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View Full Version : When does a powerful ally become a dmpc?



therakishrogue
2013-02-25, 12:48 PM
So I am starting a campaign soon that I have been working on for a long time. It's set in a world that I played in when I first started, and I was planning on using some of my old characters as npcs to make it easier to act out some of the people the players were interacting with. But I worry that since I like them so much I could inadvertently make them seem too important, and detract from the players sense of agency within the campaign world. Specifically, a war was going to start, and one of my old characters was going to get the pc's out of being drafted into the regular army and then work as a quest giver/home base, and another was going to be trying to engineer a revolution within the enemy nation, which they could help, hinder, or ignore. How should I use them, and powerful npcs in general, in a way that fleshes out the political landscape of the campaign and gives the players interesting allies but doesn't overshadow their character's efforts?

navar100
2013-02-25, 12:52 PM
When he saves the day.

When the players are just spectators to whatever the NPC is doing.

NecroRebel
2013-02-25, 01:23 PM
You know the whole "show, don't tell" thing? Yeah, in this case, tell, don't show. That is, don't your powerful NPCs do amazing things in front of your characters. If you need your powerful NPCs to do amazing things for story purposes, have them done off-screen, and just have other NPCs comment on the effects of said amazing things after the fact. This includes both feats of physical or magical prowess and skillful political, strategic, or tactical maneuvers. You can have the PCs interact with the NPCs and be asked to accomplish key objectives in the NPCs' plans, but don't have the NPCs accompany the PCs until the PCs are at least a level or two or equivalent higher than the NPCs.

Slipperychicken
2013-02-25, 01:50 PM
Generally speaking, DMPCs adventure with the party (as though they were full-fledged party members), rather than just handing out quests or doing NPC stuff in the background. Overpowered questgivers are usually "god mode NPCs".

The PCs are ultimately the ones who should be saving the day and doing the really important work. Even if someone else steals the credit in-character, the players should know the PCs were the ones who got things done.

If some NPCs are stronger than the PCs, do two things. Don't rub it in their faces, and have very good reasons the NPC doesn't do PC-stuff (tied up in bureaucracy-politics, more useful behind the lines, drunkard, settled down, too old for this s***, etc).

inexorabletruth
2013-02-25, 02:27 PM
TEXT WALL ALERT! Spoilered for easier reference:

I use a lot of NPCs in my campaigns… sometimes over a hundred. I, like you, want to give the world depth and verisimilitude. And, on occasion, some of the cooler NPCs are called upon to become DMPCs, either by necessity of the plot, or by popular demand of the players. But the trick is to not ever let them outshine the players. A DMPC isn't a terrible thing… it just (and rightfully so) comes with an advisory warning. If you end up playing a DMPC, you must remember that this is the PC's story… not the DMPCs. The spotlight should always be on the PCs, even at the cost of the DMPCs credibility.

Some Ways To prevent DMPCS:


If they're crazy powerful, always give them rock solid reasons why they can't adventure:
I don't care what it is… they're too old now, or crippled, they're the only thing holding back an even scarier threat, they've got kids and don't adventure anymore, their minds have been overthrown by the BBEG, and now they lay inert. They got their butt kicked by the BBEG and now their lying in a body cast (Actually, Warfing is always a good way to impress the PCs with how scary the BBEG is.)

Unoptimize them (nerf them):
Being powerful doesn't necessarily mean being combat optimized. And how interesting an NPC is doesn't have to come from how many feats they have or how many spells they can sling. Build NPCs with actual NPC levels. Don't forget about your Aristocrats, Adepts, Warriors, Experts and Commoners. And also remember that, according to DMG, pg. 139, top tier city wizards are going to range from 13th-16th level in a metropolis. Powerful, but not god-killing. Avoid epic level NPCs… if the DMPCs were so dang powerful, why didn't they slay the ultimate evil instead of sending out the PC mooks to do it?

Downstat them:
Make the main cast NPCs a level or two lower than their PC counterparts. The adventurers are heros in the story because they are the best… the upper 1% in their region. It only makes sense that they'd be a step up from everyone else. You can have your important NPCs level up later if it's crucial to the story.

Some Ways to Have a Good DMPC:


Have this be the back story to the BBEG:
Treachery is good storytelling. Have your troubled, yet redeemable DMPC eventually become the BBEG. This will explain why he's powerful enough to adventure with your group.

Keep things democratic:
While adventuring, do not let your character make most, or even any, of the decisions. At the most, he should make a suggestion and then go with what the party or the established party leader decides, except maybe when dealing with NPC-exclusive business that the PCs probably aren't interested in anyway.

Nerf them to the nth degree:
Make them people who need protection. Your typical walking plot hook, like a Damsel Scrappy or Living MacGuffin. Forcing the players to impose a little defensive strategy against the mook hordes so they don't run off with the NPC can be a fun way to add dynamic to combat. Wise old men, cloistered and naive virgin priestesses, children, unarmed merchants, or even aspiring adventurers (a level 3 warrior taking his/her first level in fighter) all work well for this cause. If they win the fight, but the Damsel Scrappy dies in the process, it makes for a beautiful epochal moment in the game where the PC suddenly realizes there are consequences in the world.

CarpeGuitarrem
2013-02-25, 03:00 PM
One simple answer: give them their own agenda. A DMPC rides along with the party to lend a willing hand at every turn. A powerful NPC has their own goals and ethics, and will alternately help or thwart the PCs accordingly. If you build an NPC with strong enough beliefs and instincts, who's pursuing their own ends, then the PCs will at some times work alongside them, and at other times be crossing paths on far less civil terms.

lsfreak
2013-02-25, 06:33 PM
One simple answer: give them their own agenda. A DMPC rides along with the party to lend a willing hand at every turn. A powerful NPC has their own goals and ethics, and will alternately help or thwart the PCs accordingly. If you build an NPC with strong enough beliefs and instincts, who's pursuing their own ends, then the PCs will at some times work alongside them, and at other times be crossing paths on far less civil terms.

This is the big thing for me. A DMPC acts like a PC - they follow the players, do as the players ask, offer aid to the players, and generally play nice, exactly as a PC is expected to do. An NPC that tags along on occasion has their own goals and agendas, has no problem turning down the PC's because they're busy or think it's too risky, or demanding a larger share of the treasure because they were mislead about the danger. NPC's are not there to play nice, they're there for their own reasons.

therakishrogue
2013-02-25, 09:24 PM
Alright. Tell, don't show their influence on world affair, don't make them combat optimized if it doesn't make sense for the role, and don't bend their ideals and motivations to suit what the party is up to. Thanks, fellow denizens of the playground!

Pronounceable
2013-02-25, 09:36 PM
Specifically, a war was going to start, and one of my old characters was going to get the pc's out of being drafted into the regular army and then work as a quest giver/home base, and another was going to be trying to engineer a revolution within the enemy nation, which they could help, hinder, or ignore.
These look like perfectly all right NPCs. They'll be telling your players what to do and then sit back at their castle and (I presume) smoke elfshrooms. There's nothing wrong with that.

Also, there'd better be a HUGE number of NPCs just chilling around who're much more powerful than the party. Otherwise their heads can easily grow too big for their helmets. The average tabletop game adventurer is a lootmurderer and needs a steady hand to hold its leash.

Mark Hall
2013-02-26, 12:40 AM
One of the main things is "When they have plot-necessary skills or abilities." Not just "We are adventuring, and we have a thief along who opens locks". That can be just a hireling. But when all of a sudden, the plot comes down to opening locks, finding/disarming traps, and all of that, then you're verging on DMPCs.

SowZ
2013-02-26, 03:06 AM
If your NPC resembles Gandalf's role in LOTR, there's a problem.

Serpentine
2013-02-26, 03:15 AM
Someone called? I- wait, someone beat me to it.
TEXT WALL ALERT! Spoilered for easier reference:

I use a lot of NPCs in my campaigns… sometimes over a hundred. I, like you, want to give the world depth and verisimilitude. And, on occasion, some of the cooler NPCs are called upon to become DMPCs, either by necessity of the plot, or by popular demand of the players. But the trick is to not ever let them outshine the players. A DMPC isn't a terrible thing… it just (and rightfully so) comes with an advisory warning. If you end up playing a DMPC, you must remember that this is the PC's story… not the DMPCs. The spotlight should always be on the PCs, even at the cost of the DMPCs credibility.

Some Ways To prevent DMPCS:


If they're crazy powerful, always give them rock solid reasons why they can't adventure:
I don't care what it is… they're too old now, or crippled, they're the only thing holding back an even scarier threat, they've got kids and don't adventure anymore, their minds have been overthrown by the BBEG, and now they lay inert. They got their butt kicked by the BBEG and now their lying in a body cast (Actually, Warfing is always a good way to impress the PCs with how scary the BBEG is.)

Unoptimize them (nerf them):
Being powerful doesn't necessarily mean being combat optimized. And how interesting an NPC is doesn't have to come from how many feats they have or how many spells they can sling. Build NPCs with actual NPC levels. Don't forget about your Aristocrats, Adepts, Warriors, Experts and Commoners. And also remember that, according to DMG, pg. 139, top tier city wizards are going to range from 13th-16th level in a metropolis. Powerful, but not god-killing. Avoid epic level NPCs… if the DMPCs were so dang powerful, why didn't they slay the ultimate evil instead of sending out the PC mooks to do it?

Downstat them:
Make the main cast NPCs a level or two lower than their PC counterparts. The adventurers are heros in the story because they are the best… the upper 1% in their region. It only makes sense that they'd be a step up from everyone else. You can have your important NPCs level up later if it's crucial to the story.

Some Ways to Have a Good DMPC:


Have this be the back story to the BBEG:
Treachery is good storytelling. Have your troubled, yet redeemable DMPC eventually become the BBEG. This will explain why he's powerful enough to adventure with your group.

Keep things democratic:
While adventuring, do not let your character make most, or even any, of the decisions. At the most, he should make a suggestion and then go with what the party or the established party leader decides, except maybe when dealing with NPC-exclusive business that the PCs probably aren't interested in anyway.

Nerf them to the nth degree:
Make them people who need protection. Your typical walking plot hook, like a Damsel Scrappy or Living MacGuffin. Forcing the players to impose a little defensive strategy against the mook hordes so they don't run off with the NPC can be a fun way to add dynamic to combat. Wise old men, cloistered and naive virgin priestesses, children, unarmed merchants, or even aspiring adventurers (a level 3 warrior taking his/her first level in fighter) all work well for this cause. If they win the fight, but the Damsel Scrappy dies in the process, it makes for a beautiful epochal moment in the game where the PC suddenly realizes there are consequences in the world.I think I'm in wuv.

My general bit to the original question: When the NPC becomes a part of the party like the other PCs, and they become one of the protaganists in the story. Everything else is as above.

TheOOB
2013-02-26, 04:10 AM
If the DM controls a member of the party for half or more of the sessions, I think there is a problem. DM controlled party members can be fine occasionally, especially if they can help for a single adventure. A ranger to track for this adventure, a cleric to hallow a defiled tomb, a bard to read an ancient script, ect. I generally make these characters useful in combat, but simple and often less powerful than any of the PC's. The ranger might hand back and shoot soem arrows, the cleric might buff and heal mainly, and the bard might mostly just use bardic music, letting the party do the real work.

Just remember that the players are the main characters in the story.

neonchameleon
2013-02-26, 08:23 AM
Simple rule. If they are grabbing the spotlight they are a DMPC. If the spotlight is on the PCs then they are fine.

valadil
2013-02-26, 09:23 AM
When the the NPC's presence in the party is determined by the GM instead of the PCs it becomes a DMPC.