I have a long-term game where the master plot involves a long-term NPC that travels with the party to provide mentoring and be a guide where applicable, but also happens to be secretly a central character to the story. (Will be a big reveal later in the run.) If any of you are familiar with the "Knights of the Old Republic" game, it is not unlike the character Bastila, who provides a similar role to the player as a guide and mentor, and potential love interest.
In my game, my NPC provides a similar role, but I don't want her to outshine or take away from the player character experience. She is a much higher level, so I'm trying to avoid her being a savior or deuce machina type who can just save the day when the players are in trouble. But I also need her present enough where she can be an active part of the narrative.
Any thoughts how to accomplish this?
Context -Game: Edge of the Empire (Star Wars) -PCs traveling aboard a ship (Millennium Falcon-esque) to get from planet to planet. -PCs are low-to-mid level characters and the NPC is an experienced Jedi knight who is traveling alongside them as a mentor to two of them, and a resource. (Also she's a significant plot twist later.) I'd like the PCs to build a relationship of trust, but not use her like a crutch. It is somewhat important to the story that she be at least in the vicinity during the story.
So, I know I’m way late in responding, but here are my thoughts on the matter:
I’ve had an overpowered patron NPC in one of my games for a while, and here are some things I’ve learned from how I handled it. I’ll strip away the system- and setting-specific things so that (hopefully) you’ll be able to apply it to your specific situation.
First, early on in the campaign, the NPC’s interactions with the party were limited to advice and information that he wanted to give, rather than what the players specifically sought. The information and advice was certainly useful, but they couldn’t ask him for solutions to their immediate problems. Rather, what information he fed them were things that were part of the characters’ long-term goals, or related to objectives that the NPC had (this NPC was also a quest-giver). The information was always true and accurate, though not always complete or as useful as the party would like. Further, if the party wanted more out of him, they would have to complete quests for him to get more from him. He was usually willing to help them out indirectly (through allowing them access to certain locations, the assistance of his subordinates, cleanup when something went wrong, or providing distractions so the party could do what they needed to do).
What did all this do? Well, in the early campaign, because his information was always true and accurate, and useful to at least one of the party, this NPC earned their trust as being reliable. They felt they could turn to him if they had some sort of problem, and get at least some outside help (though they knew the help would be limited, and they’d have to do the heavy lifting on their own).
In the midgame, he would provide more direct help. They saw him in combat from afar at first. He traveled with the party for a time, and took care of background stuff while the party took care of the main story stuff (he provided transportation they didn’t otherwise have, he held off the minions while the party took on the boss, et cetera). All of these things were at his discretion, though. He chose when and what help to provide. He didn’t take orders from the party, he didn’t ask them what to do. A couple of times he did act as a deus ex machina, but it was always only by player request, and only if they acted their part as well (for example, another NPC was going to be executed, being made a scapegoat for failure to save the town. The party asked the patron NPC to save the other NPC, so he agreed to, but only if the party could hold off the guards while he did so).
How did this all work out? Well, by making sure that the party always had something important to do when the overpowered NPC did his thing, the party realized that they were an integral part of the team. It wasn’t just the NPC being a deus ex machina, the party made the whole thing happen. By only having the NPC do things when he chose to, and not everything the party asked for, they realized that, while they could rely on him as a powerful partner, he’s not some instant-win button that they could press whenever they wish.
In the late game he became a full resource for the party. By this time, the party’s power actually far outweighed the NPC’s, and they had seen how much they had outgrown his power because he had traveled alongside them a few times, and the party gradually became able to handle problems that the NPC couldn’t. So, since the party’s power outweighed his, I allowed them to use him as a full resource, including him offering all of his abilities to the party full-time. They still had to ask him to do things, but he was more than willing to fully comply with nearly any request. By this time they still saw him as greatly powerful and quite useful, even though they could very easily do anything he could do on their own.
Start with small offerings. NPC does what NPC wants. NPC feeds them only what the DM wants them to know, and does only what the DM wants them to do. NPC’s info is infallible, but not always 100% useful.
When the party’s power starts to approximate the NPC’s power, they become more useful. They start to do what the party asks, as long as it’s in line with the NPC’s own desires and the party does a significant amount of the work.
When the party’s power is much greater than the NPC’s, it’s okay to let the party do with the NPC as they wish. If the party can already do on their own nearly everything that the NPC can do, why not just let the NPC handle it if that’s what the party wants? By this time (hopefully), the party will have developed enough of a rapport with the NPC that they’d be willing to put their lives on the line for each other anyway.
Post by DM Onesie Knight on Aug 7, 2019 21:12:09 GMT
Skedrix laid out a really good story progression for an NPC like this. The advice given was pretty similar to what I was gonna say.
Imagine that the party and this powerful NPC are part of the same team/organization. Just as an example, let's say that we're talking about a military campaign. The NPC would be like an important general. At level 1, the party is like a group of foot soldiers at the bottom level. Just because they have the same overall goals doesn't mean the general is going to take a direct, hands-on interest in the party's activities. No high-level general is going to micromanage recruits like that. They're going to dispense orders and information, and listen to important reports and updates, but they don't want a play-by-play of everything the party encounters. In fact, their interactions might be somewhat minimal; maybe the party reports directly to a lower-level lieutenant or something. For the scenario you've described, maybe this jedi master is travelling with them and advising them, but when they land on a planet that master is going to have their own agenda of people to meet and things to do.
As the players' power increases, the importance of their activities becomes a bigger blip on this master's radar. The big general I mentioned is going to speak to captains and lieutenants more often than the operatives on the ground, and will take more of their input in planning. They'll have more leeway and room for improvisation in their orders. An infantry squad's orders will be along the lines of "attack and secure the watch post tomorrow morning." The mid-level guys' orders will be more broad, like "secure this region by the end of the month," leaving them to figure out the details on their own. At the same time, they'll be more privy to the background information involved. You don't necessarily tell the foot soldiers why they have their orders, but a higher-up officer will know the strategic value of their objective. Similarly, these higher-level operatives will be in a better position to ask for assistance from the general; they'll have a better sense of when it's even appropriate to ask for help. As their missions increase in importance, it becomes more and more likely that the general has a personal interest in involving him/herself.
Remember what I said about the general having "bigger fish to fry" (so to speak). When the party gets stronger, they themselves might be dealing with those "bigger fish," which means the important NPC is going to get involved.