I’m doing something un-f$&%ing-precedented. Earlier today – Tuesday, September 6, 2016 – as I was working on the final revision for an article to be posted tomorrow, I received an e-mail from someone named Sligo. It was just another Ask Angry for the pile, but it dealt with an issue that I was planning to discuss in more detail in a future article. As you know, I’ve been an NPC kick lately. I’ve been talking about NPCs as a game element and about how to bring them into your game for specific purposes. And this Sligo had a really neat question that was very much related to something I wanted to talk about. But, here’s the kicker. Sligo’s question pertains to a game that he’s running on Thursday. Thursday, September 9, 2016. Yeah, yeah, he said he doesn’t EXPECT me to answer before the game. And, yeah, yeah, it’s his own stupid fault for waiting until the last minute to ask.
So, I’m basically busting my a%& to make THIS my article. If all goes well, it will post sometime Wednesday, September 7. At worst, it will go up very early on Thursday morning. And I’m going to e-mail Sligo and let him know. You can go ahead now and skip to the beginning of the article. But I need to explain why I’m doing this.
Unrelated Intro and Apologies to my Supporters
Lately, I’ve been doing a s%&$y job. A lot of crap has happened in my life and one very good thing has happened. And one of the things I have been VERY bad about is keeping some of my promises, especially with regards to my supporters on Patreon. I’m now just beyond the one-year anniversary of my drastic move across half the country which was followed immediately by two bad health scares, a robbery, the resurgence of a chronic illness, and several other major life problems. I’ve started calling it my year from hell and I’ve honestly just thought about quitting, moving back to New York, shutting everything down, and going back to accounting. Forget the site. Forget books. Forget someday having an Angry RPG. Just go back to the accounting world. But I’d hate myself.
None of that s%&$ matters. What matters is that I’ve been bad about keeping my promises. There are certain things that were supposed to happen that, so far, haven’t. Or have been suspended or unreliable. The Megadungeon project – because it is such a heavy project – suffers the most when things suddenly become hard. But there’s other promises too. My Thank You page for Patrons has been kind of broken for a while and needs to be updated. My Secret Stash hasn’t had anything new put it in a while. And I haven’t even thought about running online games. The sad truth is that, in the last few months, I haven’t run ANY games. All of that s$&% needs to change. I haven’t been doing bimonthly video chats. I haven’t started the How to Play podcast.
If I were an employee of mine, I’d fire me. But I’m not. I’m an employee of yours.
Dropping everything to answer Sligo’s e-mail, to me, seems like an olive branch. A way to prove I’m serious about fixing this s$&%. I know – because I can see the numbers – most people don’t care about the Secret Stash or the webchats. Most people didn’t touch the stash even when I was dropping stuff into them. And the webchats never got much play either – what few there were. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are unfulfilled promises.
Now, I realize the only FINANCIAL promise I ever really made was one article a week, four times a month, and I’ve delivered on that. But the rest of the promises weren’t meant to be gravy. They were meant to entice people to pledge their support.
Here’s the point, though. I have certain things I have to get into a workflow – NO MATTER WHAT. For now – FOR NOW – I’m dropping the How to Play Cast. I’m going to have to partner with someone to make that happen. I’ve dropped it as a stretch goal from Patreon. But the rest of the s$&% has to happen. Bimonthly webcast, secret stash stuff, and getting my highest supporters into an occasional game, keeping the Megadungeon and features on track, and then gradually getting Ask Angry back into rotation.
And my feeling on it is this: if I can’t get all that stuff rolling within 45 days – basically, by the end of October, I need to shut down. I can’t keep taking people’s money. So, that’s it. I have to catch up and get rolling or I have to shut down. Because the sad truth is, if I don’t get the site rolling on a regular work flow, I’ll never have the time or energy for my other projects, like writing books or publishing modules or settings. And a man can’t – and shouldn’t – survive on Patreon alone.
Basically, I have a checklist of things that need to happen before October 31. And if I can’t make them happen and keep them happening, I’m closing my virtual doors. No matter WHAT disasters befall me. Because, at a certain point, being an adult means you keep going DESPITE your problems.
Anyway, now on to the article…
Edit: After reading the comments and e-mails, it’s become clear that people have misinterpreted my intentions. The outpouring of support is truly wonderful and I’m really flattered that people think this site is such a valuable resource. I don’t WANT to quit and I’m going to do everything in my power NOT to quit. People are offering to help AND offering more money or apologizing for not supporting the site.
So, let me clarify some stuff. First of all: money is not the issue. Yes, money has been very tight for me lately because I’ve had several emergencies and because helping my girlfriend move across state lines has been difficult. And I’ve picked up extra hours at the day job accordingly. But I’m not starving. My supporters are extremely generous and the last thing I wanted to do was ask for more money. Please do not edit your pledges because you think I need more money to support the site. That isn’t the issue.
The issue is that I’ve fallen behind. I’m now putting things out pretty much as quick as I write them. I have no buffer. And that means I’m always behind. And because of that, I’m not focusing time on any of the other projects. Time-wise, I’m treading water. And there is nothing anyone can do about that. What needs to happen is that Angry needs to sit down and put in a lot of overtime and get himself ahead of schedule so he can have a reasonable workflow. And that means he’s got to spend the next 45 days having some sleepless nights and pushing himself extra hard. He doesn’t need help. He doesn’t need anyone working for him. He just needs to have a really hard six weeks of crazy effort to get himself ahead of the game so he can stay there. That’s all.
The point of this whole thing wasn’t to say “I need to quit because I can’t handle it.” The point was to say to people who have been questioning what’s going on with other projects that I know I’ve been screwing up and failing to deliver on things I promised. And also to say that I know I’ve made apologies before. But apologies aren’t cutting it anymore. I need to man up and do whatever needs to be done. And if I can’t, I have no right to get paid for this stuff. I have to stop taking people’s money if I can’t deliver on my promises. And honestly, if I can’t handle the Patreon, I probably also have no right to ever crowdfund a product.
I take money seriously. When people are willing to shell out cash, you owe them. You make good on your promises. And if you don’t, you can’t take their money. And I wanted people to know I’m not going to issue any more apologies. I’m going to man up, get this crap on track, and move forward no matter what happens OR I’m getting out of the game because I have no right to be here.
I don’t want to quit. I am going to do everything I can to not quit. I love writing about games and I love helping people game. And I love the idea of making games someday. But loving something is only good enough for a hobby. If you want to make a living at something, you have to earn that living. In a very backwards way, I was trying to make a promise that I’m going to get this all back on track or die trying. Or fail trying. I’m holding myself to the same standard I would hold anyone else to that I financially supported.
Please stop upping pledges. Please stop offering to work for me for free. Just keep reading the site and telling me that you like what I do. That’s all I need to do everything in my power to keep going. And that’s what I’m going to do.
The Unexpected NPC
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been babbling on about how to build and use NPCs in your adventures. I’ve talked about allies and patrons and quest givers and the dreaded DMPC. Eventually, I’m going to talk about villains – major and minor – and contacts and rivals and organizations and resources and all those other awesome uses for NPCs too. But all of those NPCs have one thing in common: they are planned. The GM gets the luxury of actually building them and figuring s$&% out ahead of time. And that helps A LOT.
I mean, if you’ll notice, my advice keeps boiling down to the same basic f$&%ing premises. Run the NPC like you would a character. Know what the NPC knows and what they want and what they fear. Add more details the longer the NPC is “on camera” and so on. And that s$&% is easy if you’re sitting at your GMing desk and making up an NPC to serve a specific purpose in your game.
But all of that gets turned on its f$&%ing head when your idiot PCs CREATE an NPC on the f$&%ing spot.
Now, I’m not talking about some player with an overly detailed backstory filled with old friends and contacts and family members and allies and rivals. We’ll talk about backstory NPCs in the future too. Seriously. I keep a f$&%ing list of the different types of NPCs to talk about. Backstory NPCs are on there. But the thing with Backstory NPCs is that a smart GM is NEVER blindsided by those f$&%ers. The smart GM keeps a list of all the a$&holes the players invent in their backstories as potential screwjobs for later.
What I’m talking about are two specific types of Unexpected NPCs: the Elevated Extra and the Imagined Into Being.
Now, I was going to hold off on this crap. But there’s a GM out there with a problem. And we all know I’m basically like the sweary Batman of gaming, just waiting for someone to light the Angry Signal so I can swoop in and save them. Mainly by swearing at things. Oh, sure, I don’t have Batman’s money and I have no moral qualms about killing people who deserve it, but I do actually have a boomerang somewhere and I wear black leggings sometimes. So it’s all the same.
In brief, Sligo – the GM in question – has a problem. He has an Elevated Extra and he has to figure out what to do about it. So, let’s dive in and see how to deal with Unexpected NPCs. But first, let’s talk about what they are.
The Elevated Extra
The world of D&D is filled with nameless, faceless nobodies. Most of the people who live in the game world are just nebulous clouds of vague narration. There are crowds on the streets. There are nameless urchins badgering the PCs to give a sense of the poverty in the city. There are snooty nobles looking self-important as they walk from place to place. They are no one. They are the wallpaper you hang in the room that is your imagination. Just decoration.
Beyond them, the world of D&D is filled with nameless, faceless nobodies with minor purposes. The gamblers you grudgingly allow the rogue to fleece because the game just won’t move on until the player gets to make some die rolls to scam somebody because, in a game about heroic adventures in deep dungeons, one f$&%er always insists on playing a street-wise conman with no interest in dungeons. Innkeepers serve up booze and act as mouthpieces for minor rumors meant to provide some local color. Shopkeepers gibber away because the players aren’t content with you merely letting them buy equipment from the book because – the gods bless them – they want ROLE PLAY. And, by the way, talking in character to a pointless nobody about nothing is NOT roleplaying. But they are the f$&%ing players and, in the end, it’s THEIR f$&%ing game, isn’t it.
All of those minor nobodies, the wallpaper and the furniture that decorate your gaming word, all of those people are what we call Extras. They are basically props or set dressing. Nothing more.
But here’s what you have to understand about the game world: the players are like the characters in a first-person-shooter. Or, like, Skyrim or Fallout. Those had first-person perspectives, right? The point is, players have cameras mounted on their heads. And as the players sweep their camera heads around the world, the camera focuses on whatever they focus on. You can think of the cloud of nameless, faceless masses as blurry and indistinct and out of focus. But your players might suddenly focus their attention on the urchins. They might try to talk to one. And they won’t be satisfied with a simple narration. They want to have a conversation. Then they ask the urchin his name. And why he’s an urchin. And where his parents are. And dammit, then, the worst thing happens: they start to LIKE the urchin. The next time they need a message carried, they seek out their urchin “friend.” They pay him. And then they start using him to gather information. Him and his urchin friends.
THAT is an Elevated Extra. It’s a nameless, faceless NPC that suddenly found itself on camera. And the blurry, indistinct NPC had to come into focus and become a real person. Because that’s what NPCs do.
Because, remember the rule: screen time equals personality.
The Imagined Into Being
Did you ever play Planescape: Torment? Developed by Black Isle Studios and released in 1999, Torment was a PC exclusive role-playing game set in AD&D 2nd Edition’s weird-as-the-Nine-Hells Planescape setting. And it was an amazing game. It remains, to this day, one of the deepest and most unique role-playing experiences a computer ever churned out. And honestly, it did Mass Effect before Mass Effect was a thing. And one of the unique features about it was that much of the dialogue was driven by role-playing. There were NOVELS and NOVELS worth of dialogue in the game. And much of it was broken into very complicated trees based on how you wanted to behave. And sometimes, the game would let you decided whether you were being honest or lying in what you said. So, you might be asked “do you believe that it is every person’s duty to serve the greater” and the options might be “Yes [Truth]” “Yes [Lie]” “No [Truth]” or “No [Lie]”.
Anyway, one of the running gags was that people kept asking you your name. And because your character was an immortal amnesiac who woke up in a mortuary after being killed for umpteen times on a centuries-old quest even he couldn’t remember, you didn’t know. Seriously. Your character’s name was only ever given as The Nameless One. But when people asked your name, you could choose the option “My name is Adahn [Lie].” Basically, Adahn was a made up name. A bluff. But, Planescape is a world where powerful enough beliefs shape and warp reality. So, if enough people believe Adahn is real, he becomes real. Long story short, if you tell enough people your name is Adahn, you eventually meet Adahn the Imagined in a bar. And if you’ve come to understand enough about the setting, you can get some pretty cool information and prizes out of Adahn by imagining details about him.
And so, I took to calling the OTHER class of NPCs “Imagined into Being” after Adahn the Imagined.
An NPC is Imagined into Being when the players suddenly decide that a certain NPC must exist in the world and they seek that NPC out. For example, in one of my games, the players were trying to solve a crime and they decided there must be an oracle or diviner in a city of wizards who could use magic to give them clues. And damn it if they weren’t right. And that oracle became a useful contact for them later. Most Imagined Into Being NPCs are simply NPCs who must exist somewhere in the nameless, faceless mass of nobodies, but they just haven’t shown up yet. And most appear because the players have specific need of them. But some appear because the players have some weird whim. One player’s monk character in one of my games, for example, was at a loose end after they fled their order because it turned out to be super evil. He was at a loose end and wandering around seeking seers, holy-people, and other monks to try to find some new path to follow. Thus, a lot of NPCs had to be imagined into being just to satisfy this guy’s weird, random wanderings.
Basically, the Imagined Into Existence NPC is just an Elevated Extra whose existence was only ever theoretically. It comes from the PCs giving attention to an NPC they, themselves, decided should exist.
Screen Time Equals Details, But Not All At Once
Now, all of my NPC advice keeps coming down to the same thing, as I’ve already noted. NPCs exist to bring your world to life. NPCs seem alive if they have personalities and hopes and dreams and flaws. The more time they spend on the screen, the more of those details they need to keep them feeling alive. So, it should be obvious that the moment an Extra gets Elevated or an NPC gets Imagined Into Being, you’re going to need some details.
The problem is most GMs intuitively grasp this. That is to say, they recognize that suddenly, an Unexpected NPC exists and now they need to know about the NPC so they can play him, her, it, or them effectively. And then they f$&%ing panic. Seriously. They lose their s$&%.
So, while it is true that you need details, remember that screen time EQUALS details. In the first scene, you don’t need to know THAT much to play an NPC. After all, when the NPC is first invented, they don’t have that much screen time, do they. They have one scene.
In point of fact, lots of Unexpected NPCs never go beyond one scene. So, the GM who panics and imagines an entire existence for this new NPC will quickly discover that most of it was a wasted effort. So, when an Unexpected NPC crops up, we’re never going to try to fully realize the NPC. Instead, we have to understand the NPC as a game construct. That will help us decide how to realize and play the NPC.
The Purpose-Driven Life
Unexpected NPCs usually come into existence for a reason. The problem is, that reason is usually one that only the crazy octopi who live in your players’ brains actually know and understand. Fortunately, players are not subtle creatures and an attentive GM can usually figure out WHY the players are giving the gift of life to a piece of game-world wallpaper or a bit of furniture.
Now, NPCs that are Imagined Into Being usually get Imagined Into Being for very specific purposes. The oracle is a resource for information. The new ninja master is there to provide a hook for character development. And almost all purposes can be broken down into either helping to accomplish a quest goal or helping to accomplish a character goal. Either way, the NPC exists because the players have a plan. And if you listen to the players in the conversation that leads up to “let’s go find the NPC” or “I need to find an NPC,” you’ll usually have some sense of the plan.
The Elevated Extra is often a bit trickier. Elevated Extras are like candy. You know how, when you go to the grocery store, there’s all that candy sitting next to the cash register? And you don’t go into the grocery store intending to buy some small piece of candy. You go there for other stuff but then you notice they have your favorite Take Five bars that you haven’t had in years or they have Tic-Tacs or whatever? So you buy them? Those are called Impulse Purchases. And Elevated Extras are like Impulse Purchases. The players didn’t enter the scene INTENDING to make friends with a new NPC. Instead, they were in the scene and something caught their interest and so they started talking to it.
Some Elevated Extras DO have a purpose. That is to say, the players think that the Elevated Extra might be useful to something they want – quest or character – and so they open a dialogue. But others DON’T. Sometimes, the players Elevate an Extra as an act of exploration. That is to say, they see a thing they can interact with and they want to interact with the world, so they interact with the thing. That’s basically exploration. They are just curious. Other times, Extras get Elevated because the players THINK the NPC is important, but they don’t know why and want to find out. Some players assume that the only reason you might describe street urchins in the market is because street urchins are relevant to the plot in some way. So, they start talking to the urchins in the hopes that the hook will reveal itself.
Purpose Trumps Personality… At First
Now, here’s where things get tricky. In the long run, it is important to create NPCs that feel alive and make the world seem real. But that only applies for NPCs that will be around for a long time. In the short run, though, an NPC is a game element. And it is there to accomplish something. Yes, it is nice when the NPC eventually comes fully to life. But in the beginning, the NPC has to fulfil its purpose.
And understanding all of that will now let us dig into some specific instructions for how to deal with the Unexpected NPC at the table.
A Wild Unexpected NPC Appears…
Now it’s time to get into specific instructions. You’re running a game, it’s going along fine, and all of the sudden you realize that the players have suddenly created an NPC and now you have to run that NPC. What do you do?
What’s the Point?
First and foremost, you have to figure out why this NPC suddenly exists. Are the players looking to accomplish a specific goal with the NPC? Do they want information, resources, world details, or do they just want to alleviate their boredom by interacting for a little while?
The thing is, and this is important, you never EVER assume an Unexpected NPC is going to become a recurring character. Your focus, when the Unexpected NPC appears is just to get through the one goddamned scene wherein it comes into existence and then move on. Now, I know that seems weird. Because some GMs will tell you that recurring NPCs are great and you should always look for ways to add more of them to your game. Well, they are right and wrong. Recurring NPCs ARE great. But you can’t force an NPC to become a recurring NPC. That has to happen organically. And we’ll talk about how it happens later. For now, just understand that the point of the Unexpected NPC is to get through the scene.
Can This Work? Can It Fail?
Way, way, waaaaaaayyyyyy long ago, I talked about how to adjudicate actions. Recall that adjudicating actions is the act of deciding what happens when a PC does a thing. And the very first step is to decide whether or not the action the PC wants to take can actually lead to the goal they want. Well, it is exactly the same for the Unexpected NPC. Once you figure out the purpose for the NPC, the next thing you have to decide is whether interacting with the NPC can bring about what the players want? Can they get information? Can the get resources? Can they make a new friend? Can they make a new contact? Whatever.
And there is no easy way to make that decision. You have to think about the person and the world and decide if it’s really possible. Yes, this orc does have useful information for the PCs. That makes sense. No, this orc won’t ever befriend the PCs because orcs hate humans and elves. Yes, this NPC can give interesting world details. Yes, this NPC will just talk to the PCs for a few minutes so they can have the fun of talking to someone. Obviously, the smaller the purpose, the more likely it is any NPC can fulfil it. Information about a murder or the plans of a specific orcish warlord should be hard to come by. Not everyone has it. Making a new contact or friend should be easier. But not everyone wants new friends or makes them easily. Having a fun conversation is easy. Everyone in the world can be a source of a fun conversation.
Now, once you know the interaction can succeed, you also have to decide if it can fail. Might the PCs NOT make a new contact or friend? Is that reasonable? Is it possible that the NPC won’t give the PCs the information or resources? Can they really FAIL to have an interesting and fun interesting interaction?
Now, obviously, if the players just want to have a fun interaction or learn some world details, the possibility of failure really doesn’t serve any useful purpose. But the bigger or more important or more useful the goal, the more likely it is that failure is a real possibility.
Now, if things CAN succeed and CAN fail, you have an encounter on your hand. And we’ve already talked about what a Social InterACTION! Encounter has to have to work. The NPC needs to have reasons to not help the party. The NPC might also have reasons to help the party or the PCs might have to create those reasons. And if you’re in that position, you need to invent a social interaction encounter on the fly.
I’m not going to rehash that whole article here. This s$&% builds on that s$&%. Go reread it if you need to.
Pick a Word, Any Word
Okay, now you understand the purpose and you’ve decided whether the scene can fulfil the purpose and whether it can’t. You’ve decided whether you need to run an encounter or not. And if you need to run an encounter, you need to figure out those details. But how do you actually play the NPC? How do you bring an NPC to life that didn’t exist until a few moments ago?
The trick is to pick a word. That’s all you need. Remember, right now, the NPC only has to exist for one scene and you know what the NPC is or is not trying to accomplish (or what the players are, it’s the same thing). Now, all you need is to actually play the NPC. But to bring the NPC to life, you can’t just go back and forth with boring narration. You need to get into character. And for that, all you need is one word.
Just pick one. Pick any word. An adjective. A describy word. Angry. Impatient. Friendly. Talkative. Polite. Worshipful. Creepy. Racist. Oily. Conniving. Flirtatious. Scheming. Impolite. Grumpy. Flamboyant. Egotistical. Rude. Happy. Bored. Disinterested. Suspicious. Frightened. Paranoid. Whatever. Just pick one word. And that word describes your NPC.
Now, everything you say as your NPC, say it in that way. Write down that word on an index card and keep it front of you (not where your players can see it) so that every time you open your mouth, you see that word. And don’t worry about overdoing it. Just play it to the hilt. If you’re scheming, be VERY scheming. If you’re friendly, be VERY friendly. It’s okay.
See, the dirty secret is this: everyone is a caricature until you get to know them. Yes, NPCs should be complex and nuanced and deep… after they’ve been around for a while. But, when you first bring one into your game, an NPC is just one trait with a cartoon drawn around it.
Play the Scene
And that’s it. No, seriously. That’s it. That’s all it takes to get you through the first scene with the Unexpected NPC. That’s all you need. Understand the point of the scene, play the scene to either fulfil or fail to fulfil the purpose, and give them one trait. After that, all you have to do is respond to what the players say. It isn’t hard. Just pretend you’re that NPC and see what happens. Whatever comes out of your mouth is fine. I’m not even lying. Running an NPC is just a thing you have to do.
Don’t Be Afraid of A&%pulls
While you play the scene, you might suddenly have a neat idea. For example, it might occur to you that the sage has a particular interest in ancient draconic culture and that might make him particularly enamored of helping the PCs. Or the urchin might have been an escaped slave who was badly mistreated and now he’s prone to intimidation and bullying because of his fear of pain and punishment. Those sorts of details sometimes just pop into your brain or fly out of your mouth.
Sometimes, the details might fly out without any reason. You might not know why the urchin is afraid of being pushed around or why the sage is so excited about this research. It might just be an accident that happens when you play the NPC. Everything is going along fine and then suddenly one of the PCs decides to threaten the kid and you – as the kid – flinch and act terrified.
Congratulations, you just pulled a detail out of you’re a%&. Well, technically, it came out of your brain or your mouth. But, for most people, there isn’t much difference anyway. The point is, if something suddenly happens or seems like fun, just go with it.
In that way, you start to discover details you never invented about an NPC who never existed.
And, by the way, a%&pulls don’t have to be limited to the NPC in question. Organizations, nations, towns, religious rituals, holidays, historical figures, monsters, gods, and demons can all end up in your game because some NPC suddenly started talking about them through your mouth. It seriously happens.
In the Long Run… How a Character is Born
Once you’ve gotten through the scene, you’re okay. You can breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve dealt with whatever random imaginings your idiot players have forced into your world. For the moment. But, here is where things get tricky. As easy as it is to bring NPCs into the world, it’s very hard to take them out of it. Which is good, because NPCs in the world are very useful.
What do I mean?
First of all, once the players have an interesting interaction with an NPC, they might decide they enjoyed the interaction. And then, they might want more. They might start going back to the bar with the crazy innkeeper because he’s so much fun to deal with. Or they might start hanging out with that friendly elf because she’s friendly and the PCs like having friends. Whatever.
Second of all, some purposes for Unexpected NPCs are long-term purposes. For example, once the urchin proves useful at tailing a particular suspect through the city, the PCs might realize that the streetwise urchin has a lot of useful skills to exploit. So, they might return when they need to find out information about a specific location. Or if they need to hunt down a missing person. The NPC, at that point, has become a resource.
Third of all, and this is one of the more interesting ones, someday in the future when you’re writing an adventure, you might see an opportunity to use an NPC that the PCs Elevated or Imagined. After the PCs interrogate the orc and let him escape, now there is an orc running around the world with a vendetta against the PCs. He might join another tribe or gather a warband to fight the PCs. Or he might ally with an enemy of the PCs. Or, hell, if the PCs are good to him, he might betray another leader to them someday.
Here’s the point: keep track of all of your Unexpected NPCs. Once again, this is why I like to use index cards for NPCs. When you first create the Unexpected NPC, you might write down his name and race and one-word trait on an index card. Keep that card. Keep it in your GMing folder or pile or whatever. That way, you can pull it out later. And, more importantly, you can add to it.
See, just like PCs, NPCs become more detailed the more you play them. Things fly out of your mouth or brain or a%& and they make the NPC more complex. And adding that information to a card can help you keep track of it. The index card method is very useful precisely because you can pull out the card and have all the previous information about the NPC at your fingertips. And you can add new details that you “discover” in you’re a$&.
Moreover, between adventures, you can look over your cards and add details too. You might not know why the urchin is so easily bullied, but when you look over his card after the game, you might ask yourself why and come up with a reason. It’s always good practice to look over your NPC roster between games and see what details emerge.
And, obviously, when writing adventures, it’s very useful to flip through your NPC collection and see if any Elevated Extras or Imagined NPCs might return for another guest appearance.
And THAT is how a nonexistent NPC becomes a recurring character people get attached to.