As I discussed in my introductory post for adapting Descent into Avernus for one-on-one play, one of the main things you’ll want to prep in advance as a DM is your DMPC for the campaign.
It’s completely up to you if you want to turn the mechanics of the DMPC over to the player, if you want them to have a full character sheet or stat block, or if you want the DMPC to function as a sidekick. But we’ve found, best-practice-wise, that you’ll want to have a character for the PC to run around with and talk to.
One of my favorite examples of this is in The Witcher on Netflix (which was amazing!). There’s one scene where Geralt is talking to Roach, his horse, so viewers can access some of what’s going on for him internally to better develop his character.
You want to provide a similar narrative option for your PC at the very least. DMPCs also allow characters to discuss their thought process for decisions, and DMPCs can tell the PC about the world in-character, so the two of you can have more immersive RP.
Further DMPC Resources
If you want to read more about creating and running DMPCs, check out the following posts:
One of the resources I reference later in this post questions the need for DMPCs in the Avernus campaign, for good reason, but we suggest adding one for playing in a duet.
Spoiler alert: This post is for DMs planning to run Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus* and will spoil parts of the narrative for players.
Selecting Your DMPC
As is the case with many of the hardback adventures, there are already several potential DMPCs to choose from in Descent into Avernus. I’ll cover a couple of those characters first, and then we’ll discuss bringing in your own DMPC. If you’re stuck debating between the two, my advice would be to pick whoever you’re most excited about.
Something to consider: Having a sidekick character and a DMPC, or an NPC and DMPC call help the player remain in the spotlight. For this to work well, you’ll want the two characters to have differing personalities so they can give the PC multiple perspectives, leaving the PC as the one, ultimately, to make the decision.
We model how this works and other roleplaying tips in the video below.
If you’re running or considering running Descent into Avernus, I highly recommend checking out The Alexandrian’s series, Remixing Avernus. Jonathan loved his resources and remix for our Waterdeep campaign, and his ideas have been very influential and helpful for my own planning of this upcoming campaign.
One post you’ll definitely want to check out in context with this one is “Remixing Avernus—Part II: Character Creation.” To reiterate, I do think you’ll need a DMPC of some sort for the Avernus campaign—or the choice between several DMPCs that you leave up to your player, as one of our readers is doing—but Justin Alexander’s ideas for character creation and analysis of some of the as-written issues in the campaign are incredible.
The most obvious early DMPC for the campaign is Reya Mantlemorn, a lawful good Hellrider, recently arrived in Baldur’s Gate following the fall of Elturel. (Elturel being sucked into the Nine Hells and sending waves of refugees to Baldur’s Gate is what kicks off the adventure. The Alexandrian suggests having the story start in Elturel just before it falls or at least have characters start with strong connections to Elturel since the city is so central to what’s going on in the campaign.)
Reya can tell the characters what’s happened outside of Baldur’s Gate, if that’s where you’re starting your campaign, and she’s the one to tell the PC that a major baddie from Elturel, Thavius Kreeg, escaped the devastation and is in the city. (She just doesn’t know he’s a baddie.)
I agree with one of our reader’s suggestions to turn Reya into a paladin instead of using veteran stats—healing is almost always a good idea, and smiting is more fun with fiends.
Problems with Reya as DMPC
One of the issues with Reya’s character is that she’s the one who’s set up for a devastating reveal of the Hellriders’ less-than-auspicious history, which is only going to be as moving as the PC’s investment in Reya. Instead, if your player wants to be a fighter, paladin, or possibly even a cleric, I would suggest giving them this Hellrider information and replacing Reya with the PC. This switch achieves a couple things:
- The PC is invested in Elturel—they’re one of the city’s protectors
- It gets the PC to Baldur’s Gate and makes them want to continue in the mission all the way to hell
- It sets up a big reveal at the end of the campaign when Zariel overthrows what the PC has believed about their organization and what they’ve risked their life for
Whenever we happen upon RP gold—internal conflict, stakes, risk, reward, reveal—see if you can put that mantle on the PC rather than the DMPC.
Personal Preference matters
When playing one-on-one, you and the player are co-creating a world and a narrative. In a duet, the player moves closer to the rule of a DM, and the DM moves closer to the role of a player. This means that you should be playing a DMPC you like and feel excited about!
For me, this guideline made Reya an immediate no. Any lawful good character would be hard for me to play without getting bored, and she especially seems set up as a straight-laced do-gooder who’s always going to be the uncompromising moral compass.
A character willing to align themself with those who “appear valiant and forthright” is just not my cup of tea when it comes to embodying a character, especially in a city as sketchy as Baldur’s Gate and in a campaign that, because of the dealing and deals with devils, works toward twisting characters’ morality, inhibitions, and sense of self. I’d rather play someone who’s already a bit compromised.
But that’s simply my personal preference. If Reya seems exciting to you, or you think she might resonate with your PC, then by all means, forge on ahead!
Lulu the Hollyphant
If I hadn’t already picked out a DMPC character for this campaign, I think I would be playing a golden flying elephant—why would you not pick that if given the choice?!
That being said, I think Lulu would be an AMAZING sidekick character if you wanted her to be, though you’ll need to be careful to scale her back and slowly add abilities.
Lulu doesn’t enter the campaign until Chapter 2, and she regains her memories as the story progresses. Her primary narrative function, then, is to tell the characters about Zariel in particular, who she used to accompany on her adventures, and to hold out hope for Zariel’s redemption.
Problems with Lulu as DMPC
The main downside I see to running Lulu as the main DMPC is that I’m worried her cuteness might disrupt the gravity of the campaign, but that’s of course going to shift depending on what aura you’re going for. In Curse of Strahd, for example, we wanted a self-consciously Gothic vibe à la Van Helsing and Underworld—funny scary.
Personally, I don’t have as much experience DMing as Jonathan does, so I’m a bit worried about convincingly switching between a creature with a Trumpet of Sparkles and a scary devil who’s trying to charm the party away from their souls.
Lulu is certainly going to accompany our characters to Avernus but as a fun counterpart to our two characters, so more of a sidekick, than as a full-on DMPC. I also haven’t decided how often she’s going to be nearby or if they might have some Lulu-summoning abilities.
Creating Your Own DMPC
In my introductory post for this series, I mentioned my own DMPC, Evelyne Genvair, a Circle of Wildfire eladrin, who has a strong enough risk tolerance to follow the PC into hell.
Your own selections for a custom NPC will depend a lot on the player’s character and on the backstory elements they select, as well as the dark secret. My plan is to bond the PC and DMPC at the close of session zero, allowing their paths to converge and move forward together from that point that sets up the dark secret.
Where the PC is from will have a lot to do with your selections as well—do they meet after Elturel disappears and travel together to Baldur’s Gate seeking shelter? Does your DMPC help them get a foothold in the dangerous city? Are the lifelong friends? As much as possible, choose backstory elements and characteristics that will be complementary to the PC.
Before we get too carried away with perfectly fleshed-out DMPCs, there are some story aspects we’ll want to take into account that DMPCs can help us solve.
As both The Alexandrian and DM David point out, one of the biggest issues with Descent into Avernus is the method through which characters are meant to progress from one part and place of the campaign to another. In most cases, an NPC tells them to do something, then to go somewhere, and that’s it.
Now, a certain amount of railroading might be necessary at the beginning of a campaign. We need to get the characters away from tending their flower gardens and on the road to hell. However, that doesn’t mean they should be without choices along the way.
In my next post, I’m going to look at some of the world and story elements around Avernus and how we can tweak those to make the player’s choices feel more immediate and weighty. If the PC in your campaign is an extremely active and involved person, then they might not question a Hellrider from another city approaching them and asking for help, or a leader of the Flaming Fist giving them a “choice” between being put to death or pursuing cultists.
Session zero idea: After the party commits the crime of their chosen dark secret and gets caught, Captain Zodge sends them after the cultists to atone for their crimes. “We’ve enough dead bodies piled up as it is. If you can save some innocents, I’ll see that you don’t join these others.” (Still some railroad-y dangers here, but it’s a step in the right direction!)
What about you?
If you’re prepping Descent into Avernus, I’d love to know in the comments who you’ve selected for your DMPC and why. Also, please post any questions you have that you’d like for us to cover later on in the series!
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