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

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
In character, it only makes sense to have a well-rounded skill set in the party. A lockpicker-trapfinder-scout is an obvious skillset any party is going to need - or will soon enough realize it needs after any time in the field; and so if it looks like we're about to set off without such a person then dammit, I'm going to go and recruit one.

Same if on preparing to leave it becomes obvious that a party I'm in doesn't have a front line, I'm going to go and recruit a warrior or two to join us; be it as henches or as full party members...even more so if we've already tried the no-fighter approach before and got our butts kicked.

This allows players to play what they want to play, e.g. if everyone wants to play mages or rogues or other backline types they can, and not be or feel forced to play something just because we need it; while still putting a more complete party into the field.

Also, what do you do when running a module that for whatever reason gives the party an NPC adventurer, be it as a rescued prisoner, a plot device, a spy, or whatever? I-3 Pharaoh's Tomb expects the party to find and take in (two? three? I forget how many) adventuring NPCs during the course of the adventure as they explore their way through the pyramid. WGA-4 Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun expects the party to rescue and take in an NPC adventurer who very much has his own agenda. This sort of thing is common.
I don't run modules. Among other reasons, because they are built with the "balanced party" in mind and often have parts that are virtually impossible to surmount without specific skill sets present.

In fact, some of my favorite campaigns were ones where the party was made up of a single archetype.

I also don't do the DnD thing which I have found makes it much easier to have PCs that can handle challenges outside their specialty as the rules allow for PCs to have secondary and tertiary skill sets.

In most of my campaigns the magic user can also swing a sword, warriors are able to sneak, and the scholarly priest might even be able to pick a pocket.
 

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The character may lack the concept of level, but that's also not axiomatic.

See, the combat capabilities are linked directly to level.
In some games, most notably AD&D 1E, but it's not alone, until one has both the experience and the training, one does not level up. Given that the training cannot be taken until one is in the level prior to the one trained for, clearly level is accessible in game world to some degree... "I feel it is time I learn the Fourth Secret of the School of Defense" is equivalent to "I need to learn to be a 4th level fighter." "What belt have you earned?" is a modern real world equivalent.

That might have been true of PCs, but it was not to anything else; at most you knew what table someone was fighting on.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I don't run modules. Among other reasons, because they are built with the "balanced party" in mind and often have parts that are virtually impossible to surmount without specific skill sets present.
Which is fine, and presents a challenge to those who don't have said skill sets in the team.
In fact, some of my favorite campaigns were ones where the party was made up of a single archetype.
Oh, it can work, don't get me wrong; but in-character I would expect characters to learn what works well and what doesn't in terms of group or party composition as the adventures go by.
I also don't do the DnD thing which I have found makes it much easier to have PCs that can handle challenges outside their specialty as the rules allow for PCs to have secondary and tertiary skill sets.

In most of my campaigns the magic user can also swing a sword, warriors are able to sneak, and the scholarly priest might even be able to pick a pocket.
So, no such thing as niche protection.

The hazard I've always seen with this approach (and thus the reason I don't do it) is that the main reason for having adventuring parties as opposed to lone adventurers is so the characters can cover for each other's weaknesses. If each character can do a bit of everything, jack-of-all-trades like, that basic reason to form parties goes away; leaving you with a bunch of one-man bands that then often end up having to artificially or meta-contrive a reason to get together and stay together.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
There are games where Cohorts/Hirelings/Companions are “PC Assets” (under player control) and not the sort of dysfunctional GMPC you’re envisioning.
There are also games where the NPC is under DM control, yet still aren't dysfunctional like that. There's rather marked difference between a DMPC, which I can't stand, and an NPC of X class that is in the party for Y reason. The two are played very differently and the DM investment in the two is also very different.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
Which is fine, and presents a challenge to those who don't have said skill sets in the team.
Indeed.
Oh, it can work, don't get me wrong; but in-character I would expect characters to learn what works well and what doesn't in terms of group or party composition as the adventures go by.
Or they just conquer challenges outside their skill sets by employing creative or "outside-the-box" thinking. Makes the game more fun and the story more interesting in my experience. As a bonus, at times, the party will try avenues outside their primary skill-sets despite the lower odds of success. Definitely makes games more interesting.
So, no such thing as niche protection.

The hazard I've always seen with this approach (and thus the reason I don't do it) is that the main reason for having adventuring parties as opposed to lone adventurers is so the characters can cover for each other's weaknesses. If each character can do a bit of everything, jack-of-all-trades like, that basic reason to form parties goes away; leaving you with a bunch of one-man bands that then often end up having to artificially or meta-contrive a reason to get together and stay together.
See, and I have always found the classic "balanced adventuring party" to be artificial and meta-contrived. A small band of Viking warriors out to make a name for themselves, sure. A group of scholarly mages trying to unlock the secrets of an ancient artifact, okay. A group of thieves trying to gain power and position in the city's Thieves Guild, definitely. A group of devout priests expanding their god's influence in a new region, why not.

A single thief, single warrior, single mage, and single priest all skulking around in some ruin somewhere either all trying to get rich, or worse, each with a completely different reason for doing so. Definitely artificial and meta-contrived.
 

I am all for hirelings and henchmen that don’t dominate the encounter and take the spotlight from the PC’s.
I have a cadre of sidekick NPCs I use in my tabletop campaigns, to fill in vacant roles, or as exposition delivery vehicles or what have you. One of my tricks is to make each of them incompetent in different ways.

In my family game, there's a dwarf protection warrior sidekick, since the PCs don't have anyone who can wear heavy armor and take a decent hit, but he's a morose alcoholic trying to die in battle, because he believes he has lost all his honor. So half the time, the PCs have to grab him by the collar when he tries to charge headfirst into any encounter and start attacking.

The NPCs can't take the spotlight because they're not as good as the PCs, mechanically or intellectually.
 

A single thief, single warrior, single mage, and single priest all skulking around in some ruin somewhere either all trying to get rich, or worse, each with a completely different reason for doing so. Definitely artificial and meta-contrived.
Except, in a world where magic is real, the gods grant miracles to clerics and adventurers are a thing, military colleges and the like would have long ago figured out the value of a balanced party and what the "ideal" balance would be.

No one on Earth scoffs at the idea of military units having a mix of different specialists who carry different equipment and have different roles. It's not "contrived" to have an infantry unit with a medic, a communications specialist and a bomb-disposal expert. Two of my friends from college were Marine reservists who were called up to be attached to Army infantry units specifically because of their bomb-disposal training.
 

That might have been true of PCs, but it was not to anything else; at most you knew what table someone was fighting on.
One knows one's own Armor, and how often they should get hit, at least if one is proficient.
Likewise, the training rules aren't just a PC thing; they are there to limit PC growth, but they are done by NPCs, and the NPC has to figure out the relative skill to be able to teach the student the new material.

Every ability is testable.
 

Campbell

Legend
So, no such thing as niche protection.

The hazard I've always seen with this approach (and thus the reason I don't do it) is that the main reason for having adventuring parties as opposed to lone adventurers is so the characters can cover for each other's weaknesses. If each character can do a bit of everything, jack-of-all-trades like, that basic reason to form parties goes away; leaving you with a bunch of one-man bands that then often end up having to artificially or meta-contrive a reason to get together and stay together.

I have never really been a fan of games that go out of their way to enforce niche protection. I have always preferred more pulp style broadly capable characters. In my experience the different connections, expertise, and organic skillsets (in more flexible games) that characters bring to the table tend to build in niches anyway. You tend to end up needing help because going it alone is often untenable or because you need the connections someone else brings to the table.

I have also never been much of a fan of spotlight balance / power fantasy in the sense of we're talking so now it's the Bard's turn or we're fighting so now it's the fighters' turn. As much as possible I like having most characters be somewhat competent in the sort of conflicts the game is centered on. I want everyone to participate in social encounters, combat encounters, and other stuff.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
Except, in a world where magic is real, the gods grant miracles to clerics and adventurers are a thing, military colleges and the like would have long ago figured out the value of a balanced party and what the "ideal" balance would be.
Depends heavily on how magic works. The singular wizard that can lay waste to all the world's armies is not unusual. As for D&D style magic and worlds, they often completely ignore the fact of magic existing in order to keep society working in a fashion similar to medieval Europe. I highly doubt a world that had D&D style magic would resemble anything from Earth's past.
No one on Earth scoffs at the idea of military units having a mix of different specialists who carry different equipment and have different roles. It's not "contrived" to have an infantry unit with a medic, a communications specialist and a bomb-disposal expert. Two of my friends from college were Marine reservists who were called up to be attached to Army infantry units specifically because of their bomb-disposal training.
I find this to be a poor analogy as it ignores the primary role/skill-set of each character. In this example each character is a Soldier with a feat that represents a secondary skill specialty. A Soldier with the Bomb-Disposal Feat, a Soldier with the Communications Feat, a Soldier with the Medic Feat. They are all Soldiers first. This is why the army uses Army Medics and not EMT trained at a local college, at least not without ensuring they pass Basic Training first. Civilians in a firefight are usually a liability, not an asset.

I have always found the "balanced party" thing to be artificial and contrived. I think it comes from the fact that the majority of my RPG experience is with games other than D&D. I find the rigidly defined skill-sets of D&D classes to be extremely artificial and contrived, the "balanced party" is merely an extension of that. PCs with broader skill sets make both more sense and feel more organic and realistic to me. The idea that studying magic means you can't also learn to fight with a sword is just silly. IMHO anyway.
 
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One knows one's own Armor, and how often they should get hit, at least if one is proficient.,m

Look at how many iterations of that one would need to have occur to figure that with any reliability with a system as swingy as a D20 some time.

Likewise, the training rules aren't just a PC thing; they are there to limit PC growth, but they are done by NPCs, and the NPC has to figure out the relative skill to be able to teach the student the new material.

Every ability is testable.

There's nothing to suggest many opponents are even vaguely in situations to get what one would think of as training, and yet they still arrived at their skill somehow.
 

Look at how many iterations of that one would need to have occur to figure that with any reliability with a system as swingy as a D20 some time.



There's nothing to suggest many opponents are even vaguely in situations to get what one would think of as training, and yet they still arrived at their skill somehow.
Given the 8 hour days, 5 days a week, for several weeks in training? Yes, you are going to get the needed repetitions.
Also another case where it's clear that NPCs have an awareness of level: high level druids and assassins have to seek out their better in order to advance, and defeat them in a duel.
 

S'mon

Legend
For my current 5e campaign there are typically some PC-class NPCs with the parties; one party has 8 PCs & 1 PC-class NPC; another has 7 PCs, 2 PC-class NPCs, and 1 NPC-build Bard played as a PC (the character started off as a 1e AD&D PC, became a 5e NPC, the player asked to resume playing the character & keep the NPC stats). I find it works very well and I've definitely not seen any resentment from the players; they see NPC allies as a valuable resource that helps them stay alive. Most of the PC-class NPCs cap at 4th level, so won't overshadow the PCs; a couple of the NPCs are uncapped but one of those is pregnant & will presumably need to stop adventuring at some point, the other is currently a 2nd level Fighter when most of the PCs in the party are 4th level.
 

Given the 8 hour days, 5 days a week, for several weeks in training? Yes, you are going to get the needed repetitions.
Also another case where it's clear that NPCs have an awareness of level: high level druids and assassins have to seek out their better in order to advance, and defeat them in a duel.

Having a sense of overall capability is not the same as having a sense of level. There are all kinds of games that do nothing with levels but people still know a powerful mage is powerful.
 


The mechanics of AD&D make them intimately linked for combat.
Even in early D&D they weren't that tight; a range of levels had the same hit chance, different classes had different hit chances at the same level, and there were things like attribute bonuses and magic bonuses that could modify them in either direction.
 

Even in early D&D they weren't that tight; a range of levels had the same hit chance, different classes had different hit chances at the same level, and there were things like attribute bonuses and magic bonuses that could modify them in either direction.
I've been consistently referencing AD&D 1E.
Fighters are level-based to a lesser degree than spellcasters, but combat is tighter than the other. You can immediately assign a level based upon seeing a spell cast. If they drop a fireball, they're at least 3rd level. If they drop a cloudkill, at least ninth. If they drop 3 cloudkills...that's at least 13th IIRC. And if they cannot memorize your cloudkill... Since one can estimate strength, one can then factor it out.

So many elements of the game are affected by levels that it's pretty easy to do the math. Any fighter with a group of incompetent hangers-on is at least 9th. (all those 1st level followers.)

Plus, that the trainers can turn you away if you can't benefit pretty much puts paid to your denials. If they can tell, then it has to exist in some way in the setting.
 

Reifying something as clearly game-balance based as that rule regarding trainers turning you away will produce dumb assumptions no matter where you do it in gaming. Its the sort of thing that makes people decide D&D hit points are meat points.
 

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