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Notable NPCs

January 24, 2010

The Faceless Rabble Last night I got together with a group of guys from some good ol’ RPG fun. The game was a “wierd west” setting run by Stuart Robertston from over at Robertson Games. Stu always puts a lot of detail into his games – at lest, he did with the two that I’ve played in. This game, in particular, had a sizeable collection of non-player characters (NPCs) that Stuart had generated a lot of detailed information about. On my way home after the game, I got to thinking about some of these NPCs and how they certainly added a depth to the game that other NPCs I have encountered in-game (either of my own creation or those of another game master) have not managed to accomplish. So, here, for your reading pleasure, are some of the NPCs that I’ve been remembering. Feel free to plunder, laugh at, or criticize.

Donald Smith

The one that got this whole idea rolling. In the Arizona silver-mining town of Tharsis, Donald Smith ran things for the chinese merchant Li Chang while Mr. Chang was out of town on business. Mr.Smith wore the suit of a banker, a bowler hat, small round spectacles and was short, stocky, with an over-eager smile. Donald instantly gave me (or, should I say, my alter-ego PC) a “bad feeling”. Stuart (the GM) gave a lot of personality to Mr. Smith when interacting with the players as him, and his wide, bulging eyes and perpetual greasiness certainly made him stand out.

Jimmy, the cab driver

Many years ago, my friend Matt ran a modern-era vampire adventure for myself and another friend. Along the way we ran into Jimmy, a cab driver of Asian decent. Matt’s horrendous Asian accent and the campy personality he gave to Jimmy really made him stand out. What also helped was having Jimmy appear in several other RPG games later on, be they modern, sci-fi or fantasy. When Jimmy showed up, refueling starships in a space station near the Cron Drift, we all had a good laugh.


The leader of a thieve’s guild, the DM behind Kraus did a fantastic job of making the PCs in the game fear him – and not once did we ever raise a blade to him, nor him to us. Kraus was a man, average height and average build and carrying no discernable weapons. What made us fear him was how the DM described how other NPCs around him reacted – the guys we did raise blades to and had a hell of a time with were genuinely terrified of Kraus, and nobody would tell us why. The mystery of Kraus’s power over seemingly everyone was what scared us. The DM’s portrayal of Kraus was nothing notable, but his description of what went on directly around him was we bought into.

Darth Malaije

In a small colony, on a small Outer Rim world, the sith lord Darth Malaije had built himself a tiny empire based on fear. Those in the colony were scared of Malaije because of his incredible powers and brutality. When three Jedi Knights were sent to investigate, they found Malaije to be a small man that, though exceedingly clever, had no Force abilities to speak of. He had spent many nights creeping about the town installing hidden devices that made it appear as though he had incredible powers. When push came to shove, Malaije cowered before the might of the Jedi Order and admitted that he was really Ralph Nebulo, an accountant from Corellia who had tried to make a better life for himself. Ralph’s sniveling, cowardly reaction to the PCs when the truth was out was what made him memorable, and the players felt genuine pity for them man when he spilled his back story about a broken marriage, dead-end job and no hope for a bright future.


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  1. I’m really glad you enjoyed Donald Smith, and that he was a memorable character. 🙂

    I wonder if having a drawing / photo reference would help add to that or not?

  2. I think the big thing about making NPCs that genuinely terrify players is keeping them still realistic. I’ve played with DMs who try so hard to make the scary NPC that they develop a character WAY out of proportion power-wise. Players will be skirting around like stray dogs if DMs don’t establish a realistic, consistent universe where mega-powerful Thief Lords do not take up shop in small towns or villages. In cases like that, it is the DM scaring the players, not the NPC scaring the characters.

    We have a list like this as well, and those recurring personas from game-to-game are always great for laughs… or hurried about-faces.

    • accidentalrob permalink

      Wow – sorry for waiting so long to approve that comment, Calvino.

      Yes, I’ve run into NPCs that were only terrifying because of their stats, but they were only seen as one more obstacle to overcome, not as a personality within the world.

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