Monday, May 26, 2008

Why I Can't Play the Newest Branches of the D&D Tree

Troy E. Taylor over at Gnome Stew has posted a summary of Pathfinder's streamlined NPC creation process:

Seven steps to a fully-statted NPC

This is a quick summation of the Pathfinder process. Throughout, DMs can refer to charts with the numbers and information to plug into the NPC they are creating.

1. Basics

This is the concept for the NPC, including whether you’ll be creating it from the NPC or character classes.

2. Ability Scores

This also has been simplified. There are two tiers of NPC score arrays, basic and heroic. And you refer to a chart based not on the class, but the role, the NPC is going to play in the encounter, such as melee or ranged combatants, divine or arcane spellcasters, or skill-focused characters.

3. Skills

Skills are assigned normally, though there is a chart that gives you the skills by class at a glance.

4. Feat selection

This has been streamlined in that there are lists of suggested feats depending, again, on the role of the NPC (such as finesse, unarmed, mounted, or two-handed fighters, for example). The feat lists are alphabetical, so you still have to keep prerequisite progressions (such as the fact Point Blank Shot comes before Far Shot) in mind.

5. Class features

Here you have to refer back to the class descriptions.

6. Gear

This could well be the most useful chart in the process. Instead of a overall gold piece amount for NPCs to play with, the value of gear is categorized. For example, a heroic NPC at third level has 1,200 gp total, of which 350 gp goes toward weapons, 600 gp goes to armor and shields, none for magic yet, 100 gp for alchemy items, as well as potions, scrolls and wands, and 150 gp for mundane gear.

7. Details

Which here means double checking bonuses and modifiers and filling out descriptive details, too.

And these are the stats of a 3rd level "sergeant at arms" from adventure A3 - Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords: (AC5, LVL 3, hp 18, #AT 1, D 2-8, bow 1-6). That is followed by a brief note informing us that the sergeant and his men are "armed with broadswords and short composite bows and wearing chainmail", all of which could have been deduced from the stats.

The moral of the story is this: I don't have a few hours to stat out NPCs between gaming sessions. After the adventure has begun, I really don't have five minutes to lovingly hand-craft a new NPC I wasn't expecting to need tonight.

Or maybe I'm just lazy. Take your pick. ;)


Jeff Rients said...

Yeah. "Orcs (hp 3, 5, 5, 6)" is even better.

Randall said...

I have yet to see the point of such complex stats as 3.x uses for throw-away monsters and NPCs. Sure, I used to fully work up major NPC villains with as if they were PCs (even in OD&D), but for most opponents, AC, weapons/damage, hit points, special abilities/magic items, and perhaps a couple of personality quirks were more than enough info to run with.

Jack Badelaire said...

Well, to be fair, there's a couple of things to consider...

1. If all you're making is axe-fodder for your PCs to hack up, you can largely ignore all the skills and any non-combat feats. If you're making an NPC that you're not intending to have fighting (like an NPC scholar or entertainer), then all that really matters is the skill levels and maybe one or two non-combat feats.

Those rules seem to mostly just be covering their bases since they aren't presuming what it is you want the NPC for, so it lets you generate them for anything.

2. Yes, the monster stats are complex, but I don't think it's the statline that is so complex as it is "visible" in 3.X. In older versions, while the stats weren't so complex, there was a lot more to your average monster than what was given, it was just more "under the hood". You'd say "Saves: F5" Rather than writing out the saving throws for Poison, Spell, etc., but the information was still there. Likewise for stats - most monsters and NPCs were just assumed to have baseline-average stats, so you're not figuring in mods for St, Dex, etc..

I don't know if that makes sense, but in short, it's not THAT much trouble to trim the fat from a 3.X stat block if you know what the NPC/Monster is for, and older writeups could be shorter because there's a lot of pre-figured data left out of the description.

And 3...I think D&D spoils us a little with it's short "stat blocks". A GURPS NPC that's just there for cannon fodder CAN be written up fairly succinctly, but most GURPS NPCs are fairly complex and well detailed. Likewise with Rolemaster, Harnmaster, and other "simulationist" systems, for lack of a better broad-brushstrokes category. In published material, if the NPC/Monster's "use" in the game is in question (axe-target or potential long-running NPC), the publisher is leaning on the side of caution and giving you all the information because they aren't sure what part of it you need.

Anyhow, that's just my take on it.

Robert said...

Yeah. As much as I find all the mechanical details in 3e overkill, I can ignore them and fly by the seat-of-my-pants just as much as with any other system.

It isn’t the investment to create NPCs or monsters that bothers me as much as the investment to build PCs. Because that is what—when I ran 3e—tended to make me want to not gloss over the rules too much and risk invalidating the investment the players put into building their PCs.