I'm going to play a campaign of D&D using the Starter Set. I will be the DM, and it is going to be a 1 on 1 campaign1.

The 3rd approach of this answer appeals to me as a way to do this without too much effort, while it still leaves the chance for 2 first timers (as we both are) to concentrate on roleplaying one single character each. I want to present the roleplaying aspect to my companion. I chose this approach since I feel that it will be a less intense experience if there is no PC to interact with

  • I'm planning to play a character so that my friend can play one character as well.

  • I'm planning to decrease the monster count so that the XP threshold comes closest to the equal dificulty-class for just two players.

  • For bosses I bought the Monster Manual, so I can look for a boss-like monster that still fits in the lore with equally fitting difficulty.

The hard part, and my problem:

I know myself well enough to know that when I will be DM'ing a "story" that I already know, while I'm playing a character that is part of it, that as long the character itself has a motivation to get ahead, I would play it in an impatient, pushing way. I am not good enough at "winging" the behavior of the character for every situation, so I need a design with limits and restrictions on the GMPC. It's all well and good to have a plan that will respond in a certain way to a situation, but this won't help when things come up unexpectedly.

Where I am now in GMPC development:

The PC is going to be the pre-created rogue of the Starter Set story and the GMPC is going to be the Mage with his book of life story as named bond.

I need to characterize a trait, behavior or background for the GMPC that it has no ambition to push the story ahead. (The GMPC must leave the unfolding of the story in my companion's hands -- my companion will be making decisions and choices.)

As I tried out ideas for this character concept, I discovered a flaw:

When I asked myself "What is his motivation to even participate in this adventure?" there was no feasible answer to it.


How do I design a GMPC so that his trait, behavior or background -- when role played correctly -- prevents him from initiating decisions, or otherwise participation in decision-making,2 while still having a valid motivation for the success of this two person party?


1 Among the cons of a starter pack, as I assume most know, is its difficult to play in this given set up.

2 Should the character be forced by another PC into making a decision, it is acceptable, since it is an exceptional case not caused by the GMPC's player himself.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This is called a GMPC, you may want to look at the other questions under the gmpc tag and then refine this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 13:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk: Leaving the backstory out and just focusing on the mainquestion as in title and the TL&DR part, does this matter? I mean thanks for adding the tag and improving my knowledge about it, but the OP as it is, is still a valid and non dup question on here, isn't it? \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's not a dupe, assuming none of those other questions answer your question. You're the only one who can tell that by reading them, hence me pointing them out to you. Some touch on the same issues so learning from them might help refine your question, which is somewhat broad. I think being a GMPC is a key part of this, where your TL;DR could be answered very differently if it's a real PC or a NPC or a GMPC. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 13:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk: yeah, as I said, thanks for that. And yeah, I aggree it is a bit broad, but I guess not too broad, since I'm looking for an specific aproach. To the latter: I wasn't aware that it makes a difference of the approach about it is an NPC, PC or GMPC. And have to admit I still don't see in which way it would make a difference (But thats probably due to my lack in RP'ing experience at all) \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 13:56
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Per your points on meta, edited this to include the PC and GMPC classes. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 11:20

6 Answers 6


Make a GMPC that cannot help

Good examples of this are for example golems, zombies, or animal companions. You can ask them for help all you want; they cannot make decisions for themselves and only follow orders. They might instinctively fight on their own accord, protect their charge with their lives and follow him anywhere but no matter how often you try, they won't be able to pick whether you should go rescue the princess immediately or find the magic sword first.

Make a GMPC that is not allowed to help

Perhaps the companion is tasked by a Holy Order to escort the PC, because according to a prophecy the PC will recover an ancient artifact. But the prophecy also says that the PC will travel there on their own accord and their minds cannot be influenced by those who know the contents of the prophecy. So the companion will guard and help the PC with anything they ask, but they cannot influence their decisions directly for fear of ruining the prophecy.

Alternatively, the companion could just have a very strong belief that the PC should be solving this problem on their own. They could be a mentor from a monastic order teaching them about decisions and responsibilities, for example. Or a military leader training an officer to deal with complex situations.

Make a GMPC diametrically opposed to going forward

For example, a bodyguard who is under strict orders to follow the PC wherever they go and never go against their command, but who really just wants the PC to go back home and give up this foolishness. They will never say so, but if you ask, their only advice is "turn around and march home", which is not exactly helpful.

Make a GMPC that cannot communicate with the PC

A mute, for example. It would take quite some adventuring before the PC can learn sign language to the point where the companion can do much more then point at things and do some gestures. This one can give some help, but as long as you as the DM don't talk it's very easy to stay in character and you probably won't be able to give away much. (It's also funny to have to do charades)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Pretty much the nail on the head. Insta accepting it, since you even gave me inspiration for making an own adventure based on this settings :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 11:40
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Following up on your bodyguard idea, I'd consider running the GMPC as a squire or trainee of the PC, with no inherent desire to move forward. Rather, they might just want to stick with the PC, as in some of the examples below. (As an aside, this can work for PC motivations too!) \$\endgroup\$
    – Passage
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 23:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Passage: But that case resolves again to a medium that will be trying to solve problems and gather information that are usefull for the PC, on their own. and exactly that is what I'm trying to avoid. The GMPC has to be prevented from coming up with own ideas, or at least expressing them. Sadly not given by that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 11:11

One good way to handle this is to make your GMPC a "follower" of the other PC -- that is, they're less experienced, less familiar with the world, generally less capable (you can do some of this with feats and skills, by having your GMPC less skilled in things like local knowledge, politics, tactics, etc., but competent in things like actual combat, survival, and class capability). That will help you play as what amounts to an "equal, but less equal" and let the other PC make all the decisions and figure stuff out. It probably won't work to make the GMPC lower level; the exponential experience milestones for level advancement in D&D (at least versions I've played) mean a lower level character (who survives) will tend to catch up quickly if adventuring with a higher level character or party.

Beyond that, it's mainly a matter of constantly reminding yourself to let the other player make the decisions -- think of your GMPC as a henchman. Best is if the player can buy into the concept that they're the leader, to the point of overriding your GMPC (most of the time) if you start to lead. Even though henchmen are usually weaker than the PCs, there's nothing that prevents an (initially) equal character from being the follower, and that's the better role for a GMPC.

As noted in comments, possibly the best example of this is Kirk and Spock from Star Trek:TOS -- Spock was superior in almost every way (smarter, more knowledgeable, stronger, faster, a limited telepath, older and more experienced), but had no desire to lead; he preferred to follow Kirk, even years before they both realized that their relationship was that of the deepest kind of friends, as opposed to Captain and Number One.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I really like this solution; Essentially drop in tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheBigGuy as GMPC \$\endgroup\$
    – Gus
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 17:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's one good, if somewhat cliche way to do it. A "sidekick" (Robin to the player's Batman, from the old days when a sidekick was a sidekick) would be another way to do it. Robin had the same powers as Batman (none), but less equipment, experience, and independent resources. Or even Spock to the player's Kirk (from ToS, not the reboot movies) -- Spock is superior in almost every way, but doesn't want to lead, preferring to follow Kirk. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 18:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZeissIkon: I prefer the example of Spock here; from a power point of view, there is no need for the GMPC to be "weaker", it just needs to be either "more shy", "more passive" or even "less interested" (I am thinking the parallel to Spock could be a Wizard mostly interested in his books or a Druid mostly interested in studying the wildlife). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 9:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with all, and I would add you might specifically want to create a support character. Someone focused on healing provides a lot of support but has good reason to rarely get the limelight. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 15:11

First, don't call your character a PC. What you want to do in this case is to give a long-term NPC. Don't worry, NPCs are people too, your player can enjoy roleplaying without you making a GMPC (which is usually not a good idea).

Now onto the actual question:

The NPC could be subservient to the player. A loyal servant, somebody under their command, a hired mercenary. Make it clear, that the PC has authority, not absolute authority, but a pretty strong one.

Also, it might be a good idea to give the NPC a strong motivation which needs him/her to stay close, but makes him not want to participate in "solving" the adventure. Make a bodyguard or servant, who mostly cares about the life of his employer. Make a mercenary, who is only here because he needs the money. Make a guy, who doesn't care about anything, but the PC saved his life, so now he will follow. Make a down on his luck soldier, who just wants to survive this whole thing. So basically make his interest in the adventure very different, then the interest of the PC and make that very clear from the start.

  • \$\begingroup\$ But my question was kind of HOW to achieve this. Don't want to sound unthankfull, but actually that didn't gave me the point of how to. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 13:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Zaibis I feel this answer gives a pretty good explanation (and examples) on how to give character roleplaying-traits that would cause them to not push the adventure forward. Can you say which part you feel does not give you the "how"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 10:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik: with the how I'm looking for "how" to design them, nto what they could be. a servant, some one under his command or a mercenary this are all roles where one would give his input if he were asked about. I want more a trait of making the gmpc saying "You know I dont feel comfortable with telling you this" when asked for input. The only thing fitting this is "it might be a good idea to give the NPC a strong motivation which needs him/her to stay close, but makes him not want to participate in "solving" the adventure" But again I don't see any of the examples, covering this strong enough. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 10:58
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Zaibis right, I understand. I think the question is misunderstood then. You're getting answers for GMPCs who WILL NOT drive the story forward, but it seems you are looking for a GMPC who CANNOT drive the story forward, even when directly asked to do so? \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 11:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik exactly! As I tryed to express with my 2nd footnote: the other pc's should be aware of they can't trust his informations or it should be a challanging to get any informations at all. While still it has to be obvisious for them that the gmpc is on their site. so in other words: I'm looking for a tool that makes it easy for me to play it in role while almost excluding the posibillity of accidently exposing informations. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 11:30

Let the player play two characters

I know this might not be exactly what you're looking for, but maybe you just let the other person play two characters instead of having one of your own involved. This can be a bit tricky with him trying to play two characters, but in a recent campaign I played in (1 on 1). I played a barbarian and a wizard.

The only thing is that I had to describe how the characters interact and speak with one another. In my case, the female barbarian was kindof a practical slob and the male wizard was prissy and clean. I might suggest the player making two characters who are very different so the interactions are more interesting.

As the DM, you then just have to throw the encounters at them and worry about your NPCs that you're using to interact with them. The problem with a GMPC is that even if you're trying really hard, you know exactly what will happen. So the solution is to let the player make all the decisions anyway...why not just let them play two characters?

In combat control and sounding board only

You may also decide that your GMPC is only under your control in combat and as a sounding board for the PC. The goal of the GMPC would tend to er on the side of caution in almost every circumstance (you NEED to be consistent in how he behaves otherwise you risk hinting things to the PC).

Your GMPC is a slave/servant

In 3.5 there was a character called a Red Wizard of Thay, and they had sword guardians called Thayan Knights. The Knight was completely subservient to the Red Wizard and absolutely devoted to his protection. You might also imagine Chewbacca from Star Wars, where he owes a Wookie life debt to Han. They have individuality, but ultimately, they follow the lead. A martial character would probably be appropriate for this sort of thing.

Tonto or Mute

I was thinking of characters that could emulate what you're looking for, and you're really looking for a sidekick. Tonto, the Lone Ranger's sidekick generally just had words of wisdom and had specialized environmental knowledge (the desert). You could execute a similar character where he has just a few generally wise things to say, but is really there as some comic relief. It might be an interesting opportunity to create some cryptic words of wisdom that the other player will have to decipher.

I also thought of a character who might be mute for some reason (imagine perhaps a witch cursed him because he kept running his mouth). That way he won't be able to give specific advice in any given situation, but rather would indicate 'yes', 'no', or 'I don't know' to questions from the player.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I downvoted this, since My OP's main question is simply asking about how to design a special kind of character patern. And if your answer is related to my explanation what I need it for, I give multiple reasons, why I don't wan't to let the player play multiple characters. So answering to let him play 2 characters is not an answer in any way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 8:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Un-Downvoted because I wasn't reading on and I really like the "Red Wizard of Thay", good enough to negate the other part ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 8:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Probably should have opened with that bit, but it came to my mind after I thought about the other stuff. \$\endgroup\$
    – BaseHobo
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 14:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ muting alone won't help against the motivation of pushing, but a curse by itself may finetune this. upvoted now since actually this is providing some usefull ideas :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 11:34

Is it needed?

Before I suggest, let me ask up front, why is a second character needed? If it is to make up for a lack of certain skills (healing, thief skills, etc.), you could just as easily write them out of the adventure. Give some extra potions to make up for not having a healer. Eliminate locks and traps when feasible. Other than the PC being a wizard, and needing a tank to protect her, any shortfall can reasonably be adjusted for.

How to write it into the story?

My suggestion would be thus:
Start the adventure with the two characters being caught by a powerful wizard. The wizard attempts to use powerful magic to make both of them into his thralls. They break free as the wizard is casting the spell on the GMPC, and the PC interrupts it. They defeat the wizard, and the GMPC is thankful for being saved. The PC thinks it is just a standard life-debt kind of scenario. But in reality, when the spell was interrupted, it was not stopped, but instead the ownership endpoint was transferred to the PC, instead of the wizard. So while the GMPC appears normal and free-willed, just slightly indebted/subservient, (s)he will always put the PC first and is forced to obey anything phrased as an order.

Then at some point the PC may find out the truth, and that can lead to other story possibilities.


Give your NPC a motivation other than "advancing the story." After all, your NPC has no idea "the story" exists; Just like the PCs, they've got a goal (defeat the cultists, recover the Bauble of Glory, earn enough money to buy medicine for Mother), and they should take actions to that end.

In other words, it sounds like your problem is keeping in-character and out-of-character motivations and knowledge separate, so follow the strategy for dealing with that: Whenever you're about to take an in-character action, stop and ask yourself "Can I justify doing this in purely in-character terms." If the only justifications you can think of depend on your character acting on knowledge he shouldn't have, don't take that course of action. Leave it up to your player to decide what to do, instead.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "it sounds like your problem is keeping in-character and out-of-character motivations and knowledge separate" Yep ofcourse exactly that is my problem. I described in OP that I can't rp well enough to handle every situation that might occur in an strict to the character way. And thats why also the NPC thing won't work. On the one hand planing a NPC with set goals is a thing I could handle, but here the problem is, its goals could contradict to the PC goals leaving the PC alone. On the other hand, using a GMPC would lead to situations where I cant RP it well without giving DM knowledge away. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 8:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Given that you have identified your problem, I recommend looking at the many existing questions about how to overcome that problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 22:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, that's a much more specific problem that we have other questions and answers on here. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 13:01

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