I have ran into this issue in many games using different systems. My players either start in or reach a point where they should be above things that normal adventurers are about, whether it be building a stronghold in D&D or getting seven circles and seven resources in Burning Wheel. However, my players seem to attempt to tackle every issue personally, like staking out a warehouse instead of sending their minions to do so or keeping a merchant safe.

This is going to be a big issue with my next game, as I will be running a Rogue Trader game. I fear that the players may actually attempt to attack the enemies personally instead of deploying the hundreds of thousands of soldiers they have on their ship, or decide to oversee construction efforts personally rather than just assigning a foreman.

This kind of behavior would not click well with the story I wish to tell, so I want to ask before it is too late.

How can I make my players delegate their tasks to NPCs and focus on things that are more important (both in-universe and in-narrative)?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried talking to them? What their response was? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Mar 11, 2021 at 12:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, do you intend the campaign to have any combat? What kind/when would the PCs engage in combat? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11, 2021 at 12:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Gentle reminder to everyone that solutions to the problem should be put in complete form in answers, not as one liners in comments. This is so they're part of our QA process and you have the space to detail the method and include the needed support. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Mar 11, 2021 at 13:08

5 Answers 5


Should they delegate?

This is the key question that you need to answer to get them to delegate. Unless you give them very powerful people, they are the most competent people around in many situations. They can fight better, track better, interrogate better. Why should they let NPCs do the job when they can do it best?

The answer to getting them to delegate is three fold.

Give them challenges they can't solve personally but NPCs can.

If there is just one building project, or one group of enemies, they can go to solve it personally. If they need to dominate half a world, or build a city they can't micromanage everything.

Then have other NPCs suggest that they use their vast resources to solve it, and have those vast resources mostly work well at solving their problems when they deploy them. You might have crisis points where they need to intervene, but mostly have them succeed at their tasks, so that the players don't feel discouraged. When I have ran rogue trader games I've found that players are a lot more likely to use NPCs when the NPCs succeed more.

Players like success, and NPCs give you the ability to be successful across a vast array of things, in a way that a party of very competent people can't be. It's pretty cool to lead an army to success.

Give them people who are better at tasks that they don't care about

You don't want to outshine the PCs in their core areas too much or they'll feel inferior and bad, and I found that having equals to the PC often encouraged them to go solo, but you can have NPCs around who are excellent at building or tactical management of armies (skills they often don't have) who get better results than they do. You can show this by having them suggest plans which would work, and accomplishing tasks better on their own.

They can also ask the PCs to not micromanage them while they are building houses for locals.

I found my players liked this more, because they often had a passing interest in things like building but not enough to invest character resources into it. Being able to seize the successes of NPCs who were skilled in other ways often excited them.

Make using armies exciting by having hot spots

If you have a vast array of people, that means you can get to adventuring quicker. Often my players in rogue dungeon preferred to reserve the exciting actions to themselves, as they should as players. I mitigated this by making delegation lead to exciting missions. In the midst of building a city, a chaos cult might be found, or an army fighting another army may falter unless an elite team kills the enemy leadership.

It took some time to break the cycle of players seeking out the best jobs for themselves, but showing them repeatedly that delegation led to better jobs led to them seeking out the most exciting jobs via delegation.

With all these three things my players delegated more actively and enjoyed it, and yours can too. Rather than having NPCs outshine PCs, you can have NPCs complement PCs and make them even more awesome.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you talk some more about how using these went beyond "players were more active and enjoyed it"? There's an opportunity here to show your expertise by explaining more why it was successful at the table and if there are any red flags to look at for that you noticed when using these? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Mar 11, 2021 at 13:52

A common expectation is that the GM presents adventures the players are intended to experience themselves

Many TTRPGs are played as a form of fantasy fulfillment, and for many players in many game systems that can be about being a character that is powerful, effective, and free to do things themselves. If you are presented with an important goal, it can be very exciting to throw your character into the effort to accomplish that goal and test their skills, abilities, and cleverness against obstacles. It is a very different situation to be presented with a goal and dictate that "someone else will take care of it", never seeing those events actually play out at the table. Paraphrasing an ancient koan: if an obstacle is presented but the players never really interact with it, did that obstacle even exist?

In my experience a lot of the presumed progression in TTRPGs is that the PCs will take on larger and more important adventuring tasks as they grow more powerful. The PCs do the same kinds of things, but the stakes are higher and the challenges greater. If the GM presents a quest (or similar, depending on specific game system), it's not unreasonable for players to presume that the GM is describing a task they are expected to deal with. If NPC delegates are a fundamental part of the underlying game system that impression may be different, but I don't have much experience running games in such systems.

Making it clearer why delegation is favorable may help

In the classic TTRPG tradition of "things are always clearer to the GM than they are to the players", it might help to include the narrative equivalent of flashing neon signs which indicate that this task is too boring or unimportant for the PCs to deal with themselves. I've done this with a two-fold approach:

  • Express that the tasks which need to be done may not be suited to the PCs themselves, and
  • Make clear that NPCs (individual or organizations) exist which can do those tasks

Following those two tracks indicates that there is something to be done but also discourages players from doing it themselves (unless they really want to, which does happen sometimes).

I also sometimes add a third element:

  • The PCs' time is better spent doing other tasks

There are things that only the PCs can do-- that's why they're such important figures! Eventually rat-catching is simply not worth their effort. None of this stops PCs from pursuing in-game activities they want to do, but that's more of a player-driven plot change to the game.

Giving the PCs a way to interact with the NPCs keeps the delegated work relevant to the game

Some games have explicit rules for this and others don't. If giving a task to NPCs means everything related to that task is over, the task may seem so unimportant that it wasn't even worth bringing up. But if you want players to interact with in-game things, methods to do that are really helpful.

Just having soldiers on the ship is not a system, nor even a clear resource for the players to direct. Some kind of guideline for maintaining and deploying the soldiers, plus potential rewards and penalties for using the soldiers to deal with problems creates game elements-- things the players get to play! It is important to use delegation as a way to make the game richer, not to explicitly remove PCs from content that seems like it might be interesting and require their attention.

An example from my experience

In one of my games (without clear rules or systems promoting delegation to NPCs) my players were interested in cultivating a new resource for themselves: a fighting gym (largely a front) from which they could recruit competent bodyguards and soldiers-for-hire. I made clear that this was possible but that running it themselves would change the tone of the game into more of a management simulation.

Running the gym would require PCs to dedicate some portion of their time to doing the gym's accounting, processing HR paperwork, dealing with licenses and regulations, and so on. None of the PCs were specialized in running businesses, so doing these things themselves would be time consuming and possibly introduce complications (bad accounting leads to extra scrutiny, which is not great for a front!).

But by finding an NPC to handle the business they could get what they wanted more effectively and with less of an investment of their personal time. This also kept the gym as a game element for them-- they could interact with it however they wanted, but had a primary point of contact they could use to get any information they wanted about the business, or to direct to make changes they wanted. The NPC sorted out the details.

At the same time I tried to use the gym to create content that was suitable for the players. Their gym became a place where complications that the NPC couldn't deal with on his own came up, requiring the PCs to intervene or lose some of the benefits the gym was providing to them.

So the gym provided benefits that mattered to the players, the NPC handled the grunt work of managing it, but the gym still provided content for the players to experience. But ultimately, if the players really wanted to run the gym directly, then it would not have been a good candidate for delegation to an NPC. Delegation is for things the players don't want to do, not necessarily a set piece in the narrative of the game: if you offer players choices, they should have more than one option to choose from.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Really good answer. Also worth noting that the best way to "tag" a task for delegation is the same way it ideally happens in real life - a competent subordinate NPC approaches the PC managers with "Here is problem / opportunity A, I suggest that person B can solve it by method C for resource cost D. Are you happy for me to get person B started?" Conversely, flag tasks for the PCs with "Here is problem / opportunity E, we're having trouble with it / don't know what to do about it, would you please help?" \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14, 2021 at 3:02

They can only be in one place at a time

Nepene Nep's answer covers a lot of the benefits of delegation to the players, and some advice on introducing skilled NPC's who might be obvious choices for the players to delegate to. To expand on that, one of the easiest ways to get players to get players to delegate important jobs is to give them multiple limited-time objectives that they cannot personally accomplish all of.

In a game I'm currently in, the party was in a prison mine that we knew was going to be attacked soon by a cult attempting to free an important member from within. Our party was just passing through, and didn't really want to be there for the attack. But letting them get their hands on this important prisoner would only cause of problems in the future. We decided on getting the important prisoner out of the mine, but we didn't want to have to drag a prisoner along with us, and we were headed in the opposite direction of anywhere we could drop them off.

Enter a friendly NPC Paladin we had met several times, higher level than the party and with a flying mount. They were more than happy to evacuate the prisoner to a more fortified city, and the party was free to carry on their merry way without a culty loadstone in tow. This can be applied at a larger scale as well - give the PCs more than one problem at a time that needs to be dealt with imminently, let them pick which one they want to handle, and if they need hints have subordinate NPCs around them volunteer for one job or another.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice: RPGs are all about choices the players make. +1 \$\endgroup\$ Mar 12, 2021 at 0:45

Are you sure they want to delegate?

My main concern is that since not everyone enjoys doing the same things in a game like this and it's possible that, despite your opinions and best intentions, they would rather do the tasks themselves than delegate because they find doing the tasks more fun than managing a bunch of minions. Just because the story organically led to a point where "they should be above things that normal adventurers are about" doesn't mean that the players necessarily want that.

You say that this type of behavior will not mesh well with the game you want to run and the story you want to tell and that may be clear, but maybe they'd rather you tell a different story? I'd just ask them in plain terms what they want and what your concerns are. It's possible that everyone might be happier with a different type of campaign.

If they absolutely want to play this type of thing but they've never done it because it never feels organic or necessary (or whatever reason), then I think the other answers are great, but I think you should at least consider this.


Use Rogue Trader's Endeavour system.

Rogue Trader is fundamentally a power fantasy game about Victorian-era colonialism in space, where you play the role of the colonial exploiters. You're a Rogue Trader and officers of their crew, accountable to no-one, in charge of a city-sized flying space cathedral and with a mission to go out beyond the borders of the Imperium of Man and exploit whatever resources and/or people you encounter, in order to enrich both yourselves and the Imperium as a whole.

Obviously, carrying off an entire planet's loot isn't feasible for a half-dozen officers! Similarly, whatever loot the party can personally carry off is unlikely to functionally change the amount of money that someone who can afford a mile-long spaceship has. On the more martial side of things, it should also be obvious that a half-dozen officers can't expect to fight an entire planet and win.

That's what you've got a space ship full of thousands of minions for - and that's if you don't want to follow the potentially more profitable method of starting to set up colonies to continue the process of colonial exploitation for you while you're away. In order to facilitate this, there are rules for handling this in the Rogue Trader rulebook: the Endeavour system, which is the primary method for increasing your party's Profit Factor (the system's measure of how much money the party has).

These rules are far too long for summing up briefly here, but they're found on pages 276 to 283, and include examples of Endeavours like setting up colonies, exploiting the resources of resource-rich worlds, and setting up trade routes. Additionally, Chapter 7 of the supplement Rogue Trader: Into the Storm includes more rules for expanding on the Endeavour system.


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