A quote from my solo campaign that really got me thinking about how players perceive Npcs.
Does your players treat your precious Npcs like nothing but obstacles, exploits and cannon fodder, whether they are gelatinous cubes or humans?
And if so, what can we do to change it?
Seven things I've learned about NPCs
Players want their characters to be special, and a secret is one way to do it. It is also a way to better connect the character with the game world.
Treasure is both the bane and boon of gaming campaigns. The purpose of all this was to bring up some more obvious, but often overlooked, types of treasure. The focus too often is on gold, gems, and magic items when the fun could be enriched by recognizing some awkward, but just as valuable, alternate items. Don’t pass up that ornately carved throne gathering dust in the lair of ogres. Don’t pass up that odd colored flower that your character has never seen. Take it all with you. You never know what you might get for it.
Bag on a Stick
Very simple gag but a great one, since it can be used multiple times over, even in the same adventure. Great for tribal natives gone restless and humanoids, but anyone can have set this up. Just what the header says, a simple bag over a stick stuck in the ground or floor.
As GM you can place the bag on a stick anywhere, in a floor crack the heroes have passed before, outdoors in a clearing or path, or at the edge of the PCs' encampment the following morning, what have you. Place anything on the stick - a coiled yellow viper angered by the bag removal, mini crossbow w/poison, transdermal hallucinatory drug dusted on the bag, yellow mold colony, an NPC ally's head, a weapon, scroll tube or satchel, what have you.
The idea is to build tension and/or stall for time/distract the party. Provided it's used properly, you'll be amazed at how paranoid players will get from this simple gag.