Ever play poker? You might be dealt three of a kind, but you are never dealt three of the same. One eyed jacks, suicide kings, and the Black Mariah all stand out from amongst their peers. “Three of a Kind” is a series that is all about providing you with three distinct versions of an NPC archetype for you to use in your game, as well as some tips on how to use the archetype itself. So ante up, because you have nothing to lose in this game!
Batman and Robin. The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Han Solo and Chewbacca. Sometimes a legend is enhanced by giving the hero a sidekick. The sidekick is more than just a companion. The sidekick is an extension of the hero’s values, weaknesses, and abilities. The sidekick can be used to move a plot forward, kickoff a new plot, or be the catalyst for a plot twist.
Time to look at our cards! Here are three types of sidekick NPCs for you to use in your game.
#1 — The Kid
This sidekick is younger than the hero is. The kid is inexperienced, curious, and ambitious. The kid idolizes the hero to a certain degree, but also resents being the junior member of the pair. For this reason the kid tends to take on challenges that are too large for his or her skill set.
#2 — The Counterweight
This sidekick keeps the hero grounded. He or she brings to the duo those qualities that the hero is lacking. If the hero is disciplined and restrained, the counterweight sidekick is impulsive and uninhibited. If the hero relies on brawn, then the counterweight sidekick relies on brains. But the counterweight is not the hero’s opposite. Instead the hero and the counterweight sidekick are two sides of the same coin.
#3 — The Adjunct
Unlike the counterweight this sidekick is not a contrast to the hero’s abilities, but instead the adjunct is a more like an extension of the hero’s abilities. If the hero is a warrior, then the adjunct is a warrior of lesser ability. If the hero is a scientist, then the adjunct is a valued lab assistant. While the kid sidekick might resent being second fiddle to the hero, the adjunct accepts being in a support role for the hero.
GMing Tactics to Use
If you assign the sidekick as a companion to the PCs then make sure that the sidekick does not become a pet NPC for you as the GM. Allow the players to control the sidekick’s actions most of the time. Just be sure to establish what the NPC will not do early after introducing the sidekick to the PCs.
For instance, if the kid sidekick that you designed for the PCs is afraid of guns the players should know of this somehow via a backstory of some sort. Then if the players request that the sidekick pick up a pistol and start shooting the enemy soldiers you can justify saying no to the request.
You may also use the sidekick as a companion to a rival of the PCs. In this case the sidekick can be used to imply what the rival is up to. If the PCs see the sidekick buying equipment, the type of equipment being purchased should be a clue as to where the rival is located and what he or she is doing.
The sidekick can be used as bait to lure the PCs into a trap regardless if the sidekick works for the PCs or the rival. This tactic cannot be used many times though as it quickly loses its impact beyond the first instance.
Finally there is a way to end the sidekick’s career while at the same time launching a new villain — have the sidekick become a traitor. There is nothing quite like the sting of betrayal that comes from a back stabbing sidekick who decides that it is time to take center stage.
How have you used sidekicks in your game? Any tips or tricks for developing plots with sidekicks? Share them by leaving a comment below, and let the rest of us know how you would play these cards!
We have what amounts to a sidekick in our current 4E game who was introduced to fill a gap in our (then) 3-man party. He’s played exclusively by one player, and fills the role of a counterweight and foil to his PC. He hasn’t received a great deal of characterization or backstory himself, but instead has been used to give more characterization to the PC he’s attached to.
The best way I can describe him is as the straight man to the PC’s antics. He grounds the PC in the world and provides context, which allows the PC to be a bit more bizarre and alien (the PC’s a deva).
The Kid sidekick reminds me quite a bit of the Brash Youth personality type suggested in the 2nd Ed. Complete Fighter’s Hand Book. The exuberant youth too excited to contain his gleeful energy and too inexperienced/naive to understand that rushing headlong into a situation isn’t always the best course of action. Great fun as an NPC or even a PC. It’s important to consider that while the Kid / Brash Youth may in actuality be a Sidekick, he/she may not see him/herself that way. Just as often these types see themselves as an equal or even the true hero.