I really love NPCs. I use them as cobblestones in the road the story creates.
Here are a few “Dark NPCs” for you to drop into your game. A dark NPC is not necessarily a villain, although several of these would make great villains. They are normal people with a dark or tragic secret that they usually hide from the world. This secret affects their actions, goals, and interactions with PCs. Plot hooks can be gleaned as they succeed, fail, or hide these secrets and goals.
As with all my NPCs, I like to have a light description of how they look, how they sound, what they do, their secrets and goals. I do not “stat one out” unless combat is a possibility. I know a darker, gritty campaign is not for everyone, but I hope some of you may get some use or inspiration from these.
Description: Tall and lanky for a Rock Gnome, Doc slinks around town with a pronounced hunch. He favors tall-collared coats that hide his drawn cheeks and creased temples. He has bent nose, white hair, and piercing blue eyes, which hardly ever blink when he speaks to someone. His voice is soft, comforting, and his vocabulary hints at an educated background. However, his speech is prone to inappropriate and uncontrollable soft giggles that interrupt his conversation at random intervals.
Actions: Doc makes a living preforming cheap, no questions asked surgeries. He has a steady hand and the stomach for morally ambiguous medical procedures. These talents often bring him in contact with the seedier elements in town, but he does not reserve his services for only criminals. He often works at an extremely reduced rate for the poor and disadvantaged.
Dark Secret: Doc, a sadist, is aroused when he inflicts pain on others. When performing surgeries, he always uses the weakest anesthetic, sometimes deliberately diluting potions or using inferior medicines. He often offers his services free, if he knows a surgery is apt to be particularly painful.
Short-term Goal: He needs to scrape together enough money to cover next month’s rent.
Long-term Goal: Doc has ambitions of opening his own practice, specializing in treating children with deformities.
Description: Gladys’s contagious smile and Rubenesque figure seem to be joy personified. Short, curvy, and plump, this Halfling bard is the life of the party. She has short red hair, usually worn up in a bun to expose her attractive shoulders and bust. She speaks with a harsh, lower-class accent filled with slang and profanities.
Actions: Gladys owns a local watering hole and uses her outlandish personality to keep the tables full. She often sings off-color ditties and heavily flirts, much to the horror of her school-aged twin daughters. Her eyes, while lovely, have a blind spot to unsavory and illegal activities conducted in her pub.
Dark Secret: Gladys fuels her hedonistic evenings with a strong addiction to an illegal substance. This habit is so heavy she often prostitutes her own daughters for another fix.
Short-term Goal: Score enough substance to make it through tomorrow.
Long-term Goal: Marry a man of wealth that can help her and her daughters escape the horrible situation.
Description: Ahmed is a thin middle-aged human male with a heavy mustache and a balding head. His ears are comically large, but he keeps them hidden under his apothecary cap. His nose is thin, tall and rests so deeply in his facial hair that it resembles a stock broom. He speaks with confidence and his voice carries. He has many times embarrassed himself and those around him with a snarky comment that traveled to unwanted ears.
Actions: Ahmed owns an upstanding, popular apothecary/herbalist shop. His concoctions are found on many of the townsfolk nightstands. Most customers trust him with the most intimate of health related details and all admire his discretion. His teenage son, Sturan, acts as an apprentice and is usually seen sweeping the shop, gathering herbs, or making deliveries.
Dark Secret: Ahmed puts on a charade of happy normal family life, but he is despondently suspicious that his son is a serial rapist and murderer. He looks the other way as stocks of powerful sedatives disappear and rumors of missing girls abound.
Short-term Goal: He has his eye on an ancient herbalism tome tucked away on the shelves of a local bookshop. The owner is asking too much, but Ahmed fears someone will purchase it before he can squirrel away the money for it.
Long-term Goal: Like any father, he wants to protect his son. He feels if Sturan could just get a fresh start in another town his violent behavior would subside.
The Widow Ann Kusha
Description: With a repressed and standoffish attitude, many see Ann as the typical schoolmarm. With her soft build and formal dress, she does little to break the stereotype. Her sharp, half-elven cheekbones jut out creating a shallow depression above her large jaw. She fills this space with hefty amounts of rose tinted makeup. She speaks with stern authority and chooses her words carefully, although most of her speech reeks of condescension.
Actions: Ann has ruled the local schoolhouse like an authoritarian overlord for as long as anyone can remember. Most of her students escape her clutches in their early teens. Very few make it out without a horror story to tell down at the local. Tall tales surround the death of her husband and she rarely speaks his name.
Dark Secret: Ann derives physical enjoyment from watching children turn on each other, especially when it turns violent. She encourages bullying, and manipulates the volatile emotions of her students.
Short-term Goal: The schoolhouse is in dire need of repair. She wants to convince the local magistrate to fund the work.
Long-term Goal: She wants to find the perfect resting place for her husband’s ashes.
Description: Skarn’s physique is that of a dwarf that has let himself go. He is soft and doughy like the bread he bakes every morning. Little care goes into the disheveled black beard, although the flour dust gives it a dusty gray appearance. His right hand and forearm, usually hidden under a thick leather glove, are mangled beyond repair. He rarely speaks, and then only in whispers. A heavy weight of despair hangs in the air around him.
Actions: Skarn runs the local mill and acts as the town baker. Most townsfolk buy his bread out of pity, rather than quality. Any local can recount the tale of Skarn’s toddling daughter falling between the massive millstones. How he desperately tried to pull her free, to no avail. Since then, darkness has fallen over the Mahlen family.
Dark Secret: Although everyone else sees it as a tragic accident, Skarn knows his daughter’s death is solely his fault and the guilt is crushing him.
Short-term Goal: Skarn would like to find his daughter’s teething gem, which someone nicked after the accident.
Long-term Goal: Skarn has plans to commit suicide on the anniversary of his daughter’s death.
Description: Under the flamboyant gypsy garb, Mersie’s rough, sunbaked skin is a roadmap of pain and suffering. It looks far older than her 34 human years. She ties a green bandana over her head and wears it low to cover her missing right eye. Her hands, filled with arthritis, buckle and bow like the great mountains her people hail from. The gaps in her smile are filled with well-made false teeth, a subtle attempt to erase her abusive and violent past. She speaks with two voices. Her true voice hints of a soft, rural twang, while the one she uses for customers projects a struggling, vague, ancient wisdom.
Actions: Mersie runs a fortune-telling stand on the outskirts of town. She sees a steady stream of customers seeking guidance in the affairs of the heart. Captured and sold into slavery as a child, she has learned the hard way to read desire and give people what they want. Mersie rarely conveys ominous fortunes. In her experience, the messenger of bad news often pays a physical price from those that receive the news.
Dark Secret: Upon their birth, Mersie smothered all five children she conceived during her captivity. Hallucinations of these children torment her constantly.
Short-term Goal: Mersie would like to find a glass eye that matches the rare amber color of her remaining one.
Long term Goal: She wants desperately to appease the spirits and memory of her children so they will leave her in peace.
Description: Even a scarf worn high does little to mask Hunt’s half-orc appearance. His pronounced under bite and wide nose frame a smile, which by orcish standards, is actually quite charming. His skin, when not stained with ink, is a smooth, soft, grey hide. It lacks the scars and callouses of others of his race, and to the perceptive, it shouts I am not a warrior. His voice is gruff and he habitually uses large words incorrectly in an attempt to seem smarter.
Actions: Hunt owns and operates a printing house near the docks. He publishes a local broadsheet, which walks a fine line between treason and libel. Sometimes, stories show up in his publication that he does not remember writing.
Dark Secret: Hunt has been obsessively stalking a young girl who walked by his shop months ago.
Short-term Goal: To convince the object of his obsession that they are perfect for each other.
Long-term Goal: Shake up the city’s class structure and lead a political revolution.
The Vicar Knatch
Description: The fine, handsome features of this middle-aged elven cleric fill his parishioners with confidence and trust. His long narrow nose supports simple spectacles and his height allows him to look down, through them, at most people. Behind his angelic face and beneath the red robes of divinity, hides narrow and weak self-flagellated shoulders. Large patches of skin have spalled into leathery curls from repeated mortification of the flesh. His voice is quiet with a pious tone that expresses his true humility. He has a habit of biting his lip when he finishes a sentence.
Actions: Knatch oversees the local Temple of Life, which combines several good aligned deities in one place of worship. He acts as a shepherd for his community, gathering his diverse flock and protecting them from the lure of sin. At night, he flogs himself as a way of repressing his sinful desires and paying penance for his past deeds.
Dark Secret: Decades ago, before his divine service, Knatch bludgeoned a young boy to death while in a drunken, lustful rage and afterwards, allowed his own brother to hang for his crime.
Short-term Goal: The community has shunned a local farmer for a perceived transgression. Knatch would like to him brought back into the flock.
Long-term Goal: He wants to makes amends for his past, but he fears what admitting to the crime would bring. He has received no guidance from his god on this matter.