The Dreaded DMPC

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First off, I sincerely apologize, not only for the length of the following message, but for the content. I know how much everyone hates the concept of a DMPC, but, please . . . here me out.
    So, about 2 weeks ago, I got a 4e campaign started with 5 of my friends, none of which had ever played D&D. I don't have much experience either, but I have the most out of the group, so I was elected as DM. Just FYI, here's our little party:
Human Paladin
Tiefling Warlock
Half-Orc Barbarian
Elf Ranger
Human Cleric
    The story, in a nutshell, is an ancient dragon that has long been a friend of the kingdom just attacked a small village and has declared himself the new ruler of the kingdom. The party is heading to the capital to inform the king of these events. When we first started, I threw about 5 goblin minions with 1 HP and 1 Brute with 27 HP, just to get everyone used to the idea of combat. They had no problems at all, but complained later that I was going to easy. So, in our last session, I threw 8 Kobolds out with 27 HP each. I had to pull some elves out of the forest (kind of like pulling them out of my rear, but it'll fit into the story) to save my party. Now that they've had a taste of a harder difficulty, they decided they wanted it hard, but not to hard. This is where the DMPC idea first came in.
    I had already been planning to throw the stereotypical Merlin style crazy wizard into the story once they reach the capital, but then I realized how great of a help he could be to the party, not only in combat, but also in the RP portion. Again, I ask you to here me out.
    Right now, I don't have anyway to really interact with the PCs, like, for example, when trying to get them to follow through to some key information, or into some good RP scenarios. The RP experience they have now come from RPGs like Skyrim, so I thought a "guide", if you will, would be a great way to do this. The crazy old wizard could mutter something about a book he remembers reading about this particular dungeon, or use a Gandalf style, "the air doesn't smell so foul here," line. Now, don't get me wrong here; I'm not trying to drag my players around with no care for what their characters decide to do. But I still don't want him to feel at all like the typical NPC. I really want him to feel like a member of the group, someone that everyone comes to know and love. He'll be just enough to give them a nudge here or there, and give them that Gandalf or Brom style support, until it isn't needed anymore, and, then at that point, kill the wizard in such a way that the party really feels the loss of the character, and it really hurts to see him go.
    So, now that you have this little window into my thoughts, I could really use some constructive comments from you experts. Is this a wise decision? Does it sound like it could work? If you need any more detailed info, please let me know, and I'll get it to you ASAP. Thanks for the help!
Your party actually sounds really balanced. I don't think they need any combat help so much as they need to get comfortable with their roles, party dynamics, and synergies. 8 non-minions can be a heavy load for a non-optimized new party, especially if their last encounter was very underpowered. Flip through the MM or some low-level modules (the recent one about Smiley the bear had some neat ideas) to get a sense of what constitutes "easy" "normal" and "hard".

I'm not sure I really understand where the roleplaying problem is... can you clarify?    
These guys have no roleplaying experience whatsoever, aside from the aforementioned video games, so I'm having some trouble getting the party to discuss things as a party. These are a lot of people who argue for the sake of arguement, and love to crack jokes and make refrences at the worst times. I know that a lot of parties have similar problems, but most of them have the experience somewhere in the group to get everything back on track. We do not. If I could have a character that everyone knew and respected as a member of the party that could ask a question of the noisiest member, or make a statement that brings everything back to earth, I think it would be the best way for these particular people to be roped back in, at least until we get deeper into it.
As for the combat, I've had to do a lot of spoon feeding and roll fudging to get everyone to understand how to fight and survive. I feel that if I could show a bit more by example how it's done, they would learn a lot more quickly.
Hope that clarifies somewhat.
The NPC who "knows everything" is usually a recipe for disaster. People generally dislike know-it-alls.

To get the players engaged:

Get them out of the city. ASAP. Towns are full of "non-story" scenes that can sap the momentum of a session, even with a veteran DM.

Give them a unifying goal. Escape the haunted tomb. Blaze a trail through the wilderness to a distant fort. Get off the abandoned island. This sort of open-ended but concrete problem will encourage them to think creatively and work as a team.

If you are just starting out, try sketching out a very few NPCs with memorable traits that invite the players to engage them (Example: a halfling hermit who lives in a hollowed-out treestump that grows into the haunted tomb who is oblivious of the local dangers and has an imaginary friend named Roger that he consults while talking to strangers). If they need incentives to interact with people, build skill challenges into RP so that they feel that they get some tangible reward (and be sure to have an interesting back-up plan in case of failure).

It's almost impossible to "make" the players care about any given NPC. They will decide who they want to attach their emotions to. The best you can do is give them an interesting assortment of characters and environments to respond to their actions accordingly.  

 

I'm glad you mentioned the "unifying goal", because it reminded me of the difficulty I'm having with getting to the point where I can give them their unifying goal. They have about one weeks travel between the town they originally started in, and the capital where the king lives. I'm not sure if that's to long to play through on the road, or if I should just "fast-travel" them to the capital.
This may seem too stereotypical, but the king will then, with the help of the wizard, lay out the situation for the characters, and give them the end of the world ultimatum, after which the wizard offers himself up to tag along, obviously with much more context. I believe he would provide them with enough of a guide to just assist them with this first campaign. I was already planning on avoiding the know-it-all, but instead the knows-what-he-needs-to-and-informs-everyone-if-it-is-absolutely-necessary character.
I'm not sure if, speaking of the RP, incentive is what they really need. I'm pretty sure it's more of a situation where they just aren't sure how to interact with each other. They have done very well interacting with minor NPCs I have portrayed so far, but when I leave them to themselves, they don't seem to know what to do. I just need a way to spark the fire, and I think this character could do that. I hope I'm putting my jumbled thoughts into something understandable for you. Please ask if you still need information.

P.S.: If you don't mind, could I steal that halfling hermit? That would be perfect for my story a little down the road.
Steal away. I get all my best thoughts from the Schenectady Center for Ideas.

Just a couple more recommendations:

Stay in the wilderness. Civilization as I said before has many traps that can kill the momentum of the session. Let them explore and get a feel for the world. I'd go so far as to have bandits burn down a bridge the party needs, forcing them off the beaten path.

Do away with the quest dispenser. Do they really need some exposition NPC to tell them the world is in danger? Let them find out. Have them try to stop at an inn on the way to the capitol, only to find that the village has been burned to the ground by marauders. Let them find ominous signs in the woods. Maybe a dying travelers speaks of some danger lurking in the dark. If the players are the one to discover the evil on their own, they will be much more invested in actually stopping it.
That last paragraph just opened my eyes. I can see them all more engaged with that sort of narrative, just at first thought. I had teased the thought of a plundered town up the road with the maurader-esque band lying in wait nearby. I still think a quick dip in to see the king and inform him of what has been discovered is going to be essential, but it will be much more brief than I thought at first. Their original thought when I gave them the roads out of the initial town was to move toward the capital to inform someone of what happened (and the Paladin of Erathis is begging for a taste of civilization), but, with the thought path you've set me on, the king will know much less than I first intended, and be more of a tool to explain the history of the dragon. I don't know why that just became such a slap in the face to me, but I sincerely thank you for it! I'll lett you know how things end up working out. Thanks again!
Glad to have been a help. Be sure to let us all know how it works out.
I think your basic idea is a good one: a well-run DMPC can help point a group in the right direction.

And riffing off your idea of a crazy wizard, I would go one step further and make him a crazy wizard that cannot cast spells.

Why no spells?
1. Spells can overshadow the PCs even in 4E.
2. You can time the return of his spellcasting ability with the time that the players are comfortable with the game and their characters. It's a better story-based solution than simply having him disappear when no longer required.

What I would do, however, is give him lots of rituals but maybe make the players responsible for selecting the ones he casts - he is crazy, after all.

My other suggestions include building him as a monster rather than a PC. Make him really simple in play. I would give him a dagger or staff melee basic attack and then another standard action power that lets him grant one (or even two) of the PCs a basic attack so that the focus remains on the PCs. 

If you want to make him a little more complicated, perhaps at the start of an encounter if you roll a 6 on a d6 he regains some lucidity and with it a couple of utility spells that he can use once per encounter each.

And definitely make sure he has some good skills. Anyway, if you build the spell-less wizard like this he can be of almost any level, even several levels above the PCs.

If you like these ideas and want some help building him, just let me know. 
Cheers Imruphel aka Scrivener of Doom

NPCs can be loveable, integral, and hated.  They can grow, die, or save the lives of the entire party.  

I think the pit trap that many young DMs out there fall into is the Plutonic figure...or the Virgil figure...a character that is beyond the scope of the PCs:  making them witnesses to events that unfold rather than participants in a grand adventure.

It is thus that created the DMPC.  The belief that this one character is more important to the DM than the rest of the PCs.  That is the only crux you need avoid.

If you pass that barrier:  you don't have a DMPC...you have an NPC. 

This is going to help me keep my thoughts rolling, and it would be great if you could continue helping.

I had thought about the first encounter he and the group get thrust upon them. When the tension hits its peak, he casually walks off and sits down, taking out his pipe, and smoking on the side while the battle takes place, adding a hint of in game comedy, as well as an oppurtunity to give my players more group interaction. Obviously that solution won't work for 6 encounters in a row, but if I can use similar "excuses", do you think that would work?

Also, if I allow him to use only, say, Magic Missle, in combat, and judge how badly they need his help, allowing him more powers as the neccesity arises, I think I could take him even further from the spotlight.

Just a bit of an FYI, what I have built so far has the Unseen Servant Ritual, mostly as an excuse for him to have that "imaginary friend", similar to the halfing hermit mentioned earlier.

If there's anything else you think he needs, please let me know.
I've dealt with the same thing Narok.

Almost every campaign I have run involves the "wise old sage" or "guide". It gets on my nerves as a DM more than it does the PCs because I tend to rely on the guide to move the story along, making the guide the most important character within the game... and he shouldn't be.

So what I am doing differently, if this may help, is to give the players the overall "world is in danger" "you are the only ones that can save us" type background and have them take the reigns in what to do to figure it out. If they get stuck, there is always an inn that has rumors, an ancient library with books fortelling prophecy, a group of old druids.. etc. that would add just enough advice to point them in the right direction but not give them every little detail or be the reigning dictator of the party.

The RP side of it would come from the interactions with NPCs that they would need to acquire info to how to save the world or whatever. Also, I've found that if the Players don't like to RP as much.. don't force them. Let them play it out how they like, even if it is only playing like a video game-esque style to just get the best loot or whatever. You as the DM can turn this into their character personalities that may come back and bite them later on in your story.
In my opinion, the "RP side of things" should be much more focused on the PCs' interactions with each other, not with NPC quest givers. Certainly, many computer games and other media use them to drive actions, but it's actually a very weird transaction in a tabletop RPG.

DM: The wizard implores you to explore the Dungeon of the Twisted Gargoyle. He offers you gold and magical items if you will bring him the gem at the heart of the dungeon. What say you?
P1: Meh, no thanks.
DM: Okay, so much for the adventure. Shall we just hang out in the inn till you burn it down and the town guard shows up? 
P2: Are there any comely wenches?

It sounds like your issue is motivation. I have found that if there is a perception of a storyline, players will be less active because they expect on some level the DM will move them along the plot. "Just tell us what to do next" is probably what they're thinking because they don't have any clue how to drive the action themselves. Part of this is politeness, I'm sure - they don't truly know what you have "prepped" and wouldn't want to suggest going away from that.

Instead, try this: Put them in the Dungeon of the Twisted Gargoyle's first room, under attack, then ask them how they got there. Who's idea/fault was it? What are the stakes? What situation does this remind them of, from a previous adventure together? Ask lots of questions to draw out details, build on what the players tell you, and use what they give you. Over time, they'll give you more and more even without asking and all of it is useful in crafting adventures and dangers that they want to see in the game, things they'll be motivated to deal with because it sprang from their own noggins.

Kerapalli sums up my views on other issues very well, especially when it comes to towns. They are quicksand traps waiting to happen. Not every minute of the game world needs to be played out. Sessions should focus only on the action and it should start with action and end with a cliffhanger. Every scene should have a compelling question that needs to be answered or else it does not get "screen time." Where there is a gap between the events of one session (or one scene) and the next, just ask some questions of the players to fill in the missing details and carry on. Write down anything interesting and use it later.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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If the DMPC knows everything, he should be present long enough to make it clear he knows everything and with his presence the adventure will be super easy. Unfortunatley, in the next breath, before he can do much outside of pointing out the [quest] to the PCs, he is sucked into a portal. The PCs can try to save him if they want, but they should probably also deal with [quest].

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"

I think what you are looking for is a companion character - basicly a simplified version of a PC.  This takes care of the DMPC problem as the character is controlled by the players in combat.  Though in your case with your players being inexperienced I do not recommend this as an option as they are still learning to play their own characters.  Which leads us back to a standard NPC, who does not need stats but may have access to rituals or knowledge the PCs may need.  Have him be knowledgable but just not up to the challenge of combat, bowing out when they start.  And if you wish him to die, make it a story death, no roll of the dice (other than what the players may do to try and save him if they chose or are able to do so).  If the players become more comforatable with their characters and you want to add something to the NPC slowly give him powers that aid the PCs in combat.  Heck you might even start with this - "Ok guys, he is old and frail and will be of little use in combat but his wisdom is still valuable - he has an encounter power that does X."

I like your storyline, has lots of potential, though I have a few questions and suggestions that you may take or leave.

1.  If a dragon attacked and claimed the kingdom how is the king unaware of this fact?  I would think that this news would have spread far faster than you suggest.  Maybe consider the idea of the PCs rushing to the king to offer their aid rather than give him the information - as he is likely to have it long before they reach him.  Or they think they are bringing valuable information only to find out that the news has spread far faster than they have- but the king recognizes their desire to help and sends them to meet with his sage.

2.  A land attack by a dragon is not going to continue business as usual, there will be fear and panic spearding through the common populace, armies mobilizing and other general havoc bounding across the lands.  With this in mind the one week travel time probably should not be passed over, make tihs part of the adventure, as they find the bridge burned by mauraders taking advantage of the chaos, or run into armed patrols who seek out any trouble along the roads (which would obviously include any other armed parties - i.e. the PCs) and deal with the issue to try and calm the chaos.  This can be a good way for the PCs to do some learning on the way as they interact with the locals and try to problem solve their way to the king - this way they have more to offer than "a dragon has claimed your kingdom" - but rather "A dragon has attacked your kingdom, the serfs are fleeing in terror, leaving the crops untended and the armies have mobilized against your orders."

3.  Dont force the roleplaying on to them, but start lightly.  Having NPCs engage them with questions, even simple ones, can be a good way to plant the seed of roleplaying and to start to flesh out the campaign world as they see there are 'real' people and that their actions have an effect on the world around them.  This will grow as much as the players feel comfortable with the idea.  I know my group is pretty experienced but because of our play styles and time constraints we focus a little more on the action of the adventure with the roleplaying acting as a transition between 'action scenes.'

That is what I have for you for now, I will check back later and see how things are going.

"The great epochs of our life come when we gain the courage to rechristen our evil as what is best in us." - Friedrich Nietzsche
I've dealt with the same thing Narok.

Almost every campaign I have run involves the "wise old sage" or "guide". It gets on my nerves as a DM more than it does the PCs because I tend to rely on the guide to move the story along, making the guide the most important character within the game... and he shouldn't be.

So what I am doing differently, if this may help, is to give the players the overall "world is in danger" "you are the only ones that can save us" type background and have them take the reigns in what to do to figure it out. If they get stuck, there is always an inn that has rumors, an ancient library with books fortelling prophecy, a group of old druids.. etc. that would add just enough advice to point them in the right direction but not give them every little detail or be the reigning dictator of the party.

The RP side of it would come from the interactions with NPCs that they would need to acquire info to how to save the world or whatever. Also, I've found that if the Players don't like to RP as much.. don't force them. Let them play it out how they like, even if it is only playing like a video game-esque style to just get the best loot or whatever. You as the DM can turn this into their character personalities that may come back and bite them later on in your story.

The "world is in danger" scenario is kind of what I was going for. I want to see if I can make the wizard  less essential to decision making, similar to Gandalf (who I seem to be reffering to a bit too much) asking Frodo which path to take, and then respecting and following that decision, even if he knows better. I'll know it, he'll know it, but the players never will. Another role I might walk him into is a bit of an unseen guardian, in the end revealing that he was there all along to help them on there way, then leaving them when they are ready to face the challenge. At least for their first campaign, I think these players need that.

I think what you are looking for is a companion character - basicly a simplified version of a PC.  This takes care of the DMPC problem as the character is controlled by the players in combat.  Though in your case with your players being inexperienced I do not recommend this as an option as they are still learning to play their own characters.  Which leads us back to a standard NPC, who does not need stats but may have access to rituals or knowledge the PCs may need.  Have him be knowledgable but just not up to the challenge of combat, bowing out when they start.  And if you wish him to die, make it a story death, no roll of the dice (other than what the players may do to try and save him if they chose or are able to do so).  If the players become more comforatable with their characters and you want to add something to the NPC slowly give him powers that aid the PCs in combat.  Heck you might even start with this - "Ok guys, he is old and frail and will be of little use in combat but his wisdom is still valuable - he has an encounter power that does X."

I like your storyline, has lots of potential, though I have a few questions and suggestions that you may take or leave.

1.  If a dragon attacked and claimed the kingdom how is the king unaware of this fact?  I would think that this news would have spread far faster than you suggest.  Maybe consider the idea of the PCs rushing to the king to offer their aid rather than give him the information - as he is likely to have it long before they reach him.  Or they think they are bringing valuable information only to find out that the news has spread far faster than they have- but the king recognizes their desire to help and sends them to meet with his sage.

2.  A land attack by a dragon is not going to continue business as usual, there will be fear and panic spearding through the common populace, armies mobilizing and other general havoc bounding across the lands.  With this in mind the one week travel time probably should not be passed over, make tihs part of the adventure, as they find the bridge burned by mauraders taking advantage of the chaos, or run into armed patrols who seek out any trouble along the roads (which would obviously include any other armed parties - i.e. the PCs) and deal with the issue to try and calm the chaos.  This can be a good way for the PCs to do some learning on the way as they interact with the locals and try to problem solve their way to the king - this way they have more to offer than "a dragon has claimed your kingdom" - but rather "A dragon has attacked your kingdom, the serfs are fleeing in terror, leaving the crops untended and the armies have mobilized against your orders."

3.  Dont force the roleplaying on to them, but start lightly.  Having NPCs engage them with questions, even simple ones, can be a good way to plant the seed of roleplaying and to start to flesh out the campaign world as they see there are 'real' people and that their actions have an effect on the world around them.  This will grow as much as the players feel comfortable with the idea.  I know my group is pretty experienced but because of our play styles and time constraints we focus a little more on the action of the adventure with the roleplaying acting as a transition between 'action scenes.'

That is what I have for you for now, I will check back later and see how things are going.


Wow. Thanks for the great suggestions. This was something I needed to open my eyes to the scope this world needs. All three of your points I can see as very useful with, not only helping introduce everything to these guys, but also with where I want to take the story, and what I already knew I needed to expand on. I'm glad these forums actually have helpful contributers with experience. Thank you again!
Another role I might walk him into is a bit of an unseen guardian, in the end revealing that he was there all along to help them on there way, then leaving them when they are ready to face the challenge. At least for their first campaign, I think these players need that.


I'm slightly worried about the potential of this solution to undermine their confidence.  If you were to go this route, I would suggest at least moving the reveal to closer to the beginning.  Perhaps after their first big "win."

Another role I might walk him into is a bit of an unseen guardian, in the end revealing that he was there all along to help them on there way, then leaving them when they are ready to face the challenge. At least for their first campaign, I think these players need that.


I'm slightly worried about the potential of this solution to undermine their confidence.  If you were to go this route, I would suggest at least moving the reveal to closer to the beginning.  Perhaps after their first big "win."


How do you think it would turn out in their minds if I did save it for later?
How do you think it would turn out in their minds if I did save it for later?


It all depends on details and delivery, but I might be concerned that...


  • They might be resentful.  (Why didn't you just help us if you could have?  Why didn't you do this yourself?)

  • They might feel "carried."  (So you were just there helping us all along?  Why didn't you think we could handle this?)


These aren't necessarily bad results, if you're okay with it.  If you're "looking at your NPCs through crosshairs," then it can work out really well.  It also depends a great deal on your player/DM dynamic.
How do you think it would turn out in their minds if I did save it for later?


It all depends on details and delivery, but I might be concerned that...


  • They might be resentful.  (Why didn't you just help us if you could have?  Why didn't you do this yourself?)

  • They might feel "carried."  (So you were just there helping us all along?  Why didn't you think we could handle this?)


These aren't necessarily bad results, if you're okay with it.  If you're "looking at your NPCs through crosshairs," then it can work out really well.  It also depends a great deal on your player/DM dynamic.

That's interesting. I'm glad you pointed that out. I'll keep it in mind. Thank you.
I've always held that bards made much better DMPCs than any other character. It doesn't necessarily have to be statted out as a bard, just presented as such, but the sheer versatility has several good points:


  •  They can reasonably be expected to have any skill or lore you want them to have without breaking suspension of disbelief.

  • They tend to act largely as a support class, which lets your PCs shine whilst you deal with buffing and occasional healing, smoothing out combats.

  • They can act as social catalysts, bringing your players into contact with other NPCs. They can also impart information on said NPCs, which makes them seem more human (ie: "Lord Blackbore distrusts elves because his elf-wife left him ten years back")

  • They are suitably mysterious enough that they can vanish when no longer needed without undue comment.


In terms of roleplaying, the trick is to slowly draw your players in. Start slowly. A 'the whole kingdom is about to perish' is a good plot, but it's like throwing your players in the deep end. Try keeping them in the wilderness, finding an abandoned town - mysterious tracks - fight some monsters in the woods, then let them discover a larger plot. One big enough that they feel an urgent need to stop it, but not so big that it couldn't be kept secret until the players stumble across it. Start feeding them roleplaying questions in terms of choices. Keep them small at first: which path to take, travelling NPCs who can be questioned, the last enemy surrenders, village ask them to intervene in a family feud, they come across two strangers duelling, enemies taunt them while in combat, et cetera. Once they've built up a bit of a character identity, defeated the local Bad Guy and earned some reward/renown, then have them sent to the city to report to the king or whatnot. A few of the local NPCs could add in some optional sidequests as well, to help you flesh out the city and give the players some connection to it/introduce them to useful people (thieves guild, sage, blacksmith...) Whether they complete these or not is up to them and their characters, so ensure you create a range so they do actually make a choice between them. Remember, all choices the players make are roleplaying, so try and feed them lots of choice.
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Presentation and personality are super important for a situation like this. The PCs having buy-in on it (and in turn the characters giving buy-in )is super important too.

Just last night, my group lost an NPC that had been following them around for a month now, the orc Yaka'po. You see, Yaka'po was the remaining orc of a group of 10 that the PCs had interacted with after killing their leader. See, when the orcs first appeared, the actual players were aprehensive and (though 3rd level) were worried about their chances against the orcs (HINT: they would have butchered the poor green-skins) so they parlayed and the Oruk (a homebrew northlands Orc-kin) Barbarian ended up challenging and killing the orcs leader in a single blow ("...that was easy!" exclaimed the player LOL) and so demanded the fealty of the orcs.

After initial try-outs left only 4 orcs remaining, one of whom was badly injured, the PCs traveled onward...with all 4 remaining orcs in tow. Well, all 4 until the injured one died. Then the 3rd died against some cockatrice...cockatrices?...cocka..whatever, against multiple cockatrice. This all happened in short order in one game...this left the two remaining orcs, a pair of oath-brothers named Or'tu and Yaka'po. Well, they hung around with the PCs for a couple sessions before Or'tu meant his death actually at the blade of the cunning Yaka'po who, in his evil little heart, felt he could curry favor with the PC barbarian Oruk by slaying Or'tu for "planning to betray them" (poor Or'tu never was...he was too dumb to think of treachery). Well, last night poor Or'tu died...ironically fighting against a bunch of orcs alongside the party. Sadly, he even had gained enough experience to level up but never got the chance to rest and level.

When Yaka'po died, everyone was bummed out a bit (though equally excited that they had managed to survive a VERY tough fight alongside some hobgoblin companions they'd crossed paths with in the woods). They even buried the orc after giving him last rights. Yeah, the good-aligned party took the time to pray over and bury the Chaotic Evil orc. Why? Cuz he'd fought alongside them and he felt like a part of the group.

In the same night, the same barbarian PC reunited with his dwarven bard friend Multru...and now they've pal'd up with him and he has decided to travel with them for a little bit.

None of these characters are DMPCs though...they're simply NPCs that the group has added to their roster for various reasons. I did not play kid gloves with them, I did not give them preferential treatment and I did not make decisions for them...I make them roll morale (Yaka'po and Or'tu actually botched that in their first battle alongside the party against and Ettin...and they ran...boy did they get a stern talking to after that...) and if their personality doesn't make a choice or action immediately apparent I roll for it...more often or not actually I end up rolling for it.

The long-winded point I'm trying to make is...if the characters WANT an NPC to be with them and accompany them, they aren't a DMPC at that point...they're a potentially very valuable ally...maybe even a friend.  When the ally struggles they will want him to succeed and encourage them...when the ally DOES succeed they will cheer. The important thing is though, at all times is it the players choice to spend time with the NPC...just as it remains the NPC's choice to remain with the PC's.

So, basically what it boils down to is, instead of putting a DMPC in the group, instead make a few characters with compelling personalities, traits and reasons that that NPC would want to party with the group and why the PCs would like to have them along. Then, if they decide that they don't want them with them...well, roll with it because, hey, it's their choice.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

My style of DMPC generally comes in two forms.  The first is a combat-oriented one that serves as cannon fodder in battles - they exist to buffer the party from danger by walking into traps, holding off monsters long enough for the party to get their act together, or to demonstrate the lethality of a monster.

EX1: A village is threatened by a monster attack, there could be minion villagers and guardsmen, with the monsters focusing on putting down the guards first while boasting what fine ornaments the locals would make.  This gives the players some leeway with saving people.  The fodder is also very useful for escort missions or situations that otherwise would necessaitate a player to be a benchwarmer, since leaving the object unguarded would be otherwise unrealistic.

EX2:  There is a DMPC ranger tagging along with the party because he feels that something is wrong with the woodlands that he watches over.  It turns out there is a wyvern, who swoops in and strikes him with its barbed tail.  The ranger is now poisoned and may die without intervention.  This gives players a chance to save him if they so wish, and it demonstrates that the Wyvern can fly and has a deadly stinger.  Cinematics like this help with getting players into the proper mindset for encounters with specific monsters.  The same may go for situations involving traps.


The other type of DMPC is a merchant, who serves to bring the players items and some kind of information.  This character allows the DM to say in-game "I would look for that item you want, but no promises", which serves roleplaying and as a means of the DM to regulate items available to the party.  Ditto for information, but the character is less reliable in this regard - there should be a wide variety of NPCs to help supply the various sidequests and main plotline.  As always, these DMPCs should be able to die due to the situation, whatever that may be.  Just be sure that your plot threads are accounted for.
"The word Live is Evil spelt backwards." "Flaws are what make our perfections shine so brightly"
In the game I'm currently playing, there's a DMCP. She's a Leader class because that's what was needed to round out the party, but she's not leading the group in-game. Most of the time, anyway. It's an Underdark campaign, and she's a Drow paladin. Her presence in our party was a condition set by the Drow priestess we're working for, to keep an eye on us or something like that. Basically, if we enter a populated area, she nominally takes charge, but when we're traversing through the wilds (which is most of the time) she just fulfills her combat role. She does sometimes make other contributions, but always via skill checks so that she's not an infallible source.
First off, I sincerely apologize, not only for the length of the following message, but for the content. I know how much everyone hates the concept of a DMPC, but, please . . . here me out.
    So, about 2 weeks ago, I got a 4e campaign started with 5 of my friends, none of which had ever played D&D. I don't have much experience either, but I have the most out of the group, so I was elected as DM. Just FYI, here's our little party:
Human Paladin
Tiefling Warlock
Half-Orc Barbarian
Elf Ranger
Human Cleric


That's a reasonably well-balanced party. It lacks a primary controller, but depending on character details has possibly as many as three secondary controllers (and a party with no controller is possibly easier for a DM to adapt to than a party missing any of the other roles). With a primary leader and a secondary leader, there's plenty of healing. And it has three primary strikers, so it can lay out the damage.

So frankly I suggest that any NPC you saddle them with actually be a burden most of the time, and at best hold its own in combat. And this NPC should be going with them for a specific short time and specific reason, after which he is not a constant presence. (He can still be a character in town. Or not. Whatever makes sense.)

Definitely NOT a DMPC. An NPC that is going to hang with the PCs should be built as a monster or a companion character, and do very little on his own initiative.

The story, in a nutshell, is an ancient dragon that has long been a friend of the kingdom just attacked a small village and has declared himself the new ruler of the kingdom. The party is heading to the capital to inform the king of these events. When we first started, I threw about 5 goblin minions with 1 HP and 1 Brute with 27 HP, just to get everyone used to the idea of combat. They had no problems at all, but complained later that I was going to easy. So, in our last session, I threw 8 Kobolds out with 27 HP each. I had to pull some elves out of the forest (kind of like pulling them out of my rear, but it'll fit into the story) to save my party. Now that they've had a taste of a harder difficulty, they decided they wanted it hard, but not to hard. This is where the DMPC idea first came in.


Shove the idea back out. You don't need a DMPC or even an ally NPC; you need a DM who is better at designing encounters. Read more on encounter design (the DMG has a good section on it, don't know about the DM kit).

The "baseline" standard encounter is one same-level standard monster per PC. There are a number of changes you can make to that lineup without changing the difficulty, for example replace one monster with 4-5 minions. You can alter the difficulty by adding or removing a monster, by upgrading or downgrading a monster, by picking a higher or lower level monster. Play with it. Don't expect to get it right the first time, or every time (be thankful that those elves showed up when the did). Don't be afraid to let the players know you're still figuring things out - if they have brains, they know that already.

I had already been planning to throw the stereotypical Merlin style crazy wizard into the story once they reach the capital, but then I realized how great of a help he could be to the party, not only in combat, but also in the RP portion. Again, I ask you to here me out.


Ask the players questions. They meet the crazy wizard - before you let them know he's crazy, point at one  of the players and say "YOU recognize him - where from? Why is it that you don't quite trust him?" Work the answers into his craziness.

Right now, I don't have anyway to really interact with the PCs, like, for example, when trying to get them to follow through to some key information, or into some good RP scenarios. The RP experience they have now come from RPGs like Skyrim, so I thought a "guide", if you will, would be a great way to do this. The crazy old wizard could mutter something about a book he remembers reading about this particular dungeon, or use a Gandalf style, "the air doesn't smell so foul here," line. Now, don't get me wrong here; I'm not trying to drag my players around with no care for what their characters decide to do. But I still don't want him to feel at all like the typical NPC. I really want him to feel like a member of the group, someone that everyone comes to know and love.


Play him as the dotty uncle. The one that the little kids love and the grownups enjoy but don't quite trust to be sensible.

He'll be just enough to give them a nudge here or there, and give them that Gandalf or Brom style support, until it isn't needed anymore, and, then at that point, kill the wizard in such a way that the party really feels the loss of the character, and it really hurts to see him go.


The dotty uncle doesn't go adventuring much. Oh, he has adventures... by dotty-uncle and little-kid standards. His swash-buckling days are either in the distant past or completely imaginary. At least you're pretty sure they are. He does disappear for weeks or months at a time and come back with new highly-improbable stories, though...

...so don't kill him off. He can stay on as comic relief - and occasionally bring something real.
"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
These guys have no roleplaying experience whatsoever, aside from the aforementioned video games, so I'm having some trouble getting the party to discuss things as a party. These are a lot of people who argue for the sake of arguement, and love to crack jokes and make refrences at the worst times. I know that a lot of parties have similar problems, but most of them have the experience somewhere in the group to get everything back on track. We do not. If I could have a character that everyone knew and respected as a member of the party that could ask a question of the noisiest member, or make a statement that brings everything back to earth, I think it would be the best way for these particular people to be roped back in, at least until we get deeper into it.
As for the combat, I've had to do a lot of spoon feeding and roll fudging to get everyone to understand how to fight and survive. I feel that if I could show a bit more by example how it's done, they would learn a lot more quickly.
Hope that clarifies somewhat.

As long as the DMPC isn't there to out-shine the party and steal the glory, using one could work well. The players are likely accustomed to the simple scenario of walking up to an NPC who immediately tells them exactly what their characters need to know.

Without that simple mechanism, they don't realize just how many options they have. Especially since those games are usually one-player vs. all the monsters. Even the useful NPCs are usually just an excuse to hone pickpocket and sneak attack skills. If you can actually speak to them, you are usually confined to 3 or 4 choices of what to say. And no matter what the player picks, the result is essentially the same.

I introduced a DMPC for the same purposes this summer after many years of playing without a DMPC (I didn't even know such a term existed up to that point.). At first, I only wanted to have somebody that could boost the story. Then I realized that the other people I play with aren't likely to DM and I wanted a chance to play a character, to level him up, to build his story based on what choices he made. It wasn't quite as satisfying in some ways as being a player in someone else's world, but in certain ways it was better. Nobody knows a world as well as the DM who invented it. The character may not have all that information, but what information he does have can be colorfully role-played and described with the same enthusiasm you had when you made the world.

If the DMPC is a tool that you can use to increase the player's enjoyment of the game, then by all means use one. If you can get more fun out of the game, that's another bonus. If the players feel out-shined by your Gandalf taking the crystal ball from their halfling rogue or annoyed when the sword that cut the ring from Sauron is reforged and given to your Aragorn instead of their barbarian fighter, you may have a problem. If the players begin discussing with one another the unfairness of it all, ask if they can discuss it in character...

One thing I found that helps, DMPC aside, when the players aren't interacting with one another... have them take turns. After the first player has describes what his character says or does, turn to the next player, RE-DESCRIBE THE SITUATION from that player's viewpoint, and THEN ask how their character responds to that situation; you may even go so far as to remind the player of personality traits that would affect how they respond.

For example... the characters (orc barbarian) and (paladin) meet a guard at a city gate and he is asking them what business they have in the city.

Player 1, the halforc bbn: "Our business is our own".
DM, playing the guard: The guard says.. "And this city is our own, so unless you care to share what that business is, orc, feel free to stand on your own side of our walls."
DM, addressing player 2, the paladin: Your character was chosen by the king to travel here and sort out this business with the dragon. You were chosen by the church as the warrior to fulfill the church's duties to the king. The half-orc is a bit uncouth and uncivilized, but like it or not he is also on the king's business. The guard is just doing his duty, you realize, even if the illiterate half-orc doesn't seem to grasp that. What does the noble warrior do or say that will get him and his companions through the gate so that they may perform this important duty without breaking the chivalric code of the Shining Knights by being discourteous?
Player 2, the paladin (thinking for a minute): "This city is the king's city and we are the king's men on the kings' business, Sir. I thank you for being diligent in such troubled times. I'm sure the king will be grateful as well. Could you be so kind as to have one of your men give us an escort to the castle or at least to a nearby inn until such time as we are summoned? Again, I thank you."


A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
These guys have no roleplaying experience whatsoever, aside from the aforementioned video games, so I'm having some trouble getting the party to discuss things as a party. These are a lot of people who argue for the sake of arguement, and love to crack jokes and make refrences at the worst times. I know that a lot of parties have similar problems, but most of them have the experience somewhere in the group to get everything back on track. We do not. If I could have a character that everyone knew and respected as a member of the party that could ask a question of the noisiest member, or make a statement that brings everything back to earth, I think it would be the best way for these particular people to be roped back in, at least until we get deeper into it.
As for the combat, I've had to do a lot of spoon feeding and roll fudging to get everyone to understand how to fight and survive. I feel that if I could show a bit more by example how it's done, they would learn a lot more quickly.
Hope that clarifies somewhat.

As long as the DMPC isn't there to out-shine the party and steal the glory, using one could work well. The players are likely accustomed to the simple scenario of walking up to an NPC who immediately tells them exactly what their characters need to know.

Without that simple mechanism, they don't realize just how many options they have. Especially since those games are usually one-player vs. all the monsters. Even the useful NPCs are usually just an excuse to hone pickpocket and sneak attack skills. If you can actually speak to them, you are usually confined to 3 or 4 choices of what to say. And no matter what the player picks, the result is essentially the same.

I introduced a DMPC for the same purposes this summer after many years of playing without a DMPC (I didn't even know such a term existed up to that point.). At first, I only wanted to have somebody that could boost the story. Then I realized that the other people I play with aren't likely to DM and I wanted a chance to play a character, to level him up, to build his story based on what choices he made. It wasn't quite as satisfying in some ways as being a player in someone else's world, but in certain ways it was better. Nobody knows a world as well as the DM who invented it. The character may not have all that information, but what information he does have can be colorfully role-played and described with the same enthusiasm you had when you made the world.

If the DMPC is a tool that you can use to increase the player's enjoyment of the game, then by all means use one. If you can get more fun out of the game, that's another bonus. If the players feel out-shined by your Gandalf taking the crystal ball from their halfling rogue or annoyed when the sword that cut the ring from Sauron is reforged and given to your Aragorn instead of their barbarian fighter, you may have a problem. If the players begin discussing with one another the unfairness of it all, ask if they can discuss it in character...

One thing I found that helps, DMPC aside, when the players aren't interacting with one another... have them take turns. After the first player has describes what his character says or does, turn to the next player, RE-DESCRIBE THE SITUATION from that player's viewpoint, and THEN ask how their character responds to that situation; you may even go so far as to remind the player of personality traits that would affect how they respond.

For example... the characters (orc barbarian) and (paladin) meet a guard at a city gate and he is asking them what business they have in the city.

Player 1, the halforc bbn: "Our business is our own".
DM, playing the guard: The guard says.. "And this city is our own, so unless you care to share what that business is, orc, feel free to stand on your own side of our walls."
DM, addressing player 2, the paladin: Your character was chosen by the king to travel here and sort out this business with the dragon. You were chosen by the church as the warrior to fulfill the church's duties to the king. The half-orc is a bit uncouth and uncivilized, but like it or not he is also on the king's business. The guard is just doing his duty, you realize, even if the illiterate half-orc doesn't seem to grasp that. What does the noble warrior do or say that will get him and his companions through the gate so that they may perform this important duty without breaking the chivalric code of the Shining Knights by being discourteous?
Player 2, the paladin (thinking for a minute): "This city is the king's city and we are the king's men on the kings' business, Sir. I thank you for being diligent in such troubled times. I'm sure the king will be grateful as well. Could you be so kind as to have one of your men give us an escort to the castle or at least to a nearby inn until such time as we are summoned? Again, I thank you."



Thank you very much! You summed up my thoughts about this plan much better than I did. He isn't there to be my perfect little trophy PC, he's there for story, and for me to get a bit more immeresed in the action with my friends. Simply building him as a NPC or Monster wouldn't do enough, which is why I went down the DMPC path. If you don't mind, I'd like to use your example to show them the concept of presenting the situation.
I'm not so sure it is a good idea.  One of the major problem is that the dmpc will be either undervalued, or overvalued by the dm.  Under, and the party can miss something that a normal player might have thought of, over, and the party lets him do everything.  The only times I've ever seen a dmpc work was when it was a follower(3.5) or treated as a pet. 

If you do go through with it, have one of the players handle the battle aspect of the guy.  This gives you less work and keeps all temptation of metagaming dm out of the way.  Remember, the pcs will notice what the dmpc does, and will follow that person.