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    What is a VNPC?

    VNPC stands for “virtual non-player character.” It’s a concept used in text-based roleplaying games, particularly multi-user dungeons (MUDs), to imply the presence of non-player characters that are not directly coded or controlled within the game’s environment.

    These characters are considered to be part of the game’s setting, contributing to the atmosphere and realism, without having a physical representation or specific interactions coded into the game.

    For instance, in a bustling city scene, VNPCs can represent the general populace that fills the streets, providing a backdrop to the more directly interactive elements of the game, such as shopkeepers or quest givers who are fully coded non-player characters.

    Originally, the concept of VNPCs allowed game masters and players to acknowledge and interact with the idea of a larger world population without the need for extensive coding or the use of limited computer memory or server space.

    Today’s technology makes hardware constraints less of an issue, but using VNPCs still helps create a more immersive and dynamic game environment without being a drain on game master resources, such as their limited time and energy.


    How do players interact with VNPCs?

    Players can reference VNPCs in their actions or dialogue to enrich the narrative of their gameplay. While direct, coded interactions are not possible, players might describe conversations, transactions, or other forms of engagement with VNPCs as part of their roleplaying experience.

    Are VNPCs important for game design?

    Yes, VNPCs play a crucial role in creating a believable and rich game world. They help in setting the scene and providing a sense of scale and activity in the game environment, which enhances the immersion and depth of the player’s experience.

    Also, creating a coded NPC for every person in a location is often impractical or unfeasible. Imagine if there were hundreds or thousands of individual NPCs in the immediate vicinity of the player – it would be overwhelming and distracting, to say the least!

    Can VNPCs become coded NPCs?

    In some cases, game developers or story creators might choose to transform a virtual NPC into a coded NPC based on the evolving needs of the game’s narrative or to enhance player interaction. This transition allows for more direct engagement with characters that were previously part of the background.

    Do all text-based games use VNPCs?

    While the use of VNPCs is common in many text-based roleplaying games, especially MUDs, their presence and significance can vary greatly depending on the game’s design and the storytelling style of the game masters. Some games might rely heavily on VNPCs to create a lively world, while others may use them sparingly or not at all.

    Also, not all games distinguish between VNPCs and NPCs or use the term “VNPC.” In many collaborative writing games, NPCs are just NPCs, whether they’re coded or not.

    Myths about VNPCs

    One common misconception about VNPCs is that they are irrelevant to gameplay since they do not involve direct interaction mechanisms.

    However, vNPCs significantly enhance the game’s atmosphere and depth, making the environment feel more alive and dynamic. They play a vital role in storytelling and world-building, allowing players to immerse themselves in a more vibrant and realistic setting.

    VNPC examples

    • In a bustling market scene, VNPCs could include the multitude of buyers and sellers that fill the area, providing a backdrop to the few coded NPCs who run the stalls.
    • During a royal procession in a game, the crowds lining the streets cheering and observing would be considered VNPCs, adding to the grandeur and scale of the event.
    • In a tavern RP scene, VNPCs might be the other patrons drinking and conversing in the background, creating an ambiance of liveliness and sociability around the player’s interactions.

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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."