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When does an NPC become a GMPC?


Gamer Talk

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Shadow Lodge Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014

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And even among those who do there's as much argument over what makes one as there is over what makes a GMPC. If not more.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

To the OPs question

When does an NPC become a GMPC?

I would set two criteria -

DM uses the NPC as a proxy to play a character as part of the group (multiple reasons: Novice, no one else wants to DM, etc)

DM uses the NPC as a core aspect (as in, equal footing as PCs) and facet of achieving party goals.

personal experience:
I run several "support" NPCs with the group I DM, only one of them came along with the party at the outset of their adventuring career (and they decided to keep him around) while the rest have been picked up over the course of play (rescued prisoners, friends they have met, etc).
The main support NPCs have full character sheets - they get an equal share of the treasure and xp, but the players decide the breakout of gear (usually based on who needs what the most and who has been getting the best picks prior).

When I run fights I set up encounter expectations with the additional NPCs in mind, i.e. fights are more difficult. When running fights I generally control the actions of those NPCs, buts sometimes the players do. Generally the players roll for their attacks, damage, saves (I roll skill checks unless they have the sheets in front of them). All the players at the table know how they would role-play each of these NPCs (with their own spin) because their personas have been so well defined over the course of several sessions.

When it comes time to make decisions (exit A, B, etc), the NPC in question makes the decision based on the information he has – no bias, just data. My players would see through the bs if I did otherwise and for the most part agree with the (smaller) choices the NPC made (based on data available) without having to micromanage the function of the NPC. And if I am missing something technical the players will jump in and make sure that all the info/stats/gear of the NPC are taken into consideration.

With some critical decision situations the group breaks down along alignment/morality/role in team instead of PC/NPC lines. Ex: the CG rogue types (PC and NPC) agreeing that the means to the end solution is better than the course of action that the PC Lawful Good Fighter and NPC Paladin want to take.
So in the end it's a wash, and at most all times (with the exception of faith or code of the NPC) the NPC doesn't come into the foreground on decision matters.
In addressing the second part of my comment on GMPCs - while the NPCs in my group are instrumental, they are fundamentally NPCs. The players make all the big choices, the NPCs are there to help them and add to the story.

There is an understanding that these longtime "support" npcs would serve as substitutes if the Players primary character should fall, They already even have their alt npcs picked out. Also my players have played all the NPCs as alt characters in small side quest/battles prior - EX: as a culmination of a long campaign I am running a war scenario now. There have been a few encounters to facilitate the war that I set up for the PCs which will determine the outcome of the war - Objective A,C and D are for the PCs, while I set up another war encounter/mission where the players are all playing the detailed NPCs for Objective B (asa fun variant).

I control these support NPCs actions and motives (as I do all the NPCs), but I don't see these NPCs as a proxy to play the game, or that they are "my guy". They have saved and they have been saved (more towards the latter) on several occasion. They are trusted and well loved, which is good - because when they eventually die (and they will) the PCs will have one more additional motivation to kill the bad guy who did their friend in. So in the end, they are just NPCs and play into the bigger story as a possible plot device or motivation.

Anyway


Yeah, there is no clear definition of the term that everyone agrees on.

Some people, like myself, prefer a definition that is based on mechanics and use. Others prefer one based on how something feels or how people feel about it.

So to the OPer, we can't really tell you when an NPC is becoming a GMPC, until you say what definition you are using for the term. Of course, if you had a clear definition in mind, you probably wouldn't need our input. ;)

Now if you are curious as to some of the different definitions, well you've seen several already. I'd be happy to give my own if anyone was interested, but ultimately you'll have to come to the conclusion as to what definition you feel most comfortable with.


pres man wrote:

Yeah, there is no clear definition of the term that everyone agrees on.

Some people, like myself, prefer a definition that is based on mechanics and use. Others prefer one based on how something feels or how people feel about it.

So to the OPer, we can't really tell you when an NPC is becoming a GMPC, until you say what definition you are using for the term. Of course, if you had a clear definition in mind, you probably wouldn't need our input. ;)

Now if you are curious as to some of the different definitions, well you've seen several already. I'd be happy to give my own if anyone was interested, but ultimately you'll have to come to the conclusion as to what definition you feel most comfortable with.

Though, given that he knows whether they're traveling with the party, I doubt that's the definition he's thinking of. And since he seems concerned about it, I doubt he is worried that his NPCs are becoming too defined and important to the PCs.

It seems pretty clear to me from his post, that he's using a definition similar to mine and ELs. I also suspect, just from the fact that he's worried about it, they probably aren't GMPCs in a bad way.


I am a bit confused with your comment thejeff. You suggest that the definition under consideration is similar to your's and EL's. Then you say, "they probably aren't GMPCs in a bad way." I have gotten the impression from EL's comments that he views GMPCs as inherently bad (as opposed to say BBEG that are not inherently bad but may be played badly). Thus I am not sure how GMPCs under his definition could be anything but "GMPCs in a bad way".


1 person marked this as a favorite.

When the NPC is being played as if it is a PC and/or a member of the party then it is a GMPC. If he makes the occasional appearance, but does not get involved directly in combat or tag along then it is just an NPC.


pres man wrote:
I am a bit confused with your comment thejeff. You suggest that the definition under consideration is similar to your's and EL's. Then you say, "they probably aren't GMPCs in a bad way." I have gotten the impression from EL's comments that he views GMPCs as inherently bad (as opposed to say BBEG that are not inherently bad but may be played badly). Thus I am not sure how GMPCs under his definition could be anything but "GMPCs in a bad way".

I was hedging definitions. Apparently just confusing things.

I meant: probably aren't GMPCs, if you're using that definition of GMPC. The one where they're bad.

Star Voter 2013

Does ToZ just favorited the post in with I agree with him?, so much vanity :)

Shadow Lodge

Nicos wrote:
Does ToZ just favorited the post in with I agree with him?, so much vanity :)

Are you aware of exactly who I am?

Star Voter 2013

TOZ wrote:
Nicos wrote:
Does ToZ just favorited the post in with I agree with him?, so much vanity :)
Are you aware of exactly who I am?

well, unless you are the avatar of destruction that can raind deaht upon people then, does it matter? :)


Some people enjoy using GMPCs. These people keep trying to define GMPCs as "NPCs that travel with the party", in every thread I ever saw about the subject. They also claim that "Sure the GM can play his own character in the party, on equal footing with the other players, it's just a matter of doing it properly." Further, they claim that "A GM needs to pad out a party if they lack a healer" as motivation to why they need their own PC.

It's no surprise that if you want to play GMPCs, you will use these arguments. However, it doesn't change the fact that as soon as the GM invests emotionally in his character in the same way as a player does, it detracts from the game. The only benefit is that the GM's ego gets stroked.

A character is either a PC, and gets a lot of basic assumptions for granted (party trust, screen time and so on), or it's an NPC, for NON-player character. A GMPC has a player. Claiming that your GMPC is an NPC will not change this.

Of course, since GMPC-hood never had anything to do with whether a character travels with the party, it is quite possible that a campaign can have dozens of people traveling with the party and not have a single GMPC.

Shadow Lodge

Well, I'm glad that I'm not some people.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Sissyl wrote:
as soon as the GM invests emotionally in his character in the same way as a player does, it detracts from the game.

This is the wording I've been struggling to find all along, thank you Sissyl.

To return to the thread premise: assuming the Type III definition of GMPC, that's where the line is drawn.

A NPC joins the party, travels with the group, gets XP and treasure, contributes, solves problems, interacts... still an NPC. The moment the GM develops a "Player-like" emotional attachment to the NPC, it becomes a GMPC, and that isn't always bad but it often can be.

Grand Lodge

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I suppose it also detracts from the game when the player is not emotionally invested in his character.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
I suppose it also detracts from the game when the player is not emotionally invested in his character.

That's not a dealbreaker for me, actually.

It's a problem to be solved, but that's a process, not an obstacle.

Emotional investment too early in the campaign can be a problem too. If someone comes at me with a 12 page backstory and a list of stuff they specifically want to address, and I'm looking at 6 AP volumes that have nothing to do with that...

In that kind of situation, I'll take apathy and mold it into enthusiasm over a few weeks, sure.

I guess my (attempted) contribution to this thread is that the psychology of the GM and Players is important to the dynamic between them. A GM should want to GM... they should want to do this so badly that promoting the interests of a single NPC would seem like a distraction.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I was more put off by the definitive statement of 'how a player does'. Not all players invest the same way.


All fair points.

We're in armchair psychology land, after all.

Let's all introspect and call each other wrong!

My model reflects reality with 100% accuracy!

I gotta lay off the americanos. Thanks for keeping me company Tri.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
I suppose it also detracts from the game when the player is not emotionally invested in his character.

Completely different issue.

I would say yes, but I suppose it depends on the kind of game you're looking for. Maybe in a Paranoia style game, where you're all going to die and really only in it for the laffs, a lack of emotional investment wouldn't hurt.
And in that edge case, the GM having the same (lack of) investment in an NPC wouldn't be an issue.

Normally, even if you're just treating your character as a token to move around the battle map, you still have an investment in winning, in the character surviving and contributing or showing off or something.

Largely it's irrelevant to this discussion though.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Yes, but what reality?


TriOmegaZero wrote:
I was more put off by the definitive statement of 'how a player does'. Not all players invest the same way.

I don't think it matters, in terms of GMPCs. Player's invest in different ways, but if the GM is investing in his NPC in the same way his players are, then you're likely to have problems.

Even if the players just want to show off who cool their latest combat build is, the GM shouldn't have an NPC along with them to show off how cool he can make combat monsters. (How cool he can make adversaries is a different issue.)

Whatever it is the players want out of the game, the GM shouldn't be competing with them for it using his own PC. Whether that's spotlight time, character arcs, cool combat scenes, doesn't matter.


6 people marked this as a favorite.

I know that when my character Blackleaf died, I just couldn't take it and ...

Shadow Lodge

I don't have a firm personal definition of a GMPC, but...

roccojr wrote:
Are wrote:
Unless you would force the party to keep one of these NPCs with them if the players at some point decide to "relegate" that NPC again, you don't have a GMPC on your hands :)
Actually, I've forcee it the other way most recently. They began to elevate an npc ranger into that status. There was a pc ranger in the party and while there are tons of ways to make characters of the same class different enough, ultimately there were too many similarities in their combat abilities for my own comfort. The party raised the ranger after a bad combat. I decided that the ranger was so traumatized that they retired from adventuring. They still kept the ranger around as the Spy Master of their kingdom...

If you've made this sort of conscious effort to move the NPC out of the spotlight when there is any possibility they will step on another PC's toes, I doubt you have any sort of problem. Your players are identifying with your NPCs, or at least like having them around. Congratulations.


On the idea that a gmpc starts stealing the spotlight, its good to remember that every character, based on class and feats has a shtick. I remember a hard hitting halberdier npc who travelled with the party a bit. The tengu bard started complaining that the npc was doing alot more damage than him and stealing the spotlight. Its not so much hogging the spotlight but more the issue of how nerfed do you want gmpcs to be just so a pc can can indulge their "full-fledged diva" mentality.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

After reading through this thread I'm seeing that different people define DMPC differently.

To my way of thinking (which seems to match up with some) it's when a DM creates their own character and inserts them into the game with the intent of them adventuring as if they were a regular player.

This runs the risk of the DMPC being omniscient, and making the adventure a walk through - for them, at least.

On the other hand, if a DM is playing with a small group (>4) with one character each, they're probably going to need padding out to be able to play most adventures without modification. Creating a character to fill in the party gap, and then running them as a semi-intelligent item - they are able to do anything that their class and level would suggest at appropriate times, especially when reasonably requested by the player characters, but they don't take the lead in decisions or NNPC interactions (apart from avoiding obviously fatal choices) - would enable the small party to be able to enjoy an adventure that would otherwise be a failure, or at least a stressful nightmare. It also gives a suitable character for 'drop-ins' to play as required.

Both options involve carefully created characters, run as part of the players' party, but their interaction is fundamentally different.

I'm not sure if any of that makes sense to anyone else, but it's how I've always seen it, FWIW.

Reggie.


A dmpc is fine, and can add a lot of depth to a game across multiple sessions. Yeah that halberdier, he is all right, we have fought so much together. It allows the dm to make real characters that hang around with and help the pcs. Few things though:

1) The players should always have choice in who they adventure with. So if they don't like a dmpc, they can discard them. The dm should never force their favourite npc onto the party.

2) DMPCS that help the party can be a fine addition to a party, but they should be specialists; they shouldn't be as good or better than party members across multiple areas.

Examples of some bad dmpcs:
An exceptional melee combatant who also has a great many knowledge skills (so he risks getting in the way and offending melee chars AND clases with a lot of knowledge). May uncover a mystery by themselves. yay.

Really high initiative characters. It can be frustrating if the npc always goes first. Yeah, don't worry dm, we will wait. :|

A monk with improved natural attack, or an op multi-attack build, one that risks doing more attacks than anyone with very high damage. Couple this with the monk's immunities and defences, this can be quite frustrating, especially if this monk has insanely good ability scores. Your average score is 13, mine is 17. :P

A high damage coward, who can dish a lot out and claim plenty of kills, but doesn't help or work with the pcs. Selfishly in it for himself, an avenue by which the dm plays their selfish side or indulges in passive aggressiveness.

An escort far better than the players, so this is one that is central to the plot, you can't get rid of them, they won't help you a great deal, but they are more fantastic than you AND DON'T YOU FORGET IT. These unfortunately can't be given a dirt nap, because they are so powerful or protected by the dm. If they are terminated the game is often over.

Examples of some good dmpcs:

Loyal warriors, defenders, knights, protectors and defensive type characters.

A very fragile spellcaster. So they have some great spells, and sure, have some knowledge as well, but they are quite fragile and need to be covered to last. They do not have 14 con, they do not have max hp. They are not as good as the pcs. Sorc, wiz, cleric.

A mixed fighter or ranger that is good at ranged or close, but not fantastic in either. Allowing them to support the party, but never eclipsing its members. Give them an unusual streak.

A simpleton that is fantastic against opponents, a barb or fighter that is more like an attack dog, and incapable of real thought and strategy--a combat bot in essence.

An advisor that knows a lot, helps out a party with low knowledge or which is lacking in certain skills, but which only pulls through in fights by the skin of their teeth, although they do try to help. Bards, fighter wizards, non combat rogues.

A char who is mostly a font of wisdom and role-playing opportunities, they will discuss the world, philosophy, whatever, but they are safer in combat because of their ac and saves. Mountain mystic types. Monks and pallies.

Sovereign Court

I think I like the 'emotional investment' criteria for my own purposes. I'm definitely not emotionally invested in these npc's. However developed they might become, they are plot points - either creating, furthering or deepening the involvement of the PC's or, more rewardingly, the players. They may appear as important to the campaign as a pc but, in reality, they're just adding their own importance to that of the pc's... and never the other way around... even if the npc in question might disagree!


A player I know, once in a while still tells me how much he misses a dmpc I threw in to help his character do good in the land of Isger.

Detracts from the game? Ridiculous. It breaks down the us and them, pc and npc divide in part, and allows a dm to put a lot into a character that the players will encounter frequently.

Once it seems, I ran that dmpc perfectly, other times I've done it well. What I learned was you can't protect those dmpcs, they should have vulnerabilities but also be fine specialists in their own way. If they die, they die, you don't fudge the dice for them.

This same player though, when he dms, he uses dmpcs excellently and with a high frequency. A choose your party model emerged. It was almost a game of Suikoden, break out the 108 stars of destiny! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suikoden


Game Masterbation.

That's what we should call Type III GMPCs. GMbation for short.

That is all.

Shadow Lodge

Clever.

How's that working out for you?

Being clever.


Great.


New love, I hope it works out for you two!


TOZ wrote:

Clever.

How's that working out for you?

Being clever.

Well, he is known as one of the country's greatest debaters.

You can even say, he is a master debater.


the only difference between an Tagalong Support NPC and a DMPC, that the DMPC is a special Tagalong Support NPC who travels with the party on equal footing, was built as if he/she were a PC, has a heavy amount of emotional investment from the DM, and a share of the spotlight.

Bad DMPCs include

anybody focused on going first

anybody who drastically outshines an existing PC at their role.

anybody with drastically higher offensive attributes than the PCs, whether by means of superior minmaxing, or by means of a better attribute generation method.

anybody who hogs the spotlight excessively.

fragile and disposable DMPCs whom die by the dozen and seem to be forged from the same mold.

Good DMPCs include

the support character that governs a less covered role in a limited fashion, such as a support oriented spontaneous caster or skill monkey. if you are worried about outshining the party still, you can try a hybrid prestige class such as the arcane trickster, eldritch knight or mystic theurge to water down their focus and give helpful secondary facets.

the mentor whom, while traveling along with the PCs, might pass his wisdom and prove a stronger combatant at first due to his superior experience, will eventually be outshined by the PCs who succeed him as he eventually retires or dies in a major plot relevant scenario.

the squire, apprentice, younger sibling, or similar role who looks up to the desired PC, and wishes to either be like them, or to compliment them in some way.


To me, any (roughly) equal party member that's controlled by the GM is a DMPC. If you want to avoid the DMPC label in my book, you have to either have the NPC be clearly a subordinate (e.g. significantly lower level, or almost never having thoughts of his own) or let the players control him.

Note: Having a DMPC isn't a crime, but intentionally stealing focus away from the PCs is distasteful.


hogarth wrote:

To me, any (roughly) equal party member that's controlled by the GM is a DMPC. If you want to avoid the DMPC label in my book, you have to either have the NPC be clearly a subordinate (e.g. significantly lower level, or almost never having thoughts of his own) or let the players control him.

Note: Having a DMPC isn't a crime, but intentionally stealing focus away from the PCs is distasteful.

the other aspect of DMPC besides power, is the level of emotional investment on them from the DM, and the same concern from the DM about it's life a player would have about their characters.

if you don't wish to have an NPC die, don't give it a freaking stat block. and don't put it in scenarios where one is needed. in fact, the worst thing you can do for an NPCs longevity is to have them accompany a party of crazy and greedy yet bloodthirsty adventurers.


Funny, when I am a player and my PC dies, I don't go all Blackleaf about it. But hey, maybe I'm just an emotionally detached douchebag.


pres man wrote:
Funny, when I am a player and my PC dies, I don't go all Blackleaf about it. But hey, maybe I'm just an emotionally detached douchebag.

i don't either. but i know this really fat man-child named Aaron who does increasingly reckless stuff and whines and moans when his characters die.


Lumiere Dawnbringer wrote:
pres man wrote:
Funny, when I am a player and my PC dies, I don't go all Blackleaf about it. But hey, maybe I'm just an emotionally detached douchebag.
i don't either. but i know this really fat man-child named Aaron who does increasingly reckless stuff and whines and moans when his characters die.

So would you agree that the problem then isn't treating a character as a "PC", but when a person has their own personal issues?


pres man wrote:
Lumiere Dawnbringer wrote:
pres man wrote:
Funny, when I am a player and my PC dies, I don't go all Blackleaf about it. But hey, maybe I'm just an emotionally detached douchebag.
i don't either. but i know this really fat man-child named Aaron who does increasingly reckless stuff and whines and moans when his characters die.
So would you agree that the problem then isn't treating a character as a "PC", but when a person has their own personal issues?

No. Obviously personal issues make everything worse, but it's not about "going all Blackleaf" about a PC dying, whatever that means.

NPCs play a different role in game than PCs. The GM blurring that line with his own PC is problematic.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

To some.


pres man wrote:
Lumiere Dawnbringer wrote:
pres man wrote:
Funny, when I am a player and my PC dies, I don't go all Blackleaf about it. But hey, maybe I'm just an emotionally detached douchebag.
i don't either. but i know this really fat man-child named Aaron who does increasingly reckless stuff and whines and moans when his characters die.
So would you agree that the problem then isn't treating a character as a "PC", but when a person has their own personal issues?

i have been doing S&S with a 10 player group since the beginning of march, we are still raiding the damned fever sea. Aaron has been saved by helpful DM fiat an average of 9 times a month, and dies at least monthly. weekly william has pretty much removed the threat of death by encouraging Aaron's stupidity.


thejeff wrote:

No. Obviously personal issues make everything worse, but it's not about "going all Blackleaf" about a PC dying, whatever that means.

NPCs play a different role in game than PCs. The GM blurring that line with his own PC is problematic.

We were discussing the issues with character death specifically and how if a GM treats a character like a player would treat their character that is where the problem lies.

My comment was that if people don't have personal issues, then there should be no fear about a GM treating a character in the same way a player would treat their PC when it comes to the death of the character.

I would also suggest that unless someone has problems with cheating as a player, there shouldn't be any concern in a more general sense with a GM run character behaving similar to a PC.

FYI, Blackleaf was the character of a player in one of those 80's anti-D&D stories. After Blackleaf died in the game, the player killed herself because she couldn't live with the guilt. Basically, I'm suggesting that I am not irrationally attached to fictional characters I play in a game. I try to have the character make rational decisions in game so as to stay alive, but if death comes a knocking I'm not going to throw a fit or burst into tears. Just make a new character and move on.

Sovereign Court

My yardstick is VERY simple.

The second combat the NPC joins the PC's as a guest star.

ie. They they start acting like PCs.

Clarification: They have to be active participants.

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