Recurring NPCs, (sometimes called “Town NPCs” because they are characters who hang out with the adventurers in “town”) are a way of keeping your players in touch with your chapter or event story. Each chapter or event should have several NPCs which serve as the focal point for the plot. This is not to say that the focus IS these characters, but rather that the focus on the players comes through these cast members.
These plot controlled characters, or Cast, can serve your plotlines in many useful ways.
Designing a Cast
In the absence of visible plot, your chapter’s theme and atmosphere will be carried through these recurring NPCs. Think hard about who you’d meet if you hung out in your game world. Who are the people who would get you involved in the action?
The cast will serve as the hooks and foils for much of the chapter’s plot, so they need to be versatile enough to get involved in different plotlines. Create NPCs who seem both relevant to this year’s storylines and relevant to the character’s general motivations. If your chapter runs a war plotline, consider an NPC who is a high ranking officer in the army. If there’s a lot of ancient magic in your plot, the mage’s guild master might end up playing a critical role.
In some ways, your cast members represent what is relevant about your chapter’s plot. They can stand-in for entire groups or factions – for example there might be a city of Sarr nearby, but there’s one matriarch who comes to town and represents the group.
Even the bad guys can have cast members. There’s a lot of intrigue and drama possible if there’s a questionable character in town you can spy on, assissinate, or make deals with. It also makes the conflict with the villain very present, local, in-your-face. You’ll have to come up with a way for the villains’ lackeys to walk around in town without getting jumped by every do-gooder with a sword. Perahps the character is an ambassador, a slave who can escape now and then, or a turncoat.
Cast members should have big, memorable personalities. Take the time to design interesting characters who are fun to interact with. In addition to a character history, hobbies, pet peeves, habits, and neuroses are great ways to bring a character to life.
How to Use a Cast
Because Cast members are relatively accessable, they should try to develop personal relationships with most of the players. This gives you an excuse to hook nearly any group with nearly any cast member. Since cast members often represent some element of the game’s theme, plot, or atmosphere, it gives players a personal way to relate to those concepts. For example, if your season plotline is about a war against Orcs, having a soldier or orc that the players can talk to gives them a backdrop to react to the story even if they’re not directly involved in the plot.
Cast members need to be able to spout information about the setting. They are the player’s proxy for the citizens in our imagined game world. For example, the players may want to know if their spell worked and the crops stopped dying. Due to the way LARPs operate, they probably can’t just visit a farm and take a look. But they can talk to one of the local cast members, who likely knows a thing or two about the local conditions.
The Cast member’s role in the story need not be cut-and-dry. These characters can be more intersting if they’re complex. Maybe their allegiances shift over time, or they have certain topics about which they are untrustworthy. You should seldom be able to peg a cast member as a “good guy” or “bad guy”… they often have internal conflicts and gray-area motivations just like any player character.