On Friday we comb through our extensive archives to find an older article that we feel deserves another look. From April 30, 2010, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Hey, Isn’t That My Character: Using Retired PCs As NPCs.
A good NPC can make a campaign. A bad one, well bad NPCs are usually forgotten fairly quickly. With this in mind it’s in a DMs best interest to ensure that his key NPCs have detailed stories to accompany them. By providing these NPCs with quirks, strengths and weaknesses it provides the PC with more reason to interact and develop a relationship. This in turn makes it easier for the DM to move the story along, twining the PCs concerns with those of the NPC. Of course this takes a lot of work and as the PCs progress new NPCs are required, with new stories and reason to motivate the PCs.
There are a number of ways to make an NPC pivotal to the story. Using a PC’s back story is a great way to tie a particular character to a NPC and make that NPC really matter. Another great way is having the NPC be a mentor figure to the PCs. Of course some of the best NPCs are villains, and some of the best villains are retired PCs. Allow me to elaborate.
I’ve had two occasions to experience a retired PC return as a villain to great effect. The players aren’t usually ready for it and it adds a great emotional twist to the story as the villain was once a close ally.
The first instance happened back in our 3.5e days. Balador was a Paladin who gave into his vices and succumbed to the temptation that the Blackguard prestige class offered. When the player retired Balador he was still a very confused Paladin. He mysteriously disappeared when the PCs entered a mystical gate. He simply never re-appeared with the rest of the party. The player wanted a new character and this is how we said goodbye to Balador. Of course Balador had to land somewhere, he wasn’t just dead or running a tavern somewhere.
Several levels after Balador disappeared the party heard rumours of a gathering army led by a powerful Warlord named Balador. The look on the players’ faces was great, especially the one who had retired Balador. No one had seen it coming and now suddenly they had extra motivation to eliminate this villain.
The second instance happened just a few weeks ago. We’ve recently returned to a game we began in 3.5e. We updated our characters to 4e versions and off we went. The party has always had some internal division which has made the game that much more enjoyable. The internal role playing has been a lot of fun. The PCs come from different social classes and several are Dragonmarked Heirs. While there might have been some internal wrangling, all the players wanted to ensure that we didn’t allow the internal role playing to hijack the game.
As is prone to happen when switching editions, one player didn’t like the way his PC transitioned to 4e. He just didn’t feel that his Rogue, Luk worked well with the new edition. He spoke with the DM and arranged to have his PC leave the party and introduce a new character. Of course it was Luk who was stirring the pot the most with the internal party conflicts. To say that my character and his hated one another would be an understatement.
Well Luk wasn’t just retired. When he left the party he stole a valuable item from my PC and sent the party a message that he’d be selling all he knew about us to the highest bidder. In an instant the situation with Luk went from an interesting role playing scenario within the party to a villain the PCs can’t wait to track down. As an aside the player running Luk and I have known each other for 15 years and been playing D&D together for 10, so there are no hard feelings, it’s all in the game.
These two instances of using retired PCs as NPCs has been a great way for the DM to inject a new villain and new life into the campaigns. The great part is the DM has very little work to do. The player has already constructed a back story for the character giving the PC motivations, relationships and history. Additionally, the PC has grown, matured, gained allies and enemies as he has advanced in level. All that is left for the DM to do is give his new NPC a reason to be a villain.
Of course villainy doesn’t have to be the route taken. The PC could still be a good and upright individual, however now that they are no longer with the party there are competing motivations. Both the party and the NPC want the same item, but for different reasons. This sets up a confrontation down the road that is bursting with role playing opportunities.
What experience have you had with converting retired PCs into NPCs? Did it work as you intended or did the NPCs former player object?