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View Full Version : A Secret DMNPC Babysitter?



Lord Lemming
2014-10-29, 03:31 AM
From what I understand, keeping an NPC close to the party in order to keep an eye on them is a bad idea. Having that NPC be more powerful than the party is an even worse idea. And the worst idea of all is to blatantly have that NPC save (or defeat) the party in order to feed the DM's ego.

This, hopefully, isn't all of that. It might even prove to be interesting.

We're all a bunch of new players (and me, a new DM), and most of us haven't the foggiest idea of optimization or tactics, so getting in trouble at low levels is pretty much going to be a given. So I had this idea to slip in a little bit of insurance that might turn out to be an interesting little side plot. Shortly after the party gets together, they are joined by... a stray dog. This dog seems to be utterly ordinary; it's friendly, sociable, makes adorable puppy-dog eyes, and seems to have a knack for leading the party into trouble. Except that it's not a dog; it's a Hound Archon in disguise. (from the Pathfinder Bestiary).

The general idea is, one of LG gods got something of a hunch about this random group of strangers that suddenly got together. It's not 'oh, these people must be the great heroes of our generation,' because they're not, they're 1st level rookies... but there's still something here worth investigating. So this hound archon is sent to keep an eye on them, and eventually report back.

This is where it gets dicey. The idea is that the archon isn't going to do much of anything openly, his task is to observe... but the role of archons is to oppose evil; not by fighting it directly, necessarily, but by encouraging mortals to do good. So that's what he's going to do. Whenever he gets the chance, this dog will sniff out trouble, and lead the party into a situation where they have the opportunity to do good (like suddenly barking like mad and rushing down a side alley, leading the PCs to interrupt a mugging). A secret test of character, so to speak. Later, when the PCs inevitably get themselves into trouble they can't easily get out of, the archon might decide that he believes this bunch of misfits to be worth saving, and reveals himself.

In theory, this setup allows me to give the players a lifeline without them even realizing it, and allowing me to pull them out of the fire without it being a deus ex machina. It would also lead to a very interesting conversation with the archon afterwards (who would obviously have to leave, with his cover blown and all). BUT, I'm also feeling a little leery of this idea. It smacks of some of those stories in the 'Worst DMs Ever' thread, who only have the players around so they can show off their godlike DMNPCs to solve every problem. What do you guys think; is this a bad idea? Or does it have the potential to be something engaging for the players?

Connington
2014-10-29, 04:23 AM
I'd avoid it. The players are going to figure out that something's up after second or so time that the dog "randomly" fixes the plot. And if you need to save them, "your dog turned out to be an angel in disguise" is about as close to a literal deus ex machina as you can get.

BWR
2014-10-29, 04:59 AM
It could work. Execution is everything, and done correctly, especially if part of a larger plot you have planned, it might be fine. When you're young and new to the game your tolerance for weird stuff in the game is a lot higher than after you've playeda few games (nowadays I would not put up with the stuff we did back when we started, but I still have great memories of awesome games).
However, this does seem like it has lots of potential to turn out badly. If you guys are unsure about the power and durability of PCs vs. The Game, the way to become more comfortable is to play it and see what happens. If you grossly overestimate or underestimate the PCs, so be it. You are all learning the game and mistakes will happen. Learn from them and move on. If the players make bad choices, let them live with the consequences. That's far more rewarding in the long run than having the DM rescue the party when they are in trouble.

Nobot
2014-10-29, 05:07 AM
Personally, I wouldn't like it. A few reasons (from my very subjective player-perspective):

Don't give me lifelines I didn't come up with myself (I will feel immortal and/or railroaded);
I wouldn't like the idea of a certain alignment (especially LG) watching over me; as soon as I get the feeling I am destined to be good while not consciously choosing to be, I will start acting evil;
If the dog sniffs out trouble and forces me to interact, it feels like you're railroading me. Why not chance upon the muggery myself? Why does the dog have to lead me?
The dog would be suspicious from the very first moment it actively influences the story, and I will start provoking it to see what else comes out.


All that said, I am just one player in millions. Some people might love your idea. If you really want to go through with it, I'd suggest the following approach. Toss the dog into the group without it influencing the plot and without a secret agenda. Have it just be a dog, not a plot device. If it sticks and if the players like it, then consider using it as an angelic dog.

Amphetryon
2014-10-29, 06:10 AM
I'd avoid it. The players are going to figure out that something's up after second or so time that the dog "randomly" fixes the plot. And if you need to save them, "your dog turned out to be an angel in disguise" is about as close to a literal deus ex machina as you can get.

This. Your description did not match the implied goal of avoiding a deus ex machina, and in fact was a reasonably good working definition of one.

Yora
2014-10-29, 06:30 AM
Sounds like plain old Deus Ex Canis, a technique universally hated by absolutely everyone except fans of Greek tragedy. Once the player realize they were never in danger, it retroactively spoils everything the characters did so far.

Joe the Rat
2014-10-29, 08:05 AM
Sounds like plain old Deus Ex Canis, a technique universally hated by absolutely everyone except fans of Greek tragedy. Once the player realize they were never in danger, it retroactively spoils everything the characters did so far.

Gods hidden as dogs is that common a trick in gaming and Greek tragedy? :smallamused:

Yeah, this one of those ideas that looks clever on paper, but may not play well at the table. You've got two different pieces here: dog god as lifeline, and dog god as plot device.

Having the random stray on hand to save their bacon can work - and at a variety of levels. You just need to have a very light touch with it. You don't want to have Krypto the Superdog clean up a fight, but you can have Fidelius pop up as a flanker or to chomp and trip an enemy to take the heat off. At the heaviest, Archon in Disguise can translate a TPK into a TPKO... once. This is will be a very blatant "The GM is saving your bacon" move, and really should only come into play if the the players would rather not have to start from scratch. That said, there are other ways to stop a party wipe: Party knocked out and stripped of valuables, party wakes up as prisoners, Party raised from dead by cleric/spirit/devil/archfey/deity, and now owe a significant favor... The key on any of this is that this is a pure backup function - do not use your ace until Bad Things happen. You can have a whole elaborate plan involving a fiend with a mission that the party has to address (further devilry in the world through an innocuous-seeming mission, or defy the thing that brought you back and gain a recurring villain), and never have it happen. For GMs, ending up with a binder full of unused plot hooks and events is par for the course. That's when you learn to recycle.

As a plot driver... Conductor Hound will be fairly obvious. Don't have him dragging the party around. Have him alert the party to what's happening. If you want to have them foil a mugging, it would be better if Spot simply alerts the party to something happening over there, and let the party's curiosity (or need for action) be what drives them to check it out. It's a second set of eyes and ears (with good perception abilities) that can point to the Necessary Clue (though you really shouldn't have the Necessary Clue be something the party fails to find based on the whims of dice. Really Useful Clue, yeah, but if missing it stops the story, you're writing in an arbitrary X% chance of mission failure). At the most, having your dog take a liking to an NPC (or vice versa) to establish friendly-to-neutral contact is the most you want to do.


If I were to use this idea, this is how I would play it:

Your Hound Archon (Fidelius Rex) is assigned to observe this party of potential world-changers. Non-interference is really important here.
Fidelius Rex shows up as a stray that seems to want to hang out with the party. If the party actively chases him off, drop it.
Fido makes the appropriate perception checks alongside the party as another set of eyes and ears.
If stopping violent petty theft is a key thing you want to have happen, you can have multiple crimes that could be noticed... in case everyone misses something. If they don't care, drop it. If they find out what's happening and ignore it, then that's a strike for if the Archon plotline is revealed.
Be passive in combat - If you are doing the "mortals should do it" or "secret test of character/potential," helping out sullies the data. If a party member (or player) specifically asks for the dog to do something in combat, have it step in... as a dog. No more than that.
Fido has the ability to grant ONE get out of TPK free, at which point the guise is dropped, and the party is given a mission quest thingie to fulfill in repayment for not letting them stay dead. Yeah, being of light and goodness, but just because you're on the side of the angels doesn't mean you have to give this stuff away. Better yet, have dog --> Archon happen in one of those in-between life and death demiplanes. This will leave some doubt as to whether or not the dog itself was supernatural, or if it was some sort of blood-loss induced hallucination. Having the dog apparently run off furthers that mystery.
Schroedinger's Hound: Until such a time as it is necessary to have the dog be a secret Archon, it's just a dog. You can always introduce the Hound Archon down the road as a separate entity with a "we've been watching you, and like the cut of your jib" message from the Higher Ups.
Do NOT use the Scooby voice. It's just annoying. Odds are, your players will do it anyways.

draken50
2014-10-29, 10:51 AM
This is a poor idea. Characters die. This is acceptable. You're thread description is "A Secret DMNPC Babysitter?"

You shouldn't need a babysitter for your PCs, if you do, you need different players. This is a really common issue for new DMs, and I still run into it myself from time to time. Ultimately, don't worry about pulling your players back from the brink LET.THEM DIE.

the players will be more interested in telling stories of their eventually doomed party than the one that was being followed by a literal angel to keep them from messing up to bad.

Rhunder
2014-10-29, 11:04 AM
Gods hidden as dogs is that common a trick in gaming and Greek tragedy? :smallamused:

Yeah, this one of those ideas that looks clever on paper, but may not play well at the table. You've got two different pieces here: dog god as lifeline, and dog god as plot device.

Having the random stray on hand to save their bacon can work - and at a variety of levels. You just need to have a very light touch with it. You don't want to have Krypto the Superdog clean up a fight, but you can have Fidelius pop up as a flanker or to chomp and trip an enemy to take the heat off. At the heaviest, Archon in Disguise can translate a TPK into a TPKO... once. This is will be a very blatant "The GM is saving your bacon" move, and really should only come into play if the the players would rather not have to start from scratch. That said, there are other ways to stop a party wipe: Party knocked out and stripped of valuables, party wakes up as prisoners, Party raised from dead by cleric/spirit/devil/archfey/deity, and now owe a significant favor... The key on any of this is that this is a pure backup function - do not use your ace until Bad Things happen. You can have a whole elaborate plan involving a fiend with a mission that the party has to address (further devilry in the world through an innocuous-seeming mission, or defy the thing that brought you back and gain a recurring villain), and never have it happen. For GMs, ending up with a binder full of unused plot hooks and events is par for the course. That's when you learn to recycle.

As a plot driver... Conductor Hound will be fairly obvious. Don't have him dragging the party around. Have him alert the party to what's happening. If you want to have them foil a mugging, it would be better if Spot simply alerts the party to something happening over there, and let the party's curiosity (or need for action) be what drives them to check it out. It's a second set of eyes and ears (with good perception abilities) that can point to the Necessary Clue (though you really shouldn't have the Necessary Clue be something the party fails to find based on the whims of dice. Really Useful Clue, yeah, but if missing it stops the story, you're writing in an arbitrary X% chance of mission failure). At the most, having your dog take a liking to an NPC (or vice versa) to establish friendly-to-neutral contact is the most you want to do.


If I were to use this idea, this is how I would play it:

Your Hound Archon (Fidelius Rex) is assigned to observe this party of potential world-changers. Non-interference is really important here.
Fidelius Rex shows up as a stray that seems to want to hang out with the party. If the party actively chases him off, drop it.
Fido makes the appropriate perception checks alongside the party as another set of eyes and ears.
If stopping violent petty theft is a key thing you want to have happen, you can have multiple crimes that could be noticed... in case everyone misses something. If they don't care, drop it. If they find out what's happening and ignore it, then that's a strike for if the Archon plotline is revealed.
Be passive in combat - If you are doing the "mortals should do it" or "secret test of character/potential," helping out sullies the data. If a party member (or player) specifically asks for the dog to do something in combat, have it step in... as a dog. No more than that.
Fido has the ability to grant ONE get out of TPK free, at which point the guise is dropped, and the party is given a mission quest thingie to fulfill in repayment for not letting them stay dead. Yeah, being of light and goodness, but just because you're on the side of the angels doesn't mean you have to give this stuff away. Better yet, have dog --> Archon happen in one of those in-between life and death demiplanes. This will leave some doubt as to whether or not the dog itself was supernatural, or if it was some sort of blood-loss induced hallucination. Having the dog apparently run off furthers that mystery.
Schroedinger's Hound: Until such a time as it is necessary to have the dog be a secret Archon, it's just a dog. You can always introduce the Hound Archon down the road as a separate entity with a "we've been watching you, and like the cut of your jib" message from the Higher Ups.
Do NOT use the Scooby voice. It's just annoying. Odds are, your players will do it anyways.


I completely agree with this. I like the idea actually, but must be used right. One save, ONE!!!! This guy nailed every concern I have with the idea, but overall could be fun for a first time group. I'd give a party a chance to know the dog is something more as well.

JeenLeen
2014-10-29, 12:56 PM
The dog would be suspicious from the very first moment it actively influences the story, and I will start provoking it to see what else comes out.



I second this reason.
As a player who has had suspicious things betray me in past games, my first instinct after it leads us into trouble a couple times would be to give it away and/or kill it (depending on alignment and party.) Even if it's helpful in that it helps us find a mugging and stop it, if it barks like that at a random crime, what will it do when we are sneaking up on drow in a dungeon? Better get rid of it now. Give it to some friend as a guard dog or something.
Your players might like the dog, but I'm sure my team would get rid of it if we thought it was a dog and, if we thought it was intelligent, kill it or at least imprison it until we find out what it is and who it works for (assuming asking doesn't work.)

In general, if I were in your shoes, I'd prefer the DM talking to the party and saying something like, "We're all new to this. I don't want to go easy, but I also don't want you to die because I miscalculate the foes or you act too brazen, not knowing the system. So if something like a random crit kills you the first few sessions, we'll say you are KOed for the battle instead."

The_Werebear
2014-10-29, 01:27 PM
In theory, this setup allows me to give the players a lifeline without them even realizing it, and allowing me to pull them out of the fire without it being a deus ex machina. It would also lead to a very interesting conversation with the archon afterwards (who would obviously have to leave, with his cover blown and all). BUT, I'm also feeling a little leery of this idea. It smacks of some of those stories in the 'Worst DMs Ever' thread, who only have the players around so they can show off their godlike DMNPCs to solve every problem. What do you guys think; is this a bad idea? Or does it have the potential to be something engaging for the players?

You get bonus points for being self conscious about it, but I agree with the majority here that you should not implement this. It's really hard to resist, sometimes, but you should not be afraid to thwart, or sometimes kill, the PC's.

Since you are all new, I agree with giving them an out, but I wouldn't make it a part of the pre-planned plot, if you have one. Stealing from Warhammer Fantasy system, give them each two or three "Fate Points" that they can use to mitigate a death or harsh circumstance into something, that while not successful, is not as bad. That way, you can customize the circumstance of their escape to the direction the story is currently heading, or to suit player preference.

Lord Lemming
2014-10-29, 01:28 PM
Alright, general consensus is that this is a bad idea. Thanks for the help.:smallsmile:

JeenLeen
2014-10-29, 01:32 PM
You get bonus points for being self conscious about it, but I agree with the majority here that you should not implement this. It's really hard to resist, sometimes, but you should not be afraid to thwart, or sometimes kill, the PC's.

Since you are all new, I agree with giving them an out, but I wouldn't make it a part of the pre-planned plot, if you have one. Stealing from Warhammer Fantasy system, give them each two or three "Fate Points" that they can use to mitigate a death or harsh circumstance into something, that while not successful, is not as bad. That way, you can customize the circumstance of their escape to the direction the story is currently heading, or to suit player preference.

On this note, we've had "Death Tokens" in some games, which we can cash in to help prevent dying. To carry the concept to d20, I would say give the players 1-3 tokens, and they can use them to just be KOed (stable at -1 HP, perhaps) when they should be dead. (If you want, you can award up to 1/game for excellent roleplaying. We used it to encourage good roleplaying in a World of Darkness game, though there each mitigated 1 point of damage, so we'd have to spend a few of them if we were 'very dead'.)

Also, feel free to modify enemy stats if you realize they are too strong (or even too weak). I've changed the stats of foes if I realized they were mismatched. It's generally easy to make it seem like bad/good luck, and if you want to be up-front about it, you can tell your players that you may do this to help balance the game if a battle you craft is unbalanced.

Lord Lemming
2014-10-29, 01:38 PM
If I were to use this idea, this is how I would play it:

Your Hound Archon (Fidelius Rex) is assigned to observe this party of potential world-changers. Non-interference is really important here.
Fidelius Rex shows up as a stray that seems to want to hang out with the party. If the party actively chases him off, drop it.
Fido makes the appropriate perception checks alongside the party as another set of eyes and ears.
If stopping violent petty theft is a key thing you want to have happen, you can have multiple crimes that could be noticed... in case everyone misses something. If they don't care, drop it. If they find out what's happening and ignore it, then that's a strike for if the Archon plotline is revealed.
Be passive in combat - If you are doing the "mortals should do it" or "secret test of character/potential," helping out sullies the data. If a party member (or player) specifically asks for the dog to do something in combat, have it step in... as a dog. No more than that.
Fido has the ability to grant ONE get out of TPK free, at which point the guise is dropped, and the party is given a mission quest thingie to fulfill in repayment for not letting them stay dead. Yeah, being of light and goodness, but just because you're on the side of the angels doesn't mean you have to give this stuff away. Better yet, have dog --> Archon happen in one of those in-between life and death demiplanes. This will leave some doubt as to whether or not the dog itself was supernatural, or if it was some sort of blood-loss induced hallucination. Having the dog apparently run off furthers that mystery.
Schroedinger's Hound: Until such a time as it is necessary to have the dog be a secret Archon, it's just a dog. You can always introduce the Hound Archon down the road as a separate entity with a "we've been watching you, and like the cut of your jib" message from the Higher Ups.
Do NOT use the Scooby voice. It's just annoying. Odds are, your players will do it anyways.


This was actually exactly the way I wanted to play it, I just wasn't very good at expressing it. But from what everyone else has said, I'd have to play this VERY carefully in order to do it correctly; and for a novice DM that spells disaster, which means I'm probably better off leaving this one alone until I'm experienced enough to pull it off. Thanks for the help.

Metahuman1
2014-10-29, 04:01 PM
If it was me, I wouldn't. I'd find other ways to bail them out. And only if there of a mind set were killing characters is just not a thing there gonna be ok with when they have to keep re-rolling (I know that pain.).

Honest Tiefling
2014-10-30, 02:28 PM
Have you asked the party what their views on character death are? Some like it, some don't, best to ask before assuming they'll be okay with this. Fudging the dice to prevent player death and handing out other penalties (Welcome to jail, you have a scar, have fun with that curse, etc.)

If you want a DMPC to show them the ropes, make an veteran warrior, or another base, not too flashy class. He might shout some tips to them in combat, but he's got worse stats, (maybe even a bad leg or arm), worse feats and worse everything then the party. His role is only to show off some basic tactics to the party, with cover and flanking being two important ones. He should be durable enough to live for a bit. Eventually, the dice will kill him, neatly getting him out of the story. Either the party can mourn their mentor, or finally be rid of the annoying pushy old guy and nick his stuff.

I admit I want to try that idea, but it's probably a bad thing to do. What might be better is to have test combat first. First way is to have people make their characters and throw them into an out of character arena to familiarize them with the rules. Its not a part of the story, no role playing, just figuring stuff out. The second is to have a fair or the like where they start off in. They can participate in brawling, duels, and contests to familiarize themselves. Such as getting into a bar brawl and either having to talk the aggressor down or punch them out. The guy is stopped before doing too much harm by guards, but a few punches/rolls might be exchanged to get people used to things. Contests can be competed in for prizes and the like, such as riding, archery, swimming, racing, and even riddles.

Tarlek Flamehai
2014-10-30, 08:38 PM
Meh, I don't think this is a terrible idea. Every adventure ever published has someway to the push the PCs into the storyline. This pooch is just yours. I would arrange it so that he misses out on all the major battles though. When the party faces a boss fight, living or dying should be all on them. I would only use the archon to save them if I misjudged the power level of random encounter. A TPK should be the result of the storyline or player idiocy only. It is to be avoided as an action of random triviality.

Another option is to make the party mascot something that won't scale. Something like an Elven Hound from Races of the Wild. It could be a huge boost for a low level party, but even if you advance it to 6HD it's going become superflous quickly.

Stellar_Magic
2014-10-31, 11:12 AM
Generally... if you think you need someone to keep the party on the rails, the best choice is for that person to be the 'employer' of the party. It makes sense for the level 20 wizard to hire people to do stuff for him... and only get involved if things go totally bad.

Mark Hall
2014-11-01, 08:05 AM
So, in one of my early games, the DM gave us an open NPC/DMPC babysitter. A moderately-leveled cleric who was along to help us out.

The trick? He was an evil cleric, lying about his allegiance (when you worship the god of lies, you get to do that). So, he was along with a bunch of naive cannon-fodder adventurers, planning on betraying us once we found the magic item we were questing for. He greatly helped us, healing our wounds, Holding the enemy, fighting at our side... but we slowly twigged to the fact that he was evil and, when we reached a point where we COULD confront him, we did, and the DMPC died.

Not saying it works all the time, but it was quite effective with the bunch of newbie idiots we were. :smallbiggrin:

Jay R
2014-11-01, 12:20 PM
The dog idea could work well - in the hands of a really experienced DM. But it's too easy for it to go wrong.

The fact that the players have poor optimization and tactics is not a problem if the DM does, too. Just run the game. If they die too early, have them wake up in chains, with the bad guy offering them their lives if they will do something for him.