We've all heard horror stories of campaigns with those NPCs/DMPCs. You know, the ones who only exist because the DM loves them and they're there to look cool while the PCs twiddle their thumbs in the background. Nobody wants to be the DM taking over like that!
But on the other hand, as DMs, we're bound to like our NPCs. Our players are bound to like our NPCs! And it's not unreasonable to want these characters we love to have moments to shine like everyone else. In the 3-year campaign I just finished a couple months ago, I found out the One Weird Trick to this:
Let your NPCs have badass moments – but it should always be in service of empowering the players to be the true heroes.
The problem with the classic infamous DMPC isn't that they do cool things, it's that they do cool things and the players don't get to. If the players also get to do cool – or cooler! – things, then the problem of the DMPC becomes greatly reduced.
So whatever your NPCs wind up doing, it should always be a way to enable the party to succeed at something else on their own merits.
Here's an example from the campaign I just wrapped up:
The main "questgivers" for the PCs were a group of retired adventurerers who had saved the world half a century earlier and were heroes in their own right, and who needed the PCs to finish what they'd started (being old, wealthy, and not fancying a return to cold, painful dungeon crawling). The party got to know two of them in particular, the bard who owned the tavern they liked to hang out at, and the wizard who was the PC wizard's teacher and mentor.
The wizard wound up being the main BBEG of the campaign, betraying her comrade and friend the bard, her student and the rest of the party to seize tremendous ancient magical power. With her new powers, she raised an ancient city from the ground. The bard, despondent at the betrayal, spent the rest of the campaign a barely-coherent drunk… until the second-to-last session.
The flying city had a nigh-impenetrable magic shield around it, but he, sobering up, said he could fix it. Then, he used a magical item he & the wizard had found together, essentially compressing the entirety of his life's magical powers into one ultra-powerful spell, dispelling the shield so that the party could stop his former friend's shields (at the cost of never being able to cast anything else ever again).
It was a great moment that my players loved! An NPC who they all liked coming out of his depression, doing something cool and heroic. Most importantly, it still left the ball in the players' courts: They still had to be the ones to go and stop the BBEG. All he'd done was open up a path.
The players should ultimately be the ones to foil the BBEG's plans, and a NPC or DMPC doing it instead will make them feel shitty, like they weren't even needed. But a NPC helping them do it – giving them the chance to be the final heroes – can be a great moment your players will remember.
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More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "A great way how to give beloved NPCs awesome moments to shine without overshadowing the party" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
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