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NPC classes and How to Use Them

While creating the "Aristocrat, Expert, and Warrior NPC classes (+ Commoner fix)" for the September 2017 Custom Content Challenge, I wanted to be as faithful to the D&D 3rd Edition rules as possible, since Neverwinter Nights is based on that ruleset. I also wanted to write up some guidance on how to use these classes. In doing so, I challenged myself to re-vist my analysis of these NPC classes from 15 years ago and compare them to that of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st edition) circa 1977-1979. Finally I also wanted to put the guidance in a historical context, since I hold a very strong belief that the baseline for D&D (and NWN) is Late Medieval Northwestern Europe and that we should honour that baseline whenever and wherever possible. To paraphrase H.P. Lovecraft "the more mundane the ordinary world of the protagonist is, the greater the impact of the weird, strange, fantastic, and horrifying." Below is an expanded version of my thoughts found in the ReadMe file of my submission:


D&D 3.0 & AD&D Design Philosophy

Heroes, Anti-Heroes, & Villains are special. The Player Character classes reflect their 'specialness.' For example, only Player Character classes get bonus feats. Also, only Player Character classes get full spellcasting ability (cleric, bard, druid, sorcerer, & wizard) compared to the adept. Non-Player Characters take levels in NPC classes (adept, aristocrat, commoner, expert, or warrior). Details are as follows:
  • Fighters are elite soldiers. They get bonus class feats including weapon specialization (which no other class gets). They also get a d10 instead of a d8.
  • Warriors are professional soldiers. They get the same attack and saving throws as fighters, same weapon and armour proficiencies, but only a d8 for hit points. They still receive the same bonus feats that all characters receive (+1 every 4 levels) but no class-specific bonus feats like the fighter (feats in addition to the bonus feats given to all classes). This lack of additional feats and slightly less hit points reflect the fact that warriors are capable and professional but not legendary.
  • Aristocrats are military commanders. Fully armed and armored. However, since they spend 25% less time than warriors in direct combat (e.g. giving orders & planning battles) their BAB is 25% less. Hit points are the same as the warrior. Aristocrats receive 2 more skill points/level compared to warriors to that they can spend those points on taunting the enemy (taunt), keeping their cool in the heat of battle (concentration), giving orders (intimidation), diplomacy (persuasion), and supply (appraise).
  • Humanoids lead primitive lives that are nasty, brutish, and short. As such they receive a d8 for hit points compared to the d4 for civilised commoners. Their primitive technology limits them to simple weapons and no armor. Their lack of training but constant hunting (sport & food) and warfare (each other & civilized folk) give them a good but not great Base Attack Bonus equivalent to aristocrats, clerics, and rogues.
  • Elite humanoids are warriors and not barbarians. Their hit points are the same, but their attacks are better and they get martial weapons.
  • Barbarians are legendary humanoids. They get better attacks than humanoids (same as warriors) and 50% (!) more hit points then humanoidss or warirors as well as feats, including special barbarian feats.
  • Experts are members of the local militia. Since it is a part-time job, they receive a d6 for hit points, attack as Aristocrats and Clerics. They are trained in fighting in light armor and simple weapons but no shields. Otherwise they are highly skilled and spend their non-militia time making things (hammersmith, blacksmith, tinsmith, cooper, builder, carpenter, etc.). Since they are so focused on crafting things, their saving throws are will-based like a Wizard.
  • Commoners are non-combattants. As such, they have the hit points and attack of a wizard, but the worst possible saving throws. They are proficient with simple weapons but no armor or shields.
  • Note(1): Only use the fighter, barbarian, or ranger classes when creating truly elite folk, such as heroes, anti-heroes, and villains. Elite Humanoids are Warriors, not Fighters. An Orc Barbarian, Fighter, or Ranger should be legendary.
  • Note(2): In stark contrast, AD&D used Level 0 characters to represent all Human & Demihuman NPCs except for leaders. Even Bandits, Brigands, and Mercenary Troops attacked as Level 0 characters (equivalent to commoner, expert, or aristocrat). Bandits & Brigands had 1d6 for hit points (equivalent to experts) and Troops had 2-7 (equivalent to 1st level aristocrats). Sergeants were 1st level fighters (equivalent to Warriors with the toughness feat) and commissioned officers higher level. Humanoids on the other hand, never had PC class levels. Leaders where given the stats of bigger monsters, e.g. kobold sergeants as goblins, goblin sergeants as orcs, orc sergeants as hobgoblins, etc. In 3rd edition some advanced as Warriors (kobolds, goblins, orcs, & hobgoblins) while all the others as humanoids (gnolls, lizardfolk, & bugbears). However in an ironic twist, in spite of 3rd Edition's attempt to be gender-neutral, women & children are non-combattants whereas AD&D provides for female humanoids defending their homes and are effectively one hit die less than the male counterparts. For example, female goblins were like kobolds, female orcs like goblins, female hobgoblins like orcs, etc. Even children in AD&D got in on the act, with orc children attacking as kobolds, hobgoblin children as goblins, gnoll children as orcs, etc. Personally I prefer the AD&D approach to so-called non-combattants in a society that as Thomas Hobbes wrote in Leviathan, exists in "continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."


Usage (D&D 3.0 version)

  • When populating settlements of Humans and Demi-Humans, use Aristocrats for nobles & commissioned officers (lieutennant etc.), Warriors for guardsman, Experts for able-bodied free-men (militia), and Commoners for everyone else (women, children, serfs, & slaves).
  • When creating Human & Demi-Human professional soldiers and brigands, use warriors for the rank-and file and non-commissioned officers. Use Aristocrats for the Lieutenants and above.
  • When creating Humanoids (Goblins, etc.) 80% of adult males are Humanoids, while the remaining 20% are Warriors. Leaders and cavalry (e.g. wolf-riders) are always warriors. Commoners (hostile) for women and children. Slaves are usually Human and Demi-Human commoners but could contain an expert, warrior, or PC class. Orc barbarians should be exceedinly rare and notorious when they do exist.
  • Henchman & Cohorts are fighters. Hirelings & Followers are warriors or experts.

Example: Against the Vikings

The Early Medieval kingdoms (Angles, Britons, Franks, Irish, Jutes, & Saxons) are a good role model for a typical D&D world where monsters and humanoids freely roam the land. These small kingdoms were under constant pressure from the Vikings in the North and the Moors in the South and consequently depended upon local communities to defend themselves from the surprise attacks. Not to mention the bandits and brigands hiding out in the woodlands. In game terms:
  • Vikings are warriors. From 1-20% are barbarians (beserkers). Leaders are higher level warriors.
  • Saxon Thegns are Aristocrats armed and armoured in the best available.
  • Saxon Housecarls are Warriors armed in medium armor and wielding great axes.
  • Saxon Fyrdman are Experts armed in light armor and wielding spears
  • Saxon Women are Commoners wielding spears but with the Defender faction whereas children, serfs, and slaves are unarmed Commoners with the Commoner faction. Older children could certainly also be Commoners with the Defender faction and armed with a spear.
  • PCs and legendary heroes (e.g. Arthur, Beowulf, Galahad, Launcelot, Roland/Orlando) are fighters, barbarians (beserkers), paladins, and rangers.


Consider swapping out Heavy Armor Proficiency with Expertise

Historically, the reckless fighting style of 'diving into combat' did not exist except for crazed berserkers and knights in full (heavy) armor. Most everyone else fought in a far more defensive fashion because armor was very expensive before the 15th century. In game terms, this means swapping out the Armor Proficiency (Heavy) feat for the Expertise feat. This is exactly what Sean K. Reynolds (WotC, Paizo) did for his New Argonauts Campaign Setting. He also gave the Improved Expertise feat as a bonus to higher level fighters to make up for the lack of tower shields and heavy armor. Sean did not insist that his Ancient Greek Heroes have an intelligence of 13 to make up for a lack of heavy armour.
  • My recommendation is to modify the Warrior NPC class by swapping out Armor Proficiency (Heavy) for Expertise. I did not do so because I wanted to give builders the warrior class as written. However, in the demo module, I did this for the soldiers and I also swapped feats so as to create a halberdier (doesn't use shields, weapon focus halberd), and a longbowman (light armor, weapon focus long bow). The humanoids are strictly D&D 3.0 version.


Also consider Dirty Fighting for Humanoid Warriors

Humanoid warriors are almost always depicted wearing light armor, exception being 3rd edition Orcs in scale. Consider giving these lightly armored humanoid warriors the dirty fighting feat and the expertise feat to make up for the loss of heavy and medium armor. Remember that warriors are supposed to be the top 20% elite fighting force of the humanoid races and not the rank-and-file which are humanoid-classed.


Should Dirty Fighting require a BAB of +2?

In NWN, the dirty fighting feat requires a base attack bonus of +2, just like cleave. I think that if dirty fighting has a requirement of BAB +1 or no requirements at all, then it would get used. As it stands today, I do not think anyone takes that feat. That a feat is so unpopular tells me that it is unbalanced and poorly designed. For my own modules, I am experimenting with removing all requirements from dirty fighting. That way goblins and other humanoids (who fight dirty) can easily take that feat.


What about trading Power Attack for Heavy Armour?

If I recall recorrectly, Monte Cook (primary author of the 3rd edition DMG) wrote that the design team originally envisaged power attack used by reckless barbarians swing greataxes. By that logic, Orcs in scale armour would trade heavy armour profieciency for power attack rather than expertise or dirty fighting.


Should Fighters (PCs) continue to receive Heavy Armour proficiency as a bonus?

This is a question I have wrestled with for many years. In playing the paper & pencil version of D&D, it is easy to make the swap for individual players. Not so easy in NWN. I think that when PC fighters have easy access to heavy armour (200gp for splint mail), then it makes sense to keep the heavy armour proficiency. If prices for armour were higher or if heavy armour was not available (hot jungles, desert, ancient campaign) then I would swap out heavy armour proficiency for expertise.


Final Thought

When building their characters, players assume that their character will reach high level eventually and so they make investments to benefit them in the long run. For example, taking power attack as early as possible so that cleave and great cleave will be available as soon as possible. Whereas NPCs are solely focused on surviving today! NPCs do not get to reload a saved game! Which is why they are far more likely to take expertise and/or dirty fighting instead of heavy armour proficiency (if heavy armour is expensive) and power attack. Delaying cleave and great cleave is a small price to pay to ensure that they actually get to second level and higher!
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Imo there is not much need for more npc classes in nwn because unlike DnD we can adjust a lot of stats without using classes. I am not saying they are completely useless - it can save some time especially if you want your NPCs to have exact DnD stats but not a big deal otherwise.

For example Expert class can be simulated by using Elemental class. It has same BAB and same saves. Skills, bonus feats and primary ability is not a factor because we can manually assign any skill any value and manually assign our creature to have any feats we want. And even if the creature gains proficiences that it shouldn't get, we controll what creature have equipped anyway. Hitpoints will not be correct but builder can modify hitpoint value manually to desire value anyway.

Unlike DnD, class in NWN is invisible to player and has no meaning on gameplay.

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