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Article - 'Cooler NPCs' by Angroth

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Aug 19, 2004

Blurb

How interesting are your NPCs? Oh you think they're fine? Read this and you might want to shape them up a bit!

Body

Cooler NPCs?

The NPCs that aren’t important to the story (but occasionally they too will apply to this) are often the least of the worries on your mind when making your RPG. Although they are far from a critical game requirement or something more fun (mini-games) they are still need a bit of tender loving and caring.

”I’m gathering water from the well.”


Heard something like this before? Well weak minded & poor quality NPCs are riddled all over amateur games. We see you at the well gathering water, durr! Tell us something we don’t know like who you’re getting water for or something. After all if the player goes out of their way to talk to a useless NPC they just as well have the courtesy to say something more interesting.

I will guide you through 3 steps each with 3 points. This is just the main things that will hopefully make you realise how much more NPCs can be compared to what they normally are.

What They Say

1 – Rather than saying something that anyone might say, they should say something specific to them. Obviously, if you’re going to have lots of NPCs roaming around then you clearly can’t be thinking really hard about each one but nonetheless if you spend up to 2 minutes making an NPC, it’s still a short amount of time but they will be a lot better! (or do NPC making when you’re bored and not in a hurry)
So a middle aged royal lady might say something quite snobby and horrible, commenting on the hero’s lack of cleanliness or something. Whereas a rugged mountain dweller might be asking for some food and money. Personality and nationality traits will also effect how a person replies to you, certain people might find it hard to understand other people’s accents and someone who is shy might say little and agree with everything that is said.

2 – The amount of things NPCs say to you or what you can say to them should only be limited by your imagination and how much effort you want to spend into making your game. It would be impressive if all NPCs in your game said at least 3 different things. Or maybe the more you talk to an NPC (or all of them) the more it angers them until they stop speaking to you, or maybe even fight you.

3 – It might be worth including something like an NPC that can’t talk. Go up to him and his friend near him says:
”No use tryin’ to talk to ole Billy ‘ere. He lost his tongue fightin’ that cursed Marlokk when he plundered this town many years ago.”

With that there is already a nice bit of character development (and history) involved, and it’s only a “pathetic NPC” which you might have never bothered to do anything interesting or worthwhile with!

Aesthetics

1 – Keep characters with themed clothes into your games, Martians and Space Marines shouldn’t be walking around casually in the medieval castle of Forgmore. You’ll be surprised; I’ve actually seen it done before. It’s not funny, it’s silly and nobody will appreciate it, only do it if it’s a joke / humour based game.

2 – What a NPC wears should reflect the lives they live. Maybe there’s someone in a rich town who doesn’t wear anything particularly nice because they are satisfied with life and couldn’t give a damn (oddballs like this and tongue-less Billy add much more depth to a game). And maybe you could have some beggars in that town who have been moving from city to city after their own homes were abolished by the villain. They could be simple beggars and not thieves (if this happened to you and you were a nice person you might not necessarily turn into a thief) and then again you could have some thieves somewhere else who do try to steal from you.

3 – Keep everyone reasonably consistent. A town full to the brim with beggars, workers, middle class, rich folk, soldiers etc etc could be too much. If a town is poor everyone should look pretty poor (unless someone stands out for a certain reason, like tongue-less Billy). There could be a certain place where everyone wears colour coded clothing. And as always there would need to be a reason for this (more depth and extra history bonus).
”Please leave! We must wear blue robes to show our devotion to Thanos, god of thunder. If he finds you wearing those plates of metal in our town he might punish us all. Please, begon!”

How cool would that be?

Going Somewhere?

1 – Most NPCs walk back and forward or randomly in any direction, oh and did I mention, people don’t do that in real life? I played Rm2k Survivor a long time ago and I was surprised to see the NPCs walking to certain locations out of their own accord. It was really unexpected and made me feel like I was in a real town, the NPCs were much more real and lifelike. This combined with the points above would make the NPCs almost on par with the main characters (if you’ve developed your characters well!)

2 – If you have a night and day / timer system you might want to make certain people walking on the streets be inside their house with their family at another time. If there is a house for every family amount of people wandering around the town, you might even remember some of them and make some friends.

3 – Different people move differently. Kids might be running around all over the place, a business man might be strolling to the bank, a cripple might be sitting up against a wall or hobbling down the street and an angry person could be pacing back and forward. If an old man was walking very slowly, it would emphasise his old age (adding small bonus depth). Two lovers might be sitting on a bench talking and kissing.


Conclusion

Combining all of these aspects will make the random collisions with NPCs that you have, seem reminiscent of lifelike experiences. NPCs are a great way to reveal bits of history from your game as well as typical sub-quests and mini-games. Don’t underestimate the power of the NPC! And remember, the more effort you spend into them, the better they will be.