I’ve been playing Dungeon World for a few months now, and one of the guidelines a GM is suppose to follow is name every NPC. Now I’m not good at coming up with names on the fly, so I always keep a premade list of names I can pull on whenever I need to make an NPC. This idea got me thinking. In some games I’ve played I never learned the names of any NPC sans the BBEG and the quest giver. Now I don’t expect players to remember every NPC I ever threw at them and I’m not going to remember all of the NPCs I meet on the rare occasion that I get to play, but it was weird that I can’t remember any NPCs other than the two I mentioned earlier.
I think this stems from the same problem that a lot of GMs run into. They have to cover so many different aspects of the game that they forget to put details into the world. There is a balance, granted, between giving the world flavor and bogging the game down. That’s up to the individual GM to decide how much detail their group needs/wants. Here are the base details I give for every NPC.
- Eyes-Strange, Wild, Dead, Stern, Closed, Angry
- Hair-Wild, Immaculate, Helm, Fancy Hat
- Clothes-Plain, Strange, Rich, Royal, Common
- Body-Fat, Flabby, Built, Fit, Gangly
Notice a few things. First off those four areas are the first things a PC would see. Always hit those four areas. Next the details I get are a little generic. Weird huh? No where up there did I write Green eyes or blue tunic. Let the players fill in those details. Odds are they will come up with something great in their heads without you having to put it there. This trick is used in good horror movies all the time. Take the movie Saw (first one). When the dude at the end of the movie (spoiler alert) cuts off his own foot, the viewer doesn’t see it. We don’t see any saw or foot or severing, yet this part of the film is horrifying. Why? Because the viewer is filling in the details and is coming up with something even more gruesome than what someone could show them. Use this with your NPCs. Give them something descriptive but don’t go so specific that the player can’t come up with any details on their own.
After that if you want to come up with more details try to cover the other four senses the best you can. Describe what their voice sounds like.
- Voice-Scratchy, Booming, Silky, Sweet, Dreadful
If you want to go a step further describe smell.
- Smell-Flowers, Incense, Sweat, Body Odor, Manure
Touch and taste would have to be a case by case scenario due to the fact the most of the time a PC will not touch or taste an NPC, but you get the idea. Each of these details provokes an image without filling in all the blanks. That I feel is the level anyone who GMs should aim for. It’s the same reason most people prefer the book to the movie. They can fill in the details and make it their own. Once a person personalizes something it sticks with them better.
Thanks for reading mates.