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Awesome NPCs: Why Villains Aren’t Player Characters

posted Sunday, October 14th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

On Sunday I looked at the difference between PCs and NPCs – in their game statistics, NPCs aren’t all heroes. Today, I’m going to tell you how you can turn this to your advantage.

Non-player characters aren’t constrained by the same requirements as player characters are, and the DM can relax the munchkinry a little in the interests of building an interesting villain. The reverse, however, is also true. NPCs, and especially major villains, are able to tap into resources that player characters can’t for balance reasons.

Here are the biggest:

  • Wealth. A villain isn’t limited to the gold piece guidelines in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. He might own potent magic items, a fortress, or even an entire empire. Use this sparingly, however – if every NPC is super-rich, players will amass magic items that dwarf their own character abilities.
  • Minions. Minions count as their own creatures when it comes to handing out the XP, but the villain should rarely attempt to take on his enemies single-handedly when he has powerful and loyal minions.
  • Special abilities. Players might be limited to a certain range of feats and abilities, but there’s no reason why a villain can’t have supernatural power beyond his usual abilities. This isn’t cheating if your villain’s challenge rating is increased appropriately. Superhuman abilities can make your NPC all the more feared, and since custom attributes aren’t listed in any book, the players never quite know what to expect.

Comments

  1. kateweb

    October 19th, 2007

    I tried email you via your contact page and got a mailer demon I am having trouble with bones and would like some help if you could spare it it look really nice and my players would like to try it if you could email me back that would be sweet
    kate

  2. KasraKhan

    July 19th, 2008

    A good way to keep ultra strong items out of PC hands after defeating a super rich villain to have them evil aligned if all PCs are good, or have them possessed. A few demons popping out can add a surprise, if not a little bit of disapointment in not getting a working +5 keen flaming burst greatsword of greater spell turning…

  3. Quicksilver

    August 27th, 2009

    Yah i like those idea’s. I’d just like to point out that it’d be unfair to prevent a pc from gaining equal abilities that are not in the normal books if they pursued them and gave up the xp or levels to obtain them (gaining level equivalencies in return). I am both a player and a DM, and if someone works hard enough in game to get something the results should be the same (risks the same too).

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