My NPCs never die. This is not to say that they are invincible. They can surely be reduced to 0 HP and never seen again in that particular game. But that only gives them new life, a life beyond the confines of any single game, in the meta-universe of campaign design. I’ve made a lot of NPCs over the years, many, many to be discarded and never used again. But some really resonate with me. Their personalities and characteristics, their roles in the game, make them not only very fun for me to play but also fun to structure games around. These are what I call my “stock NPCs” because they’re meant to be reused whenever I want or need them.
I don’t tend to have the same game group for more than one game at a time. Especially nowadays I seem to be having my “regulars” drift off into space and can’t get the same crew in attendance more than once. So stock NPCs lose a bit of their magic. I would rather the same crew see the same NPCs more than once in different games. I think there’s a good deal to be said about having expectations that makes it just as fun and exciting as being entirely in the dark. The magic of a stock NPC is in interacting with them under different circumstances, at least in my opinion. I love it when a DM brings in a character I saw in another game, and maybe this time we’re on his side, or he’s against us, and we expect one thing or another and maybe we get it, maybe we don’t. But there’s a fondness I have for those characters, because when I can get attached to a character, even if it’s not mine (there’s plenty of fellow PCs I miss having around) I have a lot more fun with the game and want to see them again.
That being said if there’s at least one player who’ll appreciate the stock NPC it makes me smile. One I tend to use very regularly is Sicily Blanche, a shopkeeper. In my early games she progressed from a nobody with a ye olde magic shoppe, to a legendary wizard making mad bank on the exploits of the PCs. Decked out in their unwanted trinkets, chests swelling with gold from their patronage, she personally worked on each of their latest commissions to insure that, Gods willing, they come again, and again, and again, and never stop coming. If the PCs died she’d go back to being the funny little girl with the pigtails who sold a magic item every year to passersby and made do on fake magic food, so she was determined that the PCs would always have the most madd lewtz available. Eventually over the course of two campaigns with the same crew she’d become an epic level wizard who designed a spell that would make her stores sentient beings which could not only produce items on their own, they could reproduce to create new stores wherever Sicily pleased. She’d become like a goddess of magic items.
It was delightfully ridiculous, but it let me have magic shoppes wherever the PCs went, because by then I had firmly stopped caring about the D&D 3.5 magic item economy, and anything to streamline buying stuff was a deliverance.
Another I tend to have a lot of ideas around is Karin Apuleius. She was one of my PCs in a short-lived campaign, who I then recycled into an NPC. Karin was a clumsy, awkward young historian and writer, who at the tender age of 23 had already written 57 books about various things in the campaign. At first, she was intended as a bit of humor on DMing, because all of her books were parodies of WOTC books like Libris Mortis and Lords of Madness which were based around in-depth explanations of concepts in the game world. A lot of her books were also “For Dummies” books. So she was a quest-giver, she gave exposition all the time, and she was also adorable and nice to the PCs in a world where hardly anything else was. Later on she became less a 4th wall concept and more embedded into the world, but she’s still clumsy, awkward, nice and writes a ton of books. She’s also still a great excuse to give people quests, especially if she tags along. Something that tended to happen in my games is that any time Karin tagged along she’d be crippled in some way so that she couldn’t do anything for the PCs but talk. So anyone who’d seen her before in my campaigns would await for my explanation of whatever accident made Karin dead weight this time.
I actually intended to write articles on my stock NPCs but I didn’t know if anyone would care. I wrote one about Sicily some time ago, but have become dissatisfied with it. Maybe I will do that, as it would give me a nice place to have them when I want them.
Do you have a pool of NPCs you recycle? I’d like to hear about them. Even if it’s just one shopkeep. Also, do you use your NPCs across different campaign settings? I tend to use mine wherever I can fit them, even running different settings. Though having them as figures across a single setting you always use would be much more organic.
Sound out about your experiences in the comments.