Playing an NPC: The idiot

Aka, how to place your ego aside and entertain.

Imagine, your players are out on an adventure and they meet up with a stuck up NPC who gives them a hard time. The mood is a bit tense at the table and the players may struggle to get what they want from this NPC. (And according to some, unnecessarily so.) Not a few moments later, they meet up with another NPC with a similar, if not down right same, demeanor. They may have different traits, but the feel of the NPC remains the same and seems to be a reflection of the DM’s attitude towards the players. Statistically this is highly unlikely to happen in real life but oh so common while playing a pen and paper  RPG with other people. And naturally may lead to your players no longer having fun.

  • How does this happen?

For most DM’s this is actually a common theme. You may go out of your way to write out any and all NPC’s your players may meet along the way as unique and diverse individuals with each having their own background and interesting quirks. (Or you may think up of NPC’s on the spot. While not as fleshed out per se, they serve their purpose. )
Though they each share a common link, …the DM themselves.
Be it hubris, annoyance towards your players, having had a bad day, your players being a pain at the table, writing up only stuck up NPC’s, etc.
The list goes on.

In most cases (even subconsciously), a DM may see the perception of their NPC as the players opinion of the DM as a person. And as such, the weaknesses or failures of the NPC as a personal flaw or embarrassment.
If you’ve had a bad day or if your players are being dicks at the table, it’s easy to just take out your frustrations on your players in the game to try and establish order or remind your players that they aren’t behaving in a productive way. Whatever the reason may be, try and avoid going out of your way to use the game as a means to correct your players. Doing so (especially  for Meta reasons. While it may even prove effective.) isn’t fun for anyone. Instead, refer to ‘How to deal with difficult players’ for alternate methods and advice.

  • Methods of prevention.
    • In any case it’s always best to remember that your job as DM is not as an opponent towards the party, but rather as an ally to the story. As such, you stand above the actions and choices made by any and all NPC’s and creatures. This should allow you to feel more at ease and relaxed as the players and NPC’s progress the narrative of the story. Any decent player will know this as well.
    • Keep in mind that an NPC does not need to be difficult (in both combat or social conduct) to provide an interesting encounter.
    • Try and include fool characters (such as jesters, toadies, dumb brutes and the like) to get used to the idea that an NPC can be fooled or taken advantage of. Or that an NPC may intentionally act submissive to avoid unwanted attention (ex. from its master).
    • As a DM, you are the story teller, the arbiter and the main voice for the world you (and you’re players) have created. As such, you will always have the biggest dick or set of tits at the table. Your players know this, despite trying to poke a reaction out of you from time to time. If you fear being made fun of for the actions of one of your NPC’s, make it clear that it is their own doing and not a reflection of your own intelligence.
      How? By acting it out and even “overdoing it”. Overplay their reactions and eventual revelations that they messed up somehow. This way, there will be less doubt that whatever it was you did, was part of the story and just how you planned it. It’s important that your players get the impression that all is going according to plan or that whatever happened is perfectly fine.

      And got away with it too!
    • Should something unexpected go wrong? Don’t freak out and try to BS your way out of the situation. Instead, work with it and reflect on the above given advice. As Bob Ross said:

A recent discussion with one of my players however, made me realize that while despite having all of the knowledge above and actively applying it to your game, you may not always be aware of how your players perceive you. You may well be unaware during play that you have a bad mood or that you fell back on past mistakes. Reflect on the moment at hand and ask yourself (during play) if you are being unnecessarily unreasonable or not. Don’t worry as repetition is the key here and you will likely adjust your DM style over time. Again, what you wish to avoid is making every NPC seem like the same character, just played off with different traits.

Happy gaming!










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