Behind the Screen: Improvising NPCs…

2007 September 30
by Dante

Well, I am pleased to report that the Second Act of our campaign began on a very good footing Saturday night. It was very rewarding to settle back in and watch our player characters settle back in with one another, much good roleplay was had.

As mentioned before, I had been struggling to find a way to engage myself as DM in a new and exciting way for my players. I decided to do something different this week: I completely improvised an NPC on the fly.

The Scenario: Our Bard Meets A Fan

Our intrepid group of adventurers were on the road to the big city to hear a lord speak of impending war. Many of the realm’s greatest heroes were summoned in addition to our party, and they were beginning to cluster and travel together on the road.

Vanir’s character, Bat Loaf (yes, styled on Meat Loaf), had used his down time to become a Seeker of the Song and was trying to find ways to fully embrace his rock-style persona. He had clad himself in the most fitting magic items he could find, such as Cloak of the Bat, and had built himself an academy dedicated to sharing his love of bardic rock.

I figured it was time for him to meet a fan. At first, I thought that perhaps he would just be a mundane fanboy but I decided to up the ante a bit after Vanir started interacting with him further.

I decided to paint this fan up like a somewhat baked, hippy artist type. I named him Armond (a fact that the characters never found out) and after a few minutes of getting to meet his idol, Armond decided to ask Bat Loaf for an autograph on his arm. Armond then touched the fresh signature on his arm and had it pulse white.

“What did you just do?” said Bat Loaf, cautiously. “Oh, I just made it so it’ll never go away, man” replied Armond. Then Armond asked to return the favor, offering to do “something awesome” but flatly refused to tell Bat Loaf what he was going to do.

After a few minutes, Loaf agreed and Armond went to work creating a chest sized firebreathing bat image. While he was making it, Armond told Bat Loaf that his marks always do something cool. After his image pulsed white, Bat Loaf asked what it was that his tattoo would do and Armond replied “oh, you’ll know when it happens!” as he walked away, air luting his favorite Bat Loaf tune.

You don’t even need the facts, ma’am.

I intentionally decided through this encounter that I would not look up the rules for Magic Tattoos, instead I kept the entire encounter roleplay based. The flow was natural and extremely fun, and the back-and forth between the two characters drew in several of the other party members. They didn’t necessarily want to trust this person, however one of the other party members did a Sense Motive and rolled a 20, knowing that Armond was 100% sincere.

I had no stat block for this character, nor did I have a particular background but one of the voices in my head was saying “MAGIC TATTOO” so I went with it. By playing short and quick with the rules and long with the roleplay, I think the encounter really went well.

The takeaway from this example is simple: build NPCs with roleplay in mind and fill in the specific details later. You don’t need all the facts laid out in front of you to make a satisfying moment in your session, and trusting your instincts can go a long way.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Yax permalink
    October 1, 2007

    I love winging it. Go Dante. Magic tattoos are cool too.

    Treasure Tables also just wrote an article on improv and they were suggesting that one key factor is not hesitating, quickly deciding “Here we go! It’s improv time!”

  2. ChattyDM permalink
    October 2, 2007

    Awesome, hyper cool stuff Dante.

    One for the books and already linked to my Improv DM challenge follow up.

    Good stuff!

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