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I am starting a Pathfinder game. It will be my first time DM'ing, though I have played 3.x and Pathfinder for a few years. The party will consist of my girlfriend, my best friend, and his girlfriend. My gf has played a handful of 3.5 sessions, and neither of the others has ever played a pen-and-paper game.

I am worried, because in the past I have played with small parties, and it is very limiting in terms of the things that can be done and the enemies that can be faced. In some reading on SE I heard gestalt characters or each player playing multiple characters mentioned, but these are new players, and Pathfinder, and I don't want to overwhelm them. My solution to this is to make an NPC that will be part of the party, but mostly controlled by either me, or them as a group.

I have read extensively on SE on how GMPCs ruin the fun for many parties, and I want to avoid that. I have considered making the NPC a representation of my girlfriend's corgi. In the game, he'll be a Worgi (Combination of Worg and Corgi). I'll make him unable to speak, though he'll understand a few languages. Out of combat, he'll follow the party like a member though not contribute much apart from an occasion skill check, and in combat I'll have him do whatever they tell him to do / whatever would come natural to a loyal dog.

My question is, is this the best way to mitigate some of the issue with small parties?

  • Three characters get overwhelmed easily.
  • Helps mitigate some of the "action economy" issues.
  • They cannot have all the skills necessary for a well-rounded party.
  • They can be easily / accidentally TPK'd by area spells or effects.
  • There is less chance that they all fail a roll for Perception or the like.

Unlike a normal GMPC:

  • The party cannot ask him for help or advice.
  • It will be easier for me to keep DM knowledge separate from character knowledge.
  • The party will not treat the Worgi like they would an NPC representing me.

Any idea and contributions would be helpful.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like you should remove every mention of GMPC from this question. What you are contemplating is giving your party a dog/pet, which is significantly different from a GMPC in all the points you mentioned. A dog will never be a full character. In fact, it will likely be treated as an animal companion (you know, being an animal that is a companion to the party) whose owner is the whole party. \$\endgroup\$ – MrLemon Sep 25 '14 at 14:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ The GM critter companion idea is brilliant. I wish I'd thought of that. Related questions previously: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/46547/… rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/1331/… \$\endgroup\$ – Wolfman Joe Sep 26 '14 at 18:15
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It's a very good idea

As you mentioned, literally all the main issues with GMPCs can be avoided by making said GMPC into an animal.

  • The GMPC is almost non-knowing due to animal intelligence.
  • It does not steal spotlight in non-combat situations because it doesn't normally interact with people that much. Especially not on its own initiative. They may use it for Aid Another on certain social checks, like Intimidate ("grrrr") or Diplomacy ("Aw so cute!"), just to represent him being there.
  • It still helps out in combat, which is the main reason to have a larger party.

That being said, I can't think of a better way to boost party size (without boosting group size).


Rules suggestion

Make it an Animal Companion that progresses with the average party level, but remove Share Spells and Link*. Animal Companions are pretty smart (bonus tricks!), but still normal animals.

Note that even Animal Companions will act naturally (attack nearest enemy, flee when close to defeat, etc.), unless told otherwise via Handle Animal, which is a DC 10 (+2 if wounded) check and a move action for known tricks. Every other move needs "pushing" the animal, which is DC 25 (+2 if wounded) as a full-round action.

This has the added benefit of a skill point tax (Nothing is free) if they want to control the character themselves.

* You might also leave Link and make it apply to every character

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Good idea considering it an Animal Companion of the party rather than a GMPC. I think that is the way I'll do it. No Link or Share Spells. It's a magical beast with some intelligence, but I'll incorporate your Handle Animal ideas a little later, once they get the hang of skill checks in general. He'll just do "whatever he wants" unless they use Handle Animal to coerce a certain action. \$\endgroup\$ – Red_Shadow Sep 26 '14 at 13:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Red_Shadow The delay from them getting an understanding of skill checks and building up their Handle Animal skill has a great in-game explanation too -- as they work together with your Worgi regularly, the party and the Worgi learn to work together better and trust one another more, to the point where they can start specifically asking tasks of the Worgi and it will oblige :) \$\endgroup\$ – Doktor J Sep 26 '14 at 15:10
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Actually while I generally run larger games there is no reason you cannot run a game for three players, you just have to know their limits and choose the right encounters. For example if they are all playing casters then putting out monsters immune to all spells should be avoided.

There are a lot of flexible classes in Pathfinder and you can easily get a well-balanced party with three. It's generally a little riskier as if one party member goes down the party loses a lot of its power but it's manageable.

For example one person playing either a wizard, sorcerer or witch will be able to handle magic and knowledge.

Another playing a bard, cleric, witch or even a paladin will be able to handle healing and maybe knowledge. In some cases they will also be able to tank or fight a bit.

A third person playing a more front line character such as a fighter or barbarian can deal heavy damage and take the hits.

There are hundreds if not thousands of other combinations which will give you the essential mix of knowledge, skills, front line combat, support and crowd control.

Start off with smaller encounters to let both them and you get a feel for it and then work up from there and have fun :)

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I don't see a problem with this. I've played in small groups often, and the GM would usually have a PC involved just to make things more fun for everyone (including the GM). You've just got to remember that the GM PC should be in the spotlight even less often than the other PCs.

Back in the day, Blackjack (see http://www.packetlost.net/index.php/blackjacks-shadowrun-page/ ) had an idea on how to handle GM PCs/NPCs: When the players rely on them for ideas, have them provide bizarre, unworkable ones.

I seem to recall an example of the GM PC suggesting they fast-rope down from a blimp onto a compound... one with a known air-defence network. Insane, but what I like is that it had the potential genesis of a good idea: A hot air balloon would appear relatively innocuous, and if made of the right materials could be masked from automated air defence measures.

In a D&D context this could be like suggesting you deal with the orc raiders by bringing them lots of soap to wash with and maybe a bunch of fresh loincloths, since clearly they're just angry due to being itchy. Idiotic, perhaps, but it does hint at trying to determine their core motivation and appeasing that--for example, the PCs may decide to try to lure the orcs away with a fake caravan (clearly easier prey than their village).

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Make it a Magical Beast.

Since a magical beast has a higher intelligence score than 2 - it can actually have a character class, and still have the benefit of not speaking. Take for instance, a griffon:

Size/Type: Large Magical Beast
Hit Dice: 7d10+21 (59 hp)
Initiative: +2
Speed: 30 ft. (6 squares), fly 80 ft. (average)
Armor Class: 17 (-1 size, +2 Dex, +6 natural), touch 11, flat-footed 15
Base Attack/Grapple: +7/+15
Attack: Bite +11 melee (2d6+4)
Full Attack: Bite +11 melee (2d6+4) and 2 claws +8 melee (1d4+2)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Pounce, rake 1d6+2
Special Qualities: Darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent
Saves: Fort +8, Ref +7, Will +5
Abilities: Str 18, Dex 15, Con 16, Int 5, Wis 13, Cha 8
Skills: Jump +8, Listen +6, Spot +10
Feats: Iron Will, Multiattack, Weapon Focus (bite)
Environment: Temperate hills
Organization: Solitary, pair, or pride (6-10)
Challenge Rating: 4
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 8-10 HD (Large); 11-21 HD (Huge)
Level Adjustment: +3 (cohort)

Those are some pretty impressive stuff, that can track if no one else can, can understand simple commands, be trained to be ridden - and can't talk back. It would have 9 levels as a monster class, and after that, you can give it whatever you want.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I actually did make it a magical beast. (See the google doc linked in a comment on the OP). It was a combination of the Worg from Pathfinder and the Cooshee or Elven Hound from 3.5 Races of Wild. \$\endgroup\$ – Red_Shadow Sep 29 '14 at 13:03

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