We talked way back in Will Grind for Rez about different ways to conceptualize XP. It may seem weird that killing random monsters advances you down the path to enlightenment, but I’ve come to believe that explaining that sort of story weirdness is actually a worldbuilding opportunity it disguise. Yadda yadda. Go read the older comic.

What I really want to talk about today is the concept of mentors and masters in RPGs. Clerical gods and warlock patrons don’t quite count here. Those are more like absentee players in your PC’s life, consigned to the distant shores of High Level Play and otherwise a step removed from your day-to-day life as an adventurer. When I say “mentors and masters,” I’m talking about the long-bearded old loons who trained your eager young mage. I’m talking about those one-armed fencing masters who secretly taught your warrior princess swordplay under a disapproving queen’s nose. I’m talking about Ancient Master up there in today’s comic, and all of the Wuxia tradition he represents.

These kinds of NPC often die in your backstory, providing you with the motivation to go out and kick evil’s ass on the road to vengeance. They can also serve as your conceptual home base, allowing you to return to your starting village (or its sci-fi equivalent) throughout the course of your adventures. You can try to surpass your master, seek their wisdom, or watch them become the BBEG when they attempt to harness powers not meant for mortals.

Masters have the additional benefit of being tied mechanically to your character. Any backstory NPC can serve as a source of inspiration, but few are so closely aligned with your powers and abilities. The metaphor of XP, leveling, and personal growth is central to the master/apprentice relationship, and will remain relevant from level 1 to level 20: “Level 13, eh? At last you are ready for the secret Tongue of the Sun and Moon technique!”

So if you haven’t rolled with this kind of NPC in a while, give it a once-over in your next campaign. It’s one of the most versatile NPC types out there, and can serve as a foil or complement to almost any kind of PC.

Question of the day then. Have you ever had a noteworthy master/apprentice relationship in a game? If you’re a GM, have you ever used that relationship to good effect in your campaign? Let’s hear it in the comments!