Hello everyone and welcome to another quality top ten! This time I’ll be listing the ten best, or worst, depending on your outlook, NPCs encountered in RPGs of various kinds, including around the table, on the screen and in source books. Some of these people you love to love, some are tired old cliches, again, depending on your outlook. So here we go, in no particular order, except the top ten order, obviously, with my personal list. Your’s might be quite different, but we’ll get to that at the end.
10) The Talkative Merchant
Most of the time, merchants have no time for adventurers, unless they’re successful and have money to spend. If a merchant approaches the party, either in town or out on the road, they want something, and are probably willing to pay as little as they can to get it. They’ll strike up a conversation in hope you’ll find them friendly, maybe have some common ground, anything to save money or even get something for free. Don’t fall for it, don’t do them any favours, merchants have money, make them pay. And besides, when they don’t want anything they’re suddenly busy and have no time for idle talk.
9) The Ubiquitous Tavern Keeper
In pretty much any RPG, the tavern keeper is never just a tavern keeper, he or she always has a history. The first clue is the sword/spear/head of a troll nailed above the bar. If asked about it, he’ll go quiet, and another member of staff will rush over and say “don’t ask about the [thing above the bar].” My question here of course is what’s it doing there if he doesn’t want to talk about it? Why not just take it down and bury it? After all, most of the customers are going to ask, particularly if it’s quiet. The answer can often be revealed by giving the tavern keeper a few drinks, or bribing the other staff to tell you the story when the tavern keeper is out of the room, doing whatever tavern keepers do when they aren’t keeping taverns. This will almost always be relevant to the scenario, or send the party off on another quest. “What, that’s the legendary sword of killing stuff/spear of many stabbings/head of the great troll war chief Ell eeza beth?” And of course it is.
8) The Convenient NPC
You’ve been trekking across the barren wilderness for eleven months, you’re so far from civilisation you’ve forgotten what it smells like. You’ve already eaten all the rations, the horses and one of the hobbits, and can’t go on much further. The players talk about giving up the quest, and going home to play Overwatch instead. Suddenly up pops mr/mrs/doctor convenient. ‘Hello there’, they say, ‘don’t get many visitors out here, come to my home, meet the wife’. And just like that the quest is back on, all thoughts of video games pushed from your minds.
Why is it they all speak your language? Even on this modern planet, if you travel 500 miles or so in any direction the people there won’t speak your language. How come the party have travelled halfway around the planet and found someone from the next village who knows your mum and once bought a spatchcock off your uncle? This person also knows what you’re looking for, where it is and the password to open the magic door. Very convenient.
7) The Fighter Who Doesn’t Fight, Mostly
Sometimes, the GM will introduce an NPC into the party for various reasons. This could be because he thinks you’re crap players and need rescuing, or because they know something none of the players do, or because he’s going to kill you all in your sleep. This person is easy to spot because they only fight when someone’s looking. They’ll stand forgotten, weapon sheathed, looking around and watching the characters getting stabbed. A PC will say, “what’s Mostly doing?” and the GM will say “Yes, he’s err, just here, fighting this goblin thing that just appeared.”
Keep an eye on this NPC at all times, because he’s up to something, and it isn’t nice.
6) The Monster Who Isn’t A Monster
Another classic here. Sometimes the party will come across monsters who engage them in conversation instead of trying to rip their spines out. Sometimes of course this is a trap, but if you come across a monster who stops and doesn’t attack you straight away, this is probably one of those times. They are also usually very good in a scrap, so don’t just go attacking them for no reason. They’ll probably also have some important information, vital to the success of the quest, so keeping them alive and relatively friendly is recommended. They might also act as a contact point for the future, and might even change the world with this new understanding between humans and monsters. Ahh!
5) The Disguised Nobleman/Woman Who Isn’t Very Well Disguised At All
Similar to the old person skit, (see below) this one involves a rich noble of some kind, often a prince, but could be another rank. They’re usually found in low taverns or dens of crime and lewdness, and are trying to right a wrong of some kind, often involving corruption in high places. This could be the monarch, or more often, a close adviser, trying to trick the monarch into doing something they shouldn’t. The monarch is oblivious to this dastardly villain of course, and thinks the son is over-reacting. Spotting this NPC is easy enough if you keep your eyes and ears open. They usually wear an old cloak over their posh clothes, and they’ll have two huge bodyguards with them, who glare at anyone they don’t like, which is everyone. The noble might adopt a faux peasant accent, but will be very bad at it. “Ahh, yes, me turnips is growing good, yes indeed.” The biggest give away is their hands, finely manicured and never worked a day in their lives. If they wear gloves indoors you know you’re right.Again, be nice to these people, they’re usually on your side, and they’re good payers. And having a noble who owes you a favour is always a good thing.
Now, this one isn’t always a ferry captain, they could be a humble fisherman, a boat-builder or some other similar trade that has access to transport, usually across a river or other obstacle with no bridge. Getting on the right side of them is essential to avoid paying too much to cross the aforementioned river, but they also leak information if approached correctly, and often turn out to be part-time spies for the local bigwig, or retired military personnel who still get involved with stuff for something to do. These NPCs are usually unbribable, and will be more impressed with deeds than words. It’s advisable to create a long-term relationship with them, as you’ll probably want to cross the river several times throughout the campaign, usually in secret.
3) Small Child Who Is Actually The Spawn of Demons
I know what some of you are thinking, all children are the spawn of demons, and sometimes it can indeed appear that way. But this child actually is demon-spawn, sent to [insert name of setting] to open the portal/gateway/serving hatch of doom, and allow the armies of evil to breakthrough to [insert setting country], to spread death and despair and make you do maths. The child will be calm and polite, and look pretty normal, although their eyes will go black when they command you to cut off your own arm and eat it with hot chilli sauce and a side of fries. The best way to detect such a child, apart from the black eyes and the whole missing an arm and burping chilli thing, is to give them a cardboard box. If they take the box and sit in it, fill it with random crap, or put it on their head, they aren’t the spawn of demons. If they use it to smother a nun or other member of the clergy, they probably are.
2) Little Old Man/Helpless Old Lady Who’s Actually a Wizard/Goddess/Were-Gerbil In Disguise
This is something of a classic and pretty much expected in many RPGs. The metarules allow the players who know the truth to pretend not to know the truth, but all the time actually knowing the truth and are allowed to say so at the end. This obnoxious and smelly old individual will insult the party, get them to do all sorts of disgusting things for free, get them to pay for stuff, clean the house and pretty much have them over a barrel because the party will be expecting a huge reward at the end of it all. Once this is all done to the satisfaction, and mirth, of the GM, the old man will reveal himself (dirty blee...oh I see what you mean) to be a slightly younger man with great powers, and the old woman will reveal herself (steady!) to be a beautiful goddess with huge boobies and lots of power. (You can ignore the Were-Gerbil thing, it was just there to make up the numbers.)
1) Little Old Man/Helpless Old Lady Who’s Not Actually a Wizard/Goddess/Were-Gerbil In Disguise But The Players Think They Are
Occasionally, the GM, through spite, humour or just because they can, will twist the old cliche on its head and have the smelly old man and the offensive old woman be nothing more than what they appear. The party are probably several gold pieces down at this point, have endured mockery and humiliation, have bruises and been sexually propositioned extremely inappropriately, and are no doubt waiting for their reward from this thinly disguised demi-being. But no, not this time my friends, because the b*st*rd GM has pulled the old switcheroo, and these NPCs are exactly as they appear. All over the many universes, at this very moment, adventurers are going out of their way to be nice to every smelly, cantankerous pensioner they can find, mostly in vain,
Never mind, put it down to experience, and a good scrub with soap and very hot water might be in order. (Again, Were-Gerbil, don’t worry about it.)
If you want to tell me your particular favourite NPC, or contact me for any other reason, feel free to do so, as long as you stay civil.