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RPT Newsletter #025 | 8 NPC Parley Tricks

Stephan Hornick

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8 NPC Parley Tricks
From JohnnFour | Published May 2020, updated May 20, 2021

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #025

A Brief Word From Johnn
This week’s tips were inspired by a recent article, “Speaking NPC” at RPG.net by Greg Chatham: How to Speak NPC

It’s a nice and short article and it has three really good tips on talking better as your NPCs. I think this is a great topic because your players experience much of your world and story through conversations with your NPCs. And the better your conversations go the more fun everyone will have and the more compelling your campaign will be.

FYI, I’m sending this issue early because it’s a long weekend here in Canada and I’ll be away on Sunday.

Also, I’ve just changed web site hosts for RoleplayingTips.com and it’s going to take a few days for your ISP’s “DNS zone files” to be updated. In english, that means you might not be able to reach the site or email me until the new domain info has reached your Internet provider. Frustrating.


1. Do Not Use Contractions
In Greg’s article [see my comments above for the URL] he advises not to use contractions when “speaking in NPC”. It’s more dramatic to say “it is your misfortune”, “do not think to presume” and “you cannot understand my woe” than “it’s”, “don’t” and “can’t”. Great tip!

There are times when contractions are OK. But just be aware that they ruin dramatic speech.

2. Avoid Swearing
Using modern swear words has always struck me as wrong when roleplaying NPCs in a non-modern setting (i.e. fantasy, sci- fi). I still let the occasional profanity slip through when in-character, but I’m working on it.

Before you play again, decide what the “bad words” are in your world and consciously use those instead. Even if they sound funny at first, everyone will get used to them – and they’re much better flavour-wise than using modern ones.

3. It Is Arrogant To Assume
It is arrogant to make assumptions about people. So, when playing arrogant NPCs start making assumptions! For example, which is more effective:
  1. The grizzled veteran turns to you and says “Hey, are you any good in a fight? There’s a weapon against the wall behind you.” or...
  2. Without even glancing back at you the grizzled veteran spits out “Hey musclehead, grab that blaster behind you and make yourself useful. And don’t drop it!” [Good use of a contraction there, by the way ]

4. Um, A Classic Error
Avoid all the stalling and hesitation words like um, er, like, you know, ah… Everyone uses these words and the best way to stop is to tape record yourself for a little while and listen to the playback. Then make a conscious effort to use them only when playing NPCs that use them. Every other time these little demons water down your acting and sabotage your villains drama.

5. Timid NPCs Pose Choices And Problems Instead Of Making Decisions
Maybe you know somebody like this. Instead of reaching a decision quickly and decisively, they flounder, worry about all the bad things that could go wrong with any choice and would rather suggest more choices than just choose.

Try this out next time your players hire a guide who is a little timid:

Guide: “Should we go left or right, sir?”​
PC: “I thought that was your job? Let’s go right then.”​
Guide: “But if we go right we could get ambushed.”​
PC: “Let’s go left then.”​
Guide: “But if we go left we could lose a lot of time. And the way looks very dangerous too.”​
PC: “Well then, what do you suggest?”​
Guide: “I do not know but we better decide quick because it is getting dark out.”​
PC: “[Sigh] OK. Let’s camp then and discuss it.”​
Guide: “Oh, but if we camp here we could be noticed by bandits.”​
PC: “Let’s camp over there then, behind those rocks.”​
Guide: “Ohhh, but snakes and scorpions often lair in those kinds of rocks.”​
PC: “Well then, what do you suggest?”​
Guide: “I do not know but we better decide quick because it is getting dark out.”​

Shall I continue or are you ready to punch this guide in the head yet?

6. Jason’s Tips
Jason, a Roleplaying Tips subscriber, had these great tips:
  1. Speaking in the 3rd person for some characters can make them sound different.. I played a wizard in MERP once and said stuff like “Wheston is not a man of any small girth” “Wheston will guide, be not afraid lass” etc..
  2. A note you can make maybe is to watch out for contagious character voices. In Spelljammer, whenever they met a pirate it wasn’t long before everyone was a pirate without really knowing it..
  3. Use of objects to change your voice is good too.. paper tubes.. mini-tape players played fast or slow…
Thanks Jason.

7. Adjust The Volume
When your NPCs are speaking with your players, try speaking loudly or quietly once in awhile. Loud NPCs are always memorable and yelling is easier to do than trying to keep an accent consistent.

And whispering sure does make the players lean forward and become attentive! In fact, players have been known to shush other players up just to hear a soft-voiced NPC.

8. Dealing With Rude Or Aggressive Characters
Here’s some great tips from a web site about, of all things, preaching for ministers. These will help you when your players start to treat your NPCs rudely:
  1. Don’t be intimidated.
  2. Look the person straight in the eye while you answer the question.
  3. Cut the attacker off by turning your head, before you finish your response, and calling on a new questioner when you’re ready. This keeps the heckler from dominating the discussion.
Just be sure to use those techniques in-character, PC vs. NPC, otherwise you’ll make it personal and offend your players.