Actually, You’re an NPC in My World

3 minute read

Barbers are everywhere. So are NPCs.

Today my barber told me the story of how he and his wife traveled across the country back in 1969. He recounted every city they went to, in sequence. He told me the names of the hotels they stayed in, and what specific part on their VW bus needed replacing when they swung up to Montreal.

I’ve been a steady client for years, and the precision of his memory astounds me. I can’t remember what I did last Friday, and he can recall what day of the week it was when he watched the moon landing on TV. His powers of recall are mind-boggling .

His memory is one of those traits that becomes apparent when you spend any length of time with him. That and the fact that he loves telling stories. He has this endearing verbal tic: whenever he wants to steer the discussion back to the story he’s been telling, he’ll say, “Well, aaaanyway…” and continue recounting the story.

He’s politically opinionated. He likes sending letters to the CEOs of big companies. He thinks space exploration and science fiction are sort of silly. He cuts hair, I suspect, because it gives him a captive audience. He can tell stories over and over again. He can hone these stories and perfect the timing of his punchlines. For a teller of stories, it’s the perfect job.

He’s a character, and not just figuratively. He’s a non-player character. I can throw him into almost any campaign at a moment’s notice. He could show up as a half-orc bartender in D&D, an investigative reporter in Call of Cthulhu, or a chatty Settler in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. I don’t need to write down his stats; he’s not going to be a factor in any combat scene. He’s a means of revealing information to player characters, and because he’s been in town forever and cuts hair for a surprising number of important people, if the PCs treat him poorly he’s also the guy who will call down the heat on them.

I keep a text file with bullet notes about people from the real world, people like my barber. The notes are rudimentary — they’re just cues to help me pull up an NPC in an instant. Here are the notes for Jake:

(Jake) — barber, doctor, bartender, etc

  • older, wiry
  • storyteller
  • remembers /everything/
  • “Well, aaaaanyway…”
  • not a fan of The Man

When I use him as an NPC in a game I’ll just assign him a name on the fly and add notes along the way.

I find myself taking mental notes about the most interesting people in my life and thinking what they would be like in different settings. What would my shy, thoughtful coworker be like if he were an Orc? A Wizard? Sometimes I’ll take it further.

Going back to Jake, imagine if he weren’t the benevolent fellow he is in our world. What if he still enjoyed the company of others and reveled in telling stories, but also felt a compulsion to pepper his tremendously accurate stories with deliberate falsehoods? What if he loved sowing discord?

Tweaking him in this way takes no real effort, and provides an even wider range of opportunities. He could be an enemy agent, a sociopath who can’t help himself, or the servant of dark forces intent on causing greater harm.

I’d like to think Jake will always remain the charming, mildly rebellious soul he is in real life, but you never know. As a GM I may be forced to turn him into an Imperial spy or a manipulative Apocalyptic. Now there’s a story.

Image Credit

Crop of a painting by Edwin Lord Meeks – public domain