If only we had a cleric!” “If only we had a thief!” “What the hell do those carvings mean?” How often have you heard a variant of the above at your table?
Sometimes having an NPC in the adventuring party is rather handy for the GM. There are many reasons, why a GM might want to add an extra party member:
- A Voice in Discussions: Having an NPC in the party is a great way of enabling the GM to have a voice in any inter-party discussions. A GM shouldn’t use this conduit to baffle, bamboozle and mislead the party (unless, of course, that’s the NPC’s plan). Rather, he can use it to remind the PCs of information, options they have forgotten or to steer them gently in the desired direction. Additionally, it enables him to engage in discussion that could turn argumentative (normally these conversations centre on treasure distribution or arguments over which course of action to pursue next).
- Combat Power: While this somewhat falls under the “Extra Abilities” and “Endurance” category having an extra party member often provides additional combat options. Such folk provide an extra opportunity for flanking or can protect a soft-skinned party member such as a wizard. They also present the GM a handy target, if he is feeling merciful.
- Endurance: Having an extra member of the party means the party is tougher and can adventure longer. Having more resources is a handy thing for an adventuring party in any game system. At the absolute very least, it means the party can absorb more damage before retreating.
- Extra Abilities: If the party is lacking skills in a crucial area – for example they don’t have a rogue or a cleric – adding an NPC with just the right set of skills can turn an impending disaster into a successful adventure. Alternatively, a party might need specific knowledge to proceed past a certain point in the adventure. Providing a NPC with the relevant skills is a great way to make certain the party progresses.
- Fun Roleplaying: Sometimes it’s fun for the GM to roleplaying a reoccurring character. While a GM does tons of roleplaying during the average session, he rarely gets to spend a lot of time developing any given NPC.
- Plot Device: NPCs can often serve as a useful plot device for a GM to exploit. Perhaps an NPC needs to be escorted out of a dungeon or to a far-off town. Alternatively, the PCs may need something only the NPC can provide.
One pitfall a GM should avoid like the plague (like clichés) is using his own PC as an NPC. I’ve been guilty of this in the past and it invariably went wrong. Often, it caused resentment among the players – particularly if the NPC in question got more of the limelight or better treasure than his fellows. I’d advise you to think very carefully before adding your own PC to the group.
Help Fellow GMs!
Have you inserted NPCs into an adventuring party for other reasons? Tell me what they are, in the comments below and help your fellow GMs add NPCs to their adventuring parties today!