Creating NPCs- a 3 Stage Recipe

You know, I've been struggling a lot in my past with portraying my NPCs. You see, I just couldn't connect with them enough. I didn't know how, and I couldn't find what I need from them and it was just "hi, I'm cardboard character number 3, nice to meet you..." Didn't like that, of course, and I wanted to change that. At about the middle of last year, about May or something like that, I've found a solution that works for me. It's not perfect, of course, and it's quite longer than the normal way, but it does work for me.
The trick itself is made of 3 stages:

  1. Writing a description of the character, as though I'm describing her or him to someone else. "You know, Effy is nice and all, although a bit depressed all the time. We had hard times in the past, she running away and I'm rushing after her to save her from finishing in some kind of insane asylum. Still, she's a good girl, and I can promise you that it is past history, nothing to bog your mind anymore..." Something like a paragraph or 2, and we've got a character. A basic one, not so deep and round one, but a character there is, and we know how to describe this Effy if we'll ever have to.
  2. After we finish with this, we're gonna think about a dialogue that she can have. Effy can look for a job, be on a date, or hire someone to kill her husband. All fair in love and war, after all... "-I need you to kill him. -What? -You've hear me, it's... He just knows about us, about this. -I... I can't kill him; he's my friend, Effy. -Who do you choose? Me or him?" We get a little bit of character, a little bit of a better understanding of our Effy, many lines to use to get her thinking, and so on...
  3. The last stage is through an action. Effy doesn't live in a vacuum where no one can reach her, and in one day or the other, she'll have to act. If we'll think about it now, thinking about her way of action and her style of action will be much easier. "It was the following morning when they've found him. He's body was torn apart, a kiss mar on his neck. Effy looked at it from afar, throwing her lipstick on the ground and looking as they take him. She rushed to her car a short time afterwards, and started the engine. She drove after the ambulance, sunglasses and all, just as she was told, and went full speed. A moment before the impact, before the hit, she jumped out of the window and filmed the fire that went on..." Again, nothing too spectacular, just a glimpse of what she can do and of how she does it. We can learn that she does what she's being told, that she got great instincts and reactions, and that she for one reason or another she wanted to record the success.
After I've got these three little things, about a page of material, I have a greater glimpse of who the character is. I can see how Effy talks and thinks, how manipulative she is, what happened to her in the past, and how she records her successes and so on...
And... This is my way of creating NPCs nowadays. How about you? How do you create your NPCs? How does it help you to connect with them?


  1. Since I'm a bit of a lazy GM when it comes to NPCs, I tend to always go for shortcuts. This is mainly because there are only a handful of NPCs that the group will definitely come into contact with, everyone else is a maybe, depending on their actions. So I tend to do this: http://shortymonster.co.uk/?p=48

    Basically having an "average" template, and modifying it based on the needs of the NPC in question, then adding a name and a quirk. It's quick and dirty, but for the times when the players are meeting someone for the first and last time, I don't find it worth the effort to fully flesh everyone out.

    1. Your comment is as inspiring as always. It is surely something that I've gotta try. I do use, when caught red handed, characters from movies as NPCs; but this, on the other hand, looks like something really interesting. Does it work well?
      For me, though, there is no such a thing as an NPC that my players are going to meet only once. I don't have many NPCs in my game, so everyone that I do bring to the table has to justify that.
      Thanks again for your comment.