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General The "DM's PC"

I acknowledge that many people have had problems with it, but I don't think it's inherently problematic at all. Here is our experience.

For the last several years, whether I was player or GM, there has been a DMPC more often than not in the group. This is a full party member, with a full personality, equal to everyone else, and it has been the DM's responsibility to make sure they don't throw off the game.

Sometimes we do this when there are rotating DMs. Sometimes you are just playing your character, other times you are also DMing.

Other times we do it because, quite frankly, sometimes you want to play this character in this type of campaign, and you know the only way that's ever going to happen is if you run the campaign yourself. So you can either accept that you just are never going to get that experience that you want to have, or you can put in the effort to make sure it happens in such a way that the rest of the group can appreciate.

In our current group of over a decade, my friend started doing this because the concept of a campaign (Castlevania) required a certain character (Simon Belmont), and no one wanted to play that character. One of our players has used that game as their example of the best use of a DMPC they've seen.

Since then, I've started up a campaign intended to go decades (currently on year 5), with occasional DM rotation, and potentially 100% DMPCs by virtue of the fact that anyone can DM an adventure if they want to. I'm the primary DM for this campaign (I designed the setup and know all the secrets, etc), so my character is the one normally in that boat.

It isn't uncommon for me to try to be too reserved with my character and for the players to tell me to just relax and play them.

So, why does it work for groups like mine? Let me give a few thoughts.

1) We're experienced players. When I first started playing 2e as a teenager with just me and one other person, yeah, my DMPC was probably overpowered and favored, even though I attempted to make it not so.
2) We play with friends, rather than random strangers.
3) The DMs in our group have a highly developed sense of fairness. It's rather hard for us to enjoy ourselves if the players aren't enjoying the game we're running.
4) We are aware of the sorts of issues people can have, so we can intentionally avoid them.
5) We are capable of partitioning our play so that we really are playing the character like a PC, rather than like an NPC. (Strangely, GMing is literally the only thing in life where I actually can multitask at all--and it seems like uncommonly well at that. It's weird.)

Here's a little more detail about the current campaign and why it works even though some of you would probably look at it as something setup for failure from the start.

I'm playing a version of my own personal iconic character--the same one I played poorly as a teenager, the one I use in video games, the one I've always wanted to run in a long D&D campaign encompassing certain elements. This is the closest thing to a personal avatar inserted into D&D. This campaign will include elements custom designed for my character to get to be awesome. In a campaign where every PC came from a different world, the "base" world for the campaign is the one my PC comes from. My PC has plenty of personality, sometimes serves as comic relief, and contributes mechanically on not just an equal basis, but in interesting ways, and by virtue of having a spell book (and being the only prepared caster) often ends up being the guy with the solution to something.

So why isn't this a trainwreck? How come my players think it's perfectly fine and enjoy my character's presence?

1) Before we started the campaign I told everyone that, if possible, they should play their own iconic character/D&D avatar/favorite type of character. A couple of players didn't really have one like that, and a couple did.
2) I told everyone this was going to be a party kind of like the Avengers, where everyone was a strong character who could be a solo protagonist in their own adventures.
3) Since I knew my character was going to have special cool stuff happen later, I told everyone that their character gets one special cool thing. One of them started (at 1st level) with an artifact for a weapon; it grows in power, as it chooses to reveal more of it's abilities, making sure to keep at least a step ahead of any other weapons we find. So they always have the most powerful weapon. Another is a descendant of a Greater Power, who is the source of his warlock pact, and communicate with him in dreams and otherwise is going to mess around with him and have important roles to play in the adventure. One of the others the player talked with me about some of the basics (which involve draining life energy from foes) and left the rest up to me to figure out in secret. The other hasn't yet decided exactly what they want it to be, but he took the option (offered to everyone) to design his own homeworld, and part of his story is going to involve divine ascension on that world. And my character's special stuff is still a secret to everyone (and hasn't come up yet). By the time it does, it won't seem like anything different than the sort of stuff everyone else is getting.
4) As part of their special thing, everyone will automatically get at least one adventure designed around their character (again, the Avengers example was used). There is also a metacurrency we use--basically when you already have Inspiration and would get Inspiration again it turns into a point in your pool of this--that has as one of it's usages buying another PC-centric adventure.
5) Treasure is random, except where specified in any published adventure I'm using. Random encounters are truly random, with treasure rolled right off the tables (I do half all treasure, since with the slower advancement it's going to be Monty Haul no matter what, and I want to reign that in somewhat). Even when I design my own adventure, unless a certain treasure element is a central part of the adventure, the treasure found is random. I might decide that I'm going to roll 2 or 3 times for an NPC and give them the treasure that makes the most sense for them, but I am not going to intentionally place treasure because it's a good fit for a character in the party (my own or anyone else's). Taking what we find and making the most of it is one of the elements of the campaign.
6) I don't use my character to dispense information. I make it clear to the players that when my character offers his opinion or even advocates for a course of action, that has nothing to do what I as the DM know, or what's a good or bad idea. On the rare occasion where I'm not sure if something I'm going to say is actually in character or me as DM trying to nudge something (generally trying to save the party's bacon), I set a chance and secretly roll a die to determine if my PC would have the thought that I'm having. This was actually one of my concerns--that I'd be using my character to provide important info, or that my character would have an idea that the party follows because they assume I am and it gets them all killed. But what's actually happened is that the group has done a great job working with this and treating my character's ideas as just another PC's ideas.
7) My character doesn't generally directly compete with other characters for mechanical role contribution. We have 2 other characters that are the best at damage dealing. Another who is third for damage but loaded with other awesome. We have a bard who does all the cool stuff a 5e bard does and is focused on Intelligence and knowledge skills so he knows all the things. My character can do several things--including fight well (generally 4th in the party, but can expend resources to jump up to 3rd in some situations), but about the only mechanically significant thing he is best at is being the guy with the spell book for when we need utility magic that neither the bard nor warlock has. That said, his use of green-flame blade is unique, and he has developed a bit of a focus on battlefield movement: both self and forced movement. Basically he fully pulls his own weight, contributes mechanically in unique ways, and has a distinct and interesting style, without overshadowing and stealing spotlight from anyone.
8) When someone else is DMing an adventure, I can play my character without having to hold back at all, being more of a leader, etc. When I'm the DM, I try to keep aware of not hogging the spotlight (and again, my players tend to think I'm too conservative in this), knowing that I'll get the opportunity to throw my full weight of puzzle-solving and initiative-taking desires into the campaign when a friend is the DM.
9) I know the rules. I don't accidentally err on the side of unconsciously ruling in favor of my character, because I tend to take whatever rulings I make as precedent for future rulings, and I examine them carefully in context of the whole campaign and world (including how this ruling would affect NPCs and society), not just what makes sense for PCs in the context of game balance.

My friend also does at least 5,6,7,8 and 9 (the ones that weren't specific to this campaign) when he's playing a DMPC.

There are probably other things we do that I wouldn't even think of bringing up, but those are the ones that seem most immediately relevant.

I would say this is probably an "advanced" or "expert" level of role-playing challenge, not something new players are likely to jump into and get right the first time. But I think the idea that it rarely works out shouldn't be taken as dissuasion from trying it, but rather as invitation to figure out what the variables are that can make it work or not work, and whether those variables are going to be represented in the right way in the campaign. If someone is just like, "Hey, thought I might play a DMPC for no particular reason", then I'd agree that it might be more likely to turn out poorly. But even then, it's a learning experience. But if you have a reason--such as rotating DMs, or simply because you know it's the only way you'll get to play this character you want to play in this type of game, then don't let anyone dissuade you from giving it a shot. Just make sure your player group isn't going to get all bent out of shape if it doesn't work and changes have to be made (such as removing the DMPC or scrapping/shelfing the campaign).

Just some extended experience and the results. I'd be happy to answer more specific questions if someone is considering trying it.
 

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humble minion

Adventurer
It's possible I'll be running an introductory game for a couple of my brother-in-law's kids soon, and I'd given this some thought. If there's only two players and a GM, then you probably do want an NPC of some sort just to bulk out the party and fill some of the capability holes (especially since I'd likely be running Phandelver and I don't want to have to rewrite it TOO much for an extremely weak party). But a lot of the posts above about how it can go wrong are very true.

So i was intending to have a DMPC/NPC whose main purpose was to help out/buff/heal PCs, and who had an in-character reason for taking a back seat when the real PCs were making significant decisions, plans, running negotiations etc. And it helps if they're funny/memorable/quirky so the players don't just start seeing them as a healing battery.

Exact class etc was going to depend on what classes the PCs were, but option 1 was an elderly forgetful Life cleric from the home village who's tagging along with the PCs because he promised their mothers he'd take care of them. Falls asleep a lot, tells rambling stories of the old days, etc. Option 2 was a reformed evil henchman, probably a battlemaster fighter with a lot of support maneuvers, who attached himself to the PCs somehow after his previous evil master was defeated. Compulsively and floridly servile, hunchbacked, doggedly loyal, talks all "Yeeesss marrshter", occasionally makes oblique and horrifying references to what life was like serving under 'the old marshter'. The cleric would get a gig if the party was short on healing, the fighter if they were lacking a front-liner.

I also thought about a jester-type bard who was there to tell the glorious story of the PCs adventures, but that seemed like a bit too much work and bookkeeping.
 
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Rhenny

Adventurer
The only time I run a full PC as DM is when a player misses a session and the player gives me permission to play it. I try to keep the PC safe.

Other times I may have an NPC work with the party. But I don’t really like having a pc stick around too long. NPC are like house guests and fish. They start to stink after a few days. Lol.
 

Arilyn

Hero
We do it pretty much exactly as Sword of Spirit said in an earlier post. If GM doesn't abuse it, it works well. During the pandemic its what my husband and I have been doing regularly.
 

aco175

Hero
I also thought about a jester-type bard who was there to tell the glorious story of the PCs adventures, but that seemed like a bit too much work and bookkeeping.
This type of NPC works well for spreading the fame of the party. It also leads to people showing up knowing who they are and how powerful they are, even when the PCs would like to be humble or hidden. It can lead to good roleplay and future quests.
 

aco175

Hero
I also thought about a jester-type bard who was there to tell the glorious story of the PCs adventures, but that seemed like a bit too much work and bookkeeping.
This type of NPC works well for spreading the fame of the party. It also leads to people showing up knowing who they are and how powerful they are, even when the PCs would like to be humble or hidden. It can lead to good roleplay and future quests.
 



Cadence

Legend
Supporter
This type of NPC works well for spreading the fame of the party. It also leads to people showing up knowing who they are and how powerful they are, even when the PCs would like to be humble or hidden. It can lead to good roleplay and future quests.

It's been a long time, but iirc the party shouldn't be too mean to a talented bard. A bard left the party partway through the Caves of Chaos, and went ahead spreading rumours about one or two of the party members whereever he went. I think it took them a few adventures (not sessions) to finally catch up and put a stop to it.
 


Stormonu

Legend
On occassion, I have used DMNPC's to bolster an undersized party. I do my best to just treat them as highly detailed NPC's. Mostly they hang back to let the party do the real lifting and occassionally assist in combat or lend their skills to help PC's if the PC's aren't trained in a particular skill. If they are asked for advice, they give it to the best the character would know in the situation - which means that at times it might be colored or prejudiced, or even flat wrong.

I've seen the DMNPC's go off the rails and become a problem many times in the past - and I'm sure I've been guilty of causing some of the problems myself in the past. I'm currently involved as a player in a campaign where DMNPCs are a real problem as the DM rotates in and out so many (powerful) NPCs they outnumber the party - and you can't get rid of them and they're usually dead weight for the group anyways (most often they're other player's characters from the other games the current DM is running or playing in, just appearing for color and to slow the game to a crawl in NPC to NPC interaction scenes).

<EDIT> Worst I've ever seen was the DM who inserted his power fantasy self into the game every. single. time. And the PCs couldn't ever do anything but be along for the ride on the DM NPCs adventures. I finally got so fed up that I talked the party into helping me kill the DM NPC with the NPC's own aid. The DM was about to retcon it all when I told him off, and departed the game. Of course, this was also the DM that I ended up banning from my own games as a player because he was outright cheating not only on his rolls, but on his character's abilities as well.
 
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Designing adventures for the group you have?
That can often be more difficult than just adding another player.

Example: I have run a campaign where there was only one player, who chose to be a gnome wizard. Because of this, he was very weak in combat, couldn't perform certain aspects important to game (strength, healing, etc), and just needed another party member to do the heavy lifting. I added a genasi bear totem barbarian as a DMPC to just allow for someone to talk to in game, give more support in combat, and allow for the to take a bit of damage without a TPK.

The player liked the character, it helped with the campaign, and was easier and a better fix than learning how to run a campaign that wouldn't obliterate a wizard character with 13 hit points instantly.
 


Insulting other members
Actually, it answered your question but I knew what you were trying to do. Sorry that my answer didn't play into your plans. ;)

So, as I said before, when I DM and play a PC, there are no problems. :D I can easily separate the two roles in the game.
Oh you are so smart!

To bad you don't engage in honest discussion with any intent to accept any other view point but your own. But that's exactly how you DM. So of course when you DM and play a PC there are no problems.

As I said repeatedly though, it's not about YOU, it's about the issues with narrow sighted and self centered DMs.

Let's just agree not to engage with each other anymore. Please do not engage with me, and I will not engage with you.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In 3e wands of cure light resolve that issue.
Can any class use a wand in 3e or does it have to be used by a caster? If the latter, problem not solved for a lone-running Fighter...

In 1e only casters can use wands (and often only casters of one type or the other), with a very few specific exceptions.
 

Tonguez

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.

Orbril the Gnome was my PC in the first online game I played in the late 1990s, I loved him so much that I kept him across multiple different games and systems and then made him and his circus an NPC.
Orbril is the Master of Orbrils Circus and can be spotted travelling from city to city on his wagon pulled by 2 - 4 giant carnivirous hamsters. Thats a deliberate decision to keep him moving and unpredictable and stop him dominating the story. Of course being an elder gnome and a support class also helps him to remain out of the action too.
PCs can hitch a ride and travel with the Circus wagons which will get them into various adventures, PCs can also choose to perform or can get Orbrils aid.

Being so well travelled Orbril can usually give information about most places, has his own network of favours and informants and is also an accomplished alchemist (which he uses top create speciall effects for the Circus), an expert in geology and is known to a number of Royal and Noble courts.
He’s old even by gnome standards and possibly immortal having once lived in the Fae Realm as a consort of the Fairy Queen.
 
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Can any class use a wand in 3e or does it have to be used by a caster?

Having a single level of a class that has Cure light Wounds on thier spell list is enough to use one without any sort of check, and if you don't have a single level in such a class, you can make a DC20 Use Magic Device check to use one (taking 10, you only need a +10 bonus).

Paladin, Ranger, Bard, Cleric and Druid all have the spell on their class list. A single level in any of those classes and you're good to go.

Our 3.5 ed parties always carried several Wands of Cure Light wounds. Market price 750gp (only 375gp to make yourself) and they have 50 charges.

At 2.5gp per Cure light wounds spell, that's great value for money. It ensures you hit every encounter at full HP.
 

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