I'm building an encounter in which a party of 4 PCs has recruited another adventuring party to help them fight in a single battle against a powerful enemy.

What should I consider when deciding whether the allied NPC party should have NPC monster stats (evoker, knight, etc.) or PC levels (wizard, fighter, etc.)?

I'm trying to strike a balance between two main criteria:

  1. Balance: The NPC monsters seem to have more HP and less damage output than similarly-leveled PC classes. Would this difference in stats make a big difference in the encounter?

  2. Ease of Running: PC-classed NPCs tend to be a lot more complicated than monster NPCs. While that creates a lot of interesting options, it also makes increases DM overhead.

I'm looking for answers that are backed up with actual table experience in this specific scenario, that can compare a battle with NPC allies vs. PC-classed allies. I am not looking for a general comparison of NPC monsters vs. PC classes, and I am not worried about the NPCs sticking around long-term.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a reason you feel that this is an either/or proposition? What is the problem with sometimes class levels, sometimes monsters depending on the situation or your feeling for a given set up? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 13, 2018 at 19:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I think the sometimes one or the other is probably right, but that's why I used the "what should I consider" phrasing: I'm not sure when to use one or the other or both. \$\endgroup\$
    – Icyfire
    Jan 13, 2018 at 22:32

2 Answers 2


Use CR NPCs to keep them from stealing the spotlight

If you want an NPC to “shine as an individual,” give it class levels. Otherwise, monster-style NPC’s work best.

As you noted, “monsters“ generally have more hit points and do less damage that PC’s. They also generally have lower AC. In this way, allied monsters provide less “swing” in the battle than PC-style characters would.

Fighting between the allies and the monsters have a “battle of attrition“ feel, as the hit points on both sides decrease more slowly and steadily than they would with PC’s in the mix.

That makes it easier for the story of the battle to be “about” the PC’s, as it ought to be. Consider a battle that goes like this:

  1. The PC heroes and their allies square off against the monsters.
  2. The allies are hard-pressed fighting their foes, but stand up to them.
  3. The PC’s finish off their foes and swoop in to save their (surviving) allies.

CR-based allies are more likely to work this way. With their low AC’s, they will take damage, but the higher HP totals mean they are less likely to be knocked out of the fight.

Another little advantage to using creatures with CR is they come pretty well balanced — just add up the CR’s on both sides. If you create classed characters, you can end up having to fiddle with the needle for your character optimization to get the difficulty correct.

Lastly, “monsters” often have simpler mechanics, so their turns are over more quickly, getting the focus back on the players.


Use PC-classed NPCs

but reduce complexity and the time required for preparation by generating a quick build with an app or online generator. Their level shouldn't be higher than the PC's level - no show stealing. Sprinkle some bonds and flaws over the NPCs just in case the PCs want a little chat with their companions afterwards. And how knows - maybe they become friends / enemies / next plot hook. Even if not, just reflavor the NPC characters and use them again if you ever need one of their class again.

Since you asked about table experience: On several occasions I saw immersion killed like: "Yeah, the mage which saved your life totally has name... it's Bob! And sure he has prepared Teleport this morning... wait no, he has no level 7 spells yet." So, I recommend to flesh out the NPCs your PCs will have close interaction with.


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