5 Tips for Including NPCs in Your Dungeons and Dragons Party

Some times your player characters just don't have the man power they need to get the job done. Whether it is needing an army to face a dragon or simply a dding a much needed Healer to the group, Non-Player Characters are the best way to help out your party. However, too often NPC's are poorly used or become little more than servants that obey the player's beckoning call. These sorts of characters add nothing but expendable bodies that the players can throw at any situation, and that is boring.

Personally I want more then that. I want my NPCs to add to the role play, and become respected members of the party. Some one that the player's care to keep around - not just as a guide, but as a valued companion. Of course this sort of balance can be a hard balance to achieve in any campaign, even when the party is only player characters, and as the DM with everything else that you have to balance giving your NPCs personality can go by the ways side. But using these five ways to add NPC's to your player party you will add in interesting an important side kicks in no time!

1. Consider What Role They Will Fill

While every DM has a whole slew cool characters that they would love to see come to life, it is important when adding in a new NPC to consider what roll they will fill in the party. You can't just pick any old character, they need to be tailored to fill a gap that the party is lacking.

The NPCs and Player Characters in the top image are from our Arachnophobia Campaign. In that game the party needed more fighters and a healer in order to survive the challenges that they faced. So I made sure they would encounter NPCs who would be willing to join who fit these roles for them. In a grander sense, These roles don't always need to be that cut and dry. Sometimes the purpose of an NPC can be to divide the party by negatively influencing some of the players, or just to shake things up in the party.

Regardless, before you add them to the group make sure you know why and what they will be doing for the group. So is your party too afraid of death? Give them a higher level fighter to help them and grow their confidence in fights. Are they a bunch of barbarians trying to enter a king's court? An interested bard is just the character to help get them through the nuances of courtly life. Whatever the reason, NPC's should have a purpose in the party.

Sometimes this means that the NPC will only stay with the group for a few games, other times it means that the party will have made a friend for life. But just go with the flow and consider how the NPC fits into the party and story. If you are still having trouble, check out our tips on Building a Balanced D&D Party for some ideas.

2. Give Them a Backstory and a Character Sheet

Now that you have figured out the Role that your NPC will fulfil it is time to give them a back story. It doesn't have to complicated, just enough that you have a base line for their actions.

For example the above character is Kevin Trall who was an NPC in our Arachnophobia Campaign. He was potter who's business failed, and to make ends meet he became the town executioner. After working in this grim profession for years, his conscience got the better of him, and he left the position and his home seeking spiritual and personal redemption.

So from this small backstory I know roughly what his social class and skills will be: Lower Class Skilled Worker. As well as the main motivator of his actions: redemption. This will help me role-play him and make sure that the opinions he expresses match his character.

While a backstory is important, to really play that character and have them influence anything in game you have to make them a character sheet. Personally I like to find a third party sheet; something simplified and easily identifiable, and us that as an NPC sheet, but it is up to you.

Once you have your sheet, just go through the normal process of making a character. Roll their attributes, skills, proficients, equipment, whatever they need to function.  Without this info, you will always be floundering with what they can do as a character, and having trouble maintaining their consistency. So take 20 minutes and make up a small backstory and a character sheet.

3. Differentiate between NPCs and Hirelings

This is a subtle but important distinction. An NPC is a free acting character with an equal voice to the rest of the party. A hireling is an employee or otherwise indentured servant of the party. Hireling's don't need the same attention as NPC as these characters are designed to aid the party in menial or physical tasks rather than influence the party as an actor.

Nigel the Porter and his Mule Daisy may indeed have an interesting life and back story, but literally their job is to carry the party's supplies on their behalf. It is unlikely that the group will care what Nigel the Porter's opinion is as they don't have a voice in the party and are just paid to follow along. So you don't need to go as deeply into what they want from life.

Save yourself sometime and ask if the NPC you are creating is truly an influence character, or just a follower. Influencers are NPCs and they get sheets and detail, Followers are Hirelings and you need only record the most basic info for followers.

4. Let the Players Lead

NPC's are a great way for any DM to throw in an opinion on the situation. Using your NPC's back story, influence and skills you should be able to come up with what they would honestly recommend. But be careful here: your job as a DM is to help the players find and engage with the story, not to guide them through it as you see fit.

So while your NPCs should definitely voice how they think a situation should be solved (in character of course) the final say goes to the players not the NPCs. They are there to supplement the party, not lead it. So let your players lead, but try and weigh some of the options that your NPCs may come up with in any given situation. A little extra help is always appreciated.

5. Attempt to Form Relationships Within the Party

Using your backstory have your NPC find a character in the group that they can connect with. Even  something as simple as regularly agreeing with their point of view will not go unnoticed. Take for example the character of Skraw (Pictured above).

He joined the party in JADE's Traveller Campaign Interstellar Exports and immediately ingratiated himself with our ship's captain Dry. Simply by doing as he was asked, and agreeing with Dry on most issues, he became an indispensable party member and Dry's right hand man. Immediately Skraw became important and influential, because he made a relationship with one of the players.

These reactions of course don't always need to be friendly. Rivalries, arguments and disagreements are also good for role play, and promote interesting scenarios for your players to handle.

So have your NPC make friends, or enemies and watch as your party dynamics shift and change!

For me NPCs are a chance for my characters to role play. It can up the stakes, change the nature of discussions as other points view get brought in, and of course allow a smaller party to participate in grander larger adventures then they might otherwise. These days most of my parties end up featuring at least handful of NPCs that aid my players, and it has only served to improve my party's game and roleplay

How do to include NPCs into your D&D party? Let us know in the comments!

Written by: Andrew Gregory

5 Tips for Including NPCs in Your Dungeons and Dragons Party 5 Tips for Including NPCs in Your Dungeons and Dragons Party Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 12/12/2018 02:05:00 pm Rating: 5

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