D&D General Should NPCs be built using the same rules as PCs?

One advantage of thinking NPCs in terms of classes, is that it helps to come up what capabilities they could or should have on the fly. If I know the NPC's class and have rough idea of their level, I'm already on far firmer ground that coming up with mechanics from scratch.

A while ago the PCs in my game asked help from a Necromancer. Knowing that she was a 13th level wizard helped me to decide what sort of assistance she could offer. And sure, I could just invent all this on my own without a framework, but I feel that having this sort of guideline lends the world certain structure and make my decisions less arbitrary.

And this makes things more predictable to players, and allows them to make informed decisions. Currently the PCs are investigating a mystery involving an enigmatic spellcaster they have not met yet. They however know certain spells the caster has used, and from other clues suspect that they're a wizard. And this allows them to gauge what sort of magic they might face in the case of a confrontation.
 

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Pedantic

Legend
One advantage of thinking NPCs in terms of classes, is that it helps to come up what capabilities they could or should have on the fly. If I know the NPCs class and have rough idea of their level, I'm already on far firmer ground that coming up with mechanics from scratch.

A while ago the PCs in my game asked help from a Necromancer. Knowing that she was a 13th level wizard helped me to decide what sort of assistance she could offer. And sure, I could just invent all this from on my own without a framework, but I feel that having this sort of guidelines lend the world certain structure and make my decisions less arbitrary.

And this makes things more predictable to players, and allows them to make informed decisions. Currently the PCs are investigating a mystery involving an enigmatic spellcaster they have not met yet. They however know certain spells the caster has used, and from other clues suspect that they're a wizard. And this allows them to gauge what sort of magic they might face in the case of a confrontation.
It also provides a clear framework for adding new abilities into the game. You just slot them into existing systems where they can be discovered and work according to existing rules structures. And then, it has the delightful Eberron effect: what can I extrapolate from something like the proliferation of a specific set of 2nd-level spells are routinely available abilities? How many wizards can a city of this size support before I have to start making magic commonplace?

It doesn't honestly matter if your extrapolations are "correct" so much as they make enough sense, and are interesting.
 
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billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I don't think they should necessarily be required to use all the same rules, but if an NPC has highly divergent powers and abilities, I do believe it undermines a player's ability to assess and understand their opponents. And that makes it harder to make smart decisions. For example, if an opponent rages like a barbarian (using the barbarian rules), I can predict he's going to be unusually tough due to damage resistance, have advantages on strength checks, and maybe a fewer higher level abilities fitting the barbarian mode of things. I might be able to pick a strategy that makes the fight better for me and my party based on that. But if he exhibits some powers with no context of how it works with anything else? I got nothin'. Given how combat in 5e works, he might live long enough for me to figure part of his capabilities out, but he probably won't. That's not as satisfying.
So when I build NPCs for encounters, I try to at least use suites of abilities that don't diverge too much from player understandings even if I'm not necessarily strictly obeying the PC-facing rules.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You will also get some answers that say PCs should be able to get whatever NPCs can get to keep with game balance. If the bartender learned to cast a fireball 1/day, then there has to be a way for my rogue to get it as well.
This is the key thing right here: if an NPC can do it then a PC should be able to do it (assuming pre-reqs, if any, are met), and vice versa.
 

TwoSix

Uncomfortably diegetic
And this makes things more predictable to players, and allows them to make informed decisions. Currently the PCs are investigating a mystery involving an enigmatic spellcaster they have not met yet. They however know certain spells the caster has used, and from other clues suspect that they're a wizard. And this allows them to gauge what sort of magic they might face in the case of a confrontation.
That's one of the top reasons why I don't like it! I don't like as a player when I'm like "Ok, he cast spirit guardians at 4th level, but his melee attack was only +6 for 1d6+3, so he's gotta be a 7th or 8th level cleric. He worships Lathandar, he's wearing a breastplate, not chain or plate, so he must be a light cleric, watch out for fireball and the warding flare."

With NPCs that work like PCs, unless they've got some special magical items, you generally know exactly what they're capable of by round 1 or 2.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
No. While there's nothing wrong with designing an NPC as a PC, I don't think it makes sense in many cases.

If every guard in the campaign is at least a 1st level fighter, then that means they're all proficient in plate mail. Why would Bob, the constable of a tiny, poor fisher town, be proficient in plate mail? He's probably never even seen a suit of plate armor in his life.

IMCs most priests are not clerics. They might be devout (or not) but they can't summon up even the most trivial of miracles. Clerics who can channel their deity's divine power are the exception, not the rule.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
i wouldn't strictly say they should be. they can be. there's no problem with building (especially humanoid) NPCs using PC rules. there's also no problem with inventing mechanics specifically for NPCs (and there isn't a problem with giving PCs a way to get their hands on said mechanics either).
Thing is, if I'm going to invent those mechanics for NPCs I might as well include them in the char-gen rules so that if a player wants to use them, there they are.

I should note right here than whenever I refer to "NPC" I mean a non-player character of a PC-playable species. Non-PC-playable monsters aren't part of this discussion for me, as there's no need for symmetry and thus anything goes with designing them.
 

Pedantic

Legend
That's one of the top reasons why I don't like it! I don't like as a player when I'm like "Ok, he cast spirit guardians at 4th level, but his melee attack was only +6 for 1d6+3, so he's gotta be a 7th or 8th level cleric. He worships Lathandar, he's wearing a breastplate, not chain or plate, so he must be a light cleric, watch out for fireball and the warding flare."

With NPCs that work like PCs, unless they've got some special magical items, you generally know exactly what they're capable of by round 1 or 2.
That sounds like a dearth of splatbooks raising its head and limiting the available builds to a too small and too similar pool, but, fundamentally I don't see the problem here. Yeah, that's what the players should be doing. They should plan for the abilities of their opposition, develop appropriate countermeasures, and then use that information to succeed.
 


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