Advice for DM'ing while playing a char

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Our group is only 4 people.  I am the DM and we decided that it would be more fun with 4 characters so I'm running a char while DM'ing.  Any advice? I made a barbarian and a archer ranger.  I'm thinking it will be easier to play the archer since I'll mostly be at a distance and won't have to "fight myself" a lot.  Any advice?
First piece of advice: Don't.  DMPCs can be a huge pain in the ass and the other players often end up resenting them.

Second piece of advice: If you must (or if you really want to), don't really play the character much at all.  Make it a background PC.  He's shy and not terribly good with puzzles or social situations.  He's good enough in combat if a bit predictable and unimaginative.  In short, your character can never, ever, for any reason at all be the hero.  He's filler.  The game for the players is about their characters so don't horn in on their action.  You've got enough stuff to do as DM - don't take anything from them.
Resident Prophet of the OTTer.

Section Six Soldier

Front Door of the House of Trolls

[b]If you're terribly afraid of your character dying, it may be best if you roleplayed something other than an adventurer.[/b]

Yeah good advice.  I had already decided that I couldn't make any decisions and that another player would move my character for me.  It'll be tough. Hopefully I wont' have to do it long and we can find some more players.
1) Make sure you keep communicating with the players out-of-game

2) Make the DMPC a few levels lower than the PCs

3) Repeat 1

4) Let them decide what role the character will play (healing, damage, buffs, debuffs, moving people into better positions...)

5) Repeat 3  

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If some people are heavily benefiting from the inclusion of alignment, then it would behoove those that AREN'T to listen up and pay attention to how those benefits are being created and enjoyed, no? -YagamiFire
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That makes sense. However, it is not fair to continually attack those that benefit for being, somehow, deviant for deriving enjoyment from something that you cannot. Instead, alignment is continually attacked...it is demonized...and those that use it are lumped in with it.

 

I think there is more merit in a situation where someone says "This doesn't work! It's broken!" and the reply is "Actually it works fine for me. Have you considered your approach might be causing it?"

 

than a situation where someone says "I use this system and the way I use it works really well!" and the back and forth is "No! It is a broken bad system!" -YagamiFire

Yeah good advice.  I had already decided that I couldn't make any decisions and that another player would move my character for me.  It'll be tough. Hopefully I wont' have to do it long and we can find some more players.



You can move the dood and make combat decisions an' stuff.  You just can't shine.  If the players want to move him and make his combat decisions, though, that'd work for me.  The only real rule is to not make him a Marty Stu.  He's wallpaper.
Resident Prophet of the OTTer.

Section Six Soldier

Front Door of the House of Trolls

[b]If you're terribly afraid of your character dying, it may be best if you roleplayed something other than an adventurer.[/b]

Use the Monster Builder and make a simple NPC. A warlord style character with a heal and a direct the strike style power is good. If there's already a leader, make it a simple striker, with a slayer-style damage boost. Let the party control him, you have a half dozen monsters to play with already.

Cry Havoc!  And let slip the hogs of war!

Use the Monster Builder and make a simple NPC. A warlord style character with a heal and a direct the strike style power is good. If there's already a leader, make it a simple striker, with a slayer-style damage boost. Let the party control him, you have a half dozen monsters to play with already.



Depends on the edition of D&D your playing but in as a whole if your going to act a part on the other side of the table treat him as an NPC.  Its fairly common practice in 3rd edition where you had feats like leadership that would yield cohorts and followers.  AD&D also had tremendous reliance on henchmen and the like.  In 4th edition, its even easie because roughly 80% of the game is spent in combat so simple enough to give an extra character the NPC treatment.

I would not however try to "act a part" as a PC, I agree that this is a recipe for disaster.

That said, D&D in all edition is fairly adaptable to a 3 player game, I have run plenty and you really don't need a 4th.  Just create a campaign that makes sense for 3 player and add plenty of oppertunities to add NPC members to the party.  From  a story perspective there is little difference between a NPC and a PC, NPC's just tend to act more reliably in their part as written where PC's tend to be more meta gamed as a result of the human factor behind the character.   

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DMPC's are often quite a bit of a pain. I avoid them whenever possible for a number of reasons, not least of which is fighting yourself in combat feels weird and dumb. If you have to make a DMPC I suggest something that doesn't take a very active role in combat, a cleric focused on healing, or a rogue that is mostly just interesting in picking locks and stuff.

But for all that is holy, whatever you do, DO NOT make a DMPC the focal point of a story, unless his imminant death is part of the story. The PC's don't want to feel like sidekicks escorting some awesome guy around as he does all the cool stuff and they just fight monsters... well some groups might like that I suppose. If you want to do something like that think carefully about it, and consult your players. If they're all right with a DMPC being the "chosen one" or whatever instead of just one PC it can be fine, especially if you have players who might resent the other player for being the one.

Last time I had a DMPC he was a 2nd ed cleric who only healed, and even then not often, only if someone really needed it. DMPCs can be nice as a DM mouth piece though. You can tell players interesting things about your setting that they might not otherwise ever know about, you can suggest courses of action, just suggest, you can warn the party about potential dangers and inform them about legends and lore. They can be useful if used right, but that can be difficult at times.
I will echo the sentiments here: Don't play a DMPC. At ALL. Instead, look at DMG2 and use the guilde lines for a companion character. Basically, a henchman that the party controls. DMPCs invariably end up being the guy the PCs look to when they get stuck, and you invariably "fill in" the missing answer, or find the "obvious" clue they are missing, and it gets muddled from there. Instead, give them a guy, preferably in the role nobody wants to cover (usually the "healer"), and then let them all take turns running it game to game.
So many PCs, so little time...
Give the PCs a companion character to run themselves, and stick to DMing.
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Don't.

Agreed. DMPC's have been discussed many times on the 'What's a DM to Do?' board... always with the same conclusion. Don't.

I'll go against the grain here and say that I've used a DMPC to good effect.  The character in question filled a role that the party needed, stayed out of the way and went along with the PC's plans and actions, and provided good hooks when he was killed off-screen.  
I'll go against the grain here and say that I've used a DMPC to good effect.  The character in question filled a role that the party needed, stayed out of the way and went along with the PC's plans and actions, and provided good hooks when he was killed off-screen.  


DMPCs can be done well, but it's the rare DM that can put their ego aside and let the DMPC take a background role, while still being useful and having something to say and not just being a heal bot that never speaks.

I've used a few DMPC's effectively in the past, it can be done, and it can add a lot to a game, especially one where you expect the PC's to visit town infrequently, or not at all. I had a DMPC is one game I ran that was essentially an escort, he was useless in combat, and he was made to be an unlikeable character. But what I did for combat was write up a little note card with his vital stats, and then I gave that card to the players and said "on his turn one of you can take his action, then next round pass the card to your right, that person chooses his actions, and so on." It worked out pretty well. He got into some bad positions sometimes, but the players couldn't blame me for it and it added some extra drama to the combat.

My other DMPC was actually the focal point of a story, he was the chosen one, instead of one of the characters. I didn't gete to DM that game as far as I would have liked, but it ended up working out well because I spent literally like 2 hours with just him and the characters going around running errands so they got to know and like him. They thought for sure I was going to kill him because they actually liked him, he was a nice guy with a family who loved him... in Darksun. So that was a cool little unexpected twist that came out of that, he didn't die. Two of the characters were actually making bets on when he was gonna die, lol.

DMPCs can be useful, and cool, but they aren't for every occasion. I only use them when the story calls for it, and only when it doesn't make sense for a player to fill their role.
I'll go against the grain here and say that I've used a DMPC to good effect.

Right. It's not technically impossible to use a DMPC to good effect. But don't. There's just so many people opposed to the idea that it's not worth risking bad feelings even if you're positive you can do it right.

Just use an NPC. It's universally acceptable for DM's to use NPC's (indeed, it's expected).
They can be used to quite good effect, but that effect should NEVER include playing a vital role in a plot, beyond being a plot hook. A DMPC should never lead the party around, should never be in possession of knowledge or skills that no PC can acquire, etc. In other words they're bit players, perhaps at most giving out a fixed logical piece of information as a clue or piece of lore directly related to their appearance in the game. If the party does rely on them for some service they provide, it should be a purely supporting role like basic healing or perhaps some routine combat capability (IE they can act as a defender or something similar, or a basic artillery, or a simple leader, but they never 'steal the show').

Don't have them being the hero driving the story forward, or the always-smarter-than-the-players font of DM exposition, or the unkillable Mary Sue, etc. If the DMPC is basically interesting but not vital and just serves to make the rest of the game more fun for the major characters by handling some annoying detail then that's perfect.
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I agree with rednblack, tehsquirrely and AbdulAlhazred.

You can use a DMPC to great effect, there are just a few pointers that you should always keep in mind:

1.- S/he's a Support Character. The DMPC should never be a deuteragonist or support protagonist, they should be Mauve Shirts or companions, like one of your PCs childhood friend or life debt Wookiee(for example).

2.- If you can have the PCs control the DMPC in combat, let them. This way it becomes another war asset and a way for the Players to play a different class than their characters. Also, it frees you with the burdens of keeping the DMPC in mind and focus only on running the Encounter as it is meant to.

3.- The DMPC can be more powerful, better in an area of expertise the rest of the party is lacking, even the only one that can do something(like the being the party Healer, for example), but the DMPC should never be 'cooler' than the rest of the cast. The DMPCs uniqueness or coolness factor should be on par with the rest of the party. I have found that people don't mind having a powerful healer on their side, or a crafty rogue, or an inspiring bard, the problem is when the DMPC starts stealing the show at every turn, in other words, the Mary Sue effect.

4.- It's not a bad idea by itself to let the plot revolve around the DMPC, but then you should never let the DMPC have a saying on the party's fate. Whatever the reason the Plot wants him/her, the DMPC should have no way to shape the events of the plot by him/herself, and only through the actions of the PCs.

In short: The DMPC can be a great addition to the game if done right, but it can become in fanficy Mary Sue railroading everybone's fun. The key is to remember that the Players are the Heroes and Protagonists, the rest of the named characters should be Antagonists, Extras and the ocational supporting character, the DMPC should always remain the latter.

Personaly, I have used DMPC with Protagonist qualities, but I have always let the Player's be the ones to shine and the story to revolve around them, so they like to meet well rounded characters that may or may not be important to the plot, it gives the the sense that there is actually a living world instead of Peasant A trading with Smith D while gossiping about Farmer's Wife B. In my experience, a DMPC can be a great way to round out a party, I usually employ them to fill the holes in the party, and let my Players go by concept first.

Having said that, using DMPCs is not, and should not, be a default assumption. The game can run well without them and with fewer party members you can use fewer monsters and that would lead to faster combats. Should you want your epic standoff at Helms Deep, you can always use minions(on both sides) or a few Human Guardians(monster stated Soldiers) et cetera.

My humble opinion, as always.
I'll go against the grain here and say that I've used a DMPC to good effect.  The character in question filled a role that the party needed, stayed out of the way and went along with the PC's plans and actions, and provided good hooks when he was killed off-screen.  


DMPCs can be done well, but it's the rare DM that can put their ego aside and let the DMPC take a background role, while still being useful and having something to say and not just being a heal bot that never speaks.

I've used a few DMPC's effectively in the past, it can be done, and it can add a lot to a game, especially one where you expect the PC's to visit town infrequently, or not at all. I had a DMPC is one game I ran that was essentially an escort, he was useless in combat, and he was made to be an unlikeable character. But what I did for combat was write up a little note card with his vital stats, and then I gave that card to the players and said "on his turn one of you can take his action, then next round pass the card to your right, that person chooses his actions, and so on." It worked out pretty well. He got into some bad positions sometimes, but the players couldn't blame me for it and it added some extra drama to the combat.

My other DMPC was actually the focal point of a story, he was the chosen one, instead of one of the characters. I didn't gete to DM that game as far as I would have liked, but it ended up working out well because I spent literally like 2 hours with just him and the characters going around running errands so they got to know and like him. They thought for sure I was going to kill him because they actually liked him, he was a nice guy with a family who loved him... in Darksun. So that was a cool little unexpected twist that came out of that, he didn't die. Two of the characters were actually making bets on when he was gonna die, lol.

DMPCs can be useful, and cool, but they aren't for every occasion. I only use them when the story calls for it, and only when it doesn't make sense for a player to fill their role.



Great stuff all around, I think the bolded part is the line we must always keep in mind.
They can be used to quite good effect, but that effect should NEVER include playing a vital role in a plot, beyond being a plot hook. A DMPC should never lead the party around, should never be in possession of knowledge or skills that no PC can acquire, etc. In other words they're bit players, perhaps at most giving out a fixed logical piece of information as a clue or piece of lore directly related to their appearance in the game. If the party does rely on them for some service they provide, it should be a purely supporting role like basic healing or perhaps some routine combat capability (IE they can act as a defender or something similar, or a basic artillery, or a simple leader, but they never 'steal the show').

Don't have them being the hero driving the story forward, or the always-smarter-than-the-players font of DM exposition, or the unkillable Mary Sue, etc. If the DMPC is basically interesting but not vital and just serves to make the rest of the game more fun for the major characters by handling some annoying detail then that's perfect.



Well put.  See?  We really can get along! 

Er, not that we really weren't before.  Anyhoo, what I said focused on what they shouldn't do.  It's good to see a few of you posting things that they can do without causing problems.
Resident Prophet of the OTTer.

Section Six Soldier

Front Door of the House of Trolls

[b]If you're terribly afraid of your character dying, it may be best if you roleplayed something other than an adventurer.[/b]

It's good to see a few of you posting things that they can do without causing problems.

(Update - oops: though I was replying to the OP)
 I think you might've missed an important point from the mixed responses:
- Some of the posters are ok with with the DMPC's.
- Some of the posters are tremendously against them.

If you've got any players that could fall into the latter group, you are likely creating a problem (regardless of how you handle them). And needlessly so, because you can do pretty much the exact same things with an NPC.

Oh I didn't miss it.  I just kept the OP in mind when reading what's been written so far.  ;)  That said,  I agree with you completely.
Resident Prophet of the OTTer.

Section Six Soldier

Front Door of the House of Trolls

[b]If you're terribly afraid of your character dying, it may be best if you roleplayed something other than an adventurer.[/b]

@mvincent, and anyone else who wants to weigh on this, how do you define the difference between an NPC and a DMPC?  Is it merely the size of the statblock?
I don't.  Then again, with 4e it's a lot easier to differentiate the two.  In fact, the two will behave completely differently in combat and out of it because they're set up in a completely different way than PCs are. 
Resident Prophet of the OTTer.

Section Six Soldier

Front Door of the House of Trolls

[b]If you're terribly afraid of your character dying, it may be best if you roleplayed something other than an adventurer.[/b]

Every bit of advice that needed to be said here has already been said.
With that in mind, I'll give you the rundown of the only DMPC I ever ran successfully and why it was so.


1) He was a recurring NPC, sorta like a mentor, that aided the PCs in-between missions, simply by providing information they needed.

2) He only joined the battle for a grand total of 0.7 of a battle. His moment to shine was holding back a horde of enemy mooks to allow the PCs to be able to go forward and deal with the final big bad evil guy.

3) He was killed "off-screen".

---
The response from my players was positive and PCs were the ones who took all the glory by the end, with only them to really remember the mentor that helped them from the shadows for all those months.
@mvincent, and anyone else who wants to weigh on this, how do you define the difference between an NPC and a DMPC?  Is it merely the size of the statblock?


For me the major difference is just time spent with that character. A character the party meets with every so often for 30 minutes is an NPC. A character that follows the party around and is virtually always present is a DMPC. DMPCs usually directly help the players as well, whereas most NPCs will do so indirectly by doing things like offering quests, giving rewards, selling items, giving advice, providing background, etc etc.
     I'll vote with those saying the idea is OK, just make sure the character is a 2nd banana, in just about all respects.
     Class is what the others don't want to play.  Leader is especially good here since it may be the most needed, and the one most neglected.
    You rarely take the lead.  As with about everything else, there are exceptions [Say your players are convinced every door is trapped, you might play somebody who gets impatient with hesitation and just opens every door.  And you will have to take the damage.], but you are the supporting cast.
    You take simple actions.  You are already busy running the monsters.  You don't have time to be thinking of the perfect move.  Your move is to be now.
     The idea of a party NPC is good, but a lot of DMs do like to play.  So you try that if you are not confident you can resist the urge to cheat or you aren't that eager to play anyway.
      The DMPC is a juryrig.  The superior solution is to recruit another player or 2.you use him only while you are short of players and are ready, perhaps even eager, to retire him.