I created this amazing NPC that is kind of the guide towards the true story line; he's an old Grung war leader, his entire army gets decimated by these big bat creatures, and he is forced to live alone in the wild, for years. He ends up leading the adventure and they later learn that his friend died in the war and he is seeking out revenge on the person who did it.

Anyway, he's a pretty powerful character and saved the players' lives, many different times. However, I decided that I would kind of back him off a bit from all the fighting; so that my players could get the XP and Upgrade. This was done by him going off to hunt, or him kind of fighting his own battle at the same time they were.

However, two sessions ago they were fighting some bandits; and to kind of make it more interesting and to give them the chance to kill the monsters... I had one of the bandits cut open his leg. This caused him to fall unconscious from the loss of blood (a more reasonable explanation for why my NPC wouldn't be able to help). This idea was amazing in my head, however I found out a session later that the players didn't think the same way.

I don't know if they have any idea of what I was trying to do, because they now want to leave him in the wilderness. They said that he is kind of useless and no help whatsoever. The problem I'm having is that my NPC was supposed to be this awesome character to give backstory and maybe some aid.

However, now that I tried to actually give my players XP, they want to leave him. I guess the question is not only what to do in this situation, because he kind of has a main part in the quest, but it's also how to prepare for the future.

In my future NPCs, what should I do different?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 15:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Wait, why players weren't getiing XP with him? Do you grant them per killing blow instead of per encounter? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 3:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ if the army got decimated, then there would still be 90% of the army left ... why would the leader move away to live alone? \$\endgroup\$
    – jsotola
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 16:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jsotola the meaning of decimate to mean to leave 90% is archaic and not used in today's language. decimate now means to kill a large portion \$\endgroup\$
    – Ivo
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 17:46

9 Answers 9


Your NPC is boring and annoying to your players

Sorry to tell you straight out what your players are too polite to tell you. However, their actions are crystal clear - they don't like what you are doing with this NPC so they don't want to play with him anymore.

It sounds like that what you have is more of a GMPC than an NPC. These are dangerous, particularly for new DMs. It's OK to have awesome NPCs but these are better if they are antagonists or distant allies or interesting side-characters rather than protagonists. Protagonists is the role explicitly made for players.

You need to respect the player's decision and let the NPC fade away. This is not your story to tell: it's the player's story and your NPC doesn't fit into it. Players play RPGs so that they can have "pretty powerful" and "awsome character[s]" not to watch you have them.

Your plot should never depend on one NPC

What you should do differently here is described in the Alexandrian's three clue rule. Every node in your scenario should have at least three clues pointing at it. one isn't enough because, as you now know, the players abandon it in the wilderness. Two isn't enough because the players will misinterpret the second one and go off in the wrong direction. Three is probably OK but more is better.

Also, subtle clues don’t work. I’m not saying you have to be obvious but clues need to be clear and unambiguous. Things that are simple and straightforward on the DM’s side of the screen can be confusing and frustrating on the player’s side.

Finally, you need to build in a failure state. If, despite clarity and every assistance on your part, the players manage to screw things up due to their own efforts - that’s ok. The world gets worse. The dragon torches the village. The virus isn’t contained. Start the next adventure from the new “world is now worse” position.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank You! I read the article and I think it will really help in the future of my first campaign. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 23:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Meesa thinken meesa know what kind of character yousa added, and meesa not think it as cool as yousa thought ;) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 14:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I recommend DM of the Rings as an excellent example of the wrong thing to do. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, subtle clues sometimes work, and when they do, that's an awesome situation for the PCs and the GM, like finally the little detectives got the hint before Sherlock needed to push their face into the sea of blood. But totally agree that there should be enough obvious hints right around the corner of the subtle ones. Just in case. Otherwise awesome answer quite to the point. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 0:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ A million + for this. The entirety of this question made giant "Warning: DM PC!" messages flash in my head. Especially if this DM PC is also sponging up experience ("so that my players could get the XP and Upgrade"), I can imagine the players resenting the NPC and everything he stands for. You've basically forced them to take on an extra player character you yourself are playing, are clearly a really big fan of, and it even costs them experience. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 6:53

Let your world breathe a little more

Instead of thinking, "the party has derailed my questline", roll with it a bit. He's a tough guy, so he's probably going to survive but is likely to bear a grudge. Will they need his help later? Will he tell his friends what a bunch of scumbags the party is? Choices and consequences make for good roleplaying.

As a DM, you need to be a bit harder with NPCs. Think of them like 'Game of Thrones' characters. They may have an awesome backstory but if they die horribly in the middle of book 2, that's just life.

One luxury you do get as DM, is to retcon things that the players don't know about yet. You can take bits of one character's story arc and give it to another. Other people may have good reason to hate the big bad guy. Maybe another member of the army survived, heard rumours their leader is still alive and offers the party money to find him. How embarassing!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Remember: You can only derail a railroad... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 6:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ ~Players get quest to find Army Leader to help defeat Bad-Guy~ / ~Players discover it's the NPC they abandoned~ / "Oh, that guy again" / ~Players decide to team up with the Bad Guy instead~ \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 10:53

Let them abandon the NPC

They no longer need training wheels. Off they go, riding their bikes (adventuring) on their own. As a father who helped two kids go from not riding bikes, to training wheels, to riding on their own, it is great to watch them grow in confidence.

What do I do about future NPCs?

Let them help and support the PCs and point them in the right direction, as needed. Let the players and their characters be the stars of the show.

So what do I do as DM?

Concentrate on the world, the monsters, the NPCs of varying importance whom the characters meet, and the interconnections between bits of the adventure that make up the adventure's arc(s). Keep putting challenges in front of the players, and enjoy watching how they deal with them.

You can even have them meet the NPC Grung war leader a few levels from now as part of your ongoing story. He can exclaim something like "My, how you've grown!" - as every uncle does for his nieces and nephews. ;-)

To beat the bike riding metaphor to death: watch them ride their bikes and get a kick out of seeing them learn how to pop a wheelie on their own


he's a pretty powerful character and saved the players lives, many different times.

I am not an uncontroversial DM, but, if I offer the players an ally and they abandon him injured in the wilderness after having used him:

I let him become their embittered nemesis.

It is too justified and natural to NOT do it. I have been accused of being a "dark" DM, enjoying my players‘ agony. But frankly: I help them as much as I can.

You just have to ask yourself: "What would I feel, if I helped a bunch of newbies and they abandoned me?"
You will certainly answer on the spectrum between "extremely pissed" and "dangerously, vindictively angry". Then you adjust the reaction to the NPCs character. Some kind of monk or priest might forgive them, but most NPCs won’t.

You absolutely have to respect the player’s decisions. How awesome your character was to you doesn’t matter. But they, the PCs, have to live with the foreseeable consequences.

In contrast to what many commentators interpreted into my answer, I am most emphatically not suggesting to punish the players for emancipation from the DM. Rather, I would have the characters deal with the natural consequences of their actions. I would not even call this punishment. This is just my NPC behaving like everyone (except saints and martyrs) does.

Furthermore, I am not suggesting to have this come back and bite them immediately, but rather, as I have clearly stated in the comments, I would let them wonder for quite some time, who their mysterious nemesis is. When they look back and realise the source of their tribulations, it can trigger some very nice character play.

In the final analysis, it is you and your group who know best what style of game you enjoy. I enjoy a style where NPCs are not the meek cannon fodder. That holds not only for me as a DM, but just as much for me as a player..

  • \$\begingroup\$ @TaylorSpaulding it is particularly sweet, if he knows a lot about your players. I would make sure not to let them find out too early who he is ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Ludi
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 22:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ you probably want to give them a chance to at-least abandon him in an inn. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jasen
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 9:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jasen if they themselves understand it is humane to leave him in a better spot, I will help a tiny bit. But if they - as the op says- want to abandon him “in the wilderness” he will seek revenge. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ludi
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 9:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ludi Dicaprio's movie Revenant from a few years ago is probably a good example of abandon him “in the wilderness” he will seek revenge \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 12:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ With an inexperienced group and an inexperienced DM I'd be very careful with this. If he comes back and wins in some way against them, that might give the players an even stronger feeling that it's a DM PC and the DM is trying to get his revenge through that player. The way this answer describes it the feelings fits way better with a juvenile DM than an experienced war leader. So it's not too far fetched the players will attribute the characters revenge plot to the DM rather than the char and it will put further salt into the group. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 18:13

I guess the question is not only what to do in this situation, because he kinda has a main part in the quest, but it's also how to prepare for the future.

In my future NPCs what should I do different?

You should think less in terms of 'Story Lines' and more in terms of 'Character Motivations'

Let me give you an example. You have this idea that the mayor of the village has hired cultists to raise a small rabble of undead — and that the third day after the party arrives in town, the undead will attack.

That's a story-line. Which is fine. But what happens if the party says they're leaving after the first day? What happens if the cleric announces upon arriving at the town that he wants to pray over the graves of former townsfolk? What if the party asks the mayor for tasks to perform?

But what if I change it to: the mayor of the village has hired cultists to raise a small rabble of undead. Because the mayor's been denied each time when asking for a military outpost to be set up in the area — and they figure if they can show some sort of credible threat, the king will be forced to station some guards around.

Party leaves after the first day? Just fine — they come back to hear the mayor putting on a dramatic show about the peril they faced. They notice disturbed graves? Then the mayor makes a big show about how dangerous things are getting around these parts. The party asks the mayor for a task to do? Then the mayor sends them on a snipe hunt to get them out of the way for what's about to happen. Etc — it's a lot easier to figure out what happens when you don't have a 'story line', but characters with their own motivations.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome over to RPG.SE! I don't need to give you the typical introduction do I? So just Good answer, and a general Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 22:31

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men ...

Sometimes schemes/ideas that you have as a DM get totally derailed by your players. It's a shared story telling experience and if the players don't see an immediate need, they might not see things the way you want them to see it. There are obviously consequences that they will eventually face, but you can keep your NPC around in the background. He could still aid them in other, more subtle ways if their parting is done in a way that he leaves him willing to do that. How they leave them can impact many things! Role play the parting of ways.

  • For instance your bard might hear some glorious tales about him that make them rethink their actions...

  • If they leave him and they get the information they need to continue their quest (and listen to it), if the NPC's goals are the same, he might just be there when they show up anyways. Then he can give them more information/adventure hooks at that time. Or give them a reason for them to stick together for a period of time...

Deal with it in the fiction of the story or talk to them outside of the game

You can try to come up with ways to role play within the context of the fiction you are creating. I tried to give some examples; they might not be good for your exact situation.

Or you can talk to your players outside the game. I don't do this too much, but if you feel you have too or don't mind it, it is an option.

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    – V2Blast
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 7:06

Trigger their inner hero

I'll give an example from a recent experience as DM that sounds similar to yours, where a NPC gets abandoned by the party because he isn't useful anymore.

Finding this NPC, an enchanter, has been a main objective for a few sessions. When they found him, the social interaction rewarded them with plot hooks, enchanted items and a new relationship. Then hell broke loose – literally – and the party quickly forgot about him.

The only thing I needed to get them into him again, is trigger their inner hero. The wizard was sending a distress call to one of the party members, magically writing he was in danger and needed their help, while sending mental images of an old foe – that always works. And for the next few sessions they decided to go save him from invading devils and this particular recurring enemy. They had an epic battle together, and the party got to be the hero.

Was the NPC useful and powerful? Sure. Did they abandon him again? Absolutely.

NPCs are replaceable and recyclable

This wizard NPC has a rather rich backstory because he interacted quite a lot with an earlier party in this campaign, and now with this one. Even more so, because he ties in with one of the main story arcs of the campaign. However, I'm not worried that the party lost all interest in him again.

Whatever I prepared for this character but haven't used yet, I can simply copy-paste into another character. The players won't know the difference, because they hadn't figured out all of the details yet anyway.


I created this amazing NPC

Are you sure it is a NPC? Sounds like someone's rather vested in it. And with regard to your original question:

My Players are thinking of abandoning my NPC, what do I do?

You are the DM. It's the job of the players to make decisions and actions. You implement the consequences. Abandoning an NPC makes things easier for you since you don't need to synchronize its character sheet with the plot until it may or may not resurface. Maybe it will have told another NPC some things on its deathbed. Maybe not. Maybe it survived with considerable damage. Maybe it had a side quest.

If it ever turns up again alive (and it sounds like you are too vested in it to make that a good idea), it is unlikely to be inclined to rejoin the party.

At any rate, you make it sound like your NPC had been running the show. That's sort of putting the whole quest on life support and suspended animation. That's not fun.


Let them abandon him. If you want to NPC be part of the team, PCs need to bond with him. If players will like NPC then on most cases they will help him and keep him in the group.

There is one more thing which makes me wonder, you wrote

I decided that I would kinda back him off a bit from all the fighting; so that my players could get the XP and Upgrade.

For me it sounds like your NPC was just a guy who shows in last moment, killed monster and took their XP. If that so, you gave them choice your NPC or XP and progress. If that was the case, you do better with scaling down enemies, and let players win fighting arm to arm with NPC rather than fall and make NPC be the one who saves them.

As for current situation, if your players will leave unconscious companion in the forest, remind them about their alignment. That kind of act will be definitely bad deed, and if your PC are not evil characters, make their conscience talk to them about that.


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