“Find me a path, wouldja youngun?” or Pabio, the most beautiful halfling in Golarion
It’s not every day you make an NPC. Some of them are normal monsters, just to populate a fight. Others are common folk, to lend spirit and character to a town. But sometimes you want an NPC that the players will remember for years. They’ve got charisma. They’ve got strength. And they’ve got a way with the players that no one else has. Meet my first ever and favorite NPC, Pabio.
“As you walk into a bar, the motley crew of ragtag no-hopers don’t bother raising their heads from their glasses. Despite being early morning they’re all well into drinks, sorrow, and depression. You spy the barkeep who beckons you over with a smile and a wave.
‘You lot are new in town, hey?’ they greet you with a jagged grin. The female half-orc spits into a beer cup before wiping it and placing it in front of you. ‘What’ll you have in that, then?’
Before you can answer a voice fires across the room, heralding from the top of the stairs. ‘Don’t harass my new recruits,’ says a voice like warm coffee. ‘You’ll scare them away before they’ve even done a days work.’ The voice belongs to a halfling male who begins descending the stairs.
His smile is a dagger with a smirk, while his long unruly black hair sits on his shoulders. He wears a black shirt and leather trews, but his jerkin is a smart blue color that matches his eyes. What you can see of his arms are muscled, and you see what you imagine are the hilts of knives running along the inside of his jacket. ‘Pleased to meet you,’ he says, holding a hand out. ‘My name is Pabio, the Most Beautiful Halfling in Golarion. Welcome to town.’ Everybody roll Will saves to not fall immediately in love with the plucky young hero.”
I made Pabio as a halfling rogue, half to have a small presence in the game, but also to help the players out in case of emergency. 4 years ago I had just started my campaign and wanted a safety valve for whatever I put the PCs against. Enter Pabio. And yes, the rhyme with Fabio is intentional. I built him the same way I would build any boss, 2 levels above the PCs so that they’re a challenge but not invincible. I also wanted to shore up the PCs abilities, seeing a rogue can fill most of the skills needed in dungeon crawling, but I had to be careful to not build an encounter FOR a rogue. Imagine you’re mid-dungeon and there’s a whole heap of traps. Who do you send? One of the two barbarians? The cleric? No, you send the NPC rogue who actually doesn’t matter that much, seeing they’re an NPC. Right? Wrong! Or we sneak upon some orcs who aren’t paying attention so we just get the rogue to sneak attack them all, right? Wrong! One thing you must avoid is playing with yourself, especially seeing an NPC “knows” as much as the GM. There is no fun in letting a nonplayer deal with a dungeon, certainly not before the PCs have made a genuine attempt.
For our first adventure with Pabio, our heroic PCs all traveled lightly until we came upon an abandoned caravan, as night was falling. It looked like a nice place to sleep, but I wanted my players to try out the new Survival skill, so they split up the area and everyone searched. The problem was that they’d agreed that Pabio should search the caravan, and that was where I had placed the hungry bear that was their first surprise fight! Imagine their surprise when a roll of 17 yielded this result: “Looking about the clearing you see only footprints of those who have been through in the last few hours. ‘Anything interesting?’ you ask Pabio, before he ducks his head inside the caravan, then pulls it back out just as quickly, followed by a yell and the snap of an angry bear’s teeth. Roll for initiative!”
In the end, Pabio was learning as much as I was, as a GM. The bear seemed a good fit but was CR 4. My PCs were only level 2, and there was only 2 of them, so I had to quickly think of a fix. I put -2 on the bears attacks and damage, which is roughly the same as applying the Young template, and the fight went in the PCs favor. Thank Sarenrae. Moreso than that, however, the PCs felt like they had really helped a local hero who was in a genuine spot of bother. Sure, the bear needed dealing with for them to have a place for the night, but it gave the heroes something to cheer about, and later when the PCs returned to town after the dungeon, they enjoyed the fact that Pabio was gushing to everyone who would listen about how the newbies had saved his life.
So the bear was a mistake that could have ended in a TPK (total party kill) in session 2 of my long adventure, my “Lord of the Rings.” but it turned out okay. The PCs remembered Pabio very favorably after that. And you can’t do that with every NPC, because after a time you get used to approximating CRs and how to use them correctly, but through the game mechanics, rules, introduction and how I ran Pabio, I was able to make an NPC the players enjoyed (and that our cleric loved. She rolled a 1 on her Will save to not fall in love with the pint-sized sized hero).
And the above is just one area from which you can create a memorable character. I wanted a halfling rogue to be in my story because that was my go-to class and race during my initial years of playing. So from a personal interest I was able to create a character that took no effort to run, and who helped the players functionally as well. Imagine if Pabio had been a dwarven fighter instead. His opening walk down the stairs would have been accompanied by a thunking axe-head, and he would have taken the drink out of the PCs hands before even saying a word of greeting. Just one thing determines who you do or don’t use, however: Are you interested in the NPC? Can you see yourself running them for many sessions? How easily can you get yourself into their skin, as well as running the entire rest of the world?
That’s my Pabio. How about yours? Join me next time when I talk about how I set an entire dungeon outdoors, without a single wall!