Bedevil Your Players with NPCs

OMG – Did you hear what the magic-user said about the illusionist?

While city-based adventures can be a nice change of pace in RPG games that spend most of their time in dungeons, I think that cities and towns should usually be safe places for adventurers to visit. After all, of the three setting types in most fantasy games – settlements, wilderness and dungeons – two of those three are supposed to be geared towards killing the players. Settlements should be a place where adventurers can heal, resupply and prepare for the next delve into danger (well, except at night, when the vampires, assassins, chaos cultists and thieves are stalking the streets). Without the chance to recover and build, how are they going to do what the game intends them to do?

That being said, there is no reason why settlements cannot present new and interesting challenges to the players. Challenges is the key word here , not dangers. Challenging NPCs can make a visit more interesting without killing or harming the characters physically.

Here are a few ideas for obstreperous NPC’s to bedevil the player characters …

Obstreperous NPCs

1. The Spy – Always nosing into the adventurer’s business, and selling their secrets to interested parties (i.e. the man in the shadows). Spies can help move an overarching plot that develops slowly, and eventually become a source of adventures.

2. The Gossip – Spreads rumors and gossip around town concerning the adventurers, and not always that accurately. The gossip can tip off rivals* and piss off neutrals and allies, making life more difficult and expensive for the adventurers.

* Rival adventurers, of course – I strongly suggest rolling up one or two rival adventuring parties. They use the same town as their base of operations, and thus bump into the adventurers in the local tavern and compete for hirelings. More importantly, when adventurers are trying to clear out a dungeon, the rivals might get to key rooms first, or even run into the adventurers as a wandering monster.

3. The Buffoon – An idiot who wants to help the party, but his help always turns out to hinder (e.g. Gilligan or Joxer the Mighty). The idiot really does mean well, so non-evil characters may have a hard time getting rid of him.

4. The Braggart – A loud-mouth braggart who challenges the PCs at every turn, but couldn’t possibly handle him- or herself in a duel. Unfortunately, the braggart can make things tough on the PCs if they fight back – perhaps their father is wealthy or powerful.

5. The Nemesis – Counts one or all of the PCs as her enemies, to be crushed, destroyed, demoralized or generally messed with. The reason lies in the past, and may be an event so minor the PCs don’t remember doing it. Naturally, the nemesis does not attack openly, and may even appear as a friend and ally. The nemesis attacks through others, and has friends in high places.

6. The Fanatic – The PCs biggest fan, a person with no life of his or her own who has latched onto the PCs, living vicariously through their adventures. The fanatic brags about them, which can create problems with rivals, and begs for chances to adventure with them. If the fanatic’s illusions are shattered, they will turn quickly against their former idols.

7. The Mixer – Likes to start trouble, especially between the adventurers and their allies or retainers, or within the ranks of the party itself. The mixer is cunning and seemingly harmless and innocent, and almost always poses as a concerned advisor and friend.

8. The Schmuck – The schmuck is genuinely likeable and good … and completely hopeless. They are always in need of money or help because they bit off more than they can chew (gambling debts, a fight with a bully, trouble with the tax man or loyal aristocracy, etc.). No matter how much the adventurers help, the schmuck will always screw it up or require more help.

Think about introducing one or two of these annoyances in your next city adventure, and spend enough time on them to make them worthy of being reoccurring NPCs in your game.

6 thoughts on “Bedevil Your Players with NPCs

  1. How do you keep most of these obstreperous NPCs around long enough to do more than spit out a couple exp and motivate the PCs to get the heck out of dodge?


  2. Good question. Make them useful, to some degree, or weave them into the lifeblood of the settlement. If players decide to kill the local gossip, for example, they'll have to answer to the authorities.


  3. Most of these aren't “combat/dungeon” NPCs, so there shouldn't be XP for killing them. Definitely consequences, though. If they kill enough NPCs, the “rivals” might be bounty hunters hired by the government to take down the dangerous PCs.

    Anyways, there are people like this in every town (or weave them together – the Nemesis employs the Spy, funds the Rivals, recruits the Fanatic after their inevitable disillusionment…).


  4. The power of local authorities only restrains the PCs so much.. Are the PCs the folks who can defeat menaces, destroy dragons, and turn back hostile armies? If they are, just who are the authorities? The bothersome NPC is in a delicate and brief position with folks that dine on the proceeds from successful exploits of the most hideously dangerous trade possible. If the PCs aren't the good guys, the really good guys, they aren't going to settle for the constraints of authorities they don't need, which makes civilized problems difficult to have in play.


  5. Well, the gossiping fishwife or annoying tag-along are obviously not that useful when you have 18th level characters, but for most PC's, there is always someone more powerful than them. Most cities and towns have a patron god or saint who might intervene to prevent the wholesale destruction of his worshipers. How about all the name-level men and women living in strongholds? But if you're dealing with super high level evil adventurers, this article is probably not that useful to you – feel free to ignore it. The idea here is to give the characters a little comic relief or small challenges when entering the home base – nothing to completely derail their adventurers or threaten their lives, but just to add a little color to the whole affair of buying supplies and recovering hit points. Even in a dungeon heavy game, I think there's room for some interesting characterizations like this.


  6. It's something I try to pull off myself, it's a hard thing to do if the players don't play along, even at low level. It probably does hinge on the players wanting the PCs home base to stay a home base and not be another smoking heap left behind while hex crawling.


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