One of my players, currently going by the name ‘UnBEARable Scenario’ after his character’s arguing with his own wyter over a honey pot, thinks I should write on the importance of a colourful background cast. This is not a shy, retiring player. In fact, I was not being entirely facetious when I asked if he meant the other PCs he was dragging along with him again. (He’s good about letting people have their turn, and supporting their RP, but he’s also the sort to end up in the Hero Wars by accident, despite his character yearning for the simple life on a farm.)
He doesn’t mean the PCs, though – he means the colour and flavour of background cast and NPCs. However, I think that there’s some extra nuance here, which hearkens back to what RPGs used to be.
Some people don’t play these games for the NPC interactions that I like to run, and some GMs don’t interact via their NPCs in a way I enjoy. It can be the case that you’re in a game because you want to make Rune Level, not because you want to make friends1or enemies along the way. So, I’m going to say that what I call Soup NPCs are a really useful thing to lean on. The colour in the background can be any depth, because as the GM, you take the random person selling soup, and they become the reason that characters do things.
As an example, this same player made up some NPCs at the start of the game, and those people became early plot hooks for his character, Quixochor. I also made up some NPCs, and one of them, Isangret, is an innkeeper in Wilmskirk. She was supposed to be a casual fling, but Quixochor’s very dim, and very nice, and very much a hostage to his player’s whims, so the player decided that Quixochor believed a rumour about Isangret knowing where some gold was, and it was all aboard the mystery tour wagon and off to see Dragonrise.
Isangret grew from Quixochor deciding to earn his way in Wilmskirk by looking for people to help. I added her motivations because they were needed because the interest in her was defined by the existence of the players. In fact, mostly she got created as what I’m now calling a Stone Soup NPC. Stone soup, of course, being where you start with nothing at all and end up with soup. I didn’t think of her until she was needed, and then I added the colour as required.
So I think that a colourful background cast is not as useful as the possibility of a colourful background cast. Responding to player work and in-world creating is important, and rewarding. You get soup.