Can GMs play a PC in their own game and which classes would work


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Liberty's Edge

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I think something to not overlook is that it is important for the GM to have fun playing the game, too. Some campaigns can last years, and if you're the only GM, that is a long time to go without creating a character. I used to have a fairly negative view of GMPCs ("Oh, he used his special unique power to thrash the bad guys again while we twitched helplessly on the floor? Neat. And, oh, he's got mysterious vampire abilities? Of COURSE he does..."), but eventually I realized the portrayal and use of said characters can drastically change how annoying or welcome they feel in a game.

***

Anecdote 1

Spoiler:
A recurring theme in my group's games is that the party will latch on to a couple NPCs that were written into the module, and the GM will adopt one or more of those characters as a "voice" in the game, and adventure with the party in that way. The GM for our AoW game used Filge as his GMPC, and the enjoyment he got out of that character would have been worthwhile on its own, but his presence gave an opportunity for different opinions and perspectives to be voiced, many RP opportunities, and even in a knowledgeable party, some of the DCs in that game are incredibly steep, and it was good to have somebody else who knew what in the world was going on. He would frequently nat 20 such checks, leading us to believe he was quite the fanboy of evil extraplanar entities...

Filge started out quite weak, taking lazy pot-shots with his crossbow every other round or so, but eventually developed rather potent magical abilities. He focused on debuffs and force spells. In retrospect, I wonder if he was a sneaky tactic of the GM to use up our insanely powerful party's resources, since that guy was ALWAYS getting dropped into the negs, and my character would always come running to heal him... Anyway, that game lasted four years, and I'm fairly certain it wouldn't have lasted half as long if Filge wasn't there snarking his way through it on the GM's behalf.

Anecdote 2

Spoiler:
One of the players in our AoW game started running Savage Tide, and wanted to create a "Filge" of his own. He created a wizard/cleric of Nerull going for mystic theurge. I was a bit miffed by him putting this character in at the outset, because I like discovering what NPCs an adventure has to offer, rather than having one foisted upon me as a matter of course. The GM is an incredibly busy guy, though, and when I saw how excited he was thinking about how his character was going to level up, I realized that having a character of his own kept him invested in the game despite his chaotic schedule. The character was a bit of a show-stealer, and did cause some party conflict, but we mostly resolved that through in-character roleplay. Overall, this wasn't the ideal situation, but the game was fun, and it made me happy to see the GM enjoying it, too.

Anecdote 3

Spoiler:
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the GM for RotRL had anticipated Shalelu being the GMPC in our gestalted party of two. After several disastrous outings wherein Shalelu seemed to miss nearly every attack, critically miss on an alarmingly regular basis, fail every save, and generally endanger herself and others, we had to talk ooc: "We're worried about Shalelu..." XD And the GM was like, "Yeahhh...she kinda sucks, huh?" Our characters didn't actually think she sucked; they just reasoned she was more cut out for patrolling the woodlands than for the rigors of dedicated adventuring. The GM didn't want to upstage us, but was unsure how to adequately up her power level without unbalancing the game, so he had her stay behind in Sandpoint as we set out into the world.

Anecdote 4

Spoiler:
In my ongoing Kingmaker game, I don't have a GMPC, but have developed a great number of NPCs, some written into the AP, some of my own making, and it is always interesting to me to see which ones the players latch on to. GMing this game has shown me what wildly varied reactions different people will have to the same set of NPCs. Some players like the NPCs so much that I devised an entourage system for the NPCs to grant bonuses for their presence without actively participating in combat. As it turned out, one of the players was vehemently against the NPCs accompanying the party, but didn't say anything until I asked specifically, and then it turned into a Whole Big Thing. Other players, meanwhile, have had their characters take NPCs as cohorts. Their classes? Knowledgey support bard/rogue and shield-using ally-defending cavalier. ^_^ We have since resolved our differences, though to a large extent differences in preferred play style cannot be reconciled, and it's mostly a matter of being polite and respecting your fellow gamers' feelings.

***

To synthesize all these experiences:
In past games I've minimized my own needs to make sure everybody else is pleased, but I've realized that if I am not having fun, I will find decreasing reasons to continue running a game, until it just peters out and dies. For me, having an NPC on hand to throw out the occasional funny one-liner or provide a hint when the party is stumped is one way I have fun and stay invested in the game. I try to be aware of other GMs' styles, and be sympathetic to their needs, and I hope that my players will be sympathetic to mine. If what keeps you invested in your game is having a GMPC, I say go for it. As others have suggested, building a character that supports and doesn't overshadow the group is good, but making a drastically weaker character, one that doesn't look like he or she can survive a fight, is not necessarily a good way to go about it. It is just as likely that the PCs will think, "This person is a liability!" or "We don't want our friend to get hurt, so it's better if he just stays home."

If your players are skeptical of your decision to include a GMPC, talk to them about why it's important to you. Letting them know "This is how I stay invested week after week," or "I've read about a lot of TPKs in this module, and I don't want you guys to lose your long-running characters to a handful of bad die rolls." Your players might suggest some solutions of their own, and may express some concerns they have that you haven't thought of. A GMPC isn't right for every game, but if you talk openly and patiently with your group, you can find out if it's right for yours.


I know I keep a stable of adventure ready NPCs that PCs can ally with to include in the party. I also do it if I know that a situation is going to create a split party occurence. (Which has currently happened.)

Unless there is a reason to keep information hidden, I will usually have the players control the allied NPC for combat. (So if there is a split and combat occurs, the no present PCs can control the present NPCs.) I still roleplay them and reserve veto privelages. They have reported liking it.

I also leave it to choice. They choose to bring these NPCs along, they could choose not to. It is all good.

Also, their PCs tend to be hot s&@~ and very rarely have the spot light stolen by the NPCs. If they do, it is usually in a situation where the Player is controlling the NPC, so it is not that bad.

In description of the actions, I also make the successes of the NPCs based around the PCs actions. Like the PC created the openning that allowed the NPC hit or whatever. (The fearsome presence is enough to distract them.)


Poldaran wrote:
DrDeth wrote:

True. But do note that just about every pro-DMPC post is from a DMPC running DM. Not a player in a campaign where the DM runs a DMPC. Interesting, eh?

I was in denial. Maybe some others here are too.

I play in a group of three people. Each of us run our own campaigns. I actually rather enjoy the DMPCs the other guys run. So far, each of them has kept situations to a 40-40-20% contribution ratio, with the DMPCs contributing the 20% and filling in gaps in the player group. So I'm certainly cool with it.

In my own campaigns, we don't use XP, so there's no need to split that. I keep a stable of NPCs that are more or less cohort level PCs that come along with the party(2 PCs and their cohorts) when appropriate to the story. They have, on occasion, outshined a cohort. And one time I had to pull a "let's get dangerous" full power use of the character when the players rolled nothing above a three multiple turns in a row. But for the most part, they're mostly there to soak up a little damage, either buff the party or put out a little of their own damage and occasionally spot a hint the party overlooked.

So, I think my running of "DMPCs" is going well, but I know I am certainly cool with the ones my friends run.

Well, in the case of rotating DM's or two person one-on-one games like Davor has, then a DMPC is not a problem.

But honestly, they can cause problems, and most DM's won't even suspect their players don't like them. In any case, there's no need for them- outside of the two cases I mentioned above.

If the party needs another guy- just let a Player run two PCs, or draw up a NPC and let them run it. The DM has enough to do. Really, DMing is a lot of fun even without running a PC in his own game.

Liberty's Edge

I know in my case a dmpc is what keeps me invested in the game. I make the character at the same level and general power as the pc's. I've asked for group opinions repeatedly, and have yet to hear an ounce of complaint. I rarely have the characters volunteer important information, usually just offering more rolepkaying opportunities. I never give them face skills. I hate talking to myself. In the current case, i'm on my fifth gmpc in carrion crown, simply from unlucky rolls which left me dead, and several party members nearly negative. We started out with 6, including me, but many of our group have moved away, so we're down to 3 until I can recruit more people.


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Ah well, then just explain it that way to your players:
"Look guys I know sometimes a DMPC can be problematic. But I really enjoy running one. Please let me know if I step over any lines or on any toes."


i don't mind Tagalong NPC allies, whether you call them DMPCS or cohorts. but i would prefer allowing players to play a second character as long as they don't do it to game the action economy by stacking pets. if they come up with a pair together, they must have something tying the pair into cooperation with each other and everyone else. a pair of siblings, cousins or childhood friends could work, as could a couple or a pairing of master and servant. not every group has players willing to coordinate their characters and some concepts are still impossible to realize even with the leadership feat and stuff like that.


I don't like running npc characters that help the players as a gm much.


Tiny Coffee Golem wrote:
So long as the DMPC doesn't steal the show they're usually fine. Although the good DM's ive known don't like to have one because it's just one more thing to keep up with.

Basically this. Both DMs I'm in a campaign with dropped their DMPC from the group so they could focus more on the campaign and less on making sure their character was involved sufficiently.


I find the idea of a poor DM needing to play a PC just to stay interested sad. I was blessed with two friends who were willing to GM as well so we took turns and we all had a chance to play as well as GM.

My heart goes out to those GMs who are not given a chance to do both because their players are not willing to step up.


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Davors, Courtney!, and Tiny Coffee Golem pretty much sum up my own experience with GMPCs (from both sides of the table).

A (fairly) recent example of GMPCs for me, is the kind that got recruited from regular NPC status. In Serpent's Skull, Aerys (the NPC fighter) is incredibly beloved by the PCs. So much so that she's (against my will) been fully elevated to a member of the party... though none of the players will play her.

As GM, I've convinced them to run her a time or two, but mostly they keep pulling her in, regardless of the reasons I give for her staying behind, or being in camp, or anything else (and using dice to make it happen). Though she was only moderately equipped, and has never requested more than the most modest of compensation (kind of my way of keeping her under-powered to keep her out), the PCs (and players) have repeatedly insisted on getting her better and better equipment. I'd explained to them out of character that I wasn't too interested in running a GMPC this way, but they really wanted her in the party (and went to lengths to make this happen). So, eventually, I got a GMPC, whether I wanted one or not.

On the other side of the screen, one of the earliest 3.5 games I was a part of had a GMNPC, a sorceress (it was supposed to be a short game, and there was only me and one other guy, and I knew neither the GM nor my fellow player well at all). In this case, I was like my Serpent Skull party. I worked hard to empower the sorceress, made sure that we could share spells, talk constantly, and ensured (much to the dismay of the very quiet sorceress and my fellow PC) that she received a full share of the wealth - after all she'd done so much! I loved the experience, and fully enjoyed all of it, and so did the other player after a bit.

I've been on both sides of the screen with various party sizes and had GMPCs and lacked them, and while they can be poorly done, in my experience they aren't bad. They're a great tool, when used right - and the "right" use is to enhance the experience of the players, whatever that means.

(Also, there are plenty of examples of poor GMPC use, so you don't need those comparatively few stories from me.)


NPC's that adventure with the party and help out, great. NPC's that the GM enjoys roleplaying as, great. GMPC's, however, are basically always bad - if you want to play that character so much than play the character.


Terraneaux wrote:
NPC's that adventure with the party and help out, great. NPC's that the GM enjoys roleplaying as, great. GMPC's, however, are basically always bad - if you want to play that character so much than play the character.

See, this attitude confuses me, and I suspect it comes entirely from personal bias-due-to-bad-experience.

That's not to say that the bias has no basis - in fact, if it was created because of personal experience it has very strong basis, because, well, it's been seen in personal play.

But considering:
1) I have players that wanted GMPCs in the party (and went to lengths to get it)

2) I enjoy having GMPCs in the party when they're there

3) Some GMs have great ideas for how GMPCs can fit into a party, especially for certain campaigns, but who wouldn't fit in any other campaigns (and this doesn't have to equate to stealing the spotlight - a relatively recent game I played in, I quite enjoyed the GMPC that was appropriate to the game, as they fit and made the world believable)

... I find the contention that "GMPCs are always bad" to be inaccurate through my own experience and through the testimony of others.


Almost every game I run I have one in the party and they work just fine. But I don't have one in there just for $%@#s and giggles. They serve the role of guide, in the sense that they may take a light narrative hand in guiding the party when it gets stuck. They also fill in gaps the party may have as we often have one fewer players then I'd like. Plus I run virtually all of our games, so it's a chance for me to play a little as well.

I have rules for them though. One, they don't upstage or get in the way of the true PCs. Two, they are never the face-man of the group. Three they are interesting and fun and not a burden on the party. Four, and this is the most important one, THEY DON'T GET TO METAGAME THE PLOT.

I have been GM'ing since the Reagan administration so I've clocked a lot of hours behind the screen and learned a lot about how best to run one. It can be very rewarding and a chance for long haul GMs like myself to get in on the action as well.


Tacticslion, I understand what you are saying and agree with you to a certain extent. I would just like to add a couple of points.

a) What you are describing sounds to me, more like an important/central NPC than a GMPC. To me a GMPC is a character that is a full member of the party in that he makes decisions, could choose to do something on his own, could vehemently disagree with the party, gets to pick items like any other PC, etc...

b) A GMPC has the potential for abuse and in my opinion, the ones who would abuse it are least likely to realize they are abusing it.

c) I have seen it cause hard feelings with players who thought the GM was abusing the situation even if there is no basis for that feeling.

For those reasons, I think a long term central NPC is usually much more acceptable than a GMPC.

Though I completely agree there are groups where it can be done and works well. I have seen it enhance the situation several times. But I've seen more instances where it didn't work out all that well.


Kydeem de'Morcaine wrote:

Tacticslion, I understand what you are saying and agree with you to a certain extent. I would just like to add a couple of points.

a) What you are describing sounds to me, more like an important/central NPC than a GMPC. To me a GMPC is a character that is a full member of the party in that he makes decisions, could choose to do something on his own, could vehemently disagree with the party, gets to pick items like any other PC, etc...

b) A GMPC has the potential for abuse and in my opinion, the ones who would abuse it are least likely to realize they are abusing it.

c) I have seen it cause hard feelings with players who thought the GM was abusing the situation even if there is no basis for that feeling.

For those reasons, I think a long term central NPC is usually much more acceptable than a GMPC.

Though I completely agree there are groups where it can be done and works well. I have seen it enhance the situation several times. But I've seen more instances where it didn't work out all that well.

Now, see, that's an entirely respectable stance. But that's what I mean: first of all, GMPCs have varying definitions between different groups, second of all they can be used effectively, and third it depends entirely on the gamer and style of play to determine who likes that sort of thing. That's kind of my point: saying "always" as a qualifier in this case isn't really accurate, because you don't really know for sure what someone else means when you're theoretically talking about the same thing, and - that aside - some people just enjoy different play styles.

And Aerys has, by this point, become an GMPC. Sure, she started as an NPC, but that's not who or what she is now. She's got a full share of treasure, XP, and is central to the party just as much as anyone else. She doesn't always make the best decisions (she's got a low WIS, after all), but she's just as much a part of the party (by now) as anyone else. With that in mind, it's difficult to call her anything but a GMNPC. ... at least as I define it. (She's not, actually, central to any plots as far as I've got.)

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Meaningless distinctions to me. You say 'important NPC', I say 'well played DMPC'. You say 'DMPC' and I say 'badly handled DMPC'.

I think it mostly stems from people treating characters differently just because a player other than the DM is running them. They treat the NPC asking to travel with them like a pariah, but the new PC that shows up gets welcomed like a long lost brother instead of the stranger he is. Can't give the NPC any loot, he might run off or fall into a pit of acid, but give the PC anything he wants. Definitely a double standard to beware of.


I would say, "YES" the GM should be able to bring his own PC into the game. Provided said PC is an elderly wizard type (like Gandalf!) who always gives the boring plot exposition and is able to keep the PC's on the rails! Said wizard will hardly ever cast spells and will get into melee combat (dual wielding a long sword and staff) whenever possible.

http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=1316

DM of the Rings. Fo' sho'


I've used DMPC's before and have never had trouble at my table.

The rules for me are:

1) Less than 4 players at the table
2) Never outshine the PCs, they take a backseat to the PCs and don't make the decisions as the face/leader of the group, they would only really disagree or make a suggestion as per what their alignment dictates (i.e. the PCs are planning on doing something evil and the cleric is good).
3) Fill a NEEDED role (i.e. cleric or meatshield), I've done this with a fighter before as I ran a game for my brother and my friend where they played a rogue and a wizard respectively. The fighter was a big dumb bruiser who just followed orders from them and didn't do much else, especially with his brain.
4) Use them very very rarely to help the PCs with challenges, they should only be there for support not as an "easy button" for the PCs.
5) They'd only get normal magical gear, not the named stuff, not the artifacts, only enough stuff to keep them alive.
6) I don't pull my punches on the DMPC's they get hit as often as the PCs, so don't get attached to them, they are only there to help because it's needed.


If we have a GMPC then they are always cohorts of another character. You will not be the same level as everyone else, and you don't get to make big choices. They usually end up being a skill monkey or combat support, but are little more than sidekicks.

It's important to let the players figure things out and to shine. It's hard not to get into a character you create. If a player doesn't ask the GMNPC for a skill check, I simply don't do it. If I don't hear a, "Hey, Ms. GMPC, do you know anything about this item?" then the character is a statue. I may also let them step in to assist checks that the player narrowly misses. I will help if I can without taking any glory.


As a GM, I may have done it a few times a long time ago but I rapidly stopped and don’t plan to use any in the future. It’s really hard to pull it right, most of the time it’s a problem. For some of the problems mentioned before, there is other options, like tuning down the opposition in canned adventure for small groups. I dislike DMPC as a player. My advice is to not use any.

I think that a GM that want to run a DMPC, to the point of imposing it to players, should not GM but be a non-GM player. There’s plenty of NPC (in most usual game), if the GM does not enjoy playing them (and creating them, creating many more characters that the player will), it should not be the GM.

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