This is a little concept to liven the game world up a bit, even during lower population periods.
I'd like to have NPCs, that have the same abilities as players (more or less), who have a persistent inventory, that have a unique (but dynamic) location in the game world, each carrying their own little background story and having their own goals in the world (very simply ones).
For example, you could have Lilly, the Paladin, who tends to travel between Tos, Marion and Jasper. She also visits the Shal'ill temple once a day and pays her respects to Kraanan every Thursday. On weekdays, she travels to cess pools of evil twice a day (cemetery in Tos, FarNohl's castle, etc.) On her way, she will get attacked by evil monsters just like regular players, but she can quite easily hold her own. If she encounters another player, she may heal them if they are innocent and have positive karma and hook them up with the occasional buff or a cure disease/poison. She will loot her corpses, see the vendors in the cities every now and then and sell the stuff she looted to players, if they ask her about it. She may give out a mini quest to players, asking them to help her rid a map of evil and pay them as a reward.
There could be a top tier of NPCs (legendary heroes) that are seen very infrequently and that only engage in high level stuff (think Drizzt Do'Urden), important NPCs that lead their own squad (Lily may have students that can accompany her sometimes or have their own little adventures) as well as a plethora of less memorable characters that may roam the world and leave it again at some point.
A special kind of NPCs could hang around inns and other places and be hired by players to accompany them and help them out. They could loot junk for the player and sell it when the player hits a store, returning a portion of the cash to the player. If the player dies (and they don't) they could loot some of the player's belongings and return them to him. If the player is PKed, the merc may grab some loot and run from the PK, forcing the PK to chase him and making it a bit easier for hunters to catch up to him if the PK isn't careful.
Again, there are countless possibilites. If you want to add your own ideas, post them!
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