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

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I'd go with monster stats, even if you first stat them up as PCs to get an idea of what they're fully capable of. 99.9% of the time, you won't need to know what the ranger's Natural Explorer feature does during an encounter (or whatnot). It's just going to clutter up the stat block.
 

Coroc

Explorer
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.
Yes that is the drastic version of what I pointed out in my post. If you are unsure about how to balance things out, rather do stat them like monsters. Especially if you follow the normal encounter guidelines (8standard encounters per long rest) , I tend to forget that I do not use these.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
I'd build as monsters, simply to help keep combats moving. PCs intentionally have a lot of moving parts and choices, enough to keep the full attention of a player. A DM generally can't afford to give each NPC in a full party that much attention without slowing down the combat. an the DM run them faster? Absolutely - but at that point is better served by a monster stat-up that focuses the DM on what's important for that character.
 
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.
And stealth/first strike becomes hugely important, which encourages all parties to be more aggressive and less likely to negotiate.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
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?
Not only do I use rival adventuring parties in almost every campaign, they're the same in every campaign in which I do use them. They call their group The Icons and they are the iconic PCs from D&D 3e - Tordek, Mialee, Jozan, Lidda, and the rest. And they are just total jerks. The players love to hate them.

I stat them up as monsters and give them ideals, bonds, flaws, and agenda. All of them have the Use Rope trait.
 

cmad1977

Explorer
Use ‘monster’ stat blocks.
Volos guide has a number of ‘monsters’ that are basically classes.
When I wanted an Avatar the Last Airbender themed session I used the martial arts master and changed around an ability here and there to give them an air/earth/fire/water power. It’s got champions and scouts and evokers and illusionists and all that good stuff(which would have been nice in the MM but...)

I would never, NEVER build and entire party of PCs to face my party of PCs because all the moving parts would slow the game down without reaping a commensurate amount of fun.
 

Dausuul

Legend
I recently had a similar challenge: A powerful NPC opponent and personal nemesis of one of the PCs. I wanted her to be the same class as her nemesis (monk), and for the PCs to recognize this in combat, but I didn't want to have to manage a full-fledged PC.

What I did was to stat her up first as a 14th-level kensei, and then create a simplified statblock based on the PC mechanics. She still used ki and had easily recognizable monk abilities (Stunning Strike, Deflect Missiles), but many of the behind-the-scenes mechanics were replaced with quick and dirty approximations.

Since she was a major villain and the star of multiple boss fights, I allowed her a fair bit of complexity in the final version--I would have stripped her down much further if she were a one-off. Here's the statblock:

Screen Shot 2019-09-11 at 11.49.33 AM.png
 

Celebrim

Legend
As for your question, do what you have time for and enjoy.

A simplified stat block can work just fine if you need to go that way. I would also think 5e provides for an easy stripped down stat block for a leveled character without feats.
 

aco175

Explorer
I only make them like monsters since 4e came out. 3e was difficult and tedious as a DM to add templates and effective levels. Now they do not need to follow any PC rules. If I want my 'thief' NPC to have multi-attack- I give it to him. If I want my fighter-type to have +8 in perception- I give it to him.
 
Do I build three parties of NPCs all built with PC Race, Class and Background features
If they might ever be used by players as alternate PCs (like TPK backups), or by guest players, or perhaps as pregens at a convention or organized play even to or something, sure. In fact, you might have the players create 'alternate' or back-up characters that you then use as one of the rival parties - that could be fun.

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?
If they'll occasionally fight the PCs, yes.

If they're only going to be interacted with now & then, you can just stat out their social abilities - and, more importantly, give them names, compelling backstories/motivations/intra-party-tensions/etc. If they're going to be the targets of opposed checks in exploration ('race to the treasure' might occasionally call for some such contests), stat out those skills.

A "monster" write-up should be adequate for all three, if it's uncertain which sorts of scenes are likely.

If, OTOH, they're just going to be in the background, providing time pressure, you needn't stat them out, at all.

Or, another option might be to snag myself a copy of the Essentials Box and build these characters as Sidekicks?
Those rules sound pretty limited and focused on NPCs to be played along-side PCs, so probably not suitable.

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?
My experience back in the day of statting up rivals as full PCs did not go well. They were too much work for too little return, and too complicated to use in actual play (and I'd often find myself going 'off the reservation,' anyway, and breaking PC create rules to get them 'right' - hey, Giants in the Earth did it all the time).
Thing is, playing a PC is a modest challenge, players can concentrate on their one PC and run it at something like it's full potential. The DM - though we DMs are a cut above, obviously - OTOH, has the whole world, in concept, the environment, and the monsters to keep a handle on, and can't go running whole parties of PCs to that same level (OTOH, the DM can make his monsters/NPCs/DMPCs cooperate better than the usual herd-of-cats PC party).

So, yeah, on balance, if there's going to be direct conflict, monster stat (or other condensed stat-blocks) are better from multiple perspectives.
 
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Inchoroi

Explorer
Every time I've done this, I've built them as PCs and then figured out their Challenge Rating based on HP + expected damage to make sure they're not crazy under- or over-powered. I do this because player class vs. player class is not in any way balanced.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Thank you to everyone for your feedback, you’ve all given me a lot to think about! At this point I’m leaning towards using monster stats, though I might look to some of the PC class abilities to spice them up.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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?
Simple. PCs and NPCs follow the same rules ( @ccs hit this one too, upthread a bit) in the interest of internal consistency within the game world.

@Leatherhead - if you want to give some of the opponents what seem to be special or unusual powers, this can always be achieved by giving them one-use or two-use magic items that replicate said powers.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'd build as monsters, simply to help keep combats moving. PCs intentionally have a lot of moving parts and choices, enough to keep the full attention of a player. A DM generally can't afford to give each NPC in a full party that much attention without slowing down the combat.
This is why I said that party-v-party combats like these will be among the longest you'll ever run, because as DM you DO have to take the time to sort out what each NPC can and would do each time its turn comes up...and be merciless about doing it; as these NPCs are every bit as much out to kill the PCs as the PCs are out to kill them. Cutting corners will inevitably make things easier on the PCs.

Even in 1e, where combat is generally a bit faster, I've had party-v-party combats go on for two full sessions or even more on a few occasions. A single round can take over an hour to play out.
 
Simple. PCs and NPCs follow the same rules ( @ccs hit this one too, upthread a bit) in the interest of internal consistency within the game world.
I understand the desire, but it doesn't feel like the cost in effort justifies the benefit in action. Doesn't consistency come from the GM treating enemies consistently, not making sure some specific times of enemies are made by one set of rules and a different kind by another set of rules?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Doesn't consistency come from the GM treating enemies consistently, not making sure some specific times of enemies are made by one set of rules and a different kind by another set of rules?
Yes, it does; but then you have to take it just one step further such that one specific group of characters (the PCs) aren't generated by one set of rules and a different kind (NPCs) by another set of rules.

Never mind that today's NPC opponent could be tomorrow's PC, if a player finds a sudden need for a replacement. :)

@Charlaquin - why the 'sad' response?
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
This is why I said that party-v-party combats like these will be among the longest you'll ever run, because as DM you DO have to take the time to sort out what each NPC can and would do each time its turn comes up...and be merciless about doing it; as these NPCs are every bit as much out to kill the PCs as the PCs are out to kill them. Cutting corners will inevitably make things easier on the PCs.

Even in 1e, where combat is generally a bit faster, I've had party-v-party combats go on for two full sessions or even more on a few occasions. A single round can take over an hour to play out.
Case 1: Run complex PCs that each require a lot of thought to how all the moving pieces go together. Give them the attention they require, which means the DM is taking at least as long as all the players put together, possibly more because they are less familiar with the character then the player who has been focusing on it for however many months or years. Tension is lost as combats run "two full sessions or even more" with a single round "over an hour to play".

Case 2: Build monsters to emulate PCs, but simplify them so that they focus on primarily the most iconic parts of what the classes do while also being a lot simpler to run. The DM is able to keep pacing moving along, which is critical in keeping tension high, so the players emotionally have a better battle even if it ends up with the same result.

I used to play Champions with a GM who ran many groups in the same world. Once a year we'd have a big "crossover issue" which invariably ended up with massive combats, or sometimes two simultaneous combats using the same phase chart (initiative). Waiting an hour between turns was just boring. And there was no ongoing tension. When you talk about those times per round from your 1e days, that's not a feature to me, that's a huge red flag.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Thank you to everyone for your feedback, you’ve all given me a lot to think about! At this point I’m leaning towards using monster stats, though I might look to some of the PC class abilities to spice them up.
Oh, I would definitely recommend stealing some of the iconic class abilities for your the monster stats. Just like monsters can have spells, fighting a paladin on a fiendish steed, projecting an aura to nearby alies (even if it's one you aren't familiar with) who is "unholy smiting" on every hit can really bring the class home.

They don't have to know you just grabbed the stas for a Nightmare, made up a monster aura, and unholy smite is just the 3d8 necrotic damage that's part of the base attack.
 

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