Matt, some other folks on Discord, and I, have been talking about what makes NPCs in Zelda games feel so vivid, despite how thinly sketched they often are. I’m talking minor NPCs here, like the travelling Goron who sells you gems or the alligator in the house who wants a banana.

For my money, the most important thing is that NPCs be extremely on their bullshit. This means:

  • They have something they are very interested in.
  • They have something that is of interest or value to you.
  • They are not interested in you or your goals.

The tables below should help you sketch out NPCs in this style. Sometimes you might need to tie in an adventure hook from your campaign, but these weirdos are pretty good at implying their own.

One line NPC hyperfixations

  1. Collects something rare but not necessarily valuable
  2. A magic item in their possession
  3. A magic item not in their possession
  4. A legendary monster or hero
  5. Craving a specific kind of food
  6. Heard an extremely inaccurate rumour
  7. A dangerous location or local landmark
  8. A location no one else knows about
  9. A portent or omen
  10. A household malfunction happening right in front of you
  11. A pet or species of animal
  12. A special trinket or gadget
  13. A weird feature of the landscape
  14. A local game or custom
  15. The latest fad
  16. Another NPC’s activities
  17. Something belonging to one of the PCs
  18. A missing belonging
  19. Arguing with another NPC about (roll again)
  20. Eagerly gossiping with another NPC about (roll again), do not wish to be disturbed

They are hyperfixating on this because they want…

  1. To impress their crush
  2. To impress their crush (you)
  3. To become rich
  4. To prove someone wrong
  5. To get revenge on someone
  6. To be left alone
  7. To rescue someone or something dear to them
  8. Sheer curiosity
  9. To expose their rival
  10. To clear their name
  11. To topple some local authority
  12. They have been misinformed and believe that it will help them (roll again)…

Attitude towards the PCs:

  1. Lackadaisical
  2. Baffled
  3. Furious
  4. Scamming
  5. Obsequious
  6. Skeptical
  7. Desperate
  8. Fawning
  9. Envious
  10. Amused
  11. Doesn’t seem to notice them
  12. Mistake them for someone else with whom they are (roll again)

Some guys I rolled up as proofs of concept:

  • (Hyperfixation) Arguing with another NPC about who caused the the building next to them to burn down. (Motive) They are incurable gossips and don’t actually care who did it but each is extremely certain they are correct. (Attitude) They don’t care who hears them and look at you expectantly when they make their arguments. (Hook) One believes the fire was caused by the goblins down in the creek, the other believes it was Brad and his WAND OF FIRE.
  • (Hyperfixation) Bets you can’t beat her at BLOODY KNUCKLES. (Motive) Wants to go rescue her dog from the kobolds but needs to make sure she has the strongest knuckles. (Attitude) Defiant at first but if you beat her she will plead with you to save her dog, since you clearly have the strongest knuckles.
  • (Hyperfixation) Convinced they are the reincarnation of the legendary hero LANK. (Motive) Saw a shooting star land in the sacred clearing where a statue of the hero stands. (Attitude) Wants you to join their adventuring party to go retrieve the shooting the star, proving they are the hero.

Have fun!

P.S. - these tables were automated using the Tablifier, a javascript thingy I wrote for rapidly automating plaintext lists. Give it a shot!