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I'm writing and DMing a campaign based around members of a nonprofit organization in a province of a decaying empire undergoing a civil war.

The premise

The player characters are new members of the NGO, who are being given an orientation by their Program Coordinator (basically their boss) when the city they're in comes under attack by the government's troops. The entire NGO's presence in the region is destroyed and the PCs and the program coordinator have to decide what to do next.

The program coordinator is the "Gandalf"-like figure in that she potentially directs the quest and accompanies the PCs on their adventure to find and return 12 children still missing after the raid. This may or may not spiral out of control into joining the insurrection to topple the evil emperor depending on the choices of the players in the campaign.

One member of my prospective group actually works at a nonprofit organization and it just occurred to me that her perspective might bring something interesting to the table that I couldn't. I was thinking of asking that member if she might be interested in taking on the role, with the sole precondition being that finding those children is the character's main motivation, and everything else around that is up to her.

Point of clarification: I've previously discussed the campaign with said player and she expressed an interest in the idea she'd be part of a team making the kinds of decisions NGOs regularly have to make when they're working in a conflict zone, but in the context of a fantasy world. So it's not an ask out of nowhere.

Three linked questions:

  1. Is it feasible or advisable for me to delegate so much storytelling authority to a single player?

  2. Is it feasible or advisable for me to do so given that this player is new to tabletop gaming?

  3. If the answers to both #1 and #2 are "yes", what are some things I should consider when helping to come up with the character?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm trying to parse this down: Are you basically saying that you're creating a very high profile and knowledgeable NPC and you'd like to know if one of your players (who will also be playing a character) can run that NPC? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 20 at 20:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ That player would only run that NPC...ideally also as another Player Character with most of the backstory and other aspects of that character up to her. That character would otherwise play the same way as the other ones, just with the clout and information to influence the adventure. \$\endgroup\$ – Regress.arg Mar 20 at 20:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ For those answering, please remember that this is not for idea generation. Answers should be supported by actual table experience on what things worked/didn't work/etc. Idea generation answers should be down voted. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 20 at 20:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ What is the function of this PC/NPC? Exposition? Assigning quests? Project Management? Moral compass? Some combination of the above? \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Mar 20 at 20:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ How apt is the comparison to Gandalf as a character? Are you mostly just making the connection "Gandalf == mentor figure, my character == mentor figure"? Or does this also span to their relative power level, socio-political influence, or structural narrative role? \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Mar 20 at 20:49
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It sounds like you are trying delegate a large chunk of story telling to this player...

...and in doing so, you are removing their agency. You want this character to play in a certain way that you will feed them. They must fulfill a specific role within your narrative. You said, "I'd be tempted to let her come up with exposition for stuff and assign quests...". What if her exposition goes against the world you built? Or she goes "off script"? You are now in the position of back-tracking, updating your story to her ideas, or feeding her more information to keep things on track.

This also forces the spotlight on to this player, as they will always be responsible for making the choices the rest of the party must take. This means all the other players become bystanders. While some players are fine with being second fiddle, or letting the high-Charisma character do all the talking, you are forcing one player to rule them all.

Regardless of how much or little experience this person has, you are stacking the deck against this player.

Let them shine on their own.

You say that the starting premise is that the characters are being shown around by the Program Coordinator when the town comes under attack. Instead of making this player the Program Coordinator, just have them be one of the new recruits. In every given group of new hires, there will always be those that rise to the top and those that just follow. You, as the DM, should play the boss that they all refer to when seeking guidance.


As a note: I have not personally had this issue, but something tangential.

Our DM was trying to designate one of the players as the quest giver. No one wanted to fill the role, so we asked why we needed one. The points above, and others, were brought up. In the end we discovered the DM just really wanted an assistant to off-load some work so they could do more world-building. Based on the "...her perspective might bring something interesting to the table that I couldn't." statement, I felt the "why" is different, but the discussion points were still valid. I just wanted to format it in a way that didn't feel like an opinion piece.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "In every given group of new hires, there will always be those that rise to the top and those that just follow" ...you just gave me a wonderful idea. \$\endgroup\$ – Regress.arg Mar 20 at 21:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ hehehe... One player to rule them all. \$\endgroup\$ – Verdan Mar 21 at 2:03
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This is too much for a new player, and there are other issues.

First I'll address your questions about this, when I will add some of the concern I have about this situation.

One, is it feasible or advisable for me to delegate so much storytelling authority to a single player?

Feasible? Yes. A strong player can effectively 'co-DM' your story. I have played this role in games before. Done well it can be enjoyable.

Advisable? Maybe not. Though I have done it an enjoyed it I wouldn't be looking to do it as a DM. I only did it to support a new-ish DM. Once they gained more experience I stepped back from that role toward a normal player.

Two, is it feasible or advisable for me to do so given that this player is new to tabletop gaming

You don't have to be an experienced player to do this, but it certainly helps. Some people take to RPGs very quickly and could pick up this role in their first session or two with ease. Others may never be able to perform this role. As a new player it is impossible for them to know if they are up for it or not. I wouldn't advise putting them in this position.

Three, if the answers to both one and two are 'yes', what are some things I should consider when helping to come up with the character?

My answers to the first two are no. So this may not matter; however, if you do go ahead with this some things you should keep in mind.

Let them play the character. When you hand an NPC over to a player, you have to let them play it as they see fit. Provide guidance for where you saw the character going but don't try to control it. This advice also applies to PCs who become NPCs; they belong to the DM now.

Give them lots of worldbuilding information. For a character to be that involved in the world, they need to know it well. Open up your worldbuilding notes and share more with this player than you normally would. Potentially even collaborate on parts of the world.

Don't let them overshadow the other characters. From the sounds of your story, this character is more experienced and somewhat of a leader. You will need to take care to ensure the character doesn't overshadow the other members of the party.


Now that I have answered your questions, here are some concerns I have about this situation.

Power imbalance between players

Having a player that is both more knowledgeable in the topic and playing a character that is a leader may lead to a power imbalance at the table. Other players will naturally defer to the new player because they know more. This is an issue DMs often encounter when using DMPCs, but it can also happen between players.

In my game one of the players is older and more experienced than the rest of the party. They are somewhat of a role-model to the players (not characters) and the group automatically defer to her. I had to introduce a new player that didn't know them to adjust this balance.

Too close to home

You mention that this player has real world knowledge that would make them perfect for the role. You have clarified that this player has already expressed interest in the game so this may not apply. However in my experience players often like to escape from their real lives while roleplaying.

My scientific-minded player likes to play a dumb barbarian to exercise parts of them that don't get explored in real life. I like to play cunning and manipulative characters that lie or cheat their way through life. In the real world, I prefer to be honest to a fault.

Playing a character close to themselves may sound exciting, but may become confronting or stressful as the campaign progresses. Make sure you stay open to feedback and let them change character at any time if they ask.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You and MivaScott present compelling arguments. I'll shelve the idea and keep your warnings about the potential of a GMPC in mind. That being said, while I don't want the coordinator to overshadow the players (and am, in fact, considering creating a situation where the players might just have to kill her), I do want her to set the early tone and direction of the game. I have a contingency plan for if the players decide they want nothing to do with the civil war, finding the children, or influencing the kingdom's endgame. But it would help if they did. \$\endgroup\$ – Regress.arg Mar 21 at 12:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ "My scientific-minded player likes to play a dumb barbarian to exercise parts of them that don't get explored in real life." I'm reminded of the Dresden Files story which shows Harry (a wizard who deals with magical threats in modern-day Chicago) playing a D&D-like game with various magical friends of his, and he's likewise playing the barbarian. \$\endgroup\$ – Mason Wheeler Mar 21 at 15:01
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I agree with the general tone of the other answers in that I don't think you should proceed as proposed. I won't repeat their excellent explanations about why.

I will add to the discussion that doing a modified version of what you asked could prevent another new DM pitfall: the GMPC.

If you have a NPC that is gandalf-like in a RPG, this can sometimes lead new GMs into inserting themselves too much and dominating the party. This is usually the case when said NPC is in all other ways a full and normal party member, but they're run by the GM and typically have a bit more power and knowledge than the PCs.

By having a player take on the role of the organizations field manager, you can avoid that problem entirely, but to do so you need to make sure they're still equivalent power level to the PCs and you need to let her run with (and misinterpret, like normal people do) any special info the organization feeds her out if band.

It could be a lot of fun if you split your currently planned role like that: one NPC that's never in the field but has all the knowledge and missions to issue, and a field manager who has a direct reporting relationship to the NPC but is a PC.


As an example, I used this mechanism when introducing a new player to a party (different system, but this isn't really a system-specific problem). The player had never done RPGs before, and the rest of the party had. I had a "boss" NPC and the newbie played a new field agent that was tasked as the team lead. It let me feed the newbie information to help them understand the setting and how to play, in the context of mentoring from the "boss" while letting them still be independent and maintain the player agency in the field.

In that case, we also did some mini-counseling sessions (roleplayed, 1:1) where the "boss" would give the "field agent" performance feedback and recommendations after each mission. This was both a fun roleplay moment but also helped the player get better at thinking about how to play the game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried or seen others try to do this at your table? Your opinion should be supported by experience to back it up. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 21 at 12:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch added. \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Mar 21 at 14:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I might be reading this wrong ,but it sounds like in this other system it worked for you. Which is opposite what you say in the first section. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 21 at 14:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I don't understand your comment. The game system was irrelevant. I'm not sure what I said that made you think otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Mar 21 at 14:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure the system being irrelevant is true, but let's say it is. Your table play example suggests that using this mechanism did work well for you - but your exposition above says you agree that it isn't a good idea. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 21 at 14:47
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I did something similar once, and it worked out fine, but that was with experienced players all starting the campaign knowing this was the deal.

It was an Unknown Armies campaign and one guy was playing a University Professor and the other two his two Research Assistants. This immediately gave them a leadership role, but other than that the Professor had no advantage in stats and similar over the other players.

You could do something similar here, there is no reason your new player has to be higher level in order to be "the boss". They just need to have a position in the organisation.

Having said that this may be a lot to drop on a new player, so really you are probably better off leaving this idea for now. A "boss" would be expected to give tactically sound advice which then means knowing mechanics and battles and how the game works in reasonable detail, etc.

Possibly an idea to revisit later.

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