D&D General Baldur's Gate has great companion character arcs. Are such things possible or even desirable in published adventure paths?

I don’t try to predetermine how important to my players an NPC will be. It varies tremendously, both in 25 year long email campaign and my live campaigns.
  • Several NPC’s have been taken over by new incoming players as their PC. It can be an easy way to jump in a story. (The BG3 companions would be fun to play!)
  • Some NPC’s stay NPC’s but are frequently recurring and of varying importance personally to the PC’s. E.g., a barmaid from Return to the Keep on the Borderlands briefly joined the party and often interacted with the party as they made the Keep their home. A romance developed and a PC married her.
  • Some recur but are minor. I don’t think the folks in my current live campaign even noticed they met the same courier twice on different road trips, for instance.
 

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Incenjucar

Legend
I'll give small arcs to NPCs that the players are affectionate toward, like two NPCs who were basically their bosses during two different tiers of play, who retired to get married when the players reached a higher tier, rather than the usual "kill the mentor" shtick. I've also had an NPC who was in the opening scene of the game who came back half-way through as a playable backup character.
 
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It really has to be up to the player to create the elaborate backstory, then hand it over to the DM, who can try to work elements into the adventure (e.g. This important NPC is a PC's dad).

But often, players don't want to do elaborate backstories, and would rather just play Tav.
 

CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
i think in the same way that no matter how many story beats you write in you can't properly dictate in the module how an adventure will play out due to the player's decisions and how they influence events you can't properly dictate how a NPC will develop, you have no idea what events they will be exposed to and how the PCs will interact with them.

it's the classic thing between videogames vs TTRPGs, the videogame ultimately has a more limited set of paths the adventure ultimately will follow in one way or another, so can model character arcs to fit those paths more closely but TTRPGs can go in literally any direction and each playthrough even through the same module is a unique story that can turn out entirely differently, between campaigns the same character might become an ally, an enemy, a baker, the guard captain, leave the city, die horribly, die peacefully, i could literally go on forever...
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I agree with those who say that the companions in BG3 are the other players in a regular game, not NPCs.

I don't think I'd want to sit and watch the DM play out a story arc with themself as NPCs. At that point it seems less a game and more a one-man stage performance. Even worse if the DM is having conversations with themself.

So yeah, give the players the opportunities for big story arcs. Not DM-controlled NPCs!
 

Reynard

Legend
I think an NPC having a compelling story arc is entirely possible, but only in the context of that NPC's interactions with the PCs. No matter how good the "story" of that NPC is, it will only matter of the PCs actually care about that NPC and want to see them succeed or fail or find love or revenge or whatever. Personally, I think that sort of thing is hard to "write" and should emerge from play. But I do think powerful NPC moments are important to D&D (and other RPGs).
 

Stormonu

Legend
I would not want to see such highly detailed NPCs in a normal adventure path. They have to be rich for the video game because they are used in the place of actual players, giving solo play a reason to keep the NPCs around. In general play, that would be filled by the players themselves, otherwise it takes away from their spotlight.

That doesn't mean I want bland NPCs, they should have an interesting hook or two for interacting with PCs. It's just that you never know which NPCs the players will attach to, there's limited space in a product that has to be balanced with plot, locations and personalities. The more space you devote to one, the less you have of the other. For me and mine, the most space spent on locations is best.

However, that doesn't mean there isn't a case for books that are nothing but big write-ups for NPCs - I own a couple. But in an adventure path, you've only got so much page space in the first place, and if you dedicate a large swath to an NPC who never gets used or whose back story never comes to light - that's space that could have been used for things the characters could have more likely interacted with.
 

I can't speak to BG3 since I haven't played it but don't most written adventures incorporate the motivations and story arcs of main NPCs? Villains and their victims and those affected by the plot of the adventure - if they're major NPCs - have goals, desires and backstories. These stories often inform the DM as to what kinds of decisions NPCs will make when they meet the PCs.

Most time, you don't see them play out because the PCs choose not to focus the lense that way: either ignoring them, abandoning them or just not caring enough to find out the whole story. Other times, PCs take NPCs under their wings and make it their mission to help them and bring NPC goals to fruition. Since the decisions of the PCs often drive where the camera is pointed, that's where the story will come into focus. Sometimes, NPC story-lines are left ignored, or are off-camera narrations by GM as a way to resolve some plot point or Full-On stories. In any case, the backstories are usually there, in adventures. It's just whether the PCs care enough.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
Savage Tides (3E, Dungeon Magazine, campaign) starts with the story arc of a noble lady (and her wayward brother). If you weren't invested in that arc from Session 0, you really don't have a reason to invest in the early adventures. And, with a little touch up, it's a riveting, fantastic story involving an ordinary person that becomes completely despicable, a fantastic bad guy, and the way it transforms the NPC lady. The rest of the campaign jumps into save the world from demon lord stuff, but for a bit it's driven by concern for a particular NPC's story arc.

Otherwise, I believe NPC-driven arcs are best done with small groups (1-2 players) as there's less of a spotlight to share compared to a larger group, more need for the NPC, and greater opportunity to have cause to explore those arcs. I did this in AD&D days when, for a time, I had a 2-player group. I used an AD&D NPC manual (full of unique story arcs and hooks), and this was delightful with a small group.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I think, at best, you can suggest possible paths for where the NPCs might be directed to develop, given appropriate and impactful PC intervention. Beyond that, I'd imagine it's for the best to try to allow that to develop naturally at any given table.
This.

The trick being, of course, to allow it to develop when the players, in-character, want it to develop. Adventuring NPCs are a common thing in our games, often proactively recruited by parties to fill gaps in their lineup (e.g. in-character "we don't have a Thief but we're gonna need one, let's go find one"; out-of-character "nobody's playing a Thief right now so let's find an NPC").

Sometimes those NPCs are one-and-done, or just don't fit in, or become disliked by the party for some reason (for better or worse, my NPCs do have distinct personalities to them!); and soon find their way to heading down the road. Other times they become long-term core members of the party, and it's these for whom a good story arc can work well. Pleasant side effect: an NPC with a story arc can provide reasons to adventure at times when nothing else suggests itself. :)

I don't force it, but if something arises then so be it; and if an NPC's story arc looks like it'll take over the game and-or if the players aren't interested, I can always have that NPC leave the party to pursue its arc elsewhere.

As for intentionally inserting these NPC-based arcs into published adventures or APs: I think such things would make good sidebar or optional material presented as suggestions-to-the-DM, but as there's no way of knowing either the players or characters at any given table there's little if any point in trying to force it...unless that NPC's story arc is central to the AP itself (e.g. the party meet Little Joe the Fighting Farmboy early on and maybe even take him in as an associate or hench, not realizing he's in fact a fallen god and that the long-term plot of the AP revolves around restoring him to divinity).
 

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