Forging The Realms: Quelzard, Patron of Adventurers

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Forging The Realms
Quelzard, Patron of Adventurers

By Ed Greenwood

The Company of Crazed Venturers, my first PC adventuring band, never even knew he existed . . . though they came to suspect his presence, once or twice.

Talk about this column here.

Ends Are Sometimes Better Left Loose

Yan
Montréal, Canada
@Plaguescarred on twitter

Too easily abused as a railroading tool for a DM.

And if it's not a railroading tool, and players never unmask him or suspect him, what's the point?  If you have to fudge that regularly as a DM, then it's probably either just "DM wank" or you plan challenges pretty badly for your players.
It makes sense though, i mean dopplegangers are everywhere! Youd never know whos one or not, and just following adventures around and living off of adventures' scraps, i mean its not that bad of a life, you know? And its kinda makin me think now about what exactly did happen to that +8 Sword of Beheading that the characters just left laying around, I mean seriously who kills a Death Knight and doesnt take his armor and weapons!?
Why is it too easily abused? Aren't you the DM in control of of Quelzard? This is another of Ed's "enhancements" for his campaign, in that his PCs are not a group operating in a vacuum and nor can they stride through their adventure setting with impunity. In Ed's Realms, PC actions have consequences. Lots of consequences. Moreover, his Realms doesn't sit still awaiting those PCs to do something. Things happens, wagons move, people live their lives and in this case, the PCs are affected by the actions of others "offstage". It shows a far more involved and sophisticated background setting for a PC group than the significant majority of campaigns that PC groups are exposed to, in my experience. Wheels within wheels. That's the binding fibre of the Realms.

-- George Krashos
 
Why is it too easily abused? Aren't you the DM in control of of Quelzard? This is another of Ed's "enhancements" for his campaign, in that his PCs are not a group operating in a vacuum and nor can they stride through their adventure setting with impunity. In Ed's Realms, PC actions have consequences. Lots of consequences. Moreover, his Realms doesn't sit still awaiting those PCs to do something. Things happens, wagons move, people live their lives and in this case, the PCs are affected by the actions of others "offstage". It shows a far more involved and sophisticated background setting for a PC group than the significant majority of campaigns that PC groups are exposed to, in my experience. Wheels within wheels. That's the binding fibre of the Realms.
-- George Krashos
 


What does it "enhance" really?  It's a DMPC.  It can encourage less experienced DMs to railroad the story in specific direction, and worse - is a constant "fudging" tool that's way worse than just pretending to roll dice behind a screen and calling it however you want.

Yes, the Realms in Ed's campaign have all sorts of people with motivations and activities that the PCs may never see.  But in this case, it's a DMPC that is stacking the deck for the PCs - and yet "remains unseen" or totally unknown to them.  What's the point, other than DM ego-service?

Imagine if Lord of the Rings was an RPG (yes, I know there is one) and had one of these DMPCs, constantly hovering in the background and helping out Frodo and his companions.  You'd get to see him as the audience but he never once is discovered by the main characters.  It would change the entire meaning, stakes, and feeling of free choice involved in their decisions along the way, and would completely detract from the story.

If the players did eventually find out, then it raises all sorts of questions about why the DMPC helped here but not there.  Why did it act to save Player 1 but allow Player 3 to die?  Is this DMPC acting for it's own character-derived best interests, or in the "meta-game" best interests of the DM and railroading his story in a particular direction?  Isn't Ed always saying that the Realms is a sandbox?  Or is it a sandbox on a railroad car?

It's absolutely true that NPCs act in their own interest, and the world is meant to be alive and unfolding.  But this isn't an NPC.  It's a railroading device, a fudging device.  It's what we used to call "being a bad DM" back in the days of AD&D.

 It can encourage less experienced DMs to railroad the story in specific direction


How can you railroad your own story?


Typically, D&D adventures are set up as either "sandbox play" or as "linear play" stories.  Many fall somewhere in between, of course.

With the Realms, it's always been touted and upheld as a "sandbox" setting, meaning that the DM (and specifically Ed) runs the world so that the players have maximum choice to follow up on any lead or plot hook.  When they've made their choices, the DM fills in the details.  Ed has consistently run his Realms in this fashion (or says he does), and has quite literally hundreds of plots and plots-within-plots running.  If players decide to drop one adventure path and follow another lead, that's what happens.

For people who like and prefer this "sandbox" play, a linear-plot adventure can seem like riding a train on its tracks.  There's no way to switch tracks in a "linear" model, because the DM has a very specific, detailed story that he wants the players to follow.  If you try, the DM with a DMPC will act in some way to re-direct you on the "right" story path.

Experienced DMs will probably fall somewhere between the two extremes, with elements of each.

But if you're running a DMPC that fudges things in favor of what you want, making things easier for the PCs and driving them firmly along your intended plot path regardless of what the randomness of dice say or how things would logically play out in the absence of such "help", then the DM is running what's called a "DMPC" (DM's player character) as opposed to a world filled with NPCs that act in their own interests.  It's one of the top ten big mistakes of DMing, really, right up there with being a Monty Haul DM or allowing your players to min-max in the extreme.

As a DM, the story isn't yours alone.  Whether you have a planned linear adventure or a sandbox world, the story is mostly determined by the players.  It's the DM's job to be more than a storyteller.  If it's just going to be your show, then there's no point in even rolling dice or creating characters.

NPCs act according to their character natures.  DMPCs act according to the DM's meta-knowledge, plans, and personal desires for story outcome.

Ahh, but there's the rub, isn't it? Your view of this article is that the DMPC as you describe Quelzard isn't acting in his own interests. He is indeed. He benefits from the PC actions and profits from their adventuring. He aids them because that aid benefits him. And I think your final comment is a study in semantics. All NPCs act according to DM meta-knowledge, plans and personal desires for story outcomes. If the DM wants a campaign to go or potentially go in a certain direction (and this occurs in both linear and sandbox set-ups) then he creates an NPC or plot occurrence to accomodate that. I don't think that in a tabletop RPG that there is a difference at all between an NPC and a DMPC, as you categorise the two. Quelzard in no way interferes with PC actions in the context of constraining their choices. His actions are independent of the PCs but enmeshed and interactive with them - just like any other NPC. There is no difference between a merchant NPC created to tell the PCs about the caravan of Zhents camped outside the town, and Quelzard in disguise doing so and then tagging along to see if he can swipe some gold and magic in their wake. None at all.

-- George Krashos
 
It's just my take on things, YMMV.

If you want a world filled with DMPCs and want to pretend they're no different than NPCs, that's your business.
It's just my take on things, YMMV.

If you want a world filled with DMPCs and want to pretend they're no different than NPCs, that's your business.


And you're obligated to run your FR campaign with all sorts of NPCs interfering in your game?


Obligated?  Not at all.  But when a designer writes an article advocating this kind of thing, that's where it's a problem.

I didn't see Ed advocate what you claim. All he gave me was an good idea for an NPC, another tool in my DM arsenal. A surprisingly good one as most of Ed's other columns were meh for me. 

Not all groups do an adventure in the very controlled environment of dungeons. A NPC like the one Ed suggested is very useful in a RP heavy game.

I just do not understand all the anger.


Criticism of an article or an idea/concept is not the same thing as anger.  At no point have I been angry, and frankly it's getting a little tiresome that you're still suggesting it.  But whatever.

I'm also not advocating "dungeon only" types of adventures or "highly controlled" adventures (whatever that means).

RP-heavy games are great.  They're my preferred style of play.

But I disagree that this is a good idea for an NPC.  That's all.  Again, there's no "anger" here.  Please stop making these unusual attributions.

I enjoyed this article.

To me it seems a patron can be useful to a DM when it looks like the players are running out of options, i.e. are soon to be dead.

I don't think it takes away from the player's actions or interferes with the suspension of disbelief to have someone/something in the background keeping an eye out for them, provided the DM tailors that NPCs actions around the NPCs own best interests.

Plus it's another built in adventure hook, if the players start to ask questions. Besides, if it ever got to be too much, the DM could set a scene where the PCs come across a dying doppleganger, run through by the sword of a guard the creature had attempted to slay so the PCs could escape.

Its dying words could spawn several adventures, even as it answers a few of their questions before shuffling off the mortal coil.
As someone who has played with Ed as a DM many times, I totally disagree with Jorunhast. Who seems to have totally missed Ed's point: what Quelzard did is what a lot of doppelgangers do. "Maintaining" (helping) "their" pets (a group of adventurers) for their own benefit as the adventurers' benefit. While manipulating the PCs at the same time.
As DM, Ed plays "the Realms." By which I mean a huge cast of NPCs, some sentient and speaking, some "dumb" beasts, and some unhuman monsters. I have known Waterdeep's doppelgangers do this since around 1990, when the PC adventuring band I was playing in, in an Ed-run library program in Toronto, started spying on a landlord and found out that both the landlord and the party's most trusted servant (combination cook and horse-tender) were doppelgangers, and the two of them were conspiring to steer the PCs into conflict with people they wanted weakened or eliminated.
Ed is like most veteran, superior DMs who run games with many layers of intrigue. He lets the players enjoy it on one level but if they ever get suspicious (and he'll give them hints and clues constantly), they'll find a whole "new" hidden layer. That will make them question everything that's happened so far, and see the world around them differently.
Now, you may not LIKE those sort of campaigns. That's fine. But please don't decry those who enjoy a Realms crawling with energetic NPCs. I think Ed is one of the best DMs I have ever met. ALL of his NPCs have their own aspirations and rounded-out lives. Neither Quelzard nor any of the monsters I've seen Ed run are "DM's pets" or "Mary Sues" or there to further the interests of the DM.
I have met players who like roleplaying because they believe that unlike real life, there are no consequences. They can haul off and hack a king or high priest to death because they don't like his nose and then just walk away, because "they're the heroes and the most powerful" characters. They tend to be the same sort of players who want to kill gods and any powerful NPC printed in any book. And criticize DMs who don't let them walk all over everything, but of course get quickly bored if the DM does give them the dominance they want. Perhaps those sort of players are the ones who see DMs as "playing against them." I've never felt that, with Ed as DM. With him, it's more like you're plunged into the middle of, say, A Game of Thrones and guess what? You're not the only ones running around with swords being dangerous.
Quelzard is really good at what he does. The not-so-deft doppelgangers got caught by THEIR adventurers. I'm posting this as proof.