Zombie Murder Mystery

Geeks Next Door – The Wiz

Written by Geeks Next Door - Published on October 12, 2009

This is a guest post from Geeks Next Door. They agreed to write D&D-related strips for Dungeon Mastering and share their thoughts on their creative process, as well as their Dungeons and Dragons adventures. Enjoy!


Thoughts from the Geeks Next Door

The GND crew agreed to give their thoughts and comments on the strips they write for Dungeon Mastering. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment. I hope you enjoyed the webcomic.

*NOTE: Maggie has no comments this week – she’s currently running around Disneyworld, getting drunk with the Pirates of the Carribean and singing “It’s A Small World” until Mickey runs away screaming.*

JESSI – NPCs shouldn’t become the main focus of the story, but that doesn’t mean that they have no personality.  Besides, you never know which ones could eventually help you out or give you awesome stuff.  Matt’s being merciful to Mags in her first game here by providing long-distance backup.  This is just *one* combination of many possible combinations to create a “balanced” party.  What do you believe makes up a balanced party?  Have you played in a group that was very unbalanced, but successful?  Tell us about it!

MATT – Ah, GMPC’s.  One of the great warning signs that your campaign may be in trouble.  It’s probably why, as a rule of thumb, I try not to use them in any game I run.  But in this case, I’ll make an exception for humor’s sake.  And I wouldn’t expect this NPC to show up too often — he’s pretty much there to scream “Burning Hands!” when necessary.  And then laugh as Barry’s character runs away, screaming, as his hair smolders.  Mwa-ha-ha.

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16 Responses to “Geeks Next Door – The Wiz”

Zombie Murder Mystery
  1. GroovyTaxi Says:

    Creating GMPCs is actually a great way to make the game run smoothly in some cases, or to put some more action if it goes too smoothly. For example, I always put a GMPC in groups that had the bad habit to start fighting each other before the adventure even began so the GMPC could try to make the fight stop (or at least to heal the loser and prevent the winner from killing his opponent, ‘cus no one likes going back to character sheets after two hours of preparation). Some GMPCs I made clearly saved the campaign, but it was a bit hard at first not to make them more powerful or always knowing the answers to riddles. When you acknowledge the fact that your GMPC is just like any other NPC and that it can die at any moment (may it be the PC’s fault), he’ll become just as powerful and fun to play as any member of the party.

    To answer Jessi’s question, I’ve seen groups of low level barbarians and warriors a few hundred times. They’re not even fun to play with, they just take down every single low level monster you put in their way. At least these groups don’t last long, they always end in a bloodbath when they drink too much / decide who gets to keep the magic greataxe.

  2. TheyCallMeTim Says:

    I would agree that NPC’s being an actual part of the party, rather than simply a hireling, cohort, etc. or a temporary tagalong for a specific event, is something to be avoided. If the adventure you’re running REQUIRES a class that none of your characters want to play or the quest is impossible, something’s wrong. If the DM has to run a PC just to get the party to move on in the story, something’s also wrong. Ideally, a DM who knows their group will be able to write/edit adventures such that neither of these is necessary.

    Furthermore, I find, both when I and when others are running the game, that the DM generally has enough to do running all the other NPC’s. Even in games in which the NPC really only has much presence in combat, it slows things down and adds another layer of complication. It can be handled well, but it seems better just to avoid that situation in the first place.

    As regards party balance, I think it is generally overrated. Again, ideally the DM will be able to select/choose/edit adventures so that it’s not that much of an issue. The group I’m just starting, for instance, has no primary meatshields whatsoever. A couple of campaigns ago, I was running through the first Pathfinder series with a group who had no arcane casters. Things frequently got kind of hairy (especially in the Runeforge), but I would advise again against underestimating player ingenuity. The whole series has only one fatality, and that was due to bad luck long before things got magic heavy.

    Insisting on party balance emphasizes hack-n-slash at the expense of immersion in the world and story. Sure, this might be the ideal combination of classes, races, etc. for beating all the bad guys, but D&D isn’t just a tactical minis game. If you happen to have balance, sure, great. Nothing wrong with letting your players know that this adventure will be undead-heavy, urban, or have lots of constructs and let them roll their characters accordingly, either. I just don’t think it should be forced. Even in purely mechanical and combat terms, the players’ll have more fun beating the odds with characters they get a kick out of than using the same basic tactics every time.

    So, yeah, I favor giving players as much freedom with their characters as possible, and then letting them suffer the consequences and/or reap the rewards in a plausible setting as skill, dice, and nature determine.

  3. Yax Says:

    I want a carboard-matt-wizard!

  4. ColoQ Says:

    I have had to put in GM PCs My rule for a GM PC is that it should never be equal to the party, or even better than the party. My rule of thumb is 1/2 the level of the party if its a “bandaid” to a party member not pulling their weight. or 1-2 levels behind the party if its a GM run fill-in.

    I try to refrain from having them, because the GM tends to get more involved in the fate of the NPC than he should. (I’m guilty of it). Only in extreme cases – like when the healer, for some reason or another, is just not doing the job correctly. Sometimes it is easier to replace them with an NPC healer class and let the player run something better to their style. I find that this usually makes them happier.

    I don’t believe in party “balance” per se. An adventure should be somewhat tailored to the party that embarks on it. And frankly, players ingenuity will all ways completely surprise you when you think that they have nothing left to give. I used to call these “I piss the GM off” moments.. but now I call them “uncroak the volcano” (http://tinyurl.com/yhna6on) moments.

    More intriguingly despite the tropes you hear, the only real roles you need in table-top games is “damage dealer” and “healer.” Less “meatshieldy” types means more damage dealer types. It usually Probably stresses the healer type, or the healing capacity of whatever potions or whatever you dole out, but I’ve seen big bads go down in 2 rounds from a group consisting of mainly damage dealers.

  5. Swordgleam Says:

    I always forget about NPCs that are with the party, which is why it drives me a little crazy how often my group insists on escorting and/or rescuing people. I guess it’s my fault for putting those people in their way.

    If I remember the NPC is there during combat, I’ll usually roll the closest handful of dice to me and mutter something like, “Uh, Ari and the hyena both hit each other, they look okay, now it’s Rex’s turn.”

    As for party balance, my Midgard group is two utter glass cannons with no social skills and one trickster/fateweaver who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a cannon from ten paces. It works out just fine. We just have to kill things faster than they kill us. And isn’t that what life is all about?

  6. Anselm Says:

    In the campaign my friends and I are playing in, we typically like having an GMPC thrown into the mix to help us out. since there are 7 PC’s (and 2 animal companions) the enemies are tougher and we can get through more of the story that way.

    and as to the balanced vs unbalanced question our party consists of: ranger, wizard, druid, cleric, duelist, ranged fighter, and arcane trickster. how is that in terms of balance if someone cares to give input?

  7. Endr Says:

    In the campaign that my group and I have started, it was almost necessary for the DM to have a PC, otherwise the group would have never had a reason to get together. We wanted to stay away from the cliche ‘you all meet in a tavern’ or ‘you’ve all answered a call for adventurers’ so it was a bit difficult to find reasonable reasons a hermit druid would partner up with a emo shadowcaster. In the end, I feel that as long as the DM doesn’t railroad by using his PC to control the decisions of the entire group, then they can be useful tools besides just backup in combat.

  8. Luz-chan Says:

    I once played in a pretty bizzare party. It was with my brother, Tito (we we both fighters), his girlfriend Lauren (she was a Druid), our friends Maria (Ranger), David (Cleric), and our friend Tom DM’ing. It was our first time playing a game for once, but we had fun, mostly because our DM is pretty much the most witty hilarious person on the face of the Earth. After the game, he, Tito and I went to a random dungeon generator, and made some hilarious randomness. Some of which entailed a 2×1 square room…with 9 zombies in it, and a 1×1 square room, inside of another, bigger room, with walls on all sides, all stuck, which contained a SINGLE Harpy. The image of a zombie Orgy, and of a Harpy scratching, fruitlessly to try to escape haven’t left my mind since! xD

    – Luz

  9. Rausch Says:

    I’ve been playing in a party with one cleric (played with a focus on dealing/healing damage), one druid (w/ dire wolf), one wizard, and 1 rogue. Turns out true meatshields are hardly necessary. The cleric, dire wolf, and rogue took care of things quite nicely.

  10. Redhobbit Says:

    My group has a habit of insisting that any NPC they rescue that is capable of fighting tag along with them, it goes hand in hand with their more meat shields philosophy. That being said I don’t mind too much since I enjoy making new characters and trying out different classes/talents/feats. I do rule that there can be no more than two combat capable NPC’s traveling with them at any one time since it can devolve into long stretches of time where it’s me rolling against myself.

  11. jakerman999 Says:

    I’m being forced to run an NPC for all of the reasons that are mentioned as “being wrong”. the one player I have that actually wants to advance further into the storyline often ends up bound and gagged by the rest of the players who just want to find and kill shit, then buy things that aren’t for sale(they actually tried to purchase a flying citadel), and selling very important items to the “general store”. maybe I shouldn’t be using the NPC as a life line, but its damn hard not to.

  12. hanashinobi Says:

    I played a party with just a druid, me, and a ranger. the ranger kept attacking with his bow and I used both attack spells and healed. luckily we both had bears, I had two, with plate armor to act as tanks.

  13. Vladislak Says:

    I once had the pleasure/frustration of being DM for a party of six rogues. It was possibly one of the most trying, entertaining, and surprising games I have ever run. They were all very skilled, but that ultimately led to their downfall. By party level 8 the entire group had died, and not by the hands of monsters or NPCs. Yes, the group managed to assassinate each other. Knives in sleeping throats, elaborate traps, etc… The last two members double K.O.’d while sitting across from each other at a dinner to call a truce. However, Player A had poisoned player B’s food and drink with a two part poison. Meanwhile, Player B had poisoned the silverware with a delayed contact poison. So an highly effective team, but their own worst enemies.

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  15. Astebrooke Says:

    I usually have to play a DMPC because at most I’ve had 2 players. One, whom I’ve played with most, loves to roleplay. He does not, however, do so well with puzzles or a lack of direction. The other player tends to want to kill stuff. Not EVERYTHING, just enemies, but he is always looking for the next dungeon, the next enemy. He hates spending time in towns or on puzzles, and has (many times) tossed his dice down and given up while the other guy struggles with a puzzle or situation that he brought on the party.

    Thankfully, it’s only been the guy who likes to roleplay for some time. He loves puzzles, just doesn’t get them all the time (and makes up some hellishly tricky puzzles when he DM’s, so it’s not lack of intelligence, lol). However, I find the DMPC to be both a good way to round out the party, since he doesn’t like or understand spells (being dyslexic, non-casters are FAR easier for him to learn), and a way to nudge him in the right direction. My clerics are usually a good source of support when his characters are facing dilemmas of the heart or soul, and my wizards are either insane enough to keep him running (ok, just once), or intelligent enough to pass an Intelligence Check and hint at what he “thinks might be something to consider.” Small nudges like that, a tiny hint, will usually get the ball rolling again and the DMPC provides something other than “a voice in the back of your mind says. . .”

  16. Rambage Says:

    Well I’m currently playing a campaign were we are one mage (illusionist) one warrior, one bard and another mage (evocator).

    (to clairify better how much we’re unbalanced, I got no kind of offense spell and the bard highest healing speel is “cure medium wounds”)

    However, despite it we’re currently being succesfull so far, maybe thanks to sheer luck. It also helps to have nearly all my spells oriented for supporting or controlling the scenery. The usual encounters are based on “do not let that thing attack or we’re all dead meat”

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