Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pathfinder's not that tough, really!

I was checking out the forum over at and ran across one of the typical 4E v. Pathfinder threads that pops over there from time to time. I don't want to get into the edition wars again, since I feel such posts are just a cheap way for bloggers to up their posting numbers without having anything interesting to say. I do take exception, however, to some of the posts which describe preparation time for DM's running 3.x/Pathfinder as especially onerous. One commentor even describes a situation in which his DM spent two hours on an NPC wizard who was subsequently defeated in a single round. TWO HOURS! I could generate a whole adventuring party of high-level characters in two hours and still have time to grab a sandwich and watch the third period of the game.

The key to NPC generation in 3.x/Pathfinder is to know what the purpose of the NPC is and what relevent information needs to be included to fulfil that purpose. Obviously, if an NPC is supposed to a major player in a campaign, more effort should be put into its design, including ample abilities to escape, since some players consider it a challenge to kill every important NPC that crosses their paths. However, if the NPC is just intended to be cannon fodder, it is a piece of cake to produce even spellcasters in a hurry. Here is my approach:

Ability scores: For low-level characters (level 1-5), make the primary ability score 16, give them Con 12 and make everything else 10. For mid-level (level 6-10), give them 18 for the primary ability and everything else the same as low-level. For high-level (11+), 20 for the primary ability, Con 14, everything else 10. In other words, 1-5 level: +3 modifier for primary and +1 hp per die; 6-10 level: +4 modifier and +1 hp per die; 11+ level: +5 modifier and +2 hp per die.

Feats: Don't sweat this one. It doesn't matter if there are a couple of hundred to chose from, there are only about 20 that are worth a damn for NPCs. Honestly, nobody cares if the enemy wizard has the Forge Ring feat, it won't come into play. If you are rolling up a non-fighter, you won't have very many feats anyway and assuming at least a couple will be non-combat feats, you typically only have to assign 3 or 4 feats to your NPC. For spellcasters, you are looking at Spell Penetration, Combat Casting, Improved Initiative and maybe Empower Spell. There, done. A similar list can be easily thrown together for any other character type. Obviously, you will spend a bit more time on fighters since they are all about feats, but then you don't have to worry about spell selection, so it all balances out.

Skills: Perception, Stealth, Spellcraft and Acrobatics are the only skills that matter in combat. Don't worry about the rest.

Spells: Again, feel free to cut corners. A high-level wizard may have dozens of spells, but chances are he won't be around more than five rounds. He'll either be dead or he will have bugged out. So, pick a half dozen offensive spells and a Teleport, give him Mage Armour and Resist Energy (fire)(already cast) and be done with it. Your players will not notice how little effort you put into a wizard that they kill in three rounds.

Magic Items: The core rule book has a nice section on equipping NPCs. It's fast and easy. Use it.

With a little experience, it is possible to generate NPC combatants in a minute or two. The complete rules for character generation are only necessary for player characters.



Tayloritos said...

I totally agree, I only spend a lot of time on NPC's if it is some build idea I am thinking about for a future PC I might play.

Another recommendation is borrow a wizard from a premade adventure. Photocopy a page and your done.

Obiri said...

Yeah, I kept a few pages of pre-genned NPCs handy and I just used the stats for which ever. Just switch up some of the weapons on the fly to keep it interesting.