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I'm a new player to RPGs and I'm trying to incubate my skills so that I can play in a group one day. I've got a fair grasp of the rules and I've been running one on one campaigns with my wife; both as a learning experience for myself and as a way of enticing my wife into the system as well.

I'm getting to the point whereby I feel as though my book-learning has plateaued and the only way I can become more skilled is through playing actual games. My wife wouldn't be able to GM, as I don't think she's that into it.

Is there a way to GM and play as a character that is fair to all sides and doesn't leave my PC at an unfair advantage? I'm playing in Pathfinder specifically.

I stress the word fair in this instance as I want to ensure the rules are obeyed and that nobody is treated differently.

This is somewhat similar to the question How can I GM and play a PC without spoiling the fun? however, this is equally about use of this method to help with educating myself and my wife about how the system works from both a combat and dungeoneering setting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I started to write an answer, but realized it was coming out almost identical to one I wrote for: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/44753/… Do the answers to that question resolve your issue? If none of the answers there answer your question, could you clarify a bit more on how this situation is different? \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Sep 23 '14 at 22:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why not find a local group to play with? \$\endgroup\$ – briddums Sep 23 '14 at 22:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @briddums I can't find one, and can't imagine how I would go about looking for one. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Hanly Sep 24 '14 at 8:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanHanly We have a question for that, should you want to pursue that direction: "Where can I find other RPG players?" \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 11 '14 at 17:12
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DMPCs do often tend to steal the spotlight, but I've seen it work well under a few circumstances. Basically, if you don't want to give your PC an unfair advantage, do the opposite. Give them unfair disadvantages. Trust me, no one will complain about that.

The Useless

A prominent mapmaker needs to make a map of some extremely dangerous territory. She hires the PCs to protect herself. She's important to get the PCs paid regularly, and absolutely must come along with the PCs in order to actually map the territory, but she's basically useless in every other regard. She spent almost every combat hiding behind the tanks. Occasionally she would cheer them on (a la bard), but usually she would just hide.

Why this worked

The mapmaker didn't challenge any of the PCs at what they were good at. She let them excel, even demanded it of them. Where the PCs were good, she was useless. People like to be good at things - let them.

However, she wasn't an idiot. She was a real person with thoughts and feelings. She didn't annoy the PCs by constantly making stupid decisions. She was a silly person with silly concerns that the PCs didn't care about, but she didn't constantly throw herself into danger. She helped the group when she could, and stayed back when she knew she was out of her depth. You don't want your RPG to turn into a game of "protect the idiot".

The One-Trick Pony

A group of pirates (the PCs) run across a shipwrecked man and woman. The woman turns out to be a cleric of a god of prophecy, and she foretells the end of the world while recovering from her shipwreck. After some argument, it is decided that ticking off the god of prophecy would be a bad idea, so the PCs go to save the world, even if they are convinced they're gonna die in the process. The prophet (and her bodyguard) come along, because it was her stupid idea in the first place.

The prophet was a useful cleric in a party that didn't have one and played a primarily supporting role, healing PCs that need it. She was clearly there to Advance the Plot, but the things she prophecies usually aren't helpful, but consisted of "Stop this volcano from exploding" or perhaps cryptic directions ("Find the Avatar of Hope") that only become clear after they've discovered the thing anyway. She had secrets, but nothing she knew could help them save the world or defeat the boss.

Moreover, she was a real person and many of the PCs became close friends with her. As the game developed, she went steadily insane (in-game side-effect of seeing the future). While many players would have cast her aside without a second thought, because they were friends the PCs continued to bring her along and care for her, insanity and all, and even tried to save her in addition to saving the world.

Why this worked

None of the other PCs were clerics, so she was important to the survival of the party. She had to be there, but she didn't do anything but healing. Well, and giving them generally unhelpful prophetic messages of doom.

She actively befriended the PCs, and ended up telling them her secret as a mark of trust. It did nothing to change the plot, but it built a bond between her and several of the PCs. They liked her, and wanted her to be around. (One of them even fell in love with her, insanity and all. It was adorable.)

What didn't work

Her bodyguard actually ended up being too powerful, so I would have killed him off early if I were to run it again. His goal of "protect the prophet" generally translated to "kill whatever's threatening the party" and the party didn't really need another tank. They could have protected the prophet just fine on their own.

To Sum Up

Keep in mind these two goals: Need and Friendship. There has to be a mutual need for the DMPC and the party to stay together, and they have to end up as friends, not resenting each other.

  • PCs like to be the best at their personal specialty. Let them. Don't make a DMPC that challenges them at the things that they do.
  • If your DMPC can do something important and powerful, make sure they can only do that one thing. Your cleric can only heal; your fighter can only take damage (and can't deal enough to bring the enemies down).
  • The weaker you can make your DMPC, the better. They need to obviously need the PCs in some way.
    • Playing off the players' natural desires to protect certain groups of people can help (children, women, especially if you've got a player that fancies themselves a "white knight", the elderly or disabled, relatives, etc.). Whether or not these groups of people actually need protection isn't relevant - the point is that the players should feel a need to protect the DMPC.
  • PCs don't want to hang around with idiots. Don't overdo the weakness part.
  • Make sure there's a compelling reason for them to exist, not just "I felt like it". They have to need the DMPC in some way, or they won't want to hang out with him/her.
  • Above all, make them human. Make friends with the PCs. Help them out when you can. Get into trouble that you can't get out of on your own. Don't be a PC. Be weak. Be human. Be interesting to the other PCs.

If your DMPC is too powerful, doesn't have a specific need to be there, or antagonizes any of the PCs, kill them off. You don't need a DMPC to have fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Both of mine were female; this helped." Really? REALLY? \$\endgroup\$ – LessPop_MoreFizz Sep 25 '14 at 13:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ That line alone is worth a downvote. Answers from this century are better. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 25 '14 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am a girl. Just sayin'. But that's a good point, I'll edit. \$\endgroup\$ – Jerenda Sep 25 '14 at 23:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ A note on genders: Both of my DMPCs were female, and this was useful to me because several of my players felt the need to instinctively protect women, and would not have accepted a male in the same role. This is only one of the techniques I used, and it was useful because my players were used to certain stereotypes. However, be sure to find balance. In the mapmaking game, the most powerful mage in the world was a female NPC, and there were many other females who were powerful in many different ways. This stereotype can be useful, but be sure to show the other side of the coin as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Jerenda Sep 25 '14 at 23:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ While an excellent answer I think you've described an NPC, not a GM PC. That's the problem, a GM PC done well becomes an NPC - so it might as well just be called an NPC and have done with it. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Sep 26 '14 at 12:48
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Short version: No.

Slightly longer version: Anything you are treating as not-an-npc is not an npc and therefore takes spotlight from players and therefore is bad.

If you are scrupulously fair about it, the character is basically just an npc that travels with the party and helps frame and put spotlight on players. If you aren't, then you are taking spotlight when your NPCs are already getting spotlight in order for you to tell the story, which is unfair to your players.

I.e. either treat it like any other npc, or you are doing it wrong and going to fail. I could go deep into the psychology of this, but instead I will just make an argument from authority and say: I have seen a lot of people try to do this, and I have seen none of them succeed.

It is a trap. Don't do it.

Solution

Find nerds, run games for them, when you hear about someone else running a game through this social network you have created, put your hand up immediately. Strive to be friendly and nice as a player(not necessarily as a character, but as a player), and you will get invited back/invited to other games and can go from there.

Nerds can be found at gaming stores/comic book shops, through online social networks, video gaming groups, university anime/video game/board game groups, local conventions, or other means.

Nerds are thin on the ground and GMs are thinner, so don't be afraid to introduce yourself, name yourself, and let people know you're looking for connections so you have people to game with. As long as you are polite and socially aware, it's generally acceptable to do so at these sorts of venues and locations.

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You Can't.

There is absolutely no way that you can run a DMPC fairly. There are many reasons for this, a few being:

  • You know everything about your world as the DM and it's impossible to keep character knowledge separate from DM knowledge

  • Since it's your character you'll get attached to it. You'll want to protect it and watch it thrive. You'll be tempted to have it get attacked less, not stumble into traps, get better magical gear.

  • Once the other players realize that you're keeping your DMPC alive, they'll start using it as the front man for the group - send it down the trapped hallway, have it charge the dragon, etc.

  • When the other players seem stuck you'll want to help out, so your DMPC suddenly finds the information they need to continue.

While having the DMPC appears to help move your game along, it's actually showing the PC's that their actions no longer matter. They can rely on the DMPC to solve everything. Once the players are no longer the center of the story they stop caring about it, and it won't be as much fun for them.

Now you may think that none of those reasons apply to you and you'll still run the DMPC fairly. You won't show any favortism, and you can always keep player/character knowledge separate. Unfortunately there's still the matter of perception from the players.

The players will always assume that you're treating your own character better than theirs. So even if you are playing it fairly (and to reiterate - you can't) it will look to them as though you're still favoring your own character. The only way to prevent this perception is to be harder on your character than you are on theirs. But once you do this it really stops being a DMPC and just becomes another NPC.

For your specific situation I would recommend finding a local gaming group that you can play a character in. Playing a PC is a very different experience from DM'ing, and it's best to be able to focus on just your character instead of your character plus the whole world.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Insert obligatory DM of the Rings reference here. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Sep 24 '14 at 0:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't really agree about players assuming you are being unfair - or at least note that is because it IS unfair. The DM already gets most of the spotlight - having more is unfair. It genuinely doesn't work even if the players think it is a great idea - player attitude may make it worse, but doesn't change how badly it works inherently. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Sep 24 '14 at 1:10
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I'm trying to incubate my skills so that I can play in a group one day.

There’s no need to develop roleplaying skills before playing with a group, and the best way to improve your skills is by playing with a group. Furthermore, the experience of playing a GMPC is very different from playing a PC with somebody else as GM. Along with all the other perils of playing a GMPC, I doubt that you or your wife would get much out of it.

If you’re having fun playing one-on-one with your wife, just keep on with that. If you seriously want to play with other people, it’s best simply to jump in and find a group. Your game store is a good place to look for them. Most stores can help you find (or make) “looking for gamers” postings, and they may even have a bulletin board for such things.

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I've had to do this with many RPG's. I GM often, but when times are tough, I sometimes have to fill in for another player or play a character in the game. It very simple once you get the hang of it. Let say your playing Pathfinder with your wife, and she is a lvl. 21 Human Fighter. You can introduce a reoccuring nemesis to the story, like a demon lord that killed her father in a great war against darkness. This reoccuring character will be ROLEPLAYED by you. Its not just another enemy to fight, its an in depth character made to match the players as a rival, and is thus created like a "Hero", only he acts as an enemy. I think that is the best way to get the experiance of what its like as a player while still being GM. If this doesn't apeal to you, try to find a local gaming store to play at with your wife, and let someone else GM so you can get a taste of the Player experiance. Otherwise, make a temporary ally of the players and RP as this character, maybe even make a plotline around him/her.

What you can take from this block of text is: Just make a very in-depth NPC that is played like another character. Works like a charm.

On a side "System Mastery" note: Very few rule sets have options for this type of gameplay. However, their are a large number of systems available that require no GM at all. I realize this may not be an option as you would likely have to pick up/learn another Roleplaying game and then be unable to acheive your goal of learning with your wife about the system. Pathfinder is a great system, though, and it would be a shame if you switched now. Therefore, simply using the Monster Creation system found in I believe the core rulebook or, if not, on any SRD, great sources for checking rules, will allow you to Roleplay as an enemy. Look below the generic enemy creation and there should be rules about creating a monster as a character. http://www.pathfinderreference.com/ is one good one

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resist the temptation. There is no way that your players will not see this PC as anything other than an all powerful and knowledgeable nuisance.

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As others have said, the answer is no. It's impossible to play a DMPC fairly.

That being said, Jarenda did a good job of giving some approaches that can work.

What I have also done when forced to use a DMPC is to play them almost entirely passively--I basically let the party control them consistent with whatever their motivations are. They never initiate anything unless it would be unreasonable for them not to given the circumstances. (For example, they are aware of a threat the rest of the party is not.)

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