Make Your NPC's Feel Alive

One of the more important roles of being a Dungeon Master is giving the illusion that the world you describe to your players seems like it is really alive. This involves many things like describing the world’s smells, the colors around the characters and such. To a degree, that allows the player to easily imagine the world, and that means taking your sessions from a boring monologue to an interesting and interactive session that your players want to explore.

I think that the true trick to making your world feel alive is through making the Non-Playable Characters feel more “real”. This takes a lot of work and practice to pull off, but once you can start switching your thinking so that you can converse as many different characters quickly, the world your players explore will feel completely alive. I have been studying a lot of the current popular DM’s of today, people like Matt Mercer, Chris Perkins and Griffin McElroy, and I have noticed a few things around how they play their NPC’s that all seem to correlate and seem to engage their players.

It is all about the voice

You don’t have to be an amazing voice actor to do character voices, you just need to try and make your characters sound different. All you need is a little confidence and to not worry if your voices sound awful. The important part here is that you try and create some sort of auditory difference between your NPC’s. This will help players distinguish what NPC they are talking to, and it can give them an idea of who the NPC is. Maybe the NPC the players are talking to is a merchant, but a shady merchant, and you want to try and convey how slimy this person is with out saying “this guy is the greasiest guy you have ever met.” Instead, you want to let the character’s words, vocal cadence, and actions to speak for the character. This will add so much to your sessions, as your characters will build a connection to these NPC (positive or negative) and those connections will be what they remember from week to week. You will start hearing players ask, “when are you bringing that one NPC back?” This is how you will know that not only are your players deep in the story but that they care about the NPC’s, in some way, that they interact with.

Give the character a personality

Try and give every NPC the players encounter, or approach, a personality. I highly suggest, that if you are not very experienced at improv or have a hard time with it then you should create a list of personalities that you can roll on. Now each time an NPC that you have just sitting around in the background is approached and engaged by the players, you will have a way to give the NPC flavor. Who knows, maybe that NPC becomes an instant classic and a party favorite. These personalities can also help reflect what is going on in the world at the time. For instance, maybe there is a drought going on in your story, a historically bad and long drought. Most people, save for maybe the one percenters, will probably be in some state of sadness, anger, or distress. Think about how the story and the players have affected the world and if the NPC’s have any knowledge as to who this party is. It may change how NPC’s act toward the players. All of this gives your world color and life. It makes it easier for the players to get into character and into the world, you are trying to get them to buy into.

Bring back Party favorites (Good Guys or Bad Guys)

Bring the interesting NPC’s back. This is a classic one from comic books. It doesn’t matter if the NPC’s died in a fiery doom or fell into a vat of acid that no one possibly could have survived. The interesting NPC’s always seem to come back somehow. Most of the time they come back different, with a haunted past or a chip on their shoulder. This is also a great time to tug on heartstrings and turn good NPC’s too bad NPC’s. Whatever the case may be, your goal here is to establish a rapport between the players and these NPC’s and then work them into the story so that they show up every so often. Doing this will give your players a sense of home like they know the lands and the people in it. They will start to think they know who the jerks are and who the good guys are. This becomes a very powerful tool in storytelling as you can create a change in the world and affect NPC’s that the players care about, all in a way to serve as a means to tell a good story and to build future story hooks. There are many other options if you pull this bit off with your NPC’s. Your players will notice that the session become more in depth and that they are starting to care, in one way or another, for the NPC’s in your world.

That is where I am going to leave it for this week. As always, thank you so much for stopping in and reading. Feel free to comment, I love to read constructive feedback and love discussing topics like these. Check back in next week to see what else I have on my mind or decide to analyze. Remember to follow The DM’s Table on Facebook or on Twitter @dmstable for updates and to let me know what is on your mind, or what you might want to read about. Also, go check out Roll with Advantage! It is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast that releases every Monday at 5 pm Eastern Time. We play, laugh, and have a good time playing a game we all love. Thank you for reading and if you enjoy these articles feel free to donate, using the button below, to the website to help keep it up and running!

― The DM