So I’m playing D&D 3.5e with a small group, and my character, a smooth talker whose main ability is diplomacy, was trying to convince one of the DM's characters to come and help him with a quest to gain fame in the village. But when I rolled diplomacy he said it didn’t work on his characters because they weren’t NPCs.

I showed him that in the book that all characters played by the DM, even ones that are unique and part of the group, are considered NPCs, yet he refused to acknowledge this, claiming it was an insult to call characters he worked hard on NPCs. I have tried showing him that NPC is defined as Non-Player Character, but he still doesn’t acknowledge it, saying that his characters aren’t NPCs.

King, commoners, merchants, and shop keeps are NPCs, but characters he's put a lot of work into and given their own sheets aren't, in his perspective. There are GM-controlled characters who follow the group, but if a character is going to stick around (such as a scholar I hired) he makes a sheet for them and considers them a PC.

I’ve tried reasoning with him many times over this matter but nothing has worked. He’s used diplomacy on my characters multiple times, and refuses to acknowledge that he did. (Each time it was explicitly stated as diplomacy, I had to roll Sense Motive in response, and if I failed my character had to slowly start to agree with whatever the person who was attempting diplomacy was saying.)

Is there a way around this? Something else I can use besides trying to chat RP it? Or a way to convince him that it would work on his characters?

He is a co-DM, the other DM agrees with me, but we are barely ever able too get them both together in RP at the same time, due to different preferences of play (in person, and through chat). Besides the two DMs and myself there are two other players.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 22:14

6 Answers 6


Explain to him that "NPC" is not a derrogatory term

It seems to me you're already trying to do exactly this. You are, of course, entirely correct in that "NPC" means "Non-player-character". However, it seems your DM simply thinks that an "NPC" is any 'side-character'. Tell him that this is not the case. NPC's can be very important to the story, and can indeed be part of the main party. Hell, the DM deserves to have fun, and if the DM wants to have their own player character to obsess over and have fun with, they should be granted one. But that doesn't make the character less of an "NPC".

The dice are not omnipotent

You say your character is a smooth talker. As such, I do agree that this character trait should come into play. I agree with you that, no matter how important to the story and/or integrated into the party and/or fleshed out a DMPC is, it stays an NPC, and you should be able to make diplomacy checks. However, with the increase in character-depth also comes a clarification of boundaries. Not all NPC's were created equal. A shopkeeper who was made with just a physical appearance and maybe a general personality archetype can be swayed one way or another more easily than someone with rigid, written down morals.

The character has no background, and thus no underlying reasons to inherently agree or disagree with what you say. (Although they are still realistic people with lives outside of their shop even if the DM had not yet thought of these lives, and thus would not be willing to put their life or job at risk for a PC they never met without a pretty darn good reason. This reason, again, can be given with a good enough Diplomacy check.) A DMPC with rich and deep backstory, however, is different. If the DMPC is an Elf with a deep-seeded hatred for Orcs, which is rooted firmly in his background, then perhaps no amount of Diplomacy rolls may be able to talk this character into teaming up with an Orc. (However, I would not describe a character THAT stuck in his hatred actually fleshed-out, unless his stubbornness also has an underlying reason.)

On the other hand, however, that same backstory might be used to more easily convince the Elf to join the party on an Orc-hunting adventure. Having a character that is more fleshed out doesn't inherently make diplomacy harder or easier. It just makes it harder to convince the character to do certain things, and easier to make them do other things. The best way to find out which is which is to interact with the character and get to know them as a person.


You should accept that, as characters get more fleshed-out, they do indeed become more like PC's, which means that diplomacy checks might get harder, and some rare occasions may be too stubborn to listen to a diplomacy of any level. That does not take away that even the most fleshed out DMPC's are still NPC's, and should indeed be affected by Diplomacy as normal, within the boundaries of their characterization.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 22:14

I'm going to quote the Dungeon Master's Guide here on the Dungeon Master:

You [the DM are] a member of a select group. Truly, not everyone has the creativity and the dedication to be a DM. Dungeon Mastering (DMing) can be challenging, but it's not a chore. You’re the lucky one out of your entire circle of friends who play the game. The real fun is in your hands. As you flip through the Monster Manual or look at published adventures on a store shelf, you get to decide what the player characters (PCs) take on next. You get to build a whole world, as well as design and play all its nonplayer characters (NPCs).

It's good to be the DM. (4)

What your DM has decided is that while it's good to be the DM, it's not good enough. Wanting even more control over the behavior of NPCs, he's unilaterally for some characters disposed of the NPC/PC divide and created a third category that lets him run these select characters the way he wants to run them, contrary to the rules.

He can do that. You can't stop him. He's the DM. You have three choices:

  1. Accept the DM's position. Continue playing using the DM's house rules.
  2. Leave the game. If the DM's position is intolerable, find another game.
  3. Keep fighting the DM's position.

Let's take the first two off the table. If 1 were an option, you wouldn't've posed the question. If 2 were an option, I hope you would've already left. So let's tackle 3.

What you've tried so far is to convince your DM that this is a bad practice by showing him evidence from the texts that he's breaking the rules. This is a fine logical argument, and were the DM able to be convinced by logic on this point, he would've already abandoned his position. He hasn't, so a logical argument—no matter how sound—probably just won't work. I recommend, instead, you make an emotional appeal.

That is, this whole issue sounds like an emotional issue for the DM, and arguing logically against emotion rarely works out well for either side (although it can be fun to watch). I mean, the characters the DM's slaved over can't be merely NPCs—they have histories, full character sheets, and everything else, and to call them NPCs insults not just the character but the DM himself! Trying to fight with cold logic and evidence that deep-seated emotional connection that the DM has to his characters just won't work. No amount of evidence you can marshal will change the DM's mind about this point, and every time you show more evidence of him being wrong, the deeper he'll dig in because the more you've insulted him and his campaign.

Instead,—and there's some risk involved here—allow yourself to get emotional, too. For example, when the DM refuses to have—let's call them what they are because trying to call them what this DM thinks they are is too complicated—an NPC swayed by your PC's Diplomacy skill check, part of your player agency has been removed, your character can't do what you built your character to do, and how are you supposed to know when the DM's counting a creature as an NPC or a PC? Do they wear signs? Are you supposed to waste everybody's time guessing if your skills will work?

And so on. (Needless to say, were I in such a campaign, working my way to an emotional response wouldn't be that difficult.)

Let me be clear that I'm not suggesting flipping the table, throwing a fit, or even sulking, but explaining—in emotional terms—how the inability of your character to function like you imagine your character should function makes you feel. It's ruining your enjoyment of the campaign. Your appeal may go something like this:

I think it's awesome that you're so invested in your characters, but I'm invested in my character, too, and him not being able to what the rules say he should be able to do makes me feel uncomfortable. I'm frustrated that I don't know what my character can and can't do anymore. I'm sad that he isn't living up to my expectations. Is there any way we could discuss this as a group?

Then actually discuss it! Figure out—for reals!—why this is a concern for you. If you must, contextualize it: we're talking a role-playing game about fighting imaginary monsters, yet you've felt strongly enough about this issue to consult experts in the field on how to deal with this DM's position. Why? Put words to those emotions, and see what happens. (It's fine that you did this, by the way.) If, afterward, the DM's position still isn't mitigated at least somewhat, then you're back to either 1 or 2.

Your PC is not an NPC

This is in a separate section because, personally, I would be tempted to leave a game over it were it sprung on me. The skill Diplomacy says, "You can change the attitudes of others (nonplayer characters) with a successful Diplomacy check…" (PH 72). Thus, rather than using the skill Diplomacy, NPCs must sway PCs either with special abilities or by making a good case with which the PCs agrees.

The DM can already do a lot, but making a house rule saying an NPC's skill roll is sufficient to make my PC like an NPC, love an NPC, or lend money to an NPC seems to me like watching a video game cut scene instead of playing the game. I'd really want a substantial rules change like this proposed—and justified—at the campaign's outset.

(For example, in a campaign centered on tragic romantic entanglements I can imagine such a house rule—in that case, the DM needs or wants PCs to fall in love with folks PCs' know they'd be better off avoiding!—, but even then I'd expect the technique to be used only sparingly. Let the NPCs have their own tragedies with each other. My PC'll pick with whom he'll get tragically involved, thankyouverymuch.)

A rules change allowing NPCs to influence PC behavior with skill checks in this fashion lets the DM's characters—that can have Diplomacy skill check bonuses however high the DM wants—essentially dictate the behavior and feelings of the PCs. Springing this change on players mid-campaign would either require me to trust that DM implicity or see me urge the DM to quit DMing and go work on his novel.

  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the latter section. The double standard is completely unreasonable. It sounds like this DM is actively denying player agency, which is (IMHO) completely unacceptable. Its definitely something that the OP should mention when making their appeal. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 19:55

Problem 1: You and your DM aren't playing the same game.

There are gaming groups out there that do make tweaks to the way rules behave, such as removing the Diplomacy skill, banning certain classes or races, adding or removing mechanics, or similar. There's also variation in the tone, style, setting, and such.

These kinds of changes are common and generally serve to tailor the game to the group, provided everyone is on board with it from the beginning. And it looks like that's not happening here. Your chosen style of play, with a character focused on smooth talk and gathering allies, is at odds with the game the DM wants to run. All we know about it from here is that the central focus of your character has been house-ruled out of existence, but that alone is a big sign that there are major differences that should be resolved.

A solution to this would be to talk with him and the rest of the group about why it is you're playing and what you want to play. Let everyone weigh in about what they want to see happen in the game. This is called Session Zero (see What is a session 0?), because it normally takes place prior to the game being run. It can be done later, but the sooner, the better.

If there are time zone issues between the players and DMs and you can't all sit down at once to play, as you mentioned with this DM and the co-DM, you could get around this with apps like Skype or Discord, which feature persistent group chats. Even an email list would work. (I don't know how you initially got in contact as a group to start playing, so that may also work.)

Problem 2: Your DM is severely misunderstanding what it means to have players in his tabletop roleplaying game.

This is the more serious one, and I'd think long and hard about whether it's worth staying in the game with a DM who does this (even if it means pulling out of the second game as well, as you indicated in comments).

When I got to the section where the DM was having his NPCs use Diplomacy against your character's Sense Motive and dictated to you what your character was thinking and doing in response, my brows went through the ceiling. Not only is he outright changing the rules, which damages everyone's idea of what the game is and destroys his credibility, but he's also revoking your player agency (see What is Player Agency and what is it good for?) in the situation.

There was a section in one of the books, I believe it was either the 2nd or 3rd edition DMG, that stated that it was possible for an NPC to try and convince a PC of something using Diplomacy, as your DM has done here. However, it was extremely careful to frame it as portraying the NPC as being more or less convincing (much in the manner of the opposed Sense Motive roll), not as a form of mind control. It specified clearly that some players will be willing to let their characters get 'diplomanced', but that this decision was entirely at the player's discretion.

Most players will take this, outside of some unique situation they agreed upon beforehand (which goes back to session zero) as an insult to their involvement in the game. It's tantamount to saying "Why do I even need you to play this game? I can do it all on my own, I don't need you." I would be handing over my character sheet and saying "Sure, go nuts. Goodbye forever!" and never playing with them again.


So, the first thing you can do is point out that NPC stands for "Non-Player Character". By definition, every character who isn't run by a player is a NPC.

But, that's probably not going to help. The DM seems pretty invested in having a GMPC that counts as a player character for all intents and purposes. You may ask why that's the case -- does he want to play as opposed to GM? Does he want to make sure the players follow a preordained path? I'd start a conversation why the diplomacy roll didn't work, and that hopefully will give you enough information about the game to make a next step (live with it, maybe volunteer to switch off sessions if the DM wants to play, use the Same Page tool to make sure you're playing the same game, find another game).


How can I convince my DM that my diplomacy will work on his characters?

You can't.

But ... you can understand why he's doing it, or persuade him that he should let you try.

Any time your character tries to do something, there's only really three difficulties: Trivial, possible, and impossible. Of those, only the middle requires a die roll. Trivial and impossible tasks should never have a roll. (A nat 1 won't stop you from getting out of bed in the morning, and a nat 20 won't let you jump over a skyscraper) Rolls are only for things that have an unknown outcome.

Diplomacy is a tricky area for this kind of thing, since there are a lot of things that you might not know about influencing an NPCs motivations. There could be elements of plot in play that would prevent an NPC from EVER AGREEING to a suggestion you make, and since the DM knows that, has the authority to decide that a diplomacy check falls into the Impossible category.

In the moment, you should accept that decision, as it is his call, but after the fact, if, at some point, the conditions rendering that check impossible have not been revealed to you, you could talk to him about it. If there ARE spoilers involved, he can tell you as much without spoiling anything. (But that's ok, because its all part of the Plot for you to discover!) Alternatively, there might just be a facet of that NPC's personality that would render diplomacy Impossible, in which case, its alright to ask your DM to explain. There should be enough transparency for the players to feel like the world is consistent and fair.

...if that's not the case, then you might have a bit of a problem. It sounds like your DM is playing their NPCs like PCs ...and that's not going to jive very well. When it comes to diplomacy, PCs are at the total whim of their player. Outside of literal in-game mind control, you have the last word on what does or does not persuade your character. Sure, it may lead to you making inconsistent decisions, but at the end of the day, that total autonomy is the what makes a PC special.

...on the other hand, The DM has a responsibility to play every NPC (And you pointed out correctly that every character played by the DM, no matter how important, is still an NPC) true to their character. Where you get to think "How do I want to react to this?" he has to think "How would this NPC react to this?" (Less fun for him, but that's the price paid for ultimate power. ;) )

When an NPC is played on the whims of the DM, it can create inconsistencies in the game world. Those inconsistencies will create a sense of unfairness. Which is what it sounds like you're experiencing now.

Your best bet aside from leaving the game is to talk to him, and to help him understand why this feels so unfair to you.

The flip side of the problem is that he is treating your character like an NPC, who is a slave to his judgement. (He may claim it was the dice, but your PC's motivations are not his to decide.)

[pure personal opinion: I would walk away from the table if this loss of agency persisted]

The biggest advantage to being a PC is that you get to decide EVERYTHING your character does and thinks. The biggest disadvantage to being the DM is that you are required to run every one of your characters (terminology be damned) true to the world and the story.

It is a primary responsibility of the DM to create a world that feels fair to the players. Obviously that's not happening if you're here asking this question. Talk to your DM, and talk about limits of decision making. Make sure that your expectations align with the experience he is trying to run. It may be that knows what he's doing and thinks its alright, (Its not if its ruining your experience) or it may be that he doesn't even realize what he's doing and you can help him create a better game for everyone.


I read this while struggling with this issue in my own game group.

I have a different perspective, the key being what the player is attempting to do:

"... trying to convince one of the DM's characters to come and help him with a quest to gain fame in the village.*"

Wait a second.
The complaint is you can't force an NPC to do something, and a long term quest at that?

The DM has every right, and an obligation, to have true, consistent, and believable characters for all players to interact, and the right and reason to have NPCs do as designed and intended.

"Diplomacy" is not a continuous, free Charm Person.

Also note the text about the Skill, from 3.5 PHB:

"Even if the initial Diplomacy check succeeds, the other character can be persuaded only so far, and a retry may do more harm than good. If the initial check fails, the other character has probably become more firmly committed to his position, and a retry is futile."

Key: "... the the other character can be persuaded only so far."

I understand objection to the DM's stated reason: the NPC is "not an NPC". But that is a separate issue.

Why is there any assumption or demand that NPCs must obey "PC Diplomacy?"

Imagine this: in your real world, someone with high charisma (Tony Robbins) or just a sly trickster or a con man appears in your life.

A few minutes of "a way with words" convinces you to drop your job and leave friends, family (potentially wife and children). You go off on a dubious "quest" that does nothing for you, could seem cultist as suddenly years of life and loyalty are thrown out the window, is dangerous and wasn't something in your plan before, all to benefit a stranger.

... because that is how this sounds.

Yes, I agree the DM doesn't understand the term "NPC," and should not tell you (your PC) how to think. But he can tell you an NPC's arguments seem sincere, sensible, and persuasive. But you should be given ability to decide. But that is separate from Diplomacy, the title of the post

Core issues seem to be:

Why is the PC supposed to have mind boggling power via Diplomacy Skill, enough to force any/all to his will. Why is there NO acceptable chance or reason to decline? That is how the first sentence reads.

Why would I want a PC like that in my game?

Why would I want to play with someone who can instantly force others to their will, and the DM is expected to meekly say okay ....?

Why can't the DM say the NPC doesn't want to join the quest, and that is end of it? Why argue Diplomacy isn't getting your way? That is much more a concern than any other issue.

Diplomacy is meant to be as short term influence, not Charm or Geas. And the NPC gets a counter Diplomacy roll. If the PC's score doesn't beat the NPC by 20, it is a fail.

The DM has a right to say, hopefully fairly:
"It doesn't work. Your fast talking has the opposite effect."

And the DM could add, on a significant fail: "The NPC doesn't want to go. In fact, the NPC is pissed off, and he stomps off and spreads gossip that you are some slick talking flim-flam artist trying to trick people to go on dangerous missions for selfish reasons."

Consequences of fail: the person turns hostile.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, to add a bit more to your answer, the opening part of the question has t his But when I rolled diplomacy he said it didn’t work on his characters because they weren’t NPCs and point out why the DM doesn't have to say why. The "because" bit seems to be a red herring, as you allude to, but maybe that could use a touch more coverage? your call. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 21:29

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