Dungeons & Dragons Online

How can i make my players care about NPC’s?

So, i like to make very story driven campaigns, so a lot of NPC's are quite necessary. But i run into a problem with core NPC's in specific, those ones who directly help the party or who are reocurring enought to be considered a core side character. Like… i certainly know how to give my NPC's personality, i'm usually able to make my players hate the villains, to make them feel emotional when dealing with side characters related to their backstory, the townsfolk and other nameless NPC's usually make my players laught or at least piss me off by asking their names and making me come with some random backstory for them, e.t.c. But when i get to more frequent characters… i struggle. I'll use two examples of my most recent campaign, since the reason why i'm making this post is so i can try fixing them. Lucerne is intimate to nearly everyone in the party, she's the reason why they got to this adventure in the first place (she was the one to give them info about the first dungeon), she loves everyone there and treats the party like a sister. She is tecnically a member of the squad, and many times she travelled with the group, even tho she tended to vanish when combat started, mostly because i made her high level because of story reasons (long story short: they'll eventually fight her in the future). On the other hand, Daubeny is a cool guy who got introduced on like… the fourth session, helped the PC's many times with magic, is constantly being the voice of reason and giving the party information. They both are tecnically members of the party, since they're all a squad, but i'm aware enought about DMPC's to avoid by any means that they take away the spotlight. The thing is, i feel like i'm exagerating a bit too much on that. Daubeny is kinda the best of both, since one player in specific has a love interest on him, and even tho the group don't speak with him very often, he is very useful when on screen, usually helping them with info, teleportation, and other non-combat things. But Lucerne certainly gets the shorter end of the stick. She has her moments, like when she gave her rapier to the Bard or when she made a big surprise to the party by welcoming them to a new city in a genuine and wholesome scene of friendship. She is very relevant to the plot, and i need players to remember her, so that, when her revelations come, the party gets shocked, but because i don't want her to be a DMPC, i frequently make her go to far distances, staying mostly away from the party, and because she has a lot of secrets, she usually remains silent when other NPC's are talking to the group. I really don't know what to do with Lucerne, i feel like one player really cares with her, but besides my efforts, i feel like i'm missing something. I wanna mention that this is not a problem related to my players, they're one of the best groups i've ever DMmd for, and, like i said, they are good roleplayers and like to interact with NPC's. I think it might be this weird balance between not making her too absent to the point where people forget about her, and not making her too present so the party don't get the feeling that she's cheapening their victories.

Some tip about how i can handle it? I think that's one thing i'm failing spectacularly, even tho my players aren't aware yet.

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