As a Dungeon Master (DM) you might be wondering, how do I make my NPCs memorable? Every game of D&D has players, and non player characters. You might have richly detailed NPCs with intense backstories and strong names like Ilithi Nox Vellani or throw away guards that you haven’t named (of course the party asks you a thousand questions the one time you don’t name them). But how do you engage your party and give them experiences they will find endearing and memorable?
It all starts with getting to know your table. What kind of characters are they playing? Do you have a serious group or one driven towards impulse or are they chaotic funny? An NPC will stand out if you give them a few things as a foundation.
Accents and specific voices. You don’t have to be a master voice actor to pull this off. As an English speaker, you can try pitching your voice up and down. But if you really want them to be interesting, use body language to change how your players perceive you. By sticking your nose high in the air, you immediately give off a feeling of being superior and haughtiness. Lean forward in a hunch and web your fingers to become a little more sinister, or using that same stance, give a kind smile with your eyes and you’ll be an endearing elderly person. Practice these in advance and you’ll never be caught off guard, just remember to take down notes so you’ll remember what you did for that NPC.
Phrasing (BOOM). Voices aren’t everything, give life to your NPCs with a set of words. A character can have a certain vocabulary or way of talking that only slightly alters your voice and still have great effect! A tinkerer or wizard might use the largest words possible in context to make them sound more intelligent, “it is time for our bi-annual recalibration of the periodic temporal displacement dials for adequate delineation of the diurnal cycle,” simply means that they are changing the clock twice a year, perhaps for daylight savings time. You can also alter the grammar of an NPC to make them seem a little on the slow side or give them a dialect that adds a plural S for no grammatical reason: “whens is the hour that we’s bes getting ours due?”
Finally, consider some background work. Maybe the NPC can hyperfixate on something like gambling or have intense conspiracy theories like the 5 giants who preside over this world and periodically roll giant boarders across our lands. A kid that models themselves after one of your players can be equally endearing. And if all else fails, be ridiculous! Try to evoke strong emotions in your players and listen to their reactions so they too can share in the story.
Hope these tips can help you take your NPCs to the next level! If you want to see me using these techniques, pop on over to Questline on YouTube where I bring a whole cast of characters to life in our Limited Series: Strixhaven!
Contributed by Sam Cargnelli