I've been replaying Jedi Academy lately, and due to that I've been thinking about Star Wars games. In specific, I've been thinking about low level Star Wars games where someone is playing a Jedi. Now, this low level Jedi should have a mentor, and that mentor is supposed to be around and teaching them. However, it can be hard for the PC to feel that the story is about them when there is someone of their class, only ten levels higher, hanging around to constantly get them out of trouble. So, today I want to take a look at ways to handle the mentor NPC without over-shadowing the PCs in the game.
Step 1: Discuss With Your PCs
The first thing you want to do when someone is playing a character that has an NPC mentor is to discuss it with your players. Ask if there are things the PCs definitely want the mentor to stay way from, or situations you want to keep from coming up. Explain that the mentor isn't there to kill their fun, but to teach one of the PCs how their class works. The mentor will be there to help, but only when asked unless you're that one character.
The point here is to make sure you know where comfort levels are, and establish some lines to not cross so that your players can have fun with the mentor, not in spite of the mentor.
Step 2: Try To Stay Unobtrusive
The second thing is to try and keep the mentor as out of the way as possible. Make it a RP possibility for the group, but try to stay out of decision making. If asked, give some advice or point out some pros and cons the PCs may not have seen, but don't make the decision for them. If pressed on it, turn the situation onto the ward. The mentor isn't there to think for the ward after all, but there to guide and see how the ward acts. Doing this can also give the player playing the ward a sense of agency, while also having to keep in mind that their teacher is right there.
Step 3: What Would Obi Wan Do?
You can learn a lot about how to keep the focus on the PCs despite a powerful character being around by watching Obi Wan in the Star Wars movies. Now, technically in the Phantom Menace he is the ward, but he manages to stay out of the way and be on the ship. this keeps the focus on the action with the PCs, while Obi Wan handles the tedium of managing the Queen. In A New Hope, where Obi is the mentor, he does it even better. He takes on a key part of the quest for himself, which keeps him away when the more heroic part of the quest comes up: save the Princess.
You need to be careful with this, because if the Mentor is just off for tea whenever things happen, players will start to resent him or just think they're a crack pot. Give them something to do, but give the bigger/more heroic things to the players. The mentor is helping, but not overshadowing the players. After all, when the group meets back up one person gets to say "I turned off the tractor beam" while the others get to say "yeah, well we rescued the Princess!"
Step 4: Eventually The Ward Graduates
The final thing to do, is realize that eventually the ward is going to have to graduate to a point where they don't need a mentor, and this should be an important deal for that character. Up to this point, they have been working with/under the mentor and being taught, the Mentor now feels that the PC is ready to go. Now, this can happen a few ways. The classic way is for the mentor to die, and the hero then realizes that they're ready a bit later. However, it may be worth just having the mentor acknowledge the PC is ready and withdraw. This way, the connection is still there to be used, and can be brought up again later on in the game. Perhaps even as an enemy if things fall out a certain way.
Mentors can be interesting things to have in games, but they also make for a delicate balancing act for the GM. Done wrong, you can quickly fall into the favored NPC or GM PC traps, or just have the party think the Mentor is a waste of time. Done right, it can make a game special, and a character feel more alive. Just try to keep the focus where it belongs, on the PCs, and things should work themselves out.