Player Envy: The Dungeon Master’s PC

In this weeks bonus blog we’ve got another question from my favorite DM:

Have you ever used a DM’s PC similar to the one being described in the Dungeon’s Master — A Dungeons & Dragons Resource Blog here => http://dungeonsmaster.com/2011/06/the-dms-pc/
I am thinking about implementing one in my campaign & just wondering if there are any gotchas that you can think of with it.

– B. Lynn (DaddyDM on Twitter)

I first started DMing when I was eleven or twelve, and it never actually occurred to me that as the DM, I shouldn’t have a PC.  I didn’t have any rule books, and the internet was still in its infancy.  All I had to go by was my friend David, who taught me all he knew about roleplaying, and I made the rest up as I went along (which is what I’m still doing 17 years later).

I’m sure a part of it was simply the fact that I resented having to DM after being a player for so long, but I guess that’s what happens when selfish, 13 year old DMs get up and move to Austria with their family, and leave you stranded with a bunch of unruly players.

The point here is that I always had a DM’s PC in the early days of my gaming.  It didn’t operate like the PC described in the above Dungeon’s Master blog though.  It was just my PC.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that this wasn’t the best strategy as a DM.  For one, it distracted me from my duties as DM because I was invested in my character and wanted him or her to perform well and kick butt.

Another thing I noticed was that my players would get annoyed sometimes, as they seemed to expect a lot more from my PC.  They assumed it should be able to steer them in the right direction, and get them out sticky or terrifying stiuations.  When I didn’t comply with this, they whined (players are the most expert whiners I’ve ever met, and I used to teach Middle School).  Even though I rarely exercised my DM powers through my PC, they still had this weird idea that my character was some kind of Deus Ex Machina, placed their by me for their benefit.

Over time my PC slowly evolved into more of what Ameron describes in the blog B. referred to.  My PCs were still always more involved though, and less of a butler.  Without trying to sound like I’m picking at the blog (as I enjoyed it very much), for most of my campaigns, a character that could do all of the scouting, diplomacy and grunt work would ruin the campaign for me and my players.  This all, of course, depends on your particular DMing and style and your players’ playing styles.

I love good roleplaying, and if I know my group of players does as well, I would never want to remove the prerequisite tavern scene, where the PCs settle into a new town and look for a room and gather some information.  Those have been some of the greatest scenes I’ve ever witnessed!  (Gnome tossing is a great tavern game).  To have a DM’s character handle all that so the players can just show up and go to sleep, seems to undermine what I personally love most about D&D.  (I have one player that religiously makes skill checks to build herself a nest to sleep in every night.)  On the other hand, if you know your players just want to kill something and level up, then Ameron’s strategy would work perfectly.

The one thing Ameron doesn’t cover is a DM’s PC that actually gains experience and levels up.  For me, there are definitely some benefits as the Dungeon Master to having an actual PC that levels and adventures with the other PCs.  There are always times that PCs get stuck, and it’s times like these that a Deus Ex Machina really is useful.  Instead of trying to hint at ideas, or have a falling rock provide some inspiration, you already have the perfect tool to help the PCs out.  And this can be done without making it seem like anything has gone wrong.  When your players get used to you having a PC, and you say, “I wonder what’s behind that shrub,” it doesn’t seem strange and out of the ordinary.  It’s just you roleplaying.

When it comes to combat and skills, having an additional PC made by you can be very helpful as well.  Instead of telling your players, “Well, I’m not saying you need it, but it might be useful to learn that Knock spell,” wink, wink, nudge, nudge – you can simply give your PC some of the skills, spells or abilities that you know will be useful.  This allows the PCs to really focus on building the character they want.  For me this is huge.  Players are happiest when they don’t feel like they have to do something, especially when it involves leveling their character.  Nobody wants to make a spellcaster?  No problem!  Need some lockpicking skills? The DM’s got you covered.

That being said, you really should use your PC sparingly.  It’s better to have them as a helping hand that shows up now and again, sometimes to fight along side them, sometimes to give them helpful advice, sometimes to just sit and have a drink.  When you have a PC throughout an entire campaign, it really can become personally distracting, and sometimes it’s hard to resist just using your PC to solve a problem when the players are drowing in a sealed chamber and complaining about how tough your puzzle is.  No matter how much they might whine, your players still want the spotlight to be on them.

Wishing someone else would DM for a change,
The Dungeon Master

We need more questions! Please submit if you love us. 

If you wish to submit a question to the Dungeon Master, please e-mail them to dungeonmastermind@gmail.com, or you can Tweet me a question by hash-tagging me (#askthedm) in your Tweet. And make sure to review the disclaimer.

You can also see me in action in One Die Short.

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