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Author Topic: The Rise of a Hero! Special NPC's in the Campaign!  (Read 618 times)

SHARK

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The Rise of a Hero! Special NPC's in the Campaign!
« on: October 17, 2021, 07:43:47 PM »
Greetings!

Well, in my campaigns, it doesn't always happen, but every now and then, a seemingly unremarkable hireling guard or mercenary character somehow emerges as something like a great hero. *Laughing*

Some individual spearman gets a series of huge criticals during the group's fight against orcs or whatever, and proves to be as worthy if not more so than the Player Characters. Similar unsuspecting characters making all of their saving throws, and otherwise being unstoppable killing machines. Or really clutch-perfoming healers, or an unexpected rogue that is dazzling in their luck and skill. My players have never failed to take notice of such NPC's, and often richly reward them with constant upgrades in excellent gear, magic items, and training. Such characters, despite their humble beginnings, rapidly develop into Henchman type characters, and become very important members of the Player Group. Such performances are typically derived from entirely spontaneous dice rolling, occasionally supported by a character's unusual set of attributes. Such NPC heroes are then of course made all the more potent and effective by the training they receive from the Player Characters, and also by the extensive and constant upgrades in armour, weapons, equipment, healing, and magic items. ;D

Have you had NPC heroes develop unexpectedly in such a manner in your campaigns? How have your players responded to such characters?

I have on occasion heard of some gamers moaning and gnashing their teeth about uber-NPC's, or "Mary Sues"--or whatever the immediate bitch-fest is about, but my players are always deeply appreciative of at least *some* NPC's being excellent and capable, and not always being helpless sheep. My players also often have a kind of expectation that at least some NPC's demonstrate some actual balls and genuine skill and ruthless efficiency. I have found that Players often can become resentful and incredulous that only *THEY* are capable fucking heroes. The Players expect many NPC's--or at least some of them--to have their shit together and to be able to contribute to the defense of the realm in the same manner that the Player Characters do, day in and day out. It has certainly been entertaining, and enhanced the verisimilitude of my campaigns!

Semper Fidelis,

SHARK
"It is the Marine Corps that will strip away the façade so easily confused with self. It is the Corps that will offer the pain needed to buy the truth. And at last, each will own the privilege of looking inside himself  to discover what truly resides there. Comfort is an illusion. A false security bred from familiar things and familiar ways. It narrows the mind. Weakens the body. And robs the soul of spirit and determination. Comfort is neither welcome nor tolerated here."

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but is doing what you have to, in spite of the fear."
"Let Death and Fire Be Their Portion!"
"Delenda Est Parthia!"

Krugus

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Re: The Rise of a Hero! Special NPC's in the Campaign!
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2021, 11:34:46 PM »
Now days I roll out in the open and my players see what I roll so when Rando the NPC scores multiple crits during a session that makes them look like Rambo the NPC my players also start to take notice and want to keep them alive.   Sometimes they stick around while others just want to survive to make it home and don't want any part of the crazy the PC's are into ;)

Going off topic:  I've found that since I now roll out in the open during combat encounters, my players are are hanging on the edge of the seat MORE than when I was rolling in secret :)

DM_Curt

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Re: The Rise of a Hero! Special NPC's in the Campaign!
« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2021, 01:20:17 AM »
Now days I roll out in the open and my players see what I roll so when Rando the NPC scores multiple crits during a session that makes them look like Rambo the NPC my players also start to take notice and want to keep them alive.   Sometimes they stick around while others just want to survive to make it home and don't want any part of the crazy the PC's are into ;)

Going off topic:  I've found that since I now roll out in the open during combat encounters, my players are are hanging on the edge of the seat MORE than when I was rolling in secret :)
I like to do combat rolls in the open, so you get to see the Crit that gets you, and you don't get the feeling it was the DM fudging things to unfairly target anyone.
But Knowledge rolls (Investigation,  Detect Traps, etc.) in secret, because you wouldn't know what you didn't find, and I don't wanna see "piling on" when someone fails a roll.

Anyway, back on topic....
It's cool when a NPC becomes greater than expected. I also had a NPC that was supposed to be a respected guide, end up becoming a laughing stock, because monsters often randomly attacked him, and he often rolled poorly at important moments.

Steven Mitchell

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Re: The Rise of a Hero! Special NPC's in the Campaign!
« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2021, 07:05:00 AM »
I too roll in the open.  I'll also often set up NPCs to die as a means of telegraphing how nasty some new monster is.  The plan is that the NPC gets slaughtered under the onslaught, which might encourage the players to run, or at least quickly develop a healthy respect for what the monster could do.  That's usually the way it plays out, too.

However, I've had a few times where the sacrificial NPC simply will not go down.  The monsters can't hit them and the NPC makes every saving throw.  Usually, the NPC isn't doing much damage either, but they are taking that whirlwind of attacks and still up.  Meanwhile, some tough PC is getting nailed with a critical every other round and about to bleed out.  Usually, after a fight like that, I just hand the NPC stats over to one of the players to manage.  They see the defenses and hit points and how lucky the NPC is ... and start shielding the NPC for the rest of the adventure. :D

That's not exactly the NPC turning into a hero, but it is the NPC turning the PCs into heroes.  So I'll take it.

therealjcm

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Re: The Rise of a Hero! Special NPC's in the Campaign!
« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2021, 11:59:23 AM »
A Mary Sue is set up to succeed from the get-go, and the DM tries to force that npc to be awesome. Many players will smell a rat and want old Mary Sue to die die die.

rytrasmi

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Re: The Rise of a Hero! Special NPC's in the Campaign!
« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2021, 04:53:37 PM »
A capable and intelligent NPC is a good thing.

If the party likes the NPC, then great!

Is their pride wounded by the NPC doing something heroic? This is just healthy competition and I expect my players would try to outdo the guy.

Do they hate the guy? Okay, then they can dismiss him, frame him for a crime, abandon him in a dungeon, cold-blood murder him, etc. These all good plot points!

Where you get gnashing of teeth is when this kind of NPC has plot armor.
This post is opinion and if it sounds like something more you are misreading it or perhaps I'm just a jerk. Q.E.D.

Opaopajr

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Re: The Rise of a Hero! Special NPC's in the Campaign!
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2021, 07:09:35 PM »
Yes, and often. :) More than a few times I've had the party almost collapse and had an NPC hold off the TPK clincher because of straight up luck and sheer party size. Since those moments tend to be less spotlight stealing and more "TPK Insurance" the Mary Sue claims never came up. But then I made sure my NPCs would choose the better part of valor and use ranged weapons, desperate tactics (including begging and then enemy reaction roll), and run away with unconscious PCs instead of heroics.

So when a hireling scores a big lucky strike there is less resentment and more cooperative pride and sense of security. My players' words, not mine. I just play most of my NPCs as more interested in survival than narrative spotlight, the rest works itself out.
Just make your fuckin' guy and roll the dice, you pricks. Focus on what's interesting, not what gives you the biggest randomly generated virtual penis.  -- J Arcane
 
You know, people keep comparing non-TSR D&D to deck-building in Magic: the Gathering. But maybe it's more like Katamari Damacy. You keep sticking shit on your characters until they are big enough to be a star.
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S'mon

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Re: The Rise of a Hero! Special NPC's in the Campaign!
« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2021, 02:12:15 AM »
In my sandbox games I definitely have a full range of NPCs, including heroes - who are often successful vs NPC villains. I try to avoid the trope of NPC-good-guys-always-fail by eg rolling a d6 for the result of NPC offstage conflicts.  In my Damara/FR campaign part of the setting is the Heroes of Bloodstone super high level adventurer group (the former protagonists of the Bloodstone campaign https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloodstone_Pass etc) - if they happen to be around and not off saving the world, they can reliably deal with monsters etc.

Running a plotted campaign where the PCs are the 'destined heroes' is a different experience, but I try not to make the NPCs look hopeless. This can be difficult in some published campaigns; in 5e WoTC campaigns the NPCs are typically presented as helpless and one often wonders how the NPCs ever survived long enough to meet the PCs in the first place.

Re NPCs 'rising from the ranks', I find they tend to die as soon as I switch them from NPC stats to PC-type stats, so I tend to avoid this now, may be just give them some more hp.

SHARK

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Re: The Rise of a Hero! Special NPC's in the Campaign!
« Reply #8 on: October 19, 2021, 02:29:33 AM »
In my sandbox games I definitely have a full range of NPCs, including heroes - who are often successful vs NPC villains. I try to avoid the trope of NPC-good-guys-always-fail by eg rolling a d6 for the result of NPC offstage conflicts.  In my Damara/FR campaign part of the setting is the Heroes of Bloodstone super high level adventurer group (the former protagonists of the Bloodstone campaign https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloodstone_Pass etc) - if they happen to be around and not off saving the world, they can reliably deal with monsters etc.

Running a plotted campaign where the PCs are the 'destined heroes' is a different experience, but I try not to make the NPCs look hopeless. This can be difficult in some published campaigns; in 5e WoTC campaigns the NPCs are typically presented as helpless and one often wonders how the NPCs ever survived long enough to meet the PCs in the first place.

Re NPCs 'rising from the ranks', I find they tend to die as soon as I switch them from NPC stats to PC-type stats, so I tend to avoid this now, may be just give them some more hp.

Greetings!

Hey S'mon! Excellent, my friend! I agree. I think having skilled, competent NPC's adds to the verisimilitude of the campaign. Having everyone always be helpless quickly stretches the campaign into an unbelievable pretzel, as you mentioned, what the hell were these sheep doing before the Player Characters arrived? *laughing*

Most of my kingdoms are filled with lots of competent people, and more than expected heroes and champions. Unlike Forgotten Realms, which seems to get an ocean of criticism about powerful NPC's, in my campaign world of Thandor, my players know very well that society has lots of bad-ass champions that can kick ass and take names. Why are the Players necessary? Why are they not crying that they are overshadowed and somehow not getting enough glory? Simple. They aren't players with immature, fragile egos, and they also realize that despite there being other heroes and champions--the world is a big place, the kingdom is a big place, and there are always a full table of problems and challenges, and never quite enough heroes to handle everything--hence, the Player Characters always find work, or a quest that needs their help.

With unsuspecting NPC's, I have even expected most of them to die grisly, napalm-choked deaths, screaming in agony, or too slow or clumsy to escape from the Otyugh, and get caught and devoured by the teeth-filled maw. It's always amusing to discover a lucky hireling that somehow becomes unkillable, and a ruthless Terminator that slaughters everything in his path. It's also amusing to see such characters outperform the Player Characters, who often are then in awe of the lowly NPC, and become super protective, like he is some kind of blessed mascot or something. Always funny stuff to watch! ;D

Semper Fidelis,

SHARK
"It is the Marine Corps that will strip away the façade so easily confused with self. It is the Corps that will offer the pain needed to buy the truth. And at last, each will own the privilege of looking inside himself  to discover what truly resides there. Comfort is an illusion. A false security bred from familiar things and familiar ways. It narrows the mind. Weakens the body. And robs the soul of spirit and determination. Comfort is neither welcome nor tolerated here."

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but is doing what you have to, in spite of the fear."
"Let Death and Fire Be Their Portion!"
"Delenda Est Parthia!"

S'mon

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Re: The Rise of a Hero! Special NPC's in the Campaign!
« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2021, 10:01:34 AM »
Unlike Forgotten Realms, which seems to get an ocean of criticism about powerful NPC's

I think the complaints were much more about (a) these NPCs being special snowflakes who the universe/Mystra would always protect and (b) Greenwood's tendency to have them come in and save the PCs, solve their problems etc. Appropriate GMing of high level friendly NPCs needs to be very objective - don't protect your darlings, but don't kill them off just so the PCs feel threatened, either. Treat them as a normal part of the world.

One reason I like 4e FR is that the high level NPCs were no longer around, instead people miss them and pine for the glory days when eg Lady Alustriel kept Silverymoon safe. I don't use 5e-WoTC FR where they all came back again!