NPC Stat Blocks for Frostlands of Fenrilik, Part 1

Scarred Lands

By Sarah L. Stewart

You can make people or things for your players to interact with in 5e in several ways: monsters / creatures, non-player characters (or NPCs, which in 5E are more like monsters), and NPC stat blocks. NPC stat blocks are generic character builds you can apply to any humanoid character, either directly or as a template. I’ve been GMing some edition of D&D for over twenty years and have created a lot of custom content for my own use. However, creating NPCs for 5th Edition D&D is a little tricker than some previous editions (especially if you want to publish them) so I’m going to describe here how I made a humanoid NPC stat block for Frostlands of Fenrilik.

When writing a D&D 5e publication for the Slarecian Vault, we’re only allowed to reference or include outside resources that are part of the Open Game License (or OGL): the System Reference Document for D&D 5th Edition (published by Wizards of the Coast), and official Scarred Lands publications like the Scarred Lands Player Guide for 5e OGL, Yugman’s Guide to Ghelspad, and Vigil Watch (all published by Onyx Path), plus other Slarecian Vault content that Onyx Path has given permission to reference. While that gives us a lot of material from the Scarred Lands, it’s a surprisingly small amount from Wizards of the Coast, particularly monsters and NPCs.

The 5e OGL includes 21 different NPC stat blocks we can reference in publications. That sounds like a lot, but when you think about the numerous people a party encounters, the variety of backgrounds they can have, and the range of challenge ratings (CRs) a GM needs, 21 doesn’t go very far. And while there are many other NPCs in other D&D publications, we can’t reference or copy anything that isn’t covered in the SRD / OGL. Every NPC mentioned in Frostlands of Fenrilik needed a class. I had two choices. One, make everyone a commoner (repetitive and boring) or two, find a class that has the characteristics or CR that I want, regardless of whether it fits the character. For example, why did we make an innkeeper a spy? Not because they’re actually “spying” on the PCs, but because we wanted to make them “roguish” and be at least a CR 1. 

In my frustration, I made a couple of custom NPC stat blocks for Frostlands to add some variety to my NPCs. The one I’ll break down is a type of ranger (none of the OGL NPC stat blocks are ranger types) to act as a potential wilderness guide or survivalist on the frosty tundra. 

Summary of the Process

I follow this basic process when I’m making custom NPCs. Note that if you’re planning to publish your creation, it’s also really important to look at and follow the formatting, language, and terms of existing style guides. Matching up to that makes your content easier to use and looks more professional.

  1. Choose your concept for the character class. I usually base mine on an existing player character class and appropriate level.
  2. Decide the character’s stats:
    1. If the character’s CR is less than one, I select low basic stats: mostly 10s and 11s, with one or two 14s in their primary stats, and an 8 in their least important.
    2. If the CR is between one to four, I use the standard array (8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15) or a point-buy equivalent.
    3. If the CR is five or higher, I usually choose whatever scores seem appropriate, balancing the high ones with a few low to keep things interesting. I try to keep all stats at 20 or lower unless I need a CR 15 or higher.

Note: I may review and adjust key stats later to meet the requirements for a specific challenge rating.

  1. “Roll up” the character based on the class and level I chose.
  2. To keep the overall stat block short and easy to use, I simplify any class-based special abilities, being sure to maintain the proper “language” and formatting. For instance, if I want my ranger to have an animal companion, I don’t include the rules for generating one, I just say they have a wolf.
  3. I swap out any abilities that don’t make sense for my concept for a more appropriate ability from a different class at a similar level. When making a custom sea captain, for example, I took the bandit captain NPC stat block and added a modified version of the knight class’s special leadership ability.
  4. Run what I have so far through the “Monster Statistics by Challenge Rating” table found in the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) to determine the CR. 
  5. Add hit dice and make other adjustments as needed to reach the CR I want the character to be.
    1. An NPC’s proficiency bonus is determined by the character’s CR, not Hit Dice, class level, caster level, etc.
    2. Reduce hit dice if there are two or more resistances and immunities per the “Effective Hit Points” table in the DMG.

That’s my process. There are certainly other processes out there (and if you know a better one please, share it with me), but what I came up with seems to work for me.

The First Four Steps

For my Frostlands NPC stat block I chose ranger as my base, and 7th level because rangers get an archetype feature at that level and I wanted my NPC to use the special new one that one of my co-writers had created for Frostlands. At 7th level, the character will likely be at least CR5, so I chose stats close to the standard array, with a 16 in Dexterity, 14 in Strength and Wisdom, and 10-12 in the rest. 

Next, I used these stats to roll up a basic 7th level ranger with no race / species or background information.

  • I selected two-weapon fighting for their fighting style to make it easiest to run, as it conveniently makes the damage for all their attacks the same.
  • I chose the arctic as their favored terrain (obvious for Frostlands) but couldn’t decide on a favored enemy yet.
  • I picked out spells. Hunter’s mark is always a good for a 5e ranger. I also selected a couple of healing spells, since I intend this class mostly for friendly NPCs, not enemies. It’s always handy to have a healer available. I finished the list with some common, but not overly complicated, spells.
  • Finally, I gave them appropriate abilities for the new archetype. 

One of these new abilities does extra damage a number of times per short or long rest equal to their Wisdom modifier. As a GM I already have to track spell slots; I hate having to track how many times an NPC has used an ability, particularly if it recharges when they’ve rested (which isn’t standard language for an NPC, either). 

I have a few other options I could use, like adding a recharge to the ability (i.e. roll a d6 and on a 5 or 6 the ability recharges). However, in my experience most combat encounters (not counting epic battles) last an average of three rounds. Rather than giving the ability a recharge, I decided to make it a standard amount of damage they could add to one attack per turn, dumping the other restrictions. That leaves one less thing to keep track of, and a little extra consistent damage per turn will actually help with the next step.

As I had a limited number of words available for the class’s stat block (and I was already technically over), I decided to drop favored enemies too. I couldn’t decide on one, it was a long description, and it’s another thing for the GM to track and potentially forget about. It also makes up a little for that extra damage they do each round. If a GM decides the NPC needs a favored enemy, they can add one themselves.

Next, I added weapons and armor. Then I calculated attacks, damage, and armor class, and made sure everything else was properly filled out.

To be continued…