Every now and then, one of my players will drop in on an NPC for a visit, consultation, etc. Of course, while NPC's are not active Player Characters, they do in fact have "lives" and activities that happen in the background, even when not directly observed by a PC. Work on construction continues, shops trade in goods, shipments exchange hands, and wives are involved in maintaining households, etc. Put plainly, NPC's engage in activities, not just sit in one place waiting to interact with Player Characters.
So how does one determine what a particular NPC is doing at any given moment of the day, when a player comes calling? In our home campaign, we simply throw a d6. Of course, the time of day can directly affect, or modify, the outcome of the roll.
NPC Random Activities Table: Roll 1d6
- The NPC is currently resting/relaxing.
- The NPC is entertaining guests/has visitors.
- The NPC is currently taking a meal, or enjoying a snack/drink.
- The NPC is doing nothing of consequence/or importance (i.e. Reading, Hobby, etc.)
- The NPC is engaged in work and is busy.
- The NPC was just leaving to perform chores, visit someone, on an errand, taking some air.
This table is only used when an NPC's activities aren't directly dictated by prior information or details. If an NPC wizard is doing research, then he will probably be engrossed in research for days, with little time set aside for anything else. A blacksmith, at his shop, will pretty much be involved in his work. The dice roll can still affect these activities, but only in so much as they are directly related to whatever the NPC is currently engaged in.
The blacksmith might be taking a break between activities.
The goodwife might be "entertaining" (gossiping) with a neighbor.
The mayor might be enjoying a late lunch with a visiting alderman.
With a little creativity, most any normal activities can be randomly chosen, using this simple 1d6 mechanic.