If you ever find yourself perusing the r/rpghorrorstories message board, one dreaded trope appears again and again: the self-insert non-player character. Yes friends, the most cringe of all DM mistakes is to place a thinly veiled version of one’s own self into the action alongside the heroic player characters. Typically, the self-insert is overpowered, near omniscient with their insights, and beloved by all across the land. Maybe the DM is exercising some wish-fulfillment, narcissism, and/or would rather be a player in the first place. Whatever the reason, it’s almost always bad and at least a little embarrassing.
But what if we got weird with it?
Today I’m going to be throwing some unusual ways to do a blatant representation of yourself in your game to turn the self-insert cliche on its head.
You’re in the game but not happy about it
When the players enter a tavern, describe the bartender or one of the wait staff exactly how you would describe yourself. They instantly perk up when they see the players enter. They seem to know who they are. You can tell they’re envious of their powers, treasures, and adventures, but they’re stuck working in this dingy little inn. This downtrodden version of you will do anything to help the players and enjoy some of their success- if only vicariously. You may even have this facsimile intimate they would drop it all to travel with the players. However, if they take them up on this, you need to kill off your self-insert at the earliest possible opportunity. How could your players be so irresponsible to endanger this mundane service worker like that?
You’re in a position of power, but that comes with strings attached
It’s too self-aggrandizing to make yourself a literal god, a king, or even a mayor for that matter. But what if you’re in the inner circle? Let’s say you’re a grand vizier or the queen’s most trusted courtier. You’re a mover and a shaker, but all the previous machinations that propelled you there have left you in a perilous position. There are at least a dozen people vying for your spot, so you can’t go out on limb and do just anything.
When the party inevitably ends up in front of the seat of power, maybe it’s not you who summoned them. Maybe it’s one of your rivals taking a moonshot to curry favor by presenting an innovative solution to the dragon attacks or sleeping curse that is troubling the land. You might even be tempted to try to hamper the adventurers to prove your good judgement.
After all, you’ve worked your entire life to get where you are. You’re not going to blow it all up to help a bunch of random treasure hunters. Maybe you’ll help them if they can prove useful to you, but that’s a big IF.
You’re a bad guy, but not THE bad guy
What if there was an orc, who had your name and roughly your features? You show up in one encounter and get wrecked. If you get a chance to attack, you have to miss horribly. If you can fudge your rolls to make it appear as though you got a natural 1, all the better. It’s sort of like how Peter Jackson made a cameo as a bad guy who gets shot by Legolas in Return of the King. For this to work though, you can’t bring this up again, and also have to insist any resemblance to you is just a coincidence.
You’re a white knight, but god, you suck at it
The players are in the midst of a pitched battle against a massive earth elemental or other similar dramatic foe. They whittle it down to a sliver of health, but just before they can deal the final blow, you ride in on your horse and attempt to kill steal it. Of course you fail at this. The players go on to win, and when they head back into town, everyone is talking shit about you. Apparently, this isn’t a new thing. Although your self-insert has no lack of confidence, they have been making things worse for everyone for years now. Your stand in believes they’re super strong, beloved, and magnanimous, but they are absolutely not. For this to truly work though, this can only be a side quest. Making yourself the ‘big bad’ is strictly off limits for this exercise. Alternatively, you can have this character accidentally fall into the Cesspit of Woe, the Well Indignity, or suffer any ignoble death you deem appropriate.
This is the nuclear option and should be reserved for one shots only. Everyone has your name and appearance. They all talk like you and know everything you know. They are aware they’re in an adventure and bring it up fairly often. However, they don’t think it’s weird at all. They actually become confused if the players question the status quo at all. If the players don’t drop it, the collective of NPCs will turn on them wanting only to return to how it was before they arrived and started spreading doubt.