D&D 5E Levelling NPCs?

CapnZapp

Legend
How do you tell which level a particular NPC is? That is, how close to levelling up is it?

You might think it's nonconsequential or silly, but I'm not talking about making monsters more dangerous by giving them levels here.

I'm talking about Out of the Abyss which prominently feature NPCs that adventure alongside the player characters. Some of these NPCs are significantly better than any first or second level PC, so we can't just ignore them - they're far from hapless "commoners".

Now, the DMG clearly states that any NPC that travels alongside the PCs are to be given a full share of experience points.

But, unless I am mistaken, the DMG never says what this NPC can do with these XP!

I am not planning on statting up the OotA NPCs as full player characters. This discussion is mostly about Appendix B of the Monster Manual (though a few NPCs are statted up as "pure" monsters from the main body of MM text, such as an Orc or Quaggoth.)

Questions:

Most of these stat blocks do not have the specific line on saving throws. Am I correct in believing this means the NPC simply uses its ability modifiers for saves as well? If it has Dex +1 it would make any "Reflex save" (=Dex save) with +1?

Would it be useful to equate one hit dice with one "level"? That is, a 2 HD NPC (with about 9 hp) would be considered to level up after collecting 600 xp (since that is what any second level character would need to reach third level)?

Or would you say CR enters the equation?

The DMG instructs us to base monster proficiency on CR. Anyone else finding that... impractical in this case (since it would mean having to calculate a CR for each levelled NPC)? Would anything break if you simply based it on level (meaning hit dice per above)?

And finally - okay so the DMG allows us to create NPCs as regular characters with class and level. But does it ever say anything about giving levels to "monster" NPCs? First question: are there any advice on when to give a NPC a class level, and when to "only" give it a hit die?

Some monsters have abilities taken directly from PHB classes; sneak attack is one easy example. How would that progress for a NPC that aren't taking class levels in Rogue?

Any pointers to what the devs are saying would be top priority. Next is: what did the playtest have to say? Finally, if you have any informed suggestions, you're welcome!
 

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Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
You have to figure out its tier.

Then where it is in that tier.

For example, the thug has 5 d8 HD, 2 attacks, and pack tactics. The 2 attacks is what a level 5 fights gets but it lacks Second wind, Action surge, and fighting style. So I'd make it equal to a level 3 fighter. Next level it gets a d10 HD, and a feat or ability increase. After the second level up, you can give it extra attack. Etc. Etc.

The priest NPC is a weak level 5 cleric.

Etc etc.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
Just realized I might not have marked my main question as prominently as I should have. Let me reiterate for visibility:

Would it be useful to equate one hit dice with one "level"? That is, a 2 HD NPC (with about 9 hp) would be considered to level up after collecting 600 xp (since that is what any second level character would need to reach third level)?

Let's take an example to make it clear what I'm fishing for:

A NPC Noble has 2 hit dice. Assuming there is one among the OotA slaves, what are your opinions on having this NPC "level up" when each PC has amassed 600 xp?

This "level up" would entail the following:
* Another hit die (adding +1d8 hit points).
* No change in proficiency bonus until the NPC hits "level" 5 (that is, reaches 5 HD)

If the NPC has abilities that strongly resemble class abilities, these follow the regular progression. This does not apply to a Noble, but a Priest is a 5 HD creature with level 5 spellcasting, and the Spy (6 HD) would have to be considered a multiclass character with half sneak attack progression (since a regular 6th level Rogue would have more than 2d6 sneak damage).

A friendly NPC Priest that levels twice could then reach 4th level spells. A friendly NPC Spy that levels four times could then get 3d6 sneak damage (since 10 HD divided by two is 5, and 5 levels of Rogue gets you 3d6 sneak).

Is this a good idea? Do you have a better idea? :)

Thank you
 

jodyjohnson

Adventurer
As the party gains levels I let the NPCs increase in Hit Dice to the party average minimum (so JimJar doesn't gain HD until the party hits 7th but Ront and Stool gain HD soon as the party hits 3rd). Generally nothing else changes as I prefer the PCs outstrip the NPCs in power level (except in Stool's case where there is a natural progression).

So they get increased survivability (Hit Points) without any serious gains in other categories. They start the campaign above the PCs in power and fall behind as they progress.

I may grant them ASI's at 4,8,12,16 but probably solely as ASI not Feats.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Just realized I might not have marked my main question as prominently as I should have. Let me reiterate for visibility:

Would it be useful to equate one hit dice with one "level"? That is, a 2 HD NPC (with about 9 hp) would be considered to level up after collecting 600 xp (since that is what any second level character would need to reach third level)?

Let's take an example to make it clear what I'm fishing for:

A NPC Noble has 2 hit dice. Assuming there is one among the OotA slaves, what are your opinions on having this NPC "level up" when each PC has amassed 600 xp?

This "level up" would entail the following:
* Another hit die (adding +1d8 hit points).
* No change in proficiency bonus until the NPC hits "level" 5 (that is, reaches 5 HD)

If the NPC has abilities that strongly resemble class abilities, these follow the regular progression. This does not apply to a Noble, but a Priest is a 5 HD creature with level 5 spellcasting, and the Spy (6 HD) would have to be considered a multiclass character with half sneak attack progression (since a regular 6th level Rogue would have more than 2d6 sneak damage).

A friendly NPC Priest that levels twice could then reach 4th level spells. A friendly NPC Spy that levels four times could then get 3d6 sneak damage (since 10 HD divided by two is 5, and 5 levels of Rogue gets you 3d6 sneak).

Is this a good idea? Do you have a better idea? :)

Thank you

No.

1 HD is not equal 1 class level.
Its closer to 2 HD equal to 1 class level for noncasters.
 

Wolf118

Explorer
Here's my take when I read anything that says that NPCs traveling with the party get their share of the XP; it's not to level the NPC, it's to 'soak' XP from the party for using the NPCs to benefit the party.

Not as a punishment, but as a 'tax' or 'cost'. Here you have these other creatures who are fighting alongside you, no matter their reasons. Assuming they do their share of the fighting, then the PCs shouldn't get the full XP for the encounters all to themselves. It's the same whether you hired henchmen, have apprentices, or have allies of convenience.

As to what to do with that XP, that's up to the DM. Unless the NPC already has levels in some particular class, using XP to level up the monsters isn't really going to match up with player leveling. Now if you're going to allow them to develop levels (see the Goblins comic www.goblinscomic.org) that's another matter. I suppose it depends on how much you want to track the monster's progression, and how central they are to the storyline.

But PCs level up to make them better able to take on more dangerous quests. If they progress, and their allies/henchmen/hirelings don't, it's a yardstick by which the PCs can see they've progressed. Here's this dude that fought alongside them at L1; maybe he was better at it than them. By L3, they're equivalent to him. By L5, they've surpassed him, and are saving his ass.
 

Kalshane

First Post
Honestly, I'd probably convert any NPCs that are going to be working with the party for a long period of time over to PC class levels (or build them that way to begin with.)

In the case of monsters and such that don't mesh nicely with PC class levels, I'd probably set their "level" as their CR (or possibly CR x1.5 or even x2, depending on how they match up compared to individual party members) and then have them "multi-class" into PC classes as appropriate.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
No.

1 HD is not equal 1 class level.
Its closer to 2 HD equal to 1 class level for noncasters.
No no, look at it the other way round.

If a 6 HD creature is considered to be a level 3 character for purposes of gaining levels, it would IMHO level up too fast.

The 1 HD = 1 level isn't true powerwise, but it's handy to keep the NPC from levelling too fast.

For instance, one of the NPCs of Out of the Abyss is a 6 HD Spy NPC.

If we consider it as a level 6 character, it has 14000 xp and needs to reach 23000 xp to level up. This means it needs 9000 xp, which in turn means it won't level up until well after the party (of level 1 heroes) have reached level 5.

The player characters level five times, the NPC only levels once, which mainly gives it a seventh hit die. It could get a third sneak damage die, or possibly a bumped proficiency bonus, I don't have the specifics.

That is what I mean by slow.

And that is what my proposal is about.

Thoughts?
 

redrick

First Post
Here's my take when I read anything that says that NPCs traveling with the party get their share of the XP; it's not to level the NPC, it's to 'soak' XP from the party for using the NPCs to benefit the party.

Not as a punishment, but as a 'tax' or 'cost'. Here you have these other creatures who are fighting alongside you, no matter their reasons. Assuming they do their share of the fighting, then the PCs shouldn't get the full XP for the encounters all to themselves. It's the same whether you hired henchmen, have apprentices, or have allies of convenience.

As to what to do with that XP, that's up to the DM. Unless the NPC already has levels in some particular class, using XP to level up the monsters isn't really going to match up with player leveling. Now if you're going to allow them to develop levels (see the Goblins comic www.goblinscomic.org) that's another matter. I suppose it depends on how much you want to track the monster's progression, and how central they are to the storyline.

But PCs level up to make them better able to take on more dangerous quests. If they progress, and their allies/henchmen/hirelings don't, it's a yardstick by which the PCs can see they've progressed. Here's this dude that fought alongside them at L1; maybe he was better at it than them. By L3, they're equivalent to him. By L5, they've surpassed him, and are saving his ass.

Agreed. I doubt that the adventure is written with the intention of the companion NPCs gaining levels as they go. The fact that they absorb XP that would otherwise go to PCs doesn't mean that they can actually use that XP. It is just to keep the PCs from getting too much XP when there are NPCs making the combats easier.

As the PCs increase in level, many of the NPCs that were valuable as companions early on might become less valuable later. So it goes.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Here's my take when I read anything that says that NPCs traveling with the party get their share of the XP; it's not to level the NPC, it's to 'soak' XP from the party for using the NPCs to benefit the party.

Not as a punishment, but as a 'tax' or 'cost'.
Sure. That's unsatisfying to me, though.

As to what to do with that XP, that's up to the DM.
I really would like to discuss specifics here :)
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Honestly, I'd probably convert any NPCs that are going to be working with the party for a long period of time over to PC class levels (or build them that way to begin with.)

In the case of monsters and such that don't mesh nicely with PC class levels, I'd probably set their "level" as their CR (or possibly CR x1.5 or even x2, depending on how they match up compared to individual party members) and then have them "multi-class" into PC classes as appropriate.
Yes, I can see why some of you would do that.

I myself would love to keep the idea of Spies and Orcs and whatnot levelling up in their own "classes", though.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Agreed. I doubt that the adventure is written with the intention of the companion NPCs gaining levels as they go. The fact that they absorb XP that would otherwise go to PCs doesn't mean that they can actually use that XP. It is just to keep the PCs from getting too much XP when there are NPCs making the combats easier.

As the PCs increase in level, many of the NPCs that were valuable as companions early on might become less valuable later. So it goes.
Sure... but suppose you weren't happy settling for that, what then?
 

redrick

First Post
Sure... but suppose you weren't happy settling for that, what then?

Ha, fair.

I'd probably go for the lowest-work solution, looking to allow the PCs to eclipse the NPCs. Pegging level to hit die, as you've suggested, seems reasonable enough. I'd probably then peg further proficiency bonuses to HD a la PC classes, and maybe basic ability scaling (sneak attack, cantrip damage if relevant), but I wouldn't add additional features. I don't know that I'd add extra attacks either, but I guess you could if you want. I think the caster level to HD seems to match up linearly for Monster Manual NPCs, so that would work. It definitely seems like the solution with the least extra work for you as the DM.

Another option would be to ignore the XP altogether, and just track them at leveling every other time PCs level. Do you really want to track XP for your NPCs?
 

Wolf118

Explorer
No no, look at it the other way round.

If a 6 HD creature is considered to be a level 3 character for purposes of gaining levels, it would IMHO level up too fast.

The 1 HD = 1 level isn't true powerwise, but it's handy to keep the NPC from levelling too fast.

For instance, one of the NPCs of Out of the Abyss is a 6 HD Spy NPC.

If we consider it as a level 6 character, it has 14000 xp and needs to reach 23000 xp to level up. This means it needs 9000 xp, which in turn means it won't level up until well after the party (of level 1 heroes) have reached level 5.

The player characters level five times, the NPC only levels once, which mainly gives it a seventh hit die. It could get a third sneak damage die, or possibly a bumped proficiency bonus, I don't have the specifics.

That is what I mean by slow.

And that is what my proposal is about.

Thoughts?

I don't think using HD to equate to level in any fashion will work. Let's take a look at an example:
- An orc and a gnoll are both CR 1/2 monsters, meaning they are roughly equivalent in ability.
- The orc has 2d8+6 Hit Dice (due to 16 Con)
- The gnoll has 5d8 Hit Dice

With a spread like that (2-5), how can you equate HD to levels?

Rather than driving yourself crazy with the math, why not level the NPCs as needed? If the party is looking weak in a fight, bump up the NPCs a Hit Dice or so, or give them another +1 to hit. If the party is weak on spellcasters, give an existing NPC spellcaster either more spells or another slot at a higher level.

Rather than trying to be exact, and compare yourself to a scale that doesn't exist, make it easier on yourself by giving the PCs what they need (or what you foresee they might need in a future encounter).
 

To be fair you've confused CR and HD in your example above.

The Orc would be, per OP, a 2nd level creature and the gnoll a 5th.

Perhaps you could hybridise it:
- starting level equivalent is HD/2
- level progression is based on HD/1
- thus your 6HD Spy would have the abilities of a 3rd level character but would require the amount of XP needed to go from Level 6 to Level 7 before he gained his "actual" 4th level equivalency.

Would this satisfy OPs need for slow advancement combined with simple yardstick of abilities?
 

S'mon

Legend
Basing off hit dice has the problem that casters have a lot fewer hd than non-casters for their CR - typically caster CR is 2/3 hd, hd = caster level, whereas non-casters have a CR about 1/3 of their hd. Treating non-caster hd as their level works ok, but for casters I think you'd need to use their CRx2 to get something equivalent.
Eg: A Gladiator has 15 hd and CR 5, treat as level 15 for progression. A Mage has 9 hd and
CR 6, treat as level 12 for progression. I suggest 50,000 XP per hd over level 20.

Personally, I tried tracking NPC XP but mostly I arbitrarily increase the hd and abilities of NPCs with the party whenever I think it's appropriate. In particular I keep an eye on Tier abilities like multi-attack. Alternative would be to have NPCs have full class/level progression but that's a lot to track and likely to be overpowered.
 
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Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
No no, look at it the other way round.

If a 6 HD creature is considered to be a level 3 character for purposes of gaining levels, it would IMHO level up too fast.

The 1 HD = 1 level isn't true powerwise, but it's handy to keep the NPC from levelling too fast.

For instance, one of the NPCs of Out of the Abyss is a 6 HD Spy NPC.

If we consider it as a level 6 character, it has 14000 xp and needs to reach 23000 xp to level up. This means it needs 9000 xp, which in turn means it won't level up until well after the party (of level 1 heroes) have reached level 5.

The player characters level five times, the NPC only levels once, which mainly gives it a seventh hit die. It could get a third sneak damage die, or possibly a bumped proficiency bonus, I don't have the specifics.

That is what I mean by slow.

And that is what my proposal is about.

Thoughts?

Doesn't work.
Why?

Because an NPC's main contribution to the PCs is to OFFENSE not DEFENSE. Players don't want NPC rolling skills for them unless they hired them for their skill so proficiency is moot.
Don't look at the HD. HD is inflated for NPCs as they were designed to take hits.

A 6HD Spy NPC is about equal to a level 3 rogue as it deals damage of a level 3 rogue (2 attacks plus 2d6 Sneak attack).

Don't Evaluate NPCs based on their HD. Evaluate NPCs based on their damage.
Don't Evaluate NPCs based on their HD. Evaluate NPCs based on their damage.
Don't Evaluate NPCs based on their HD. Evaluate NPCs based on their damage.

Because if you base it on their HD, you'll evaluate too high and give the enemies too make allies to balance it out.

The best way is to find the PC class level equal to the NPC's damage for 3 turns. Then if the NPC has more HP, go up 1 level.

So a 6 HD Spy is equal to a level 4 rogue. (2 shortsword attacks plus 2d6 Sneak attack = 2 shortsword attacks plus 2d6 Sneak attack).

A 8 HD Knight is equal to a level 5 fighter. (Second wind + Action Surge = Extra HD and no feat and fighting style)

A 2 HD Guard is less than a level 1 fighter.

Etc
Etc.
 

S'mon

Legend
Doesn't work.
Why?

Because an NPC's main contribution to the PCs is to OFFENSE not DEFENSE. Players don't want NPC rolling skills for them unless they hired them for their skill so proficiency is moot.
Don't look at the HD. HD is inflated for NPCs as they were designed to take hits.

A 6HD Spy NPC is about equal to a level 3 rogue as it deals damage of a level 3 rogue (2 attacks plus 2d6 Sneak attack).

Don't Evaluate NPCs based on their HD. Evaluate NPCs based on their damage.
Don't Evaluate NPCs based on their HD. Evaluate NPCs based on their damage.
Don't Evaluate NPCs based on their HD. Evaluate NPCs based on their damage.

Because if you base it on their HD, you'll evaluate too high and give the enemies too make allies to balance it out.

The best way is to find the PC class level equal to the NPC's damage for 3 turns. Then if the NPC has more HP, go up 1 level.

So a 6 HD Spy is equal to a level 4 rogue. (2 shortsword attacks plus 2d6 Sneak attack = 2 shortsword attacks plus 2d6 Sneak attack).

A 8 HD Knight is equal to a level 5 fighter. (Second wind + Action Surge = Extra HD and no feat and fighting style)

A 2 HD Guard is less than a level 1 fighter.

Etc
Etc.

Yeah, but if you don't want NPCs advancing at the same rate as PCs, hd=level works well for non-casters. They advance only slowly.

Edit: Just spotted you're talking about encounter-building by XP budget and what level to count NPCs as. Best bet there is use CR; a CR 6 Mage accompanying the PCs will cancel out a CR 6 monster.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I'd probably go for the lowest-work solution, looking to allow the PCs to eclipse the NPCs. Pegging level to hit die, as you've suggested, seems reasonable enough. I'd probably then peg further proficiency bonuses to HD a la PC classes, and maybe basic ability scaling (sneak attack, cantrip damage if relevant), but I wouldn't add additional features. I don't know that I'd add extra attacks either, but I guess you could if you want. I think the caster level to HD seems to match up linearly for Monster Manual NPCs, so that would work. It definitely seems like the solution with the least extra work for you as the DM.
Great, thanks!

Another option would be to ignore the XP altogether, and just track them at leveling every other time PCs level. Do you really want to track XP for your NPCs?
Yes, no - I'm not tracking xp individually.

And actually I'm not really tracking xp at all. You could say we're using milestone leveling, but Out of the Abyss is rather fast and loose, so it's more like taking "so they should be level X when they reach chapter Y" and trying to disperse the level-ups evenly between here and there.

I'm just using the xp charts to tell me that a 6th level creature needs very roughly the same amount of xp a 1st level creature needs to reach level 5. (To reach level 5 from scratch you need 6500 xp; to level from 5 > 6 you need 9000 xp. 6500 is the closer number compared to the next number which is 14000)

To keep this simple: when the heroes ding level 5 that's my cue to level up that 6 HD NPC to 7 HD.
 

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