Villain classes are a concept introduced in Mastering Iron Heroes. Basically
they're simplified classes meant to be used for creating NPC opponents; see p.17
of that book for more information. Here are the basic principles I'm following for
villain classes for D&D:
- Villain classes should be powerful/durable enough to be a CR-appropriate
threat. It should be about as tough to fight a 20th level villain as, say, a
balor or a wyrm black dragon (all CR 20). Or, if 20th level encounters are too
situation-dependent, say a 10th level villain compared to a fire giant or gray
slaad (CR 10). This should be achievable without decking the character out with
gear like a Christmas tree. Strictly speaking the CR = level assumption can
be relaxed, but it's convenient to have a definitive baseline value -- and things
like caster levels, level-dependent spell effects, and attack/save progressions
can become problematic if hit dice are very different to CR.
- Villain classes should be simple to build. Build time should be minimal,
while preserving in-game flexibility. Ideally, you should be able to just read
off the stats from the table, while choosing special abilities during play (including
spells and other special powers). Thus there should be no requirement to choose
spells known, maneuvers known, item selection, skill selection, etc. Feats complicate
things slightly, but it's easy enough to have a set progression as a default.
- Villain classes should be simple in play. Contingent bonuses and buffs should
be kept to a minimum, so that recalculating the stats doesn't need to be done
too often (it's probably not feasible to eliminate buffs entirely, though).
Similarly, special abilities should be rationed on a per-encounter basis, since
most villains won't be seen for more than one fight. Rationing on a per-day
basis means more work to track NPC status, for little benefit. The only resource
that carries over between encounters is hit points.
- The classes aren't meant to be used by players, so balancing against PC
classes is less important, and furthermore mechanics that wouldn't be appropriate
for PCs can be used. The important thing is that they should be balanced as
opponents of the given CR.
Yes, this is a watering down of the 3E philosophy of having one rules framework
for everyone and everything. It's also a return to the 1E/2E approach where monsters
were built differently to PCs. As long as it enhances gameplay, it's all good.
In addition, I'll mention here that The Book of Nine Swords provides a
very useful mechanic by which to ration out special abilities per encounter. While
the classes in that book are probably too complicated to serve as villain classes,
the maneuver system is still flavoursome, flexible and highly diverse. Giving villains
maneuvers makes them more unpredictable and interesting than they would be otherwise,
so that's what I've done. The darkmage doesn't have maneuvers, but it has spells
which should provide more than enough diversity and flexibility for anyone. The
sorcerous warrior has spells and maneuvers, which has the potential to be
very powerful if used intelligently.
Here are the villain classes that I've come up with so far. The first
share a common set of ability progressions: 10-14 (x2), 12-16, 12-20, 14-24 and
16-28, arranged to suit each particular niche. The fifth class is essentially an
NPC fighter/wizard, which has slightly higher ability scores but slightly lower-level
spells/maneuvers. Some of these classes also have variants.
Last modified: 29 May 2007
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