Welcome back readers! It is nearly Christmas, yet there is no snow here in the NE United States. But there are presents, a new Questions about Class for you to unwrap, this time focusing on the NPC classes. As you may (or may not) know, Flying Pincushion Games is about to release its next book, Into the Breach: the Forgotten Classes. So we thought it was a good time that I, Jeff Harris, sit down with fellow Pincushioneer David McCrae to talk about the NPC classes.
JH: First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the time to sit down and answer my questions!
DM: It’s no problem at all. I’m very enthusiastic about being involved here at Flying Pincushion. I kind of want to get my hands into everything.
JH: Can you give the readers a little about yourself and your role at The Flying Pincushion?
DM: Well, I’m kind of upstart here thus far. And even though I didn’t get here early enough to get my hands into ItB: The Forgotten Classes, I’ve had a blast coming up with content for upcoming Into the Breach books! I’m just your average-joe gamer with a mind stuffed full of ideas that are begging to be released to the masses.
JH: So what exactly is the point of the NPC classes as you see it, are they just background and filler, or is there untapped potential in them?
DM: It’s funny that you ask, because I’m actually designing a “Young character” campaign. And per the rules concerning young characters in Pathfinder RPG: Ultimate Campaign, young characters MUST be NPC classes. So in a way, I was already tapping into the hidden potential of NPC classes. As the author of two novels, I can say with confidence that every character in important. PC or NPC, they wouldn’t be in there if it were not relevant.
JH: Why do you think that the NPC classes are so rarely used by players, and have you ever used one or more of the NPC classes as a player yourself?
DM: NPC classes just don’t have the power that PC classes have. With little to no class abilities, and low choice of weapon proficiencies, only 1 spellcasting class with a very limited spell list, and, well…the commoner, it’s no surprise they are just simply unappealing to the players that want to fireball stuff or roll as many damage dice as possible.
JH: Could you see the NPC classes being used in “low magic” and/or “gritty” campaigns as the default class options for players instead of the Core and Base classes? And if so, how well do you think the NPC classes would fare?
DM: I’ll shuffle back to my previous statement about the “Young Character” campaign. It starts off gritty and low-magic as you say. But there are bountiful opportunities to challenge and surprise your PCs. I grin just picturing my PCs having to get by on their skills alone; having to start from nothing and build themselves through true experience into hero-dom.
The most important thing to remember as the GM for such a campaign is to give the players JUST enough challenge to keep them engaged. Make sure not to coddle your PCs just because they can’t rage or deal sneak attack damage. Also, make use of those innocuous little Beastiary entries known as animals. Skunks, porcupines, and other woodland creatures could be just as challenging to NPC classes as most CR 2 or 3 monsters would be to low-level PC classes.
I’m still working out the story kinks, of course. But an NPC class campaign is totally possible, and it could be a new and wonderful experience for your players.
JH: As we all know, the NPC classes have very little (often nothing) in the way of special class features. Do you think this lack of unique abilities allows the other (PC) classes to better shine, or does it just render the NPC classes unable to challenge PC’s as foes the GM can draw upon?
DM: Although NPC classes lack unique abilities, I believe a party of NPC class characters can shine if the players themselves know what they are doing. With enough study into the rules of skills and combat, four 1st level NPC class characters can easily overtake one or even two 2nd level PC class characters. Things like Aid Another actions, Combat Maneuvers, Total Defense, Alchemical splash weapons, and clever use of feats (ESPECIALLY Teamwork feats) can make for an extremely effective team of NPC class characters. The most important thing is for the PCs to work together even moreso than they would if they were using PC classes.
JH: The adept, she has wizard and cleric abilities and spell casting mixed, is this a good thing, does it make sense to you?
DM: It does. The adept, as I envision her, is feeling out what kind of spellcaster she wants to be. In order to do this, she needs to study and delve into arcane and divine arts to see what works for her.
JH: The expert, at least on the surface seems, despite a lack of special class features, to be extremely flexible because you may choose your class skills. Do you think this is a good idea, would choosing class skills if other classes could do so, be a good thing as well?
DM: For PC classes, no. Being able to choose your class skills as a PC class could allow far too many of those classes to go bananas. For the Expert, however, his ability to choose his class skills is, in essence, his “class ability”. A clever player can choose 10 class skills that are NOT on the class skill list for the PC class he would want to play later, and keep his level in Expert when he DOES take that class. This way, he’s playing his PC class with 10 extra class skills.
JH: Warriors, are they even viable as a combat class in your opinion? Given the many hot button discussions about the power level of the fighter, is the warrior just a somewhat sadder fighter without bonus feats, doomed to cannon fodder status and gate guard duty?
DM: That is completely up to the player controlling the warrior. Does the player want to focus more on what the class has as opposed to what it doesn’t have? Seriously, for an NPC class, a d10 hit die, full BAB, and full weapon and armor proficiencies is a combination that’s nothing to sneeze at. True, it’s a little lackluster without the bonus feats or bravery, but teamwork (as I described earlier) will help win the day for warriors.
JH: The commoner, arguably mechanically at least, the absolute least powerful class in the game. Does this seem fair to you? Does scaling the common folk so far below even the other NPC classes make sense?
DM: I like to view the commoner just as advertised. A commoner doesn’t want to fight, delve into magic, steal, summon, or anything else like that. A commoner has work, family, and lifestyle that is comfortable to himself. They just want to be the hero of their own life and the people around them. The lure of riches and fame doesn’t have the same pull with the commoner, so the effort to achieve such extravagant success and prestige isn’t there.
JH: The Aristocrat, from a straight mechanical perspective, likely it is one of, if not the best, NPC class of the bunch. Do you think their class features are balanced given the scope of abilities that the rest of the NPC classes gain, or are they the “special golden child” of the bunch?
DM: No doubt, the aristocrat stands out. Its wide array of class skills and full weapon and armor proficiencies make it an NPC class that a GM would want to take seriously. In planning the young character campaign, I’ve had all of my players at least once state they would want to be an aristocrat. And even though it’s not as effective in combat from an attack and damage perspective, there are certainly ways for creative team players to make her work once initiatives are rolled.
JH: If you had complete freedom to change the NPC classes, would you, and what are a few of the major changes you would make?
DM: As written, the NPC classes are fair and appropriate to their namesakes. Maybe I would swap out two of the aristocrat’s class skills for Acrobatics. For the commoner, 1 Knowledge skill of the player’s choice. Simple little changes, but nothing crazy-drastic.
JH: What is, if there is one, the new NPC class that you would add to the current list, and do you think there will ever be changes to the NPC class list in the future?
DM: I was thinking of making shopkeeper an actual NPC class. ¾ BAB, good Reflex save, Skill Focus in Craft or Profession of the player’s choice as a bonus feat. Proficient with the tools he uses in the shop as improvised weapons. Obvious class skills like Appraise, Perception, Bluff, Sense Motive. I’d love to see it done, and I think it would add some flavor to shops and towns.
JH: What are the three main points you would make if you were trying to convince a player at your table to try playing an NPC class for the first time in a home game, and would you adjust your GMing/play style to accommodate that player and their less powerful character if they agreed to take that plunge?
DM: Simply listed:
1. It’s new!
2. It will challenge your skills as a player.
3. It will be relevant to the plot of the campaign.
The reason for #3, it would be no different than saying, “My campaign is humans only!” or “All venerable characters”. But the reason you would do this as a GM (I’m hoping) would be because those stipulations are relevant to the story you want to tell.
Sorry to keep drawing on my campaign as an example, but it’s relevant for my player PCs to have their 1st level in commoner, and their 2nd level in any other NPC class they wish. Couple this with the ability score penalties the young characters suffer, and you pretty much have a whole new gaming experience. All of my players love the idea, and they can’t wait to actually get started.
Also, yes, I do have to adjust my GMing. This campaign has taken a lot of planning. Designing encounters with CR ½ and ¼ woodland creatures; puzzles and interactions that will require teamwork and skills to overcome. It has been a great time creating out-of-the-norm scenarios for my players. I suggest to all the GMs out there, if you want to do this, scale your hard-mode back a bit. You’re out to create a whole new experience for your players. Give them time to learn this new ground. You should carefully adjust to your players instead of the other way around, just this once.
JH: Finally, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to have this chat, David!
DM: Any time! And I look forward to creating more fun for the players!