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General The "DM's PC"


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I know at our tables, we sometimes have our characters from our other games be NPCs in our other Campaigns. The Druid player in my current group has a bunch of siblings, who are also PCs that the Druid player plays as in his Campaigns on his end and they end up being used by the other players in our group as NPCs in their own games. Sometimes we borrow each other characters to be NPCs in our own small group's games. (Mostly as quest givers, NPC cameos, or a one-off Sidekick for a single quest.) It gives a strange kind of "connected universe" feel to the games. In the Campaign I'm DMing, my Battlemaster pc, from our current Campaign, is gonna make a small cameo appearance where he passes by the PCs and goes "I think you won't find any excitement in that town my friends" and just keeps walking on in the opposite direction away from said town. (Of course my Battlemaster pc is gonna be completely wrong and miss all the action happening while the PCs deal with it.)

When our main DM needs some more time to polish something for our current Campaign, or needs to take break, I offer to DM a separate Campaign that we engage in.
 

ModernApathy

Explorer
I found this was common when I was getting started back in 2nd Ed
I don't really remember what the reason for it was, but given the DMPC often turned out to be a God of some kind, I figured it was more of a safety net for new DM's that need a quick solution to the party getting stuck.

I can't recall anyone doing it after we left high school / moved on to 3E
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think this discussion has mixed up a long term NPC that travels and works with the party with a character that the GM has a personal stake in. I will readily agree that if the GM has a personal stake in the NPC, and treats them more like a PC than an NPC, there are many problems and issues likely to arise. However, it's also entirely possible to have an NPC adventuring with the party that the GM is treating like an NPC. I don't have any more personal stake in NPCs adventuring with the party than I do to any other NPC or PC. Since I have zero problem with a PC dying, and I roll in the open, it would be obvious if I favored any NPC. I don't.

I'm often of two minds about giving players NPCs to control. I will sometimes do this, but, over time, I'm slowly moving towards not doing it. And this is because I feel that the players already have an important job -- to advocate for their PCs. And, NPCs aren't just tools for a player to use in that advocation, they should have their own goals and motivations to create a vivid game. If I'm giving the PC the NPC, it should be with those goals and motivations, so actions can be chosen well, but that puts the burden to play multiple characters on the players. And, that's not a problem, players are capable of this. The problem really comes from having to advocate strongly for characters that might have different goals, or wildly different abilities. I saw this at the end of SKT, where the module encouages letting the players run giant allies, a few of whom have ulterior goals. This means a player might have to play an NPC in direct contradiction to their advocacy for their own character. This is deeply unfair, and runs into the same problems that many poster here are pointing out about a GM being invested in an NPC adventuring with the party. That moment really solidified some issues for me (and, if anyone's wondering, the player did a wonderful job of playing the giant's motivations, but it was at the expense of the rest of the party), and I'm much less likely to hand over anything other than simple NPCs (like soldiers or summoned monsters) to the players to run.
 

aco175

Legend
Perhaps a better phrase for some DMs is the DMHenchman. I would say that the DMNPC I run is more of a henchman or follower that I control for the most part. He tends to have less power than the PCs and mostly stays in the background unless needed or to aid in fighting or healing. He does not even roll for magic, but the other players give him an equal share.

We can use the DMHero for those who force a god upon the party to force the rest of the group to do circus tricks.
 


the Jester

Legend
I generally really dislike DMPCs, both as a player and as a DM. I'd much rather adjust an adventure to suit an undersized party or use hirelings/henchmen/genuine npcs as opposed to DMPCs than stick a DMPC in there.
 

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, this, and even 1 needs solid player buy-in to not be rubbish, because like, 9 times out of 10 when a GMPC ruins a game, it's because they were acting as a deus ex machina. I have specific examples from the 1990s lol, but I will not bore us with them at the present time. I have seen a few times where the NPC was known to the players and so on, and they had buy-in, and it made complete sense for them to be there, where it worked, though.
 

Mistwell

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.

There was a point early on in 5e where the party had no healer and I sent a friendly allied Cleric along with the party. However, I had the Cleric wait in the first room of the dungeon, guarding some of their stuff, and they would not go further into the dungeon with the party. If they party wanted to go back to that room and rest or get healed they could (or could try), but they didn't get an NPC with them during the rest of the adventure.

I would simply not control an NPC along with the party most of the time. If you want to play, be a player. The spotlight is for the PCs.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
There was a point early on in 5e where the party had no healer and I sent a friendly allied Cleric along with the party. However, I had the Cleric wait in the first room of the dungeon, guarding some of their stuff, and they would not go further into the dungeon with the party. If they party wanted to go back to that room and rest or get healed they could (or could try), but they didn't get an NPC with them during the rest of the adventure.

I would simply not control an NPC along with the party most of the time. If you want to play, be a player. The spotlight is for the PCs.
I most agree with your takeaway at the end, but point out there's plenty of space in the non-PC realm for an NPC that adventures with the PCs. The thing to avoid is having any personal attachment, past what you would for a player's PC or another NPC, in this NPC.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I've run games with an NPC cleric simply because I don't want to force people to play classes they don't want to. But that's a fairly simple thing to do with clerics - all the spells were support or healing and they avoided direct combat when possible.

I'll probably look at using the new sidekick rules when they come out.
 

Orius

Adventurer
I used a DMPC in my last campaign.

I was running a 2e campaign starting with The Shattered Circle for my sister and her kids. The party didn't have a thief, but there was one in the adventure, a svirfneblin named Clinker, imprisoned on an island by the main inhabitants of the dungeon. Now I figured the party would just come across Clinker and take him along so he could do the thief thing. The party avoided making enemies of the main inhabitants of the dungeon, but when Clinker asked them to free him, they did the unexpected, and dragged him before his captors which threw me for a loop. So I decided to ransom him to the party for 100 gp.

My sister's kids readted to him like a bad DMPC, but I wasn't doing the Mary Sue thing, I wasn't railroading with him, he just basically tagged along until there was a fight or they needed the theif skills. Maybe because it's because they had to pay for him. But that campaign then segued into Night Below, and that adventure is a huge underground Monty Haul, so it's not like they lost anything major on him.
 

Ah, the Dreaded DM PC, creature of legend and horror. There are ways to do this in a way to not cause problems, but it takes a disciplined DM to pull it off. Honestly, the only thing harder to do is DM your significant other... while keeping them your significant other! Basically you need to keep them from being a font of information, except when necessary (often to get the adventure back on track), and you cannot show favoritism (if anything, show the opposite).

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.
My very first game had DM PCs; I mean a LOT of them. The DM had over 100 characters he'd played to various levels, but that wasn't too uncommon back in the day (early 1E). He primarily used them to fill out groups where there weren't enough players. He'd also allow a player whose character died to play one of them until the end of the adventure, and if the player like it, he'd turn it over permanently (helping players not have to start over at level 1 again). In this way his DM PCs were great, but he had favorites that were never available for players to use, and "somehow" always got the best items. Whenever one of those characters joined the adventure, we knew it was going to suck.

In another RPG, every GM had a GM PC because we all loved the setting and wanted a character able to impact it. Eventually I became the permanent GM, and limited my use of GM PCs. During certain "classic" campaigns, the players expected me to play one of my iconic characters (we each had an ideal persona that we wished we were within the setting). Eventually I decided to use this to my advantage and made my character the focal point of the entire campaign... by making him the focal point of EVERY single plot hook (his life was a walking disaster). Eventually the players wondered why everything bad seemed to happen to him, and I let them eventually divine that he was cursed. The campaign ended with the players freeing him from the curse, allowing their friend to return to a normal life.

Interestingly I find the concept between an NPC and a DM PC eventually blur. In my first 5E campaign, the party eventually rescued an elven ranger who was part of the first group to attempt the adventure. The original 1E adventure had her with full PC build (as it was in 1E), and nothing in the NPCs of the MM came close to what I needed. I decided to then stat her out like a PC, about 3 levels below the rest of the party. During that adventure, I decided to have her fall in love with a PC's elf eldritch knight (closest to a bladesinger we had), so she kept finding reasons to stay with the party. At a later adventure, the party was trapped in a secret hallway between two areas patrolled by giants looking for them. Because the giant king would know about the secret hallway when he returned, they knew they had to escape quickly. I had the NPC offer to go out one of the doors, distract the guards, then run back into the hallway, catching up to the party (that had already run out the other end). She was the fastest, and it was a solid plan... except she rolled a 1 on her Stealth check. The giants pounded her to death in one round, causing the players to attack with reckless abandon. I was astounded at this reckless plan, because they seemed more focused at getting to her than killing the giants. During the battle, the paladin eventually got to her and cast Revivify, which was their entire plan! They considered her my DM PC, even though she was just an NPC to me, and treated her the same as they would any of their character.
 

FXR

Explorer
I'm usually very careful about DMPCs. They can often turn out as Mary Sue or the players can feel the NPC overshadow their own characters. I would also advise against using the NPC as a info-dump or, worst, as a guide for the PCs. However, carefully used, a DMPC can be a great tool, providing that the players care about him or her.

Here's an exemple from my campaign (well actually two), which you may skip if these things bore you.

At some point during their first scenario arc, the characters were tasked to save the holy priestess of a clan of totally-not vikings who had been kidnapped by some barbarians (who were totally-not like the Wendol in 13th Warrior, of course). While tracking the barbarians, the PCs met a young farms woman whose husband and child had been killed by the barbarians. The young woman had swore vengeance against the killers and was tracking the barbarians. The PCs, especially the fighter, decided to act like mentors for her and she tagged along, sometimes leaving on her own for her own plans and meeting the characters after a while. They saw her grow, from a farmer to a paladin of Vengeance.

It then got interesting (at least to me) many adventures after: the fighter had a big crush on her, but had tasked her with protecting and serving a totally not arabian queen they served for a while. The queen confided to her she would like to take the fighter as her royal consort. The fighter was rather startled to see how the GMPC struggle with the fighter's attempts at wooing her.

Now, the PCs are level 10 and the totally-not vikings are going at war against the elves of the North. One PC's brother is going to side with the elves, while the GMPC has left to side with her people, the totally-not vikings.

Note that the the GMPC has always been a much lower level than the PCs (they have a difference of 2 levels).

At some point, I tried to add another DMPC, a totally-not African monk, but while the characters respected him, it never clicked with the players. So the monk quickly took a backseat and became a very minor character. Had I try to have him tag along with the PCs, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have antagonize him, but it wouldn't add nothing to the story.

So, here are a few things I would suggest DMs to do:

i) make sure the DMPC doesn't overshadow the characters, both in terms of story and power. The PCs are the stars of the campaign and never the sidekicks of the DMPC.

ii) if, for some reason the players and their characters, do not feel any attachment to the NPC, do not make him or her a DMPC. You don't have to kill him or her, he can come back in the story much later on.

iii) take in account that the DMPC isn't omniscient. He or she will make errors of judgment and doesn't know everything.

iv) a DMPC should have a purpose in the campaign that's more than filling out a party role. Otherwise, he or she will always feel artificial to the players and they'll treat her like a tool and not a real character. Also, the DMPC should never overextend its welcome. If he or she has no role in the adventure (either because the DM or because the PC do not feel like it), the DM should find a way to have the DMPC leave the party.
 

glass

(he, him)
Having a single level of a class that has Cure light Wounds on their 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).
Flamestrike mostly answered @Lanefan's question, although I must note that you cannot Take 10 with UMD so you would need +17 to reliably activate a "happy stick" (you get +2 for an item you have successfully activated before, making that +19 for a minimum result of 20). The solo Fighter is probably screwed because of their lack of skills, but then they would be screwed by that even if not for UMD. And their lack of spells.

Wands of CLW happily take care of most of you hp needs, but a bigger issue for solo play at higher levels is removal of nasty condition that high level opponents tend to fling around.

All that said, as a player I strongly dislike any DM-controlled allies accompanying the party for any length of time - it leads to to the DM taking extra turns which do not generally interact with the PCs. Which is boring. I remember playing the middle section of War of the Burning Sky, where at the peak we had something like seven NPC allies with us. It was difficult to get rid of them, because obviously in-character the PCs wanted as many people on their side as possible, but the GM's turns we interminable.

I much prefer the PCs themselves to be adjusted for smaller groups. I have some rules written up for PF1 for two players and a GM, which worked pretty well (and some rules for one PC which have not been tested).

_
glass.
 

Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
I'm usually very careful about DMPCs. They can often turn out as Mary Sue or the players can feel the NPC overshadow their own characters. I would also advise against using the NPC as a info-dump or, worst, as a guide for the PCs. However, carefully used, a DMPC can be a great tool, providing that the players care about him or her.

I don’t think the examples you mentioned are GMPC’s.

I think they are very good examples of how to run long term NPCs.

The characters you describe have motivations beyond “one of the party”. They operate with the party when motivations align, but also leave when motivations diverge. They are less powerful than the party, and take a back seat to the party.

These are all examples of well run NPCs who are strong allies of the party. In done cases they are AlmostPCs. But they don’t cross the line to GMPC.

To me, a GMPC is an equal to the party on all ways. Same build guidelines, same level, equal treasure, equal advancement and really simply their because the GM wants his or her own character.

Which, IMO, is a terrible idea. A GM should never also be a player. To me, the insistence on a GM to also have a PC is indicative of a big problem.

Either be a player or be the GM. If you want to play, nice out from behind the screen and let someone else sit in the GM’s chair.
 

Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
Perhaps a better phrase for some DMs is the DMHenchman. I would say that the DMNPC I run is more of a henchman or follower that I control for the most part. He tends to have less power than the PCs and mostly stays in the background unless needed or to aid in fighting or healing. He does not even roll for magic, but the other players give him an equal share.

We can use the DMHero for those who force a god upon the party to force the rest of the group to do circus tricks.

These sorts of NPCs are great. They provide a useful addition to the party, an additional source of roleplaying but don’t stand on the same tier as the PCs.

I use thus dirt if character all the time. But there is zero expectation of my GMHenchmen to stick around. If the players are tired of sharing treasure then they can go their own way. That’s not really an option for another PC.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
All that said, as a player I strongly dislike any DM-controlled allies accompanying the party for any length of time - it leads to to the DM taking extra turns which do not generally interact with the PCs. Which is boring. I remember playing the middle section of War of the Burning Sky, where at the peak we had something like seven NPC allies with us. It was difficult to get rid of them, because obviously in-character the PCs wanted as many people on their side as possible, but the GM's turns we interminable.
Why didn't the GM get the players to run the NPCs' turns?

The simple rule of thumb I use, probably 99%+ of the time, is that if it's on the party's side then the players do its rolling and if it's on the opposition side then I roll for it. The rare exceptions occur when something that appears to be on one side is in fact acting for the other; in which case who rolls is based on the side the PCs think the individual is on at the time.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
These sorts of NPCs are great. They provide a useful addition to the party, an additional source of roleplaying but don’t stand on the same tier as the PCs.

I use thus dirt if character all the time. But there is zero expectation of my GMHenchmen to stick around. If the players are tired of sharing treasure then they can go their own way. That’s not really an option for another PC.
Why not?

In the fictiion, there's no label on each character saying "PC" or "NPC" and thus no reason for PCs and NPCs to behave differently from each other. Sure, NPCs can come and go; my point is that PCs can as well. There's nothing saying a player is stuck with the same character forever.

Further, when in the party an ongoing adventuring NPC is almost always one of two things: an actual hench, paid and supported by its (usually-)PC patron; or a full party member just like everyone else who gets the same share of xp, treasure, risk, etc. that everyone else gets.
 

Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
Why not?

In the fictiion, there's no label on each character saying "PC" or "NPC" and thus no reason for PCs and NPCs to behave differently from each other. Sure, NPCs can come and go; my point is that PCs can as well. There's nothing saying a player is stuck with the same character forever.

Further, when in the party an ongoing adventuring NPC is almost always one of two things: an actual hench, paid and supported by its (usually-)PC patron; or a full party member just like everyone else who gets the same share of xp, treasure, risk, etc. that everyone else gets.

my statement has nothing to do with in game and everything to do with out of game.

A PC is treated differently than every other NPC in the world by other PCs due to the social contract.

A party deciding they don’t want an NPC around is far different than a party deciding they want a PC to leave.

The mere fact that a PC is going to be accepted, trusted and supported simply for being a PC is the biggest difference between an NPC and PC. And A GM should not cross that line to have a character I see their control that gas the sane agency as the other PCs.
 

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