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I don't want to make my DMPC (i.e. Dungeon Master NPC) star of the show by any means, I realize how important it is to let the characters do their own thing. I want this character to act in the background and support the other characters from the side, not for party benefit, but because it benefits the DMPC character. The idea of having this subtly manipulative character influence the party for their own means and to quietly gain power from it intrigues me.

I want to have a grand twist where this character I've made betrays the party, and they realize that they've let themselves be led astray from their original task just a little bit too late for them to do anything about it. But by defeating the DMPC, they will also and up accomplishing their original goal.

For context, this campaign is set to take place in an off-shoot version of hell where many people are given free roam. So it would be kind of normal to have betrayal there.

I just want to know if it would be possible to pull this off.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A slightly more specific versions of the general case: Can the DM have a player character? \$\endgroup\$ – GcL Jan 22 at 19:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ What are you intending to do if they notice what this guy is up to before you're ready for the betrayal to happen? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jan 22 at 20:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 23 at 10:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Although you're asking about a tabletop RPG, this was actually done in a console RPG in the 1990s, Phantasy Star IV. See phantasystar.fandom.com/wiki/Seth for a little more information. Although that GMPC only showed up relatively late in the plot. \$\endgroup\$ – Astrid_Redfern Jan 25 at 16:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ The players first encountered him being held prisoner by lizard-people, who were going to sacrifice him. He was in very poor physical health from his captivity, IIRC. (All of it faked.) The fact that their first encounter with him involved risking their lives to rescue him, taking care of him with food and healing, and him helping them afterward, might have subtly manipulated the players as well as their characters into liking and trusting him. 2/2. \$\endgroup\$ – Astrid_Redfern Jan 25 at 16:41
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You can have a NPC that is the BBEG.

There are a number of ways to have the ultimate enemy of your players accompany them at times during their adventures.

Multiple interactions is doable

The Curse of Strahd adventure opens with guidance about the players interacting with the boss multiple times (p. 10, under "When Strahd Attacks"):

Strahd isn’t a villain who remains out of sight until the final scene. Far from it — he travels as he desires to any place in his realm or his castle, and (from his perspective) the more often he encounters the characters, the better.

A DMPC is a contradiction in terms.

A dungeon master is not a player by definition. A PC is a player character. Any other character is a non-player character. A DMPC is just an NPC that the DM has some special attachment with. If anything, that attachment may be a liability for the story and fun of others at the table because it could be put above them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer! Could also be helpful to note that the players may subvert your plans either purposefully or accidentally and be prepared to improvise ;) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 22 at 19:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 mainly for the last paragraph, about definitions. A "DMPC" is an NPC, only and always, and shouldn't get the privileges the PCs do. \$\endgroup\$ – Zeiss Ikon Jan 22 at 20:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZeissIkon and NautArch the point is well-taken, but the terminology is pretty well established, and not just here. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 22 at 21:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZeissIkon sure, and "necromancy" refers to divination using the dead (or of the dead, not exactly clear). However, when people refer to "necromancers" they don't see it as a glorified fortune teller who uses chicken bones (or slightly messier - chicken entrails) instead of tarot cards. Nor is a "pyromancer" a different glorified fortune teller using a fire instead of a crystal ball. Similarly "DMPC" may be "nonsensical" but it's a very well known term for a character that the DM controls as if a player. \$\endgroup\$ – VLAZ Jan 23 at 14:29
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This depends mostly on what it is you mean by "DMPC"

Properly speaking, any character played by the DM is an NPC, a non-player character. Even major or regularly recurring NPCs like the PC adversaries and their lieutenants.

A DMPC is a derogatory (to my ears anyway) term for an NPC that is not only prominent and regularly recurring, but also in whom the DM has emotionally invested, in the same way that the players invest in their PCs, and who is generally on par with the PCs in terms of narrative and story focus. Often, but not always, the GMPC is part of the adventuring party, in the thick of things and generally acting just like a Player Character (not just a character) except run by the DM.

Having any DMPC (or GMPC to be generic and move away from D&D centric terminology) is almost always a bad idea, because it's a big conflict of interest-- the GM is supposed to be running the game for the players about their characters; if the DM is running a character in that sense as well, it gets very hard to maintain any kind of healthy objectivity.

But it's not obvious to me from your description that you are actually planning a GMPC. Mostly because you describe this character as acting, and supporting the characters, from the background-- most DMPCs of my experience are not backgrounders, but very much in the foreground. It sounds to me more like you're describing a prominent and manipulative NPC.

This doesn't mean you're perfectly in the clear, though:

  • If your inner DM voice is worried about having a DMPC, then maybe you do have that subtle, hard-to-quantify emotional investment in this character that could make it a problem

  • And even if you aren't emotionally invested in the character, you might be investing a little too much in the overall storyline this character represents.

Ultimately, Only You Are Qualified To Make This Call

Well, after the fact, your players will have a very informed opinion, too. But right now, it's on you.

However, I've found the following questions very helpful when assessing whether I'm accidentally putting a DMPC in one of my games:

  • What will I do if the players reject this character in some way? If that's going to cause anything in the neighborhood of bitterness or resentment on my part, then I have a problem.

  • What am I willing to do to keep this character on the plot lines I have imagined? The more willing I am to use the unlimited powers of the DM to force things back on track, the bigger a problem I'm creating for myself.

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This character sounds more like an NPC than a DMPC

But if it will be a DMPC then no, it's not okay.

A DMPC participates in the party day to day and gains levels with them. As such, they are typically problematic in my experience. DMPC's have outsize power in a party, since the player (the DM) knows what is going to happen. Players will also assume the DMPC knows what the DM knows. Statements from the DMPC then come off as controlling, and role play between the DMPC and the DM is just weird.

To add to the DMPC discussion, if you want a DMPC to be the BBEG, it makes the DMPC even more problematic. Because you are describing essentially PVP (Player Versus Player). PVP is also problematic. Most DMs will not allow it, because it changes the dynamic from players working together to players distrusting each other and growing apart. This often spills into interpersonal conflict between the actual human game players, not just the PC's. If the players don't trust each other, the game is less fun and trouble is around the corner. If the players don't trust the DM, the game is doomed.

That said, this sounds more like a general NPC. NPC's are used to fill in the world and move the party along, often giving quests, assisting the party, etc. Your chosen use of such an NPC is fine. In fact, is is oft-used.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you go into detail as to what was problematic and why? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 22 at 19:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer Scott! Perhaps expanding upon and possibly providing a reference to what a DMPC is versus a traditional NPC will help strengthen this answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Zigmata Jan 22 at 19:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that OP does intend his DMPC to participate day to day, and gain levels, and influence the party but then (oh snap!) turns out he is really BBEG all along! \$\endgroup\$ – Steven Gubkin Jan 24 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, @Steve Gubkin. I added text on how that's even worse. \$\endgroup\$ – Tiger Guy Jan 24 at 19:49
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Yes, you can have a DMPC who is also actually the BBEG.

As long as they aren't overshadowing the players, there's nothing to fear. Personally, I would make them act as more of a non-combatant tag-along, to minimize the chances of you stepping on the players agency, but I'm probably more cautious than most people in that regard. I would also recommend dropping subtle hints every once in a while as to the characters true nature, since the players need some chance of success.

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Is this really a DMPC, or just a regular NPC?

No, if it will be a DMPC, it will not work... But:

Are you sure that you won't be simply making an NPC that has somewhat more presence than a normal NPC?

Because that would absolutely not be a problem and sounds like what you're already planning.

The difference between an NPC and a DMPC is (according to me since DMPC is a vague term) that a DMPC is part of the party for the majority of the time and gets the same (or at least higher than an NPC) "spotlight", power level, and general participation as the Player Characters. This is absolutely not advisable, since you are the DM and not a player, and while acting as a player for "your character", your players will feel cheated.

However, a very party-integrated NPC can totally work. For that it is important that you don't overshadow the Players in any way, or make decisions as part of the group. (A mysterious benefactor that tags along to see them complete his quest works fine though for example, as long as he doesn't talk as part of the group, he's their employer, and ideally has a lower (perceived) power level)

If he's a wizard for example, you could have him be level 10 (or so) but only use spells & slots appropriate for level 4 while he PCs are watching. You could slightly hint at him faking the whole thing by for example using higher-level spells for utility or showoff (not in combat though, keep the focus on your players), or have him run errands that he should not survive. That way you could foreshadow something being off about him

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