I was reading this post about reusing NPCs over at the Spirits of Eden and I realised I had a lot more to say than could fit in a comment. So thanks goes to Wyatt for inspiring this post on the topic.
Wyatt was writing about stock characters that he reused in different campaigns. I’ve done this several times and my players love it. I find that my players become even more intrigued when the NPC has been through some noticeable change since the last time the players saw them.
Really Old Friends
Mondo was one of the first major NPCs I ever made. I was new to roleplaying games and I wanted him to be awesome. So, of course, he was a powerful wizard who felt the need to show off his talent by having automatic spells cleaning his room and making potions, using mage hand to pull books off shelves, and so on. He had a cloak that reflected the current state of the sky above him, even if he was inside. He even had a pet pseudodragon. See? Awesome.
Grindor, on the other hand, was a travelling merchant with a giant bag of holding that contained his entire market stall and all his stock. He had an orc bodyguard, but was very friendly to the PCs. He even loaned a powerful sword to a trustworthy adventurer who really needed a leg up in a coming battle.
Skip ahead several thousand years and Mondo and Grindor are still around. When my wife discovered this, in game, she was very intrigued to find out why her first PC had faded into myth and legend, but her merchant and wizard friends were still going about their business.
These days Mondo has eschewed his ostentatious magic and lives in a cottage outside a large city. Mondo’s “awesome” cloak is gone, but he still keeps a small amulet with some of that fabric stretched over it to remind himself – and PCs – of how things used to be. His pseudodragon is long dead but its ghost keeps the old wizard company.
Grindor also carries on and while the PCs haven’t found out why he’s still around, I’ve got it worked out. What they do know is that he’s friends with Mondo. These ancient recurring NPCs have got to stick together.
Grindor also has a bigger shop now and some new assistants. His orc bodyguard is dead, but he now has an intelligent stone golem and a small freckle-faced girl helping him out. My wife is very suspicious that this could be her long-dead character’s descendent. No comment from me. New fodder for new stories.
I realise that most GMs won’t be progressing their world thousands of years. So here are a few more examples that have only half played out so far, but that I have high hopes for in the future.
Theo was the central NPC in a solo campaign I ran for my wife. Theo was the overworked understaffed captain of the guard and my wife’s character was his confidential informant. At the end of the campaign, Theo retired with ideas of starting up a detective agency once he spent some time relaxing.
Sooner or later, I’m going to need a detective NPC. Who better than Theo? My wife will love seeing him again and it’ll be great to see how he’s changed. Is he still trying to get the job done with an empty wallet? Is the new life less stressful? More stresseful? Maybe he’s still on vacation, fishing from the piers but can’t keep himself away from the job and starts unofficially investigating crimes that the guards don’t want to touch.
Another example is Sidney, a character I pre-generated for one of my players who just ran with the concept, playing him really well. He was a paranoid little man, working for an oppressive government. His pockets were full of stolen government stationery and coasters in a pathetic attempt to stick it to “the Man”.
Sidney was used in a one-shot flashback game reminiscent of the movie he Hangover and was very concerned about all the crazy things he had done the night before. “Do you know how many regulations we’ve broken?” At the end of the game he fled the country and his government.
When we next meet him will he be just as paranoid? Will he be a super cool spy? Will he be out of the business? He could be in deep with the criminal underworld, bringing his paranoia back in full – and this time with good reason.
Other Methods & Final Thoughts
There are lots of other ways to reuse NPCs. One of my favourite and most successful NPC (and PC) reuses involved a Parallel Universe, but I’ll save that for another post. I’ve also got some related advice on using NPC surnames and traits to create believability, so I’ll post about that soon too.
As you can see, I’ve got more to say on this topic, but this post has become rather long. I’ll finish up by saying that reusing memorable NPCs is a great way to create believability and verisimilitude in your world. On top of that, your players will love seeing these characters again, especially in a different light.
Have you ever reused NPCs in your games? What about “retired” PCs? What other methods do you have for reusing NPCs? I’d be interested to hear anyone’s thoughts.