The phrase “Dungeon Master” belongs to D&D and describes one of the two types of people who take part in a traditional tabletop roleplaying game. The other group of people are the players controlling characters.
Other roleplaying games have a similar role to DM or Dungeon Master, gamemaster (GM), narrator and storyteller are all conventional alternatives.
Some roleplaying games encourage taking turns, rotating through the responsibility of running the game as the Dungeon Master or GM. You can do this in D&D, but it’s not part of the fabric of the game.
No, Dungeon Masters cannot have a player character because they are not a player. The acronym DMPC is a condiction in terms. DMs know the plot, the stats of NPCs and monsters, they have meta-knowledge that the players cannot have. As a result, a DM cannot also be a PC.
This can be a controversial topic, and the answer isn’t always universal. A more important rule in roleplaying is that the rules should be adapted, by the GM/DM, to allow for a better game.
An NPC is a character controlled by the DM. A DMPC is an impossible thing; as every PC controlled by the DM is an NPC. NPC stands for non-player character and could be the nameless shop assistant or the powerful wizard who saves the player characters.
It is most likely that these groups have a reoccurring NPC. They may even have an NPC who is part of the adventuring party, goes everywhere with them and takes part in every scene.
These NPCs may be referred to as the DMPC.
In some cases, the DM may even consider this NPC to be their PC.
DMPCs are impossible. All characters controlled by the DM are NPCs. A DM who considers an NPC to be their personal PC may be in danger of making mistakes as a DM. They are treating that NPC differently.
For example, a good question to ask if you’re considering a DMPC is “Why do I want a player character?”
If the answer is because you want to take part in the game as a player, then that is probably a warning you are not as enthusiastic in your role as DM as is ideal. It might be time to take a break, ask someone else to practice their DM skills by running a one-shot.
If the answer is because you want to guide and help out the PCs, then you are risking introducing Dias ex Machina to your game. It’s not wrong to have lots of help for PCs built into the game, but it probably shouldn’t all be from the same source. If players merely have to ask the NPC Cleric who is with them for every decision, for example, what to do, then the problem-solving aspect of roleplaying games has been undermined.
As acknowledged, some gaming groups make effective use of what they consider to be a DMPC. Despite the challenges.
It may come down to that technical definition again; of the different roles of players and DMs, but in many of these scenarios, the character is most likely a reoccurring NPC.
For example, the DM may narrate a one-on-one scene with a player, asking them to make choices and work out the most sensible in-character decision. The DM has no need to do this with an NPC.
While structuring a story or adventure, a DM is entirely at liberty to contrive the plot so that an NPC is not present when they usually would be or protected by their usual equipment, or just unlikely. It would be railroading to force a PC into that situation. That also means if a DM writes their favourite NPC out of a scene or adventure, to enhance the drama for their players, that they are using a reoccurring NPC rather than running with a DMPC.
Creative Commons credit: Les Miserables de Mousillon by SOLIDToM.
What do you think? Can a DM also have a PC? Let us know in the comments below.