On occasion you’ll want an NPC to follow the party. Perhaps a player is missing that week and you want an NPC to stand in, or the players have hired a henchman to fill a missing party role. They might call in a favour for an epic final battle, adding extra NPCs to help fight.
Here’s some advice on making the experience go smoothly.
1. Don’t overshadow the players
Newbie DMs sometimes make the mistake of having an NPC tag along and do the party’s job for them. It detracts from the players’ victory if your NPC wins all their battles for them.
If you do have an NPC join the party, be sure he’s only assisting the party and not hogging all the glory. Especially, don’t have a high-level character step in and solve all their problems. Nobody wants to sit back while you teleport Gandalf in and fight all your own monsters.
2. Use simpler game stats
NPCs don’t need as much detail as a full player character. Unnecessary detail makes an NPC more time-consuming to generate, and can slow down play by presenting the DM with too many options.
Since NPCs tend not to have many wild abilities (damage reduction, fear auras or the like), it’s safe to write down their base stats: HP, AC, Fort/Ref/Will, Initiative, any skills you think they’ll need, and their attacks.
Don’t bother with individual feats, skill points, powers or racial abilities. With 4E NPCs, one or two at-will attacks and an encounter power should be enough. More detail only slows NPC generation and detracts from the player characters.
3. Fill missing players with NPCs
If your group is missing a player this week, one option is to fill in with a “Biff the Understudy”.
Biff the Understudy is an NPC in the PC game Baldur’s Gate who replaces any plot-relevant NPC you manage to kill. Likewise, the DM can run a quickly generated replacement character of the same class. As above, you don’t need full stats.
4. Use character generation software
Some character generation software can throw together an NPC very quickly.
A particularly useful feature of the 4E D&D Character Builderis the “Quick Character” option, which lets you auto-generate a character in a few seconds. This is actually quicker than the in the NPC generation guidelines in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Similar software exists for third edition, or you can use the quick NPC stats in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
NPCs who join a party can be generated with full treasure for their level, but hired troops and opponents should not. If a player runs an NPC henchman, don’t let the henchman hand over his equipment to the player for free. NPC allies with full treasure may take a share of XP and treasure.
5. Give NPCs some character
Each NPC should be more than a set of statistics. Pick a name and at least two distinguishing features.
Drop a comment with your own suggestions for handling NPCs, henchmen and hirelings.