I want to briefly talk about the concept of an NPC (Nonplayer Character) guide, as well as the variant (Narrator Player Character).
What: The NPC guide is an incredibly important tool that anybody running a game can utilize, though not every game should have them. Keep in mind that when I say NPC guide, I don’t just mean a random barkeep who gives the player information. An NPC guide is a long term character that typically accompanies the party as if they were any other PC. Typically, it is intended and understood that NPC guides will not be permanent members of the group, but in some rare cases, the variant becomes required and the guide is more permanent.
Why: In an ideal world, no DM, GM, or Narrator would ever need NPC guides, but this isn’t that world. These guides are used to help move the story when no players seem to be able to step up as a leader. Of course, this isn’t always the fault of the players. There are times that none of the players can take charge because none of their characters are the leader type, and there are times where we as DMs make the story too specific or convoluted for even the most experienced PCs to be able to navigate. These are the situations in which we need to step in and clean up the mess. There are two situations in my opinion which call for the variant NPC guides; too few players or no experienced players. When you have either of these situations, you may as well just roll yourself up a character you like and get comfy, because the party is going to need you.
How: This is the tricky one. There are countless ways to make an NPC guide, but no matter how you do it, there are some things to keep in mind. Don’t railroad your players, don’t steal the show, and make sure to hesitate. These characters are used to nudge players in the right direction. The second it becomes forceful, the players begin to lose their feelings of freedom. Our job is to spin epic tales in which our PCs get a chance to be heroes. Don’t overdo it with NPCs and make the PCs just feel like the backup vocals. Lastly, don’t make it obvious that you know what to do next. Make sure your character has realistic knowledge and makes mistakes along the way.
One more important rule for the variant NPC guides: DO NOT ALLOW FOR BIAS. I know, trust me. You spent all this time making an epic character to help guide your less inventive friends through this masterful story you’ve spun. That doesn’t mean you get to give your PC all the best rewards. Randomize it or be very careful to ensure that everybody gets new exciting ways to shine. If you ever start to feel like you’ve overdone it with your NPC, find a way to rid the party of them and get back to the drawing board.