Monday, April 29, 2019

The "I Know A Guy" Strategy For Adding NPCs To Your Game

When you're a dungeon master, it can sometimes be a huge pain in the ass to add NPCs to the game on the fly. This is especially true if you're party is just looking to gather some information, or to find something of interest to them that might not exactly be plot related. While you can write entire notebooks full of characters, or keep guides like 100 NPCs You Might Meet at The Tavern or 100 Characters You Might Meet in A Star Port close to hand behind your screen, there is an easier way to fill out the roster of background characters at your game.

Simply ask the players if anyone's character Knows A Guy...

Yeah, I know a guy. He owes me a favor after that time in Brightwater...

How The "I Know A Guy" Strategy Works

The way this strategy works is pretty simple. When the players want to look for something, and you don't have an NPC planned who has that information (or you have one planned, but the players' course of action isn't going to let them cross paths with that particular person), take a moment and ask one of the players if their character would know someone who could help them out. If the first person you ask can't think of anyone, they could pass their turn to another player and ask if their character Knows A Guy who can help them out.

"We could ask Stratus, I guess... just follow the sounds of the fighting."
This strategy does two things for you as a dungeon master. On one hand, it frees you up of having to come up with all the minor NPCs so you can save your brainpower for the bigger, more important parts of the game. On the other hand, it gives your players some control in expanding the setting, and it allows every person at the table to add in other characters connected to their PCs who can help advance the game in unusual ways.

If you need to find an invitation or two to the duke's ball, perhaps your fighter once served with the captain of the guard, who could pull some strings on the party's behalf. If you need someone who knows the legends of the dragon Barnathus, it's possible that the ranger regularly lit a pipe with a traveling historian who had a fascination with dragon lore. Your bard might not know exactly where the black market operates in the city, but they used to perform with a singer who was more than a little on the shady side, and he might be able to make some introductions.

And so on, and so forth.

The idea behind this strategy is that everyone knows someone, and those friends, family members, and former associates may show up in odd or unexpected places. Just because your barbarian is hundreds of miles from their home, that doesn't mean they won't run into someone whose tattoos and scarification they recognize as a cousin from another tribe, or someone they share a cultural connection to. Unless the whole point of the game is to put the party in a location where they have no connections and no contacts to draw on, you should let them add some of these detailed flourishes to free up your time as the dungeon master.

A Final Caveat

There is one thing that needs to be added as a caveat to this strategy; all instances of I Know A Guy need to include an element of quid pro quo.

As a for-instance, if your rogue happens to know an unscrupulous wizard who deals in otherwise illicit magical weapons, that is a perfectly good way to grant your players an opportunity to buy cool gear and upgrades. It cannot however, be used as a way to just get a bunch of free stuff because the rogue saved that wizard's life off-screen in the backstory somewhere.

The more you need the NPC to do for the party, the more the party needs to do for that NPC. If you need some information, talk is cheap and it's probably no big deal. If you need a small favor, well, you might have to go on a brief fetch quest of your own, or perhaps owe that character a favor in return that you'll be made to pay back later. Your former comrade-in-arms gets you an invitation to the ball, but a few months later he comes to you because there's something fishy going on that he can't have anyone investigate officially, so now you need to pay him back. And if someone in your party is dead? Well, that old crack-brained sorcerer you've heard of will bring them back to life, but only once you make it clear you're going to go ruin the prince who fired him, and sent the miracle worked into exile.

Of course, if you're looking for a few bonus supplements of NPCs to keep around so your players don't have to do all the work, I'd recommend the following:

- 100 Merchants to Encounter: From sword belts to cursed items, fairy favors to mechanical servitors, there's a bit of everything in this collection of marketeers.

- 100 Nobles to Encounter: Whether you have friends or enemies in high places, this list will give you plenty of both to draw on.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. If you've used this strategy in your games, leave a comment below and let us know how it went for you!

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