Forging The Realms: Quelzard, Patron of Adventurers

An interesting take on the good old fashioned DM PC.

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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.



Or precisely why I didn't play 2e and why a bunch of old-timers loathe the Forgotten Realms...
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.



Or precisely why I didn't play 2e and why a bunch of old-timers loathe the Forgotten Realms...


I'm not sure I understand what you are talking about. What is it that old-timers loathed that is in this column?



The meddling DMPC, particularly one who is uber at something, such as Elminster(everything) or Quelvard(being unnoticed by the PCs due to his disguise abilities), who goes about saving the PCs from their actions. Where if they didn't do it, the PCs surely would all die. An NPC to whom the DM is clearly attached.
The DMPC is one of the biggest mistakes a new DM can make.

It's really incredibly disheartening to see Ed actually do this kind of thing, much less encourage the idea.

If a DM did this in my group and we later found out about it, there would be all sorts of questions:
- why did the DMPC save Player 1's hide and let Player 3 die horribly?  He was nearby and aware of things, after all.
- what did the DMPC steal or scavenge that we somehow missed, and was it ever something important?
- are you (the DM) even bothering to read the dice you roll, or is everything else fudged also?
- why did I bother rolling a character or rolling any dice myself, if the story was intended to be linear?
- clearly this DMPC is acting on meta-knowledge of the DM - so can I start doing the same with my PC?

I dont know if you guys even bothered to read the article at all:


To those players I add that it takes nothing away from your accomplishments to now learn that Quelzard had your back all that time. It was your own prowess earned you his attention to begin with.


You were still the ones that had to swing those swords and face those dragons.



But I forgot that the new world creation paradym is that the world around the adventurers does not exist and everything is in suspeneded animation until the adventurers get around to interacting with it.


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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.



Or precisely why I didn't play 2e and why a bunch of old-timers loathe the Forgotten Realms...


I'm not sure I understand what you are talking about. What is it that old-timers loathed that is in this column?



The meddling DMPC, particularly one who is uber at something, such as Elminster(everything) or Quelvard(being unnoticed by the PCs due to his disguise abilities), who goes about saving the PCs from their actions. Where if they didn't do it, the PCs surely would all die. An NPC to whom the DM is clearly attached.


But it's NOT a  DMPC. He's not running Quelzard. The PCs never even saw Quelzard, not really. 
The point is that the DM is softballing the PCs giving them a little help. The article is all about a justification for the help, explaining away convenient Deus Ex Machina in-world with an unseen doppelganger.

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I dont know if you guys even bothered to read the article at all:


To those players I add that it takes nothing away from your accomplishments to now learn that Quelzard had your back all that time. It was your own prowess earned you his attention to begin with.


You were still the ones that had to swing those swords and face those dragons.



But I forgot that the new world creation paradym is that the world around the adventurers does not exist and everything is in suspeneded animation until the adventurers get around to interacting with it. 



I did read it, I just don't believe the claim that "it takes nothing away from your accomplishments" to have such a DMPC constantly meddling.  If it actually took nothing away from players' accomplishments, then his total absence would change nothing.


But it's NOT a  DMPC. He's not running Quelzard. The PCs never even saw Quelzard, not really. 
The point is that the DM is softballing the PCs giving them a little help. The article is all about a justification for the help, explaining away convenient Deus Ex Machina in-world with an unseen doppelganger.


As described, it's most assuredly being run as a DMPC and not an NPC.

The thing about deus ex machina is that it's completely and totally unnecessary unless you want a specific outcome as the DM.  Let's take one example from the article:  this Quelzard stole a book that would have gotten the players in a lot of legal trouble if someone had found it.  What was actually wrong with letting the players get into legal trouble, if it was a logical and realistic outcome?  Instead, you have driven the plot in the direction you want as the DM rather than letting real consequences happen.

Another example:  had the players not been shown to an escape door, that lord might have captured the players and put them on trial for the accidental homicide of his son.  What would've been wrong with that outcome?  Instead, the DM completely prevents that outcome as a possibility, urging them on the path to escape - which only serves to make them look like intentional murderers.

The only reason to use a deus ex machina outcome is when you've painted yourself into a corner - or if you want to drive the story along a particular, single path.  It doesn't matter if you use a doppelganger to push the story or a falling piano from the sky to land on someone's head, it's just plain bad writing.


But it's NOT a  DMPC. He's not running Quelzard. The PCs never even saw Quelzard, not really. 
The point is that the DM is softballing the PCs giving them a little help. The article is all about a justification for the help, explaining away convenient Deus Ex Machina in-world with an unseen doppelganger.


As described, it's most assuredly being run as a DMPC and not an NPC.


Except that most (if not all) of what he did would not be on camera. It's all stuff that happens only inside the DM's mind. That's the difference. Heck, he's not even a real NPC so much as a background element.

I doubt the character was even there at the start. Clearly the whole concept of doppelgangers as adventuring patrons were an idea he came up with much, much later and used that to justify and retcon events or problematic logic. "Oh, all that happened because of a secret ally. Riiight. That's why the door wasn't locked despite all odds or there wasn't enough horses for the number of raiders in the keep."

The thing about deus ex machina is that it's completely and totally unnecessary unless you want a specific outcome as the DM. 


Yes and no. Sometimes the outcome you don't want is the party being TPKed because they made a mistake or did something silly. 
Other times the party has a fun plan that you want see come to fruition despite obvious flaws or logic. And yet, suddenly, despite all odds, it works. 

This is the key statements of the piece:
When a group of adventurers decides to attack a thieves' den, their patron is the one who suffocates a key guard into unconsciousness or intercepts and takes down a thief who overheard their planning. The patron wants them to succeed, because the patron is lurking in the shadows to take a few fallen weapons here and a few hidden coins there, while the adventurers are still fighting the last of the thieves to claim the lion's share of the loot.
...
Hence all the handy saddled horses outside windows when things turn desperate, or diversions caused by sudden fires or windows being broken or suits of displayed armor being toppled. Such events are not prompted by a kindly DM arranging for improbable events to help PCs who are in over their heads—these are the acts of their patron looking after their health and success.



wizard doppelganger did it.

Let's take one example from the article:  this Quelzard stole a book that would have gotten the players in a lot of legal trouble if someone had found it.  What was actually wrong with letting the players get into legal trouble, if it was a logical and realistic outcome?  Instead, you have driven the plot in the direction you want as the DM rather than letting real consequences happen.


Not knowing the details, it's hard to know for sure. That's not the story being told.
Maybe someone asked later "hey, what about that document that totally implicated us?" And the DM, fumbling having forgotten about that key bit of evidence replies, "oh, it went missing." And the doppelganger strikes again.
Maybe a giant legal story resulting in the PCs being hunted and wanted, resulting in them being forced to flee the story wouldn't work with the DM's narrative. Dropping every ongoing plot and established NPC is harsh. 

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...A wizard doppelganger did it.


Whether it's Elminster randomly teleporting in to save the PCs or Quelzard taking out key guards, it's lazy and a disservice to everyone playing.

When a host of important details are consistently taken care of by the DM instead of the players, that's when players become lazy and expect to be saved by the DM.  If continually saved "in the nick of time" by incredibly fortunate circumstances or "fate" instead of planning and intent, a game loses both realism and player agency.

I did read it, I just don't believe the claim that "it takes nothing away from your accomplishments" to have such a DMPC constantly meddling.  If it actually took nothing away from players' accomplishments, then his total absence would change nothing.




Did the players swing their swords and face the dragons?   

Does having a (recurring) NPC show them the secret door out the back of the cave detract from that? 

Is this the kind of attitude that we want to foster among players? 

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...A wizard doppelganger did it.


Whether it's Elminster randomly teleporting in to save the PCs or Quelzard taking out key guards, it's lazy and a disservice to everyone playing.

When a host of important details are consistently taken care of by the DM instead of the players, that's when players become lazy and expect to be saved by the DM.  If continually saved "in the nick of time" by incredibly fortunate circumstances or "fate" instead of planning and intent, a game loses both realism and player agency.




It is almost as bad for realism as when ever the party gets into a fight they find that it is always at a party appropriate level. 

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...Did the players swing their swords and face the dragons?


If they're constantly being saved from those dragons by fudged rolls, seemingly random "help" and the like, that's a good question.

Does having a (recurring) NPC show them the secret door out the back of the cave detract from that?


Constant saves from the DM do indeed detract from player experience.  Imagine the same thing happening in a movie or novel.  It's just not good.

Is this the kind of attitude that we want to foster among players?


What attitude, specifically?  If you've ever played in a high-realism game, you realize pretty quickly that the stakes involved are serious.  When the possibility of failure or loss is real, with no outside "saves" and dice fudging involved, then the sense of accomplishment is WAY better when you win.  It just is, try it and see.

It is almost as bad for realism as when ever the party gets into a fight they find that it is always at a party appropriate level. 


At such times, players need to learn how to either:
a) run like heck
b) negotiate for their lives
c) have prepared tools and means for escape, assuming they won't be killed outright
d) make a heroic stand and die like real heroes

Without real consequences, any rewards you might get are simply not as meaningful or enjoyable.

If they're constantly being saved from those dragons by fudged rolls, seemingly random "help" and the like, that's a good question.


But there's no talk of DM fudging at all. 
In the game, the DM is always the artibter of success or failure. Always. They set the DCs, pick the monsters, and plan the maps. If the DM wants you to fail you will fail. Period. If you succeed, it is always the DM that allowed you to succeed. The fact the epic tier Big Badguy doesn't kill the adventurers as level one rookies is testemant to this fact. 
A little deus ex machina is nothing, as long as it doesn't detract from the game. 

And while being a leniant DM who always lets the player's plans succeed is likely too easy of a DM, being a firm DM who adheres to the world they envision regardless of what the players want to attempt and punishes them mercilessly isn't any better.
Like all things, the best route is in the middle. 
The article is actually an adequate example of the middle the world is maintained by the players are given some leeway.  


There are many good reasons to dislike this article.
There's its general irrelevance to the Realms. The fact the "hook" of the article is all about justifying DM fiat and luck. There's its subtle winking nature that makes it a poor advice article. There's the sillness of doppelgangers lurking around adventurers like carrion crows picking off remains. 

But hating it for advocating DMPCs is not one of the reasons. Neither is hating the article for advocated said dislike aspect of the Realms.
Hate or dislike or like the article for what it actual is and what it actual says, not what you want it to say to justify continuing to hate the Realms.  

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But there's no talk of DM fudging at all. 


Functionally, it's the same thing.

In the game, the DM is always the artibter of success or failure.


Negative.  The DM makes calls on the rules whenever needed.  Good DMs plan appropriate challenges and run NPCs, but they don't use DMPCs.


There are many good reasons to dislike this article.
There's its general irrelevance to the Realms. The fact the "hook" of the article is all about justifying DM fiat and luck. There's its subtle winking nature that makes it a poor advice article. There's the sillness of doppelgangers lurking around adventurers like carrion crows picking off remains. 

But hating it for advocating DMPCs is not one of the reasons.


Actually, that's the primary and most important reason, whether you think so or not.

Neither is hating the article for advocated said dislike aspect of the Realms.
Hate or dislike or like the article for what it actual is and what it actual says, not what you want it to say to justify continuing to hate the Realms.


What?  "Continuing to hate the Realms"?  I haven't said anything negative in this thread about the Realms.

It's fine if you disagee with what I've said, but don't make assumptions and put words in my mouth.  How I feel about the Realms isn't relevant to what this article says.



But there's no talk of DM fudging at all. 


Functionally, it's the same thing.


Not really, since one involves the PCs success or fairly directly and unfairly using the underlying mechanics of the game. The other (typically) doesn't affect success or failure, and even then via in-world means. 

And really, the difference between a good DM and a great DM is knowing when to fudge. Because all DMs fudge sometimes.
Sometimes the main villain will go down like a chump if they don't make a save. Sometimes the adventure has an unforseen pinch point and if the PCs fail a check the adventure grinds to a halt, so the DM fudges the DC. Sometimes the party just isn't putting the clues together and need an extra little push. And sometimes the entire adventure is about to be horribly derailed. 

A really good DM knows that the player's don't know what he has written behind the screen. They don't need to know something wasn't planned or there wasn't always a secret door in that dead end they allowed themselves to be cornered in. 

In the game, the DM is always the artibter of success or failure.


Negative.  The DM makes calls on the rules whenever needed.  Good DMs plan appropriate challenges and run NPCs, but they don't use DMPCs.


Ugh, I hate the idea of the DM as just referee.
Besides, that concept only works if running pre-written adventures. Otherwise, the DM has a great deal of influence over success and failure.

The DM knows all the PC's (and player's) strengths and weaknesses. They know what the party is strong and weak at. They also design the encounters and have the option of designing the monsters. There's no reason they cannot make an unfair monster. Or have to challenging encounters back-to-back. 
There's a social contract that the DM won't do anything unfair, but in the end there's no rules to stop them. The books don't say I can't throw a level 10 monster against my level 1 party. Or have the main villain unleash a horde of rust monsters and then thunderwave the swarm into lava. Or give my monsters magic items boosting their defences. 

Outside of combat, the DM is has even more power for allows success. They place every door on the map, and decide where every guard is. If the PCs are trying to sneak in the back of a fortress it's the DM that decides if the guards keep to their schedual or if they're delayed or on time.
Success is always determined by the DM. Always. 


There are many good reasons to dislike this article.
There's its general irrelevance to the Realms. The fact the "hook" of the article is all about justifying DM fiat and luck. There's its subtle winking nature that makes it a poor advice article. There's the sillness of doppelgangers lurking around adventurers like carrion crows picking off remains. 

But hating it for advocating DMPCs is not one of the reasons.


Actually, that's the primary and most important reason, whether you think so or not.


Except it's NOT A DMPC article. 
Most important is this quote from the article:
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.
 

They never directly interacted with him. They never knew they met him. And they never really knew he existed and only suspected he might exist a couple times.
That doesn't sound like a DMPC. Heck, if every DMPC were like that we wouldn't be having this conversation. Most NPCs are signficantly more overt.

He wasn't a DMPC. He was a justification after the fact for convenient luck or plot holes. He's a MacGuffin. At most he's a potential plot hook that was never grabbed onto. 

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LOL fine, fine... if you don't think this is a DMPC, then I have other news for you:  black is white and red is the new green.
Wow, this thread is full of such worthless hate.
Jorunhast, while each time Jester specifically says why Qualzard isn't a DMPC your only response is "actually no, your wrong. My justification is because your wrong."

Hipster Cat, I'm not at all sure what your post with Kelzar the Dragon is all about. Is it showing how taking DM fiat to the extreme is bad? because i doubt anyone here would argue what you posted was over the top.


Qualzard is not a DMPC because he does not take any role that the normal PCs take. He is only a true NPC once in the article when he helps the players be professing how amazing they are in the middle of Waterdeep. To be a DMPC Qualzard would of had to do more the scavenge horses from outside a tavern or help a prison break.

As for Dues Ex Machina always being poor writting, i think many, many people would tell you the LotR series would have been far worse if Gandalf didn't save the day at Helm's Deep and Legoals, Gimly and Aragorn were all killed off.

Lets just assume for arguements sake that Jester is wrong in the idea that Qualzard was meant as an after the fact fix for plot holes and was infact a choice prior to the fact that Ed made to keep the game going in a certain way. The only time that would be bad is if Ed was using it to take the game his way and only his way, If the players took their chance to escape jail to instead corner the king and explain exactly what happened and how it wasn't their fault it would have been their choice, just like if they chose to instead take the easy route and just run off since that was the obvious decision. A book goes missing that would have implicated the PCs and caused them legal trouble? Maybe the players don't like that type of game and so Ed used Qualzard to save them from something that they would have really not enjoyed.

Qualzard isn't portrayed here as a product of a DM with power control issues who is abusing his position to cast a tyrannical shadow over his game. He is an in-game tool to encourage the type of things the players find to be fun and avoid the type of things they don't. All the extra stealing horses and snagging some coin or weapons? that is just showing that he IS  NOT a dues ex machina but in fact a real person in the game, like the barkeep or shop owner. By saying he profitted off the players and had an interest in them explains that he wasn't just showing up to change fate and then vanish back into the shadows, he was there for his own reasons that had an actual excuse. Far better then the over-exagerated issues some people here are making out of this article.


and on another note, who in the world are any of you to say a DMPC is something that makes a bad DM? I've used DMPCs in my game several times, they are never omniscient, omnipotent, nor do they snuff out all the players challenges. This does not make me a bad dm, it makes me a DM that recognizes what my players need and enjoy, it makes me a DM that can introduce characters that the players can get to know and want around without ruining a game. If you don't like a DM that keeps an NPC around as a DMPC then fine, don't do it when your DMing but don't get all high and mighty that anyone who does us DMPCs are inferior to those who don't.

As a method for resolving plot points, deus ex machina has been considered bad since at least 18 B.C.

Using DMPCs has been considered bad DMing since the early days with Gygax.

But yeah, who am I to argue?  *shrug*
Your continued ability to state opinion as fact is a true showing of ignorance. I have no qualm saying using DMPCs and DM fiat can potentially be used to ruin games or make bad stories but to make blanket statements that they are always bad, 100 percent of the time in any situation ever is condecending and foolish. Simple fact is you could play with someone who incorperates a DMPC and find the game terrible because of that, that is fine. But I have played and DMed games when DMPCs were used to good effect and bad. If my players enjoy the way I use DMPCs and find their existence enriching to the world, the game, and their fun then you are no one to say I am a bad DM for using such things. Nor are you anyone to say anyone else is a bad DM when they play to make their game fun for their players and not in a way that you find entertaining.
-DM: Ok guys, you see Kelzar the Black Dragon diving toward you. Death is in his eyes. In his claw you see the specter of Oroboros, the key to prevent the destruction of Toril that you have been looking for all of this time! 
-Player 1: Sweet! In character: Finally Kelzar, you will meet your end and entropy will be stopped! I draw my sword.
-DM: Ok, you see a bunch of giant meteors fly toward Kezar. They explode ripping his flesh appart and destroying the sepctor at the same time. You look where the meteors came from and you see Elminster wink at you and disappear.



My Fighter: I don't know who Elminster is, but the amount of butt kicking I miss is going to come out of his hide. Hear that Elminster? You better find me a dragon, real fast. 

my dragonborn paladin of bahamut: Elminster?? Heard the name,  read it in some book on some oddball incident containing something called a Bhaalspawn, this was over a century agi surly he must be dead??


Stupid arrogant red wizard: Elminster this, ELminster that ,give me two hundred years and a pointy hat and I"ll kick his arse.

Really Elminster comes in and saves teh day, your roleplaying an eventure on day x of month y of year z, and Elminster was canonically written as having an arse kicking spree with some poor sod name sass tamm.
n

named npcs that the party doesnt know that help the party out via stalking them and you never see them or meet them  becuase you were too .... bah do us all a favor and go dip into the dwarven holy water.       
a mask everyone has at least two of, one they wear in public and another they wear in private.....
Ah, ok. I wasnMt sure if you were exagerating what the article meant or the opinions of those who think that is what FR has to be like. I've never played or run a game set in the realms but I can't imagine that if I did elminster or drizzt would cameo and save the day just because that's what they do. Unfortunate that something as simple to remove as someone elses NPC could infuriate so many people.
Qualzard is not a DMPC because he does not take any role that the normal PCs take. He is only a true NPC once in the article when he helps the players be professing how amazing they are in the middle of Waterdeep. To be a DMPC Qualzard would of had to do more the scavenge horses from outside a tavern or help a prison break.



The problem here is why is he necessary. Qualzard could simply be an NPC wanting to get something from them as the merchant in Waterdeep when he announces how amazing they are. Outside that, he appears to be a tool to justify having the PCs go in the direction the DM wants them to go in rather than the direction the PCs actions would lead them.

As for Dues Ex Machina always being poor writting, i think many, many people would tell you the LotR series would have been far worse if Gandalf didn't save the day at Helm's Deep and Legoals, Gimly and Aragorn were all killed off.



Gandalf had a lot very specific limitations. He was limited to horse speed usually, he had to worry about being spotted by Sauron, and he most certainly couldn't be everywhere at once.

And in the end, Frodo and Sam had to do it all on their own.

Would you think it would work better if Tolkien later on in an article explained how Frodo and Sam didn't do it all on their own, but there was some Doppelganger secretly going around eliminating threats to them? If you were the player of Frodo and Sam, how would you feel? How do you think his original group feels about him saying that they would have failed if not for the DM stepping in and saving them from themselves?

How would you feel if your DM wrote an article about how you should have failed, but he secretly had an NPC save you? Particularly if you thought you had won through exciting play and good tactics and thought it was one of the highlights of the campaign?

I'd feel horrible, myself.

Qualzard isn't portrayed here as a product of a DM with power control issues who is abusing his position to cast a tyrannical shadow over his game. He is an in-game tool to encourage the type of things the players find to be fun and avoid the type of things they don't. All the extra stealing horses and snagging some coin or weapons? that is just showing that he IS  NOT a dues ex machina but in fact a real person in the game, like the barkeep or shop owner.



He does real things so therefore he's not a deus ex-machina? No, that's the exact kind of mental justification going on that typically goes on with bad DMPCs - the DM wants the PCs to follow the plot, so instead of giving on-camera reasons to follow the plot, he eliminates options to let the PCs go elsewhere. What if the PCs had gotten in legal trouble? Couldn't an NPC have tried to offer them a deal he thought they couldn't refuse?

If you've read the Dragon articles that Ed Greenwood wrote before 2nd edition came out, what I'm describing about Qualzard isn't an aberration. Elminster was quite clearly the product of a DM with power control issues. Ed Greenwood is a good enough storyteller in person that most groups would likely easily put up with those control issues.

Most DMs aren't that good.
 
I have a question for those who are filled with anger over this article:

Why is it that when the DM does something to help the PCs it is automatically a case of dues ex machina or a DMPC?  And yet when the DM does something to hinder the PCs it is good DMing?

I ask because of something Jorunhast wrote on page 1 (though he was not the only one):

"The thing about deus ex machina is that it's completely and totally unnecessary unless you want a specific outcome as the DM.  Let's take one example from the article:  this Quelzard stole a book that would have gotten the players in a lot of legal trouble if someone had found it.  What was actually wrong with letting the players get into legal trouble, if it was a logical and realistic outcome?  Instead, you have driven the plot in the direction you want as the DM rather than letting real consequences happen.

Another example:  had the players not been shown to an escape door, that lord might have captured the players and put them on trial for the accidental homicide of his son.  What would've been wrong with that outcome?"

Take a look at the first example.  Why is it that having the book get stolen is an example of deus ex machina and "completely and totally unnecessary" and yet had the DM instead decided to have an NPC find the book is "logical and realistic"?  The DM is in control of everything.  Everything.  So when the DM decides to have an NPC find the book, understand the significance of the book, and do the right thing with the book, it is all the DM driving the action behind the scenes in order to lead to a "specific outcome". 

Again, take the second example.  Why is it that having an NPC show them to an escape door is BAD DM, BAD!, but capturing the PCs is good DMing?  Again, everything that happens behind the scenes is the DM's choice. 

To say that you hate having the DM play a role in the game is missing the entire point of the DM.  Everything that you encounter in the game was due to the DM.  That locked door?  DM did it.  That trap over there?  DM did it.  The unexpected orcs in the guard room?  You guessed it, DM did it.

If you want a game in which nothing goes your way, and the outcome of any action is the most unfortunate logical result, then tell your DM.  But guess what?  The DM is still the one who causes it to happen.
Qualzard is not a DMPC because he does not take any role that the normal PCs take. He is only a true NPC once in the article when he helps the players be professing how amazing they are in the middle of Waterdeep. To be a DMPC Qualzard would of had to do more the scavenge horses from outside a tavern or help a prison break.



The problem here is why is he necessary. Qualzard could simply be an NPC wanting to get something from them as the merchant in Waterdeep when he announces how amazing they are. Outside that, he appears to be a tool to justify having the PCs go in the direction the DM wants them to go in rather than the direction the PCs actions would lead them. 


The majority of the time, it sounds like that's all he was. Some merchant singing them up. 

As for Dues Ex Machina always being poor writting, i think many, many people would tell you the LotR series would have been far worse if Gandalf didn't save the day at Helm's Deep and Legoals, Gimly and Aragorn were all killed off.



Gandalf had a lot very specific limitations. He was limited to horse speed usually, he had to worry about being spotted by Sauron, and he most certainly couldn't be everywhere at once.

And in the end, Frodo and Sam had to do it all on their own.

Would you think it would work better if Tolkien later on in an article explained how Frodo and Sam didn't do it all on their own, but there was some Doppelganger secretly going around eliminating threats to them? If you were the player of Frodo and Sam, how would you feel? How do you think his original group feels about him saying that they would have failed if not for the DM stepping in and saving them from themselves?

How would you feel if your DM wrote an article about how you should have failed, but he secretly had an NPC save you? Particularly if you thought you had won through exciting play and good tactics and thought it was one of the highlights of the campaign?

I'd feel horrible, myself.[/quote]
As presented, the NPC would be more like Rosencrats & Gildenstern. There's a lot of mucking about in the background, the easily knocked out or scared Orc would be revealed as NPC all along, there would be winking nods, and any small inconsistencies would be explained away. 
And, at the end of the day, 99% of the PCs actions would remain. 

The NPC isn't there to let the PCs win, he's there to assist at best. And really, he's just a justification for the assistance. He's luck incarnate. 

Qualzard isn't portrayed here as a product of a DM with power control issues who is abusing his position to cast a tyrannical shadow over his game. He is an in-game tool to encourage the type of things the players find to be fun and avoid the type of things they don't. All the extra stealing horses and snagging some coin or weapons? that is just showing that he IS  NOT a dues ex machina but in fact a real person in the game, like the barkeep or shop owner.



He does real things so therefore he's not a deus ex-machina? No, that's the exact kind of mental justification going on that typically goes on with bad DMPCs - the DM wants the PCs to follow the plot, so instead of giving on-camera reasons to follow the plot, he eliminates options to let the PCs go elsewhere. What if the PCs had gotten in legal trouble? Couldn't an NPC have tried to offer them a deal he thought they couldn't refuse?

If you've read the Dragon articles that Ed Greenwood wrote before 2nd edition came out, what I'm describing about Qualzard isn't an aberration. Elminster was quite clearly the product of a DM with power control issues. Ed Greenwood is a good enough storyteller in person that most groups would likely easily put up with those control issues.

Most DMs aren't that good. 

When does he eliminate options? 
In the hidden door example, he's actually creating options. The PCs still have to go through the door. They could choose not to. They could choose to stand and fight. Or open the doors and hide making it look like they've escaped. 
The character is used to turn a dead end into a choice. And that's bad?

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As a method for resolving plot points, deus ex machina has been considered bad since at least 18 B.C.


It's considered laziness that can drift into bad. There are ways of making it less obvious and less bad, typically through foreshadowing. Connecting it to the narrative also helps. 

But there's no shortage of examples:
tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Deus...
And 90% are much worse.

Using DMPCs has been considered bad DMing since the early days with Gygax.

But yeah, who am I to argue?  *shrug*

Interestingly, what Greenwood uses Elminster for and what everyone else uses Elminster for are two different things. Ed tends to have Elminster screw up or make things worse a heck of a lot. 
At worst he showed up in a comedic appearance and accidentally helped outside of combat.

What Greedwood meant for Elminster to be and what he actual is are two different things. DMs overused Elminster all on their own.

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Just what we needed in FR in top of the overdose of interventionist gods, hidden guardian angels to keep adventurers from dealing with the full consequences of their decisions.
If adventurers need baby sitters, then we are far from any heroic archetype, lol

I don't see any interest in the concept developped in this article, either for rpg or novel material.

If you think my english is bad, just wait until you see my spanish and my italian. Defiling languages is an art.

Good grief there's been a lot of accusations, defensive justification, and running conclusions out to their most absurd levels.

I'm hardly angry about anything - slightly amused and yet also somewhat disappointed, perhaps.  This is a game after all, and not something to even get remotely upset about.  Also, I don't hate the Realms.  From the 1E-3.5E period, I was in fact what you'd call a collector and really intrigued by the lore and novels.  It's true that I didn't like 4E Realms, and their plans for the 5E Realms aren't quite what I want, but "hate" is taking things WAY too far.  I just don't find the post-4E stuff all that interesting or personally useful.  But my personal feelings about the Realms, pro or con, don't have all that much to do with this article and what it's advocating.

Did I ever say that someone absolutely 100% could never run a DMPC in a positive manner?  No, I didn't.  What I did say was that DMPCs have been considered bad form since the earliest days of D&D.  If you're going to run one, you'd better be very experienced and make absolutely sure that you're not pushing the players out of the limelight or stealing their thunder - even after the fact.  And I can tell you, with more than 25 years of gaming experience under my hat, even the best DMs can ruin a good game with a single DMPC.  Even if they mean well.

Did I ever say that someone absolutely 100% could never make positive use of deus ex machina or fudging?  Again, no, I didn't say that.  I said that it's been considered a rather lazy way to resove plot points since at least 18 B.C.  And it really is pretty lazy, considering that you're "saving the day" with something that hasn't truly been a part of the unfolding story.  Sometimes as a DM you have little option otherwise if you want to prevent a TPK.  But even then, it's usually better to let things play out logically.  Even after TPKs, your players learn to get better, they learn to think better and consider all of their options, since they aren't relying on eagles swooping in at the last moment.

Or perhaps - you learn to be a better DM and not overwhelm your players and then "need" to swoop in and save them.

And before anyone goes down the road of crazy conclusions, I am NOT advocating TPKs, super-difficult challenges, or player-killing dungeons.  I'm just not.  I am advocating fun, yet challenging adventures where they players are ultimately rewarded for their choices, their planning, their cleverness, in the absence of being saved from their own mistakes all the time.  And if you look at the article, Ed has had Quelzard save those players a LOT.

The thing I find most disappointing about this article is that it's coming from Ed.  He's experienced, and a great storyteller.  But here we have him advocating something - in what's ostensibly an advice article for DMs of all experience levels - without even the slightest hint or mention of the possible problems involved in this approach.  And quite honestly - he must know by now that DMs can easily abuse things like this.

In Ed's "home game" Realms, we only have snapshots of how he runs his games - and specifically, his NPCs.  Perhaps he can do this for his personal gaming group and it would not ruin the story.  But most DMs probably can't (and frankly, if I were one of the gaming group he mentions here, I'd be very disappointed to learn this stuff).  If you're running a DMPC or making regular use of deus ex machina and fudging, really sit down an ask yourself - are you doing these things because it's necessary?  If so, why is it necessary given that you're the one who has planned out the adventure and all the challenges?  Are you in fact making the challenges too hard or too complex?  Are you writing your players into a corner where you must save them?  Just things to think about, really.

As for Dues Ex Machina always being poor writting, i think many, many people would tell you the LotR series would have been far worse if Gandalf didn't save the day at Helm's Deep and Legoals, Gimly and Aragorn were all killed off.



Gandalf had a lot very specific limitations. He was limited to horse speed usually, he had to worry about being spotted by Sauron, and he most certainly couldn't be everywhere at once.

And in the end, Frodo and Sam had to do it all on their own.

Would you think it would work better if Tolkien later on in an article explained how Frodo and Sam didn't do it all on their own, but there was some Doppelganger secretly going around eliminating threats to them? If you were the player of Frodo and Sam, how would you feel? How do you think his original group feels about him saying that they would have failed if not for the DM stepping in and saving them from themselves?

How would you feel if your DM wrote an article about how you should have failed, but he secretly had an NPC save you? Particularly if you thought you had won through exciting play and good tactics and thought it was one of the highlights of the campaign?

I'd feel horrible, myself.
 



Frodo and Sam were such useless PC's that they had to use a NPC to not only get them to their destination but to actually make sure that they succeeded with their mission.

They should feel horrible. 

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Just what we needed in FR in top of the overdose of interventionist gods, hidden guardian angels to keep adventurers from dealing with the full consequences of their decisions.


And you're obligated to portray the gods as interventionist in your home FR campaign?

A lot of chosen of Mystra were offsprings from a mortal possessed by Mystra. Then we have to explain to players that this godess is not an evil pervert treating mortals like tools for its schemes.
Even if you do not make gods avatars popping everywhere in your FR campaign, there's always something to remind you that FR gods are awfully interventionists (and mostly stupids or careless). The FR setting core portrays gods as interventionists. Even Ao is interventionist, the proof being the avatar inconsequent mess. And Ao himself has to justify his decisions like a child to at least one superior.

Mr Greenwood puts a lot of focus on baby-sitter profiles for his creations, many all-powerful mother or father figures everywhere. I find it very infantilizing for novels characters or rpg players.
A lot of my dislike about FR novels or campaign setting comes from this, and surely explain why I prefer the 4th edition "adolescent" state of FR, or the "adult" state of Planescape or Dark Sun.

If you think my english is bad, just wait until you see my spanish and my italian. Defiling languages is an art.

As for Dues Ex Machina always being poor writting, i think many, many people would tell you the LotR series would have been far worse if Gandalf didn't save the day at Helm's Deep and Legoals, Gimly and Aragorn were all killed off.



Gandalf had a lot very specific limitations. He was limited to horse speed usually, he had to worry about being spotted by Sauron, and he most certainly couldn't be everywhere at once.

And in the end, Frodo and Sam had to do it all on their own.

Would you think it would work better if Tolkien later on in an article explained how Frodo and Sam didn't do it all on their own, but there was some Doppelganger secretly going around eliminating threats to them? If you were the player of Frodo and Sam, how would you feel? How do you think his original group feels about him saying that they would have failed if not for the DM stepping in and saving them from themselves?

How would you feel if your DM wrote an article about how you should have failed, but he secretly had an NPC save you? Particularly if you thought you had won through exciting play and good tactics and thought it was one of the highlights of the campaign?

I'd feel horrible, myself.
 



Frodo and Sam were such useless PC's that they had to use a NPC to not only get them to their destination but to actually make sure that they succeeded with their mission.

They should feel horrible. 

I played a thief in 2nd edition, I know exactly how Frodo and Sam felt.

If you think my english is bad, just wait until you see my spanish and my italian. Defiling languages is an art.

Frodo and Sam were such useless PC's that they had to use a NPC to not only get them to their destination but to actually make sure that they succeeded with their mission.

They should feel horrible. 


Actually, Gollum didn't "save" them (except by treachery) and they only "succeeded" because Gollum accidentally destroyed himself and the ring.  In the end, Frodo was taken over by the ring.

Although it was critical to Tolkien's moral theme (illustrating greed and the absence of friendship for Gollum), the ring itself was a MacGuffin that was way, way too powerful and there was really no way to win.  If Gollum hadn't been there, Frodo would have taken off with the ring, ditched Samwise, and eventually the ring would've made it back to Sauron - probably after a tragic death by orcs.

Ironically, if this had been an RPG, the DM would've been guilty of:
a) intentionally putting his players into an unwinnable situation
b) having them "win" by "saving" them with Gollum - definitely a DMPC

And if you remember, Frodo never felt like he'd won or that he'd accomplished anything.  He survived, barely, and only because Gollum intervened.  And even then, they would've died on that mountain if they hadn't been saved again by Gandalf and the giant eagles.

Was it an excellent story?  Absolutely.  But it was good for Tolkien and the audience.  From Frodo's perspective, not so much.

Probable conversation after the LotR RPG played out:
DM:  "Woohoo! Guys, wasn't that the most awesome story ever?  It had pathos, magic, treachery, survival!  Great stuff!"
Frodo's player:  "I got constantly beat up, I have permanent damage from those wraiths, I lost my magic items, and I even lost a finger.  Every single time we got something cool, those wraiths or the orcs would take it away. We barely even had enough trail rations."
Sam's player:  "At least I'm getting married to a hot girl... for a long time there, I wasn't sure if... well, nevermind."
DM:  "I don't understand why you're disappointed, you saved the world."
Frodo's player:  "Uhm, no we didn't.  Gollum fell into the pit with my ring, and we almost died from toxic volcanic fumes.  There was no loot, nothing.  And I'm being taken away to live with the elves instead of staying home, since my physical and emotional wounds will never heal."
DM:  "Well, I had an amazing time."


Frodo and Sam were such useless PC's that they had to use a NPC to not only get them to their destination but to actually make sure that they succeeded with their mission.

They should feel horrible. 


Actually, Gollum didn't "save" them (except by treachery) and they only "succeeded" because Gollum accidentally destroyed himself and the ring.  In the end, Frodo was taken over by the ring.

Although it was critical to Tolkien's moral theme (illustrating greed and the absence of friendship for Gollum), the ring itself was a MacGuffin that was way, way too powerful and there was really no way to win.  If Gollum hadn't been there, Frodo would have taken off with the ring, ditched Samwise, and eventually the ring would've made it back to Sauron - probably after a tragic death by orcs.

Ironically, if this had been an RPG, the DM would've been guilty of:
a) intentionally putting his players into an unwinnable situation
b) having them "win" by "saving" them with Gollum - definitely a DMPC

And if you remember, Frodo never felt like he'd won or that he'd accomplished anything.  He survived, barely, and only because Gollum intervened.  And even then, they would've died on that mountain if they hadn't been saved again by Gandalf and the giant eagles.

Was it an excellent story?  Absolutely.  But it was good for Tolkien and the audience.  From Frodo's perspective, not so much.

Probable conversation after the LotR RPG played out:
DM:  "Woohoo! Guys, wasn't that the most awesome story ever?  It had pathos, magic, treachery, survival!  Great stuff!"
Frodo's player:  "I got constantly beat up, I have permanent damage from those wraiths, I lost my magic items, and I even lost a finger.  Every single time we got something cool, those wraiths or the orcs would take it away. We barely even had enough trail rations."
Sam's player:  "At least I'm getting married to a hot girl... for a long time there, I wasn't sure if... well, nevermind."
DM:  "I don't understand why you're disappointed, you saved the world."
Frodo's player:  "Uhm, no we didn't.  Gollum fell into the pit with my ring, and we almost died from toxic volcanic fumes.  There was no loot, nothing.  And I'm being taken away to live with the elves instead of staying home, since my physical and emotional wounds will never heal."
DM:  "Well, I had an amazing time."







Hence, why trying to reconcile Middle-Earth (and most other fantasy) with D&D is futile.
In the FR there are plenty of high level heros and villans, but I don't think that's a problem.     In fact, I really don't understand the idea that the player characters must be the only heros or most powerfull figures in the campaign world to be relevant.

My players really like encountering powerfull and famous NPCs.      They like having powerfull alies and they know that figures like Elminster most likely won't have the time to solve their petty problems.  Except, Elminster might appear out of thin air with his little dog and wand exclaiming, "heal boy heal."   It would only be after he vanished, that the PC's would discover that their wounds had been healed.

Now, I do recal running a game in Shadowdale and the PCs had the idea that they would knock on Elminsters tower door.     They wanted him to teleport them to the moonsea area and thought Elminster would do it for them.    Thankfully, I had an old dungeon module that detailed Elminster's Backdoor     We had a load of fun that day.   

In most cases players like to encounter figures like Jarlaxle or even one of Manshoon's clones.    It's true that some of these figures are extremely powerful, but that doesn't make the PC's useless.    Those NPCs have their own problems and personal interests.   The realms is a huge and dangerous place.  Most high level "good guys" just won't have time or the patience to solve simple problems.   


  





Did the players swing their swords and face the dragons?   


Does having a (recurring) NPC show them the secret door out the back of the cave detract from that? 


Yes and Yes

The PCs swung their swords at the dragon and would have ended as a hot cooked dragon meal for their foolishness, if not for DM PC secretly showing them the secret door out of the cave.


Ed might write that it takes nothing away from the players, yet that's not the case. What he described in the preceeding article is the exact opposite of this statement he ends with.


 

If adventurers need baby sitters,

I think most NPC would agree that adventurers need babysitters since they're all a bunch of neverdowells that cause just as much trouble as they solve
Did the players swing their swords and face the dragons?   


Does having a (recurring) NPC show them the secret door out the back of the cave detract from that? 


Yes and Yes

The PCs swung their swords at the dragon and would have ended as a hot cooked dragon meal for their foolishness, if not for DM PC secretly showing them the secret door out of the cave.




If you want to feel foolish then go right ahead, I am not going to stop you.

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A lot of chosen of Mystra were offsprings from a mortal possessed by Mystra. Then we have to explain to players that this godess is not an evil pervert treating mortals like tools for its schemes.



Sounds like Ed was just being historically accurate.  If you have read anything on the Greek or Norse Gods then that is how Gods are supposed to act.


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I strongly dislike that style of DM interference. When I DM I try to be as fair as possible. I always warn players when they are getting over their head and then if they still bite off more than they can chew I let the dice fall where they may. Sometimes they survive and their success is known to be hard earned and is savored as a result. Sometimes they fail and the party is wiped out. If that means the end of the story and the campaign, so be it. Next week we roll up new characters and start a new story.

My players would kill me if they knew I was pulling punches and rigging everything behind their backs. I'd be unhappy too, because a big part of the thrill of DM'ing is seeing how the story of the campaign has a life of its own, how it grows and changes and develops as a result of everyone's contributions. I don't want the campaign to be my story, I want it to be our story. When the DM relaxes and lets the story go where it will, the world feels more real and less one person's vision where others are just visiting.

Sail where the wind will take you!
A lot of chosen of Mystra were offsprings from a mortal possessed by Mystra. Then we have to explain to players that this godess is not an evil pervert treating mortals like tools for its schemes.
Even if you do not make gods avatars popping everywhere in your FR campaign, there's always something to remind you that FR gods are awfully interventionists (and mostly stupids or careless). The FR setting core portrays gods as interventionists. Even Ao is interventionist, the proof being the avatar inconsequent mess. And Ao himself has to justify his decisions like a child to at least one superior.

You're saying your powerless to portray a setting as you see fit!?

Mr Greenwood puts a lot of focus on baby-sitter profiles for his creations, many all-powerful mother or father figures everywhere. I find it very infantilizing for novels characters or rpg players.
A lot of my dislike about FR novels or campaign setting comes from this, and surely explain why I prefer the 4th edition "adolescent" state of FR, or the "adult" state of Planescape or Dark Sun.

But once you buy the setting it's yours, you do not have to do what Ed does in his novels. You can have Elmister never show up in your campaign. There is no "Elmister has to pop up at least three times in a FR campaign" rule.

I my FR games Elminster never showed up, Drizzt was mentioned once as a rumor and the gods were sometimes at the origine of some plots or "patrons", but the PCs only delt with followers of the gods, agents, emissaries, etc, never the gods themselves. Nobody said it wasn't how the FR should be run or that it was railroaded by the NPCs/gods. 

I can understand some people will not like the fluff, but there is no "this is how they should be run/portrayed". That is just a mental blocage. 


Wow, aggressive ! Nice Tongue Out

It's not a secret I don't like to play in pre 4th ed. FR, so logic is that I never DM old FR.
I DMed a short 4th ed. FR campaign introducing a Renaissance-like movement born with the creation by mortals of a god-free Weave. But a player did a big in-game mistake, the movement became an underground thing, a friend got a little girl, and when we played again, we all wanted some Dark Sun sweetness.

The thing is that if I have to remove all the invasive flaws from FR, then I prefer to to do the same level of work to create my own campaign setting, just like a lot of DMs I know are doing too. Or I work to destroy the setting status quo, and it's really easy to place most of mister greenwood creations on the bad guys side, and force them to doubt their previous interventionist positions.

The only D&D settings I have DMed without alterations are Dark Sun, Planescape, Eberron, and 4th edition FR I suppose, as the things I introduced used the spellplague aftermath to emerge.

It's not mental blocage, it's laziness and ego. If I have to work, I won't loose my time to patch something broken when I can shine with glory by creating my own beast, lol


If you think my english is bad, just wait until you see my spanish and my italian. Defiling languages is an art.