My latest product for the DM’s Guild — Trailblazers of the North — is up for sale.
It contains eight detailed nonplayer characters for use in your game. Though the background material on the characters ties them directly into the Forgotten Realms — and more specifically — into the Savage Frontier region from the Storm King’s Thunder storyline, they have utility in any snow and cold setting.
Designing compelling NPCs is more than a list of attributes: This one has one eye, that one a bum leg, and that one has a nasty habit.
It’s really about establishing a character’s motivation, personal code, background, personality, or present status that will effectively integrate them into an existing game. They can be walking-talking story hooks. But even more so, they are someone the PCs will develop a connection with, be it adversary or ally.
That’s a lot to pin on an NPC. That’s why the description of each NPC requires several pages.
Now, I certainly appreciate — and am a little in awe of — DM’s who can jot down three little things about an NPC and bring that character to life at the table so it satisfies all the same requirements I’ve listed. Such DMs are a marvel, and good fortune for you if you sit at the same table as them.
Most of us require a little more help than that. And that’s what a product like this is — a little bit of help.
No DM would actually try to incorporate everything in these writeups into a current game.
But if you are looking for those “three little things” for your prep sheet that sits behind the DM screen — then this product is a solid resource. You’ll find the 3 things you need to bring a character to life — and maybe a few tidbits more.
I also try to pull the curtain back a bit on another aspect of design, and that is the master chart. In this case, each NPC also hauls or trades supplies in the North. I’ve provided a list of supplies for each character.
But for those DMs that like to design or customize their own characters, I’ve also included the master list. Use it to build your own reference sheets. Take what you want, discard the rest. Sharing tips and trick are what it is about.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about how visual cues can really serve a creator in their efforts. Creative commons photography sites such as pixabay and unsplash are really great at providing sources of information.
To get in the mood, to put myself in the frozen north, I probably viewed well over a thousand photographs of snowbound landscapes. It had a profound effect on my design choices.
Some of my favorites — the ones that really ignited my imagination — are included in this product. Mushers. Snow-capped mountains. Alpine fishing villages. Northern Lights. If you are running Storm King’s Thunder or an adventure in an icy realm, all you have to do is show your players these photographs and transport them to these stark and beautiful places.