I find that I have a lot of trouble as a GM to integrate friendly NPCs into the story.

I find that I have a lot of trouble as a GM to integrate friendly NPCs into the story.

I find that I have a lot of trouble as a GM to integrate friendly NPCs into the story.

It’s fine when my players directly encounter and interact with an unknown or hostile NPC, because then they will take the initiative and I just play-act how the NPC reacts to their questions/attacks/whatever.

But my group now has a friendly NPC in their party, and many times, especially when there’s combat, I just don’t know what to do with him, and we all mostly end up forgetting him (“oh yeah, he was there too, um, he killed a few of those goblins too, yeah!”).

There is no GM Move that says “the NPC attacks the monster”. Or that otherwise gives him something to do. The best I can think of is to put him in danger when the players roll badly. But I’ve already done that a couple of times now, and that just gets boring really fast.

So are there any general tips and tricks or best practices I can use to bring such NPCs to life, and give them some agency, in a DW-appropriate fashion?

11 thoughts on “I find that I have a lot of trouble as a GM to integrate friendly NPCs into the story.”

  1. Mark Perotti Nope, he’s not a Hireling, but more an Aragorn-as-Strider sort of fellow-traveler they befriended along the way, who probably has an important role to play in the coming showdown with the big bag baddie. Or maybe not the NPC as such, but rather the age-old magical doohicky he has in his possession…

  2. Dungeon World is very much driven by the idea that the PCs are larger than life badasses, so NPCs are best treated as people that are along for the ride, not equal contributors in the narrative sense.

    To that end, I think the best route is to use the Hireling rules, perhaps the ones from Perilous Wilds since they’re a bit more in depth and generally better written than core. Treating them as hirelings lets them contribute (with their Skill), and gives them agency (via their cost and loyalty, in addition to their instinct/drive).

    That’s not the only way to do it, of course. Contrary to what you say, there is a move to have the NPC attack the monster: “Use a monster, danger or location move.” Give your NPC some appropriate monster moves, and if the situation merits it, have them use one against an enemy.

    But the players are just an audience when you have NPCs interact with one another, so this is a pretty bad way of doing it. Hireling rules let the PCs be actors, and they remind the table who the real protagonists are. So yeah, use those instead is my advice.

    Edit: just saw your remark about him playing an important role in the upcoming battle. Bad GM. You’re not playing to find out what happens, and you’re not being a fan of the PCs. Drop him like a hot potato if you’re thinking about him in those terms.

  3. Leo Breebaart I’d still treat him as a Hireling, for rules purposes at least. That way he can, for example, Track for or Guide the party. That gives him a role within the party and may help to remind you to have him be of use.

  4. James Etheridge Okay, that’s two votes for using Hirelings so far… I have to admit I don’t quite see it. I.e. I obviously see the problems with having an NPC be more than just ‘along for the ride’ — because otherwise I wouldn’t be posting 🙂 — but this dude rather organically arose from the fiction. He is someone with agency and motivation beyond mere ‘is he loyal to us / how do we pay him’. But, okay, message received! Next time I’ll consider using the Hireling mechanism, somehow.

  5. Well, remember that costs can be anything: it can be something emotional or metaphorical​ instead of physical. And loyalty works for anyone, as a measure of how willing they are to stick with the PCs. So these rules can totally work for NPCs with more weight.

    E.g., consider Boromir. His whole motive was protecting Gondor, so his price could’ve been “Allegiance.” Aragorn promising to return there with him was paying that price; Frodo refusing to give him the ring was him not paying that price. Eventually the latter outweighed former, his Loyalty was gone, and he betrayed the Fellowship as a result.

    So he totally works as a Hireling, despite being the crown prince of the largest kingdom in Middle Earth.

  6. One of the main reasons I wrote the follower moves (in Perilous Wilds) was to make allied NPCs more of a presence in conflicts.

    It’s pretty easy to forget about an NPC or animal companion or even a hireling that’s mostly just an element in the fiction. But giving them mechanical teeth tends to keep the players thinking about them and bringing them up.

    I’d definitely recommend making this guy a follower, and giving him an instinct and cost that reflects his personal agenda. “Follower” doesn’t have to mean “toady,” it can simply mean “NPC following you around.”

    Oh, and if you think this guy is likely to get in a fight with the PCs, consider doing his damage and HP as if he was a monster… they tend to be more impressive than the follower stats.

  7. Some advice here is good. Other is terrible. Check PW from Steandberg. Even if you don’t use any of the moves at all, the approach to npcs is much better than plain DW- I personally househacked some of FATE core into the PW hirelings for even greater versatility. PCs should be the center of the story. But the world is alive. Every character and every monster is alive and has a purpose to fulfill. They will go about it wether the PCs help them or intervene. If your NPC is core to the story that’s fine.

  8. Whenever I bring an NPC to tag along with the party I try to follow these rules

    1) Make it useful, but not too much:

    Make it have some kind of important role that the PCs can’t fill, maybe this npc is the only character in the group that knows the way through the forest, maybe it is skilled with a very specific tool.

    I don’t see a problem with using hireling rules here, your NPC won’t be lessened because you gave it some kind of mechanical purpose, as long as you flesh this character out well.

    2) Put it in constant danger

    Sometimes players won’t care much about NPCs, at least until you put them in grave danger. The players will go nuts when they realize that the guy that’s about to be eaten by an owlbear is the only available guide to the lost dungeon. Players will value those NPCs more when they realize what they will lose if the they die (but if it comes to it, let them die, the players will remember next time they find another helpful npc)

    3) Give this NPC a life beyond helping the players:

    Make this npc leave the group for a while to solve its own personal problems, it will help create the feeling that the players live in a living and breathing world, not everything has to happen around them, they’re important, but they aren’t the center of the universe.

    4) Don’t bring too many of them at the same time:

    Players will easily forget about the npcs if there is a bunch of them around, it will also be easier to manage for the GM.

    I think I best used those ideas when I ran a one on one campaign with my brother, I constantly used NPCs to help him, that would leave and then come back after some time, making the group feel very dynamic.

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