DM of the Rings Remaster XII: NPC Non Grata

By Bay Posted Sunday Mar 26, 2023

Filed under: DM of the Rings Remaster 14 comments

Some notes about writing a campaign:

  1. It’s great that you took the time to come up with “Count Devron Masuvius Beldamor the III, High Magester of the Realms of Greeenwood”, but you need to realize that the players are just going to refer to him as “that wizard guy”, or simply, “Mister fancy-pants”.
  2. If you send along a high-level NPC of great majesty and power to accompany the party, you need to realize that the players will treat this character like a bazooka: The NPC will become a weapon used to solve a problem in the bloodiest and most expedient manner possible, and then discarded without ceremony.
  3. You may be a group of unsightly men sitting around a card table on a Friday night, but your players will still be looking for chances to meet girls.

–  Shamus, Monday Oct 2, 2006

Hah, switch out ‘unsightly men’ for ‘useless bisexuals’ and otherwise, yup, that could entirely describe my table. The first point is so bad in my case that my little elven fella canonically has a birth defect induced speech impediment, making him unable to pronounce any long flowery names.


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14 thoughts on “DM of the Rings Remaster XII: NPC Non Grata

  1. Sartharina says:

    Your own commentary was eaten by the original commentary box.

  2. MrGuy says:

    My reason for not taking a high level wizard NPC would be that the DM will always scale up the fights to make them more challenging.

    If the fights are scaled to be “fair” without the wizard, they’ll be insultingly easy and no fun if you bring him.

    If the fights are borderline impossible without the wizard but fair with him, then the GM is a cheating bastard who lied about it being “optional” to bring the NPC

    The remaining option is for the GM to take the fights that would be fair without the wizard and scale them up if you bring him. You will note the GM is still a cheating bastard in this case, but a different kind of cheating bastard.

    The GM can either cheat or plan a dull campaign, so no matter what you’ll have something legitimate to complain about. This is one of many reasons why it’s so much fun to be the GM.

    1. Storm says:

      That is why the advice I’ve always seen is to just never let the players bring the high level wizard with them, it creates an unwinnable balancing nightmare.

      Though that introduces a new problem, in having to explain why the high level wizard refuses to help with the quest at hand, especially if it’s the kind of quest in which the world, or some large part of it, is in danger and needs to be saved.

      1. AllWalker says:

        This is why I’m a fan of utility NPCs. The party will love a powerful cleric who heals the party, soaks some shots and is the party pack mule, but is otherwise useless. It keeps the spotlight on the PCs.

        If I were running this, Gandalf would cast light, prestidigitation, mage armour, fly, maybe invisibility, maybe some basic scrying. Otherwise, he’d hang back and maybe sometimes help thin the ranks of enemy mooks. “I need to conserve my strength for the final fight” or “Sauron can detect high level spells cast in Mordor”.

        It’s much easier to just not have them around – they’re off doing something else. But that doesn’t solve the problem – what’s more important than getting the ring to Mt Doom?

        So what’s the answer? Low level parties solve low level problems. Have them wiping out orcs and bandits, saving villagers, until they’re high level enough to take over for the Fellowship after they get wiped out. Have the PCs rescue Gandalf – it makes them the heroes

        1. Jonathan E says:

          ” Low level parties solve low level problems. Have them wiping out orcs and bandits, saving villagers, until they’re high level enough to take over for the Fellowship after they get wiped out. Have the PCs rescue Gandalf – it makes them the heroes.”

          Amen. I never want to see another “the king of all vampires in the multiverse shows up in his dimension hopping castle, an adventure for character levels 3-5” as long as I live.

          1. MrGuy says:

            An awful lot of video game RPG’s follows
            this pattern. Apparently your level 1 @ss is the only one sufficiently motivated to start a quest to take on the big baddy. Extra credit for games where your character goes from “has never held a gun before” to “world-class sniper” in an afternoon.

            The best examples are where your character DOES start with a low-level problem and gets drawn gradually into the “big problems.” As is tradition on this site, will reference The Original Fallout, where your original mission was a fetch quest and even then the reason they sent you was there was legitimately no one better available.

            Even that approach has issues, since the curve from “noob getting his butt kicked by a rat” to “able to take on multiple super mutants without breaking a sweat” is one you climb awfully fast…

            1. Chad Miller says:

              Eh, I don’t think you ever don’t break a sweat. It’s just through the magic of savescumming that we can handwave the fact that an unlucky crit could kill you at pretty much any time in the last couple of “dungeons”…

      2. Makot says:

        Fairly simple:
        1. he’s busy making sure the Big Bad Bugger doesn’t interfere with the party with his Evil Magicks. This requires proper preparations, long, precise rituals and rare refined components – everything either detrimental to traveling, or unfindable on the way.
        2. he’s dealing with another Significant Threat: yes, the Ring and armies in the south are an important problem, but someone has to deal with the Necklace and Variag armies from the east, or victory in the south will be near-meaningless.
        3. play his age. However much he is at full magical capabilities he’s an ancient, decrepit person, simply unfit for long cross-country traveling. If the party does want to encuber itself, it opens up a whole new avenue to introducing field geriatric care they themselves wanted to play with.
        4. the enemy is (as usuall) prepared to fight the previous war. And since the last time Alliance of Good relied on the mighty and powerfull Gandalf, this time the Armies of Evil are specced and prepared to counter precisely the mighty and powerfull Gandalf and not, say, the Returned King of Gondor. Plus they will watch the location of m&p Gandalf like a hawk, making his presence more of a problem than help.

        1. djw says:

          In the context of the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf was literally forbidden by the Valar (gods with a lower case “g” of Middle Earth) from using his power.

          1. Makot says:

            Which is another excellent reason for a high-level wizard (or, according to other interpretations of Gandalf, INT18 fighter with some magical trinkets) not to overshadow the party.

            Most fantasy worlds, especially the high-magic ones, have no such limitations however, so other ways of solving the “low-level wizards are a hindrance to the party, party is a hindrance to a high-level wizard” problem are required.

  3. LizTheWhiz says:

    My Pathfinder game I’ve brought up in the comments a few times now has NPC companions who give the party bonuses, but aren’t present for actual fights. Its turned into a bit of a running gag with me putting their minis down and going “Amiri and Linzi are also here.” Albeit now that I think about it I could say they’re just doing camping stuff.

    1. Joshua says:

      I typically treat them the way I treat the characters of PCs who aren’t able to attend a session: They’re there and they’re fighting, but it’s off to the side and in the background with their own set of foes. If the party is fighting five Ogres, the absent PC/NPC character is fighting one or two more of them in the background. They’re conveniently out of the area of effect of spells and take no HP damage from their battles, but the party can see them contributing.

  4. Philadelphus says:

    It feels odd for Frodo’s player to seem inclined to bring Gandalf along in one panel (“But won’t it make things easier?”) and then immediately backtrack in the next panel with concerns about him getting a share of the XP, seemingly based on a single sentence. And yes, I realize I’m over a decade late for this nitpick, and it’s not like it’d the first bit of whiplash caused by RPG players changing their minds on a dime.

    1. MrGuy says:

      Surprising for this series, Aragorn actually hits on the question that’s really important in offering and/or accepting an offer like this. Will having Gandalf along make the game more fun to play?

      Aragorn’s line here is that “we’ll watch while he does the cool stuff” is totally valid. The reason most players play DND (and most games), I would argue, is to face and overcome challenges of some kind or another. Combat, political intrigue, bird songwriting, whatever. Whatever it is, the whole “fun” part of the game is working as a team to find a way to win.

      If you give the players a “press X to win” button to carry around, they’ll certainly solve more challenges. But it will be utterly trivial to do so. If the combat is such a chore that you’d prefer to skip it, you’re playing the wrong campaign.

      That’s not to say there aren’t ways to have a high level character along that could make the game MORE fun if handled well. This particular Gandalf is a scene-stealing, plot-knowing Mary Sue, but that didn’t have to be the case.

      But the focus needs to be on “more fun to play?” and not game mechanics.

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