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I am currently DMing for a group of 5 players. A friend of some of the players is very interested in learning about the game.

I have decided to let her play an NPC in one of the upcoming sessions, to gain more insight into this game.

This NPC is already fleshed out and will be an integral part of the story, when she shows up. Therefore I am not able to completely adapt this NPC to the guests wishes.

I have so far tried to describe as much as possible of the NPC, it's place in the world, family, motivation etc. to the guest. Also some key behaviours, that are relevant to the gameplay. I.e. how she needs to react, what she needs to tell the PCs when asked for it.

Nevertheless, our guest is still rather nervous about the upcoming session. As we probably all were in our first sessions. I am trying to encourage and support her as much as possible, and I am sure she will do fine.

Nevertheless, I am still wondering if there are specific things I could do to help her in this role and to make her experience great?

I know this situation is very similar to having a new player join a group. And I have read many discussions/answers regarding this situation. But this situation is slightly different since she was not able to choose her own character, but has to act out my pre-written NPC. She will be more limited, than if she could just do her own character.

I have decided to let her play an already prepared NPC, since she explicitly stated this will only be a one-time thing. She has no desire to join our group, she just want to know what DnD playing is like.

I have not opted for creating a PC with her, because of bad experiences. I have done exactly this for two prospective new players, 3 months ago. They joined us for one session and then never again. I do want to give our guest the best possible experience, but I am not willing to spend hours with rule-explanations and character creation, if its a one-time thing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour. Out of curiosity, why make the new player run an NPC that's integral to the campaign instead of their own PC… that you can then help them make? Anyway, thank you for participating and have fun! \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 5 '20 at 14:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why don't you let her play her own character, in the first place? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Aug 5 '20 at 14:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! Her participating will only be a one-time thing. This is why I decided to go for the NPC approach. Of course I would welcome her into our group with open arms, if she decides to join us. But for now, this is not clear yet. \$\endgroup\$ – ABotros Aug 5 '20 at 14:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer while she could just sit in, I think she will get the better experience if she could join and act as a player herself. Anyway, her NPC hasn't appeared yet. So she will have the spectator role, at least for the beginning. And apparently, she as been drilling my players about our DnD sessions for a while now. So she kinda is already on the meta commentary level ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – ABotros Aug 5 '20 at 15:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ABotros ah, fair enough, that sounds promising. I agree that being able to actually play is a better experience, but I've seen it occasionally be a bit overwhelming for brand new players - it sounds as if it will be suitable for her though. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Aug 5 '20 at 15:20
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I have recently done exactly this (albeit the game was D&D 5e, not 3.5e, but I doubt that makes a difference).

A new player, interested in D&D, joined my game and, due to already being a decent ways into the story, it made more sense for them to play as an NPC rather than a new character (also because a new player who isn't sure doesn't necessarily want to commit to spending time making a character only to find out they don't care for it, so playing an NPC does have it's advantages).

So, assuming that playing an NPC is the only way forward, I'd suggest:

Loosen up your idea of who the new player's NPC is

Firstly, you have this idea as to who this NPC is; you created this NPC, just like if you'd created a PC (in terms of the narrative, I'm ignoring the gameplay aspect of this). However, now that you're passing over control of that NPC to another person, who will have their own ideas and ways of playing the game, your NPC will be at least a little different from how you imagined them and created them to be.

My advice to you is to accept that change. If the NPC's personality is so integral to the story that such a change in personality (even if only a slight change) is intolerable, hand over a different NPC who isn't so important, one who, if the player plays them differently to how you'd have played them, won't make such an impact.

I'd advise against trying to police the new player into playing the NPC exactly as you would have done, mainly because it might negatively impact the new player's fun, but also because it's doomed to fail (after all, no-one will be able to play them exactly as you would have). After all, simply following instructions on what to say and how to act is unlikely to be that fun for your new player. Instead, accept that the player will change how the NPC is exactly.

That said, if this new player is unsure of exactly what they're doing, having your prior description of the NPC they are now playing can potentially help them to know what to do, to act as a bit of guidance, but ultimately this guidance should not become "no, your character wouldn't do/say that", as your player might find that too restrictive. That said, there's nothing wrong with "remember, [NPC's name] values [something counter to their current actions], are you sure it makes sense for them to do that?", which isn't quite the same as "no", and if the player really wants to do the thing, you can still allow it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, this is just what I needed to hear. I will call her before the session and discuss her character. This should allow her to make changes and make the NPC "her own". \$\endgroup\$ – ABotros Aug 5 '20 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you everyone, I took advice from @NathanS and had a call with her yesterday, where we adapted the NPC to her liking, changing certain aspects and fleshing it out even more. I think she feels at ease with her NPC-character now, having it made her own. Looking forward to our session and her first DnD experience. \$\endgroup\$ – ABotros Aug 6 '20 at 7:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ The way I used to explain it ( i use guest villains occasionally) is, this is not an NPC it is a player character who you helped create the backstory for, it may be turned into a NPC if the player stops playing it. \$\endgroup\$ – John Apr 16 at 5:00
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When getting a new person to play a character that was fleshed out without their help, there is bound to be some resistance in how the character is played, and that is perfectly ok, people have different views on different aspects of personality, which can lead to splits in how that character (or person, if you want to get deep) is perceived. In the case of this game, you should make sure the character is able to be expressive in her character reactions.

Remind her It's a game. while it may seem kind of rude, remind her of the simplicity of her role, her role is mostly a dialogue one, It might help her relax to know that no one's characters will depend on her actions in a battle, and in the off chance she does get roped in, you can ask her if she wants you to take over, or if she wants to be guided by the party, who will also be there to help her with this.

Ask her if she has questions about the character, or try to get her into character. Getting her to step into the shoes of the NPC beforehand might better prepare her for when the session comes. The more people answer questions from the perspective of a character, the easier it is to become them, just like any Recurring NPC or PC.

Tl;DR Remind her that she has a whole table to help her, help her get into character by asking some questions beforehand, and accept that she will most likely imagine the character different than you.

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I don't have many good experiences with prewritten and fleshed out characters. It most oftenly doesn't work out. I wouldn't recommend that, especially for new players to get into the game or understand what PnP-RPGs are about. And it just gets worse if you are introducing new players into a higher leveled group. DnD can be very overwhelming for new players, even if you play a fighter or barbarian. There are just to many abilities all at once you have to remember. If they're not used to it, you can scare ppl away. Always start at 1st level... that's the most comfortable way to introduce new players into the game. So if you want to show here what DnD is about, ask your party if they're okay with a one shot. For 1st level disposable chars. Just a quick sesh of DnD. Don't make it too long 3hours max. Don't give her the full dose. It will give her a pretty detailed impression. Just count the things she has to embrace all at once:

  • a completely new genre of game
  • a completely unknown rule system
  • a few levels of abilities, if your NPC is more complex than the regular standard fighter, that's more than a huge load
  • a completely unknown campaign setting
  • the things that happened to your party during the running campaign (all those names, species, magic... IMO that's impression overflow)

Even after over 20 years of PnP-RPGs (as a player and a DM) I always start with a fresh level 1 character if a play an edition (let alone system) for the first time. It gives me the opportunity to fully understand the rules AND don't get distracted from the story. Just a one shot, that is done in a few hours, that gives you an overall impression of the game... something like "We be Goblins!" for example (I know it's pathfinder... but that's pretty much DnD3.5).

If you avoid the mistake of introducing too many things all at once you can be sure to make new players feel comfortable. It'd be an entirely different thing if she had some experience in playing PnPs, but from what you were mentioning that seems to be not the case. Correct me if I'm wrong.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In the end, she played the NPC in the last campaign quest. There were no fights, only roleplay, so she didn't have to deal with that aspect. This was clear to her from the beginning. Meanwhile she had a simple one-shot, lead by our other (current) DM and a couple of other newbies. She has decided to join our group and the other (current) DM and I have helped her create a new character. In her first real session, the current DM had an intro-fight specifically designed for her to test out her new abilities and for us to see her in action. (And for the Druid to test out their new FIREBALL!) \$\endgroup\$ – ABotros Apr 19 at 7:27

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