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How Do You Feel About NPC Party Members (A Poll)

This depends largely on your goals -- and how complex a system you are running to begin with. Yeah you don't need to know exactly how Kratos the indomitable got a +10 to attack, but if you say he is a level 5 fighter, you should have an idea of how he could get there.

But why should you even know he's supposedly a level five fighter? What in a non-metagame sense would tell you that?

@Lanefan has made the point repeatedly that if for some reason you need to hand control of an NPC to a character, that character should look like a PC in terms of how they were built. I agree that this is the ideal situation, and this should be something you can do without a lot of hassle.

But of course in games that do that, you almost never expect that to be necessary.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
"Level" and "class" are purely metagame devices. They are components of a set of rules for building player characters.

In a system that uses a different metagame device to build NPCs, it doesn't make sense to ask what their class or level are, any more than it makes sense to ask what the "class" of an AD&D wyvern is. (The only version of D&D to use "classes" for all GM-controlled personae is 3E.)
Yes, 3e did go a bit overboard with that. :)
In AD&D it can easily happen that a being under the GM's control - eg a horse or mule or ogre or gelatinous cube - can move to player control (via capture or taming or a Charm spell or sundry other means).
None of those are commonly playable as PCs, though. It goes both ways: if a player wants to roll up and write down the details of a PC's warhorse I'll step that player through the MM process (which pretty much just means making notes and rolling the hit dice).
But in AD&D very few beings under the GM's control are created using mechanical build rules that emulate the player character build rules. Even when it comes to a being of a PC-eligible race, they do not need to have a class and level (see eg the Dwarf, Elf, Men etc entries in the Monster Manual) and even if the GM does choose to build them in that fashion s/he is allowed to stipulate ability scores without having regard to the rules that govern PC build (see eg Gygax's DMG p 11: "You should, of course, set the ability scores of those NPCs you will use as parts of the milieu, particularly those of high level and power. Scores for high level NPC's must be high - how else could these figures have risen so high?").
Yes. What he fails to mention, though, and what is IMO absolutely paramount when generating NPCs of PC-playable races, is something like this: "whatever you-as-GM assign or stipulate should be within the parameters achievable by generating the character using the Player's Handbook". I've always seen this omission as a rather glaring error.
Here are the rules from Classic Traveller (from Book 1, p 8 and Book 3, p 22, 1977 edition) for when the players have their PCs hire a NPC:

Sometimes (often) players will encounter people not manipulated by an actual player. They may be thugs or assailants. They may be potential hirelings or employers. In any case, their skills and abilities should be determined using the character generation procedure, and noted for the effects they may have on play.​
For example, a starship captain may be looking for a crew for his ship, in which case, the referee would generate characters until one occurs with the required skill (such as navigation, medical, etc.). Generally, the first appropriate character to be generated would present himself for employment, and if not accepted or considered suitable, an appropriate delay would occur before another presents himself. As an alternative, the referee might simply generate a character and assign him the required skill, plus perhaps 1 or 2 more.​
When travellers require employees, for any purpose, they must find them in the course of their activities. This may require advertising, visiting union hiring halls, or active efforts in barrooms or clubs. Hiring is done by stating a requirement to the referee, who indicates persons presenting themselves for employment. The interview consists of generating the person's characteristics and experience.​
These rules contemplate that NPCs may be generated using the PC-build rules, or may just be created by referee stipulation.

RuneQuest is a well-known FRPG which was one of the first to use the same mechanical framework for specifying all beings in the game system, so that they all feed into action resolution in the same way. But it does not require that all beings under the GM's control be generated using the PC build framework.

Personally I don't regard it as a very important desideratum of a RPG that a GM-controlled entity should be easily amenable to slotting into the player-side features of the game such as (eg) balanced character building, clear process for character advancement, etc. As I said the only version of D&D to attempt this is 3E, and it generated a lot of complexity (eg ECL rules) and weaknesses in design (eg undead with too few hit points because of their lack of a CON score).
What 3e failed to do, in its IMO foolish quest to make just about everything PC-playable, was differentiate between PC-playable races (which should be consistent within the game world no matter who is playing them) and monsters (which can be whatever). 4e, perhaps as a reaction to this, failed by going way too far in the opposite direction and having PCs and NPCs of the same race, class and level rest on different foundations.

If, for example, Duergar aren't a PC-playable creature in your game then who really cares how you design 'em as long as whatever you come up with vaguely suits the genre etc. and makes for a worthy opponent or interaction or whatever purpose you put them to in play. Ditto for a Zombie - who's ever gonna want to play one of those? They're monsters, and thus there's no need to worry about being consistent with their PC versions.

Common Dwarves, on the other hand, are in nearly all D&D games a PC-playable creature. And so with these, it shouldn't make any mechanical difference whether this Dwarf Thief here is my PC or that otherwise-identical Dwarf Thief over there is: internal consistency expects that they should be completely interchangeable from PC to NPC and back again.
 



Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In no way does that tell you his level. It tells you his fighting capability. Level does not exist in the game world.
If 'level' vaguely equates to 'degree of skill and competence' then yes, I can determine whether this guy is worse than me, about the same as me, or better than me.

With casters, level very much exists as measured by what tier of spell you can cast.
 

If 'level' vaguely equates to 'degree of skill and competence' then yes, I can determine whether this guy is worse than me, about the same as me, or better than me.

Except not all classes fight at the same level. So are you up against a fighter or a rogue? And how do you distinguish the natural ability (Strength) or other add ons from the part coming from level?

With casters, level very much exists as measured by what tier of spell you can cast.

Except, of course, not all casters are always full every-other-level casters either. Apply that logic to most versions of a bard, and you'll assume they're much higher level than they are.

Level has never been as lock-stepped with ability as you seem to be suggesting, and its been far less so in the last 30 years.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But that's entirely action resolution. It has nothing to do with the rules that govern building!
Well, other than each ability each of us has being a direct result of choices made during the build process either at char-gen or at subsequent level-ups, and that those abilities either drive or inform the mechanics used to resolve said actions, I suppose you're right... :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Except not all classes fight at the same level. So are you up against a fighter or a rogue? And how do you distinguish the natural ability (Strength) or other add ons from the part coming from level?
Usually pretty easy to tell a fighter apart from a rogue. Also usually pretty easy to tell if the pain you're feeling is being delivered via skill, sheer brute force, or a combination of both.
Except, of course, not all casters are always full every-other-level casters either. Apply that logic to most versions of a bard, and you'll assume they're much higher level than they are.

Level has never been as lock-stepped with ability as you seem to be suggesting, and its been far less so in the last 30 years.
In this era of chooseable feats and creeping class-ability overlap, you're partly right. I don't use feats, thus they're not something I often consider.

Another factor is training. In a game where characters have to train to level up, knowing one's status within the school/gym/temple heirarchy would be as trivially easy as knowing what belt level one is in a real-world martial art.
 

Usually pretty easy to tell a fighter apart from a rogue. Also usually pretty easy to tell if the pain you're feeling is being delivered via skill, sheer brute force, or a combination of both.

Without clues based on armor, I don't think so. Their weapon choice overlaps with fighters too much.

In this era of chooseable feats and creeping class-ability overlap, you're partly right. I don't use feats, thus they're not something I often consider.

Even in the days of class features you could get things that provided bonuses that weren't simply level--combat proficiency for example.

And honestly, the fact you don't like feats and the like doesn't change the fact that you can't directly map combat skill to level in a rather large number of D&D incarnations.

Another factor is training. In a game where characters have to train to level up, knowing one's status within the school/gym/temple heirarchy would be as trivially easy as knowing what belt level one is in a real-world martial art.

If you're in an area where that's relevant, and know what it is. Another big if.
 

pemerton

Legend
other than each ability each of us has being a direct result of choices made during the build process either at char-gen or at subsequent level-ups, and that those abilities either drive or inform the mechanics used to resolve said actions, I suppose you're right...
I don't get what your point is.

If, in an AD&D game I as GM describe a burly warrior, wearing mail and carrying a shield and a mace and then stat out that NPC as AC 3, THACO 15, damage 1d6+3, and 40 hit points, what build process have I used?

What about if I tell you a dwarf as AC 3, THACO 19, damage 1d8, and 7 hp?

The build rules don't bleed through to the stats and the action resolution at all. (One contrast I can think of: in Burning Wheel a character's lifepath progressions, which is a part of the build process, informs the character's possible Circles.)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I don't get what your point is.

If, in an AD&D game I as GM describe a burly warrior, wearing mail and carrying a shield and a mace and then stat out that NPC as AC 3, THACO 15, damage 1d6+3, and 40 hit points, what build process have I used?
I've no idea, but you did use one. :)

My point is that as long as those numbers are perfectly achievable by using PC build rules, meaning that if it becomes a PC it can be reverse-engineered to suit those rules, all is good.

It's when either a) NPC rules allow for things that PCs can't achieve or b) NPC rules prevent NPCs from achieving things that PCs can, that there's a consistency problem. (easiest way to avoid this is just to use the same build rules; second-easiest way is to do what you've done in the example and just make sure that what you present could be made using PC build rules)

For example I've never liked (and haven't used in ages) the idea of NPC-only classes, which Gygax et al had as a thing in the 1e era. If a class exists in the setting, a player should in theory be allowed to play it*.

Hence, when adventurers meet an NPC Kobold Shaman all the fluff heavily indicates it's something different than the norm, but under the hood it's still just a low-level Druid using spell slots and casting times etc. just like a PC would.

* - in practice, if some stay-at-home classes e.g. Artificer simply aren't going to cut it as field adventurers there's little point writing them up in any detail until-unless someone gets hell-bent on playing one anyway, but the option should still be there.
 

I did a poll myself fairly recently if people like DMNPC companions in general. The response options were Like them, don't like them, depends on the party or characters, or Depends on the group. I expected many don't like them, but don't like them was actually the least popular response. Overwhelmingly, respondents said it depends and I am inclined to agree. I've done it in my games and exactly once in many years had a complaint. I took it and for the next three sessions, started with the NPC not being there. All three times, unprompted, the players unanimously agreed including the one who previously complained and decided to go out of their way to go get him. The fact that they wanted him there told me it was OK in this case.

The most common reasons I hear not to are: The NPC will meta game because he knows what the DM knows and the players don't. Answer: So do the townfolk and the boat captain and the villains. Yes it's valid if the DM makes the NPC a Mary Sue but he could make the Mayor a Mary Sue if he wants to.

Reason two is: The NPC steals the spotlight and overshadows the PCs. Answer: Don't do that. If you rescue the village girl from the goblins and untie her so she can run, but she picks up a goblin sword and slaughters eight of them before the battle's over, you just made it a different story than if she were helpless. Now the heroes have a reason to want to know her more and maybe have her around.

I think the bottom line is if the NPC being in the party helps the story and the if the players, your collaborators, want them around it's fine. If they don't, then remember you're not a director of a movie doing your script. You're the lead writer on a team making the script.
 

corwyn77

Explorer
I did a poll myself fairly recently if people like DMNPC companions in general. The response options were Like them, don't like them, depends on the party or characters, or Depends on the group. I expected many don't like them, but don't like them was actually the least popular response. Overwhelmingly, respondents said it depends and I am inclined to agree. I've done it in my games and exactly once in many years had a complaint. I took it and for the next three sessions, started with the NPC not being there. All three times, unprompted, the players unanimously agreed including the one who previously complained and decided to go out of their way to go get him. The fact that they wanted him there told me it was OK in this case.

The most common reasons I hear not to are: The NPC will meta game because he knows what the DM knows and the players don't. Answer: So do the townfolk and the boat captain and the villains. Yes it's valid if the DM makes the NPC a Mary Sue but he could make the Mayor a Mary Sue if he wants to.

Reason two is: The NPC steals the spotlight and overshadows the PCs. Answer: Don't do that. If you rescue the village girl from the goblins and untie her so she can run, but she picks up a goblin sword and slaughters eight of them before the battle's over, you just made it a different story than if she were helpless. Now the heroes have a reason to want to know her more and maybe have her around.
Unless, of course, there were only 10 or so goblins in the village. Yeah, I think the overwhelming factor in player approval is how they are played by the gm. I've had plenty of GMPCs with no complaints - I don't use them to overshadow or lead/direct. They are there as the subject of a quest, or to fill out some party skills (usually support but occasionally combat if the party is weaker than I need them to be. Even then, the party will usually make combat decisions for them. They can provide some clues or exposition if it's appropriate for the character to know these things, or at least plausible.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I will generally give characters of X type some kind of chance to evaluate NPCs of the same type. A professional warrior should be able to figure out how skilled an opponent is if they see them in action, or whatever. I'm not too precious about it. I'd call it class has a feeling about class, so any martial character is going to have some chance of figuring out how skilled a martial opponent is. The details there vary by situation.
 

Unless, of course, there were only 10 or so goblins in the village. Yeah, I think the overwhelming factor in player approval is how they are played by the gm. I've had plenty of GMPCs with no complaints - I don't use them to overshadow or lead/direct. They are there as the subject of a quest, or to fill out some party skills (usually support but occasionally combat if the party is weaker than I need them to be. Even then, the party will usually make combat decisions for them. They can provide some clues or exposition if it's appropriate for the character to know these things, or at least plausible.
Agree. A common occurrence at my table; NPCs turn, player x is in trouble nearby, in character, 'do you want some help there x?' Answer, 'no I got this.' NPC 'As you wish.' If the warrior princess kills 8 of 10 goblins by herself, I wonder how they captured her. I may actually use that.
 

This is going to depend VERY much on the game being played.

In some games, there is either no actual mechanical heft to NPC allies/party members, no discernible mechanical heft to NPC allies/party members, opaque/inconsistent mechanical heft to NPC allies/party members (because its all GM-facing). They may just be "party members" in name only, when in reality, they're the means by the GM to "cue/flag the plot" to the players via exposition/info dump or nudge. Or they're the GM's way of secretly deploying Force to balance combat encounters in a system with wildly swingy results.

In those games...my guess is that if players actually feel one way or another about those NPCs, its likely that they don't feel great about them!

Then there are games where Cohorts/Hirelings/Companions have significant mechanical and thematic heft...and this is overt/table-facing.

In those games (Dungeon World for instance)...I'm certain players feel very pleased with the system and fiction interaction with those NPCs. For instance, I'm certain that @darkbard and his wife are happy with their enormous stable of NPC companions in their DW game:

Bjornson the Frost Giant (RIP)
Frida the Earth Elemental
Dirk the debaucherous (but ever stalwart!) Guide
Memna's Thorn (Rose the Paladin Prodigy)
Marwat and Baati (Sherpas, Porters, and Donkey)

All of these characters have life, dramatic needs, compulsions, complications, and mechanical heft.
 

darkbard

Hero
This is going to depend VERY much on the game being played.

[...]

Then there are games where Cohorts/Hirelings/Companions have significant mechanical and thematic heft...and this is overt/table-facing.

In those games (Dungeon World for instance)...I'm certain players feel very pleased with the system and fiction interaction with those NPCs. For instance, I'm certain that @darkbard and his wife are happy with their enormous stable of NPC companions in their DW game:

Bjornson the Frost Giant (RIP)
Frida the Earth Elemental
Dirk the debaucherous (but ever stalwart!) Guide
Memna's Thorn (Rose the Paladin Prodigy)
Marwat and Baati (Sherpas, Porters, and Donkey)

All of these characters have life, dramatic needs, compulsions, complications, and mechanical heft.

Could not agree more: it certainly can depend on the game and style! As @Manbearcat notes, the NPCs mentioned above are integral to the game, so much so that we (the PCs) regularly endanger ourselves and dedicate limited resources to ensure their survival and success.

In a 4E game I GMed for my wife that was built around protagonist and player-facing flags, a kinsman of her drow Cleric, who was shunted into the Shadowfell as part of the inciting incident to play, became the driving force to the game's trajectory.
 

DrunkonDuty

Adventurer
NPCs make the game world go round. Sometimes they have distant relationships with the PCs. Sometimes they have close and recurring relationships that may include being regular members of the adventuring party.

In the (Pathfinder 1e) game I run for my wife there are 3 regular NPCs in the party. They're there thanks to the Leadership feat but they were hanging around anyway. We just used the feat to "formalise" the thing, rules-wise. And they're vital to the game. They give aid in the combat bits but they also give my wife regular NPCs to interact with, people to talk to other than herself. And since some 75% of our game time is interacting with NPCs that's a good thing.

In fact, we have a large cast of recurring NPCs. Some of them even help with adventuring from time to time. Like their friend Alfred the Pugnacious (gnome illusionist and all round charmless jerk) who has occasionally helped them by teleporting them across the continent and similar utility spell casting. He is also a vital member of their pub trivia team.

It all makes for a rich, enjoyable world to play in.
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!

Strange question... I mean, aren't NPC's the majority of the worlds population? Why wouldn't NPC's be joining, hanging out with, or hired by the PC's from time to time? Hmmm...

Anyway, and obviously, I have "no problem with" (?) NPC's being with a group. I mean...I am seriously struggling to imagine a game without NPC's being "part of the picture". The only time NPC's aren't with the PC's are with the PC's specifically go out of their way to be "loners" and whatnot. Otherwise they usually have various hangers-on following them around town, or ostlers offering to tend their horses on their journey to the next town, or outright guardsmen offering mercenary services to guard their camp or their goods when in town. Frequently one or more of these NPC's will be 'with' the PC's at any given moment in the game....even when they are wandering in a dungeon (torch bearers, gear porters, etc).

As for "GMPC's"....I have no problem with it if everyone at the table understand that the game is to be "shared" as far as world creation and GM'ing "turns". Each GM then has a PC in the group, but for us, the table rule is that ANY Player can over-rule the GM when it comes to deciding what the GMPC does or doesn't do. For example, if the GM says his Fighter wouldn't attack unarmed thugs...but the PC with the GMPC is going to, that Player can 'over rule' the GM and say "Well, if I'm attacking...YOU'RE attacking"...and the GMPC attacks. Period. That seems to kill off any semblance of "favouritism" by the GM. "Oh, look at that, a magical +3 Bec de Corbin! And my PC Fighter is specialized in it! Huh...what's the chances! I guess I get it then...." ... "Nope! Screw that! We're selling it for top coin and buying those horses we need!". ;)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

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