D&D 5E NPC random traits on the fly, 1 page

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
Good NPCs can make your game world come alive. Years ago, Dragon Magazine created a % table of traits like tries to sell you something, then ran an article about 3 simple categories to make memorable, believable NPCs with no advance preparation:
  1. Visual (first impression such as a really bad squint due to poor closeup eyesight)
  2. Speech (style such as speaking in a low whisper + cues like calling everyone "dahling")
  3. Mannerism (way they act when with PCs such as pulls on bottom lip when thinking).
Take your random bartender. The PCs are looking for info on the haunted mine. The DM could say "the bartender says to talk to Kasey whose family once supervised the mines." Or, you could make your world come alive a bit more by simply pulling 3 random traits.

Marta the Bartender squints at you as you try to order a drink. "Come closer dahling," she says in a low whisper. "I can't see you from back there and I lost me screamin' voice yellin' at my kids." She chuckles to herself. When the PCs ask about the haunted mines, she tugs on her bottom lip. "Dahling, you'll want to speak to Kasey. His papa was a supervisor once way back when. I can hear him laughing over near the fire."

I've attached my 1-pager shrinking Dragon Magazine's work to something I can reference on the fly instead of multiple pages. Even so, credit where credit is due to Dragon Mag for providing most of these ideas. Ultimately, if it's a major NPC, I'll flesh them out even more with a few catch phrases and mannerisms, but the basic idea is there. No bad accents needed. And, the trait might naturally create its own story. Why does Marta have a low whisper? It takes a second to add that bit if I want. Instead of kids, maybe she lost it to [insert hook]. If you get lucky, a random NPC like Marta might catch on and become a major part of your next storyline.

Anyone else do something like this?
 

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Quickleaf

Legend
I really like distinguishing appearance, patois, and mannerism.

I tend to lump those all together in a "one unique thing" blurb about the NPC, then I focus on prepping what the NPC wants (i.e. quests/questions they can ask of PCs) & what they can offer (i.e. rewards/answers they can give PCs).

I think one of my strengths, actually it's also a weakness, is that I have a whole host of characters just waiting to enter my gaming sessions. With just one detail, I'm off to the races adopting body language, patois, and mannerisms like that character. Downside is that it can be overwhelming for players who might just want a quick-and-done merchant interaction or who can't remember the nuance of 20 different named NPCs, so I've learned to actively restrain that aspect of my DMing.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
What issue was that in?

I’m kinda obsessed with random generators. Especially autofill generators in Excel. I do this for names, in various forms. Occupations, races, backgrounds, classes…missions, goals…you name it. I see a random chart and I drop it into Excel and build a random generator out of it.

With basic NPCs, I tend to keep it fairly simple. Name, occupation, race, quirk, and goal. Then generate 100 of them, drop them into a PDF, and hang on to it. When the PCs randomly want to chat with some rando, go to the next on the list.
 


toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
What issue was that in?
I've been scouring my stuff to find out where I cut and pasted my materials. Dragon #226, Melissa Thompson (new author) submitted several random tables of random NPC quirks. That's one source. For the life of me, I cannot find out where the "rule of 3" article was.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
I think one of my strengths, actually it's also a weakness, is that I have a whole host of characters just waiting to enter my gaming sessions.
It seems random if players latch onto the nuance of what began as a random NPC. That's the fun of it. In my current campaign, a 3-legged dog and the flirty elven curio collector who was the first to open an Inn in the PCs barony have become major players. They were window dressing to begin, but I followed the lead of what the players were talking about the most.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I've been scouring my stuff to find out where I cut and pasted my materials. Dragon #226, Melissa Thompson (new author) submitted several random tables of random NPC quirks. That's one source. For the life of me, I cannot find out where the "rule of 3" article was.
Maybe "Easy as 1, 2, 3" from Dragon Magazine #113 by Rick Swan?
 


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