As DMs, how can we ever predict or fathom what goes through the heads of our players most of the time. Where the randomness of the game boggles the imagination (and we have a rather big imagination) is on the subject of NPCs.
How many times have you created a fledgling NPC who you think is the key to the game and will be the darling of this adventure only to see your little murder hobos kill it with no impunity? My first venture into the dreaded world of running a rpg saw notebook after notebook that basically became an NPC graveyard. I still have them and perusing them is like visiting the grave of a dear friend. Ye died too soon.
So, believe me, it is with a bit of sadness and trepidation that I share these NPCs with you. And, respecting the dark season we are in, we’re going to look at monstrous little NPCs that can be easily adopted into your party as companions, minions or guides. Each of these will need to be fleshed out, of course, for your campaign type and character’s levels, but all can be useful in bringing a bit of reality to your game; if not outright hilarity or drama.
- Zekt, the Immortal
During one of our campaigns, my players visited a place of storms filled with creatures both great and small that had been locked up for their crimes, their own actions or just by their own damned luck. One of the small was a weak goblin named ZEKT.
Zekt was a simple goblin servant whose job it was to simply be a guide in the hold of a dragon of living lightning. One of my characters had been separated and was in the hold trying to find information on what the hell was going on. Now, mind you, this player was in the practice of gathering followers. I don’t know if you’ve had the pleasure to DM for a player like this, but they are always on the lookout for useful and colorful companions to add to their little ‘army’. Now, they did not travel with said army, but, most of the time, they were relegated to his ship unless they had a talent that proved useful in the current adventure.
But, Zekt was a fodder character that meant nothing to the story and I simply created him on the fly. Who hasn’t done that? But how many times has that character become the party mascot? Well, when said character escaped the keep, he brought Zekt with him. After a great many encounters that would prove deadly for the any other expendable NPC goblin, Zekt came under the delusion that he was immortal. Goblin logic: I have faced death multiple times and, yet, I stand. Therefore, I cannot be killed. And he announced such everywhere he went.
“I am IMMORTAL!” became his battle cry as he began to throw himself into danger more and more. But self-preservation always kicks in and you usually found him skulking in the shadows anyway. But the delusional Zekt announced every encounter survived as proof to his invincibility.
Now, you can simply use the miniscule numbers in the Monster Manual or scale him for you adventure, but it’s not any fun unless the little idiot can be squished at any moment, right? As DM you can also just play it by ear and chose to dispose of him when there’s no other option. I always placed him on the battle map much like any NPC who happed to have the misfortune to be following my players. But most of his charm was between battle banter. Drop him your campaign and see what fun you can have.
(Art by Even Amundsen)
2. Durr, the Bugbear of few words
Now, the next NPC is from a game played over a decade ago. This was back before a lot of us ever thought of most monsters as ever being PCs or viable NPCs. The monster manual was not the place for that. Then came DURR.
During one campaign into the Underdark, my party came upon a Bugbear who was lost and had the good fortune of not being killed immediately. I think that, once they found they could communicate with it, they thought it might be to their advantage to try and make all of that bulldozing strength useful. You see DURR, as he became known as, was a rather large bugbear. His strength and endurance were legendary. The only problem was he had an intelligence of around 4 or 5. Maybe less. It’s been a while, as I said.
All I remember is that we read through the 3.5 books and decided that either by some written rule or homebrew that Durr could only understand 15 words. It was probably a DM decision on the spur allowing them to keep the Bugbear as a ‘pet’ but give them a sense of the difficulty in dealing with him. So, they chose 15 words and struggled on.
Now, Durr was not like the Bugbear you find in the Monster Manual, but could be if you want. He was an exception to this rule and was strong for his kind, but dumb for a bugbear. And you could totally pick many of the monsters or monstrous races in and out of 5E and do this same thing. This will give your party some agency and it might be a great reward for them not being murder hobos
Right Side Picture from Monster Manual 3.5/Art by Wayne Reynolds
3. Dan, the clockwork man
Now, Dan was definitely a throwaway character. My party had been digging though a puzzled and trapped labyrinth of a dungeon and ended up in a room set up like minesweeper. They were being chased, so they moved on with a bit of urgency. I took any option of flying away and watched them muddle though this landmine ridden room pretty handily. Also in this room were several random NPCs who had found themselves trapped here also.
There were some really interesting characters here; any of which would enrich their adventure. But DAN was not one of them. He was just a little bit of fun I had found on Pinterest. He was a simple clockwork soldier with no indication of where he came from or how long he had been there. He was just simply there. And, as always, he was one of the few survivors along with the party. In fact, he survived to the final door leading to the boss battle. Being a programed soldier, he went straight for the door and no one thought to tell him to wait. So, when he opened the door, he was immediately hit by a powerful blast from the boss that awaited them.
Dan was destroyed immediately. I thought that was the end of it. But, in those short few minutes, the party had become attached; especially one particular player. That player made a point of trying to gather the left-over parts to get him reassembled later. Being clockwork and seeing the personal attachment, I decided to drop a little caveat for a later adventure. Most of what was found was charred and melted parts, but one particular part, his chest emblem, was unscathed. If your PCs are really insistent to rebuild, they will have to find an artificer or master of a clockwork type of forge. There’s a lot of story there.
(Clockwork Soldier from 5E Monster Manual)
Another NPC from the same dungeon was a certain Nothic. Now this one was placed for a reason. This NPC was placed as a cautionary tale. You see, one of the PCs was a rather intelligent (nearly godlike at 20) gnome wizard who could not get enough knowledge and was always perusing books everywhere he went. He loved all knowledge; lore, history, gods, heroes, primordials, but loved especially anything magic.
Now, if you read the writeup in the Monster Manual, the Nothic are cursed archanists who have dipped too deep in the well of arcane knowledge. I had really intended on this Nothic becoming part of the party. They found him playing librarian in the middle of the dungeon and, although he began as an antagonist, he quickly became cooperative when his life was in danger. And, if you read over the abilities of the Nothic, you would know that they are quite useful. So they killed him almost immediately.
I think the player I had intended to preach to got wind of it and nipped it in the bud. Of well, good luck adding this to your encounters.
(Picture from 5E Monster Manual)
5. Cloaker sidekick
This is an NPC for a very specific adventure. Cloakers are a very dangerous lot that can camouflage themselves and envelop their prey in their cloak like bodies. They are also intelligent and gather in enclaves for protection. They are chaotic neutral and have a humanlike intelligence. So, the setup would be an enclave that feels a common threat and sends one of their own to accompany the party on an adventure to end said threat.
They communicate in undercommon so it’s not beyond doable. This NPC could be a handy add on for extra muscle in a mid to high level adventure. It also gives you a chance to expose the party to a race that doesn’t usually get much light. I won’t go into detail now, but there’s a great deal of interesting info on them. All that, and it can disguise itself as a cloak… Read up and use them in your next campaign.
(Cloaker pic from the 5E Monster Manual)
6. Baz, the Onikin slave
Back to the stormworld adventure I mentioned earlier. One of the races I used were homebrew descendants of the monster, ONI. The Onikin were touched by the blood of the Oni and had a very asian feel to it pulling from the mythology of Japan and, in particularly the gods Fujin and Raijin.
But our PCs came in contact with one particular member of this race during a rather crude slave sale. One of the PCs (same one who has that knack for gathering followers) purchased BAZ and immediately freed him. With no way of getting home safely, he decided to follow the party into the belly of the beast as it was.
Baz was a bookkeeper for the most part. But he was rather intelligent and, thus, was thought to be useful. All according to what homebrew you go with, there are traits like monstrous visage as they have the look of a Oni with horns and affinity to magic. There’s a lot you can do with a character like this; either keep him a minion or level him in magic or martial arts.
(Art by Nico Fari on Artstation)
7. Efreeti in a bottle
Once again, this was a random find during an adventure that I decided to make much more. The write up in the Dungeon Master’s Guide is where I started. But it got the high roll; so 3 wishes? I decided that since in my world his connection to the plane of fire was mostly blocked or, at least, strained, his power was not that cut and dry.
The Efreet was trapped in the bottle to do someone’s bidding, but the genii’s power was as discombobulated as was his connection to the plane. He could fight for his master, but the wishes would not be that easy. It became nearly a leved NPC struggling with his own abilities. The Efreet became loyal to his master without being compelled. He followed him as a minion looking forward to the day when he could grant the wishes his master so richly deserved.
(Art by Gaudibuendia on Deviantart)
8. Awakened Owlbear
This is an NPC that I have in development. I was creating a monastic way for a set of monks when I said to myself, what if a monster became awakened and felt guilt and remorse for following a dread necromancer and vowed to redeem himself and his family in the eyes of those he hurt.
This worked because the Way was one of penitence. Now, you don’t have to go as far as to make this awakened Owlbear a monk or even an owlbear. Basically, your party has come across a strangely intelligent monster. Will they just kill it? Will they come to understand what it’s becoming? No telling. I just think the whole idea leads to great roleplay.
(Art work by Mezomei on Reddit)
9. Darkling minions
During an encounter in a shadow demiplane, the party comes up against a pack of Darklings that serves the dark master you’re trying to defeat. Now, what was expected was that they fight through them. Who could predict that one of them would try and intimidate these wretched creatures? And who would have seen it succeeding powerfully?
That’s exactly what happened and a pack of 5-10 darklings served the party through the adventure and beyond. In fact, they were more than happy to leave the shadow plane and become servants to the one who had intimidated them in the first place. But, can you trust them? That’s the question.
(Picture from Volo’s Guide to Monsters 5E)
10. Shield Guardian
This is another one in development. As printed in the Monster Manual, the Shield Guardian ‘lives’ to protect their master. And their master is the being who wears the amulet that has power over the Guardian. So, this could easily turn into a helpful NPC.
You can make this guardian in any image you wish. I could totally see one that resembles an elf or dwarf. Like a walking statue.
This is a great opportunity to bolster a small party with a lack of muscle. Now, the Shield Guardian is a CR7 so maybe scale it or add it to a high level campaign. OR maybe develop it for a PC. Hmmm. I have some work to do.
(Art from 5E Monster Manual)
NPCs are one of those gems of DMing that can add drama, comedy and depth into the game. Work hard on some, but don’t be afraid to drop a random NPC in a situation with no plans for the future. And let the story and the PCs take it from there.
Let us know what some of your NPC stories are. Telling the old ‘war stories’ is a way for us to teach and encourage one another and we love hearing them. Drop those here in the comments of come join us on our social medial platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.