The lives of NPCs are unpleasant within MMOs. Imagine coming into existence knowing that you are forever doomed to perform one singular function, one thing that you have to do until the end of time. Bad enough in and of itself, but then you realize that you’re going to always perform that same function until the servers finally shut off. No one will care if you do well at it or not, they only care that you continue to do it, over and over, forever.
If they have a religion, it’s probably bleak.
Of course, some NPCs have it worse than others. Some of them just have an existence which is bleak; others have existences which are actively a parade of suffering. So here, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, are the lives of MMO NPCs from best to worst. You probably won’t change how you behave around some of these poor souls after understanding their plights, but you can at least respect what they’re going through.
1. Storyline NPCs
A lot of storyline NPCs can have roles overlapping with other points on this list, but at the end of the day, the storyline NPC has it pretty good. For one thing, players know who you are. That’s not just some white-haired dude in Final Fantasy XIV, that’s Haurchefant of the Silver Fuller, everyone loves him. For another, half of the time you show up primarily to do cool things, so that’s even more awesome.
Granted, depending on the game you have a pretty substantial chance of dying at some point, but you’re a legend up until the time that happens. In the words of Tarquin: “Sure, the last ten minutes sucked, but you can’t have everything.”
2. Quest givers
If you’re in a game like World of Warcraft, being a quest giver means having a target on your head when griefers pour into town. That’s a given. And you’re also not cool enough to be a big storyline NPC (unless, of course, you are a big storyline NPC giving players a quest, that happens). But you’re still a known person who is generally seen as a good thing, which is nice.
You don’t get to move around much, though. I hope you enjoy shuffling in the same spot for all eternity.
3. Important vendors
Who remembers the names of stable-keepers in Lord of the Rings Online? Anyone? That’s what I thought. But boy, you sure do need those guys, huh? Same goes for all of those gear vendors on the fleet hubs in Star Wars: The Old Republic and… well, you get the idea. These guys matter.
You get to see a lot of people, you’re always busy, and there are lots of people who need you around all of the time. The down side is no one really knows you. There have been more epic poems written about WoW’s Captain Placeholder (an NPC hiding the fact that a patch broke functionality for boats) than will ever be written about one of the NPCs selling tier armor. But, hey, at least you’re wanted.
4. Flavor NPCs
What’s an NPC who doesn’t do anything useful and isn’t a figure in a story? Flavor, that’s what. You’re there to fill out the scene. There are lots of flavor NPCs whom players can’t even target or see named, to boot. You are, in other words, forever at the mercy of players who may or may not care that you exist.
On the plus side, no one targets you. For anything. Ever. It’s a mixed blessing.
I’m so sorry, woodland denizens of Elwynn Forest, that you are my go-to whenever one of my Alliance characters has a new glyph to test in action. It’s not my fault that you take damage and are more satisfying to kill instead of beating up a target dummy. It’s not intentional, really. You’re just there.
That’s the bright side of critters, though. Sure, they get killed by players all the time – and I do mean all the time – but it’s rarely malicious, if ever. It’s just one of those things that happens. Mages, I suspect, have killed more critters in WoW than anyone else, because the critters are in the same space as an AoE. But it’s not intentional. No one has a reason for it.
6. Random enemies
Ah, now we’re getting into reason territory. At this point, players need to kill you for various reasons. Whether or not they completely like it is another matter, but the fact is that you’re a bear, the players need to collect bear tongues for some reason or another, and the inside of your mouth now has a date with something sharp. Other than your teeth.
This is an odd parabolic arc of being noticed, but you’re on the wrong side of it. Players notice you only as much as they notice critters, but they notice you because they have something you need to take. Feel afraid.
7. Dungeon fodder
The bright side of being a random enemy wandering around in the world is that players will stop killing you as soon as they don’t need to do so. I’m not fighting Tarantula Hawks in FFXIV without a quest (or a hunt) to kill Tarantula Hawks. But dungeon trash? I’m fighting that every time I go into a dungeon.
You’re still not noticed, or if you are noticed it’s only in passing (you’ll be called “the miniboss” even though your actual name is Steve or something). But now you’re officially a part of the journey through something, and that journey includes killing the heck out of you. Over and over. Whether you like it or not.
You might think that this one is a step up. After all, players notice you and fear you. You’ve got power. But you have power that’s sharply curtailed and limited in how it can be executed, and that power is only frightening so long as players haven’t figured out how to reliably kill you.
Once they have? You realize that you misunderstood your role in the game.
You aren’t the powerful guardian of anything.
You’re a pinata.
9. That one boss
The one saving grace for bosses is that eventually, no one needs anything that they drop. Then, they can largely rest. But there is one category of boss in an even worse situation… the one who is so consistent as a roadblock that players specifically despise thatboss above all others. The kind of boss that makes players come back long after the boss has ceased to offer useful loot, rippling with power, looking forward to smashing the heck out of a boss.
This is nearly as bad as it can get. You will be noticed, and you will be feared, but you will be hated, and players have a higher power curve than you can ever aspire to. This does not end well. But there is one step that’s even worse.
You’re noticed. You’re taken. You’re kept. And you must perform tricks fr your masters at their whims as they drag you through hellish environments, often running for shelter as That One Boss rips the entire world around you to shreds.
You can’t die, but you probably wish you could.