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Making Adepts More Adept

April 3, 2011

When Wizards of the Coast abandoned the third edition ruleset for Dungeons and Dragons for the new fourth edition rules, it left quite a few gamers stranded with enormous amounts of resource material that could no longer be played.

A very quick history lesson: TSR was the original company formed in part by Gary Gygax to distribute D&D. TSR was responsible for roughly 3-5 (depending on how you count) revisions to the game. TSR went bankrupt near the end of the 90’s, and Wizards bought the company, revamped D&D, and brought out the third edition ruleset. Part of the revamp was a partial ‘open-source’ license that allowed other companies to produce compatible products called the Open Gaming License (OGL). The market groaned under the pressure of hundreds of expensive hardcover rules supplements. Wizards produced one point upgrade to third edition rules (3.5), and then retired that edition of the rules a few years later. The fourth edition rules still have a license for compatible products, but it’s much more restrictive than the OGL.

This is where Pathfinder comes in. Paizo Publishing decided to continue developing the third edition rules with a new RPG called Pathfinder. Many of the more annoying things about third edition (having to spend XP to make magic items, obscure combat rules) have been improved, and many of the best OGL contributions from other publishers have become a core part of the game.

It’s a decent game, but it has a fairly steep learning curve. If you are just starting out and want to dip your feet into the pen-and-paper role-playing pond, you should try something from Palladium. They’re rules system isn’t the greatest, with lots of loopholes and other problems, but it’s easy to learn. You can get up and running pretty quickly.

Character and NPC’s

In the very first edition of D&D, way back at the dawn of time, you only had players (who played a character, like a Dwarven Fighter, or Elven Archer) and The Bad Guys (dragons, werewolves, vampires, goblins…the usual suspects). As the game evolved from “proceed to dungeon and blow stuff up” to “interact with a rich, complex storyline filled with unique characters, then proceed to dungeon and blow stuff up”, Non-Player Characters made their entrance. In many games, the only way to create NPC’s was to use the same rules to roll up characters. This didn’t always make sense. A baker probably doesn’t practice wizardry in his spare time. Many of the roles that needed to be filled in a complete world setting weren’t adventurers. They needed something else.

Third edition D&D rules filled this hole by creating NPC classes, like Aristocrat, Commoner, and Adept. These were the kings, artisans, farmers, and tavern-flys of the medieval worlds that generally make up these games. These classes were much less powerful than the Character classes players would choose, but not defenceless. And you could create NPC’s with skills that the PC’s would need.

Pathfinder’s reboot of third-edition rules didn’t change the NPC classes very much. Probably for the best, but I was hoping for a bit of a revamp here, particularly of the two most useful NPC classes: the Expert and the Adept.

If you’re looking to use these two classes for NPC’s that may need to fight off some pesky PC’s, or provide some unique help, here are a few ways to beef them up.

Craft (alchemy), Craft (trapmaking)

Ahhh…the two great tastes that taste great together. Adding ranks in both of these Craft skills can make a farmer’s fields into a freaking deathtrap. These are also the signature skills for goblins and gnomes.


Most of your NPC’s are going to have a lot of skill ranks in Craft, Knowledge, or Profession. Profession goes the longest way to creating a unique NPC. Not only are NPC’s going to have any Profession skill maxed out, but many of them (herbalist, brewer, scribe, architect) are great ways to add new material to your game. The herbalist who finds a new type of magical plant, the brewer who creates a new type of poison, the scribe who finds lost knowledge in the castle library…all of these are not only adventure hooks that provide new material, but provide a way to keep PC’s on their toes…who knows what the innocent tavern brewer is doing back there?

Bring in the Experts

The Expert NPC class is probably the only NPC class that is almost (but not quite) balanced with PC classes, for one reason: the Expert can take any 10 skills as class skills. This extreme flexibility was designed to make them the representatives of all the professionals in your world setting: no two Experts will be the same. Adding a few levels of Expert to your Adepts, Warriors or Aristocrats will make them twice as unpredictable and dangerous.

Union dues

Most NPC’s with professional standing will be part of their profession’s guild. A double-crossed NPC may not pay back the PC’s right away, but tipping off the guild could keep them in hot water for many adventures to come.

Change up the Adept spell list

Adepts have a very small spell list. Adding a cleric domain, adding new spells to the list, or even adding brand-new spells will keep the PC’s guessing. Don’t go crazy, though.

Aristocrats are rich

The aristocrat class may not compare with PC classes in terms of power, but aristocrats have one thing the PC’s won’t have for a long time: a ton of money. You can load them down with magic items several levels higher than the PC’s would have access to, balancing the field. Make sure that these don’t end up in the PC’s hands every time they knock off a villain, or you’ll end up with super-PC’s before you know it.

NPC’s take time to build

That was a few ways to beef up your NPC’s. I’ll probably add some more as time permits in the future.

Remember that most NPC’s won’t need completely detailed stat blocks. You should only flesh out the ones who you think the PC’s may need to fight, take along on adventures, or will be a recurring character. There are some great online resources for building up a library of NPC’s for your players.

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