
  7. Nephew
  8. Cousin
  9. Uncle
  10. Aunt

IIb - 1d6 Non-Blood Relatives
  1. Step-Father
  2. Step-Mother
  3. Godfather
  4. Godmother
  5. Step-Sister
  6. Step-Brother

IIc - 1d6 Fellow Cohorts
  1. University / Academy Student
  2. Guild Classmate
  3. Military Service Soldier
  4. Secret Club Member
  5. Occult Society Due-Payer
  6. Religious Order Subscriber

IId - Class-Specific Relation
This one's a bit tricky, as it depends a lot on the class. Here are some examples, but if you're doing anything outside the core 3 classes, you'll have to draft them up yourself.

IIIa - Fighting Man
  1. Mercenary Cohort
  2. Martial Weapons Instructor
  3. Archery Instructor
  4. Army Drill Instructor
  5. Familiar Blacksmith
  6. Former Page / Squire

IIIb - Cleric
  1. Former Abbot / Deacon
  2. Clerical Academy Cohort
  3. Travelling Prelate
  4. Familiar Hermit
  5. Familiar Saint
  6. Former Master of Novices

IIIc - Magic User
  1. Former Lecturer
  2. Former Wizardly Master
  3. Familiar Wandsmith
  4. Familiar Librarian
  5. Magic College Cohort
  6. Familiar Devil / Demon

IIe - 1d20 Unique
  1. Ex-Spouse
  2. Fae Godmother
  3. Irritated Creditor
  4. Childhood Bully
  5. Long-Lost Sibling
  6. Sports Coach
  7. Doppelganger
  8. Obsessed Stalker
  9. Childhood Crush
  10. Co-Conspirator
  11. Familiar Harlot
  12. Unfamiliar Fortune-Teller
  13. Undead Ancestor
  14. Former Family Servant
  15. Familiar Barkeep
  16. Grateful Street Urchin
  17. Familiar Wizard
  18. Village Elder
  19. Unfamiliar Bounty Hunter
  20. Familiar Ghost
How To Use This All

I gave a brief run-down of the tables at the top of the article, but a quick analysis of what makes this sort of information helpful is in order. First, let's pull back the hood and examine the role that NPCs play.

First: They provide something to interact with.
Second: They can dispense information as needed.
Third: A long-standing NPC can strengthen the setting.

A core aspect of tabletop games is the interactive nature of it. The players and the DM are constantly interacting if all goes well, and it's the give-and-take nature of roleplaying that sells the hobby as a whole. Being able to speak to anyone the DM is willing to create is amazing enough, but the biggest draw that tabletop gaming has over say, video games, is that the DM is able to write the story on the fly and actively REACT to the players.

An NPC that behaves intelligently is the strongest selling point for a tabletop game. As such, isn't it best to have believable NPCs? Isn't it a good idea to have a wide variety of NPCs at your disposal?

Furthermore, isn't it important to draw your players into the game? What better way to kill two birds with one awkwardly-shaped stone than to ham it up with an NPC that you just generated. What's more, that NPC is related in some fashion to the players. Even if that NPC is a half-brother or your old fencing instructor, the fact that there's a tie-in to the world is something that can help you sell your game with minimal effort.

The amount of time it takes to roll once or twice on this table and the extra time it takes to play a character that acts somewhat familiar with and friendly towards one of your players is well worth it. What's more, it makes more logical sense for a friend to ask for help, or offer information up freely.

NPCs are a tool to be used wisely. Don't forget to put your resources to work.


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