We listen to great DMs and writers to find the perfect way to create epic NPCs without epic preparation.
Steal my notes, Matthew Mercer on NPCs
Crafting epic NPCs without epic preparation.
Steal my notes:
Voices of flamboyant personalities: With the success of Geek and Sundry’s Critical Role the misconception has grown that DMs need to do voices to make NPCs memorable. And while it’s an effective way it’s hard and not actually necessary.
Less is more: Don’t write detailed backgrounds for your NPCs, less is more.
The NPC template:
Motivation: What does the NPC want? More often than not this is really straightforward. The town guard wants to go home safely at night, the barkeeper wants to run the bar.
Perception: How is the party perceived? Over time this perception may change. From the trouble-bearing adventurer to the town's savior. This in itself can be a rewarding experience.
Personality: What’s the NPC’s personality?
Expression: How does the NPC express himself/herself?
Position: What’s the NPC's position in the world?
Less is more: This is in line with the “Brandon Mull on Characters” notes. Good NPCs are flat and predictable. Fulfilling the expectation will make your players feel as if they know your NPC, making him/her come to life. So keep them simple.
Motivation: what does the NPC want? Both Brandon Mull and Sanderson agree on this being the most important note on an NPC! This note also enables you to tell the story of their lives when they weren’t with your players. This “life of the page” enforces the feeling of an evolving, living world.
Perception: How does the NPC see the party? In Brandon Sanderson on World-building I noted: “Show don’t tell”. Show your world to your players, don’t tell them (use exploratory scenes). Brandon Mull explained that characters need to be shown. You can show a character by how they treat the world and how the world treats them.