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When using the console to affect NPC characters you always need their RefID. I always get this on one of the two Skyrim wikis because the following help command returns only their BaseID:

help <npc name> 4

Is there a way to get their RefID through the in game help search?

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Try help <npc name> 0. To the best of my knowledge that should return everything containing the npc's name, including the RefID. – Fambida Feb 15 '12 at 16:16
@Fambida is right. It works not only with NPCs, but with places, spells, perks, shouts etc. – ヴァイシャリ Feb 15 '12 at 16:50
Yay for not reading the question! – kotekzot Feb 15 '12 at 17:12
up vote 9 down vote accepted

You can either get their RefID by clicking on them with the console open to target them, which should display their RefID at the top of the screen (source: UESPWiki), or by looking at an exhaustive list like this one (also UESPWiki).

I haven't heard of any other ways but will update my answer if I find anything.

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This is as good an answer as there's going to be, wish I had more votes. – kotekzot Feb 15 '12 at 20:04
to expand: you must click on the npc which displays their RefID at the top of the consolen but it is displaying it because clicking also performs a Prid command with the thing you just clicked. very handy! – Adam Feb 16 '12 at 2:17
Adam, good point, I've put that in my answer – Alex Feb 16 '12 at 8:05
Do some NPCs just not have one? – Hashbrown Sep 28 '13 at 3:02
@Hashbrown, yes some NPC do not have a REF ID. This commonly occurs when they are general NPC, such as Guards, and not a specific NPC, such as Ysolda – Ahkam Nihardeen Oct 12 '14 at 7:56

If you can't see or click the NPC you want to get the RefID but you know its name, then on the console type "save funclist 1". It will open a txt file with every refID in your save game, just search for its name.

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this is really cool, the only thing that helped me find Serana's refID, without knowing where she is, thank you! – Al Jey May 24 '15 at 18:00
Thank you, this helped me find my follower...who was in a jail for some reason :D – Vahx Jan 10 at 21:23

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