Rival adventurers - should they be built like monsters or PCs?

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
My Yawning Portal game is coming up on White Plume Mountain, and one way I want to put my own spin on the dungeon is by having three other groups of adventures who have also gotten wind of Keraptis’ challenge, turning the adventure from a simple dungeon delve into a race to the treasure. I’m also planning to have those same groups of adventures return for Dead in Thay, to make the adventure work a bit more like the inter-party event it was originally conceived as, and to tie it in with the overarching story I’m weaving through the campaign.

So now that I’m ready to start prep for White Plume Mountain, I find myself facing the dilemma posed in the title. Do I build three parties of NPCs all built with PC Race, Class and Background features, or do I build them as monsters with a unique feature or two to capture the feel of a PC class without giving them full PC stats? Or, another option might be to snag myself a copy of the Essentials Box and build these characters as Sidekicks?

Anyone have experience building rival adventuring parties? How did you stat them up, and how did you like the results? Would you do it again the same way, or would you do something differently?
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
My Yawning Portal game is coming up on White Plume Mountain, and one way I want to put my own spin on the dungeon is by having three other groups of adventures who have also gotten wind of Keraptis’ challenge, turning the adventure from a simple dungeon delve into a race to the treasure. I’m also planning to have those same groups of adventures return for Dead in Thay, to make the adventure work a bit more like the inter-party event it was originally conceived as, and to tie it in with the overarching story I’m weaving through the campaign.

So now that I’m ready to start prep for White Plume Mountain, I find myself facing the dilemma posed in the title. Do I build three parties of NPCs all built with PC Race, Class and Background features, or do I build them as monsters with a unique feature or two to capture the feel of a PC class without giving them full PC stats? Or, another option might be to snag myself a copy of the Essentials Box and build these characters as Sidekicks?

Anyone have experience building rival adventuring parties? How did you stat them up, and how did you like the results? Would you do it again the same way, or would you do something differently?
Will the players ever have the opportunity to defeat the other adventurers in combat?
 

Ash Mantle

Adventurer
My Yawning Portal game is coming up on White Plume Mountain, and one way I want to put my own spin on the dungeon is by having three other groups of adventures who have also gotten wind of Keraptis’ challenge, turning the adventure from a simple dungeon delve into a race to the treasure. I’m also planning to have those same groups of adventures return for Dead in Thay, to make the adventure work a bit more like the inter-party event it was originally conceived as, and to tie it in with the overarching story I’m weaving through the campaign.

So now that I’m ready to start prep for White Plume Mountain, I find myself facing the dilemma posed in the title. Do I build three parties of NPCs all built with PC Race, Class and Background features, or do I build them as monsters with a unique feature or two to capture the feel of a PC class without giving them full PC stats? Or, another option might be to snag myself a copy of the Essentials Box and build these characters as Sidekicks?

Anyone have experience building rival adventuring parties? How did you stat them up, and how did you like the results? Would you do it again the same way, or would you do something differently?
You could definitely take the ideals, bonds, flaws, personality bit from PC creation. But however you want to build the rival parties depends on what you'd like to do with them, and how time strapped you are IMO.

If you expect these rival parties to be a stick in the craw of the PCs, and expect to regularly rolling against them, building them as full PCs might be a good idea. I'd also feel this is the way to go if you can't find a combination you like from the NPCs as available in the books, you'll given free reign to build however you want, just as players do.

If you want them to act as nemeses to the PCs, or using them to instill the threat of their reputation upon the PCs, or something like that, I feel building them as NPCs, using NPCs as is from the books, or using NPCs with class features or magic items swapped out might be a good idea.

Rival parties are excellent, I'd really like a sourcebook from Wizards on rival parties, like what Pathfinder did with their Rival Guide.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Will the players ever have the opportunity to defeat the other adventurers in combat?
Definitely. My plan is to have confrontations with the other adventurers occur in place of or possibly in addition to random encounters, and if my players decide to attack them, that’s their prerogative. I don’t anticipate that happening, as my players tend to attempt to negotiate peacefully first with anything that wears pants. One of the rival groups will also be comprised of dwarves from the clan that hired them back in Forge of Fury, so unless my players really want Whelm for themselves, they’re likely to end up cooperating with that group. I haven’t made any final decisions about the other two groups, other than the fact that I want one to be primarily interested in Wave and one in Blackrazor. I also want one of them (probably the ones after Blackrazor) to be more confrontational than the others.

If it does come down to combat, I will be playing all of these NPCs with the primary goal of securing the relic they are there for and getting out of the dungeon with it and as many of their party members alive as possible. Securing the other two relics will be secondary to each group, and they will be willing to compromise on it if doing so will help them achieve their primary goal. And with the possible exception of the group going for Blackrazor, they will aim to incapacitate their competition rather than killing them if possible.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
PCs all the way. Not even a question.

And, unless they're all very low level*, expect any full-scale combats between your PCs and any of these competing adventuring groups to be among the longest battles you've ever run; and gawds help you if you end up running a 3-way between the PCs and two of these competing groups all at once!

* - that you're running White Plume tells me they're likely not.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
You could definitely take the ideals, bonds, flaws, personality bit from PC creation. But however you want to build the rival parties depends on what you'd like to do with them, and how time strapped you are IMO.
Excellent point, I will definitely do that! I’m not too worried about time, we’re about half way through Hidden Shrine at the moment, my players plan to go back to Forge of Fury to kill the dragon after that, and we play twice a month, so I should have plenty of time.

If you expect these rival parties to be a stick in the craw of the PCs, and expect to regularly rolling against them, building them as full PCs might be a good idea. I'd also feel this is the way to go if you can't find a combination you like from the NPCs as available in the books, you'll given free reign to build however you want, just as players do.

If you want them to act as nemeses to the PCs, or using them to instill the threat of their reputation upon the PCs, or something like that, I feel building them as NPCs, using NPCs as is from the books, or using NPCs with class features or magic items swapped out might be a good idea.
I think if I build them as NPCs, I’ll build them, not necessarily from scratch, but definitely custom-made, so not being able to find a good combination with existing NPC stat blocks shouldn’t be a concern. If I can’t find sone thing I like I’ll make it. The idea is for one group to be potential allies, one group to be more hostile, and a third to be a wildcard that could go either way. And knowing my players, it’s highly likely that they will attempt cooperation first before resorting to combat. And that is good for me, because I want any members of these groups who survive to participate in Dead in Thay, so unless they TPK the hostile group, they will be forced to work together later on in the campaign.

Rival parties are excellent, I'd really like a sourcebook from Wizards on rival parties, like what Pathfinder did with their Rival Guide.
That would be awesome!
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
I'm going to completely disagree with @Lanefan.

Monsters are way more interesting and flexible than PCs. Because you can arbitrarily give them special powers and attacks.

Fighting a Battle Master with Menacing Attack is one thing. Fighting a Legendary Warrior who uses their unique signature move "Red Dragon's Revenge", which lights the wound left on fire, is something else.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
PCs all the way. Not even a question.
Glad to see a strong preference, duly noted. Would you be willing to go into specifics as to why you prefer this method so strongly?

And, unless they're all very low level*, expect any full-scale combats between your PCs and any of these competing adventuring groups to be among the longest battles you've ever run; and gawds help you if you end up running a 3-way between the PCs and two of these competing groups all at once!

* - that you're running White Plume tells me they're likely not.
That would definitely make for a memorable encounter!
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I'm going to completely disagree with @Lanefan.

Monsters are way more interesting and flexible than PCs. Because you can arbitrarily give them special powers and attacks.

Fighting a Battle Master with Menacing Attack is one thing. Fighting a Legendary Warrior who uses their unique signature move "Red Dragon's Revenge", which lights the wound left on fire, is something else.
That is a solid point, with a monster stat block I would have a lot more flexibility, and would probably be easier on me to run.
 

Kurotowa

Explorer
If it was just one rival party, I'd say to stat them as PCs, absolutely. That's a thrill to recognizing your rivals as using the same rules you are. It means they're your equals, it means you're facing the wrong end of the powerful abilities you usually get to throw around, it means their capabilities are both familiar and uncertain, and it means you know they'll be leveling up just like you are for the next encounter.

Only... three rivals parties is too many. It's too much work, it's too many for both you and the players to keep track of, and it dilutes the special nature of having NPCs with PC classes. So I'd suggest one of two things. Either you slim down your plans so that there's only one rival party, or you run is so that only one of the three is a capital R Rival party and the other two are of obviously lesser caliber. You can do a lot with a party that's "One capable Red Wizard and her henchmen (half of whom are zombies)" without having to stat the whole team as PC classes.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
If it was just one rival party, I'd say to stat them as PCs, absolutely. That's a thrill to recognizing your rivals as using the same rules you are. It means they're your equals, it means you're facing the wrong end of the powerful abilities you usually get to throw around, it means their capabilities are both familiar and uncertain, and it means you know they'll be leveling up just like you are for the next encounter.

Only... three rivals parties is too many. It's too much work, it's too many for both you and the players to keep track of, and it dilutes the special nature of having NPCs with PC classes. So I'd suggest one of two things. Either you slim down your plans so that there's only one rival party, or you run is so that only one of the three is a capital R Rival party and the other two are of obviously lesser caliber. You can do a lot with a party that's "One capable Red Wizard and her henchmen (half of whom are zombies)" without having to stat the whole team as PC classes.
I really like the idea of one Rival party (probably the hostile group going after Blackrazor) and two lesser “rival” parties who are more distraction than threat, thank you for that!
 
If you expect them to be fighting, then it is probably better to have monster style stat blocks. Because managing six PCs at the same time and using all their abilities effectively in a fight is - challenging.

What you can do is create them as if they where PCs, then distil their key abilities into stat blocks, leaving out anything unlikely to come up.

When it comes to establishing them as rounded characters, then ideals/bonds etc from a PC background is very useful.
 

TheCosmicKid

Adventurer
I use the PC rules if the characters in question are full-on adventurers like the PCs: leading intense, active lives filled with travel and danger and new experiences that tend to cram their stat block full of abilities.

I use NPC/monster rules for characters who, while potentially still very capable, don't have the career paths that sharpen them to the same fine edge as PCs, and so only have one or a handful of special tricks. Your typical soldiers, knights, barbarian warriors, hedge mages, et cetera.

From the sound of it, here we're looking at the former.

Regarding the disagreement between @Lanefan and @Leatherhead, I should point out that using the PC rules doesn't mean you are limited to the exact classes and feats and spells enumerated in the Player's Handbook. Want a "Red Dragon's Revenge" attack? Call it a bespoke feat, or eldritch knight spell, or subclass feature. For me the PC/NPC distinction is pretty strictly about ability density (and some system math), rather than what rules you can and cannot use. Because you're the DM. The rules answer to you, not the other way around.
 
Have to agree with the above. I have just created a major villain I expect the players to fight, who is a draconic sorcerer 15 / dragon patron warlock 5. Rather than use a homebrew dragon patron warlock I have simply given them a couple of unique abilities that I think will make for an interesting fight.
 

Coroc

Explorer
Like PCs.
In my greyhawk campaign the orcs are built a bit like PCs, they got no feats or such but they are basically plain fighters with different equipment and class levels.
Be warned though, this alters the combat math a bit. Some aspects make them tougher e.g. armor class
eventual feats and such, spell selection if you go for rival party spellcaster PC e.g.
some are weaker mainly e.g. Hitpoints.
To give you a feeling, those are some of my PC like orcs, I hope you see the differences to orcs from the MM

TypeStDeCoInWiChACArmorHDHP#AtAttdamageweapon
Archer1414121010813Padded2w8+24 - 181+41w10+2Heavy Xbow(24)
Orc+2+2+1+0+0-11+41w6+2Long Knife
Polearm16141610101017Halfplate2w8+68-221+51w10+3Glaive
Orc+3+2+3+0+0+0+51w6+3Long Knife
Leader18141812121417Halfplate5w8+2025 - 602+71w10+4Heavy Mace 2h
Orc+4+2+4+1+1+22+71w6+4Long Knife
 

cbwjm

I can add a custom title.
I vary it a bit. I will normally monster building rules and give some class abilities to them, even then though, I tend to follow the class hit dice so that a human ranger NPC would have d10 hit dice instead of d8 for being medium.

Sometimes though I'll do up an NPC using PC classes all the way, easy to do with a character building tool.

Benefits of either, if I think there will be quite a large fight I'd probably go the simplified build like monster route since I'm likely not going to use all of the PC abilities anyway.
 

S'mon

Legend
For a single group intended to be long term rivals, who level up with the PCs, I'd use PC builds. Otherwise I'd use NPC stats from MM & Volo's.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
If you go with PC build rules, you're going to have two sets of glass cannons going off 9n each other. PCs are damage heavy, hitpoint light. When a 10th level battlemaster fighter (no feats) can be expected to lay out 8d6+4d10+40 damage with a greatsword in a surge round but only have around 90 hitpoints, you can see the problem.

Monster builds go lighter on the damage and heavier on the hp to extend fights while remaining a threat. They do less damage but can absorb more. If you build the other parties to PC rules, then it's going to be rocket tag if a fight breaks out. You'll need to heavily foreshadow this or you will catch your players off guard.

I recommend NPC/monster builds accordingly.
 

S'mon

Legend
If you go with PC build rules, you're going to have two sets of glass cannons going off 9n each other. PCs are damage heavy, hitpoint light. When a 10th level battlemaster fighter (no feats) can be expected to lay out 8d6+4d10+40 damage with a greatsword in a surge round but only have around 90 hitpoints, you can see the problem.

Monster builds go lighter on the damage and heavier on the hp to extend fights while remaining a threat. They do less damage but can absorb more. If you build the other parties to PC rules, then it's going to be rocket tag if a fight breaks out. You'll need to heavily foreshadow this or you will catch your players off guard.

I recommend NPC/monster builds accordingly.
This is true, but a couple Barbarians in the NPC party will help a lot. :D
 

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