Leveraging NPC Relationships in Tabletop RPGs
People love to talk about how Tabletop RPGs (TTRPG) are different from video game RPGs because the world is “alive” or “dynamic”. The game is constantly changing and there are no limits to what you can do. This is true, but in my opinion, it’s because of the NPC relationships the players forge throughout their journey.
Sure, you can make plenty of choices on your own. Your group can make a lot of game or world-altering choices as well. But an enormous amount of these choices are available to you due to how you interacted with various NPCs throughout your journey.
The more positive interactions you have with NPCs, the more relationships you’ll have with the characters in your game. There are plenty of reasons you’d want to forge good relationships. For one, for the role-playing opportunities. Another reason is a bit more practical. You want to benefit from them.
You can gain a lot from forming a friendship with even the common folk in the various places in your game. They can give you tons of information on what’s going on in the world and can provide you with access to resources that you may not have access to otherwise.
Who Can You Leverage?
There are plenty of people or creatures that you can leverage. Generally speaking, these are typically NPCs with whom you’ve got a solid relationship with. For example, you or your party have done some favors for them and are a positive force in their life. These people feel compelled to assist you.
With that said, you don’t have to perform favors for people for them to be your friend or assist you. Simply treating people well or being a positive influence for their community can be enough for people to want to lend a helping hand.
So, what kinds of NPCs are beneficial to have a good relationship with?
Henchmen or mercenaries that you can hire are always great people to be friendly towards. For starters, you’ll already be on a good note with them since you’re (hopefully) compensating them well. Even if they don’t like you a lot, they’ll probably be nice to you in a professional manner.
It’s a great idea to treat these NPCs well and hopefully form a friendship with them for a few reasons. The most obvious reason is that these are your allies in combat. You’ll want them to fight with you and protect you. Keep their morale high and you’ll be well-rewarded from this perspective.
Guildmates or Fellow Adventurers
These NPCs are going to be a fountain of knowledge for people in your line of work. They’ll have specialized information on creatures, rare loot, and most importantly, potential jobs for you to partake in.
This type of information can be key as it’s a way to learn what equipment to bring on your next adventure or what gear you may need to seek out to tackle special creatures or difficult quests.
Depending on who you talk to, you may receive different kinds of information. More seasoned adventurers will impart first-hand knowledge, but less experienced adventurers may have to rely on rumors or pass on second-hand information. Regardless, new information is always a great asset.
Tavern keepers or Shopkeepers
If you ever need to know anything about the goings-on of a local town or city there’s one person you need to seek out. The local bartender. They hear everything, from gossip to rumors, and they know who is looking to hire people. Having a good relationship with the local bar staff is by far one of the smartest things you can do as a player.
Shopkeepers will see a lot of foot traffic. They’ll hear plenty about what’s going on in the surrounding area, and they’ll need to know this type of information to keep their business afloat. They also have access to their shop and suppliers which can provide quite a few benefits for your adventuring party.
Townspeople You’ve Helped
If you have a great reputation around town or in the community you are probably regaled as a hero and a positive influence by the common folk. Perhaps you’ve gone the extra mile for a few of these folk and are friendly with them as a result.
Townspeople NPCs can encompass the most modest of commoners or even the upper-crust of society. These NPCs are people who don’t have a more specific line of work like a shopkeeper, guild master, or adventurer. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t as influential as those NPCs though!
What’s in it for You?
Think of all of the NPC relationships you have in your campaign as your professional network. You help these people out and they may help you out because of your deeds or the reputation you have within their community.
It’s as if you helped Sam hit a close deadline at work even though it wasn’t your job to do so. The next time you have something that Sam could help you with, maybe you could call in a favor and ask for some help.
Except in the case of the game, it’s the captain of the guard giving you information on a weird artifact they found on patrol because you helped them bring in a dangerous criminal during your adventures.
So, how can you actively leverage your relationships to your benefit?
Discounts and Access to Rare Goods
Shopkeepers, in particular, have a unique set of perks. They can give you potential discounts on their wares! Getting buddy-buddy with the local adventurer supplier could save you a fair amount of cash throughout the course of your adventuring career.
Discounts are nice, but some games don’t have any problems with throwing money at the players. Another thing that a good NPC relationship with a shopkeeper could bring in is rare or unique items. These could be items or equipment that the players wouldn’t normally have access to purchase, but the shopkeeper can use their internal network to track down these rare wares and offer them to the party.
Assistance on Your Next Adventure
You may be able to convince your companions to take greater risks if you have a great relationship with them. Perhaps they’ll be willing to go the extra mile if they’re being compensated well and in a great working environment.
For example, a few NPCs you hired to help cart your equipment around could be convinced to suit up in some weapons and armor and help you in a pinch.
That being said, companions or hirelings aren’t the only NPCs that can help you during an adventure. Shopkeepers, merchants, or tradespeople can be enlisted to acquire or create tools or items that could help you in an adventure. You could even call in a favor from other adventurers or NPCs to lend a hand in your next fight.
Taking Care of the Homestead
Some game systems have rules or mechanics that revolve around the players acquiring and keeping a base of operations. This can act as a hub for the game where players can have a set location to constantly come back to, recuperate, and then prepare for their next big adventure.
These locations are typically large buildings, ships, or camps. There’s a hustle-and-bustle about them as the party fixes their gear and winds-down after a difficult quest.
But, who keeps the base tidy, and even more importantly, who protects it from thieves or would-be intruders when the party is away? NPCs, of course!
You can enlist the local townspeople as hirelings to work at your base of operations, but they’d most likely need to know that you’re legit. Having a good relationship with the NPCs near your base will quell their suspicions and can even convince them to work for you.
Adventurer NPCs will have an ear to the ground on the goings-on of the surrounding area. If they don’t know of a job, they may know some places that could see an emergence of work for adventurers like yourselves. This information could come at a price, but it could be worth it if it brings in a big payday.
The downside? NPC adventurers are also your potential competition. They may be wary to give you too much good information in case you take up all of their lucrative work. Guildmates will have less of an issue with giving you tips, hints, or aid since you have a mutual benefit to succeed for the good of the guild.
Joining a guild is a great way to get easy access to these lucrative contracts. The only negative part about taking a contract from your guild is that they may expect to be paid-out a percentage of your earnings. That being said, I’d say that it’s worth the cost.
Information and Rumors
Any NPC that stays in one place for a sizeable period of time will probably hear some good rumors. Rumors aren’t the most reliable source of information, but in many cases, there’s at least a sliver of truth in each rumor. The party can use rumors as a lead to follow towards better information.
But, rumors aren’t necessarily what you’re after from an old friend or some NPC you have a deep relationship with. These are people who you trust and they probably trust you as well. You’re looking for deep secrets, hidden information, or specialized information that most travelers wouldn’t be privy to.
The common folk or other more generic NPCs are going to be a better source of specific information than even tavern staff in regards to specific events within the community. For example, the tavern keeper knows that there was a break-in down the street. However, your buddy John knows which house it was and when it happened.
NPC relationships are built on your character’s reputation within the NPC’s community as well as their direct interactions with the NPC. NPCs that you are close with and have a positive relationship with are people who you can leverage for information, resources, and opportunities.
There may be other ways to gain these things in your game. For example, some details you may have learned through a conversation with a friendly NPC could also be found through investigating the scene of a crime. But, it’s a lot less effort to call up a friend compared to sifting through rubble to find a clue.
You’ll be able to ask for better favors from these NPCs depending on how much you’ve helped them or how often you’ve helped them. It’s the same as real life. People tend to help those who help them or their community. The more you’ve helped them, the more they’ll help you.
It’s generally beneficial to be kind and helpful towards most of the NPCs you encounter. Sure, there will be the occasional villain or jerk, but there’s a lot more to gain than there is to lose from building solid relationships with the NPCs in your game.