Creating NPC’s for a roleplaying campaign can be a fun mental exercise. You never know when the NPC you breathe life into will inspire a future PC, a campaign, or even an entire setting – all built off the concept of one character. I thought today we’d do our first Dossier Deck character of 2021 by opening the fourth and final deck from the original kickstarter: Orcs & Goblins. For those unfamiliar, SkeletonKey produced four Dossier decks – Commoners, Merchants, Mages and Orcs & Goblins. Each deck has appearance, story hook and trait cards. You shuffle each card type, draw one of each, and bam, you get your NPC. While each deck is fully fleshed out in itself, you can mix all four decks together for maximum versatility, and they can be easily resorted thanks to the deck icons in the bottom corner of each card.
Today we’re solely using cards from the Orcs & Goblins deck. Our shuffle has yielded:
Appearance: Ombarr Ruthnok – a senior orc in good health, with solvered hair
Traits: Nervous tics and a touch of pyromania – my kinda guy.
Story Hook: Family Jewel/All-Seeing Eye. Ombarr has been charged with the safekeeping of an orb that’s being sought for its magical properties.
So let’s start with the appearance. Orcs are often portrayed as a more barbaric culture, but Ombarr’s silver hair suggests that he’s already lived much longer than the stereotypical lifespan. The card state that he’s still healthy and strong, so we’ve got a senior orc who can still brawler. I’m put in mind of the Silver Horde from the Discworld books – a character who, by all rights, should have died a dozen times over but has instead defeated all-comers and, despite the ravages of time, can still hold his own. Ombarr was likely one hell of a brawler, and thus commands the respect and admiration of his clan…
With my D&D group coming up to a pivotal moment in Saturday’s game, I thought it was time to do another Dossier Deck draw and build a new NPC for your consideration. We started out with the Merchant deck, where we came up with a goldsmith about to be visited by the ghostly crew of sailors he betrayed in his greed. Then, a jealous chef from the Commoners deck, who doesn’t take criticism well at all. Two decks remain before we either double up or just throw caution to the wind and shuffle them all together: Wizards, and Orcs & Goblins. I thought we’d try Wizards today…
… and I’m not quite sure what to think, this is the second half-orc drawn, before we even get to the Orcs & Goblins deck.
Our Appearance card has a fairly suave looking half-orc in a hooded cloak, looking very wizardish indeed. His traits tell us that he’s a very sound sleeper who can nap anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Possible narcolepsy? Or just a general ability to become uber-relaxed at the drop of a hat? Barl is also rigorously honest, and expects others around him to be the same… and is utterly unforgiving when his trust is betrayed.
All of this makes for a potentially interested recurring NPC, but it’s the story hook that really kicks it up a notch. Barl possesses a ring that lets him jump into the body of another, trapping the victims consciousness in the ring while he gambols about town, and Barl’s own body enters a sleep-like trance. Flipside is, his body ages faster while he’s not home, so at some point Barl’s going to need to find a new host body altogether.
This brings up a whole series of possibilities. Is “Barl Moonsblood” the original inhabitant of the body he’s currently wearing? Are there other consciousnesses trapped in the ring? What happens to them when Barl returns to his own body – are they returned to their own bodies? Are their memories intact?
It seems likely that Barl’s uncanny ability to catch 40 winks is in fact a cover for his jumping to different bodies. This would also explain the difficulty in waking him referred to on the Traits card. No amount of yelling or shaking will wake him, but when Barl notices you’re trying to – from whatever body he’s currently inhabiting – he makes his way back and feigns waking from slumber to keep his corporeal transitory trick a secret. As for the honesty thing, if he’s convinced everyone that his accusers are liars before they’ve even accused him of anything, it’ll make keeping his secret that much easier…
So let’s turn this into a short arc.
In a small village, a number of people have recently experienced odd sensations and memory lapses. Farmer Giles went out to milk his favorite goat, only to discover that he’d already done it. Young Prudence somehow missed her secret assignation with Bert the Blacksmith’s apprentice, and in fact had no idea why her boots were so muddy. No-one could figure out why Walter had suddenly uncorked the good barrel in the tavern, despite having only just cracked open the usual beer, and Walter himself couldn’t remember even doing it!
Surely that wizard fellow who came into town a few days ago can help! He looks a right proper fellow in that cloak with all the stars on it! He’s sure to be able to unravel the mystery. As our heroes come into town, they find a handful of villlagers entreating Barl to help them solve the mystery. He spots the heroes and – knowing that they could expose his charade – recruits them instead to join him in his investigation. If he’s working with them, he can steer their efforts, or if he feels he’s at risk, all he’ll need to do is to ‘become’ one of the adventurers on a more permanent basis, letting them “kill” his old host body.
“Why yes, good heroes, I am new to the area myself. I’m on the trail of a deadly Mind Flayer that I heard was establishing itself nearby. I suspect it may be testing the waters, so to speak, and snacking on the memories of these good gentle rubes. Surely, we should work together to uncover the fiend’s base of operations, and save these honest folk from losing their very minds in the face of betentacled terror! Why, even now the hideous creature could be watching through the eyes of its agents… that milkmaid is looking awfully suspicious…”
Will the players uncover Barl’s treachery? Will he be able to lure them into nearby ruins and pick them off, one-by-one? What the heck’s up with the milkmaid?
Dungeons & Dragons is the perfect way for you to write epic adventures with your friends as you play together to craft a story for the ages. Sometimes, all you need is a little nugget of inspiration. Thanks to SkeletonKey and their Dossier Decks for the fun ideas. Next time, we crack the Orcs & Goblins deck. If I draw a half-orc, I’m writing a sternly worded letter… 😉