Huh. That’s an uncharacteristically snarky Buckle. I can only assume that things have been financially stressful since they lost that jousting match. Fantasy boat insurance is crazy expensive, yo!

While our genius buccaneers figure out that pirate maps can be exchanged for goods and services, what do you say the rest of us discuss Doublepatch Hookhanderson? He may just be a rando NPC, but I’ve got a soft spot for the guy. That’s because he represents one of my very earliest gaming memories.

It was way back in high school when I encountered my first inn. It was a D&D 3.0 campaign, and I was still having trouble with the whole “roleplaying game” concept. At that point in my life I’d played Legend of Dragoon and Chrono Trigger, and I’d watched a buddy race a few chocobos in Final Fantasy VII. So when our extremely cool characters materialized in Ye Olde Medieval Town, I used the knowledge I’d gained from these experiences.

“I go to the inn,” I said. “Am I there?”

“Um, sure,” said my bemused DM. “What are you doing at the inn?”

“I walk up to the nearest NPC and ask if they’ve heard any rumors. I tell them that I’m looking for quests.”

“The random drunks at the bar don’t have quests.”

“How about the bar tender?”

“The bar tender gives you an odd look. He also does not have quests.”

“Very well then. I head out into the village square. You there! Old woman!”

And at that point my DM paused the game to explain that 1) it’s usually his job to decide whether old women in the village square actually exist, and 2) talking to randos is not always the best way to locate the plot.

I think we all learn this lesson at some point. Forcing GMs to improvise NPCs may be amusing, but it’s usually more productive to ask established characters for the narrative goods. Royal viziers, high priests, and mysterious old dudes in pointed hats fall into this category. And in retrospect, I think that’s a bit of a shame. Many years later and I’m the one behind the screen. And whenever my PCs are flailing around looking for the plot, I sometimes wish they’d just ask a rando. I bet that Doublepatch Hookhanderson would be more than happy to point them in the right direction.

How about the rest of you guys? Do you bother with NPC pleasantries? Or is it safer to assume that the drovers, blacksmiths, and temple acolytes who make up your setting’s window dressing are a waste of narrative time? Have you ever met a random commoner who turned out to play a bigger part in the story? Let’s hear your take on RPG small talk down in the comments!


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