Friday, September 4, 2009


I'm kind of busy with Grad School, and life in general at the moment and will be reposting a few of the older entries here and there.
This particular blog entry was actually relevant to my last game session, so I figured it would be a good candidate for repost.

Since joining the RPGbloggers network , I have been trying to keep up with all the great RPG blogs affiliated with the network. Recently (today) I was reading an article on Gnome Stew regarding GMPCs, player characters run by the GM. The comments given by some of the posters really got me to thinking, because I have done this off and on in my games for years.

There has been more than one occasion where the group decides to play all fighter type characters, but the adventure I have spent a week preparing needs a magic user of some kind and I don't feel like tweaking it all at the last minute. So to fill the void I roll up an appropriate GMPC and throw them in the game. Usually my GMPC, which I tend to think of as nothing more than an involved NPC, is there to fill a void and that's all. Though I have come to notice that since I am always the GM/DM (I prefer DM when I play D&D...that's what is has always been and what it will always be to me. GM is appropriate for when we run other game systems. But that's a topic for another post.) I never get to play a PC and have come to like throwing a character in to tag along. Sure they may not do much, and they are not big on taking their share of the treasure, but I like having them around. My group has even become accustomed to me having an "avatar" and being directly involved with what they are doing. On the occasions where I don't want to have a GMPC in the game they always wonder why. Several NPCs, good and bad, have even evolved into GMPCs.

You see the GMPC, at least for me, is a very helpful tool. I've been DMing for a number of years and I like to think I am fairly good at it, but even I need some help every once in a while and that is where the GMPC comes in. When prepping a game I try to come up with several ways the PCs can get the information they need to get to the next stage of an adventure, but sometimes they just don't get it. To me it may seem obvious and I try to make each clue/hint progressively easier until they finally do get it, but sometimes that just doesn't work. This is where the GMPC comes in. After several attempts of trying to get the players to figure it out on their own, the GMPC can go "Maybe it means..." and at least give them a nudge in the right direction.

Sometimes my brilliance is just too much for them and they need that extra little push to get their brains working like mine. Why? Because even the best of gamers gets stuck once in a while.

To be honest I have run into players that try to rely on the GMPC and drag things out until I give them some help, through the GMPC, but it doesn't work. When there is a GMPC in the game they have no more knowledge than the PCs, in regards to what is going on, unless they are designed that way. I have created GMPCs that are actually enemy spies whose only goal is to screw with the PCs and keep them from succeeding, still they have none of my GM's knowledge, I am very careful about that. There have been several times that my avatar has guessed wrong, simply because they failed a roll. Still the fact that they even brought up an alternative the PCs hadn't though of only helped the players to look at things more closely or in a different way than they had been. The GMPCs incorrect guess still helped the PCs come to the correct conclusion, by making them reevaluate what they thought they knew.

If a GMPC is not knowledgeable about elven history or language they do not suddenly develop that skill to help the campaign along. They are subject to the same rules and limitations as the players and I don't give them an advantage, more than one has died in a game while the PCs survived. They make the same rolls, they do not have meta game knowledge and they are not invulnerable. They are however a good way for me to help the players in a not so obvious way.

So do I support using GMPCs? Yes and no.
Yes if the DM/GM is capable of treating the character just like any other PC/NPC and uses them as nothing more than an element to help keep the game going with some amount of direction.
No if the DM/GM tries to play a character simply for the fact they would rather be a player. Especially if they are so attached to the GMPC that he/she miraculously survives or benefits where the actual PCs do not.


Anonymous said...

I have been running games for a small group, three players, so I try to round out the party. As you say, the balance is to be helpful without getting in the way of the players' fun.

For the last campaign, I ran a bard, who proved to be excellent support to the party while never stealing the spotlight from the PCs.

Oz said...

GMPCs can also be useful as a dramatic tool. Need to have a spirit possess someone in the party? Need to have someone framed for a crime and thrown in the dungeon until the others prove his innocence? Need someone captured by the bad guys?

You can do things to the GMPC that players hate to have happen to their characters.