Text written on parchment detailing a warrior's bragging.

As mentioned in my last post, powerful NPCs can be a bit of an issue. But they’re bound to exist. Remember though that the PCs are the star of your story. So you need to take care that these NPCs don’t steal the spotlight.

First off, let’s talk about friendly NPCs. We’re looking at followers and companions. Sometimes an NPC tags along with the party on their adventures. Naturally, they need to be somewhat useful, otherwise they’re dead weight. But if they’re stronger than a PC, or even the whole party, that’s a major problem. The best practice way to keep them out of the spotlight is to make them just a bit weaker than an individual PC. Not enough to be dead weight, nor enough to supersede the PCs. Just enough to hold their own. They need the PCs, not the other way around. Consider maybe putting them two or three levels below the PCs. Or try using separate rules for them, like the sidekicks UA for D&D 5e. Another good idea is to try to use classes or character roles that aren’t covered by your PCs. They’ll probably be interested in the novelty of a character of a different class, and more importantly, you aren’t stepping on any toes of someone who already fills that role or plays that class.

Now neutral NPCs. These really don’t need the spotlight at all unless there’s a damn good reason. in most cases, quest givers shouldn’t be more powerful than the PCs, since they’d just do the quests themselves if that’s the case. Likewise, people the PCs see in passing shouldn’t be overly powerful in most cases, since it makes the PCs feel insignificant. It might be appropriate to drop an occasional reminder that the PCs aren’t the only powerful people, but unless it’s relevant, the attention of the story shouldn’t shift to essentially random NPCs. It can be assumed that there are other powerful NPCs out there, but we don’t need to be reminded of that unless there’s a compelling reason for it.

With antagonists, you’re walking a finer line here. You do actually want them to be equal to or more powerful than the PCs. because they’re the challenge to be overcome. they are the conflict in the story, just as the PCs are the main characters, and the other NPCs are all members of the supporting cast. But don’t go overboard. If enemy NPCs are impossibly powerful or steal the limelight from the PCs by making their actions entirely insignificant at any turn, you’re overdoing it. The antagonists and PCs should be playing in the same league, even if one of those teams seems more likely to make it to the championship. They’ll both score points in the game. If one team is winning in a blowout, then something needs to be rebalanced.

And balance is the key here. You’re walking a fine line as the GM. The world might not revolve around your PCs, but your story does. keep your focus on them, and use them as your lens to view the narrative. There’s a whole wide owrld of content to draw from, but the PCs are your fixed reference point. your anchor. Your one constant. Keep the spotlight on them, and keep your eyes on them. The rest will follow.

Has your PC ever been upstaged by an NPC?

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