Mastering NPCs: 20 Essential Types Every Game Master Should Know

Hey there, fellow Game Masters!

We all know that a tabletop RPG is more than just dice and character sheets—it’s about creating an immersive, living world. And what brings that world to life more than anything else? That’s right: Non-Player Characters (NPCs)!

From the mysterious stranger at the tavern to the villain lurking in the shadows, NPCs add color, depth, and complexity to our games. They give our players people to love, loathe, protect, and interact with. But not all NPCs are created equal. Depending on their roles, they can serve as plot drivers, character foils, allies, or even world builders.

In this article, we’re going to dive into the world of NPCs like never before. We’ll explore 20 different types of NPCs you might want to include in your game, complete with examples and tips on how to use them effectively. So grab your GM screen, and let’s get started!

NPCs as Plot Drivers

NPCs can do more than add flavor to your game world—they can also be the driving forces behind your plot. These NPCs push the narrative forward, whether by sending the players on quests, revealing vital information, or adding unexpected twists to the story. They’re the ones who get the ball rolling and keep the momentum going. Let’s take a closer look at some of these plot-driving NPCs.

The Quest Giver

Ah, the Quest Giver—an essential NPC in just about every RPG. You know the type: the grizzled old man in the tavern with a map to a hidden treasure, the desperate villager whose child was kidnapped by goblins, or the mysterious noble who needs a group of adventurers for a secret mission.

The Quest Giver’s role is simple: they give your players their objectives. Without them, your players might not know where to go or what to do. They help guide the narrative and provide clear goals for the players to strive towards.

When crafting your Quest Giver, consider their motivation. Why are they giving this quest? What do they stand to gain or lose? Answering these questions will not only make your Quest Giver more believable but also add depth to your plot.

For example, let’s consider a Quest Giver named Elara, a local herbalist. Elara needs a rare plant from a dangerous forest to cure a spreading illness in her village. She’s too old to get it herself, and the villagers are too sick or scared to venture into the forest. This scenario provides a clear goal (retrieve the plant), stakes (the villagers’ lives), and a reason why Elara can’t do it herself.

Another example could be a cryptic message from an unknown Quest Giver. The message, delivered by a raven, offers a hefty reward for retrieving an ancient artifact from a forgotten tomb. The sender remains a mystery, adding intrigue and prompting the players to embark on the quest to learn more.

Experiment with different types of Quest Givers and quests. They’re a powerful tool for driving your plot forward and getting your players invested in your game. Happy questing!

The Informant

The Informant is another crucial NPC in many RPGs. They’re the ones who have the inside scoop, the secret knowledge, the tidbits of information that can push the plot forward or shed light on a mystery. Think of them as living, breathing plot devices that can provide your players with the information they need when they need it.

An Informant could be anyone: a street urchin with sharp eyes and ears, a tavern keeper who hears all sorts of gossip, or a courtier who knows the secrets of the royal court. The key to a good Informant is that they have access to information that the players don’t.

When using an Informant, consider why they’re sharing this information. Are they helping the players out of goodwill? Are they being bribed or coerced? Or do they have their own reasons for wanting the players to know this information?

For example, your players might meet Slink, a nimble thief who has a knack for overhearing valuable information. Slink could provide the players with a vital clue to their quest, but not for free. They’ll have to part with some gold or do a favor for Slink in return.

Another Informant could be Lady Rosaline, a noblewoman at the royal court. She might secretly pass on information about a brewing conspiracy within the court, hoping that the players can stop it. She can’t act openly without exposing herself, so she uses the players as her agents.

Remember, while Informants can be incredibly useful for steering your plot, try not to overuse them. If your players start receiving all their information from Informants, they might feel like they’re just being led by the nose and not actively participating in uncovering the story.

The Double Agent

Now here’s an NPC that can add a healthy dose of suspense and surprise to your game: the Double Agent. This NPC appears to be on the players’ side, but they’re secretly working for the enemy. Double Agents can be a source of shocking plot twists and heartbreaking betrayals, adding emotional depth to your story.

A Double Agent could be a trusted ally, a new acquaintance, or even a member of the same organization as the players. The key is that they have a secret allegiance that conflicts with the players’ goals.

When using a Double Agent, consider their motives. Are they a true believer in the enemy’s cause? Are they being blackmailed or coerced? Or are they simply out for their own gain?

For instance, consider a character like Markus, a member of the same guild as the players. He’s been with them on several quests, fought by their side, and shared their victories and losses. But unbeknownst to the players, Markus is secretly reporting their activities to a rival guild. The reveal of his double-crossing can lead to a dramatic showdown.

Another example could be a character like Elina, a seemingly kind and helpful guide who has been aiding the players in their journey. However, she’s secretly leading them into a trap set by her true employers, providing a shocking twist when her true allegiance is revealed.

Using Double Agents can be a bit tricky—you don’t want to make your players feel too betrayed or paranoid. But when done right, a Double Agent can add an exciting layer of complexity to your game.

The Turncoat

A twist on the Double Agent is the Turncoat, an NPC who starts off on the enemy’s side but switches allegiance to the players’ cause. The Turncoat can add a dynamic layer to your plot, stirring up conflict, and creating opportunities for character growth and redemption arcs.

A Turncoat could be a disillusioned soldier from the enemy ranks, a spy who’s grown to care for the people they’re supposed to betray, or even a minor antagonist who realizes they’re on the wrong side.

When you introduce a Turncoat, consider their reasons for switching sides. Are they disillusioned with their previous allies? Have they developed a bond with the players or the people they’re supposed to hurt? Or do they see the tide turning and want to be on the winning side?

Meet Gavrik, for instance. He’s a henchman for the main villain who’s begun to question the cruel actions of his boss. After a confrontation with the players where they spare his life, Gavrik decides to switch sides, offering his insider knowledge and assistance.

Another example could be Selene, a spy planted in the players’ group who initially intended to sabotage their plans. However, as she spends time with the group and witnesses their heroism, she slowly comes to respect and care for them, ultimately choosing to join their cause instead.

Remember, the introduction of a Turncoat can bring about significant changes in your game’s dynamics, so handle these characters with care. They can provide a powerful moment of surprise and emotional depth when done right.

The Mysterious Stranger

Last but not least in this category, we have the Mysterious Stranger, an NPC who sparks intrigue and curiosity. They might appear briefly or have recurring cameo roles, each time providing cryptic hints, prophecies, or even aid when least expected.

A Mysterious Stranger could be a hooded figure in a tavern, a hermit in the woods who speaks in riddles, or a wanderer who seems to cross paths with the players wherever they go. Their mysterious nature is what sets them apart and piques the players’ interest.

When introducing a Mysterious Stranger, consider their purpose in your story. Do they have a prophetic vision about the players? Are they secretly watching over them for some reason? Or do they have their own enigmatic agenda?

Consider the character of Morwen, a cloaked figure who the players encounter in different towns. She offers cryptic advice and warnings but never reveals who she is or why she’s helping them. Her true identity and purpose can be a subplot that slowly unravels throughout the game.

Another example could be an enigmatic wanderer like Eamon, who always seems to turn up at the right time to aid the players in their quests. His uncanny knowledge and timely interventions make him an intriguing figure, sparking theories and discussions among the players.

The Mysterious Stranger can be a fantastic tool for building suspense and keeping your players guessing. Their enigmatic presence can add a layer of depth and intrigue to your narrative.

The Lost Soul

The Lost Soul is an NPC who is, in some way, adrift. They might be physically lost, like a traveler in a foreign land, or their loss might be more metaphorical, like someone struggling with a personal crisis or trying to find their purpose. Regardless of the nature of their loss, these characters are searching for something – and that search can form the basis of compelling quests and storylines.

Consider Mira, a young woman who wakes up in a strange city with no memory of who she is or how she got there. She’s lost in every sense of the word: lost in the city, lost in her life, lost in her own mind. The players might meet Mira in a tavern, where she’s desperately trying to piece together her past.

As the players help Mira recover her memories, they discover that she’s not just any amnesiac – she’s the heir to a powerful magical lineage, and her memory loss was caused by a curse. This revelation can launch a quest to break the curse and restore Mira’s memory, driving the plot forward.

But the Lost Soul doesn’t just drive the plot – they also add an emotional layer to the story. The players might feel sympathy for Mira, and helping her could become more than just another quest. It could become a personal mission, a matter of the heart. This emotional engagement can make the story more immersive and memorable.

The Lost Soul can also introduce elements of mystery and exploration. What caused Mira’s memory loss? Who is behind the curse? What will happen when the curse is broken? The answers to these questions can lead the players to new places, new characters, and new challenges, enriching your game world and keeping the story fresh and exciting.

So, when you’re crafting your next NPC, consider creating a Lost Soul. They can provide more than just plot hooks – they can provide depth, emotion, and a sense of discovery that can elevate your game to new heights.

NPCs as Character Foils

Character foils, in literature and gaming alike, are characters who highlight certain qualities of another character, usually by contrast. They’re the shadows that make the light brighter, the sour that makes the sweet sweeter. So, who’s ready to meet some of these character-boosting NPCs?

The Rival

Everyone loves a good rivalry, and in RPGs, a Rival NPC can be a fantastic way to bring out the best (and sometimes the worst) in your players’ characters. This is an NPC who’s always trying to outdo the player characters, always one step ahead, or perhaps one step behind, pushing the characters to try harder and do better.

Your Rival could be a fellow adventurer who’s always hunting the same treasure, a fellow student at the magic academy who’s always topping the class, or a fellow knight who’s always besting the player in tournaments.

For instance, imagine a Rival NPC like Sir Cedric, a knight of the same order as one of the player characters. Cedric is always striving to be the best, and his constant competitiveness drives the player character to improve and outshine him. Cedric could be a childhood friend of one of the player characters, both of them having trained under the same knight. Though they share a bond, their competitive nature often comes to the fore. Sir Cedric’s constant need to prove himself could stem from a deep-seated insecurity or a desire to live up to his family’s legacy. His rivalry with the player character could evolve over the course of the game, possibly even turning into a grudging respect or a strong friendship.

Zara the Swift, on the other hand, could be a notorious treasure hunter who has become a thorn in the players’ side. She’s always one step ahead, often leaving behind a mocking note or a playful clue for the players to find. Zara’s rivalry with the players could be more playful than malicious, and she might even help them out in a tight spot. Her character could reveal layers as the game progresses, and she might have her own reasons for always being on the hunt for treasures.

The Antithesis

Next up, we have the Antithesis. This is an NPC who serves as a mirror opposite to a player character, showcasing what they could become if they chose a different path. The Antithesis reflects the player’s character in some ways, but diverges significantly in others, especially in terms of values, morality, or decisions.

For example, let’s consider an Antithesis like Voren. Suppose one of your player characters is a paladin who strictly adheres to a code of honor and justice. Voren, in contrast, is a fallen paladin who once followed the same path but chose to abandon his code for power and personal gain. The interactions between the player character and Voren can lead to fascinating discussions about morality and the nature of power.

Alternatively, take Lyra, a powerful sorceress who hails from the same village as a player character with latent magical abilities. However, where the player character is cautious and responsible with their magic, Lyra is reckless and power-hungry, causing destruction in her wake. Lyra serves as a stark warning to the player character about the dangers of unchecked power.

The False Friend

The False Friend is a master of deception. On the surface, they appear to be allies, offering assistance, friendship, and even camaraderie to the player characters. But beneath that friendly facade, they hide their true intentions. They might be spies, traitors, or opportunists, waiting for the right moment to betray the party and further their own goals.

Consider the charming pirate, Captain Thorne. He’s charismatic, resourceful, and appears to be on the players’ side. He offers his ship and crew to aid the players on their quest, guiding them through treacherous waters and dangerous territories. All the while, he’s gaining the players’ trust and waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

When that moment arrives, Thorne reveals his true colors. He betrays the players, stealing an artifact they’ve worked hard to obtain and leaving them stranded on a deserted island. This shocking turn of events forces the players to regroup, rethink their strategies, and deal with the aftermath of Thorne’s betrayal.

A well-crafted False Friend can provide some of the most memorable moments in a campaign. The moment of betrayal can be a dramatic plot twist, shaking up the narrative and forcing the players to adapt. It can also add depth to your game world, illustrating that not everything is as it seems and that trust is a valuable commodity.

Furthermore, the False Friend can also serve as a catalyst for character development. Dealing with betrayal can push the player characters to grow, evolve, and become more cautious and discerning. It can test their moral compasses, challenge their beliefs, and shape their journey in significant ways.

So, when you’re designing your next NPC, consider adding a False Friend into the mix. They might cause some trouble for your players, but the narrative rewards can be well worth it.

NPCs as Aids to Player Characters

Alright, Game Masters, let’s talk about the NPCs who have your players’ backs. These are the NPCs who patch up your players after a tough battle, who sell them the gear they need for their quests, who guide them through treacherous terrain, and who offer them invaluable wisdom. These NPCs can add depth to your game world and provide crucial support to your players. So, who are they?

The Mentor

A Mentor NPC can be a source of wisdom and guidance for player characters, helping them to grow and develop their skills. This could be a wise old wizard who teaches the player character magic, a seasoned warrior who trains them in combat, or a cunning rogue who shows them how to be stealthy.

For example, Master Tolen, a seasoned mage, might serve as a Mentor to a budding wizard among the player characters. His wisdom and guidance shape the character’s magical education, and his teachings help the character to grow and evolve. Tolen has much to teach, but his lessons are not just about magic. He emphasizes the importance of wisdom, responsibility, and balance in using magic, often using cryptic riddles or challenging tasks to make his point. His relationship with the player character could be a significant part of the character’s journey, and Tolen’s teachings could have a lasting impact on the character’s approach to magic.

Similarly, a character like Captain Liera, a skilled and experienced pirate, could serve as a Mentor to a character who’s new to the seafaring life. Her tough love and practical lessons help the character learn the ropes (literally!) and become a better sailor. Her lessons are practical, teaching the player character how to navigate the harsh realities of a pirate’s life. But Liera also embodies the freedom and rebellious spirit of piracy, teaching her protege about living life on their own terms. Her mentorship could inspire the player character to question norms and authority and to value their freedom above all else.

The Healer

First up, we have the Healer. This is an NPC who provides medical aid to the player characters, helping them recover after intense battles or dangerous situations. A Healer NPC can be a dedicated cleric who heals with divine magic, a skilled surgeon who performs life-saving procedures, or a wise herbalist who concocts potent remedies.

For example, consider Sister Elara, a cleric of a benevolent deity who runs a local temple. Whenever the players return from a quest, they can count on Sister Elara to heal their wounds and provide a safe haven for recovery.

Another example could be Lin, a hermit herbalist who lives in the outskirts of a town. Though she prefers her solitude, she’s always willing to help those in need, and her knowledge of local plants and their medicinal properties can be a lifesaver.

The Merchant

Next, we have the Merchant. This is an NPC who sells goods, equipment, and supplies that the player characters need for their adventures. A Merchant NPC can add a lot to your game, from providing essential items to introducing unique and rare artifacts.

Take, for instance, Baelin, a jovial dwarf who runs a well-stocked general store in a bustling city. From torches and ropes to healing potions and magical scrolls, Baelin’s shop has it all. Plus, his friendly demeanor and fair prices make him a favorite among adventurers.

Or consider Zephyra, a mysterious elf who deals in rare and powerful artifacts. Her wares are not for the faint-hearted or the light-pocketed, but those who can afford them will find them well worth the price.

The Guide

Moving on, we have the Guide. This is an NPC who helps the player characters navigate unfamiliar territories, cultures, or situations. The Guide could be a seasoned explorer, a local resident, or a knowledgeable scholar.

For example, meet Torag, a grizzled ranger who knows the local forests like the back of his hand. His knowledge of the terrain and its dangers can be invaluable for players trekking through the wilderness.

Another example could be Lira, a diplomat well-versed in the politics and customs of different kingdoms. Her guidance can help the players navigate complex social situations and form useful alliances.

The Sage

Finally, we have the Sage. This is an NPC who provides wisdom, knowledge, or prophecies that guide the player characters. The Sage could be a wise elder, a prophetic oracle, or a learned scholar.

Consider Master Alden, an old wizard known for his vast knowledge of history and magic. His insights can help the players unravel ancient mysteries and make sense of magical phenomena.

Or think of Sybella, an oracle who speaks in cryptic prophecies. Her visions, though puzzling, often guide the players in their quests and warn them of impending dangers.

The Sidekick

Moving on, we have the Sidekick. This is an NPC who aids the player characters, often providing support, comic relief, or a different perspective. The Sidekick often complements the players in some way, filling in their gaps or adding to their strengths.

Consider Togg, a goblin who the players save from a dire situation. Grateful, Togg decides to stick with the players, assisting them with his knowledge of local terrain and his uncanny ability to stay out of sight. Though not as strong as the players, Togg’s loyalty and quick-thinking make him a valuable ally. Plus, his optimistic outlook and humorous observations can bring levity to even the darkest dungeons.

Or take a character like Elara, a young squire to a knight in the player’s party. Elara is eager to prove herself and looks up to the players as role models. Her determination and bright-eyed optimism can remind the players of the importance of their quests and the impact they have on the world.

The Love Interest

Finally, we have the Love Interest. This is an NPC who forms a romantic connection with a player character, adding an emotional layer to the game. The Love Interest can create personal stakes for the player characters and deepen their emotional involvement in the story.

For example, let’s talk about Alaric, a charming bard who catches the eye of a player character. Alaric is not just a romantic interest; he has his own goals and aspirations, and his relationship with the player character could lead to shared quests and adventures.

Another example could be Seraphina, a fellow adventurer who crosses paths with the players. Shared dangers and experiences lead to a bond forming between Seraphina and a player character, adding an element of romance to their adventures.

NPCs as World Builders

Now, let’s delve into the NPCs who bring your game world to life. These are the characters who paint a vivid picture of your setting, its cultures, its societies, and its everyday realities. They don’t just inhabit your world; they shape it, define it, and make it feel real. So, who are these NPCs?

The Local

First, we have the Local. This is an NPC who lives in a particular place in your game world and is deeply familiar with its culture, customs, and day-to-day life. The Local can give your players a window into what it’s like to live in that place, making your setting feel more tangible and immersive.

For example, consider Jora, a fisherwoman from a coastal village. Her tales of the sea, her knowledge of local traditions, and her familiarity with the villagers can give your players a deep understanding of the village and its way of life.

Another example could be Eamon, a city guard in a sprawling metropolis. His insights into the city’s neighborhoods, his interactions with its inhabitants, and his experiences dealing with crime and unrest can provide a gritty, ground-level view of the city.

The Outsider

Next up, we have the Outsider. This is an NPC who comes from a different place, culture, or society, offering a perspective that’s different from the norm. The Outsider can introduce your players to new concepts, broaden their horizons, and enrich your game world.

Take, for instance, Thalia, an elf who hails from a distant, magical forest. Her stories of ancient trees, fey creatures, and magical rituals can introduce a whole new culture and set of beliefs to your players.

Or consider Roshan, a nomadic trader from a far-off desert kingdom. His tales of sand dunes, camel caravans, and bustling bazaars can transport your players to a place they’ve never been, adding depth and diversity to your game world.

The Celebrity

Moving on, we have the Celebrity. This is an NPC who holds a high social status, such as a noble, a famous artist, or a renowned hero. The Celebrity can highlight the politics, power dynamics, and societal structures of your world, making it feel more complex and nuanced.

For example, let’s talk about Lady Isolde, a noblewoman known for her wealth and influence. Her lavish lifestyle, political maneuverings, and high-profile social events can give your players a glimpse into the world of the elite.

Another example could be Orion, a famous bard who travels from city to city, regaling people with his songs and stories. His fame, his interactions with fans, and his insights into the world of arts and culture can add a touch of glamour and intrigue to your game world.

The Commoner

Finally, we have the Commoner. This is an NPC who represents the everyday inhabitants of your world, living ordinary lives amidst extraordinary events. The Commoner can ground your game world, making it feel more relatable and real.

Consider Marla, a baker who wakes up at dawn every day to make bread for her town. Her simple routine, her interactions with her customers, and her thoughts on the events happening around her can make your world feel alive and bustling.

Or take a character like Old Ben, a farmer who has lived on his land for decades. His connection to the land, his wisdom gleaned from a life of hard work, and his down-to-earth perspectives can provide a grounded, realistic view of your game world.

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