Before you introduce a new non-player character to your game, seek to reuse an existing character who can fill the role.
The Small World Principle brings a few benefits:
- NPCs become more memorable and better developed because players spend more time with them.
- The smaller number of characters creates more interaction, conflict, and drama within the cast. Drama builds rather than dissipates.
- Game masters save the work of creating new and potentially interesting NPCs by relying on proven ones.
When I run one of the published D&D campaign adventures, I may consolidate the cast to focus on the non-player characters that I favor. Many DMs prefer to audition lots of NPCs in play and see who players fancy. Watch how players react to the characters they meet. If one sparks interest, then look for ways to expand the character’s role. See How to Make Non-Player Characters That Your Players Will Like.
The Small World Principle extends beyond NPCs. Instead of letting the game sprawl, look to circle back to existing locations.
Creators of fiction rely on the Small World Principle, even when they work on larger canvases. The Star Wars tales span a galaxy, but somehow everything happens to the Skywalkers, usually on Tatooine. In Marvel comics, almost every hero and villain lives in New York City. What are the odds? Sure, the Hulk spends time in the desert, but he seems to visit New York monthly for a team up or two. People notice the unlikeliness, but few seem overly bothered by it.
Sometimes an NPC brings some qualifications to a role, but seems disqualified for some reason. For example, perhaps the character last appeared a continent away. Or maybe they were dead. Before you conclude that the existing character won’t fit, reconsider the NPC in the part and ask, How could this be true? See Ask this question to create ideas and mysteries that grab players’ attention. Perhaps the character’s reappearance just requires a line of explanation. Perhaps it sparks a mystery that enriches the game.