Aka, We meet again, Mr. Bond…
In games, we often see waves upon waves of minions (or often called ‘Mooks’). Even in tabletop and roleplay or even movies, we see a lot of unimportant faces creating an obstacle for our heroes. At times though, we notice a few characters standing out above the rest (even if they are still minions at the end of the day). These individuals may be slightly taller, larger, don’t wear a helmet, have a name, or are equipped better than their standard rank and file allies. Here we could immediately recognize these individuals as not simply standing out in presence but also in ability when compared to their comrades.
These characters have a much bigger chance to be remembered, depending on just how memorable they were. How much they stood out.
This is especially true for roleplay situations. A GM will always try and make his ‘big bad evil guy’ or ‘end boss’ stand out and have their encounters be the most memorable. But why stop there? Good GM’s would argue that every session should at least have the chance to be memorable.
By certain memorable events or even encounters, for example.
In this regard, we can also focus on making minor characters stand out.
Be it with interaction or even in a combat situation.
To make our NPC’s stand out, we can give them a memorable name ( or even a nickname), have the NPC be influential with the party or have them contribute to- or even deduct from their cause. Give them a more detailed description and emphasize their mannerisms. Applying a voice when you speak for them and acting out their behavior are great ways to remind your players of just who they are dealing with when they meet them again. It’s easy to forget a face in the crowd and that’s exactly what we don’t want to happen.
All of this also applies in a combat situation.
Consider the Roman legion or any standard military organisation.
Every soldier in a unit will look and behave similar to each other, save for their commanding officer. We know that this one NPC stands out, we can see it. Considering his promotion, possible veterancy and better (or just different) equipment, we can deduct that this NPC may be better at combat than their comrades or at least give them a unique appeal.
I have talked about adjusting your combat encounters to suit the flow and ease of the fight. In my advice, i suggested having an upgraded unit/NPC in the fight (in that case, an alpha wolf). All of the above mentioned advice can easily be applied here. If your standard wolves have dark grey fur, give your slightly bigger alpha a coat of white. Or even give that one wolf a specific name that the party could have learned before the fight.
Naming an enemy is a sure way (and a damn clear sign to your party) to signify that this isn’t your standard bestiary entry. Veteran players (or dirty meta gamers…) may even know several bestiary entries by heart by now. And could know that a troll has certain stats and abilities. This allows them to gauge the fight and tackle it in their standard way. This tends to remove most tension of the fight unless you specifically took an enemy that was way out of their league to begin with. Nothing throws these players off guard more than specifically describing and naming the enemy NPC.
I once took a standard troll, gave him a few levels in barbarian, several rage powers and monster traits related to rage and rending. I gave him extra health and hitting power and named him ‘Ogbür the Murderbeast’. Then I went out of my way to give a picture/description of him to the party. I had several stages set up in the top of his cavern, from which Kobolds beat drums and chanted his name, ‘Ogbür! Ogbür! Ogbür!’. And at his defeat, gave him a second wind ability that had him return to full health and a stage 2 of his rage (as planned beforehand). Suffice to say, my players did not have an easy time and even had to deal with kobolds tossing alchemist fire and bear traps down below to hinder them further in an already dimly lit cave. It was an interesting fight and one that my players have referenced several times now.
Try and keep this in mind, before you toss several dozen generic rats or the next stat based, dull encounter your parties way.