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As mentioned in part 1, I will go over my though process when creating the NPCs for a campaign in this second part. Note that this doesn't include their stats, abilities, and similar elements, as those depend entirely on the game system, the levels of the group, and so on. Instead I'll focus on the elements that make a character, as well as little notes that will help me portray that character, or at least notes that are supposed to help me because I'm not exactly a master (voice) actor.
I won't go over every character in the same amount of detail. Some don't need many details, others are simply constructed the same way as the first few characters I'll cover. I will always list the reference notes I'd give myself though.
One of the first characters we'll want to flesh out is obviously Keira. From the preparations we did in the main guide we already know the following about her: She's considered a dreamer by some, she's determined, she seems to be willing to risk a lot to save her town, she thinks she can conquer the evil she discovered on her own (so she's probably stubborn), and she gets into trouble easily.
Of course we need more than that. Since she's going after the evil she discovered alone, she's either brave or stupid, or both. I find brave to fit a character in this position (from a story telling point of view) better, so bravery is another character aspect I make a note of.
Since there is a chance she'll be able to help the party, I need to know whether she's a good fighter or not. Since she's from a small town, she's probably not the greatest fighter, but she'll have picked up some survival skills. I'll write her down as a low level ranger, since she is good at searching and foraging, as well as some other traits fit for a ranger-type character.
I also want the reveal that her grandmother is the actual big bad guy to be more dramatic for her, so Keira will be one who values family above all else. This also fuels the reasons why she's so determined to figure out what evil lurks near her town.
Being a dreamer will be an arguable trait, one only some people see in her, particularly her parents. Since I need her to be resourceful (to some extent just in case the party needs more help), I'll make a note that she's very creative, which some people see as being a dreamer or person with a big imagination. They aren't mutually exclusive of course.
So, to not delve too much into the creation of character (there is a creating NPCs and a character creation guide for that), here are what my notes might look like:
- Keira, female human, late 20's. Messy, dark brown, shoulder length hair. Slender to thin physique. Average height. Hazel eyes. Thin lips with cheeky/cocky smile.
- Stubborn, very creative, resourceful, values family highly, determined, trouble maker, novice ranger.
- Voice: Speaks as if in a hurry. Straight to the point. Honest (but wary of outsiders).
- Mannerisms: Crosses arms (impatiently) a lot. Will rush into things, and will even try to rush others to follow her.
- Goals: Figure out what the cult is/does, and protect/support her family.
- Main fear(s): Losing her family and town.
I won't always go into as much detail in terms of physical attributes for all characters, but since this character will need to be described to the party so they can look for her, more specific details are necessary. This also allows me to hopefully subtly change things for fake Keira, like describing her with a different eye color.
The next obvious NPC we have to flesh out is grandma. We know the following: Pretends to be a somewhat senile, but otherwise very kind woman, and she's actually the head of a secret cult. She also possesses powerful magic.
So, first and foremost we need a reason for the cult to exist. What do they want? How did grandma become the leader? What's grandma's ultimate goal?
Since I want this campaign to possibly last for a very long time I decided the cult follows a deity (Varlan) out to re-balance the world back to the old days, which is to say, back to the days before all sorts of beings started to meddle with the world through mining, farming, and other similar ways of life. Varlan believes nature should be in a constant state of (organised) chaos, and sees the way many intelligent beings interact with the world as a terrible way to try and take control of the world, as well as an attempt to bring order to this world where there shouldn't be any.
Grandma has seen much in her life, and believes this deity has the right idea. She's seen lands destroyed by mining, for example. Because of this she dislikes organised gardens and prefers nature to grow as it pleases, and she's also intimidated by the change and rise in technology in her world.
As such, she's not purely evil. There is a degree of being right in her case as, in her world, some mining/fishing/etc. measures have been taken too far, but at the same time getting rid of them all isn't exactly the way to go either. Similar to real life to a degree.
I also need grandma to be sneaky, manipulative, charismatic, and perhaps a little pushy. This not only helps establish her as a cult leader (to some extent), it'll also be her way of dealing with the party. So, with that covered, my notes could look something like this:
- Grandma Elra, female human, mid 80's. Thin, silver hair worn in a top knot. Hunched over slightly, thin physique, fairly short, piercing eyes.
- Intelligent, manipulative, seemingly kind and warm, sly, charismatic, pushy, stubborn.
- Voice: Gentle and warm when undercover, more to the point once discovered.
- Mannerisms: Pinches cheeks, pats shoulders, smiles a lot. Once discovered: Keeps her distance, observes as if looking right through you.
- Goals: Return the world to organised, natural chaos. Stop the party.
- Main fear(s): Losing all she has worked for.
So, with grandma being the puppet-master behind the scenes, we still need a big bad guy to run the cult in the public eye, so to speak. So far I've only referred to this character as the big bad guy on purpose, as this character could be used as nothing more than that, as well as run the risk of becoming nothing more than just a cookie-cut villain. While this could still be the case, especially while running a campaign, I prefer to flesh these kinds of characters out at least a little. For one, because it helps make the story universe more real, but also because this means there could be loose ends for future story elements. Also, should the party go a strange way, having this character fleshed out could help a lot too.
Let's start by giving this character some basic details. Hallan, 45 year old (ex-)druid, father of two, and relatively in shape. He's a little cocky, cares deeply about nature, he's ambitious, well trained, but not incredibly powerful.
The druid part helps establish him as somebody who's part of the cult. To further fuel his desire to climb the ranks, he has seen his home forests destroyed (in his eyes) due to logging in order to build houses. His desire for more power (through higher ranks) is only stopped by his lack of innate power, he won't be able to beat grandma should it come to that, for example.
The fact he has two children opens up a whole range of possibilities too. Perhaps one has stepped into his footsteps, or maybe they're trying to make him see reason and bring him back home. No matter what, the way the party deals with this character can have serious consequences for both these children and the party.
As far as notes go, they'd look something like this:
- Hallan, 45, male halfling, druid. Tall for a halfling, curly black hair, scruffy beard, in decent shape.
- Ambitious, cocky, clever enough, control freak, easy to anger.
- Voice: Well spoken, reserved.
- Mannerisms: Observant, poised until angered or scared.
- Goals: Serve Varlan, climb the ranks within Varlan's cult all the way to the top.
- Fears: Moments during which his personal weaknesses shine, especially in public.
From here on out I'm going to stick to just the notes of each character. Partially because the previous three examples should hopefully be enough to get you going, and partially because these are lesser characters. Since these are less fleshed out than the main characters I do usually add small notes on their desires. If applicable, also their secrets and strengths, as well as their relevant enemies. This way I have enough to work with during my campaign, as well as enough material to expand upon any of them should story threads develop during the interactions with the adventurers.
- Karn, 55, male human, hunter and farmer. In good shape, calluses all over his hands. Black, shoulder length, greasy hair.
- Hard working, racist (toward dwarves), proud, not the emotional type.
- Voice: Usually short and to the point sentences.
- Mannerisms: Always keeping his hands busy, usually with some form of work.
- Goals: Provide for his family.
- Fears: Injury or destruction of his house, tools, and lands. Anything that would prevent him from taking care of those he believes rely on him.
- Secretly desires: Retirement.
- Enemies: Himself, wild animals, one particularly cheeky squirrel.
- Ira, 52, female human, farmer and weaver. Thin physique, hazel eyes, short-ish. Long, brown hair with silver streaks.
- Hard working, kind soul, and somewhat naive.
- Mannerisms: Always trying to provide, help, or otherwise do things for others.
- Goals: Make people feel at ease at her home. Help her husband and always trying the impossible of getting him to take a break.
- Fears: Losing a family member, and seeing them get injured.
- Desires: A happy family who lives happily ever after.
- Syla, early 30's, female human. Farmer and seller of her homemade pottery on the local market. Average physique, black, short hair. Dark brown eyes.
- Similar to her mother, always trying to look after people. Slightly naive as well, but always looking to learn.
- Mannerisms: Always keeping an eye on her surroundings to see if there's help to be offered, bit of a control freak.
- Goals: Look after sister, look after her parents, make more money to move to the city with her family.
- Fears: Losing a family member. Living on the street. Wild animals.
- Desires: The good city life as she imagines it.
- Tysra, early 30's, female dwarf. Carpenter, short, slender for a dwarf, auburn hair worn in a ponytail.
- Jokester, intelligent, quick learner.
- Mannerisms: Asks questions a lot, smiles and laughs even more.
- Goals: Create a masterpiece, make enough money to buy her own house.
- Fears: Injuring her hands, Keira's racist father (who still thinks she's a halfling), bears.
- Desires: Her own house with a fancy workplace.
- Daran, mid 40's, male human. Seller of general goods, stocky build, sleek hair worn in a ponytail.
- Always looking for a good deal, haggles if high prices aren't immediately accepted. Will lie and cheat his way to more money.
- Mannerisms: Fake laughs, says whatever the customer wants to hear.
- Goals: Make more money, buy more stuff.
- Fears: Losing it all. Being alone forever. Bad/unfair deals coming back to bite him.
- Desires: Money above all. A way to move on to the next town before an unfair deal finds its way back to him. Love.
There are other characters still, but they're really minor characters. Tradesfolk, bandits, some lesser cultists, even some animals. They're generic to the point of requiring little more than basic information. I will usually have spare NPCs in mind who I can use at any moment, these kind of minor characters are what those spare NPCs will be used for.
Having said that, I will usually spice them up just a little to make them fit the setting better, but this is something I do on the fly during the campaign. Part of it is figuring out what the campaign could use during a play session, and then filling in the minor NPCs that way. If you feel like you need to have them all planned out, simply repeat the steps you took creating the previous characters.