Non Player Characters, everyone from a cooking trainer in a capital city to Thrall, facilitate quests and meta-plot. In personal or group RP, NPCs are also used to help establish and maintain plot. Sometimes we co-opt named NPCs like Officer Brady or Brother Sarno.* Other times, we ask other RPers to create “NPCs.”
Creating NPCs or “bit players” allows Storytellers to do more with their stories than they could if they relied on the characters they wrote the story for. Good RP stays away from railroading players into a certain direction. Therefore, relying on one PC to interrogate, stalk, fight or interact in a specific way with another player, is a bad move. On Feathermoon, we have a number of RPers who are more than willing to play an NPC to make the story work. From these wonderful interactions, I’ve developed a few ideas to help storytellers work with their NPCs:
1) Work with the player
When creating a backstory, accent and personality for said NPC, work with the player to ensure that they comprehend who they are playing. This means that the Storyteller should be flexible with the background and development with the NPC. While the NPC does have a specific role to play, a static NPC is no fun for anyone.
2) Provide Direction
While working with the player, make sure they know what the role of said NPC is. While one needs to be flexible with the creation and direction of the NPC, the Storyteller needs to make sure the NPC fulfills the role they are intended to play.
3) Don’t scrub the NPC
Just because the story is over, this does not mean the NPC has to end. Give the player, who worked this NPC for you, a role in how their part ends. If the NPC is supposed to die, let the player RP a satisfying end. If the NPC has surprised both the story teller and the player, then let the story progress to its natural end. This may mean letting the NPC transition from bit player to main character.
These are just my guidelines. Given how many other storytellers (and players who willingly play NPCs) there have to be, I’m sure there are more. Fill us in on your ideas on how to work in NPCs.
*Stormwind is where a lot of my RP occurs, so I’m sorry for the excess of Alliance based NPCs.