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Recently I started a small campaign to get practice for my bigger campaign, with my friends. I introduced them too an essential NPC but I guess they thought the shipwrecked sailor was kinda boring.

I tried having the sailor use "Sailor Slang" and other stuff but it did not cut it for my players. I feel if my NPC creation is flawed. I am now worried that my NPCs might be not good in my bigger campaign.

I made "Brom" the sailor Speak in a bland Scottish accent cuz i wanted the players to imagine he was a washed up sailor guy and that he has been through a lot because his crew died except he players, so he kinda is a little depressed after being traumatized by it, But he appears to be still a boring character to my players, I don't fancy making the same mistake again which kinda intimidates me on giving depressing back stories to essential NPC's.

So: How do you give NPCs personality?

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closed as too broad by Oblivious Sage, Erik, user17995, KorvinStarmast, Joshua Aslan Smith May 31 '16 at 19:58

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you mean when creating or acting the character? The latter is pretty well covered by rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/31741/how-to-voice-an-npc?rq=1 \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri May 31 '16 at 17:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you tell us more about what you did with the character? Could you tell us more about why you thought it didn't work? \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B May 31 '16 at 17:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well i kinda wanted him to be sorta dazed from the shipwreck. I had him talk in a rather somewhat bland Scottish accent. \$\endgroup\$ – Im a Ent May 31 '16 at 17:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I VTC'd as too broad because really this is just a huge topic. You might want to ask this on writers.stackexchange.com but focus it on creating character backgrounds (rather than specifically NPCs) and you should get a lot of help for techniques on creating characters from whole cloth. Alternatively if you are looking for RPG systems that handle this you may want to ask the question in our chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith May 31 '16 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think what's needed to answer this question properly is to know in greater detail how the players acted. In fact, the issue might not be your NPC at all, but a failure of the players to engage with the setting in a more general sense. Or, they might have found the NPC irritating. Another possibility is they simply thought his story not interesting enough of a "plot hook", or failed to recognize him as important. Each of these would have different approaches to solve. \$\endgroup\$ – user28753 May 31 '16 at 22:03
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There are some really simple things that I do to start giving an NPC a bit more personality - obviously different GMs will find different things useful but hopefully some of these will work for you too:

  • Give them a name - this is pretty obvious, but if they don't have a name they won't feel very real. Worth having a list of names you are thinking of using on one side ready to pick one out, or a name generator if you are online.
  • Find a picture - the internet is full of great character art that you can use as a basis for a description of a character or NPC. You may well want to customise it a little, but having a clear image can really help you describe them engagingly. Use this for details of their physical description and you can add things about how they move, what their body language is like in response to the players to make them feel more plausible. You don't want to dump all this on the players at once, though - include a few details when the opportunity comes up.
  • Think of something they like and dislike Everybody has preferences and by giving an NPC a couple of them - even if fairly arbitrary ones - you are giving them a little more shape. If it's just "likes toast, dislikes spiders" you still have an idea of the character and something that affects how they respond to the party, assuming you have a party who routinely offer toast and/or spiders to NPCs they meet.
  • Write a couple of quotes down - this is a really big one for me, in fact maybe it should have gone first, but I feel as though having a few personal mottos or sayings an NPC favours can really help to give them personality and can also help when the party meets them again in six months time and you're trying to remember how you played them. Perhaps they have a favourite format of joke or a little catchphrase - these are the kind of thing that players enjoy picking up on and certainly make all their interactions more fun.

I find that with those four points covered I have at least thought enough about a character that I have a framework for their interactions with the players. If I do a lot more it ends up wasting a lot of work because there are a lot of people the PCs never meet, so this hits a practical balance from my point of view. Allowing them to be shaped by their interactions with PCs also gives us more future context so characters that show up repeatedly tend to get fleshed out more- the important thing to bear in mind with that is to keep a note of those new details if the players might be likely to meet them again.

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Your question as written is "How can I give my NPCs personality?" but it sounds like your root problem is "How can I create NPCs that my players will enjoy interacting with?".

Give your NPC a reason to talk to the party. One reason the player characters can lose interest in an NPC is if they think that interacting with the NPC won't actually advance the plot. The player characters are important, busy people with very short attention spans. Don't schedule them for a scene that's just having a conversation with an NPC. Instead, give them a scene where they have to get key information from the NPC, and they have to convince the NPC to tell them. Or give them a scene where the NPC needs them to do something, and has to convince the characters to help.

Make sure your NPC is fun and not annoying. You wrote that your NPC was dazed from the shipwreck; dazed people are usually not fun to talk to. If you wouldn't enjoy having a conversation with a person with a given verbal tic, probably your players wouldn't either. Give your NPC a fun story to tell, or a silly belief that the players can laugh about.

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Besides the great post that @kviiri already mentioned, I would like to add that you could use well-known stereotypes. Stereotypes are good because they help to remember and to roleplay the behavioural characteristics of an NPC, but also because they make it easier for the players to relate to the different diosyncrasies.

For instance, if your NPC is a sailor, it might help you to think of him/her as Popeye (even if the NPC is not that character at all!) while roleplaying, by trying to include some of the tics you have seen on that famous character before.

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