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Hot Button: The GM’s Avatar

Posted By Walt Ciechanowski On July 23, 2008 @ 9:45 am In Hot Buttons | 39 Comments

How many times have you been party to some variant of the following?

Sammie invites you into her new D&D campaign. Since you’ve been out of the loop, you inquire into what the others are playing so that you can decide what to play.

“Sure,” she smiles. “Danny is playing a dwarven cleric, Shiela is playing an elven wizard, and I’m bringing in a halfling rogue.”

There are many reasons why a GM may bring an avatar (or, as more commonly known now, GMPC) into the campaign. In my own circles, the most common reason is that the GM really wants to play but feels the need to fill the GM’s Chair. Other reasons have included rounding out a party, providing a convenient GM mouthpiece, or place-holding (as in the case of rotating GMs within a single campaign).

Now, some of you may ask why this is a hot button question at all. GMPCs are always a bad thing, right? In my experience, not necessarily so. In campaigns that are heavy on the roleplay and investigation, a recurring GMPC can often provide needed support without taking away the glory.

On the other hand, I’ve also been in campaigns where the PCs get their butts handed to them by the Big Bad until the GMPC rides in on her cyborg pegasus and obliterates him with her holy laser lance to save the day.

What say you? Are you against GMPCs in any form or do you tolerate (or even enjoy) them? Do the circumstances matter?

Walt Ciechanowski

About  Walt Ciechanowski

Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.




39 Comments (Open | Close)

39 Comments To "Hot Button: The GM’s Avatar"

#1 Comment By davethegame On July 23, 2008 @ 9:50 am

I tend to be against them as a GM because they add work, and I almost always forget about them. However, they are a necessary evil sometimes. I just always tell myself to never have an NPC steal the spotlight away from the PCs (but it’s OK if they get their own spotlight sometimes.)

#2 Comment By Scott Martin On July 23, 2008 @ 10:31 am

I tolerate GMPCs when they occur, particularly if they are filling an undesired role. Some games have lengthy parallel systems that are much better addressed outside of a standard session– like deckers in older editions of Shadowun. Since the game assumes you have a decker (at least as a contact), but the decker’s play halts everyone else’s fun, it’s best to move that off screen and just summarize the decker’s finds at the start of the session.

#3 Comment By Faxsemmar On July 23, 2008 @ 10:51 am

I’m not a fan of them. They’re a lot of work. I’ll bring in an NPC and perhaps give it a bit of personality, but generally that’d just be to fill out a party if there’s less than 4-5 players.

If you’re the GM, every NPC is your GMPC.

#4 Comment By LesInk On July 23, 2008 @ 10:53 am

I generally agree with Davethegame, they should be discouraged, but not banned.

Here are some additional cases where you want them:
* Party is too small and needs some extra man power
* Party is missing key member or trait (healer, warrior, skill, etc.)
* Information/Guidance is going to be passed to the party through this character. It can sometimes be helpful (as well as good roleplaying) for a GM to lightly direct characters through the session with a hint voiced from the GMPC.

In truth, if the GM is running the character, it NEVER is a PC — it is a NPC. For this reason, my players always distrust the character and generally keep the NPC at a controlled distance (and they should).

However, if you do need “just another player”, consider these options:
* Make the character a utility character that follows along and provides missing skills/traits — possibly even a servant/bodyguard to another player. It is understood that the character is only there to follow and help and will serve no major purpose than that. This usually becomes the character that is handed off to the new player that arrives impromptu and hasn’t made a character. Can also be an excellent ‘guest’ character.
* Let the party control the character’s actions — possibly as a form of group consensus (GM as the tie breaker). I don’t mean a vote on each move, just consult with the players on what they think that character would do. This also can work well with player characters who are kept in the game but cannot make that session.
* Just let someone else control the character or double up on characters. This is pretty far from the original article, but just shows that sometimes it is best to let your players run multiple characters to keep yourself objective on the situation.

In the end, for it truly to be a GMPC, a GM must gain the player’s trust that 1) you aren’t making the uber character to outshine everyone else but a supporting team player, 2) they trust the character won’t stab them in the back (at least no more than any other player as the story unfolds), and 3) the party has some say in how the character is used in the game.

But overall, if in doubt, leave it out.

#5 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On July 23, 2008 @ 11:22 am

I can provide an example of a working GMPC. Please note that my game *is* RP-heavy, with occasional investigative episodes. YMMV.

My current D&D game started out as a solo campaign. My player had 2 PCs and started with just 1 in play, so that PC got a court-appointed sidekick GMPC, a cleric named Joris Crownsilver. Once the 2nd PC came on board, and we had another player join, I gave the party the option to ditch Joris, but they wanted him to stay.

Dave’s right on, the key is to -always- keep the spotlight on the PCs. Joris is a pretty quiet and unassertive fellow, so he’s content to follow their lead. He’s also very supportive, in every sense of the word, and a great tool for reinforcing the players’ ideas about their PCs. If Talan’s player wants Talan to be mysterious, for example, then Joris wants to know Talan’s secrets.

Joris does have his own subplot, but it’s one that I’d already conceived and couldn’t really use on any of the PCs. Also, it’s solely developed via fictional interludes between sessions. (I would have used this subplot to remove him from the campaign, had the players voted that way.)

However, Joris ended up with some spotlight time last session, since the PCs were calling on his father, with whom Joris has a strained relationship. But I made sure to involve the PCs in the scene, and overall I feel like it was a success, making sure to award some extra XP to the PC who made the extra effort to mend that relationship.

The other keys are to make sure that your GMPC 1) isn’t a DM mouthpiece, and 2) doesn’t know any more about what’s going to happen than the PCs do. (“Wow, Joris, it’s sure lucky you prepared the one spell we needed here.”) As long as the character has a sufficiently developed personality, neither point should be an issue.

I also had good luck with Tara MacDaer in my previous campaign. Having her around was occasionally a liability, but again, the players wanted to keep her.

#6 Comment By deadshot On July 23, 2008 @ 11:31 am

I have been using a cleric GMPC for most of my Ptolus campaign and the party quite enjoys having him around. He was gone for a while and they seemed to miss him so I worked a way to bring him back and they were excited to have him along again.

The key for me is that avoid using the character as an avatar for myself and try as much as possible to make him a PC. He’s the cleric of the party so he fills an important role which is another reason I brought him back.

In my experience, letting players play two characters means one might has well be a retainer as it usually receives no attention or personality and nothing more than a bag of meat and bones who does stuff. I’d rather run the character and give it some personality.

#7 Comment By Patrick Benson On July 23, 2008 @ 11:33 am

For me there is no such thing as a GMPC. If a GM controls the character it is an NPC.

Now is the NPC needed for the game, or is the NPC a pet of the GM?

If the party needs the NPC (no decker, rogue, machine gunner, etc.) then I am fine with the NPC being introduced for that purpose. Usually I would ask a player to control such an NPC in combat/game mechanics situations, or I would have that NPC be an obvious supporting cast member of the party who is off screen most of the time. If a new player joins the group and can fill the role that the NPC was introduced for then the NPC will leave the party for some reason in game.

If the NPC is a pet of the GM I won’t tolerate it as a player. There is no reason for the GM to give the greatest moments of the game repeatedly to a pet NPC.

The GM who never gets to play has a legitimate problem, but introducing an NPC doesn’t fix that problem IMO. That GM is still running the game, and now has more work in managing the NPC as well. In that case I think that the group needs to have a discussion about rotating the GM’s seat so that no one suffers burnout.

In the end it all comes down to what does your group want out of the game. The above is just what I would want to see happen.

#8 Comment By Micah On July 23, 2008 @ 11:54 am

Hot button isn’t even close. This is the thermonuclear megabomb of the RPG world. Let’s jump into politics and religion while we’re at it.

#9 Comment By Cole On July 23, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

I have tried running a GMPC once. It was very distracting for me, and the player’s reactions were very negative. Since then, I decided to tailor the encounters for the party size and skill instead.

#10 Comment By gomi no sensei On July 23, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

I don’t like when GMs do it, and I really hate doing it when I’m the GM. I had to in a long running campaign because a player with a key PC left the game, and his character would have been hard to write out. It ended up working better than I thought it would.

The didn’t have a lot of initiative, so the others didn’t expect him to be an idea man. I could occasionally use him to inject common sense if the players were heading off into left field. I let a couple of the players handle leveling him up (subject to my approval). He wasn’t the greedy sort, so unless the other PCs allocated equipment to him, he’d just keep using what he had. Basically, they had to look out for him and take responsibility since I (deliberately) neglected him a bit. They ended up feeling a little protective of him, and he was fun to RP when the party had down time.

#11 Comment By happyturtle On July 23, 2008 @ 12:27 pm

I have one of these in the game I run. It’s a space opera game and she’s the owner/captain of the ship, but she never gives orders. She’s lazy and easygoing, and the crew can talk her into doing anything. She has a few skills that the PCs don’t have, but her main purpose is to facilitate the story. She’ll sometimes ask the right questions, but she often draws the wrong conclusions, and she never saves the day. The players have a regular +1 bonus whenever they are trying to use any social skills on her (bluff, persuade, leadership, etc) and unlike the PCs, she doesn’t get Fate points. I think I’ve found the right balance, and I’m pretty sure the players enjoy her. And for me, the game wouldn’t be as much fun if I only got to play the adversarial NPCs.

#12 Comment By DNAphil On July 23, 2008 @ 12:34 pm

I have had success with some GMPC’s in my past and current game, but I have a few rules for myself, regarding their use:
1. They must fill a party role. The purpose of the GMPC, for me, is that the party is lacking a role that would hinder the fun of the game. In my first D&D 3.0 game my players wanted to play the Wizard, Sorcerer, and Cleric. So I made a barbarian.
2. Must be a real character. I make my GMPC with a full background and personality. He is not a cut-out that likes all the PC’s or agrees with everything they want to do.
3. Never overshadow the PC’s. While the GMPC is a character, he is never cooler, more interesting, or more powerful than the players. The GMPC is a support character and not the GM’s chance to be a killer player and the GM at the same time.
4. The GMPC does not make decisions. When the party is faced with a decision, the GMPC does not lead the decision making. He might make a suggestion based on his personality, but never leads.
5. The GMPC’s powers/items are under control of the players. If the GMPC has a daily powers, device, etc. The PC’s determine when those should be used, this way the players are in control of the game.

Using those rules, I have had two great GMPC’s in two different campaigns, that really added something to both games, but never took anything from the players.

#13 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On July 23, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

After a few bonks on the head, my GM-NPCs always decided that the adventuring life is not for them and seek out a simpler way to earn some gold.

But the usually remain good contacts for the PCs in the future.

#14 Comment By Joey On July 23, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

When I first started GMing several years ago I never used a GMPC. For two reasons. First I just started DMing and my charater would accidently end up meta gaming its actions. Second I just started GMing and I know I would end up having treasures and story focus around my character, even if not intentionally.

Today I almost always have a GMPC. I have learned (for the most part) to have my character not outshine the others and to be careful that treasures, situations and stories aren’t based around it. I use it now because several years ago when 3.0 came out my friends and I started a new campaign and they got trapped in a room with a simple way of getting out of it, but it took them 4 hours in real life (and a lot of me hinting after the first 2 hours) to get out of it so because of that I almost always put in a GMPC so when a situation like that occurs (luckily it hasn’t happened again to me) I can just have my character somehow figure it out.

I also like to have a GMPC when a party needs a role filled. The last campaign I GMed which only ended 3 weeks ago the Party had two wizards, a cleric and a thief and teh thief couldn’t be there every week because of work. So I built a fighter so there would always be at least one marshall character

#15 Comment By Eclipse On July 23, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

I’ve definitely made the mistake of having a GMPC that is too powerful and too involved, and I’ve played in games where this has happened as well.

Assuming we call the GMPC someone who travels with the party as a member but controlled by the GM, they can certainly add to a game just as much as detract from it though. Well used, he’ll fill a role needed by the party, or even one that helps expand the plot. He could be the party scout, or the guy who fends off one enemy while the rest of the party deals with another. Using that second, it’s a fine line between making the GMPC too cool compared to the other players though, but there may also be plot that this can help along.

I think that, in general, GMPCs work better as informants, scouts, and support than they do as the frontliners and nukers. But that also depends on the type of campaign being played and the roles the players want to play. As a general rule to fall back on, keep it if it’s fun for everyone, otherwise, scrap it.

#16 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 23, 2008 @ 4:42 pm

Damned excellent topic; I was thinking about writing a post called “The GMPC Revisited – The Bosley Factor” about how to properly manage a GMPC, but Walt and the commenters so far have hit all the high points. Don’t dominate the group; don’t show up the players; fill any important vacancies in the party.

I’ve had pretty good success with an Elven Cleric in D&D 3.5; she didn’t make tactical decisions (Elf = Bow), was usually played by a player, and handled the oft-shunned “Healing Battery” role. In the campaign, she occasionally represented the views of the church and town, and also occasionally acted as a common sense filter. (“You want to WHAT?”)

#17 Comment By John On July 23, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

Moderate-time reader, first-time poster…

I live on the periphery of the gaming community, so I don’t keep up with all the news. That said – why is this a controversial topic? I get that there can be two opinions on this, but controversy says to me that one group thinks the other is more than wrong, they’re stupid (or somesuch). I promise I’m not trolling, I’m just confused.

For starters, why does the author start from the “they’re usually bad” pov? Are there that many stories of GMPCs gone wrong? There are AWFUL stories, sure – it can be a game killer. But does that actually happen soooo much that we must be ever-vigilant?

I don’t have the uber cred of some DMs, but I do have a steady group of 5+ years now, playing weekly across 3 campaigns, and there’s ALWAYS been a PC under my control with more than NPC-level participation. Yes, it’s so I have an in-game voice to associate within the party. They’re usually the weakest character in the party, or at least far more hole-plugging than mission-critical, but they aren’t worthless. I’d say my big concession to avoiding trouble is not to allow them much in the way of thinking skills (knowledge, spellcraft, etc…) so it doesn’t feel like the answer ever comes out of the DM’s mouth.

If this is really that sensitive a topic, feel free to respond to me privately – I’m not trying to stir a kettle.

#18 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 23, 2008 @ 5:07 pm

John – Don’t worry about having an opinion here; it takes all kinds of spices (and stirring) to make a stew.

The GMPC is controversial because it’s usually associated with stepping on the players’ freedom and on their chance to shine. Gandalf from DM of the Rings is the stereotypical GMPC.

Like many common assumptions in gaming, this one has at least two sides.

#19 Comment By Grogtard On July 23, 2008 @ 5:42 pm

Using a GMPC is fine. As long as the GM realizes that it’s really just an NPC not his/her PC. Don’t steal the spotlight and don’t become the hero while the player’s watch on. What I’ve taken to doing is using that inconsequential NPC that for some reason the player latch on to.
But there is one thing worse than the GMPC. The GM’s SO’s PC.

#20 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On July 23, 2008 @ 6:15 pm

“But there is one thing worse than the GMPC. The GM’s SO’s PC.”

Too, too true.

Also, sorry about the goofy html in my previous comment, but I couldn’t see it to edit it after I posted. Still don’t know what that was about. : /

#21 Comment By Lee Hanna On July 23, 2008 @ 6:17 pm

I’ve had good luck with GMPC on at least one occasion– the only one I can remember, anyway. It was Twilight:2000, wherein the PCs are in unfriendly/unknown territory. I inserted a friendly local sergeant, which allowed me to a) insert knowledge of the area, and b) insert a common sense check. Also helped with translations.
The players certainly liked him, I got only positive feedback.

#22 Comment By Swordgleam On July 23, 2008 @ 6:24 pm

When I’m GMing, I can barely keep track of the NPCs that travel with the party every once and a while, so a GMPC is out. Whenever I have an NPC with the party, I always have some reason why they can’t fight – no useful combat skills, no weapons, etc.

I think maybe the term GMPC means different things to different people. To me, not all NPCs that travel with the party are automatically GMPCs. The only thing that would qualify as a GMPC is a PC played by the GM – that is, a character who is as much a part of the party as any other, and is expected to get an equal share in the glory and treasure, and contribute an equal amount to combats and problem-solving.

That, I just can’t see how to do fairly. It’s simply impossible not to meta-game at least some amount. But NPCs that travel with the party and occasionally heal, give information, or provide useful skills? That’s fine.

The Iron Heroes campaign I play in has a witch who’s been hanging out with the party for a while, as much to keep an eye on us as to help us. We have to hide certain things from her, and we can’t rely on her for help when we need it, since she does everything for her own reasons. It’s a lot of fun, because she’s less of a walking heal-dispenser and more of an ongoing plot complication. I think that if the GM considered her his PC, he’d make her more unconditionally helpful, and that would be boring.

#23 Comment By John On July 23, 2008 @ 7:50 pm

@grogtard – I think we’re devolving into hair-splitting at this point, because it seems like GMPC v NPC means something different to you than to me. A GMPC is me, the GM, running a consistent character just like the other players in the game. Yes, there should be some accommodation for the fact that the GMPC is the GMs (I have to get used to this generic terminology, I’ve only ever been a *D*M…) and shouldn’t get special privileges, but that’s still different from an NPC which, to me, is a plot-specific or arc-specific being who, no matter how fleshed out, exists to serve some purpose for the players’ amusement.

I can totally see how a GMPC could have a negative impact on a campaign and should be dealt with appropriately. That’s also true of kobolds.

~ John

#24 Comment By Martin Ralya On July 23, 2008 @ 8:59 pm

@DarthKrysztof: You got trapped in our dreaded spam filter. ;) I picked the first version of your comment when I fished them both out — hope that was OK. I’ll go ahead and fix your code (BBcode doesn’t work here, just HTML).

I noodled about this topic myself awhile back (oddly, almost exactly a year ago!) on TT: GMPCs: A Two-Edged GMing Tool. The short version is that used as a support character and kept in the background, GMPCs can be just fine — they can even be an awesome addition. Any other usage tends to cause problems, IME.

Great Hot Button topic, Walt — I love this series. :)

#25 Comment By Grogtard On July 23, 2008 @ 9:27 pm

To John
You’re right, I was hair splitting and my post wasn’t worded very well. I guess I should have said I let a GMPC evolve from an NPC because the players want it, not because I created a character to join the party. I guess my distinction between a GMC and an NPC is based more on the players’ perception that the character is a member of the adventuring party not a hireling, contact or what have you. My personal guidelines for a GMPC are simple. Always make skill checks last and only if all of the PC’s have failed their checks but only to relay an important piece of information, to keep them from doing something totally stupid that would result in an unnecessary TPK and such. Never have the GMPC lead the charge against the main villain. Never have the GMPC be the focus of the story. Never load a treasure hoard with items that only the GMPC can use. And always keep the GMPC just behind the PC’s on the power curve.
A GMPC should be invited or needed to fill a role needed by the party (like in the original post). As an example, I joined a D&D game mid-campaign (Shackled City, in case anybody cares) where there were no PC spell casters. The DM was playing playing a Cleric/Crusader to keep them on their feet. I ran a cleric/wizard to help fill the needed roles. The GMPC stayed because he had grown as part of the group and the DM was fair about running him. We’d cheer when the GMPC succeeded on his rolls and were thankful when we got healed. We even paid to have him resurrected. He was part of the party just like a PC. He was our adventuring companion and we really didn’t care that the GM was running him.
You’re also right the a GMPC can have a negative impact on a campaign. A GMPC is like any other tool that a GM has at his disposal. But its also the one most likely to be abused. Wanting to play and GM at the same can be detrimental but if the GM uses a GMPC as an ego trip then it means that there are probably going to be other problems with the game.

#26 Comment By Knight of Roses On July 24, 2008 @ 7:05 am

In my current D&D campaign, I have a Bard NPC who is fairly well realized but not so much (nor so active) that I would call him a GMPC. He fulfill a support role and in generally a fun background character, but the PCs are the stars.

I used to (many moons ago) play in a Shadowrun campaign with multiple, rotating GMs. In that campaign sometimes my PCs would end up getting roping into adventure that I was GMing for but I tried to minimize their impact. Going so far in one game to insuring that my character was the first one taken down by the big bad.

So, they can have a place, just not in the spotlight (unless the PCs want to push them into it).

#27 Comment By Virgil Vansant On July 24, 2008 @ 8:16 am

I guess I have been out of the loop. I haven’t heard the term GMPC before. However, I definitely have one in my current campaign. The party didn’t have a cleric, so I made one to help them out. She originally started as a plot hook, but has developed her own personality. Although not the brightest bulb, she still gives out surprisingly good personal advice and she tries to help out with some of the PC’s love interests. She’ll offer suggestions when asked, but for the most part she hangs back and heals the party and offers some idealistic viewpoints. The players and their characters are always concerned when bad things happen to her. She has become very dear to the party, beyond just her helpful healing spells. And as much as I’ll miss her, I plan on killing her off at the end of the current story arc.

#28 Comment By sjkellyfetti On July 25, 2008 @ 7:52 am

I have only used a GMPC once, in a game I ran for just 2 friends. They played siblings (a fighter and a cleric), and after the first few adventures (which established the long term goals of the campaign) it became evident that they needed a little more help, so I made and played a wizard. She traveled and adventured with the PCs for years of game time, and when we came to the ultimate goal, she turned on the PCs (joining the lich they had tracked down) and almost destroyed them. It was at that point that the players realized she had been working for the opposing side, tracking their movements the whole time.

For some reason, every other GMPC I have attempted to bring in to a game since has been killed in the session they showed up.

#29 Comment By LesInk On July 25, 2008 @ 8:42 am

@sjkellyfetti: This is why I said above that a GMPC is practically an NPC — in the end, the GM may be too tempted to use the character in an NPC way and either turn on the characters or be a vessel for “deus ex machina” (a term I’m surprised no one has tossed around yet).

The only real legitimate GMPC I’ve heard here is the rotating GM situation. This at least has a form of balance and checks on the GM — even though GM A’s GMPC may be the “kick butt player” while running the game, the next rotating in GM B can opt to give GM A a taste of the same power abuse.

And its the small stuff as well as the big stuff. Even a well reasoned GM might just be more tempted to fudge (a common GMing tool) on his own character’s rolls especially when nearing death.

#30 Pingback By GMPC or NPC » The Goblin’s Reach » A Dungeon Master’s Outlook on the Art of Gaming On July 25, 2008 @ 8:45 am

[...] Stew recently posted a Hot Botton article that talked about this topic. Now, some of you may ask why this is a hot button question at [...]

#31 Comment By John On July 25, 2008 @ 9:40 am

@Lesink – I’m really confused when you say there’s only been one described “legitimate” GMPC. I feel like several folks have described DMs (typically themselves) running characters that were members of the party, with distinct personalities and full participation in events.

Is it only a non-NPC to you when there’s a “form of balance?” That’s an interesting distinction to make, but I don’t understand it and would enjoy hearing more, if you don’t mind. Why is the balancing factor the make-or-break decision? IMO as DM I can favor any character I want, in any circumstance, for whatever reason. There’s no safety just because a character is or isn’t mine.

If you’ll forgive me for playing armchair-psychologist for just a moment, you seem awfully focused on DMs who might be tempted to cheat (“fudge”) or unfairly have the “kick butt player” and thus need to be balanced by multiple DMs. I think that speaks far more to specific instances of bad DMing than a fundamental flaw in DMPCs. I wasn’t joking, exactly, when I said earlier that the danger to the game of a badly run DMPC is no different than the danger from badly run kobolds. We don’t say kobolds aren’t legitimate, or even hard to come by, we just roll our eyes if we hear about a DM who uber’ed some kobolds unnecessarily and TPKed his players’ band of 15th level characters. There’s nothing wrong with kobolds, it was just a bad DM.

I suspect a fair litmus test, if a hard to administer one, would be: “does the player of the DMPC (the DM, iow) experience the fun of the DMPC in largely the same way that the other players experience the fun of their characters?” The DM will never be able to participate fairly in, say, puzzle solving or riddle answering, but does the DMPC get to participate substantially in roleplaying? Do the other characters have a relationship with the DMPC beyond the DMPC’s function and abilities?

I’ll say this – I didn’t understand why this was a “hot button” before, but at least now I see how different the opinions on this subject can be. I won’t claim to understand them, but I see them.

~ John

#32 Comment By LesInk On July 25, 2008 @ 10:57 am

@John – you are correct in saying that many people have managed to run their games with a GMPC with no problem — and that’s great. Go for it. I personally (keyword) can never do it. I’d be too tempted to tinker with the character and get them involved in the “dark side” or some type of slant that the players are not expecting. ‘Course, that being said, I can think of several examples in previous games I’ve GM’d where the players got into likewise situations.

In any case, you are correct. I didn’t mean to say that “GMPC by rotating GM” was the ONLY legitate method — I just felt it was the best choice for ‘fairness’. Guess I got interesting in a social rules based system for protecting the GM from himself.

But as you point out very well, the GM can certainly always mess over the players in a million ways, so what’s the point of calling it a GMPC vs NPC — its just a character that the GM runs. A good GM does good things, a bad GM does bad things. And a GM that plays (excessive?) favorites to the GM’s PC (to be used later as a PC, not NPC) is a bad GM.

Very well, on to the next hot topic…. We’ve beaten this horse dead.

#33 Comment By Tres Poe On July 25, 2008 @ 9:38 pm

Good topic, I have seen and done this well and very poorly. I was in a rotating GM game once, and two of the three did a fairly good job with their PC/GMPC. One…. not so much. He always had the correct advice.

The keys with them are to allow the PCs to have the spotlight and control and the other is to make them real. They will also make mistakes or give bad advice cuz they are also human… or elf.. or dwarf… or whatever. I had a dwarf GMPC in one game I had, to fill out a fighter type role, and he always looked at events through his dwarf eyes. Sometimes he was wrong in his advice (well, how was I to know there was a dead end, dwarves don’t build passages like that) but that was how he worked. Another time, a mage (a glorified NPC that only temporarily attached himself to a party) was very controlling, loud, and always told others what to do. It wasn’t me as much as the personality of the NPC, and after a period of time, the group dumped the mage. Whenever the party went to a town, they went to a tavern and listened for news of this mage; if he was nearby, they went a different direction. He was “real” and it wasn’t me taking control as much as the personality of that particular NPC. It is always important to have a personality for the GMPC; they shouldn’t be automatons.

I suspect we could see more of GMPCs in 4e as it seems designed to have 4 specific roles and team playing in mind. If a group only has three players, a GMPC might be called upon to fulfill the missing role.

#34 Comment By GeeksDreamGirl On July 29, 2008 @ 6:51 pm

How many gold for the cyborg pegasus? My dwarf needs one.

#35 Pingback By D&D Monday Morning Speedlinking – Dungeon Mastering – Dungeons and Dragons blog – DM tips, D&D books, RPG fun On August 10, 2008 @ 11:07 pm

[...] from GnomeStew.com wrote a short article on the GM Avatar – the GM playing a character in the campaign – and it spurred a lot of comments. Personally [...]

#36 Comment By AlphaDean On August 11, 2008 @ 9:32 am

I’ve been gaming for 30 years now and DMing from the beginning. Boy in those days I made some major league FUBAR moments. What I did learn though was how to run a DMpc as you like to call them. This character was built just like everyone elses character, he/she was no more powerful than any other PC. The other thing about this charater is 90% of the time he was a wealth of information, but litte else. I tended to make them a serious resource but not necessarily an asset. His ability scores were never anything spectacular, his items were usually of the normal sort.

Now in the last two years we’ve done something a bit different because I’m in group with two other DM’s.

#37 Comment By Siyana On August 11, 2008 @ 4:38 pm

We have a GMPC in our current game, a D&D campaign that’s been going weekly for a bit over 2 years. The GM didn’t start off as the GM; when the original GM got tired of doing it, our current GM took over. He kept his character, which had been a regular PC. Our original GM had created a GMPC for himself during the second weekly game and when he stopped GMing, the GMPC continued as a regular PC. That’s been the way it has gone most of the past two years, and it’s worked out well. The current GMPC is the cohort of another PC and is lower-level than the rest of us. The campaign is pretty heavy on the role-playing.

I happen to be the GM’s wife. It works well for me to run a PC. I started with this PC when my husband started with his, back at the very beginning when neither one of us was the GM, and didn’t want to stop gaming just because my husband became the GM. My PC does not get special treatment. But then, both he and I have been gaming for about 30 years. I have played in other games he has GM’d including convention games, and never receive or expect any special treatment because I happen to be his wife.

We are about to start a D&D 4e campaign where the original GM will GM and my husband will be a regular PC. We are trying hard to convince the GM that we will not need him to play a cleric; we have all four party roles covered, with me being a striker, my husband being a leader (warlord), our friend being a controller, and our other friend being a defender. I expect that the GM will get tired of GMing again and just wind up being a player. Meanwhile, my husband’s PC will already be an established part of our regular party with a key role. I don’t know what will happen.

#38 Comment By Oblivion_Necroninja On November 19, 2008 @ 7:54 pm

I have no character. However my group is unreliable at best (one of our members can only make it to about half of our meetings) so I often have to play people’s characters when they’re absent. Luckily, I don’t devolve into “DM-with-overpowered-character” because, *le gasp*, I’ve never actually played D&D 4e as a PC before. So I kinda suck.

#39 Comment By darthventor On August 18, 2009 @ 5:19 am

While I don’t think every single GM who runs a GMPC will make it bad for the players, my experience with it has been all bad. I think a GM with no ego issues or a real commitment to giving his/her players a fun time can do it, but once a GM starts going down the self-serving path with a GMPC the game is doomed.


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