I'm currently playing a young supers game with friends using Savage Worlds as our favored system. The plot really hyped them, they loved the first allied extras, and with time they asked me for more characters that can join them in the task of saving the world.

They soon started helping me craft the allies, and then they wanted to know more about them, see them more often, etc. They fear their deaths, and two of them even have a mini fan club between my players.

This happened too with an NPC I crafted that was supposed to be not very important, a girl called Miwako—eventually everyone wanted a piece of her, send her flowers, make her important, be her BFF—and I had to tailor a plot for her that ended up boring me and stealing too much campaign time.

How the NPCs deal with things is becoming more important than how my PCs deal with situations, and the game is becoming "NPC Centric". My players are very interested with the plot, but they're even more interested on hat will happen to their favorite characters and their relationships than what happens with the fate of the world, since everyone on the table seems to think kicking butt is the job of X or Y NPC.

Slowly, the allied extras are stealing the focus of the game, and the fact that my players encourage and wish to see more and more of them makes it harder for me as a GM, especially when everyone wants NPCs galore. I don't want to kill the NPCs out of the blue, nor do I want conflict with my Players, so, what should I do when there's just too much NPC focus?


8 Answers 8


You're trying to railroad the game when the players are telling you very loudly where they want the campaign to go instead. Take them there.

If the NPCs are boring you, that's a different problem. Be sure you're making NPCs that engage you and not just your players. You have to enjoy the game too.

To run an interesting socially-focused game, you might need to learn how to use a few tools.

  • Challenging situations made from social connections can be made using PC-NPC-PC triangles—but don't intentionally make life-or-death situations out of them unless you want a bloodbath; save life-and-death for external threats to the social group.

  • In a game with a big stable of NPCs in a complex set of social relationships, maps of the land become far less important than maps of the social situation, and you can use relationship maps (like this one) to keep track of how everyone is connected and feels about each other.

And if, in the end, you don't want at all to play a game that is heavily focused on personal relationships and social interactions, sit down and talk with your players about what kind of game you can all enjoy. Putting a collar around their neck and dragging them toward the plot won't be fun for them or (as you've been learning) for you either.


The best approach, I think, is to separate the players and the NPCs by Plot! The NPCs get kidnapped, detained, lost, side-tracked, bogged down, diverted, or called away, but in a way that is meaningful to the players. They are not just “put on a bus” in the TV Tropes lingo, but somehow the plot separates them and reuniting becomes a major motivator.

Occasionally catching up with some of them briefly, before they too are called away, allows you to give the players “doses” of the NPCs, to keep them looking for more and to satisfy their desire to interact with them. Another great tactic to use is to have the players trailing behind some of the NPCs, so that people they spoke to have stories to tell about their exploits.

This kind of crossing of paths limits how much you have to portray the NPCs while maintaining their relevance and significance in the world. It can actually make the world seem more alive and dynamic, because you can demonstrate to the PCs that the world isn’t just revolving around them: these NPCs are also off doing things and it matters.

It works best if you don’t scoop them away all at once (unless the plot calls for something that cataclysmic), but gradually, for different reasons. Maybe it starts when one person or group gets kidnapped, and then everyone gets into high gear, splitting the group so that the different NPCs are all doing things while the PCs are simultaneously doing other things. Best case scenario, you lay out the reality of the situation, and let the players come to the conclusion that splitting up is the only way to cover enough ground to get everything done in time. That approach has worked well for me.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. The fact that your players love your NPCs so much means the NPCs are successful! Now, use the NPCs to further the campaign! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 15:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I will say that killing a single one of them can drive home that they are supposed to be fighting for the greater good instead of just playing high school dream team fantasies. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aviose
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 14:22

So, let me get this straight - you've created a setting and characters that your players are so immensely invested in that they're helping you build it themselves? What exactly is the problem again?

Kidding. Sorta. Anyway, I'm kinda seeing this in the Marvel game I'm running now; the players are assuming anything beyond purse-snatchers are beyond them and go running to the Avengers or Fantastic Four every time Evil Man comes knocking. They've developed friendships with the Thing and Mr. Fantastic, and one of the players is working for Tony Stark. So there's a bit of justified in-universe fanboying over getting to hang out with such iconic heroes.

That said, it is a little annoying to have these "heroes" immediately run for help every time the Kree come knocking, and I think that simply killing off the NPCs or having them get captured every week is problematic, as well as uninspired.

Here's what I've done to keep the heavy hitters from overshadowing the game.

First, in terms of social stuff, let it happen. Let the team get into an argument over who gets to take Jubilee to the X-Dance, or whatever. It's game-world fluff, but it fleshes out the game and makes it more real. After all, these people are friends/allies/whatever, and that sort of thing reinforces it.

Secondly, if the NPCs are adventurers/heroes/etc. in their own right, they are NOT just sitting around waiting for the players to have a problem they can't solve themselves. They're off on their own adventures and dealing with their own Earth-shaking issues, so the players are just gonna have to nut up and deal with that uppity sorcerer without Dr. Strange. He's kinda busy with Dormammu at the moment.

Thirdly, craft adventures where the players get what they want; they do get to team up with the Avengers, but Thor needs to cause a distraction to the left by laying waste to the enemy army while the players sneak into the flagship to deal with the commander, maybe backed up by Captain America because hey, it's cool and they want him around.

In short, give them what they want, but in such a way that it doesn't sidetrack the adventure. Unless the issue is that they want to play High School Drama: the RPG and make the entire game about who gets to take Jubilee to the X-Dance and you want to run a Kree invasion. In that case, you're trying to run a completely different game than the players want to play in, and a discussion needs to be had on how much compromise needs to be made in order for both "sides" to get the game they want.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 my party fled the Spider Slayers by dropping in on the Fantastic Four. Next time we went to them for help, only Johnny was there. Busy people doing busy stuff! \$\endgroup\$
    – LitheOhm
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 17:35

Anything your players like, including NPCs, is more important than your presuppositions of the plot.

The reason for this is simple - the goal of the game is to entertain the group. If they like something, they will be more invested in it and thus more entertained. If you set up a dichotomy between "things you want" and "things they want," well, there's a host of bad names people call GMs like that. Though you should be entertained as well, making the little doggies jump through your predesignated hoops with no regard for what they like is not healthy entertainment. And that's what you're saying here, even if that's not your intent.

But the solution to this quandary is simple - whatever they like, incorporate it into the plot! It doesn't matter that they 'were supposed' to be. Nothing is defined until it is revealed. Your Miwako was intended to be a throwaway, but they took to her. OK, her whole life is Schrodinger's Cat - who knows what it is until the box is opened? Your GM notes aren't the truth. Give yourself a good wipe with the old ones and write new notes on her. Maybe she's the villain's sister. Maybe she is really a superhero/villain. Maybe she's the hero's long lost sister, girlfriend to get kidnapped, whatever. Substitute her in for some other NPC you did have a plan for.

This happens all the time in games I run and play in. We were playing in the Carrion Crown adventure path and we fell in love with the bartender in Cthulhu Town, everyone else was barking ass crazy but she was cool. When we left we took her with us to get her set up with a new bar in Caliphas, where we were going for the next Vampire Murders segment of the pretty railroaded plot. The DM could have given us static about it, but instead he let us do it and we still wandered along the plot happy as little clams.

Not a NPC, but in one long campaign I introduced a haunted house that disappeared at the end of the session. I did it off the cuff, and had no further plans for it, but the players were just overwhelmed with it. They loved it, wanted to know more about it, wanted more of it. So I incorporated it into the plot, it showed back up a couple times and I developed a history for it that tied in with my intended plot.

I use a lot of published adventures in my campaigns. One of the simplest tricks in doing that is to take the adventure, take whatever lame ass lead-in NPC they have saddled it with, and replace them with a NPC the players actually know and care about. Then it's not "random guy you've never heard of before needs help escaping from serpent men!" Instead it's "Hey that guy we saved from that derelict ship needs help escaping from serpent men!" In the former case you get hemming and hawing and negotiation over "how much will you pay us?" In the second case you get a bunch of PCs geared up and on the case tout suite.

A bunch of examples, but all to say you're being handed a gift by someone and you are, in their sight, turning around and tossing it in the garbage. Get a handle on yourself man!


The other answers are good for moving the focus off of the NPCs, but there's an alternative way to go: Make the NPCs into the PCs.

Turn your players and say something like "You seem to like these allies... how would you like to play as them?" Let them each choose who to take over, and go forward from there. You can either alternate between the former-NPCs and the original PCs, or simply let the original PCs fade into the background (maybe bring them up as NPCs themselves from time to time).

I'm not familiar with Savage Worlds, so I can't advise on what would go into making the NPCs into PCs mechanically. In general, you'd want to treat them like pregenned characters. If they don't already have PC-type statblocks, stat them out. If they're of vastly different power levels, boost the weaker so they're not as far behind ("Oh, you didn't know that I could throw fireballs? That's just because I never had a reason to before."), although you will want to preserve the relative power levels of each character.

It's up to you whether to set these former-NPCs against the same issues that the PCs were facing, or whether to take them off in a totally new direction. But either way, by making your players play the NPCs they like so much, it takes the burden of running them off of you, and probably makes the game more fun for them.


NPCs should act as mentors to low level adventures, but should not become a crutch

Maybe they have important information to give the characters, maybe they help out in a clutch combat, or maybe they just act (within the story) as an example of what the PCs should aspire to; Regardless an NPC should always be 2nd fiddle to the actions and stories of PCs. Clearly you aren't intending for NPCs to become the focus of the story, so you are already 1 step in the right direction, the next step is....

Any well liked NPC is leverage to keep the story moving, to force characters to grow, and to elucidate that the stakes are real/high

Looking to media in general this is a well-worn and well-regarded trope. Protagonists can only really grow outside the protective shadow of their powerful mentors. Case in point, Gandalf's death in the Mines of Moria leaves the Fellowship devastated but as a result they are forced to continue on, without his guidance, and make their way as best they can, growing in ability in the process (this is especially true for all the hobbits). Create a situation where the NPC nobly sacrifices themselves to save the party, fix a problem, or just buy the party time to do either.


Building off of the answer @Bobson gave, I would give your players a chance to drive their favorite NPCs. However, I wouldn't necessarily make it a permanent switch. Instead I would suggest doing it as a break from the normal session every once in a while.

Down a player or two? Let everyone else run an NPC game. Only have time for a really quick game? Literal "Danger Room" scenario showing how the NPCs train in their down time. In between story arcs and not quite prepared for the next one? You get the idea. You could also use one of these sessions to explain why your players' normal PCs have to complete some mission on their own. The NPC allies are off dealing with some other problem and they either can't help or it will take awhile for them to arrive. Then, you let your players actually play through that mission as the NPCs. All the drama of allies being busy off-screen, without them actually being off-screen.

You've obviously managed to create some interesting characters that your players love. This is a very good thing and you should run with it.


Kill the distraction in a plot-relevant way

If the players get too attached to something that distracts from the adventure, have the plot kill it. This doesn't have to mean the actual death of the NPC (though that would be very dramatic), she could also be abducted or otherwise in need of PC action to put things right. Though personally I like death, because it really removes the distraction and moves the focus directly from the distraction to whatever killed her.

Of course you don't just kill her arbitrarily, you have to kill her in a way that immediately puts the focus back on the main plot. The most direct way is to have the main villain (or his henchmen) kill her. (Or abduct her, or steal something vital from her, or mess with her cause somehow, but I prefer death.) If aliens attack, she dies in the attack. If some ritual unleashes demons, she gets killed by the demons. If there's some secret conspiracy plotting something nefarious, then she knew too much and had to "disappear".

So why do I prefer to kill the NPC? Because if the players cared about her, they will now want revenge. They're out for blood. They want to figure out who did this and deliver some payback. They are really invested in the adventure from this point. Also, it prevents the distraction from coming back, leaving them free to continue the adventure and follow up on whatever lies beyond it.


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