PBP needs an NPP (explained)


A quick story: Years ago (maybe as much as fifteen) I was running a game at my store (I own a comic and game store). It was an after-hours game, but I had over-invited people to play (or they had brought friends, I don't recall). At any rate, I had ten or eleven players show up. We could have split into two tables, but everyone wanted to play my game. To make a longish story short, I wound up running the game with all of them, but we did one interesting thing: One of the players (the one who had volunteered to run the potential extra table) played what we called the "Non-Player Player (NPP)".

The NPP worked like this: At the beginning of every session (and a few times between, when he had questions), we talked about the general plot of the game. He role-played and ran the in-party NPCs. He gave me feedback (and sometimes played) either the main bad-guys or some of their underlings. He took half the monsters in a fight. (Often we made sure that his monsters fought the players at his end of the table. Sometimes we had stuff happening simultaneously, when it wasn't disruptive). He played a shopkeeper when a player went shopping (taking that player aside) while the other players were investigating the main plot with me.

That sort of thing. It was a lot of fun, and worked very, very well.

Play By Post: Probably the main issue with PBP is that players come-and-go, often without warning. I think that if we modified my NPP idea, it could help this out. The NPP could play NPCs, and maybe even some monsters or BBGs, but also could play missing players. I understand that often playing another person's character can feel like stepping on someone's toes, but it's not always easy or desirable to write characters in-and-out of a plot. It bothers me, anyway. I'm always happy to have the original player return (and I think most of us are pretty forgiving when it comes to that kind of absence) but the momentum of PBP can get lost fast when some players post often, and others less so, and others disappear completely.

The Pinch-Hitter: Another way of looking at it, is to have a volunteer player who is willing to keep up with reading the game (maybe also playing an NPC or the occasional monster, to give them something to do while keeping up) who steps in to run a missing player's character until that player returns (or the GM can write them out of the story, and/or replace them with some new players).

What do you think? I mean, I'd be willing to play NPP in someone else's game, and I'd sure love to have one in mine (I've got three. All of them could use it, IMO).

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I'm not a fan of PBP, but I do like the NPP concept. While I've casually done this over the years, especially back in high school back in the 80s where it was a way for the DM to fit someone into a game on the fly, but my first exposure to seeing this used more formally was with the post cast Dragon Friends, a live-play game podcast performed by an Australian improv comedy group that plays in front of a live audience.

The DM runs the game. He explains the settings, adjudicates actions, etc., but there is a second person on the DMs side that plays all the major NPCs. In a non-performance-focused game, I could see that role switching to being a pinch hitter as needed.


I'm not a fan of PBP, but I do like the NPP concept.

Good point. While I specifically posted this as an idea to solve some of the trouble I've been having on my PBP games, the concept works very well in face-to-face games!

I have to admit, I enjoyed the freedom it gave me as a DM. If you get a good rapport going with your NPP, it's easy enough to bounce back-and-forth between prominent NPCs (with one of you playing the leader and another the sub-commander, for example) and improve the overall story from a "what do these people (bad guys) want, anyway?" kind of perspective.

I mean, the GM still has ultimate control of the game, obviously, and can keep any NPC for themselves that they desire. The game might ultimately be slightly more unpredictable for the DM in some ways, but it's not like dealing-with-the-unpredictable isn't a skill a good GM needs, right?


I like this idea. You'd need someone who wouldn't, themselves, disappear, and when dealing with online games, that happens a lot. I'm guilty. More than once. But having someone else to bounce things off of from time to time can help keep things going. Being able to delegate things to the "Pitch Hitter" would take a bit off the DM's plate.

I think the real problem is the NPP or Pinch Hitter is equally likely to disappear as any other player, GM included. Would you want the PH to step in if the GM disappeared (planned or not)?


I think the real problem is the NPP or Pinch Hitter is equally likely to disappear as any other player, GM included. Would you want the PH to step in if the GM disappeared (planned or not)?

Excellent question! No, I expect that the game still "belongs" to the GM.

The NPP might be able to keep the game interesting with a little bit of role-play if a GM is busy for awhile, but not take over the game. Unless they really wanted to, I suppose. If they were particularly inspired (and there was player interest) I guess they could make their own 'sequel'.

As far as the NPP disappearing goes, I would expect that someone the GM trusts well enough to do the role, would at least be good enough to let the GM know if they had to leave. Then again, I've had at least two players disappear that I never would have expected them not to tell me that they had to quit.

Obviously, there's no perfect way to control absentee players (GM, NPP, or PC alike) when it comes to PBP. I think it's clear, though, that things that would IRL seem like "toe-stepping" such as having other people take over games or play your character, should be considered reasonable in PBP.

The number one rule of "play nice with others" includes things like this in PBP, when it might not in a more personal FTF game, I think.

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
It's an interesting idea, and it may in fact work better in a F2F game, where you havbe a physical body there, and the "substitution" is clear, than it would in PBP. I would not want to have the role in a PBP game, partly because I risk making a choice that frustrates the (returning) player, and because I lose the sense of creating a coherent character. In a live game, though, I would love it, because you have the synchronous shared-room experience that PBP often lacks.

It reminds me of times I've played Pandemic and someone's young-teen wants to play -- we want to include anyone, but the kid wants to play and not slow things down. When given the chance to play the disease, they partic ipate, and get to move a lot of pieces, but don't make tactical decisions that can lead them to feel they "lose". (And then next time, they might want to be a player!).


I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
In my experience, this is common on the boards.
I played absent player character a month ago until such time my character could be introduced.

Similarly, I took over a character some years ago (with DMs approval I tweaked it a bit to better fit my sense of the character), but the main story and race, class, stats remained the same. The changes were mostly feat or two and skills (and skill tricks)

In another game, there was a player that left an (N)PCs character in game at such place where he couldn't be written out. So another player @MetaVoid took over. Not sure if there were any changes, but he played until such time the game itself stalled.

Finally, there is (or maybe by now was @Scotley) a game where two forum members and real-life friends co-DMed an adventure with the idea that they share the burden, and if (when) one is busy the other can take over for the time being. It worked splendidly until one had to drop out permanently :)

In all cases: I would feel bad if the player of the character that was taken over returns. Because by that time, it would be MY character. Returning player could make a new one. And disappear again. But if I have to make new character and the one returning disappears, what then?

I've been running an "abandoned" character in one game since my character died. PbP games are so slow, my character has been dead longer than she was alive in real time. I don't really feel like the character I've taken over is mine though.


Taking over an absent player's character is actually something a little different than what I'm talking about.

I mean, sure, the NPP could do that, but for a slightly different purpose. They've got a job to do (more like co-DMing) so they'd only play a character to push a round (or more) forward, or to find a way to get rid of the character (once it's determined that the player is unlikely to return). Sure, it's possible that this could take awhile, but the goal would be different than taking over a character. That could still be done by a player who's waiting to join the game.

The concept is closer to the co-DM, but I find that kind of full-partnership to be rare - the games are often one person's vision, and this doesn't change that. (At least, not much).

I've been thinking about doing a game where PCs are barons in a dukedom on the border. Each barony would have a castle with staff and the idea of running all that staff would be overwhelming for a single DM. The idea would be that the other PCs would have Semi-PCs in the other barons' castles that they ran.

The original idea for this was for a superhero game with a spiderman level of down time. The other PCs would play the families/friends/etc of the each other's PCs. So the PC is spiderguy and the other PCs would be mary jane, aunt may, etc.

Still not sure how well it would work when they would have to run real plot twists through the GM.

Too much trouble to coordinate these games, I think. So they remain, just ideas.


I'd be interesting in playing the NPP in a game like that. The players could just play their PCs, I'd play a whole series of NPCs. Sounds fun. Of course, I'd need a bit of a load-off my own games first. Maybe when (if?) one of my games wrap. I'm determined to drive them to the end, but it takes time.


I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
I started one similarly involved. It was very RP heavy and all PCs were part of an extended family (or soon to be family). Unfortunately, the DM disappeared for some reason.


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