Developing interesting non-player characters (NPCs) is a perennial problem for gamemasters everywhere. You want to make them memorable, but developing them in great detail is wasted effort, since it is unlikely that most of that detail will come out in play. Dozens of forum threads and other articles have been written on the subject, and there is a lot of good advice available. This is an effort to present some of the best of it in a single usable framework. My technique is adapted, in a heavily modified form, from an idea that Orson Scott Card presents in his book of writing advice Characters and Viewpoint. There, he talks about drawing stories out of a simple character concept by asking questions about it. The answers to those questions lead to a starting situation worth using, and asking questions about what could happen in that situation and how the character could react creates a complete arc.
As-is, this is a great technique for groups that adopt the GM-as-storyteller style of roleplaying. For my preferred gamemastering style of presenting players with a situation and then improvising from their reaction, it needs some tweaking, though. Going from concept to situation to complete arc doesn’t provide what I need.
Over the course of six brief (non-consecutive) articles I will present a method of creating the information that you need to improvise consistent, engaging NPC actions in play without useless chrome. By asking the right questions, you will get at how the NPCs goals, desires and relationships are likely to affect your PCs’ lives. This will produce most of what you need to know during play.
Before getting into the questions you should use, I want to address a few broader points, though.