July 24, 2012

Make an NPC Memorable, Even When They Aren’t There

There has been a lot of really good advice on how to make an NPC more memorable. But one significant way not usually covered are the various methods to do so even when the NPC is not present to interact with. Sure, throwing a unique accent on an NPC will help make him memorable, but what happens when the NPC is not there to talk with his unique accent? Nothing…at least nothing that will make the NPC remain memorable.

However, there are ways to keep reminding the players of specific NPCs. Following are a few ideas that can be used to accomplish this. By way of example, I’ll use the NPC, Ragnar Silverbane, to illustrate how these techniques can be used.

-Have other NPCs talk about the NPC.
“I heard Ragnar Silverbane just sold a large amount of used weapons he and his company recovered from the orcs to the militia. I wish I could come into a tidy sum like that.”

-Make the NPC a legacy of history. Maybe an ancestor of the NPC was famous in history. Maybe tangentially one of his ancestors was named in something the player characters are researching for some other adventure.
While researching the Ruins of Wrath before exploring them, the PCs discover that the engineer who designed the ancient watchtower was Rochard Silverbane, great grandfather to Ragnar Silverbane.

-Coincidence. In the real world there are multiple John Smiths. In fact, where I work among the 40 employees there are 4 Davids, 2 Gerrys, 2 Judys and 2 Bills. Having another NPC appear with the same first or last name will create a connection with the first NPC, even if the two have absolutely nothing in common.
 While in another city, the PCs meet a blacksmith named Ragnar Cooper.

-Exploit and share his unique feature. If the NPC has a unique feature, such as a distinctive hat, have another NPC wearing something similar. If the NPC has a unique voice, make the voice not so unique and let another NPC have a voice that is similar.
“The Captain of the Guard is wearing an unusual hat. It looks similar to the hat you’ve seen Ragnar Silverbane wear before. Only the Captain is wearing a red feather in it instead of a black one.”

This advice is best used for an NPC that will eventually have more impact in your campaign than a passing NPC. Sure, you could keep reminding the players about the existence of the local fishmonger, but if he is not going to be used in any future adventure it is best to save these techniques for another NPC, one that will be showing up again and moving the campaign along.
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