Just toss a handfull of D6s and get a useful NPC…
Crafting a memorable non-player character (NPC) can be a challenging task, but it’s not as time consuming or difficult as you might initially think. You don’t need a complicated backstory and you certainly don’t need to write up a grand plot for every NPC the players encounter. It’s actually much simpler than that.
After 20 years of GM experience I’ve learned a few things about designing NPCs that the players like or dislike (both are equally valuable depending on what purpose the NPC is supposed to serve):
- Don’t overdo it – Always avoid over-prep! You never know what will actually be used in play, and time spent prepping stuff that won’t every be used is frustrating and a waste. You should instead focus on the base prep you need to run the game, and support yourself with useful random tables to help you improvise the rest. It’s the most efficient way of running the game.
- Improvised NPCs tend to be favorites – You can spend hours trying to come up with the coolest and most likable NPC, but at the end of the day, the NPC that your players will fall in love with will always be that goblin barmaid you made up at the spot because the players asked “Who is serving us the ale?“, it’s just one of the undying truths of ttrpgs.
- You need a base to improvise from – Just making up a useful NPC on the spot is virtually impossible mid play. So you need some sort of base to build off of, and the tables below are in my experience the best possible base.
So based on that experience, I’ve built this set of NPC generator tables to help you quickly build interesting and useful NPCs. You can use all the tables, or just two if you like, there is no inherent value in always using all of them, but it is easier to run the NPC the more you know about him/her. You are of course free to add anything else you want to your NPCs, such as magical tattoos, funny voices or an affiliation with the local goblin clan.
But what about all the weird combinations that can occur?
Good question, so what happens when you roll: Edward the barber that wants to protect a sacred grove, who fears the tale of the vanishing inn and who also prefers to walk backward? Well personally I don’t see an issue, it sounds like a pretty funny and interesting NPC, one that would probably be the start of some obscure but interesting quest, at least in my game. In your game the quirk; “Prefers to walk backward” might be too weird, and fine, just don’t use it. But I highly recommend that you try out these eccentric NPCs that the tables will generate, because they are memorable, unique and weirdly relatable.
D66 NPC names
This table contains a mix of human, dwarven and elven names to help you generate diverse NPCs of the three most iconic fantasy ancestries. You can of course also name a Dragonborn “Edward” if you like, it’s your game, so don’t feel limited to only humans, dwarves and elves.
|D66||Male name||Female name|
D66 NPC occupations
A mix of 36 real and fantasy occupations, someone’s got to be a mason right?
D66 NPC goals
Goals help you run your NPCs, because when you know what they want you can make more realistic decisions. And remember, the fisherman who want’s to win the archery contest isn’t unrealistic, he’s relatable, because it’s the perfect metaphor for most people’s real world situation.
|11||Retrieve a lost heirloom|
|12||Earn respect in the village|
|13||Learn a forbidden spell|
|14||Pay off a looming debt|
|15||Find a missing sibling|
|16||Win the local archery contest|
|21||Protect a sacred grove|
|22||Translate an ancient tome|
|23||Cure a loved one's illness|
|24||Prove their innocence|
|25||Rebuild a ruined home|
|26||Join a renowned guild|
|31||Discover a hidden talent|
|32||Overcome a personal fear|
|33||Forge a legendary weapon|
|34||Uncover their true lineage|
|35||Start a successful business|
|36||Befriend a mythical creature|
|41||Settle an old score|
|42||Master a new musical instrument|
|43||Find a rare alchemical ingredient|
|44||Win the heart of a local|
|45||Organize a village festival|
|46||Solve a mysterious disappearance|
|51||Travel to a distant land|
|52||Catch the biggest fish|
|53||Train under a legendary hero|
|54||Mend a broken family bond|
|55||Build a monument in town|
|56||Unravel a local legend|
|61||Establish a school of magic|
|62||Plant a magical grove|
|63||Break a family curse|
|64||Secure a seat on the council|
|65||Lead a village defense force|
|66||Find the Fountain of Youth|
D66 NPC fears
An NPCs biggest fear can be a great way to add some depth. You shouldn’t reveal the fear when the PCs first meet this character, you should keep it a secret, but a secret that sometimes bubble up to the surface, the way our fears tend to do in every day life. The herbalist offering the PCs a quest at the tavern might have a fear of the elderly, and might start to act weird when her old neighbour walks in to the tavern. The players might suspect a plot twist or some secret evil cult, but it’s just a red herring that adds a unique touch to the quest giver.
|12||Thunder and Lightning|
|13||The Ancient Stone Circle|
|23||Healers and Herbalists|
|25||The Village Elder|
|26||Gusts of Wind|
|31||The Haunted Well|
|43||The Town's Bard|
|45||The Cursed Statue|
|61||The Village's Herbalist|
|63||The Old Bridge|
D66 NPC quirks
A good quirk makes the NPC memorable in an easy and fun manner. “Activate” the quirk whenever it adds whatever you want it to add, be that comic relief, tension, annoyance or pitty.
|11||Wears an eyepatch for style, not necessity|
|12||Speaks in rhymes|
|13||Hums when nervous|
|15||Always carries a bouquet of dried flowers|
|21||Makes "dad noises" when moving around|
|22||Laughs at inappropriate times|
|23||Carries a lucky pebble|
|24||Refuses to make eye contact|
|26||Counts steps when walking|
|31||Whispers to plants|
|32||Avoids stepping on cracks|
|34||Wears a mysterious amulet|
|35||Never sits with back to door|
|36||Always kind of rude|
|41||Taps fingers to a secret rhythm|
|42||Prefers to walk backward|
|43||Obsessed with the moon|
|44||Wears gloves indoors|
|45||Repeats last word of sentences|
|46||Carries a vial of strange liquid|
|51||Hates the sound of bells|
|52||Always wears a hat|
|53||Refuses to shake hands|
|54||Talks to animals|
|55||Wears a ring on every finger|
|56||Carries an old key|
|61||Snaps fingers when thinking|
|62||Refuses to eat anything green|
|63||Always smells like lavender|
|64||Avoids direct sunlight|
|65||Insists on being called "Captain"|
|66||Keeps a pet spider|
Example outputs from this NPC generator
This NPC generator doesn’t give you fully fleshed out NPCs with every single detail you need, you still need to fit them into the setting or scenario, which usually requires some creative thinking. Below are three example NPCs I rolled up using the tables, together with some minor details to make them usable at the table.
1: Ilthor the Silversmith
Ilthor lives in a small stone house by the river. Ilthor is renowned for his skill in forging silver weapons and have helped arm many of the church’s undead hunters. But Ilthor’s passion lies elsewhere, he dreams of winning the village’s yearly fishing tournament, but his fear of flowing water makes it near impossible for him to practice. Therefore he is now looking for someone to acquire a magical potion of courage for him, to help him overcome his fear so that he stands a chance at winning the tournament.
2: Olivia the Seer
Olivia is a moody seer living in the harbor district of Stonegate (the capital of the light-weight campaign setting included in our game system: Adventurous). She is in fierce competition with Dalia, another seer, who she thinks deliver’s much to optimistic predictions to her customers. Olivia and Dalia where once partners, but Dalia double crossed Olivia and took over their joint business. Since that day Olivia dreams of getting back at Dalia and becoming the most popular seer on the coast. Olivia is terrified of being forgotten and will go to great lengths to get back at Dalia.
3: Henry the Blacksmith
Henry is the blacksmith at a large farming estate. He was born on the estate and took over as the blacksmith when his father fell ill. Henry loathes the monotonous life at the farm and dreams of traveling to distant lands. He secretly draws sketches of faraway places that he wants to visit, but keeps them hidden due to fear of ridicule from other workers on the estate.
Closing thoughts on this NPC generator
I’ve built this NPC generator to make it as easy as possible for you to make up useful and interesting NPCs. After being a GM for 20 years I know from experience that these attributes; Name, occupation, goal, fear and quirk are the ones that are most useful at the table. Writing two paragraphs of backstory very rarely adds anything to the game, and it’s usually a big waste of time, because the first thing the players will ask about is something you haven’t written down, it’s just how ttrpgs work. But if you got these fundamental attributes nailed down you can easily improvise anything from backstory to most suitable reply to the question: “Why can’t we get paid more gold for XYZ?”. So don’t spend time on intricate backstories for your NPCs, focus instead on a good foundation that helps you improvise.