What Do I Know About Opinions? NPC Party member Answers
This took me a little longer to write, not because it is a particularly difficult topic, but because, well, it turns out I get a little unfocused when people schedule both a pandemic and a coup at the same time. Since we have a little bit of breathing space between national/global emergencies, this seems like a good time to pull together the data!
This time around, we had 53 responses. Most of the responses came from direct engagement with the poll from my Twitter posts, but with significant responses from EN World and RPG Net. Because this wasn’t a specific “D&D” topic the way alignment can be viewed, I again wanted locations that are more likely to have visitors that are familiar with multiple RPGs.
What Did We Learn?
I took a little more time to create some questions that allowed for a bit more nuance this time around. The tricky part of this is that sometimes, when you allow too much nuance, it’s harder to get useful, easily parsed data. But you don’t want to hear about my day job.
This time around, I was asking opinions about long term NPCs travelling with a party in RPGs. How useful do you want them to be? How often do you want them around? What role should they play? Do you even want them at all. Let’s look at the responses to the questions.
I added a scale to the responses, with 1 being strongly disagree, and 5 being strongly agree. A 3 would indicate no strong feelings on a particular question.
Long Term NPCs with the Party (Overall Preference)
32% of our respondents, to some degree, would rather not have NPC party members in a group. 45% Strongly disagree, which would indicate that the majority of the respondents disagree that NPC party members should be avoided. If you add in the undecided numbers, that’s about 68% that are not opposed to NPC party members.
This particular question was spawned by more resent games that present means for characters to be run by members of the group. For example, when I recently reviewed
Long Term NPC Party Members and Spotlight
It’s not shocking to me that about 76% of respondents don’t want NPC party members to outshine the regular PCs. What did surprise me a bit is that 11% of the respondents disagreed that they would be against NPC party members outshining regular player characters. I wonder if these responses are a redoubling of the response from above, i.e. “I disagree because I’m NEVER fine with NPC party members.
Who Controls the NPC?
I’m always trying to learn, and reviewing this question, I think I may have wanted to make this more clearly “who controls the NPC in mechanics heavy scenes?” Once the dice come out, and mechanical choices can be made, who should be running the character?
About 38% of the respondents don’t seem to have a preference for who runs the mechanical aspects of an NPC party member traveling with the player characters. 15% are more specifically proponents of player characters running NPCs traveling with the group, mechanically. That leaves about 47% that are fine with the DM running extra NPCs that travel with the party.
Simplified Mechanics for NPCs
I added this question because I’ve seen a lot of games and adventures that have been moving towards more rapid adjudication for NPCs traveling with the party. The new sidekick rules for D&D use simplified classes. Star Trek Adventures uses NPCs that work the same was as PCs, but with fewer details. Talisman Adventures and Ironsworn both have followers that provide extra “kicker” abilities to represent how the NPCs aid in the adventure. Interestingly, the Kobold Press D&D 5e adventure Empire of the Ghouls models some NPCs traveling with the party as an Initiative 20 action that the PCs can activate, similar to a lair action that’s working for the player characters.
There are 66% of the respondents that are in favor of simplified mechanics to represent NPCs. I wish I would have had that option in 3.5 D&D, back when I was trying to build every NPC to align with all of the official rules for player characters. That leaves 13% that specifically disagree or strongly disagree that they would prefer to have simplified statistics for representing NPC party members. This makes me wonder of these are gamers that are either primarily players and not GMs, or if these are players that usually run or play games that aren’t mechanics heavy.
In the comments in the survey, we had a few trends emerge. We had 4 respondents specifically mention that having an NPC party member can be handy if the DM needs a voice in the party (i.e. “hey, remember when X said Y, that’s important, right?”). Seven responses said that it’s a viable tool for a GM to use, but it’s a tool that has to be carefully employed to get everything to balance properly (at least in regards to agency and spotlight time).
Three responses referred to NPCs traveling with the party as a necessary evil. Three more said that it’s important to draw a line between the roles of hirelings and henchmen, making sure that the real “party,” is the PCs, with everyone else just hangers on or employees. Three comments said that NPC party members work best when the only provide information and skills that the party doesn’t currently have, rather than participating in combat. Three specifically called out that NPC party members should be “avoided at all cost.”
As an extension of the “GM Voice” answers, two respondents mentioned that not only are NPC party members good for reminding or nudging the party “in story,” but that they can also provide a means of introducing roleplaying even when the group is focused on doing more procedural work like traveling.
One response that I thought was interesting was that having an NPC built the same way as the player characters allows a player to “borrow” the character to try out mechanics for classes and ancestries that they may not have otherwise utilized. Another response mentioned that an NPC party member that has relatively robust options for adventuring allows the GM to give a player something to do if their current PC is incapacitated in some way.
Two specific NPC types were called out. One respondent mentioned that they were a fan of the Sidekick rules for D&D from the Essentials Kit/Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Another response called out the Star Trek Adventures system for supporting characters as one of their favorite ways of handling NPCs.
I appreciate all of the participation with this poll, and with the other polls that I have run. I’m hopeful that going forward, it won’t take quite as long to collect and comment on the responses, but since 2021 still seems to be patched together from the cast off remnants of cataclysmic years stitched together into a single January, no promises. But whatever happens, I hope to hear from everyone again in the future.