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PhiltimusPrime

Small party - run an GM PC?

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Hi I'm new to these forums so be nice please. :)

 

I've started a new campaign with a new group of players but we're a bit under-strength at only 3 Marines - Librarian, Tech-Marine and Devastator. I'm not a novice DW GM by any means and have ran it for several years now but normally had a party of 4 - 6. Given how tight it is covering the bases required for a fully immersive campaign with 4, I'm concerned that they're really going to struggle with just 3 and totally stall at something simple (particularly healing - given the lack of apothecary).

Consulting with others, including the players, has produced the option of me running an active GM PC. Specifically an apothecary to cover their main weakness.

Now I'm not entirely convinced by the idea. Obviously I've used NPCs in assistive roles but generally only for short periods and never for key parts of adventures. I'm worried that, given I know the ins and outs of the scenarios, it would occasionally seem a bit too much like GM ex Machina - especially as I'd be playing the Healer.

I'm also worried about the amount of keeping track I'd need to do as both GM and PC

 

What are other people's thoughts. Has anyone ever ran a game with a GM PC? How did it go for you?

 

BTW I dont run pure DW rules. I incorporated some BC elements to smooth out certain aspects and then incorporated some good old home brew rules (such as incremental power armour damage) to give it a much more gradually increasing threat aspect without going from "Walk in the park" to "OMG we're all dead" in an instant. Which kinda ramps up the need for an apothecary.

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Salutations,

 

I, too, am new to the forums, but I have a lot of experience running small party campaigns, so I decided to post a little about my experiences. For background (I plan on making a 'Introduce Myself' post here, shortly) I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to FFG games, but not to Warhammer. I've been playing and GM'ing various systems for many years, with a significant portion of time behind the screen. I've had parties as big as 8-9 players and as small as 2. I've also had my GM'ing style critiqued as being "evil", perhaps verging on "psychologically traumatizing". (I jest, of course, but I don't pull punches very often. "Grimdark" appeals to me greatly.)

 

That in mind, I have always held discussions with my players prior to campaigns about what to expect. Regardless of group size, I always offer to run GM-PC assets for them, should role gaps need to be filled. These GM-PCs have been anything from a "healer-bot", to "lock-picking devices" that follow the group around blindly, constantly in the action with them, but providing, virtually, no other assistance beyond restoring hit-points or opening doors. I've also had powerful mentor NPCs for the party that balanced out very early game and higher end encounters. 

 

What I have found is that it boils down to the group. In my personal experiences, the smaller the group, the better it is to have a GM-PC fill the gaps. Player personality comes into effect heavily. Players who really enjoy rolling the dice and seeing results (aka "Roll-Players") often resent having what amounts to a NPC in the party contribute heavily to the game-play. Players who want to be immersed into the campaign/story (aka "Role-Players") rarely have issues with a GM-PC, as long as it's part of the story and not detracting from their influences on the campaign.

 

While I tend to be more of the "Role-Player" type, I don't have any issues with how someone wants to enjoy themselves during game-play. I've had to add and remove GM-PCs throughout the course of many campaigns because party attitudes had shifted. What you're referring to as "GM ex Machina" is a definite concern. I've made plenty of mistakes with inserting my own PC and various NPCs that are far too powerful because I have my own knowledge and methods about the campaign and gaming in general. This has, without fail, always lead to resentment of the PC/NPC in question.

 

As far as making a "Healer-Bot" character for the party, I've always seen groups take far more risks than they probably should, knowing that there's a dedicated healer following them around. It doesn't necessarily lead to a "GM ex Machina" situation, but I've seen a greatly reduced amount of care and consideration given to normal encounters and have had several player deaths occur because of cavalier attitudes. I'm not a huge fan of such tactics and my campaigns rarely ever provide an environment where that is a sound choice.

 

My solutions to this usually involves allowing for the dedicated healer and making encounters more devious and difficult, or providing greater ease of access to consumables for the party (rather than the healer). Both situations have had plenty of success and failure.

 

Running a active GM-PC rather than a follower is a very fine line to walk. I'm currently building a way to play a Deathwatch game by GM'ing through a Tactical Marine/Dedicated Team Leader (by the group's choice) and it is proving most difficult. Having a character of your own, as the GM, play a fundamental role within the group is very tricky. Too much involvement really infringes on player freedom. Too little, and the character becomes just a follower. 

 

With a small group, as you have, I always suggest that players can/should/do run multiple PC's rather than involve me in the group. Some players are more willing to do so than others. Some players firmly want me to build a character that I'm attached to, so I have something on the other side of the screen to subject to my tortures. Lastly, giving players access to followers right away is, in my opinion, the best solution. This allows them to provide for themselves without your involvement, or having to manage multiple PC's themselves.

 

As a player in a small group, I always took a follower as soon as I could. As a GM, I always give players the option of having a follower at the beginning. Usually one or two players will take advantage, to save headaches and frustrations.

 

At the risk of making what has already turned into a small novel of a post into a full blown reference book, I'll provide a short, specific example of my own experience as a player in a 3 player group. We were playing Pathfinder:

 

Myself (Cleric), Buddy A (Paladin) and Buddy B (Ranger) had a long discussion with the GM about possible concerns and complications of a full-bore adventure with only 3 players. We came to an agreement that if we played intelligently and had better than average access to potions/consumables, success could be had. The GM made plenty of concessions towards us, but did not allow us to take followers until we could take feats for it, in the regular, RAW, fashion. I took a feat at level 1 which allowed me to have a minion right away. Said minion was barely useful beyond hitting things with a blunt object and taking 2-3 hits before falling to the ground. But, it was better than nothing.

 

Game-play went about as we expected. We were all veteran players, and had several close-calls. The time came when we could finally take appropriate feats for legitimate followers. I could "upgrade" my minion to a full-blown mini-Paladin (a few levels below me), Buddy A took a mini-Cleric and Buddy B took a mini-Sorceror. This added to our capabilities immensely, and soon the GM took the gloves off because we were no longer fragile.

 

GM attitude aside (it was not a long campaign, to put it mildly), all of the followers aided us greatly, but were delicate little flowers that needed constant attention. We all felt that it was the best solution possible, because it kept the GM behind the screen and allowed us to fend for ourselves. When we nearly died, it was our fault. When we smashed an encounter because of good rolls and smart play, that was our accomplishment. 

 

To sum up this overly lengthy musing: I can't speak for every RPGer out there, but keeping the GM behind the screen is best for all involved. As someone who has plenty of GM-PC attempts under his belt, it's such a tricky endeavor that one should really have an experienced, solid group of players for it to work well. If it can be avoided, it should be. (Sometimes that can be really, really hard to do, because you want to play too. In that situation, I make a memorable baddie that I can keep around for the length of the campaign).

 

That's just my two fractions of currency, or several units of it, actually... Hope it helps.

 

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Small groups do have that risk of players struggling if they haven't got anyone to cover a specific area but I have also introduced a GM controlled ally in a D&D game I'm running. The thing to worry about is railroading using that NPC.

The terms should be made clear to the party: "Look guys (and girls) you are lacking a medic so I've rolled up this one for you. He won't be helping you make any tactical decisions and is here to support you." You have to avoid leading them and allow the PCs to make any major decisions. Any advice you give as a PC has to be made with a deliberately limited scope. For example you may know the plot features a gene steamer infected human but your Apothecary might not so you need to be careful what he gives away. You can however use him as useful and sometimes necessary Deus Ex machina in that if the players appear lost for ideas or insight, if his background is unknown enough (go Black Shield) then he may have a vast font of wisdom to bestow on them at the right time to give them clues.

I've done it with a specially designed healer cleric to support a very melee heavy party and made it clear that he won't help in combat (given plot armour and conveniently off the map) and will only provide services such as rations and healing as well as local knowledge while they get up to speed.

Don't be afraid to pull any punches on him either. He's your own PC so he will take beatings, may die but can easily be replaced. Then later on if your players diversify their skills and/or you get extra players you can remove this safety net.

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I have run a lot of games with only one player and both solutions - "1 player - many PC" and "1 PC - many GM NPC" - worked well, even if the player PC was a much weaker than GM NPCs. The longest campaign lasts from 2008 until today.

You only need to create a realistic picture of the connections and relationships among the characters..

After all, we are not the rulers of the world in real life - and it does not prevent us from acting.

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First of all, welcome! If I might also chip in, in my experience a follower is by far the cleanest solution - I always found working around the potential metagaming and railroading issues caused by running a GMPC an awful drag. A servo-skull or servitor can easily fill the gap while letting the players take the spotlight.

 

Another quick solution is making the necessary skills available cheaply, but it heavily depends on what the players have in mind for their PCs. Medicae can be easily included with some tweaks to the backstory (like the Gene-Seed Anomaly Deed in RoB), and if the Librarian happens to be of Ultramarine stock, there's a healing Chapter Psychic Power.

 

In 40k, I always strive to emphasise both the self-reliant nature of a Kill-Team and, to a slightly lesser degree, the rarity of specialist in the ranks of the Adeptus Astartes - an Apothecary is too rare and important a resource to always take the field and run errands with the rank-and-file Marines. This minor obsession can - and, of course, should - be overlooked when the said specialist is a PC, but I loathe to push it it any further with a GMPC. Not to mention the question how a DW outpost (located in the farthest frontiers of the butt-end of the Imperium, no less) manages to have a Kill-Team crewed by three separate First Funding and two additional Second Founding Marines (like the team in my main game). It beggars belief, and should happen, like, once in several millennia, if you really think about it :)

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I have mixed opinions on GMPCs.

 

I have been in games where most of the PCs may as well have not shown up, given the GMPCs and maybe one or two PCs accomplished everything and were the focus of the entire plot. So I'm wary of GMPCs as a rule.

 

But they can be fine, given restrictions. For smaller groups, having a GMPC might be the difference between having a viable group or not. Things like rotating GMs are a thing too.

 

I strongly echo advice given above that if you do use a GMPC, that they step back from decision-making and tactics. Keeping GM and player knowledge separate is tougher if the GM is also playing. The few times I've GMPCed, my character only gives input after the others have decided, if even then. It's still something I am wary of.

 

One alternative solution for a lack of an apothecary is to use rules in First Founding to create a medicae/servo-skull/servitor companion for the killteam. It won't have the breadth of knowledge or combat ability of a full apothecary but they can heal.

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Pretty much agree 100% with Decessor here. GMPCs, to me, always mean a risk of "stolen limelight" that should have really gone to one of the players. But there are ways to deal with this; the aforementioned limitations.

 

When I was playing DW, my Kill-Team was only 3 players strong. We opted to take 2 more as NPCs to make it a proper Squad. All important specialist roles (Squad Leader, Apothecary, Techmarine) were filled by player characters, whereas the NPCs existed only as "cannonfodder" extras (Assault Marine & Devastator).

 

Limiting these GMPCs to additional firepower pretty much meant that all the talking and the fiddling and the puzzle-solving stayed with the PCs only, whereas the NPCs remained valuable both as "DPS boosters" and detachable assets. So in addition to helping out in firefights, we had them split off and take another route, or act as a rearguard, or prepare an ambush and guard our escape route.

 

I think this worked really well -- even better than if it had been players, since it sucks for the GM to have to entertain two groups of people at the same time, yet there are occasions where it just makes sense for a team to split up to take care of multiple things.

 

Also, welcome and have fun! :)

Edited by Lynata

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On the subject of healing, remember that Fate Points can be used to heal as well.

 

The counter-balance is that you (GM) have to be much more liberal on replenishing your Players' Fate Points.

 

Besides the methods listed in the Core Rulebook on rewarding Fate Points, I also award Fate Points based on additional factors:

 

1. Good Roleplaying in-general.

 

2. Playing &/or Roleplaying to a Personal Demeanor well (e.g.: A Gregarious Battle Brother makes a point to be the "face" of the Kill Team when interacting with others outside the Deathwatch.  A Tactiurn Battle Brother that manages to get his point across using as few words as possible.  An Ambitious Battle Brother that actively works towards becoming a Watch Captain.)

 

3. Playing &/or Roleplaying to a Chapter Demeanor (e.g.: A Black Templar plays his Zealous demeanor in focusing his attention upon a witch or sorcerer in battle, ignoring all other targets/hordes, but also counter-balanced by not destroying group-unity by hating-on the Librarian at any/every turn just because.  Or a Marines Errant playing his Shepherd of Assets demeanor in actively conserving any Requisitioned gear, or making a point to take multiple Signature Wargear to reduce his Requistion needs.)

 

Hope this helps.

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On the subject of healing, remember that Fate Points can be used to heal as well.

 

The counter-balance is that you (GM) have to be much more liberal on replenishing your Players' Fate Points.

 

Besides the methods listed in the Core Rulebook on rewarding Fate Points, I also award Fate Points based on additional factors:

 

1. Good Roleplaying in-general.

 

2. Playing &/or Roleplaying to a Personal Demeanor well (e.g.: A Gregarious Battle Brother makes a point to be the "face" of the Kill Team when interacting with others outside the Deathwatch.  A Tactiurn Battle Brother that manages to get his point across using as few words as possible.  An Ambitious Battle Brother that actively works towards becoming a Watch Captain.)

 

3. Playing &/or Roleplaying to a Chapter Demeanor (e.g.: A Black Templar plays his Zealous demeanor in focusing his attention upon a witch or sorcerer in battle, ignoring all other targets/hordes, but also counter-balanced by not destroying group-unity by hating-on the Librarian at any/every turn just because.  Or a Marines Errant playing his Shepherd of Assets demeanor in actively conserving any Requisitioned gear, or making a point to take multiple Signature Wargear to reduce his Requistion needs.)

 

Hope this helps.

Those are excellent ideas.  I think I will steal them...

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There is also the possibility of having their watch commander assign them some sort of apothecary trained servitor... preferably in the shape of the skull. might not be as powerful or proficient as a real apothecary, but should get the job done. 

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@Praetor...

 

Always happy to provide good ideas :) .  I may make a more fully detailed post in House Rules about this subject at some point.

 

 

@PhiltimusPrime...

 

Beside the Fate Point healing option I posted earlier, there is another GM-run Player Character choice, but not necessarily an Apothecary.

 

You could run an Adepta Soritas Hospitaller-Palatine, or heal-oriented Hierophant, both of which are from Dark Heresy: Ascension.  Both options are fully compatible with Deathwatch, yet also provide a "subordinate" support-role to the Battle Brothers.

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You could run an Adepta Soritas Hospitaller-Palatine, or heal-oriented Hierophant, both of which are from Dark Heresy: Ascension.  Both options are fully compatible with Deathwatch, yet also provide a "subordinate" support-role to the Battle Brothers.

 

Aside from DH1 not being the same ruleset as DW (different power levels including different profiles for the same creatures and weapons are the most glaring issue, but certain traits and psychic powers have also evolved a bit between the various books), there might be the question of why such people find themselves attached to a DW Kill-team.

 

Admittedly, it's not very difficult to pull some sort of excuse if it were for a player character, but just for NPCs it seems like unnecessarily stretching suspension of disbelief, especially when a Space Marine Apothecary is a much more obvious choice to provide medical aid to Space Marines.

 

That's just my two shells, ofc!

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I don't object to a few gun servitors in a kt expecting lots of resistance. Marines are valuable imperial resources. Gun servitors....not so much.

 

Gun-servitors aren't so bad. They have disadvantages. They can shoot at obvious enemies, point out obvious enemies...and that's about it. They have poor mobility compared to Astartes or even normal humans and absolutely no other skills.

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