NPCs are a GM’s best friend (as far as I’m concerned.) It’s one thing to describe the world to your players. It’s an entirely different thing to show them the world through the varied eyes of the people who call it home. Camp Adventure is no different. The NPCs of the setting are what bring it to life, both the counselors and the other campers.
Today, we’re going to take a look at some of the counselors and how I like to set up NPCs.
Here’s a section from the text about the counselors:
At Camp Adventure, we believe in real inclusion. It’s possible that campers will encounter people of races and backgrounds of whom they had only previously heard stories. The goal of Camp Adventure is to prepare would-be adventurers for the world. Our world, especially below The Line, is a diverse, complicated place. Camp Adventure reflects that diversity as actively as possible.
This is brochure-style speak, but I wanted to make sure to have it in the text. This diversity is important to me, in a lot of ways. To that end, the counselors I’ve written so far are a varied lot. Let’s meet them!
Dolruum (Head of the Camp) – Minotaur Bard
- More voice than horns
- Doesn’t take any guff
- Always wants to see people do their best
Gorrat Mountainbreaker – Ogre Fighter/Rogue
- Friendly to a fault
- Patient and kind
- Loves all reptiles
Senda Slepshir – Elven Wizard
- Proudly reckless
- Happiest when teaching others
- Fond of shenanigans
Bolbat – Hobgoblin Barbarian
- No tomfoolery
- Proud of the accomplishments of those he trains
- Loves romance novels
Gulplood – Bullywug Cleric of Light
- Pays attention to everything
- Devout but kind
- Gambles and games
This lot of folks is the first batch of NPCs I created, and they’re there because I needed them for the playtests I’ve run.
For me, for those purposes, an NPC needs to have a few things:
- A name. Always a name.
- A role. This is their class, or in the case of Dolruum, his role at the Camp itself.
- Some Background-type information, so I can roleplay them.
Like I said, this was for playtests. The actual stats behind these folks were largely unimportant. I have enough knowledge of where the numbers need to fall if I have to add bonuses to any of their die rolls. And for the spellcasters, I can skim the book really quickly if I need a spell. The information above is enough for me for one session of play. In those moments I need to make them memorable to the players, not worry about the crunch behind them.
If I were writing these NPCs just for my own purposes, this is where I’d stop. I might flesh them out a bit more, but the counselors aren’t the focus of the action in Camp Adventure. They’re not the ones in combat, or facing challenges; that’s the players and the kid NPCs. The role of the counselors in Camp Adventure is to be the larger-than-life badass mentors and instructors that the campers need to have an awesome summer and leave the camp as adventurers.
I am working on making this something that gets published, so these NPCs need more than that. Those descriptions above are a good start, but they’re just that: a start. If people who aren’t me are going to use these folks, we’ll need something more solid.
Let’s start with Gulplood.
Class and Level: Cleric 6
STR: 11 (+0)
DEX: 13 (+1)
CON: 9 (-1)
INT: 15 (+2)
WIS: 20 (+5)
CHA: 12 (+1)
Speed: 20ft., Swim 40
Racial Abilities: As Bullywug Entry in the Monster Manual
Light and Medium Armor, Shields
All Simple Weapons
Saving Throws – Wisdom (+8), Charisma (+4)
Skills: Religion (+11), Persuasion (+4), History (+7), Nature (+8)
Languages: Common, Bullywug, Amphibians, Celestial, Abyssal, Elven, Minotaur
Background: Seeker of the Truth
Devout, but Kind
Pays Attention to Everything
The Truth May Never Be Found, but I Will Never Stop Seeking
I Hold to the Faith and Will be a Light to Others
I Can’t Say No to a Deck of Cards
Spells and Abilities
0 Level: Light, Sacred Flame, Mending, Thaumaturgy
1st Level: Cure Wounds, Purify Food and Drink, Sanctuary, Shield of Faith, Identify*
2nd Level: Aid, Calm Emotions, Silence
3rd Level: Dispel Magic, Remove Curse, Sending, Suggestion*
* Domain Spells
Channel Divinity: 2/rest
– Turn Undead
– Knowledge of the Ages
– Read Thoughts
Blessings of Knowledge
Details: Though they are newcomers onto the the national stage in the 12 Marches, Bullywugs have become indispensable to many local economies. A number of different races who are unable to speak common share amphibious backgrounds, and Bullywugs are able to communicate with them. This is how Gulplood came to leave his family’s pod and venture out into the world. It wasn’t long before he was consumed by both a lust for knowledge and for the Ultimate Truth. His journeys have taken him far and wide across the 12 Marches, and down below the Line on more than one occasion.
Now, in his capacity as a counselor at Camp Adventure, Gulplood seeks the truths that can be found through teaching. He views every camper as an opportunity to enrich his view of the world, and he voraciously collects as much information about a camper’s views and options as he is able. The quests he gives are almost experiment-like, in that he varies them little from group to group; he wants to see how different groups react to the same situations, thus expanding his knowledge, albeit within a limited sphere.
So, there’s your fleshed-out version of Gulplood. Obviously, this is still a draft, and there’s a lot more that could be done here. The point of this was to make sure that the most important things were down here. From that perspective, it doesn’t matter what gear he has or how much gold is in his purse. With the stats and information above, most GMs could pick up Gulplood and run him without much issue.
That, to me, is the heart of writing an NPC: you have to give the GM what they need to make the character come to life. That’s priority number 1. Without that, the NPC is just a bunch of stats on a page and you might as well just lift a monster from the Monster Manual and re-skin it. The details of Gulplood’s Background (there will eventually be a fleshed-out version of a bunch of different Backgrounds) are what can bring him to life.
There are other details in his character that point to how to roleplay him as well. His spell selection is designed for what he sees on a daily basis. Calm Emotions for a group of rowdy campers? Silence? Yes, please. All of those choices speak to who this character is and can inform a GM of how to approach playing this NPC.
Awful Waffle, Awful Waffle
(I’m in a Salute Your Shorts mood. What can I say?)
For the first time in this series of articles, I think I’ve found a vein I want to keep digging up. In the next article or two, I’ll show you sketches of more NPCs, as well as some fleshed-out versions that you could pick up and use in your games right now. In the meantime, if you’ve got thoughts about NPC presentation in game supplements, or want to share how you NPC when you’re GMing, drop that stuff in the comments.
Until next time!