I am currently GMing a rather large group of 8 people where about 6 show up regularly, every two weeks. These sessions can be rather straining for me and I am therefore looking for ways to make GMing easier for myself.

One problem that I have found is that one of my players (who I have known for several years and has been part of another campaign for over a year now) needs way more attention than the others and I therefore have to put a lot of effort into balancing face time between my players.

He is also often working against the group and tries to bend the world and the other players to his will (which goes strictly against what we discussed as a group in the same page tool).

Nevertheless I do not want to boot him or something — I would rather make him play a Harlequin (“a player who plays only NPCs”) as I'm sure that he will have a great deal of fun and it would even help me as I have often difficulties playing menacing/evil NPCs!

The issue here is: I told him about my idea, but he said he is already too emotionally attached to his character (although we only played 1 session for about 3 hours so far...) but generally likes the idea. He also personally stated that he really likes the feeling of character progression, not power progression and that he is afraid that as a Harlequin he won't have the same feeling of character growth than the other players.

How can I give a player who is playing only NPCs the same feeling of character growth as the other players with PCs?


3 Answers 3


Sounds like he is already into his character. Just because he has only played him once doesn't mean he hasn't taken the time to flesh his character out beforehand and gotten jazzed about things he intends to do in the future. It looks like you are reading between the lines and are assuming some other motivation, but it is probably best to stick to the reasons they have given you directly unless you have a very good reason not to. Seems like you have a few options here.

Also, for all of these remember to highlight that as a Harlequin he will get dramatically more attention from you when preparing for games and more attention from players who need something from his NPCs. Treat it as a team role.

Option 1: Wait it out

Just let him finish with this character first. Just because its a good idea doesn't mean it can happen immediately. Just try to get him excited about playing a Harlequin as his next thing.

Option 2: NPC his PC

Offer to work with him to turn the character he is excited about into an NPC he would then control. The upside is this means their character can be a very central character in the narrative, but isn't always present, freeing him up to switch back and forth between that character and other NPCs. You would have to discuss some future campaign elements with him to make it happen, but for that kind of player it can make them feel special and privileged anyway, so they may be into it.

Option 3: Table the PC

Give them the option of picking up the character they are playing now at a later time. Make sure he knows that he will not lose progress relative to the other players, and have some story element in mind that is interesting to explain where he is during that time that makes his PC sound cool and expresses what he wants to do with the PC.

Option 4: Call in a favor

It honestly sounds like you are overwhelmed with your number of players. If you need him to Harlequin to succeed, be straight with him about it and ask him to do it as a favor to you as a human being. Depending on the type of person, letting them know you are struggling can pull them out of their default focus on their own experience. Everyone wants the game to succeed, and especially if you have a set of fun rolls for him to play after he decides to answer your call for help. Often we hide when we are struggling when a straightforward discussion would lead to healthy change in behavior.

Harlequin Progression

If you really think progression is the main element driving this player away from the role come up with a simple Harlequin progression system for them. When you give them NPCs you can tally the XP that NPC would have received as a player and let them spend it on PCs later on. You could also give them bounties, in which if they accomplished a plot goal with an NPC they could receive loot or advanced customization options for whatever PC they play next. Just make sure your other players are on board with this, so one day when he is playing a dragon with a +2 family heirloom they don't feel cheated.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Very nice options! Exactly what I was looking for! The last point is also very very valuable to me! Thank you so much ~ \$\endgroup\$
    – Gravetow
    Mar 9, 2017 at 18:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, make sure with the last option that you clearly define what is on and off the table. If your plan would allow the PC with bounties to be clearly stronger than the average PC make sure you have a plan ahead of time of what you will do with that imbalance that doesn't marginalize the other PCs. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 9, 2017 at 18:28

Why not make his character the Harlequinn instead of rolling a new one?

If he is emotionally attached to his character and generally OK to play a Harlequinn, do it!

I played on a Minecraft roleplaying server some fair time ago, and a whole faction of players was converted into antagonists. It may be OK, and attention-seeking people tend to like playing evil-acting characters, for a reason I don't currently understand.

But I have to warn you against some things:

  1. Make sure other players are OK with PvP in general. Then your solution will work, otherwise any of the parties (the problem player or the others) will have to somehow settle the wish to play different games.

  2. Given that your players are generally OK with PvP, the only thing that should really matter is all of your players having fun. Therefore, for example, all enemies that are supposed to be fought are supposed to be beatable by the group. I am waiting for you to specify the system, but you may look at, for example, Challenge Rating from D20 games. You will have to choose the party that will have that small, but important advantage of things being balanced for that party.

  3. If you make that player act as the evil side, either party will try it's best to win, and once in a while one of the paties will win, most likely the other players. Notify your player that as soon as he plays the evil side, he will frequently lose. That shouldn't mean that his character will die -- it's just that his plans are likely to fail frequently.
  4. Just as in any PvP game ruled by GM, make sure that all of the parties either don't feel like you help the enemy solve encounters and/or is OK with that.
  5. Balance out the power levels, and makes both parties very tough, so they both have a chance to escape if needed, and your giant group of players has more screen time per fight for each of them.
    1. One of the options that I have seen somewhere across RPG.SE is to assume that everyone always rolls maximum on their hit dice, for example, a Wizard would have to roll D4 (average of 2.5), but just gets 4 HP, a barbarian gets 12 HP instead of D12 (average of 6.5). Makes fights take way more time, but also makes limited-use items that deal damage (such as spell slots) way more limited... Might not be a problem for you if you have many spellcasters in a party.
    2. The other option is just giving both parties many items that help to escape.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much for the input! I think the other answers my question better, but this is great advice for handling players playing Harlequins in general! \$\endgroup\$
    – Gravetow
    Mar 9, 2017 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that a “Harlequin” is a type of player, not a type of character, making it impossible for a character to be or become a “Harlequin”. See the definition the question links to. I think the term you're looking for is simply “villain”, and you're suggesting to abandon the idea of the player becoming a Harlequin player. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 9, 2017 at 21:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Playing evil characters is the more funny way to get what you want. I've never played a good guy before, neutral at least (== always the option to just backstab and leave the country lol) \$\endgroup\$
    – clockw0rk
    Oct 23, 2019 at 13:55

When I've done this, the Harlequin has never lacked for progression. I've mostly done this in Pathfinder/D&D 3.5/Pokemon, where the challenges the players face can be expected to stay roughly level with the power of the party over time, but I've also done it in Shadowrun 4e (although in 4e Shadowrun it's important that no one was looking for serious character power increases).

The important thing has always been that, while individual NPCs may not advance mechanically, overall the NPCs portrayed in the world necessarily advance comparably to the PC group. These systems focus on the players overcoming challenges and so as the PCs increase in ability the obstacles must increase in difficulty at least that much, so that the challenge in the game does not diminish.

As an example, a player may be allowed to play the clan of goblins guarding Dungeon Level (DL) 1. The player is given the goblin's force distribution, their general situation, and their current goals. The player plays to accomplish those goals, which generally puts them at odds with the players. The harlequin usually loses (the game is designed so that they should), and then gets a new set of baddies for the next arc, say, the gnolls on DL 2. The goblins had a certain set of ludonarrative interactions, and the gnolls have a different set, allowing the player to try out something new. Furthermore, the goblins were designed to deal with the level 1 party, but the gnolls are more on par with a level 2 party, fueling the idea of advancement.

As the game goes on, or with players I trust, I generally just give them the general power level and discuss with them what they want to play, altering the available resources and situation based on the power of the group they choose and the power of the party.

Essentially, what I've saying is that the Harlequin advances automatically every time they change who they're playing to cover the next bad guy group lining up to fight the party.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe the question was rather unclear - but it is 'character progression' not 'power progression' the character is afraid of missing while playing NPCs! \$\endgroup\$
    – Gravetow
    Mar 10, 2017 at 8:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Gravetow Please edit that into your question. Also I've always heard 'character growth' for development of a character in a narrative sense, rather than 'character progression' which is reserved for development in the ludomechanical sense (e.g. levelling up). You may want to use 'growth' to make the point clearer, but it might just be a local linguistic phenomenon that has me using the words that way. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 10, 2017 at 22:41

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