In most Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, there are four types of characters: the heroes, their non-player character (NPC) allies, NPC villains, and neutral NPCs, who neither help nor hinder the heroes on their quests. Players quickly come to expect certain behaviors from the different types of NPC, and a creative Dungeon Master can exploit these expectations for dramatic effect in the game, particularly for “neutral” NPCs.
Players expect NPC villains to be villainous. They also watch NPC allies cautiously, since the “friend who betrays” is such an absurdly common trope in the genre. But players typically don’t expect a neutral NPC, such as the heroes’ innkeeper, to betray the party, particularly if that NPC has had numerous positive interactions with the party earlier in the campaign. In that case, the dramatic twist brought on by that betrayal raises the players’ emotional stake in the game.
Like most Dungeon Mastering techniques, it is important not to use this device too frequently, or the heroes will come to suspect every commoner, innkeeper, armorer and merchant of collusion with infernal forces, detracting from the real story line.
At a glance, one could say that the methods of moving an NPC from the “neutral” column to the “foe” column are as varied as NPCs themselves. One quick method for doing so involves using the Seven Deadly Sins: envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath. By ascribing one of these sinful tendencies to a neutral NPC, a Dungeon Master can develop a believable motivation for a neutral to assist the heroes’ enemies, if only for a critical moment. Continue reading