Plotting a Better NPC with the Rule of Three

In a previous post, I discussed the “Rule of Three.” That’s all well and good for descriptions, but how can that be used to build better plots and stories?

Simple, give each major NPC three plot ideas. These can be secrets, things the NPC wants to accomplish or things the NPC wants to stop. Everyone has goals and secrets, right? And you never know when you’re going to be strapped for ideas for an adventure, or when the PCs are going to go off the rails and shatter your carefully constructed plans…why not have a backup, a bit of insurance against these things. Plus it never hurts to give your NPCs a bit more depth.

The three ideas need not be complicated, a simple sentence will suffice and you can always flesh it out later if need be. It’s particularly important to be simple and quick if you are planning on the PCs offing the NPC in the game; there’s no need to write an entire novella for a character that’s just going to be around for one encounter.

The best part of this method is that it might give you additional ideas for future NPCs. Say you have an NPC that secretly is studying to be a wizard, wants to retire in peace and has a rivalry with a local farmer. Right there, you have three possibilities for future plots. When you’re having a problem coming up with a good plot, you can go back and revisit the plots you have written down for the NPCs. Suddenly, it might pop into your head that one of the NPC’s studies might accidentally summon a horde of minor demons. BLAMMO! Instant plot hook!

If nothing else, you have a better idea of how the NPC operates in his own head, right? Give it a shot!

[tags]Rule of Three,Game Mastering,GMing,Role Playing Games[/tags]

2 thoughts on “Plotting a Better NPC with the Rule of Three

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  1. I have a small rule that each notable NPC must be connected to at least three others on various levels on the power scale, negatively or positively. For example, one Paladin is in direct contact with a fey warrior who ascended to Godhood (and is a fairly common patron for some), is the sworn enemy of an incubus who works for the Devils (3.5 incubus BTW, meaning demon), and also keeps tabs on various regions and feeds that to the resident emperor in a nearby country who in turn tells her the overall opinion of how she runs Ancelot.

    It lets me build up entire networks and it means that if you end up killing one of them, you’ll have a bunch of others who will be willing to take revenge by calling in favors and allies for a prompt and very violent ass-kicking.


  2. It’s been my experience that the more background you pile into your campaign, especially in the early stages, the more the thing will come together in the later stages, creating a plotline that makes dramatic sense and creating the illusion that you planned it all from day one. Any trick that makes it easy to build that depth of background is a good one, as far as I’m concerned.


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