How To Deliver Your D&D NPCs With Confidence

D&D NPCs bring life and depth to our tabletop game worlds and can greatly impact our players’ overall experience.

Despite being one of the most critical pieces of gameplay, I’ve noticed that some DMs opt to water down or even completely remove these interesting, opportunity-providing characters from their games simply from a lack of confidence.

This article will offer some tips on what to consider when delivering your NPCs during a gaming session. My hope is that by the time you’re finished reading, you’ll have more confidence for your next game. Let’s get started.

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.

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Tools and Confidence

In a tabletop roleplaying game, players build real emotional ties to our fictional characters. This means that NPCs are a critical aspect of the game and need to be given time and consideration in development. If you haven’t taken a look at the article yet, I shared a list of the tools I like to use for creating NPCs. Hop on over if you’re interested.

Whether the characters serve as allies, antagonists, quest givers, or simply background characters, NPCs have the power to shape the story and environment, and make our games more memorable.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that you can’t actually get it wrong, as long as you’re trying. Seems too simple, but in my opinion it is true.

Let’s Make Some Assumptions, First

I’m going to start by making a couple of assumptions here:

  1. Our players, at least for the most part, are reasonable human beings we enjoy being around.
  2. They actively want to play our tabletop game and are excited to participate.

These things should be a given. If they are not, you may want to consider either setting expectations with your group, or possibly finding new players.

In most cases, our players are going to cut their Dungeon Masters some slack. This is ESPECIALLY true if you we new to running the game, or have new players at our tables. No one expects us to be perfect, but everyone expects us to try to do a good job. This means that the first thing we should understand is that since this is a game and not a college course, mistakes can be made and oftentimes the chaos can lead to a bit more enjoyment for everyone.

1st Lesson: This is not College, or Mistakes Can Be Fun

When we make mistakes it’s not going to hurt the value or “fun level” of our game. There are actually many cases where it might even make the session better.

Let me give you a few examples. But for these to work, you’re going to have to give up your DM crown and pretend to be a player for a little while, which I strongly believe you should be doing anyway.

Example 1: I am running a game for you.

We’re having a great time. Then, you run into an NPC who has the worst fake New Zealand type accent you’ve ever heard. At least, you THINK it’s supposed to be a New Zealand accent. But me, as the GM, I am smiling, trying not to laugh, I’ve realized my mistake but I’m really committing to it. I’m having a great time.

How long do you spend pondering the accuracy of my terrible New Zealand accent in the game?

My Guess is Zero Minutes.

That’s because you’re either:

1) Laughing at me (with me, come on)

2) Acknowledging that I’m trying and/or

3) Possibly trying to figure out where someone with THIS accent lives on the Sword Coast/Grayhawk/Cyberville/Fantasy Land because aren’t all fantasy people supposed to be British?

D&D, or Dungeons & Dragons, is one of the most popular TTRPGs in the gaming world! Delight your players with dynamic sessions, exciting one shots, and loads of fun NPC surprises! A D&D game is a great way to brighten up your week.

2nd Lesson: The Commitment and Attitude is What Counts

My commitment to the terrible accent is what counts. My commitment to the weird mannerisms I’ve chosen, or the speech pattern, or the tendency to say “not a jot” or some other weird thing, or adjust imaginary glasses, or the fact that this guy is always looking up to see if it’s cloudy because he hates getting rained on… these are the weird and charming things that make your fun NPCs come to life.

These qualities make your players remember them as individuals, and it makes them want to have them around more. Get attached emotionally, even.

If you come up with an NPC and your players keep asking for this person, you’ve won. (You won D&D!)

When your players not only recall an NPC, but also want to see them again, it means they are interested, immersed, and excited about the world you’ve presented them. And that is your entire goal. You’re doing it well. Pat yourself on the back.

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Without good NPCs, you cannot, actually, have a believable world.

NPCs are not just the quest givers. They are the monsters, the shopkeepers, the passersby…. Literally any “living” thing that is not our players is an opportunity for us to engage our table humans and give them something to talk about once the session has ended.

Example 2: Let’s base this one on a true story.

I am running a game for you. You are in a creepy town full of what seem to be very sad and possibly soul-deprived people (can anyone guess where we are yet?). You kick your way into a townhouse, because you hear someone crying. Breaking and entering? Don’t care. There’s some tea going down and you want to know what it is. Drama and gossip are both definitely worth the potential criminal repercussions. 

Second floor. A woman by a window, her back to you. She is hunched over and crying, dressed in black. You engage her in conversation and find out her daughter, with the very unique and unusual name Gertruda, is missing. But wait, you say. “What is YOUR name?” 

Well… I forgot her name. So… her name is ALSO Gertruda. Which I deliver, in voice, trying not to laugh. It’s not really funny reading about it here. But my players thought this was hilarious. “Really, your name is ALSO Gertruda?” 

These moments are special, nearly indefinable to those who weren’t there, and priceless. Your “failures” can lead to these moments more often than not. 

3rd Lesson: Your Mistakes Can Make Lasting Memories

They still talk about it from time to time. So even though I forgot the lady’s name at the time was Mad Mary, I picked something and went with it. Here’s what would have been less fun:

Instead of just saying Gertruda as the name, trying to stifle giggles under my fake crying for this character, I break character completely. Voice reverts to normal.  “Oh, sorry guys, hang on. I forgot her name. Let me look through my book really quick and find it for you. Here we go… Sorry about that… [picks up voice] Oh, my name is Mary…”

Look, there’s not really anything WRONG with this, as I think there’s very few ways to run a game “incorrectly” as long as your players are having fun. But had I done this, we wouldn’t have this little inside joke that still comes up.

In new games, with some overlapping players, I see minor characters, pets… they get named Gertruda. It’s a callback to something funny that happened at our table that’s memorable to us. These moments are special, nearly indefinable to those who weren’t there, and priceless. Your “failures” can lead to these moments more often than not. 

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Build Your Confidence: The Strategy of Delivery

Perhaps this is what you came here for. I hope I don’t disappoint you by saying the best way to get better at this is by practicing, just like anything else. But I will tell you my old and new methods for dealing with spontaneously created NPCs. Both are true stories. We’ll start with weird little Todd-Robbin as an example. 

Creating Beloved NPC Todd-Robbin With the OLD Method… aka no method

My party decided to check out the Adventuring Guild in Waterdeep because I mentioned I had built an entire system for them to enjoy, stemming from some Waffle House hash brown inspiration. While they were chatting, I had the guild hall master, Bartholomew “The Boss” Brushkey have his son fetch him something to show the adventuring party when they arrived. This just sort of slipped out. I hadn’t planned for him to have a son.

My mistake. But now my PCs want to know about the son. The poor, put upon child of the father who eats a seemingly endless supply of seasoned beef sticks out of a side pouch fanny pack and knows the secrets of most every important person in Waterdeep. Then I had to answer their next question: “Where’s Mom?”

Well, looks like Mom died tragically. In a… wagon accident. Sorry. Yes, it’s very sad. The boy? Oh, his name. …Yes, of course he has a name.

D&D, or Dungeons & Dragons, is one of the most popular TTRPGs in the gaming world! Delight your players with dynamic sessions, exciting one shots, and loads of fun NPC surprises! A D&D game is a great way to brighten up your week.

Todd-Robbin’s Name

The music I had playing for them at the time was a YouTube video by Todd Terje. I saw TODD in the tab, and for some reason, with the boy’s father working for nobility but not having many resources himself, I thought of Robin Hood.

So, Todd…Robin became the boy’s name. But with 2 B’s, because that’s what my mouth said when asked. Poor Todd-Robbin. Then I found a stock picture of this kid who seemed perfect, and he became the one and only Todd-Robbin. Isn’t he cute?! My players adore him and will do anything for this kid. They check on him routinely and have risked life and limb for him multiple times.

The adventurer's guildmaster's son, Todd-Robbin. Finding fun stock images for your NPCs helps bring them to life. My players love this one! Modified image, original by Photographerlondon via Dreamstime.

This completely spontaneously created accident has become a central pivot point on which all my PCs focus. Todd-Robbin is a mascot. A treasure. He is the best mistake I’ve made so far. It’s been great fun. But this method for dealing with NPCs is not good for me.

It’s stressful and I have to take wild notes as things are happening, instead of being organized and having a “plan.” In terms of building confidence, in my opinion this is not the way to do it. Instead, take a look at my my simple and effective methods below.

The creation of three NPCs at once: The New Way, with THE TOOLS

I have made a pretty exhaustive set of events that take place at the Field of Triumph in Waterdeep.

The Field of Triumph is a colosseum in the fancy pants part of Waterdeep where a lot of players across the multiverse have enjoyed pit fighting for gold. I wanted to take it a few hundred steps further and made a ridiculously impossible IRL schedule that repeats every ten day (week).

It was supposed to be a sort of backup fun thing for my PCs, but they’ve ended up making it basically their primary interest for most of our games. I’m not complaining—I always take it as a huge compliment when my players prefer my homebrew content over the published stuff. It has slowed down their progress on “the real story” significantly, but they’re having a good time and I’m not here to ruin that for them. 

At the Race

One of the events in this schedule is rickshaw racing. The premise is that characters show up and sit in rickshaws being pulled by “Dragharns,” (a term I made up) elaborately costumed, and cast spells on each other in order to win. It’s great fun and I love the imagery of these incredibly slow “racers” just pummeling one another as they go around a dirt circle.

I took strong inspiration from a group of LARPers who like to dress up as horses for the costuming of the Dragharns, and created an entire culture around it with rules and expectations.  A sample Dragharn in a racing costume is presented below for you.

Your D&D NPCs can be vibrant, interesting, and even a little bit planned ahead.

At this event, one of the other racers became of interest to my players, so I instantly made him secretly involved in “the main plot,” of course. He was the worst and actually ended up murdering someone during the race. (And a bunch of people later on, too). I needed to know who this person was, and who he killed. Cue my new system.

1st New NPC: A Fresh Villain Via a Card

The bad guy in the race I didn’t want to be a pointless bad guy? (We all know where that can lead….) I just grabbed a fun NPC card with a creepy looking guy on it. It has a name I can use on the back, and I can pass it around for everyone to see. Now they REALLY hate this guy. “Just LOOK at him!” 

Ta-da! I stick his card in my always growing pile of “now important” NPCs, and no notes are needed. One down. For the other?

FIRST METHOD: Purchased cards. I love these cards and constantly use them/recommend them.

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2nd New NPC: A Victim of Circumstance Via My NPC Chart

I glance at my printed chart (download here) and pick a name that doesn’t have any notes jotted next to it. I pick one of the last names because it’s weird sounding and I know it will stick in my players’ heads. Bifad. Which I pronounced as Beef-odd. Oh, no! Bifad is dead! And look—that slimy rickshaw racing MC just cast illusory magic to make it look like the workers are carrying a sack of flour off the field! The drama!

Bifad got a quick note on my sheet and the name checked off the list. Clipped to my screen, I can quick reference these names, who they are, and a few character traits if I need them. Easy! And it looks like I planned the whole thing, like magic.

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3rd New NPC: Inspired by #2, Via My NPC Chart

A few sessions later, my PCs climb into Mount Waterdeep to meet with a monk who will supposedly shower them with wisdom. On the way in, trying to avoid accidentally going to Skullport, they run into a strange looking dragonborn. Almost like she has on a costume. She tells them her name is Fadbi, and she recognizes the players immediately. 

I didn’t plan to put her here. But when they entered the cave, for which I have these amazingly awesome animated maps, it seemed like I should have put something there.

Quick Glance at the Chart, Ready to Go

My party loves a new NPC. Maybe yours loves a quick fight or a puzzle. I dropped in another solo explorer and recalled (from my sheet in front of me!) there’s no follow-up yet on the murdered Bifad. So, I just reversed the name. It’s weird. They’ll love it. Thus, Fadbi, the human that is for some reason disguised as a dragonborn, is created.

Fadbi sees the party and knows THEY’RE the ones who chose not to do anything during the race the other day when her brother was brutally slain. Of course, she doesn’t know that they are above average creatures with the ability to resurrect, so she’s not as mad as she could be.

She says a few cryptic things and disappears into the caverns.  Since her name is just Bifad backwards, it sounded familiar to my players. I didn’t reveal it was the sister, and my players kept saying—this name… it sounds so familiar. What’s in your notes? Do we know this person?

When she revealed that Bifad was her brother, the whole tone at the table changed. Their voices went up about an octave, they were suddenly quite kind and apologetic, and they didn’t bother her further about her strange attire. She’ll show up again in some capacity. I have her in my back pocket if I need her.

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The Final Lesson: Choose to Stop Doubting Yourself

It is human nature for us to doubt ourselves. We suffer from negativity bias as a species. But as Game Masters, we are also in the unique position of being the sole creator of a universe entirely within our control.

When you have the ability to prepare in advance, use it. Check out the cards or Google Doc I linked above to help you out. But when circumstances dictate that you can’t prepare, lean into your ability to come up with things on the fly. Sometimes you’ll come up with something brilliant. And sometimes, you’ll come up with Gertruda. Either way, it will be fun for you and your players in those moments.

Your NPCs are the lifeblood of your world and campaign, so make them fun and interesting. Weird, even, if that’s your thing. Keeping your players interested in the fictional characters in your game is a great way to improve overall engagement and attendance.

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Closing Thoughts

In a tabletop roleplaying game, players build real emotional ties to our fictional characters. This means that NPCs are a critical aspect of the game and need to be given time and consideration in development. If you haven’t taken a look at the article yet, I shared a list of the tools I like to use for creating NPCs. Hop on over if you’re interested.

If you’ve come up with any tips or techniques that work consistently for you (or, you know, really don’t) and want to share, I’d love to see them in the comments below.

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Love, Malice. I hope you enjoyed the article! I'm here if you have any questions. Feel free to leave a comment below!

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