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  #1  
Old 07-21-2020, 11:20 AM
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Useless DM PC

I just wanted to get some feedback. I'm about to start a new D&D game in real life, and I'm considering giving the party a 'useless' NPC for comic relief, basically allowing me to play a character that's part of the party without directly helping or outshining the players. I figure it'll give me a way to guide the players along if things seem like they're really stuck and not going anywhere by using the NPC to uncover random plot hooks or get into (or cause) trouble.

Is there any reason NOT to do this? Or anything I might need to be careful about if I go through with it?
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Old 07-21-2020, 12:53 PM
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If there's an NPC always around to sort things out if they "get stuck", you risk the party feeling encouraged to solve problems.

Room might be trapped? Let's wait for our guide to find the traps.
Puzzle we haven't figured out after a minute of mulling it over? It's ok, the henchman will know the answer.
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Old 07-21-2020, 01:21 PM
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That's not quite what I meant by stuck. I meant more like... they've been milling about in town for 30 minutes with no success in finding leads for adventure... so I could use that character to suggest something just to get the ball rolling again. Otherwise the character is really only useful for pranks, shenanigans, and drawing trouble toward the party.

To be clear, the character is a pixie with only two bits of magic to her name.
1. An apparently endless supply of fairy dust that she can throw at people to give them disadvantage on attacks when she hits them.

And 2. She's basically a walking (Well, flying) bag of holding. But she only carries things that SHE wants. She isnt the party pack mule and probably won't reveal this particular functionality until much later.
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Old 07-21-2020, 05:19 PM
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As a former GM who used GMPCs at various points, I can chime in with a few thoughts.

It can be sticky if the character controlled by the GM has mechanical impact on the game. If she's giving the enemies disadvantage when she engages, she may not be damaging them or incapacitating them, but she's skewing the experience in the direction of the PCs. That's a stylistic choice. I'm personally not an antagonistic GM, and I don't encourage the behavior, but at the same time, giving the players the agency without having them depend on the person running the show for additional mechanical interference can make them feel more important. If players don't feel sufficiently important, they can feel like it's the GM running the game for their own enjoyment and not caring enough about them.

The NPC as a source of guidance is both a boon and a curse. It helps to keep the players on track, but they can come to depend on it. "The GM will just give us the leads when we need them" doesn't encourage player/PC creativity and investigation. Again, it comes down to the individual group and GM as to whether or not this is a problem.

I might bring it up with the players. This is something I always encourage with elements that affect the game. Ultimately, the game doesn't work without everybody having a certain level of investment. You shouldn't cater to their every whim, but at the same time, paying attention to the likes and dislikes of your players is important. Be clear about what role the NPC would be playing, and let them know you're bringing it up to avoid inadvertently overshadowing the spotlight on the PCs or giving them a crutch.

Good luck!
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Old 07-21-2020, 05:29 PM
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I think if you have a truly "living" world around your players they will never get stuck, because there will always be something happening, and if they don't follow your plot, you would need to have a few "contigencial" quests to help them with that, and then maybe link your main plot with one of those hooks (or even go into a completely new path, the path that they want to follow?)

I agree with Zev, I think NPCs are nice additions if they are meaningful for the party and for the plot, but if they're just hanging around, as permanent party members, not sure if they should be used to be the hook sources, or be considered the cornerstone of "unstuckness".

And if the NPC is useless, why the party wants him around? Usually people stick together for emotional ties or professional ties, or if they're obligated, and a lot of times for mutual benefits.

Last edited by Schwarz; 07-21-2020 at 05:31 PM.
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Old 07-21-2020, 06:57 PM
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Have you considered just using the pixie for one game chapter? First character that separates from the party is visited by the pixie. Offer of treasure is made, pixie vanishes.
PC has to convince the others of existence. Then if you need pranks and shenanigans, your wacky hijinks ensue after that.
They find the pixie. The treasure is a Handy Half A Sack for each PC. As in half the stats of a Handy Haversack. Could substitute a Sufficient Quiver or Wallet of Holding.

And then you throw in a plot hook as a different npc saw them young whipper snappers in action and offers them The New Lead.

Maybe the pixie returns some day, maybe not. Let the player reactions to the first encounter be your gauge.
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Old 07-21-2020, 10:15 PM
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I'm not sure if this helps, but I once experimented with a 'helper' NPC for a game introducing my friends to Fate. He was an information broker only known as Noah (as in 'Knower', geddit?). He didn't accompany the party but he had a wide enough network that contacting him was easy (qualification: much of this campaign took place in a single city), and he was designed to be available for providing the players helpful info if they ever got stuck.

But there was always a price - not in payment, but in accumulating favours. Unfortunately the game didn't get far enough for me to exploit it, but the idea was that there was going to be impending complications for the players if they grew to rely on Noah too much. So they had that option if they really couldn't decide or intuit how to proceed, but knew instinctively that abusing it wouldn't end well for them.
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Old 07-22-2020, 08:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mechaniacal View Post
To be clear, the character is a pixie with only two bits of magic to her name.
1. An apparently endless supply of fairy dust that she can throw at people to give them disadvantage on attacks when she hits them.

And 2. She's basically a walking (Well, flying) bag of holding. But she only carries things that SHE wants. She isnt the party pack mule and probably won't reveal this particular functionality until much later.
There's some vet GMs above that have given some really solid advice with experience from their games. So, if this was an academic question or something that you were analyzing for Explosive Runes or some other publication about the dangers of a GM NPC ... then it looks like you would have your answer.

BUT ... you really want to play this pixie, don't ya? And, let's be honest, this pixie sounds freakin' fun. Heck, I want to read through an adventure with the pixie just from your short description.

So, it looks like the question is how do you play this NPC so that it isn't too much of a crutch for the party. Taking in account some of the suggestions above, could you limit the pixie's capabilities along with its inherent meta-gaming knowledge? I think you were going in that direction anyway, right? I mean you did call the character a "useless" NPC.

So ... maybe said pixie is a sulking, moody fairy who ... quite often and if the d20 roll determines, simply doesn't feel like helping the party (and thus they can't rely on the pixie too much). Maybe the pixie's dust isn't always consistent. Maybe the pixie sometimes feels slighted and gives bad advice (there's your critical fail roll) just to amuse themself at the party's expense (so, even if they are all knowing, the pixie isn't a benign Good Place Janet). And ... maybe the pixie is also slightly vulnerable—I mean in the literal sense so that if you're having fun with it but the party isn't, then they simply use the pixie's kryptonite (which happens to be, let's say, honey), cover the pixie with a jar (and a breathing hole, this is pixie detention, not murder after all) and leave in the tavern for the next unwitting party to "discover." (Which is basically the one chapter option that Zevonian suggested, but gives the party the ability to decide when that chapter ends, if at all.)
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Last edited by bananabadger; 07-22-2020 at 08:43 PM.
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Old 07-23-2020, 03:44 PM
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Thread moved to DM Mentoring.

-me
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Old 08-19-2020, 10:18 PM
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As DM you already play every henchman, hireling, retainer or visiting nephew the party deals with. Additionally, you literally play EVERYTHING from the lowest yellow mold up to the gods themselves.

Why would you need to have a DM player?

If it is just comic relief or the occasional subtle hints, I once had a player whose horse would talk to him "Mr Ed" style, when nobody was around to hear him. When others were around, they ended up giving strange looks at the player for constantly discussing things with his horse.

Some began to pick up on the fact that when he talked to his horse, his horse would some times shake its head yes or no, sometimes raise an eyebrow or roll its eyes, maybe even snort and whinny as the player came near a trap or something...but was it the horse warning him or just their minds playing tricks on them?

The horse didn't always have the correct answers either. It would shake its head yes or no, but only answering the question as far as the horse knew...no meta gaming.

Sometimes the horse's wrong information would cause things to blow up in the faces of the party....and the horse only shrugged.
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Old 10-17-2020, 07:52 AM
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I know this conversation slowed up a while ago, but I've been reading Ryuutama lately and it offers an interesting take on this topic.

Essentially, it codifies the DMPC as part of the system. The DM has a character, a mystical chronicler named a Ryuujin - it can be a character, it can use abilities for the party's benefit, and it can even die by overexerting itself. You pick the Ryuujin to suit the game's intended mood (e.g. the 'Black Dragon' archetype for a game of dark intrigue) and it conveys specific boosts, blessings and potential guidance based on that archetype and the GM's pre-selections. One of them has an option to shapeshift as a 'mascot' for the party and be there in person as a minor character.

I don't think it's a perfect system - the codified blessings and boosts can be easily gamed by using cheap token RP for meta-purpose rather than character motivation, and I'm unsure how much the Ryuujin's ability to intervene at times of need for the party will stink of deus ex machina - but it's not something I've seen in any other system before.
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