To continue our discussion about different types of characters to incorporate into your games, this post covers allies! We’ll talk more in depth about allies in general first, but then we’ll look more specifically at high-level allies and what they can do in and for your campaign. At the end, we’ll spend a bit of time with low-to-mid-level allies and what they add to your worldbuilding.
I’m differentiating allies from the central party and from important NPCs as people who are closely tied to the PC and their party and are active in helping them reach their goals in a different location or with a different people group.
I recognize that this is a subtle differentiation, and some characters may fit into multiple categories or shift over time, but that’s one of the side-effects of diverse characterization!
Who allies are not:
- Central party members who travel with the PC
- Political groups or power structures who happen to have similar goals or alignment to the PC and party—allies have a vested interest in the central party and their goals
- Important NPCs who can move locations with the party or who the party/players are fond of. Allies will have aims and a vision for the wider world that they’re working toward as well
As we said in the character types overview post, allies remind the party that they’re not alone. They have objectives independent of the party, but they see the party as a critical to bringing those plans about.
Allyship goes both ways: they need or want to work with the party and vice versa.
In general, we can divide allies into two categories, those who are more powerful than the party members and those who are close to but less powerful than them.
More powerful allies
In general, your central party will gain the trust of a powerful ally by performing a service or going on a quest for them. This is a great way to help the players understand some of the larger stakes at play in the world and to gain experience. This smaller taste of the wider world will hopefully lead to a long-lasting relationship with the ally so the PC has someone to turn to when they’re in or near a particular region or location.
In addition to needing some smaller tasks or adventures taken care of, powerful allies especially are wonderful sources of information. A common trope in fantasy and sci-fi is a lost or forgotten history, but someone knows what transpired or what’s really going on, and if the party can get on that person’s good side, they have access to powerful information that helps them understand their world.
Though we haven’t written the series on villains yet, I want to pause here a moment to discuss how powerful allies fit into the larger schemes of the game, and that’s often through their knowledge of or opposition to high-level villains. You may have heard villains discussed as occupying various tiers, similar to the tiers for characters:
Tier 1 (Levels 1-5)
The players take on and help with problems that would affect a village. Allies at this level would also have smaller concerns, and villains would be more narrow in scope as well.
Tier 2 (Levels 5-10)
At this level, the players are able to handle problems that would affect a large region or country. This is a great tier for allies of Tier 1 adventurers as they’re powerful enough to know a lot more than the party but not so powerful that the party wouldn’t really be on their radar. This is also an exciting villain level too, because the effects can be personal for the villains and those opposing them, but their plans are also going to spread out to a wide number of people.
Tier 3 (Levels 10-15)
In tier 3, players can assist with problems that affect the world as a whole. They will likely have a few allies at this level, but these allies will have plenty to manage in addition to their aid and advice to the party. Villains at this level are extremely powerful with lots of resources, minions, etc.
Tier 4 (Levels 15+)
Also called the Epic Tier, by now, the party are nearly god-like and embarking on quests that affect planes of existence and reality. To me, an “ally” at this level would function more like a warlock patron or an Aasimar deva—if the being has been very high-level the whole time, a character or the party have been serving them, and they’re showing them favor.
Assuming the characters have been leading a relatively average existence in which they don’t know everything about their world, they may have no idea about the Tier 4 villains and their effect on the planes of existence. But, their powerful ally (Tier 2 or 3) may very well have information to share with them about that villain, including perhaps their weaknesses or important facts about their history.
Again, high-level allies help the heroes understand and find their place within the world. They’re great tools for “information dumps” for DMs, but we want them to be likeable as well as useful since that will make the PC and central party more likely to trust and return to them.
Depending on how transportation works in your world, powerful allies can be a great way for the party to move quickly from one place to another.
In our homebrew world, for example, teleportation is not very common, and it can take months to move between locations. Sometimes the party has the extra time and sometimes they don’t. They are not high enough level to teleport themselves, but the powerful wizards they know in a few different places can teleport them.
Come to think of it, most of our allies are wizards! This has worked quite well for us since wizards tend to be squishy, and it also allows us to create spaces of study and scholarship within the world, which feels more believable.
At some point, likely several months or even years into your campaign, depending on your rate of play, it may be time for the heroes to return and help their powerful allies. As they’ve forged the relationship with their ally over time, this should feel like an incredibly significant encounter. The PC has chosen this relationship, not been thrown into it by circumstance of birth or location. That’s exciting!
Like high-level allies, lower-level allies are probably going to be rather rare in your duet game. The characters can also have quite a bit of overlap with Secondary PCs depending on how long the primary character and central party are working alongside them.
In most cases, these are characters who the PC will meet during their journey, maybe in a circumstance where they can be of equal assistance to one another. Perhaps the party have the numbers or might the ally is looking for, and the ally has local connections or knowledge of the area that the adventurers need.
Also similar to their high-level counterparts, lower-level allies will have goals they’re working toward in a particular place or region. What makes these characters so special is that they’re striving and growing alongside the party though often in different locations around the world.
One of my PC’s favorite people she’s encountered in her travels fits into this category. He’s working to inspire his people, the Elves, to renew their connection to the natural world rather than hiding away in cities. He helped our party navigate dangerous forests, and they helped him reunite his family. The two of them remain in touch so our party knows what’s going on across the world from where they are currently adventuring.
Briefly, I want to re-acknowledge that the “allies” category has a lot of overlap with secondary PCs and important NPCs. Some duets even use allies instead of having a central party, letting the PC choose who they want to travel with depending on their next mission.
In our duet, I can think of three characters who truly classify as allies, with perhaps two more that would be somewhere between this one and others.
The key to allies, I believe, is giving the party a source of information, encouragement, and connection that they’ve forged for themselves and that originated in their adventuring life. We see these mentor characters across storylines and genres, and there’s something really special about not being alone and having others who have been fighting for longer, who have vision, come alongside the party and believe in them and help them find their way.
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