Intelligent items are one of my least favorite forms of NPC. Simply put, they’re hard to do well. All too often, they become a really useful item that never appears as a fully developed character.
That’s a shame. If the GM is going to the trouble of creating a recurring NPC (and that’s what intelligent items are), they should have a developed and and clear personality.
Over the next few days, I’m going to give a few intelligent item NPC hooks that you can drop into your game. These are going to be a bit more setting-specific than usual, but I want to make sure they’ve got clear flavor and personality.
For today’s intelligent item, we’ll look at the trapped soul. The trapped soul is the entity who is, for one reason or another, trapped in an object. This entity typically has some expertise or capability that the PC’s may lack. In some regards, this type of magical item can be treated as a (sometimes literal) talking head, making personality development far simpler. In fact, many of the most vivid supporting characters in fiction fall into this category:
Bob from the Harry Butcher’s Dresden Files is a wise-cracking, purile fae trapped in a human skull. Without question, Bob is one of the most important characters in the story and often receives some of the most important plot beats.
Cortana from the Halo series is another good example. Cortana essentially lives on a chip that slots into the Master Chief’s helmet. The series reserves the most dramatic moments for the emotional connection between the Chief and Cortana.
Max Headroom can be thought of as an example, though a weaker one since he isn’t bound to a specific device. That said, Max (as shown in the television series) is a great example of a vivid personality in a background character (though there’s an argument to be made that he’s actually the protagonist of the series).
Genies are the original NPC in a device and they’re never boring. Whether it’s the genies from Aladdin or more classical Islamic mythology, genies are always portrayed as intelligent and interactive characters.