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General The "DM's PC"

Mercurius

Legend
What I mean is a frequently used NPC that either is an ally or even a member of the party. Obviously it is just an NPC, although if it is a multi-DM campaign, I suppose it could also be the DM's PC when they play. In the past I have sometimes used such an NPC, whether to flesh out party ranks, to be a source of information or guidance in some way, or just add a bit of regular interaction.

How have you done this? Again, I'm not talking about the countless NPCs - even frequent contacts - that the PCs will encounter, but one that is either a member of the party, or perhaps regularly drops in and out of contact. Are they just another party member or do you use them as a source of info dumping when necessary (e.g. Gandalf), or somewhere in-between? What problems have arisen? Etc.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
What I mean is a frequently used NPC that either is an ally or even a member of the party. Obviously it is just an NPC, although if it is a multi-DM campaign, I suppose it could also be the DM's PC when they play. In the past I have sometimes used such an NPC, whether to flesh out party ranks, to be a source of information or guidance in some way, or just add a bit of regular interaction.

How have you done this? Again, I'm not talking about the countless NPCs - even frequent contacts - that the PCs will encounter, but one that is either a member of the party, or perhaps regularly drops in and out of contact. Are they just another party member or do you use them as a source of info dumping when necessary (e.g. Gandalf), or somewhere in-between? What problems have arisen? Etc.

As a general rule, I do not like DM NPCs. It almost never goes well.

I have two exceptions that I have used in the past.

1. The deus ex machina. In a few campaigns, I have included a "DM NPC" that was a specific plot point that would accompany the adventurers in order to accomplish a specific goal.

2. The "retired PC." When PCs get super powerful, they can be retired and become setting NPCs; when they are encountered again, they are "DM NPCs" and can be interacted with on a limited basis.

Again, I don't like DM NPCs. If a DM wants to play, they should rotate duties or join another game as a player. I've seen far too many campaigns go astray when a DM oversteps their bounds with a DM NPCs and I think it's best to avoid the temptation.
 

Mercurius

Legend
As a general rule, I do not like DM NPCs. It almost never goes well.

I have two exceptions that I have used in the past.

1. The deus ex machina. In a few campaigns, I have included a "DM NPC" that was a specific plot point that would accompany the adventurers in order to accomplish a specific goal.

2. The "retired PC." When PCs get super powerful, they can be retired and become setting NPCs; when they are encountered again, they are "DM NPCs" and can be interacted with on a limited basis.

Again, I don't like DM NPCs. If a DM wants to play, they should rotate duties or join another game as a player. I've seen far too many campaigns go astray when a DM oversteps their bounds with a DM NPCs and I think it's best to avoid the temptation.

Yeah, I agree on the potential--and common--problem, although think it often arises when the NPC is used as a deus ex machina. I think what you are suggesting in your 1st point is something a bit different than that term.

As far as the 2nd point goes, I'm doing something very similar in my upcoming campaign, but with a twist. I moved back to my old area and am reviving a group that hasn't played together in about five years. I'm designing a new campaign setting, that is essentially the same world advanced centuries and after an apocalyptic event. One of the PCs from the previous campaign--the only continuous one from level 1 to 15 (or whenever we stopped--has actually ascended and become a demigod, and may show up at various times. I might try to be coy and not reveal the connection, and let them figure it out on their own, but it probably will be hard to not make it two obvious.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
What I mean is a frequently used NPC that either is an ally or even a member of the party. Obviously it is just an NPC, although if it is a multi-DM campaign, I suppose it could also be the DM's PC when they play. In the past I have sometimes used such an NPC, whether to flesh out party ranks, to be a source of information or guidance in some way, or just add a bit of regular interaction.

How have you done this? Again, I'm not talking about the countless NPCs - even frequent contacts - that the PCs will encounter, but one that is either a member of the party, or perhaps regularly drops in and out of contact. Are they just another party member or do you use them as a source of info dumping when necessary (e.g. Gandalf), or somewhere in-between? What problems have arisen? Etc.
I've done this a few times when an extra party member is needed or wanted, and played where one was used. Personally, I would avoid using such an NPC as an info source very strongly. That turns into a crutch. Instead, I formulate a strong but simple personality for the NPC, one that is easy and clear to characterize and that give the NPC a backbone so that everyone at the table can guess what that PC will do in a given situation. Then, I try very hard to not deviate from that. This makes the NPC a predictable part of the game that can be relied upon by the players but doesn't act as the GM's plot helper.

For instance, I had an NPC Light cleric when I ran SKT because the party was all martials and one warlock and four strong. I like 5 strong parties because it significantly reduces bad luck swinginess and provides more stable depth, so I offered an NPC which the party accepted. The NPC would avoid melee, blast before heal unless someone was badly hurt or down, and wasn't very bright so wasn't a reliable source of knowledge skill use. I fleshed this out in bonds and traits for easy handles on the NPC. The NPC also had a gambling flaw, which mostly occurred offscreen in that the NPC, regardless of any treasure received, only ever had about 10 gold on them. This was shown in play by the NPC offering bets on outlandish things and usually taking the longshot. The resulted in a solid fifth party member that shored up a weakness without becoming a crutch for the party. At no point did the NPC have knowledge specific to the adventure before the PCs did. The players enjoyed the NPC, but she never outshone them or was used as a plot device.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Yeah, I agree on the potential--and common--problem, although think it often arises when the NPC is used as a deus ex machina. I think what you are suggesting in your 1st point is something a bit different than that term.

Based on a fictional work; the NPC wasn't integrated into the party, but was more of an "object" to be activated. It had a function at a set point, and it also had the ability to "help" the party one time (sort of a "wish" or "divine intercession" spell) but did not otherwise interact.

It worked out well, but, of course, the party never invoked the one-use "help" because they always were saving it for something more important, even though some PCs ended up perma-killed. It's kind of funny how that works.

I strongly disagree with the use of DM NPCs as noted; although there are occasions when the PCs will have hireling or henchmen; if they become integrated into the party, then they go under player control.

Again, I've just seen a lot of DMs have a blind spot about this. No DM ever thinks that their DM NPC is a problem. It's only other tables. Kinda like how everyone is a great driver- it's all the other maniacs out there.
 

Like @Snarf Zagyg mentioned, hireling and henchmen are common enough. I treat DM PCs in that light and almost never make them any stronger or with more unique powers than the PCs. But, when someone is absent or the party is short, they can plug a hole and act as a reward for gamers who make strong connections in the game world. And, keeping them alive is usually important as, when plugging a hole, they may be the skilled forester who keeps them from getting lost, or the only one who can purify the tainted water in this region while they travel, and so on.
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
I've used DMPCs in the past but, IME, Hirelings and Henchmen are the way to go. Let the players control the party - the DM has enough dealing with everything else! The one caveat being to make sure their is some kind of morale mechanic for said Hirelings and Henchmen, juuuust in case. I've found, though, that the party usually develops an affinity for these hirelings and henchmen and goes out of their way to make sure they are treated well.
 

In my current campaign, I do have a DM PC/NPC who is basically the one that has hired/gotten the party in their current situation. Yes he's Level 10 as he's already a seasoned mercenary/retired adventurer. That being said, I don't really plan on having him traveling with the party much on quests as he's pre occupied running a town and trying to assist in the rebuilding of Neverwinter. He may help out in one or two quests, but so far he's there as a framework.

The party is currently level 3. I do intend for the party to surpass said DM PC/NPC in power as they become accomplished adventurers as well. For now though, they are gonna have to pull their weight.

Now I may provide Sidekicks to the party to help out in certain quests and I am thinking about letting the party control them in regards to combat or providing support.
 

EscherEnigma

Explorer
I'm currently running Curse of Strahd as a solo adventure with the one player using some quick-and-dirty "gestalt" rules. He also has a sidekick (using the UA sidekick rules).

During combat, the player runs the NPC, but I provide the voice. That said, the NPC is, rather explictly, a sidekick. Think Lefou from Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

It works. The trick is to make sure the NPC is supporting the PC(s), and not the hero. By handing over the character sheet (or in this case, the NPC sheet) to have the player run helps emphasize this, as even when the NPC does something cool in combat, it's the player taking the action, not the GM.
 

TheDelphian

Explorer
I frequently have frequently used DM npc's. I like them and often so does my group. I usually try for them to be a servant or otherwise subservient member of the group. This also usually allows them to be weaker in terms of power to the group. They are there to support the group, guard the horses or other sensible duties that do not put them in direct danger or affect the group.

I like them because I can use them as a more natural way to interact with the world, when Players become stuck forget information or otherwise need some help the NPC may offer that help like a good assistant. They don't have information the party didn't unless they (the characters/players) sent them to gather information. They may make light suggestions to redirect the party when they are in a rut. I find this works better, for me, then having to step in as GM when the players/characters are spinning their wheels. A little of that is fine and natural a lot is frustrating. I find players feel less "Dumb/Forgetful" when their servant reminds them of something than I do a a DM. Could just be a matter of perception.

My NPC's try to follow simple set of rules.
1) Clearly defined personality. I and The players know what they will do or how they will act 90% of the time.
2) They are less powerful than the players while maybe shoring a weakness in the group.
3) They don't know anything more about the "Plot" or circumstances than the player.
4) They are not there to rescue players unless that was part of the plan previously established.
5) They mostly avoid combat but if loyal and well treated will perhaps do something. This depends greatly on their skill and abilities. No reason they can't be a lifesaver as long as the players/characters don't count on it or expect it.
6) The Npc spends no more resources they possess on the party then the party has spent on them. If a party got them raised and this is why the Servant feels loyalty and offers service or rescued them then that servant may risk more than one just getting a pay check. I shoot for realism in that sense.

Just some thoughts
 

Warpiglet-7

Adventurer
Unless I have a good-sized group of players (at least 5), I almost always end up having a PC for myself when I DM. It has never been an issue. shrug

same. Going back to 1st AD&D and never a problem.

the worst has been on watch. I often ignore important PC features due to focus on DMing.

so at worst the party has a slightly underpowered member in their Group.
 

jmartkdr2

Adventurer
One distinction I've seen made in these discussions is: DMPC vs. NPC traveling with the party,

A DMPC in this case is when the DM gets a full player character, who is a main character and a part of the party, and expected to be equal to them, so the dm can get the experience of being a player as well as a DM. This is... easy to mess up, to put it mildly . The meta fact that you are the dm as well as the player will color everything that pc does, and especially any interaction that pc has with other pcs. It can be done, but successful implementation is rare.

The later is when the npc is clearly an npc - a secondary character. This is generally only a problem if the npc outshines a pc at their niche or there are way too many npcs getting turns in combat, but both of those issues are simple to avoid. I don't think I've ever seen them used consistently badly by someone who wasn't a bad dm for a bunch of other, more fundamental reasons.

So the general advice is: if you (the dm) want to have permanent presence in the party, don't do it. Let the PC be the stars of the show. But like all advice, breaking it and getting a success is possible. It's just unlikely.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I will occasionally include an NPC that tags along with the party if it makes sense to for the scenario. For example, the PCs needed transport and a guide to accomplish something in the Mournland (Eberron), so they got a drunken, excoriated member of House Orien with an elemental land vehicle. Being able to drive fast across the Mournland was a boon to the party, but the NPC was a bit of a tipsy idiot and got into trouble quite frequently and needed to be bailed out. He died on the way back out of the Mournland when his land vehicle fell into a radioactive crater after a botched attempt at jumping it while being pursued by Lord of Blades' fanatics. That was a pretty good end for him in context. The PCs narrowly escaped.

All that to say, having NPCs tag along is fine, but I prefer to use them sparingly, tie them into the scenario very well, and then let them go when it's time to move on. Also, if they are contributing a great deal to challenges, they should get a share of XP.
 

payn

Explorer
To me GMPC is a pretty specific thing. For example, a retired PC or a contact that gives the party support or info regularly, isnt what I'd consider a GMPC. Now, if the NPC controlled by the GM travels with the party, fights with the party, and anything else like a card carrying party member, they become a GMPC. Often, the GMPC is just there to fill in a role or skill and doesnt make party decisions and gets a lesser take of the loot.

There are a number of pitfalls to GMPCs. The first is the overpowered NPC that shadows the rest of the party. Sometimes this is because the GM wants to create their own version of Gandolf or the GM never gets to play so they are doing so through this misguided effort. The second is the walking healing wand NPC. This figure just heals the party and never argues. This NPC is solely there at the party's command. Sometimes the party takes advantage of this to unfortunate degrees.

I like to avoid any creep between GM domain and party domain. Some might might see this separation as adversarial, but to me as GM, I have control of the entire world, the players should get control over their characters in it. I like those lines to stay distinct. Also, it avoids weird situations where a DMPC interacts with an NPC and the whole table watches the GM role play with their self. Just doesnt feel right.

For some groups, it works out fine. The best example I've heard is the rotating GM table. These games usually have a continuity between sessions, but GMs change at regular intervals. This allows for a smooth transition between the PC and GM exchange.
 

Mercurius

Legend
It seems there is a sweet-spot between full-blown DMPC and NPC that might work for my purposes. A thought that came to mind after reading the replies is that I could have the PCs either meet a friendly adventuring party that occasionally works with them, maybe lending a member for a time, or have the PCs be part of a larger adventuring group, and on specific quests different NPCs can travel with them.

I hear and agree with the hard-to-avoid problem of the DMPC, and I don't like or intend to use them as an expert on the world, but I also find that--if done skillfully--can bring play experience alive, in a sense give the PCs a "native" of the world to interact with on an ongoing basis.

I doubt anyone really does this, but perhaps the most blatant example of DMPC exploitation is, say, running a ranger and then making the best magic item in a trove be, voila!, a magic longbow! Who might make good use of that, doyathink?
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Usually my "DM PCs" are recurring hirelings: the party will employ the same professional to escort them safely to the borders of their territory, or show them the way to the Ancient Ruins of Lsdovsdvpbtvoizlzfsgjla, or wherever. This DMPCs provides some background information about the area that the party might otherwise miss (thanks to poor rolls on Survival, Nature, or History), keeps the party from getting lost and keeps them on schedule, and lends a hand against the occasional random encounter. Then, when the job is done, they leave. "I'll be back at the Guild if you need me again," they say.

The DM's PC might be a recurring character, but they aren't intended to be a permanent fixture in the group.
 

nevin

Explorer
depends on the DM. I've never had my players complain about them. In my current game none of us would bat an eye. We trust our DM to give us a fun narrative. and game. Now I've played with DM's who had NPC's that were always the center of the game. That's a problem. I prefer letting players have followers or hirelings. Let my players keep up with them I've got other stuff to do.
 

One of the PCs from the previous campaign--the only continuous one from level 1 to 15 (or whenever we stopped--has actually ascended and become a demigod, and may show up at various times. I might try to be coy and not reveal the connection, and let them figure it out on their own, but it probably will be hard to not make it two obvious.
This, to me, is not a DMPC, it is just an evolving and changing setting. This is good, imo. The fact that the players become aware that the setting changes depending upon what the characters do. Yea Mercurius!
Unless I have a good-sized group of players (at least 5), I almost always end up having a PC for myself when I DM. It has never been an issue. shrug
Are you sure? I certainly can't speak for your players, but just because it's never been a problem for you doesn't mean it hasn't been a problem for your players, maybe they have just never said or don't even know differently.
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
Are you sure? I certainly can't speak for your players, but just because it's never been a problem for you doesn't mean it hasn't been a problem for your players, maybe they have just never said or don't even know differently.
Yes, I'm sure. And frankly, if people don't voice that they have a problem about something, as far as I am concerned, they don't. It isn't my job or responsibility otherwise. But anyway...

Why would it be? When I am controlling my PC I am just another player. When I am running all the other aspects of the game, I am the DM. Divorcing the two has never been a problem for me.

So, again, why would it be? :)
 

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