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I'm a new DM, currently running a game for two friends. Neither of the PCs like one another, but due to story and their stubbornness they ended up with a group of 6 NPCs. Most of the NPC are basically dead-weight, 2 of them are capable fighters.

Battles are often boring because of this; between me managing 1-4 NPCs fighting alongside them and all the creatures they're fighting, the players don't see as much action and I'd like. In story I have a way to get rid of the dead-weight NPCs, and I could ax the competent ones the same way, but I worry the PCs won't stay together in this situation.

The players are reaching level 5 and I was debating as a milestone award giving them access to their closest NPC (1 each) for combat only. Out of combat--in an effort to maintain the players' sense of immersion--I would continue to RP them.

Has anyone tried something like this before? How does it work?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Historical note: In many earlier editions of D&D, NPCs under player control were a common and expected feature of play. They called them "hirelings" and "henchmen." They went out of fashion as later editions became more mechanically complex (which meant they slowed down play) and the expectation that encounters be balanced for the party became more common (as having varying party sizes throws off the math). \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jun 18 '17 at 21:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ This should have been held under "primarily opinion-based" since a lot of the answers here kinda of stop answering the question at a certain point and it's not something you can give a particulartly concrete answer to. \$\endgroup\$ – PrometheanVigil Jun 19 '17 at 7:53
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I've done this a lot in the past editions; in our current game our DM has one of us running an NPC.

I've seen it work very well.

Two (possibly three) benefits:

  1. Your players get to try out another class by running the NPC, so make sure the NPC is a different class than the character
  2. Your workload goes down, and your players have to stay busy/engaged to keep up with both characters.
  3. (Maybe) They may start to play better tactically, with more options in the table.

Caveat

Now and again, since these are NPC's, you have to step in as DM and offer up "your NPC won't do that" when, for example, the player decides that's it's time for the NPC to make a suicide/kamikaze charge into certain death ... (unless you have already determined that the NPC has a death wish ...). You'll also need to fill in various background things that fit into the story that only the NPC's might know.

Since you only have two players, this also allows you to set up encounters closer to the "basic" game design threshold of 4 PC's for the XP budget in the DMG. In time, you can (if the NPC's survive) allow the players to each run 2 PC's. That's going to be something you and the players need to discuss and explore as an option if it arises. (Done that frequently in the past, it can work ... )

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can attest to that caveat becoming a problem. I had one player, especially, who would shamelessly put his NPC in harm's way as an expendable scout/meat shield. It wasn't that he was ever sending him to certain death, but he'd always give him the worst jobs. I ultimately employed a "loyalty" meter; a score from 1 to 100 that represents the relationship there. So every time he'd send him into a reasonable but perilous situation, we'd first roll a d100 to see if the NPC was "loyal enough" on this occasion to do it, then drop the number a few so mistreatment couldn't continue indefinitely. \$\endgroup\$ – Euch Jun 19 '17 at 19:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Euch Good point. Back in OD&D, (and in 1e a bit less often) loyalty and morale were non-trivial things tied to charisma; a 2d6 roll with your Cha modifier making quite a difference. I am sorry to see that go to the wayside -- also morale scores for monsters. (However, DM's can apply something like that without resort to a table ... I think there's an optional rule for that but don't have the DMG handy). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 19 '17 at 19:39
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Many of my groups have had aversions to playing clerics, mostly for mechanical reasons (my groups consider them "boring" in combats since their role is perceived to be pure back-up and support.) As a result, the GM always ends up making a cleric NPC and then... not wanting to run the cleric in combats, either. So an NPC cleric ends up getting passed around between the players best able to handle the complexity of a support spell-caster.

We found it works just fine, with a few minor issues to be aware of:

1) Make sure the players aren't using the NPCs further their own agendas too much. E.g., in your situation, there is a PC-PC rivalry going on; I would keep an eye out to make sure that this isn't manifesting in the actions of the NPCs.

(If it does, that's a sign that maybe your players each have two PCs each. Which is also okay and can be handled if everyone agrees, but that's not the topic of this question.)

2) For non-support class characters, feel free to give high-level direction for those NPCs. If one of them has an intense plot-driven hatred of wolves, feel free to remind the controlling player to give preferential attacks to wolves when they occur. Doing this regularly both reinforces their status as NPCs, and their individuality as NPCs.

This can, and when appropriate should, include you doing the role-playing (i.e., dictating their speech, if any) even during combats.

3) Feel free to just veto actions that are egregiously out of bounds and which benefit the PCs disproportionately more than the NPCs.

4) If it doesn't work out, just stop doing it. Make clear up front that this is an experiment. If there are critical fight scenes where those NPCs take special roles, you might need to temporarily take them back, too.

But all of those caveats are given out of an excess of caution, or a sense of fine-tuning to increase your overall use of it. We basically had no problems with it. I was under the impression that such arrangements are relatively common.

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I've seen it done with quite good results in a filmed 5e DND campaign by Rooster Teeth, called Heroes and Halfwits, when the party had reached 5 PC and 5 NPCs. (in case you're wondering it ain't a scripted series) It appeared to work out well for them. I'd suggest giving it a shot.

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