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D&D General Are NPCs like PCs?


This is a spin off thread from one of the long and meandering "Monsters of the Multiverse" threads.

The question is relatively straight forward: do you prefer that NPCs and monsters operate by the same rules as PCs, or that they operate by their own rules. One of the most basic ways in which this might appear is should NPC and monster spellcasters have to use the same spells available to PCs, and if they don't that means the PCs should be able to learn that spell. It extends to racial abilities: if a monster race has an ability, does that require that a PC of that monster race should have that ability as well.

3E was very much in the camp of monsters and NPCs being built by the same system as PCs. This led to what i think was an interminable process of building NPCs and advancing monsters, which resulted in only marginal benefits (if any) in the actual play of those monsters and NPCs in a fight with the PCs. Older editions did not try to conflate them except that some monsters had "spell like abilities" and leaders were often indicated as "fighting as an x level y". 4E had monsters operating under theie own rules -- and just for full disclosure, while I was not a fan of 4E I do think the 4E monster stat block was the one thing the edition did right. 5E seems to be treading the line between the approaches and is probably closest to the pre-3E model in most cases (although the stat block is bigger).

I am in the camp that monsters do not need to use the same rules as PCs and in fact shouldn't. Players should not be able to look up what a monster or NPC can do in the PHB. Spellcasting monsters and NPCs should have their own list of magical abilities, all accessible in the statblock. Same for "feats" or "class abilities" for NPCs and monsters.

What is your preference?

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Magic Wordsmith
I think that monsters and PCs could or could not use the same rules, but as to should, that depends on how the rest of the game is designed and what its goals of play are. In any case, I think D&D 4e monsters were far easier to design and manage in play than D&D 3e. D&D 5e is somewhere in between those two in my view, mostly as it relates to spells.

Why is this not a poll?

But yes, I prefer NPCs to operate under the same logic than the PCs, especially if they're of potential PC species. If PC goblins have a certain trait, NPC goblins have it too, if a NPC wizard has a spell, a PC wizard should be able to learn that spell too (at least when they kill the NPC wizard and loot their spellbook.) It matters less for weird things like beholders and dragons as those are not directly comparable anyway.

Some streamlining for ease of use is OK, but the NPCs should still feel sameish in practice than the PCs. Moments of "why can they do that, but I cannot?" should be avoided. (There of course could be some special situations where the fiction would result that outcome, but it shouldn't be the norm.)
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Possibly a Idiot.
NPCs and PCs operate with the same Core Rules. But have different abilities/powers.

This has nothing to do with who is unique or special (for the record, this method creates unique "rulebreaking" NPCs more often than not) and everything to do with practical asymmetrical game design.


I don't need them to be statted exactly the same, but an NPC who is doing what a PC does (paladin, adventuring wizard, warrior casting cleric) feels like it should have net equivalence in terms of abilities and special abilities while being encountered and active in the adventure (even if they aren't written the same) and should be viewed the same by those in the game world. And, in one case in the previous thread, the spells for the PC race NPCs that are commonly used should be commonly available to the PCs too. And if a PC could research a unique spell, so could the NPC.

I think 3.5 was too far one way with NPCs, and for some things 4 went too far the other.

This view causes me more cognitive dissonance when half of the MM is available to players to play, because I liked the 4e way for the "monster" humanoids before I thought of having them as PC available races.

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