NPC a Secondary Character

Person working with multiple note pads

Role playing games can provide some great sources of inspiration for writers. Not only in engaging as a player or a dungeon/game master, but also by utilising some of their resources. RPGs often are well resourced by fans, and many of their templates or information sheets can hold a wealth of ideas, not only for those writing in the fantasy genre also! However, the focus of this post is the use of character sheets. When playing in an RPG there are player characters (you and your friends) and non-player characters (NPC), which are the characters that populate the world, which as a writer we would consider just as our characters.

Secondary characters in writing are often relatively flat and at times can add a sense of generic blandness to a story. However, a secondary character often cannot be fleshed out into vast detail as this would detract from the focus on the primary characters. So what we need is a happy medium where the character has enough detail to be interesting, but not too much to overwhelm the scene. Jotting down notes is important and all I will show today is a way to use a predesigned template to help develop but not overdo a secondary character.

The resources I am using are from https://www.5esrd.com/tools-resources/character-sheets/ but can be accessed generally through Google and a myriad of other places.

We are going to focus on Marian, a character who needs to provide information to our hero. This is the first version:

TAKE ONE

He turned to the girl next to him. “Do you know her name?” He indicated to the vivid red-head on the dance floor.

“Um…Jenna.” Responded Marian.

Frowning he turned back to watching the dancers.

The character sheet includes three areas that will be useful: the abilities, the skills and the character background. Abilities are a way to think about the strength and weaknesses of your character – are they strong and dumb? Then Strength is high and Intelligence is low. Are they wise but weak? Then Wisdom is high and Constitution is low. Or are the agile but pretty uncharismatic? Then their Dexterity is high and their Charisma is low. Delving into what each of these categories can mean also provides a great thought experiment in considering what makes a character who they are. For now we want to think about their strength and their weakness.

For example, Marian our NPC is a sweet girl, blends into the background at the dance, not very bright but a really hard worker = High Strength, Average Charisma, Low Intelligence.

Skills then are ticked off as relevant to the character. Marian is a farm girl so we will give her good Athletics (she’s fit from all that hard work), Animal Handling (she loves the animals and works well with them) and surprisingly Insight (she is actually pretty good at reading people). If you want to know what all the skills are this site explains them http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?492716-A-comprehensive-list-of-use-of-skills-in-5e , but mostly if you just go by gut on what the term would generally mean that is often helpful enough.

Character background on a character sheet is broken into four categories: personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. They are what they sound like. What are the personality traits or general characteristics that dominate a first impression of the character? For ideals what values do they have that helps define them as a character? For bonds what connections drive their decisions? Flaws are pretty straight forward, what is their defining flaw?

Returning to Marian:

Personality trait: Marian is softly spoken and hesitant to offer her opinion.

Ideal: Marian values the agricultural life she has lead and the people in her small life-circle.

Bond: Marian feels she owes her family the hard work she undertakes on the farm and would never willingly leave them or disregard her responsibilities on the farm.

Flaw: Marian undervalues herself. And she tends turn bright red if she receives too much attention.

So how is this useful? Well it gives you an outline of your character that you intended to use that provides more than a generic response. Let’s see what evolved now that I know Marian better. The first version has the points of add-in that came from the NPC sheet, and the final version is just the excerpt.

TAKE TWO

He turned to the girl next to him, surprised to have noticed her at all in her non-descript dress (AV CHARISMA). “Do you know her name?” He indicated to the vivid red-head on the dance floor.

Marian turned bright pink (FLAW), not expecting to be addressed by the handsome boy (FLAW), “Umm…Jenna.” She managed to blurt out.

Frowning he turned back to watching the dancers.

Marian sighed inaudibly (FLAW), clutching her large calloused hands together (HIGH STRENGTH). Oh well (BOND), of course such a handsome man would only be interested in Jenna (INSIGHT).

TAKE THREE

He turned to the girl next to him, surprised to have noticed her at all in her non-descript dress. “Do you know her name?” He indicated to the vivid red-head on the dance floor.

Marian turned bright pink, not expecting to be addressed by the handsome boy, “Umm…Jenna.” She managed to blurt out.

Frowning he turned back to watching the dancers.

Marian sighed inaudibly, clutching her large calloused hands together. Oh well, of course such a handsome man would only be interested in Jenna.

All it added was a little extra flavour, but it helps flesh out the scene and give a better sense of reality. It also means that in a later scene if I need someone to interject or be involved I have Marian rather than just another generic party-goer.