The cover for the new Dungeon Master’s Guide features a powerful lich who bears a striking resemblance to Iddy the Lich, the mascot for this blog. I have joked about Iddy being on the cover of the DMG on occasion through Twitter with team members from Wizards of the Coast in the hope that they would allow me to preview some pages before the book is released. Without burying the lead, the team at Wizards was gracious enough to send me two pages from the manual to share with the community!
Many of the articles I have written about Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop gaming have been influenced by my background as a licensed psychologist. The team at Wizards thought it was fitting to provide me with two pages with details on how to create non-playable characters (NPCs) with personality. Below, I present the pages on NPCs, demonstrate how to use the tables to create four NPCs, and discuss how the Big Five personality traits can be used to develop memorable NPCs.
Dungeon Master’s Guide Preview
Behold, the pages from the new Dungeon Master’s Guide!
Before going any further, let us appreciate the art; Ming the Merciless picked the wrong treasure chest to loot! The art in the Player’s Handbook is gorgeous, and this slobbering, bedazzled beholder shows that the illustration and layout of the DMG will follow suit. By the way, have beholders always worn jewelry on their stalks? As a player, if I pry a ring off a stalk of a beholder – it better be magical!
The pages above present the dungeon master (DM) with multiple tables to assist with building NPCs. The tables can be used to purposely select NPC traits or the DM could roll for random results. It is quite useful to prepare each location in a campaign with one or two well-defined NPCs for the players to interact with as the adventure progresses. For example, players typically interact with innkeepers and city officials as they travel. To demonstrate the utility of the DMG tables, I rolled to create the following four NPCs – two innkeepers and two city officials. Prior to using the tables, I rolled a d6 to determine the character’s sex with odd numbers being male and even numbers being female.
Innkeeper #1 – Female
- Talent – Sings beautifully (12)
- Mannerism – Uses colorful oaths and exclamations (10)
- Interaction – Quiet (11)
- Ideal – Live and let die (3)
- Bond – Dedicated to fulfilling a personal life goal (1)
- Flaw or Secret – Secret crime or misdeed (10)
The first randomly generated innkeeper presents an interesting combination for the DM to play with as the players interact with the character. The first two rolls indicate a larger-than-life woman who is gregarious and easily approachable. The result on the Interaction roll shifts the NPC’s personality in another direction. She may be a strong singer and have colorful language, but she rarely performs and avoids being the center of attention. The combination of these three traits could lead to memorable moments; for example, she could interact with the party on numerous occasions in a quiet manner only to blow them away in a later interaction by singing beautifully or making bold statements. Perhaps a past crime has her running from someone and she is trying to quell her typical boisterous nature. She might be focused on escaping a troublesome past life to pursue the mundane existence of an innkeeper.
Innkeeper #2 – Male
- Talent – Great with children (6)
- Mannerism – Stares into the distance (15)
- Interaction – Blustering (3)
- Ideal – Creativity (2)
- Bond – Dedicated to fulfilling a personal life goal (1)
- Flaw or Secret – Foolhardy bravery (12)
The second innkeeper presents the DM with other options in terms of how the NPC engages with the party. The party could first see the innkeeper ranting and raving at other staff and patrons as the players enter the inn. The man could be played as quite the boor while conversing with the NPCs since he rarely makes eye contact and speaks in an aggressive manner. The party would likely come to dislike this NPC. However, later in the interaction – or perhaps at a second or third meeting – the DM could show how the man is incredibly gifted when interacting with children. He could be shown lovingly teaching children a craft to show off his creativity. This combination leads to a potential adventure as a child could go missing and he would foolishly decide to go after the child on his own – or offer to join the party when they search for the child. The DM could play the NPC during a short adventure and use his blustering personality to good effect to spice up a brief delve.
City Official #1 – Female
- Talent – Great with animals (5)
- Mannerism – Makes constant jokes or puns (11)
- Interaction – Hot tempered (8)
- Ideal – Neutrality (5)
- Bond – Protective of colleagues or compatriots (3)
- Flaw or Secret – Forbidden love or susceptibility to romance (1)
The first city official just screams to be a great foil for a charismatic member of the party. I am reminded of several rogues – also with a soft spot for romance – who would enjoy flirting with a humorous, temperamental character. The official could have a unique pet of some sort, likely one that is not usually domesticated, to give her additional intrigue. She could be an ally to the party or turn on them in an instant if they intend to harm any of her friends. The DM could take this NPC in several directions, and perhaps wait to see how the party interacts with her. She could be a great queen who sits on a throne and sends the players on quests, or a second-in-command, city-administrator type who acts as an intermediary for the town’s true leader.
City Official #2 – Male
- Talent – Skilled dancer (19)
- Mannerism – Fidgets (13)
- Interaction – Argumentative (1)
- Ideal – Might (3)
- Bond – Loyal to a benefactor, patron, or employer (4)
- Flaw or Secret – Overpowering greed (5)
What a great tapestry to create a truly loathsome NPC for the party to encounter! A character that immediately comes to mind is Iago from Aladdin. This man could be a young, spoiled, petulant prince who is truly serving an evil lord, and who tries to use the party for his own selfish goals. The party could first interact with him during a social gathering to give him an opportunity to demonstrate his smooth dance moves. Another character from my childhood that leaps to mind from these traits is Johnny from The Karate Kid. The DM could have a wonderful time hamming it up with this type of NPC!
The above NPCs – and the brainstorming that followed – were a result of quickly using a few tables from two pages in the forthcoming Dungeon Master’s Guide. The pages also introduce the concept of using monsters as NPCs. The same tables could be used to give any monster in the campaign more flavor and depth of character.
Adding Personality to NPCs
A final brief note on infusing NPCs with personality. The field of psychology has identified five factors of personality that have been shown to be stable over time. The Big Five personality traits are:
- Openness to experience – curiosity vs. cautiousness
- Conscientious – organized vs. careless
- Extraversion – outgoing vs. withdrawn
- Agreeableness – cooperative vs. antagonistic
- Neuroticism – nervous vs. confident
A DM could roll a d6 to define a NPC by that specific trait, with a result of 6 leading to a re-roll. The DM could use the personality trait as a means for brainstorming during NPC creation. For example, a roll of 3 means the NPC is defined primarily by the extraversion trait, and the DM can decide if he or she wants a NPC who is extremely outgoing or very solitary. For increased randomness, roll instead to determine which end of the spectrum the personality trait falls; an odd result means the NPC is strongly on the front end (eg., outgoing) and an even result means the NPC is strongly on the back end (eg., withdrawn) of the personality trait. The Big Five could be combined with the DMG pages above to flesh out memorable NPCs!
Thank you, Wizards of the Coast
I want to thank the team at Wizards of the Coast for allowing me to preview some of the pages from the new Dungeon Master’s Guide. I am quite eager to see the rest of the book! I realize this may be the first time some readers are visiting this site. I want to take the opportunity to say, “Welcome” to first-time readers, and to encourage you to poke around the site. There is a good stockpile of articles from the past three years. A few places to start:
- Advice for DMs on a wide variety of RPG issues such as building encounter and communicating with players
- Interviews with various members of the RPG industry/community
- Quantitative and qualitative research on RPG dynamics including combat and evil dice
What do you think about the DMG pages above? Leave a comment and let me know!