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I'm planning an encounter where an assassin squad will attack the king in his throne room. Realistically speaking, there should be guards there, so I'm thinking of adding three or so guard NPCs to help the party (and buffing the assassins accordingly).

My question is: can I pick a monster stat block (e.g., the veteran from the MM) and use it as a party ally? I'm a bit afraid that since monsters stat blocks are designed to have much more HP than a PC, the guards will just act as damage sponges and take forever to die against the assassins.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Isn't the job of guards to act as damage sponges? \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Oct 12 '16 at 6:24
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You can absolutely use their stat blocks directly as allies. The real question you have is how to make the ensuing encounter appropriately challenging with the additional allies. You have a few ways to handle this.

Increase the encounter to make up for the allies

This takes some tinkering, but the way I would start is take the encounter xp of the additional guards, and create an encounter worth the same xp, assigning monsters from that group to handle the guards. This will make the encounter seem larger, but not actually change what the PC's are handling. By the time the additional mobs take out the guards, they will be weakened, or the PCs will have had the opportunity to take out the primary enemies (or both). You can also fudge it by subtracting the guard's encounter xp value from the original encounter to determine how "hard" of an encounter it actually is.

Don't use stats, just tell a story

The better option from my standpoint is to not bother with tracking hp and stats from the guards, and use them for a story point. If you want one of the enemies to seem tougher than the rest, have him catch a guard's blade in his bare hand and kill him in one blow. If the PC's are hurting, have the guards finish off one of the weaker foes, or take a hit for them. You can still roll for the guards, but use their deaths and kills to make a cinematic point. You can probably come up with a lot of uses for the guards in this context without worrying about their stats.

Do a mix of both

Have the guards statted out, but don't have a fixed encounter size. If the guards start "winning" too much, bring in reinforcements from the assassins. If the players are losing badly, have the guards come to the rescue (or at least take out or distract a couple enemies).

Give the guards a different objective

The guards really don't care about the PC's survival, they care about the King. Maybe they are just fighting to get a clear path to get him to safety. Have them leave the encounter as quickly as possible with the King in tow (or maybe some of the guards are in on the assassination attempt).

There are a lot of options, so don't feel constrained by the rules. You are the DM after all, your job is to make an interesting story/game with the rest of the players and adjudicate rules. Sometimes eyeballing it or making things happen because the story needs it is your job.

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Yes, you can pick a monster stat block for the guards, but if you are concerned that the party will use them to soak damage and save their own hides, I would submit that you should consider the general design of the encounter first. Are the guards there to participate in the combat, or are they there for verisimilitude (what ruler wouldn't have some guards around?).

Also consider the assassin's perspective. Surely, they would also expect the guards, and then "whatever hangers-on" might be in the throne room at the time. Their likely initial targets would be the known opponents, the guards, then the ruler and whoever else was in the throne room and might get or might not in the way.

A simpler solution. The party sees the assassins cut down the guards (set the scene), and then your real encounter begins, with the party and ruler vs the assassins. I assume it is easier to estimate an appropriate challenge for the party + ruler than the party + ruler + guards. As Dale M mentioned, this puts the party more as major actors, and leaves you "fighting yourself" less.

If you want to give the players a dilemma, place some non-combatant courtiers in the room as well, who suddenly become unwitting participants in the drama.

Lots of potential for interesting twists in that situation.

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Don't do this.

Role playing games are about the players playing the games - they are not going to have fun watching you play solitaire.

Instead, simply add additional guards and assassins and describe what happens between them in general terms - "As you engage the first group of assailants, a second group slips around you to confront the half-dozen guards who have formed ranks around the king." and "Looking over, you see two of the guards are down but the assassins have suffered some grievous wounds."

Use these as a means of pacing the PCs fight - if the PCs are doing well the guards are doing poorly: hurry up or the king dies! Vice-versa if the PCs are struggling.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've tried this. Worked bad. Party cleric rushed to buff NPCs and I had a hard time ajudicating what had happened. \$\endgroup\$ – Ols Oct 11 '16 at 21:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ols "With the help of your enchantment, the guards immediately cut down another of the assassins. Good move!" \$\endgroup\$ – mbocek Oct 11 '16 at 23:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is not broadly true of RPGs, nor of RPG players, that they are about player characters only, nor that all players can't have fun with NPC ally combatants. More importantly, there are players who find these sort of artificial GM manipulations to be detectable, fake, and/or annoying, because they warp the game world to force an artificial desire to spotlight the PCs according to some sort of narrative ideas. \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Oct 12 '16 at 1:33

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