Creating & Running NPCs
Once a GM knows what role his NPC needs to fulfill, the character’s details can begin taking shape. While not every NPC needs to be a unique masterpiece of imagination, every character the PCs interact with—those important enough to have a speaking role—should have at least three core elements: appearance, motivation, and personality. These aspects answer three questions fundamental to every NPC, from shopkeeps to kings: how do they look, what do they do, and how do they do it? How much effort the GM puts into detailing and refining the answers to these questions relates proportionately to the NPC’s importance to a story and his time spent interacting with the PCs. As such, an NPC who appears but once probably only deserves a few notes or a moment’s improvisation to convey the most basic traits, while a major character benefits from greater details, which might be revealed or evolve as the PCs interact with him. Thus, GM should consider the following character aspects as they design their NPCs.
Appearance: Every NPC worth describing has an appearance, something that sets the character apart and distinguishes her from the faceless masses as a unique individual. This might be nothing more than reference to the color of an NPC’s hair and noting her age, or it might be a detailed account of her beauty or ugliness. A detailed description can do much to determine whether an NPC is memorable but might also suggest deeper elements. Some of an NPC’s physical traits dictate rules aspects (race, blindness, a limp, and so on), others can be merely cosmetic, and still others might reveal clues in a well-planned plot. For GMs wishing to delve past the superficial, some traits might even prove portentous. In folktales and myths, a typical example is the “mark of the hero,” which allows others to know her true identity. Such traits can lead to identification (like Odysseus’s leg scar) or provoke some kind of reaction in a monster. In the past, it was a common belief in some cultures that evil people are somehow marked, but also that a hero is born with a distinctive sign on the body or receives it during her initiation or adventures. Fantasy literature features innumerable examples of such traits used as plot devices, and whether meaningful or random, a unique description of an NPC is among the primary elements that help a character standout in the players’ minds.
Motivation: With any character, regardless of the storytelling medium, it’s vital to know what is at stake for that individual. Knowing an NPC’s motivation is the best way to have her behave in a logical and coherent manner in the game. An NPC who is out to avenge her murdered family members will be more motivated—and therefore braver— in situations where that goal is at stake. A normally timid scholar might take greater risks to recover a rare tome than to rescue a princess. Motivations need not be elaborately detailed for most characters; one line such as “family murdered by orcs” or “obsessed with gaining knowledge” is often sufficient. By the same note, not every motivation needs to be dramatic either. The vast majority of NPCs met in a campaign likely have quite mundane goals, such as “move to a new town,” “romance the local starlet,” or “work for weekly pay.” While many such goals frequently prove beneath a party’s notice, the more interesting and unusual objectives typically come to light along with the extraordinary character who possesses them.
Personality: This element describes an NPC’s basic outlook on life, and typically one or two descriptive notes to this purpose are all that are needed. Is the NPC friendly and helpful? Or is he gullible, cynical, pessimistic, sarcastic, lazy, or hot-tempered? Such personality traits govern how the NPC reacts to most situations, commands, or requests. Giving an NPC an interesting and dynamic personality means making the interaction with him more enjoyable, both for the GM, who must impersonate the NPC, and for the players, who are in for a pleasant chat, compelling argument, or good listening experience. An aspect of an NPC’s personality that deeply affects his behavior and decisions, if known by the PCs, can be exploited to win his confidence or outmaneuver her, depending on the situation.
In recurring NPCs, the GM might create more elaborate and nuanced personalities, or even change a character’s attitude slowly over time—novelists and screenwriters call this character development, and the history of literature and film is filled with works themed solely around events leading to a single change in a character’s outlook. Thus, a character who might begin with no more than the note “conniving and ill-tempered” can evolve dramatically with details like “distrustful of elves” and “sympathetic toward youths who remind her of her lost son.” How much work a GM puts into detailing an NPC’s personality should relate directly to the character’s importance to a campaign. Few PCs will care if the local smith aspires to move to the big city if he never has a speaking role, while a major villain with no greater personality than “heartless and hateful” will likely feel two-dimensional after the third or fourth meeting.
Fantasy literature is filled with examples of characters with wondrous powers who have no interest in being heroes or villains. Sages content to watch events unfold as they will, clerics imbued by the gods with special powers, herbalists with knowledge of special concoctions, all have unique abilities and insights that are theirs alone and, should such characters come to favor friendly adventurers, might use their special influence and abilities to turn the course of entire campaigns. To represent the unique skills and powers of individual NPCs and to grant PCs an occasional rules-related benefit for their interaction with the characters of a campaign’s setting, the GM might devise boons to have certain important NPCs grant those PCs they come to favor.
In short, a boon is a quantifiable, non-monetary way an NPC might help the PCs. This might take the form of a discount on goods or services, a one-time bonus on a specific skill check, or even a simple magical benefit that only that character can provide. The nature of a boon depends more on an NPC’s role in a campaign world than any statistical element. As position in society doesn’t necessarily correlate with class levels or specific rules, boons are largely based on a GM’s sense of logic and campaign believability. A young prince who is merely a 1st-level aristocrat might thus be able to grant a far more favorable boon—granting a pardon, financing a voyage, decreeing a law—than a baker statted out as an 11th-level commoner.
Boons are not wantonly granted, and PCs should not expect to gain useful aid from every NPC they meet. Only NPCs with an attitude of helpful grant such benefits, and usually even then only to PCs they’ve come to trust over a significant period of time or those who have done them meaningful personal services. In such relationships, NPCs are more likely to favor an individual than an entire adventuring party, making it possible for only one party member to be granted a boon while less favored members are overlooked. PCs shouldn’t expect all NPCs to grant boons; some just might not have anything special to provide or aren’t important enough to have much to offer. The success of those who try to extort boons from characters using mind affecting magics is largely up to the GM, as the effects of mundane boons might easily be guessed, while more unique ones might only be known to the NPC. Regardless of the effect, PCs should never have direct control over the granting of boons—PCs never get boons they can grant and cannot force even the closest allies to grant benefits against their will.
What a boon entails varies widely, depending not just on the NPC who provides it, but the tastes of the GM and needs of a campaign. At their heart, boons are intended to be a simple way for GMs to provide PCs with a minor rules-related benefit in reward for developing bonds with NPCs. Boons are never monetary, though they often have a monetary value, and should feel like favors between friends, not something that would change the life of either the characters or NPC. They might occasionally involve established elements of the rules—like a discount on equipment or adding a bonus on a skill check in a specific situation—but such occurrences should prove minor. Boons tend to take three forms: favor boons, skill boons, and unique boons.
Favor: Any character of any class or social level might seek to aid their friends, with favors embodying such benefits. A shopkeeper granting a 10% discount on his goods, a nobleman using his influence to set up a meeting with a local lord, or a retired adventurer loaning someone his masterwork longbow all count as favors.
Skill: Certain NPCs can share their expertise in specific fields or pass their influence on to others. Skill boons are minor bonuses on skill checks that an NPC might pass on to a favored PC. As a guideline, skill bonuses usually grant either a +2 bonus on a skill in a very specific situation— never on all uses of a skill—or a one-time +4 bonus on a specific skill check. For example, a famous merchant might give a character his signet ring, providing a +2 bonus on Diplomacy checks made with other merchants in his home city’s marketplace; a scholar of a lost city’s lore might instruct a PC, granting her a +2 bonus on Knowledge (history) checks made regarding that ruin; or a guardsman might even allow a friendly PC to call in a favor he has with a local pickpocket, granting a one-time +4 bonus on an Intimidate check made against that individual.
Unique: The rarest of all boons, unique boons are special powers an NPC might grant that are exclusive to that character and fall outside the purview of his class’s typical abilities. Unique boons are special abilities too minor to be part of a character’s class abilities or so specific to a story’s details as to require a GM’s customization. A ghost who can grant a favored PC the power to see through her evil illusionist husband’s illusions; a cleric of the god of light who can grant a blessing that causes an ally’s weapons to deal an additional +1 point of damage on all attacks made against the shadowy creatures haunting the nearby catacombs; or an alchemist who can concoct a potion making the drinker immune to brown mold for 24 hours, all might be example of unique boons. As such boons have the most flexibility and the widest potential for exploitation, GMs should limit unique boons to be useful only once or to prove relevant for but a single adventure. What follows is a list of boons that might be offered by members of each of the standard NPC classes. As it would be impossible to cover all the possibilities of NPC situations and potential boons, the rest of this section should be considered a guide to creating your own boons or a shopping list from which you might choose boons to add to NPCs in a campaign. GMs looking for more specific examples should see Chapter 9, as each NPC therein includes an example boon that might be granted by such a character. Although the boons listed here detail some granted by characters with specific NPC classes, any NPC of any class can grant a boon.
While users of divine magic are often regarded simply as healers, their wisdom and vaunted positions mean they can have much more to offer.
Favor: Free healing on a single occasion.
Favor: Letter of recommendation to lower-ranking priests, ordering them to help the PCs as required (granting the aid of a 1st-level adept hireling for 3 days).
Skill: Favorable introductions to contacts in a local church, providing a PC a +2 bonus on Diplomacy checks made to influence members of that specific church.
Skill: Proves especially knowledgeable in mysterious alchemical techniques, granting a PC a +4 bonus on one Craft (alchemy) check made to create an alchemical item.
Unique: Can brew 4 unique potions that instantly heal the disease filth fever.
Aristocrats vary in rank from village squires to emperors, with most having wealth and position that grants them great influence in a community.
Favor: Provides an invitation to an aristocratic event, such as an estate party, royal gala, or public celebration.
Favor: Use of influence to save the PCs from prosecution for a crime.
Skill: Offering a day-long primer on local courtesy, granting the PC a +2 bonus on a Knowledge (nobility) check for the city or region.
Skill: Attends a character on his visit to the royal court, granting the PC a +4 Sense Motive check on interactions with the court’s members during that outing.
Unique: Loans a ship and provides a crew for a voyage to a distant land.
Unique: Grants a PC a minor, landless title that affords him access to certain local rights.
Although not usual famous or wealthy, commoners have a wide variety of skills and can usually come up with creative ways to repay favors.
Favor: Provides room and prepares an elaborate feast in a PCs honor.
Favor: Provides a 50% discount on a high quality, non-magical item made using one of his Craft skills.
Skill: Shares rural remedies, granting the PC a +2 bonus when using Heal to treat diseases.
Unique: Creates a map or leads a PC through the local wilderness to a secret location only he knows about.
Unique: Competently manages a home or business for an absentee PC.
Skilled craftsmen, professionals, and learned members of society regularly have a wide range of specific talents and obscure information that can prove useful to PCs.
Favor: Provides material for a PC, cutting the price to create a non-magical item in half.
Favor: Can find a seller to buy any non-magic item or a buyer for any magic item.
Unique: Obtains membership in a regional guild, providing a PC with a 10% discount on a certain kind of goods in a wide region.
Professional warriors typically have a wide range of experience and useful contacts among other career combatants, those they serve, and those they oppose.
Favor: Gifts a PC one non-magical weapon, piece of armor, or adventuring gear.
Favor: Can guard a precious object or hide it where none will find it.
Skill: Relates his experience patrolling the local sewers, granting a PC a +2 bonus on Knowledge (dungeoneering) checks in the city sewers.
Skill: Provides information with which to blackmail a local criminal, granting a PC a +4 bonus on Intimidate checks against local street thugs.
Unique: Can form a posse, bringing together a group of 2d4 low-level warriors to aid in one specific plan.
Unique: Grants the secret of a specialized fighting style, providing a PC with a +1 bonus on initiative.
Sometimes a villain needs to appear and then get away. With all the versatility and options at the hands of a capable party of adventurers, this can prove quite difficult for the villain and dangerous to the plot should she get trapped. At the same time, PCs should never feel incapable of opposing the villain or suspect the GM of unfairly favoring the antagonist. If it’s important that a villain escape, consider some of the following spells when planning her contingencies.
Barriers: Acid fog, animate plants, antilife shell, blade barrier, black tentacles, cloudkill, entangle, fog cloud, incendiary cloud, interposing hand, magic circle, minor creation, obscuring mist, plant growth, prismatic wall, spike growth, spike stones, solid fog, stinking cloud, storm of vengeance, wall of (fire | force | ice | iron | lava | sound | stone | suppression | thorns), web, wind wall
1 The casting time of this spell makes it a poor choice in an emergency.
This is where you’ll find all of the information you need to run the NPC in an encounter. A stat block is organized as follows. Note that in cases where a line in a stat block has no value, that line is omitted.
Name and CR: The character’s name is presented first, along with his or her Challenge Rating (CR). Challenge Rating is a numerical indication of how dangerous a character is—the higher the number, the deadlier the character.
XP: Listed here are the total experience points that PCs earn for defeating the character.
Size, Type, and Alignment: This lists the character’s size, type, and alignment. The alignments listed for each character in this book represent what is normal for those characters, but you can change them to serve the needs of your campaign. Of course, some classes may have restrictions on what alignments they can have, and some character concepts don’t make sense for certain alignments.
Aura: If the character has a magical or exceptional aura, it is listed here.
hp: This lists the character’s hit points, followed by his or her Hit Dice (including modifiers from Constitution, favored class levels, the Toughness feat, magic such as a false life spell, and so on). Characters with PC class levels receive maximum hit points for their first Hit Die, but all other Hit Dice rolls are assumed to be average. Fast healing and regeneration values, if any, follow the character’s HD.
Defensive Abilities/DR/Immune/Resist/SR: This lists all of the character’s unusual defensive abilities. Damage Reduction, immunities, resistances, and spell resistance are called out separately as necessary.
Weaknesses: All of the character’s unusual weaknesses are listed here.
Speed: The character’s land speed appears here, plus additional speeds as necessary for the character.
Melee: The character’s melee attacks are listed here, with his or her attack roll modifier listed after the attack’s name followed by the damage in parentheses.
Ranged: As Melee above, but for ranged attacks.
Space/Reach: The character’s space and reach appear only if they aren’t the standard (one 5-foot square and a reach of 5 feet).
Special Attacks: The character’s special attacks listed here are explained fully in the description of the character’s class.
Spell-Like Abilities: This lists the spell-like ability caster level and concentration modifier. Constant spell-like abilities function at all times but can be dispelled. A character can reactivate a constant spell-like ability as a swift action.
Tactics: This section gives suggestions on how to best use the character in combat. Before Combat indicates which of the character’s duration-based abilities or magic items are active when combat starts. During Combat explains which abilities the character prefers to use during combat. Base Statistics lists the character’s statistics without any of the effects of the Before Combat line.
Ability Scores: The character’s ability scores are listed here. Ability scores might be modified by level, race, spells, or magic items.
Feats: The character’s feats are listed here.
Skills: The character’s skills are listed here.
Languages: The character’s languages are listed here.
SQ: Any special qualities the character has are listed here, such as class abilities or racial traits.
Combat Gear: Any equipment the character would reasonably expect to use during combat is listed here—alchemical weapons, expendable combat magic items, special ammunition, helpful potions, and so on.
Other Gear: The rest of the character’s gear goes here, including armor and weapons, passive magic items (such as a cloak of resistance), items the character isn’t likely to use during combat (such as thieves’ tools), and coins or other valuables carried by the character.
Following most stat blocks is a short description of the type of character represented by the statistics.
Pathfinder RPG GameMastery Guide. © 2010, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Authors: Cam Banks, Wolfgang Baur, Jason Bulmahn, Jim Butler, Eric Cagle, Graeme Davis, Adam Daigle, Joshua J. Frost, James Jacobs, Kenneth Hite, Steven Kenson, Robin Laws, Tito Leati, Rob McCreary, Hal Maclean, Colin McComb, Jason Nelson, David Noonan, Richard Pett, Rich Redman, Sean K Reynolds, F. Wesley Schneider, Amber Scott, Doug Seacat, Mike Selinker, Lisa Stevens, James L. Sutter, Russ Taylor, Penny Williams, Skip Williams, Teeuwynn Woodruff.