If you stat it, they will kill it!

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The title of this blogpost is an ancient maxim from the days of D&D’s first edition (before they added the ‘A’ — yes, that long ago). And to be fair, looking at classical adventures from those days like the Tomb of Horrors, where everything is trying to kill you, it frankly makes sense to strike first.

The maxim hints at a deeper truth though as the mere fact that a monster has stats for combat comes with the implication that it is meant to be battled. After all, the time you have as a DM is limited and the number of pages in a source book is finite. If the effort was made to create stats, well… that was done for a reason.

This holds even (especially) for the more ridiculously powerful creatures. Monsters like the Tarrasque almost beg PCs to set up some ridiculous scheme to defeat it — I’ve seen PCs let themselves get swallowed by the creature while holding potions ready to feed to the beast as they were gobbled down. And books like the Epic Level Handbook likewise feature creatures beyond the power of any mortal — except for the PCs of course, who by that level might not even qualify as mortal anymore. Even Deities and Demigods seems to almost be an invitation to make an attempt at becoming a Godslayer.

But I do not feel that the biggest impact of the maxim is in terms of epic monsters and evil deities. Epic heroes require epic foes after all, and there is nothing wrong with heroic PCs gaining victory through combat. The real impact of the rule applies to more mundane figures in the campaign — the NPCs. In particular figures like kings, innkeepers and informants.

These NPCs play a role that goes beyond combat, providing quests, information or simply background filling. As my simulationist nature takes over, I often feel myself compelled to think about the stats of these NPCs. The kind King probably has a high bonus on his Diplomacy check, the Innkeeper has access to Craft: Brewing, and an informant may have ranks in Gather Information. And it may be good to know these numbers, thus prompting us to create a character sheet for them.

However, the benefit of knowing these numbers also poses a risk. Ignoring the investment of time to create and maintain the sheet as players level up (RPGpad can help mitigate this), it also places the NPC on the chopping block!

The mere fact that the King has 6 levels in Noble may make him seem less important to a level 12 PC, and thereby diminish the respect he receives. And knowing the Innkeeper is just two level above the PCs may be interpreted as an invitation to start a bar fight. But even if the stats are kept secret, a DM may be tempted to put an NPC in combat if their character sheet was worked out. After all, it would be a wasted effort if it was never used. Worst of all is when the ‘stats’ don’t match what seems realistic. If a guard has 32 hitpoints, and the parties rogue approaches from behind to slice his throat, rolling damage may not be the best way to resolve the action?

When considering creating a character sheet for an NPC, there are of course other factors to consider as well — will the NPC fight against the PCs (or with them)? Is the NPC actually a retired PC who already had a character sheet to start with? Do you simply enjoy creating character sheets? All of those are good reasons to add a character sheet to an NPC — and that is why RPGpad offers that option.

However, if you are planning to make stats for NPCs merely to have an indication of their power… it might be wise to consider if the benefits thereof outweigh the cost, or if it is sufficient to simply list their generic level range. It’ll not just save you time — it might make the NPC live longer too! In the meanwhile, be sure to check out this weeks changelog, and let us know how you deal with NPCs!