D&D General Powerful NPCs?


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It depends.

In history, or in novels where they are just characters to hear about they are MAJOR assets "The legendary daughters of the goddess and the amazing adventures they had 1,000 years ago" or "The legendary daughters of the goddess and the amazing story told in this alt not cannon novel"

In play and in the setting you are expected to play in you have to be real careful to keep it to a minimum. If you have 7 powerful forces for good in the world that can be an issue, but most DMs can work around it. If you have 10 powerful forces of good in the world it gets worse, and each more you add makes it worse still...

I remember way back when in 2e people at cons used to tell horror stories of DMs that really wanted to write a novel, or DMs with 1 or 2 powerful NPCs that overshadowed the players... that is with 1 or 2, 7 or 8 is already making it hard not to happen, and it feels like the FR is a place you can't throw a rock and not hit a chosen of XXXXX or an archmage... and half the big named characters are BOTH,
 

Yes.

It depends.

Those powerful NPCs are a detriment to the extent they make the world something the PCs cannot change. They are an asset to the extent they make the world something that can react to the PCs.
that is well put... It is a level of stasiss, the more power house NPCs you have the more you lock your world into what it is and the less agency of change the players have.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
In other words, is your game focused on the players and their deeds, or are they just bit players in a larger story? If your game is player-centric, then all these NPC's are doing things that your players could be doing, and if they have the ability to solve problems better than your players, then not only do you have to answer the question of why aren't they?, you also have to answer the question of why are the players even necessary?

Note you still basically have to answer these questions even if the players are merely the main characters of their story, but not the main characters of the world.

Too often, I find powerful NPC's detract from the story, because they are simply a deus ex machina. I prefer to use NPC's who may very well have knowledge and resources the players lack, but still need the PC's, instead of having so much power that they can just solve problems themselves.
 

why are the players even necessary?
I don't always think they are necessary. Not every game is 'save the world' (please take that hint WotC). If your PCs are dungeon delvers or dragon hunters having a powerful order of paladin/monks that serve as Marshals in the wild west (Totally not jedi don't look at me like that... why yes they all have radiant swords) is fine, they are NOT dungeon delvers or dragon slayers.
Like wise if I am making a game where the PCs are expecting and building a warlord's band or a mounted knights (ether one being mercenary company) It doesn't matter if there are 17 powerful sorcerer families that each have level 15+ sorcerers... those just become there clients.
Too often, I find powerful NPC's detract from the story, because they are simply a deus ex machina. I prefer to use NPC's who may very well have knowledge and resources the players lack, but still need the PC's, instead of having so much power that they can just solve problems themselves.
The term Mary Sue gets thrown around a lot now adays. I think if anything it is being abuised... but I can't imagine any definition of Mary Sue that doesn't line up with an author insert (that looks like the author no less) that is one of if not the most powerful mage, who sleeps with all the hot women including the goddesses (and a set of sisters) and who can lie to/argue with the over deity that other gods can't even talk to... and that is NOT an all encompassing list with Elminster.
 

HammerMan

Legend
@GMforPowergamers I had asked in a thread a few years ago what enworlds advice would be to a new player who came on here and basically described Ed/Elminster as the DM and NPC quest giver and how fast people would tell them to run…

I think the thread got shut down but boy did it get people mad first (on both sides).

I will say this though, I often pepper my settings with high level characters to show PCs what is to come, but 9 out fo 10 times they are walking talking worf effects.

“Oh man that demon lord is scary he just killed the Archmage we meet months ago, what chance do we have” but really it’s all a shadow play, the PCs are there to best the thing that bested the NPCs

The issue with established settings is exactly what @James Gasik said you make your game feel “not forgotten realms” if Elminster is beat and you have to save the day.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Are npcs like the Seven Sisters from the Forgotten Realms an asset or a detriment to a world?
They are an asset unless the DM uses them as a DMPC to outperform the players, or as a crutch to save the day if the PCs fail. If the DM doesn't do those things, they are a story element to interact with on rare occasions that enhances the game.

A lot of people have the mistaken idea that having high level NPCs around invalidates the PCs because they would stop problem the PCs are facing, but it doesn't. They are all off doing their own thing thwarting one another leaving nobody around to handle the problem the PCs encounter.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
They are an asset unless the DM uses them as a DMPC to outperform the players, or as a crutch to save the day if the PCs fail. If the DM doesn't do those things, they are a story element to interact with on rare occasions that enhances the game.

A lot of people have the mistaken idea that having high level NPCs around invalidates the PCs because they would stop problem the PCs are facing, but it doesn't. They are all off doing their own thing thwarting one another leaving nobody around to handle the problem the PCs encounter.
If you are going to have your powerful NPCs off maintaining a state of dynamic equilibrium in your world it's probably a good idea to make that state of affairs visible to the PCs and/or the players. Otherwise they might jump to the obvious if incorrect conclusion.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
In play and in the setting you are expected to play in you have to be real careful to keep it to a minimum. If you have 7 powerful forces for good in the world that can be an issue, but most DMs can work around it. If you have 10 powerful forces of good in the world it gets worse, and each more you add makes it worse still...
I don't agree with that. At least it is not necessarily an issue. If you have 16 forces of good and the world has 23 forces of evil, the PCs will still be needed and have their hands full. You don't even have to know what all the forces of evil are plotting. Just assume they are keeping those forces of good busy.

That leaves the NPCs for meeting the PCs during non-critical moments. When the PCs need a piece of information or advice, and I never set it up so that they go to one. The players have to be like, "Well maybe if we go to Silverymoon, Alustriel might know something about this." If it's their idea, that's fantastic and I have no problem having the high level NPC help out, assuming the NPC is there and the PCs are at least established enough to get an audience with Alustriel.

If meeting the NPC is my idea, it will just be in passing and any interactions will just be RP, unless the players bring up something more than that.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
If you are going to have your powerful NPCs off maintaining a state of dynamic equilibrium in your world it's probably a good idea to make that state of affairs visible to the PCs and/or the players. Otherwise they might jump to the obvious if incorrect conclusion.
My players know, because I've told them. And sometimes if they seek out an NPC, they will find out that the NPC is off handling an issue. This recently happened with a high level Harper superior that they wanted to speak with.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
My players know, because I've told them. And sometimes if they seek out an NPC, they will find out that the NPC is off handling an issue. This recently happened with a high level Harper superior that they wanted to speak with.
That is indeed a good way to handle it.

Looking at my post I should apologize. The "you" there was not intended a personal "you" but as more general.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In other words, is your game focused on the players and their deeds, or are they just bit players in a larger story?
The answer to both parts of that question can be - and in my case is - yes. These things are not exclusive, nor are they zero-sum.
If your game is player-centric, then all these NPC's are doing things that your players could be doing, and if they have the ability to solve problems better than your players, then not only do you have to answer the question of why aren't they?, you also have to answer the question of why are the players even necessary?
Thw 'why aren't they?' piece is easy: those NPCs have already got too many other things on their plates, things that may or may not be at all related to what the PCs are doing.
Note you still basically have to answer these questions even if the players are merely the main characters of their story, but not the main characters of the world.

Too often, I find powerful NPC's detract from the story, because they are simply a deus ex machina. I prefer to use NPC's who may very well have knowledge and resources the players lack, but still need the PC's, instead of having so much power that they can just solve problems themselves.
Again, the bolded piece states two things that are neither exclusive nor zero-sum. The NPCs can have more than enough power to solve the problems themselves but if they don't have the time because they're too busy solving other problems, or are too busy arguing among themselves, or whatever, then they still need the PCs to deal with such problems as they can.

"Yes I'm a 15th-level Knight. My wife is a 16th-level Mage. My daughter is well on her way to becoming the most powerful Cleric in the land. However, I'm also a king and my wife's a queen; and we have a realm to govern and people who expect us to be here for them. My daughter has many people in her temple who depend on her, and a horde of acolytes to train. Therefore, we are charging you with the task of dealing with the dragon who's been raiding our northlands. Now go, with our blessings!"
 


It comes down to gaming philosophy and campaign style. Does the campaign world revolve around the PCs, or do they just exist in it? If the setting revolves around the PCs, powerful NPCs take away the agency of the players, since they can largely do whatever needs done. It's possible to use them in such a game as quest givers and advisors, so long as it's understood why the PCs are needed. If the PCs are just part of the world, then having powerful NPCs makes sense, even if they never interact with them.

The biggest problem with powerful NPCs is when running an "end of the world" campaign. There needs to be a reason why these powerful NPCs aren't more active, otherwise it doesn't make any sense. They might be busy with other aspects, or they simply might not believe the danger is real. Some might even be working for the other side.
 

High level NPCs:
  • At low levels, keep them at a large distance from your players. Consider to not even mention them, and use their minions to interact with the PCs.
  • At medium levels, ensure that your players choose sides, with or against these NPCs. Keep them at a distance.
  • At high levels, if PCs are allied with the NPCs, describe why the NPCs need the PCs (as stated above by several others). If they are enemies, be ready to lose them in combat as >L16 PCs will usually pull some insane stunts and are way more powerful than you think.
 

aco175

Legend
I had this problem to a bit after the first Phandelvar campaign. The PCs of that campaign settled into the castle and wanted to be the de facto lords of Phandalin. Fine, except the next campaign was again based in Phandalin and had hobgoblins massing and raiding around and involved trying to find the secret of starting the spell forge again. The original PCs who are now lords needed to out of town seeking alliances with Waterdeep or Neverwinter instead of being around to deal with this new threat. The next campaign after that was the Icespire box set which also needed a reason to have the original lords out of Phandalin.

The latest campaign has the players just assuming that the original PCs are not around. I would think that the citizens would dump them by now since they are never around. I should have one or two of them come around to the inn for some drinks or give advice to the newest threat. Maybe have them married off with several children so to not be able to adventure.
 

payn

Legend
A lot of it depends on how your campaign develops. If the very first session has high level NPCs telling the PCs to go adventure because the world relies on them, level 1 randos to save it, then its going to feel weird in those power disparity levels. If you start on a smaller scale, it makes a lot more narrative sense. Crawl, walk, run.
 

A lot of it depends on how your campaign develops. If the very first session has high level NPCs telling the PCs to go adventure because the world relies on them, level 1 randos to save it, then its going to feel weird in those power disparity levels. If you start on a smaller scale, it makes a lot more narrative sense. Crawl, walk, run.
and this is were homebrew (or atleast a world the players don't know) works better... if I run 2 FR campaigns for 10 people that know nothing of the setting, and just don't bring the archmages or chosen or whatever in for the first 12 levels, they don't know they exsist...

on the other hand in 3e when I tried to run it and didn't read all the stats and had the red wizard threat be something that the PCs should handle, for them to ask if they could get an audiance with the queen (that I quickly looked up her name but not stats) and had her thank them and ask them to handle it they would be rewarded... it destroyed there immersion, I didn't realize they were going to a 30th level sorcerer that hated the red wizard, I though they were going to a queen
 

payn

Legend
and this is were homebrew (or atleast a world the players don't know) works better... if I run 2 FR campaigns for 10 people that know nothing of the setting, and just don't bring the archmages or chosen or whatever in for the first 12 levels, they don't know they exsist...

on the other hand in 3e when I tried to run it and didn't read all the stats and had the red wizard threat be something that the PCs should handle, for them to ask if they could get an audiance with the queen (that I quickly looked up her name but not stats) and had her thank them and ask them to handle it they would be rewarded... it destroyed there immersion, I didn't realize they were going to a 30th level sorcerer that hated the red wizard, I though they were going to a queen
That is a curious situation. I guess I would have turned that around on my players and ask them exactly what they expected the Queen to do in the situation? Published settings have an advantage in a lore built out that folks can read up on in their own time. However, I do think you need to give the GM some leeway when they are running the game. To me this is like a GM getting a combat mechanical rule wrong and not just discussing it at the table and working it out. I expect these mistakes to happen on occasion, I don't think GMs are prefect, and don't expect them to be.
 

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