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D&D 5E NPC Allies?

Should recurring DMNPCs or Allies be a part of a game?


  • Total voters
    36
  • This poll will close: .
I don't like the poll, because of the limited choices. NPCs with the party should always have a story reason to exist and the players should be good with it. Some people are going to like or dislike the concept, however, no matter how implemented. IMO it's best to define some terms here, because the devil's in the details.
  1. DMNPC - an NPC who is equal to the party, and likely to be with the party for an extended duration. Mechanically they're usually built in the exact way the PCs are, and because of this they may outshine the PCs in certain situations. There is a serious negative connotation to these, however, as there's a long history of DMs using them as a Mary Sue for them to be a PC. If this trap is avoided, it works extremely well so long as the players (and DM) treat them no differently than another member of the party.
  2. Ally - an NPC who is equal to the party, but probably only for a limited duration. Mechanically they're usually just an NPC statblack, so while they might start out strong than the PCs, they will be outclassed as the PCs gain levels. These are seldom problematic, because while they may be powerful, they're also much more limited in abilities, as the statblocks are pared down from normal character creation. The DM should be careful to roleplay them based on their knowledge and personality, rather than a tool to manipulate the adventure to a desired outcome.
  3. Henchmen/hirelings - NPCs who are meant to be weaker and/or subservient to the PCs. They can either be NPC statblocks (short to mid-term duration) or use the new Sidekick rules (long term duration). These are almost never a problem, except for the DM who might have to do a lot during combat. This can be alleviated by delegating their use in combat to a willing player. Out of combat, they mostly just do what they're told, so unless they have a specific reason to speak up, they're often part of the background during decision-making.
 

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robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
NPCs definitely part of the game. DMPCs are the devil’s playthings and should be banned. DMNPC is some hybrid of the two and sounds like a bad idea. Probably should be banned too. :)

The most unfun I’ve had as a DM was running a combat between an ally and my monsters whilst the players sat and watched. Horrible! After that experience I’d have a player run the ally in combat if they wanted it to participate.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Henchmen/hirelings - NPCs who are meant to be weaker and/or subservient to the PCs. They can either be NPC statblocks (short to mid-term duration) or use the new Sidekick rules (long term duration). These are almost never a problem, except for the DM who might have to do a lot during combat. This can be alleviated by delegating their use in combat to a willing player. Out of combat, they mostly just do what they're told, so unless they have a specific reason to speak up, they're often part of the background during decision-making.
robus said:
The most unfun I’ve had as a DM was running a combat between an ally and my monsters whilst the players sat and watched. Horrible! After that experience I’d have a player run the ally in combat if they wanted it to participate.

I can't for a second understand why a DM wouldn't have a player do the combat rolling for a hench; specifically, the player of the PC whose hench it is.

Henches still get rolled up/generated just like PCs, however, only to a lower level.
 

I can't for a second understand why a DM wouldn't have a player do the combat rolling for a hench; specifically, the player of the PC whose hench it is.
Depends on the exact situation. My current campaign had 3 NPCs for a while, but at the time I didn't know how to give control to the players without letting them see all the NPC information. One of them was a traitor, and obviously I didn't want the players to see all of his information. I couldn't treat that one differently without singling him out, so I kept control of all three. It wasn't absolutely awful since I had macros to click for actions, but it wasn't fun either.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Depends how big the party is. Larger party I don't even want them to have pets let alone while NPCs or multiple characters per player.
 

6ENow!

The Game Is Over
Honestly, I wish this was a multiple vote poll--because I would have voted for everything except "Don't like the idea."

I like it, sometimes because I need one for the story,
other times because I feel we need another PC to round out the party,
other times because I just want to play a PC myself but I am DMing.

And since it was mentioned, if players are fewer, I am ok with multiple PCs per player, but don't insist on it. I'd rather adjust the adventures or round out the party with an NPC if I need to.
 

Could not vote as my stance on this is
I don't like it but it also depends on story and background.

But if an NPC becomes a full member of a group. I will not play that NPC. In combat, I treat these NPCs as straight forward as possible. They are almost reactionary only whenever they are in combat. Out of combat, they will offer advice which may or may not be good. They will have their personnality but, again, as soon as a combat starts they become dumbest. The players must play them so that they are more than combat bots.
 

Istbor

Dances with Gnolls
If by Ally this means an NPC the party calls a friend, and can rely on if the chips are down? Then yes.

I think it is totally acceptable to have an NPC that is friendly to the group in a campaign. How involved or important they are depends on the campaign/story, and the level with which the party wants to involve said NPC.

Seen it where one is only ever 'the guide' through some unknown area or treacherous swamp/forest/mountain pass, or they hire them on completely as the manager of their side business, or mercenary company, or whatever organization, if the party has that.

Key is really to A) show that while willing to help out his friends, this NPC does have a life outside the parties adventures, and B) rarely, if ever, have that NPC have the spotlight or swoop in to save the party (unless of course, and I have seen this, the party thrusts said NPC into the spotlight intentionally. Ahh... good old Steve-Dave Derekson.).

On the flip side. As a DM, having created a cool slew of NPCs for the party to interact with, you have to be able to understand that the coolest NPC to you, may not be the one the group globs onto. It could be that minor player who was the stable boy taking care of the horses at the tavern, or they could gravitate towards none of them (poor Grompsh Greensong...).
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Depends on the exact situation. My current campaign had 3 NPCs for a while, but at the time I didn't know how to give control to the players without letting them see all the NPC information. One of them was a traitor, and obviously I didn't want the players to see all of his information. I couldn't treat that one differently without singling him out, so I kept control of all three. It wasn't absolutely awful since I had macros to click for actions, but it wasn't fun either.
Fair enough. I've had that situation as well, even including someone's hench in fact being a traitor, and I just let the player(s) run it as normal until the opportune moment, on which I took it over.

Also, depending on the particular NPC, sometimes I'll farm it out to a player and other times I won't; often dependent on how simple/complex the NPC is to play. Sometimes the players don't want to worry about running another caster, for example, and thus they leave it to me to worry about, but are happy to take over running a simple fighter. Other times, particularly if there's several NPCs all at once (it happens), I'll actively try to farm out the casters while keeping the simple characters for myself, to reduce my overhead.
 

Thanks Everyone, my language was not meant to be ambiguous. I was referring to characters that help the party directly including combat in an ongoing way. I think I have an answer though from the results and comments. I had heard some folk put forth the opinion that this was an invariably bad, (read dumb) Idea and that no one should do it. The feedback from the community though is much more mixed.

To share my own experience, I did this with a recurring character and one player brought up that it perhaps should not be done. As DM at the beginning of the next 3 sessions, I had that character not be there. Three times, the party agreed unanimously including that player to go get him. They went out of their way in character to make it happen even though I made clear it was up to them and that it would not affect the plot or the rewards to players.
 

SirMoogle

Explorer
They went out of their way in character to make it happen even though I made clear it was up to them and that it would not affect the plot or the rewards to players.
The rule of thumb I go by is "Are the players and you having fun with this NPC in the party?" If everyone likes the NPC's presence, leave them in.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Really hard to say...

Generally speaking, I think DM NPC are a bad idea, too easy for the DM to treat them as pets.

At least I would try to treat them always as temporary allies, not permanent party members: it's good if an NPC joins the party DURING an adventure (not before) as part of the plot, and leaves at the end or before. The idea is make the NPC a feature of the adventure, not a feature of the group itself.

Have the NPC have their own motivations, tied to the adventure or even beyond and more general, but NOT the same motivation of the PC party. At least NOT the motivation of just going adventuring with the others. Keep something there to make it feel they don't permanently belong.

Better have the NPC always in the background when the PCS make decisions or have exploration or social encounters. In combat, it's perfectly fine to play the NPC 100% effectively, but outside combat you should try to have it interact WITH the PCs but not IN Their place. This helps the DM also avoid using their own knowledge too much.
 

I'm for em. They can be used to fill a party that's missing a role like a Healer, they can be used as a gauge for the PC's to either become skilled enough to overcome em(or for the PCs to get left behind because nobody has time to babysit your PCs when there are Dragons, Cults, and whatever else can ruin your dungeoning career), reoccuring characters, or even the rival/anti-party.

I say the Tasha's Sidekick rules should be used for non important NPCs and the UA Sidekick rules with the possible addition of class features, class levels, or feats added to em. A UA Sidekick Spellcaster would be more of an accomplished magic user in the world while the Tasha's Sidekick Spellcaster is a rookie still trying to make a break in the spell casting business.
 


I've given my thoughts on it elsewhere, so I'll just say that I haven't had a problem with it since very early in my D&D experiences. It is hugely dependant on the group, but there is no inherent issue with NPCs in the group, well-played DMPCs, players with multiple characters, alternating DMs, etc.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Really hard to say...

Generally speaking, I think DM NPC are a bad idea, too easy for the DM to treat them as pets.
Heh - tell that to the one I killed off the other night... :)
At least I would try to treat them always as temporary allies, not permanent party members: it's good if an NPC joins the party DURING an adventure (not before) as part of the plot, and leaves at the end or before. The idea is make the NPC a feature of the adventure, not a feature of the group itself.
Sometimes this happens, sure. Other times the NPC* becomes an integral part of the party because the PCs (and-or players) want it to be.

* - or NPCs; I've seen this happen to more than one simultaneously.
Have the NPC have their own motivations, tied to the adventure or even beyond and more general, but NOT the same motivation of the PC party. At least NOT the motivation of just going adventuring with the others. Keep something there to make it feel they don't permanently belong.
Again, sometimes this is fine; not always. Sometimes it can end up being the NPCs that keep the party going, says he having on more than one occasions seen situations where the only survivor(s) is(are) party NPCs, who then haul one or more PC corpses back to town for revival...
Better have the NPC always in the background when the PCS make decisions or have exploration or social encounters. In combat, it's perfectly fine to play the NPC 100% effectively, but outside combat you should try to have it interact WITH the PCs but not IN Their place. This helps the DM also avoid using their own knowledge too much.
Simple answer here: with right of DM veto, have the players speak for/as the NPC as far as possible. If nothing else, if the NPC is halfway intelligent this gives an avenue for the player of the dumb-as-a-post guy to have some input.
 

S'mon

Legend
My current Roll20 Damara 1359 DR campaign is built with a very 1e AD&D feel, so NPC allies & henchmen are common. Currently there are 3 active PC groups:

#1 (5e) currently in the Forge of Fury has 8 PCs level 2-5 & 2 NPCs level 3 & 4.
#2 (5e) currently on downtime has 8 PCs level 3 & 1 NPC level 1.
#3 (PBP, 1e) currently in the dungeon beneath Narcissa's Inn has 4 PCs level 2-4 & 5 NPCs level 2-4.

I tried the Sidekick rules but did not like them, so the 5e NPCs use the PC-class rules now. I found the 5e DMG advice on this works best - use fairly simple PC-class builds for NPCs.

Mostly I run the NPCs but I have started letting a Monk 4 player in group 1 run his NPC Barbarian 4 girlfriend, they have some good banter going on. :)

This game does not use the Feat or Multiclassing optional rules, which I find helps combat go much faster & enables these larger, 1e-style parties.

I think NPCs in the party are useful for giving the DM a voice, for one thing I can impart information without always saying "Your character knows that...". They tend to strongly encourage In Character play; often with no NPCs present the players default to OOC talk.

Obviously it's important the GM not think in terms of "This is MY character" - no GMPCs as such, though it's ok to be fond of your NPCs as long as you're prepared to kill them should the dice go that way.
 
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Li Shenron

Legend
Heh - tell that to the one I killed off the other night... :)



Simple answer here: with right of DM veto, have the players speak for/as the NPC as far as possible. If nothing else, if the NPC is halfway intelligent this gives an avenue for the player of the dumb-as-a-post guy to have some input.
While I was writing, I thought at least three or four times whether to mention to kill off the NPC allies every now and then. Even use them as trap fodder to signal the players about a dangerous situation. But I didn't want that to sound too much like a suggestion.

About the NPC speaking or making decisions. The risk is for the DM to start using the NPC to get the party "unstuck", instead of letting the players figure out, or just let them be stuck and occasionally botch a quest.

It is ok to use the NPC as input. It can be part of the story. For instance the PCs might have found a sage ally that can provide knowledge. But what I mean there, is that it's best not to have a situation where the players are undecided and turn to the NPC for hints about whether to do X or Y, and then the DM risk being in a deus-ex-machina position.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
While I was writing, I thought at least three or four times whether to mention to kill off the NPC allies every now and then. Even use them as trap fodder to signal the players about a dangerous situation. But I didn't want that to sound too much like a suggestion.
My take is to treat the NPCs just like PCs - if one gets in the line of fire, that's the one who's going down. And if it really is random who gets attacked (e.g. a mindless zombie surrounded by the party) I'll roll to see who's the target.

Ideally, the mortality rate of adventuring NPCs in the party should be about the same as that of PCs, assuming vaguely equal level. Henches and hirelings tend to die off more often if they get into combat, simply due to being lower level and (often) having less hit points.
About the NPC speaking or making decisions. The risk is for the DM to start using the NPC to get the party "unstuck", instead of letting the players figure out, or just let them be stuck and occasionally botch a quest.
To avoid this I'll sometimes have a party NPC come up with a wrong or even dangerously wrong idea, just like a PC might. If the players/PCs blindly follow its suggestion assuming I'm trying to guide them they learn pretty quick that such ain't always the case. :)
It is ok to use the NPC as input. It can be part of the story. For instance the PCs might have found a sage ally that can provide knowledge. But what I mean there, is that it's best not to have a situation where the players are undecided and turn to the NPC for hints about whether to do X or Y, and then the DM risk being in a deus-ex-machina position.
Again, if the PCs are turning to the NPC for hints don't always* give 'em the right hints. :)

* - tempered of course by the abilities and-or situation of the NPC in question e.g. if an NPC is the party's only Ranger it only makes sense the party are now and then going to ask it to do some tracking, just like they would a PC Ranger. Ditto if the PCs are all foreigners and the NPC is local; here it makes sense both that the PCs would ask it for info and that the info it has will be reasonably true.
 


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