A System for Creating Memorable NPCs

The following are my tables for quickly creating memorable NPCs.   You can use them to fill your world with interesting and detailed people.

They’re really designed for use by the players in a collaborative, GM-less campaign, but traditional GMs might find them fun to tinker around with, too.

Creating Memorable People: A Checklist

For each new NPC, roll for:

  1. Name
  2. Role in Society
  3. Current Situation
  4. One Bodily Appearance marker
  5. One General Appearance marker
  6. One Memorable Mannerism

Once the players get to know the NPC a little, you might need some more information about them.  In that case, you can roll for:

  • One Interesting Fact
  • One Hope or Fear

Note: if you’re playing collaboratively, don’t roll for either of the latter until the PCs have a chance to get to know the NPC a little!  As always, here I’m working on the general principle that in GM-less play, things should only be determined once the PCs know them.

1 – Names

I have a lot of tables for creating fantasy names, so I’ve put them on a separate page.

2 – Role in Society

Roll 1d, 1d to determine the area of society in which this character normally moves and works. (Need a die roller?)

Note that as a general rule, a person’s Status should not exceed the Peril of the adventure in which they’re involved.

Area of Society Examples, in rough order from low Status/Peril to high Status/Peril
1-3 1 Nobility The Baron’s scullery maid; the Palace groomsman; the Duchess’ lady-in-waiting; the Dragon Queen.
1-3 2 Foreign A poor Halfling, far from the Goodhills; two Elves from the Greywood; the Dwarfish ambassador.
1-3 3 Travel/Transit The stableboy; the coachman; the Captain of the good ship Farflung; shipmaster of the White Sea fleet.
1-3 4 Magic A girl with a fairy ribbon; a hedge-enchanter; the warlock of Southwark; the Seventh Sorceress herself.
1-3 5 Religion A devout leper; a coven of believers; an elderly priestess; a Bishop; the High Druid of Ethil Duamath
1-3 6 Military A crippled veteran; a strapping young guardsman; the captain of the third company; the Lord General.
4-6 1 Mercantile The errand-boy for the market stalls; a caravan driver; White Falcon Trade Co; the Merchant’s Guild.
4-6 2 Craft An old woman who weaves; the village blacksmith; the Guild of Taylors; Nelialian the Elven smith.
4-6 3 Agriculture A child born to serfdom; a peasant family; a prosperous farmer’s daughter; a wealthy franklin’s son.
4-6 4 Entertainment The Tavern’s serving maid; a down-at-heels minstrel; a famous bard; the Prince’s Master of Revels.
4-6 5 Underworld An escaped serf; a pickpocket; a gang of thugs; a crime lord; the Lost Brotherhood of the Night.
4-6 6 Underclass A slave; a beggar; a family of lepers or outcasts; plague-bearers; slavers; slumlords; the slaver’s Guild.

3 – Current Situation

Roll 1d, 1d, 1d as many times as you like.  (Need a die roller?)

When you meet this NPC, they are…

1 2 3 4 5 6
Occupied With others Conditions Moods Location Predisposition towards you
1-3 1 In a rush In conversation Has a cold or is ill. Angry or Inwards At home Miserly
2 Physically active In a meeting Desperate for help Upset or Paranoid At work Dismissive
3 Playing music In an argument Messy or dirty Lonely or Anxious In transit Suspicious
4 Working In a game Tired or Hungry Irritable or Grim Disgusting place. Imperious
5 Reading At a meal Too hot or cold Distracted In nature Wheedling
6 Eating Working Grieving Gloomy or Sad In the dark Dislike
4-6 1 In no hurry at all With a lover Sweaty Content or Curious Place of authority Welcoming
2 Waiting for you With children Drunk Relieved or Cheery Place of recreation Trusting
3 Making something Laughing Injured Elated or Carefree A 3rd party’s place Admiring
4 Dozing Celebrating Perfect, neat, clean Reflective In the doorway Romantic
5 Getting drunk With family In love Hopeful Iconic place Eager to please
6 Staring vacantly into space. Giving or taking orders Just received news. Thinking about the past. Where they shouldn’t be Generous

 

4 – Bodily Appearance

Roll 1d for the category (top line), then roll 1d, 1d.  (Need a die roller?)

1 2 3 4 5 6
Tall/Short Thin/Broad Weak/Strong Clumsy/Graceful Skin Bodily Features
1-3 1 Short Thin Weak Clumsy Blemished One Hand or Arm
2 Small Skinny Flimsy Awkward Pale One Leg or Foot
3 Petite Reedy Slack Gawky Scarred One Eye or Ear
4 Squat Wiry Frail Stiff Wrinkled Broken Nose
5 Dumpy Emaciated Feeble Jerky Leathery Limp, Stoop or Hunch
6 Little Slight Fragile Staccato Tattooed Battered or bruised
4-6 1 Tall Broad-shouldered Strong Lithe Unblemished Attractive rear
2 Willowy Fat Compact Lissome Tanned Androgynous
3 Lanky Tubby Powerful Graceful Smooth Exaggerated gender
4 Towering Large Well-muscled Confident Glowing Very attractive body
5 Long-limbed Big-boned Toned Athletic Tender Very straight posture
6 Leggy Solid Bulging Precise Powdered Languid

5 – General Appearance

Roll 1d for the category (top line), then roll 1d, 1d.  (Need a die roller?)

1 2 3 4 5 6
Face Hair Voice Speech Patterns Dress Distinctive Objects
1-3 1 Puffy Golden Blonde Reedy Catchphrase Worn Tool
2 Gaunt Tawny Blonde Tinny Expostulations Unkempt Jewelry
3 Pale Auburn Red Broken Stutter Unfashionable Weapon
4 Plump Ginger Rasping Hesitant Impractical Food or drink
5 Lopsided Sandy Brown Guttural Babbling Inappropriate Clothing
6 Cruel Russet Brown Wheedling Softly-spoke Cheap Pet
4-6 1 Aquiline Chestnut Brown Quiet Rhythmical New Book or scroll
2 Heart-shaped Black Loud Considered Well-kept Bottle
3 Open Mixed with grey Forceful Few words Fashionable Letter, deed or contract
4 Stern Grey Beautiful Insinuating Practical Grooming implement
5 Welcoming White Mellifluous Emphatic Tasteful A work of craft
6 Friendly Oddly Dyed Authoritative Authoritative Costly Musical Instrument

 

6 – Memorable Mannerisms

(Yes, you have to act this out!  That’s a large part of what makes the NPC memorable.)

Roll 1d for the category (top line), then roll 1d, 1d.  (Need a die roller?)  If the mannerism doesn’t fit, choose any adjacent mannerism.

These are to help you act out memorable NPCs – have fun with them, and don’t be afraid to ham it up!

1 2 3 4 5 6
Hands Hands and… Head Speech Expressions Eyes
1-4 1 Rubs hands together. Fiddles with an object (roll for object under “general appearance”) Rests chin in palm. Lisp, rasp, cough, or odd hissing. Smiles.

 

Arched eyebrows.
1-4 2 Tight, cramped gestures. Plays with lip or ear. Stiff-necked; very upright. Foreign accent. Dulled and expressionless Furrowed brows.
1-4 3 Quick, staccato gestures Taps nose or ear. Head cocked sideways. Voice either high or deep. Animated and highly expressive. Squints or narrows eyes.

 

1-4 4 Snaps fingers for emphasis Gesticulates with an object. (roll for object under “general appearance”) Head tilted back; stares down nose. Either uses as few words as possible – or babbles incessantly. Scowls Winks.

 

1-4 5 Keeps hands concealed – perhaps in sleeves or pockets. Rubs chin while thinking. Hmmm… Head tilted forwards and down. Makes breathy sounds of some kind – maybe “gasp,” “sigh,” or “bah!” Skews mouth to one side. Stares unblinkingly

 

1-4 6 Big, open, expansive gestures.

 

Brushes hair back. Looks rapidly from person to person. Takes long, thoughtful pauses (drinks?) before and during speech. Pouts or purses lips. Blinks a lot.
5-6 1-2 Claps hands together for emphasis.

 

Rubs temple. Either nods or shakes head a lot. Stutters or fumbles speech. Open-mouthed. Rolls eyes.
5-6 3-4 Wrings hands Slaps people on the back.

 

Laughs loudly and often. Looks eager. Sits back with eyes closed and hands folded.
5-6 5-6 Points at whomever they’re talking to. Defensive arm posture. Slow head movements. Speaks either very loudly or very quietly. Frowns Looks off to the side.

 

Getting Deeper: Interesting Facts

Roll 1d, 1d.  (Need a die roller?)  Any of these might come up randomly in conversation.

A reminder: if you’re playing collaboratively, don’t roll for here until the PCs have a chance to get to know the NPC a little!  As always, here I’m working on the general principle that in GM-less play, things should only be determined once the PCs know them.

1 1 From somewhere far, far away.
2 Actually from somewhere other than they appear to be.
3 Local, born and bred
4 Has children somewhere
5 Lavishes attention on a pet, or pets
6 Is a real connoisseur of something in particular
2 1 Highly social; seems to know everyone! Lots of family, friends, and acquaintances.
2 Very limited social circle – just a person or two, plus a few acquaintances.
3 Loner, or lonely: leads a solitary existence.   Perhaps a recluse – or just socially isolated
4 Has a true friend or ally who is likely to appear at any moment.
5 Has an enemy who hates them and want to see them suffer.
6 Knows more powerful people than you might expect
3 1 Richer than they appear
2 Poorer than they appear
3 Clever than they appear
4 Stupider than they appear.
5 More moral than they appear
6 More wicked than they appear
4 1 Surprisingly talented at something trivial
2 Surprisingly talented at something important
3 Once won a competition.
4 Surprisingly bad at something trivial.
5 Surprisingly bad at something important.
6 Phobic about something.
5 1 Generally disliked around here.
2 Generally liked and/or respected around here.
3 Knows you by reputation
4 Makes terrible life decisions
5 Makes odd decisions on the spur of the moment
6 Weighs things carefully before deciding
6 1 Has strong feeling about the political or religious authorities.
2 Has strong feelings about the neighbors.
3 Has an odd relationship with the authorities.
4 Cares very much for a relative
5 Surprisingly bigoted
6 Surprisingly open-minded

Getting Deeper: Hopes and Fears

Roll 1d. On a 1-3, it’s a hope, dream, or desire. On a 4-6, it’s a fear or anxiety.  Then roll 1d, 1d.  (Need a die roller?)

A reminder: if you’re playing collaboratively, don’t roll for here until the PCs have a chance to get to know the NPC a little!  As always, here I’m working on the general principle that in GM-less play, things should only be determined once the PCs know them.

The Hope or Fear relates to…

1-3 1 Money
2 Power
3 Violence
4 Disease
5 Sex
6 Religion
4-6 1 Family
2 Friends
3 Love
4 The Past
5 Ethics
6 Politics