DMs: Why You Shouldn't Give Your NPCs Classes

Hello everyone, and welcome to another post on Zeshio’s Blog of Adventuring. I regularly discuss creative content for tabletop RPGs (dungeons & dragons among others).

Today I wanted to talk about why you should refrain from assigning Non-Player-Characters (NPCs) classes and character sheets. As the Dungeon Master (DM), you’re often tasked with creating characters your adventuring party interacts with. Because we frame gameplay by assigning players adventuring classes (fighter, wizard, cleric, etc.), it is natural to apply that to NPCs as well. Hold up though! Before you make another NPC, read why assigning classes and making individual character sheets for NPCs is a bad idea (most of the time).

1. SAVE YOURSELF THE TIME

My first argument for not assigning classes and creating stat sheets for all NPCs is it’s really just a waste of time. As a DM, not only are you designing NPCs as part of the current scene for your adventurers, you probably have a couple of NPCs as backup in case the party gets too adventurous. Going through five to twenty NPCs, fleshing them all out, assigning them classes, and making character sheets is not an effective use of your time.

“But Zeshio, what if my NPCs get attacked by goblins? Being prepared is important for managing different situations!”

While I agree it’s good to be prepared, there’s no reason to be over-prepared. Especially if players look at your level 12 barbarian-druid Grokk Greensmacker and ignore him as inconsequential (There goes an hour of prep time better spent elsewhere).

2. DON’T NARROWLY DEFINE NPCs

Not all NPCs are adventurers, which means not all NPCs should have adventurer classes! Some people may have an obsessive compulsion with assigning classes to everything they create. But that local woman who owns a sewing shop? She doesn’t have to be a barbarian, or a wizard, or anything!

The problem with assigning NPCs adventuring classes is it limits your storytelling potential as a DM. If you’ve artificially limited your NPC to a Paladin, for example, they won’t have the flexibility to aid the party with unlocking a door or casting a fireball. As such, unless it’s a very plot specific NPC, like a high priest or a barbarian warlord, there’s no reason to arbitrarily assign classes to NPCs.

3. MOST NPCs DON’T ENTER COMBAT

The adventuring class system featured in games like Dungeons and Dragons acknowledges that all players will taste combat (at least once). However, normal NPCs like villagers, mayors, etc. will never enter combat. And if they do, they don’t need adventuring classes. Did the mayor have professional combat training or experience? Probably not. You don’t need to prep an NPC for combat that dies in one hit.

Even if you want to make your villagers a little more hardy, remember that stat sheets assume normal people have no bonuses. For example, in D&D, a normal person has a 10 for strength, which is a +0 bonus. You don’t need a character sheet to know a regular villager has no stat modifiers.

“Zeshio, even if an NPC doesn’t enter combat, there’s still non-combat skills to account for!”

This is true, but it’s situational enough you still don’t need to use a character sheet.. For example, if the party is talking to a merchant, you can assume the merchant is skilled in persuasion. Unless they’re some kind of master merchant trained in some city college though, they’re still going to have stat modifiers that stay around +0.

HOW TO MAKE SMART DM DECISIONS WITH NPCS

So far, I’ve identified some points as to why you shouldn’t go crazy with assigning NPCs classes and character sheets. To wrap up, I want to talk about ways DMs can make smart decisions with NPCs that will save them time and energy while remaining prepared. Remember: Work smarter, not harder (or longer).

  • HAVE STOCK NPC SHEETS- While there’s some variation with basic NPCs and townsfolk, having one or two stock NPC sheets for multiple people is very time efficient. If they enter combat, you have a general idea for rolls and can make slight adjustments as needed. This also applies to town guards, for example.

  • THINK OF NPC CHARACTERISTICS- For more visible NPCs, define each by a couple of basic concepts or tropes. If your players interact with them, you have enough to flesh them out while giving you some additional flexibility to define their abilities.

  • FAKE IT TIL YOU MAKE IT- Remember, most players are going to be too absorbed into the story and their own character to worry about if a NPC is fully fleshed out behind your DM screen. It’s more important to sell the character as an authentic part of the story. Give yourself the ability to improvise with NPCs! You’ll be a stronger DM by flexing your brain than by shuffling papers around.

Thanks everyone! How does your DM style reflect what I wrote? Feel free to share your comments below! Like and share if this was helpful for you!

Until the next adventure!

Zeshio