NPC

meaning and definition

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    What is an NPC?

    NPC stands for “non-player character.” It is a character in a roleplaying game that is not controlled by a player but by the game’s codebase, an administrator, or is written as part of the background or environment to enhance storytelling.

    NPCs are used to fulfill various roles such as quest givers, shopkeepers, or adversaries, contributing to the depth and immersion of the game world.

    The concept of the NPC has been around since the early days of roleplaying games. Initially, NPCs were conceived as part of tabletop roleplaying to populate the game world with characters other than the players.

    Over time, this concept was adapted into text-based games and video games, becoming a fundamental element of game design and narrative development. NPCs are ubiquitous today in both MMOs and single-player action and adventure games.


    NPC FAQs

    How do NPCs differ from player characters?

    NPCs are controlled by the game’s mechanics or game masters, not by players. They often serve specific roles like providing quests, information, or challenges, whereas player characters (PCs) are the avatars through which players interact with the game world and its inhabitants.

    Can NPCs become as important as player characters in a story?

    Yes, NPCs can be as important as player characters in driving the plot and creating a rich, immersive world. In many games, particularly story-driven RPGs, NPCs play crucial roles in the narrative and can have deep backstories and complex relationships with PCs.

    What makes a good NPC?

    A good NPC is memorable, serves a clear purpose in the game, and enhances the narrative or gameplay. They should have distinct personalities, motives, and appearances that make them stand out and enrich the player’s experience.

    Can players influence the behavior of an NPC?

    In many games, players can influence NPCs through their actions, decisions, or dialogue choices. This interaction can alter the NPC’s behavior, relationship with the player, or even the game’s outcome, providing a more dynamic and interactive experience.

    Is there more than one type of NPC?

    Yes, NPCs come in many types and serve a variety of purposes. For example, NPCs that serve as fodder for gaining XP and leveling up in a hack-and-slash game might be called monsters or mobs (short for “mobiles”). NPCs that are part of the background ambiance and do not have a character sheet are known as VNPCs or “virtual NPCs.”

    Myths about NPCs

    One common myth is that NPCs are just background elements and can’t influence the game’s narrative significantly. Depending on the game, however, NPCs can be central to the storyline and deeply impact the player’s experience. For example, in roleplaying-intensive games, it is much more common for NPCs to play important parts in ongoing plots.

    Another misconception is that all NPCs are generic and uninteresting; however, many games feature NPCs with rich backstories and personalities that contribute significantly to the game’s depth. Even in games with generic or randomized NPCs, player characters can often train certain skills on them, such as pickpocketing.

    NPC examples

    • In a fantasy RPG, an NPC might be a wise old wizard who provides the player with an important quest to retrieve a magical artifact.
    • In a sci-fi text-based game, an NPC could be an alien merchant selling rare items and information to players.
    • In a detective mystery game, an NPC might be a suspect or informant that provides essential clues to solving the case.
    • In a historical roleplaying game, an NPC could be a historical figure the players interact with to gain insight into the period and setting.

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    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. "Be excellent to each other."