simplify

NPC tip: 1 accent

I have a problem where I can spend a long time developing a one-off NPC, fleshing out their backgrounds and how they’re connected to the world. This takes away precious “actual game-making” time and in all honesty, no one but me actually remembers (or even finds out) the backstory I create.

Recently I’ve changed my direction on making NPCs. Now, instead of wasting time with backgrounds, I do this thing i call “1 accent” and it seems to work perfectly.

What I’ll do is create 1 nuance that the NPC has that’s memorable. That might be the way they talk, something they wear, how they rest, or whatever. During the meet up with the NPC, I’ll repeat it a few times so sort of cement in their minds that one key concept of the NPC and it seems to make it stand out more than a 5 minute description ever could.

Here are some examples of “accents”:

  • An NPC owns a camel farm. Whenever he talks he sizes people up and rests his thumbs inside his oversized belt, letting his long fingers hang in front of him. When he talked, I’d stand and assume that position the entire time
  • An NPC, a scholar, talked very slowly and deliberately. Rather than answer questions easily he’d ramble for a bit and eventually get back to the point
  • A female barkeep replied with a deep, husky, gravelly voice
  • A male solider replied with the opposite
  • A strange traveller named Mu’Frellan talked loudly and had a booming laugh that ended nearly each of his sentences
  • A dwarven miner with a missing arm
  • Large birthmarks
  • Skin pigments
  • Hair colours
  • Actual speaking accents
  • Methods of speaking where they won’t look at the person they’re talking to (I’ll speak while looking over the player’s head IRL)
  • Speaking mannerisms (stuttering, pointed comments, flirting, cageyness)

The key thing to do in these cases is the same thing that people you meet every day do: don’t act like it’s a big deal. Your PCs might be surprised when the barkeep’s voice is deeper than their own or get creeped out by the way someone stands or acts. But the thing is that the NPC wouldn’t - they’ve been doing it their whole lives.

Give it a try! Breathe some life into your NPCs by focusing on just one characteristic that the PCs can focus on - it works!

- Mo!

Eighty percent of your to-do list is crap. Look, the stuff of life never ends. That is life. You will never clear your plate so you can finally allow yourself to get to the good stuff. So you have to decide. What do you want to accomplish in this life? What’s important to you right now?
— 

Brigid Schulte, I’ll Finish the Dishes When I’m Dead

Simplify your to do list as well.

I do not particularly like the word ‘work.’ Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think that is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is. It would be good to give up that way of thinking and live an easy, comfortable life with plenty of free time. I think that the way animals live in the tropics, stepping outside in the morning and evening to see if there is something to eat, and taking a long nap in the afternoon, must be a wonderful life. For human beings, a life of such simplicity would be possible if one worked to produce directly his daily necessities. In such a life, work is not work as people generally think of it, but simply doing what needs to be done.
—  Masanobu Fukuoka