There is a tendency for players in Dungeons & Dragons to be taken wholly by surprise when a Game Master begins to reveal subtleties about their Non-Player Characters. These are NPCs that the players have been dealing with for months or even years, but the players have never taken the time to deeply delve into what precisely makes the NPCs tick. I’ve commented on this before and will keep bringing it up again because it is always a fascinating thing for me as a Game Master to witness.
I’ll give you one specific example from my own game. Years ago I introduced an NPC named Gustav “Gus” Grosserhund. He has a ridiculously high charisma, a supernaturally good singing voice, and doesn’t carry and weapons or wear any armor. On the day he was introduced there was a brand new player present and she immediately saw through Gus and although she wasn’t sure what he was she was damned sure that he wasn’t up to any good. Over time the rest of the more experienced players began to catch on that this Gus fellow was in fact some sort of bloodthirsty shape-changer and he had gathered to himself a number of similar people and together they run the Howler House inn and tavern in the player’s base of operations. They in fact took advantage of Gus’ abilities to make some of their more problematic pests disappear. In essence they not only know that Gus is evil, but have embraced him as a great way to take care of problems that they themselves can’t do because they aren’t themselves evil.
I’ll let you ponder that for a minute. First of all, nobody has to this day done a simple Google translate on the name “Grosserhund”. It isn’t perfectly Germanic, but it gets the job done as meaning “big dog” and that naturally ties to Gus being able to shape change into a wolf or wolf-man hybrid of some sort. That simple step could have saved them a ton of trouble figuring out what motivates Gus. And finding out that one of your more trusted and relied upon NPCs is a villainous slayer and devourer of people should give a person cause to reconsider that relationship. Nope, not here. And there has never been the slightest hint in my game that there isn’t a strong possibility that a group of nefarious NPCs might not be up to some of their very own shenanigans that would in turn cause more headaches for the players. Perhaps more evildoers might be attracted to the player’s base of operations if it becomes clear that as long as you are cool enough and prove yourself occasionally useful that the players will let you pretty much kill whoever you want and not raise a finger to stop you.
All of this makes for a terribly interesting backdrop to whatever the main quests are in the game. Back at the ranch all hell is breaking lose while the main focus is on hunting a lich or trying to figure a way to invade a neighboring country. Each and every player must give careful thought to who in the game they are going to trust. And once they have made that choice, can they stick to it when they find out something new they missed the first time around? Game Masters should always give their players a chance to sort this out as they go along. Characters are always the most interesting when they and those around them evolve and change in ways that might influence others. Which in its own way is just a great reason for GMs to keep things interesting by not revealing too much about their NPCs.