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I'm struggling to work out what to do with allied Supporting Characters (allied NPCs) during a skirmish conflict in Dune. Some parts of the rules seem to imply the GM treats them like they would an NPC in other RPGs: the NPC would take their own turn during a combat round, roll to move, roll to attack, etc.

However, other bits of the rules, and the Agents of Dune scenario imply that the NPCs are just assets that the PCs move around the map like chess pieces, and only the PCs are rolling dice.

(Except when the PC chooses to do the Follow Orders rule on page 136 of the core rules: a PC tells the NPC what to do and rolls 1d20 and the NPC rolls 2d20, then successes are counted.)

Page 136 also states that allied NPCs will automatically fail any skill test that is above Difficulty 0, without rolling dice. So if shooting Baron Harkonnen is Difficulty 3, they'll always miss.

So in a conflict, how do I handle the allied NPCs? Are they "people" who get their own turn in the action order? Or are they "advantages" (assets) simply there to modify PC dice rolls and/or chance of success?

Clarification: I'm after some clues as to what happens in a skirmish conflict. If PC A, PC B, Minor Supporting Characters C and D get into a fight with Harkonnens X, Y and Z...

Does it play out like this? (Very trad RPG style)

  1. PC A does their action and attacks.
  2. Harkonnen X does their action.
  3. PC B does their action and moves, then keeps initiative & attacks..
  4. Harkonnen Y does their action.
  5. Supporting Minor C does their action, GM choses what they do with player input ('follow orders' rule - dice are rolled).
  6. Harkonnen Z does their action.
  7. Supporting Minor D does their action, GM chooses what they do - automatic fail as Difficulty is above 0.

Or does it play out like this?

  1. PC A does their action. They pick 'Follow Orders' and thus "use up" the Supporting Minor C by ordering them to attack. Dice are rolled.
  2. Harkonnen X does their action.
  3. PC B does their action. They move into the zone where Supporting Minor D is, and can therefore use Minor D's trait of "soldier" to lower the difficulty when they keep the initiative and attack. This "uses up" Minor D.
  4. Harkonnen Y does their action.
  5. Harkonnen Z does their action.

Or does it play out in a completely different way?

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2 Answers 2

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Your question confuses two different things: Supporting Characters and NPCs. A Supporting Character is a PC. The distinction is laid out on pg.100.

I'm writing this answer on the assumption that you are referring to Supporting Characters: PCs that your players have created that they play in addition to their "main" character.

You have several options, but your best bet is to use the utilize the Supporting Characters as traits when narratively appropriate. Stop thinking of them as "characters" that have actions in the flow of combat.

Play as the Supporting Character

Supporting Characters are supposed to be played by the players. Page 136 says:

At the start of a scene, a player may choose which character they are using: their main character, or one of the supporting characters currently available.

When the player chooses to play the Supporting Character, they are free to do anything that character is capable of doing. They are not limited to only Difficulty 0 tests. So a Supporting Character being actively played participates in combat exactly like any other PC.

They Can Follow Orders

You noted this in your question. If the player is controlling their main character, they can issue a command to the Supporting Character, who will listen. However, (as you noted) they are limited to Difficulty 0.

That's not entirely useless, but it likely means you aren't going to command them to take a shot when your main character is available.

Assistance

They Supporting Character can assist a main character (pg.136). Assistance is described on pg. 150. Notably, the rules are explicit that this can occur when a player is not controlling the Supporting Character. There is no explicit reason to believe the main character must use an action or anything else to do it.

Every roll comes with risk though. So you may want to be judicious with asking your supporting characters to assist!

Supporting Characters are a Trait

When a supporting character is present, they may be a trait for the scene. The effects of traits on a scene are on pg. 144. If the presence of the Supporting Character is reasonably advantageous, it may reduce the difficulty of the task. This is primarily driven by the fiction and the traits in play.

Can they be an asset?

You asked specifically about whether they can be an asset in combat. No, they can't.

Tactical combat is called a "skirmish" in Dune. You use an asset to attack. Typically these are tangible assets such as lasguns or your fists. Can a Supporting Character be an asset? No, because your main character can't attack with another person (i.e, you can't pick them up and swing them).

If you want the Supporting Character to make an attack, you should use the Follow Orders rules, not try to invoke them as an asset.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. That distinction makes it much clearer. I think part of the problem was my players expecting me as GM to be responsible for running the supporting characters. \$\endgroup\$
    – DrBob
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 19:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ What doesn't gel with you and Groody's answers is that every "NPC" in the scenario at the end of the core rules is labelled as "supporting character", including all the bad guys. None of these are controlled by the players. Sigh. I guess they didn't proof-read that chapter? \$\endgroup\$
    – DrBob
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 19:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DrBob I'm .... not really sure what to do with the scenario. It clearly says Supporting Character. I checked some other Modiphus games, and they all label their characters as NPCs. The Dune errata doesn't call this out either. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 2:04
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NPCs are people, too (and are run by the GM)

NPCs are controlled by the GM

The characters do not control the NPCs - the gamemaster does. This is explicit both in their name, and in the rules text (p. 100):

Non-player characters, also called NPCs, are characters controlled by the gamemaster, rather than by one of the players.

So at no point in a conflict should NPCs be something that the player characters (controlled by the players) "move around the map like chess pieces, and only the PCs are rolling dice". NPCs are always the domain of the GM. By this alone it should be clear they can not be considered a simple assets of the PCs in context of a Skirmish.

All in all, NPCs are people like the PCs, and while they should not take too much spotlight of the PCs, they get their own turns and actions (with slightly altered rules as to how those are paid), like the PCs.

Supporting Characters are not NPCs

Supporting characters are secondary characters the players create, p. 136:

As described at the start of this chapter, supporting characters are the other type of characters created and controlled by the players

These are not NPCs. The limitations you cite of failing tests that have more than 0 difficulty is a limitation of a supporting character, not of an NPC. That they are weak is intentional -- the focus of the action is supposed to be on the main characters, not on their additional supporting characters.

The scenario you outline above would play out more like the second set of actions, (maybe each supporting character would get to act in their own turn, I am not sure about that part either; I think based on being able to be used as a trait, it's more likely they act on your turn). The rules about this are on page 136:

If a player has multiple characters in a single scene, then the player may not directly control those other characters. Characters which are not under the direct control of any player cannot perform the full range of actions available to a character under a player’s control. Instead, they can do the following things:

  • Difficulty 0 Tests (...)
  • Assistance (...)
  • Follow Orders (...)
  • Sacrifice (...) Further, uncontrolled characters can be treated as a trait, to allow a test to be attempted which would otherwise be impossible (for activities that would require multiple people), or to reduce the Difficulty of a test (...)

That these characters are not directly controlled by the player does not mean the player cannot say how they are used. It does not make them NPCs. You can still have them do one of the four things listed above, but they are limited to that list of things, or you can use them as a trait.

Again: Supporting Characters are NOT Non-Player Characters. So the title of your question includes the basic misunderstanding. These are two different concepts, maybe that is the main thing you should take away from this answer. Supporting Characters are lesser player characters.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Part of the question seems to be that this interpretation makes NPCs entirely useless. They can't succeed on a task above Difficulty 0. Could you address this in your answer? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @indigochild I added a section for that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry but in what way is a supporting character which is "not controlled by a player" NOT a 'non-player character'? I'm not after a critique of how Dune names what other games call NPCs. I'm after some clues as to what happens in conflicts. I'll edit my question to clarify. \$\endgroup\$
    – DrBob
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 18:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also on page 308 (scenario) it mentions creating supporting characters in the section called Assets, and on page 136 it says "Further, uncontrolled characters can be treated as a trait, to allow a test to be attempted which would otherwise be impossible [snip] or to reduce the Difficulty of a test...". I want to know if conflict is one of those instances where this kind of thing can happen. \$\endgroup\$
    – DrBob
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 19:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DrBob I expanded on the Supporting Character section I hope that helps? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 19:34

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