Over the past games in my campaign I have learned a few things. One of those things is my players have a penchant for npcs. While I love their enthusiasm for the characters I’ve created, it does get tiresome running several characters alongside the actual story. So how do you handle running multiple npcs that your party has gathered? Well there are a few ways.
The first way is the simplest, and that is to make a character sheet or stat block for your npc and give it to your players for them to run in combat. You still roleplay the npc, but any combat maneuvering is taken off your hands. The caveat to this is that you have players who are experienced. If your players are still at that stage where they constantly check their character sheet to see what they have, then perhaps giving them another one to track isn’t the best of ideas. The idea is to make the game run more smoothly, not bog it down. This does also require some trust, but if you can trust your players to not throw your npc into the jaws of a dragon then this is the simplest answer.
Another method is one I call the spotlight technique. This means the spotlight is shown on the npcs as the story calls for it, and all other times they are just background noise. For combat they can do one or two cool things per fight, but aside from that they just add damage for your group (this can be evened out by giving the enemies more health or upping the CR). This makes it easy since you can pull out whichever npc is appropriate as they become relevant, and ignore them any other times. But beware, this method could have your party forgetting their existence if they stay in the shadows for too long.
The last method I want to talk about is rotating cast. As your adventuring party travels the world they’ll meet new people, and some of those people will end up joining the party. While this is good in a vacuum, it does create this snowball effect. One game you’ll have a party of five, then seven, then ten or more. That’s way too many to keep track of on top of everything else. Luckily your npcs are people with goals of their own, and these goals play into the rotating cast method. The idea is that at certain points npcs will bow out to pursue their quests, making room for new npcs to join. This keeps the party dynamic fresh and keeps the game simple to run for you. An added bonus is that you can bring back any favorites hat your party is particularly missing, almost like a cameo!
Npcs can be pretty tricky when they stick with the party. They’re something that you always have to take into account when building encounters and planning stories. They require a delicate balance. If they are focused on too much your players might start to feel overshadowed, and at that point you’re just playing with yourself. On the other hand, if you let them fall into obscurity and don’t use them enough then what’s the point of them being there? Hopefully you can find the balance. Npcs can be great fun when they are recurring; it almost feels like playing yourself. But no matter how you choose to run your npcs, be sure to keep hose dice rolling high!