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Which NPC in WoW are safe to pass nearby?

Playing for Horde I was accidentally killed many time by Alliance NPC, when I happen to come near Alliance city. Usually it is immediate death, so I started to be afraid of NPC, which have "red" name and has a skull instead of level.
But then during quests I noted NPCs, which are also red and skulled, but they didn't touched me. Last one I met right in a neutral city - Dalaran, it was near a guy, which gave me a quest, so I must come close to this skull.. and it didn't touched me.

So is there a reliable way to understand when NPC will kill you and when they will ignore you?

P.S. I add a sample picture of red mob, which doesn't attack from a beach of Isle of Giants (NPC named Beeble Sockwrench) (this is not city area):

enter image description here

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The first thing to look for is if you could attack the NPC (move your mouse cursor over them, if it's a sword you can attack them, if it's a hand you can do nothing to/with that npc, if it's another cursor you can interact with them in a friendly way). If you can't attack the NPC, the NPC won't attack you.

If you can attack the NPC, the NPC can attack you (back). But not all NPCs are aggressive and will you attack on sight. Some will (with variable distance at which they attack, this is called "aggro range"), some won't. Regretfully there is no way to check if the NPC will attack you on sight or only fight back when attacked.

For most situations you learn by experience what to expect from an NPC. And with higher level your chance to escape if attacked also improves so it's no longer deadly when you aggro an NPC.

  • I tried first part and failed to confirm it. At WintergraspW, (64,22) I met alians skull, and so cursor, when moved mouse over them. Then I moved closer, and was attacked. – klm123 May 23 '15 at 19:54
  • Oh, I see, I was flying, so I couldn't attack... But then it doesn't help much, since: 1. usually you fly over such npc and it starts to attack you, 2. it is safer to fly, so you can retreat quickly. Is there another way to check? – klm123 May 23 '15 at 19:55
  • Right, you can't attack in flight form, so this trick doesn't work there. Unfortunately there is no other way. – Raidri May 24 '15 at 7:57
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Raidri is mostly right, but there is a way to see which will and which wont attack you. If you are using the default Unit frames or default name plates the background/name plate color will tell you certain things:

Red:    Hostile will attack you when you come to his aggro range
Yellow: Neutral will not attack unless you attack him/her/it
Green:  Friendly will not attack you.
Blue:   A friendly player
Orange: Due to your current reputation standing with a certain faction he currently 
        will attack you, but given you improve your reputation with given faction will
        turn yellow and then green.

Those are the most common ones and I cannot recall any other colors right now. Also most tooltip addons and default will show the name in color regarding hostility.

Hostile npc:

Hostile(red)

Friendly npc:

Friendly npc(green)

Tooltip of Friendly npc:

Friendly tooltip

Here is a picture I found on google demonstrating how it shows up on nameplates:

nameplate
(source: wowinterface.com)

As you see the yaungol are red = will attack you when you reach aggro range and the turtle is yellow = will only defend if you attack.

E: Neutral cities(Shattrath and Dalaran) are areas known as sanctuaries which are exceptions here is what Nate wrote regarding the subject.

Nate Kerkhofs wrote:
Dalaran is indeed a neutral city, and ALSO a sanctuary, which means that there is no player versus player combat possible (opposite faction NPCs are included in PvP combat). There are some quests that require you to kill NPCs in certain sanctuaries, but you cannot attack the opposite faciton in a sanctuary. Mouse over the target: if you get a sword, they'll attack you. If you get something else, they'll ignore you, since you can't attack them back and it would be incredibly unfair for them to attack you.

  • Em. Have you read this part of the question "But then during quests I so some NPC, which are also red and skulled, but they didn't touched me. Last one I met right in a neutral city - Dalaran, it was near a guy, which gave me a quest, so I must come close to this skull.. and it didn't touched me."? – klm123 May 27 '15 at 8:23
  • @klm123 Dalaran is indeed a neutral city, and ALSO a sanctuary, which means that there is no player versus player combat possible (opposite faction NPCs are included in PvP combat). There are some quests that require you to kill NPCs in certain sanctuaries, but you cannot attack the opposite faciton in a sanctuary. Mouse over the target: if you get a sword, they'll attack you. If you get something else, they'll ignore you, since you can't attack them back and it would be incredibly unfair for them to attack you. – Nzall May 27 '15 at 9:03
  • This is the most correct answer, Slyre if i were you i would add that in shared cities that are sanctuary , i would add what @Nate Kerkhofs has stated – xerido May 27 '15 at 9:06
  • @NateKerkhofs, so you saying that red mobs won't attack you only in neutral cities? About "mouse over" Raidri already said in his answer, but this is doesn't solve problem how to detect hostile mob when you are flying or can't attack nobody by some other reason. – klm123 May 27 '15 at 11:14
  • @NateKerkhofs, and no, I recall now not cities areas, where red mob didn't attack me. – klm123 May 27 '15 at 11:16

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