Every now and then your players might need a bit of a challenge, and the run of the mill monsters are just not cutting it. While it might seem like a great time to introduce dragons, beholders, or other big ticket monsters, your story might not be ready for it. If this sounds all too familiar, then you could try introducing player class monsters. Where normal monsters have limited options, adding player class monsters can help shape combat into a much more tactical experience.
Creating Player Class Monsters
Almost any humanoid monster can take on player classes. When you’re creating monsters with player classes you’re dramatically altering how they operate, so it’s important to consider how to apply the class you’ve picked to your particular monster. You can apply a player class to a goblin as easily as you could to a Kuo-Toa. What makes each different is the base statistics for these creatures. A goblin as a level 1 Fighter might not be that much more powerful than a standard goblin, but it will have access to a lot more versatility in combat. On the other hand, giving player classes to more difficult high stat monsters might push their DC up beyond reasonable limits for your party.
Creating a player class monster is not much different from creating a regular PC. To make a player class monster, first pick the monster you’re using as your base. Fill out the character sheet for that monster using its given stats from the monster manual. Step two is applying the class traits and features and increasing its stats accordingly. Treat the monster’s base stats as level 0 and increase all of its traits as if it had gained a level. Be sure to roll additional HP for the monster and adjust its proficiency score to match the class. You may run into a few instances where the adjustments you make by adding weapons would decrease the monsters to-hit bonus. Just fill out your character sheet with each type of attack they have available and assume that the to-hit bonus for their normal attacks includes proficiency at level one and would only increase following the initial level.
This is a time consuming process to say the least. Building a playable character is not an instant or easy thing. If you plan on these monsters all being wiped out, it might be a good idea to build a template sheet for the monster race so you don’t have to start from scratch each time. Player classes have a lot of important decisions when you make them, so having a standard set of picks for your monsters can make this process a lot faster. For creatures like goblins, bugbears, kobolds, and other common monsters, there are already well established rules for building these as playable characters. This makes it easy to find resources to make them as enemies for your campaign. If you want to get some quick options generated, you can always take a look at Fast Character Maker. This will save you a lot of time with the base work for these fights.
Using Player Class Monsters
When you give a player class to a monster, you do more than buff up their stats. The benefits of player’s classes are the abilities that come with the class. A small group of monsters with player classes now becomes an opposing party rather than a simple group of mindless monsters. The most important thing to remember when using PC class monsters is that the monsters know what they are doing. They may become more defensive, use group tactics that would not normally come up, or have access to situational abilities. A creature with a level in Cleric can heal its allies, defend itself, and support their party much more than a normal monster could. In that same that vein of thinking, a monster with access to even level 1 spells can be incredibly dangerous.
When introducing monsters with player classes, it’s important to additionally buff up your descriptive language of these monsters to indicate their danger. Be sure to describe how they stand out. Talk about what weapons and gear the monsters have so that players might be able to guess at their class and roles. A small group of player class monsters might have wildly different ACs and play styles. These things can come out in role play and help you make the encounter memorable, while also giving useful information to your players that they can use during the fight.
Awarding XP for Player Class Enemies
Normally when you are awarding XP in DnD 5e, you should be doing it based on the CR system for most monsters. This can get tricky once you start altering the monster’s stats and giving them classes. Luckily the Dungeon Master’s Guide has several sections that can help you figure out your monster’s CR after adjustments and help you calculate the CR which will ultimately give you the total XP for an encounter. On Page 247 of the DMG (5e) you’ll find a table that can look overwhelming at first. The instructions it gives follow the table, so be sure to read that section first before you try to make sense of the table. The gist of this process is that you find out what your defensive and offensive CR is for a monster and then take the average of those numbers to get an accurate CR. This process can be a little shaky if the creature has a high HP but low AC or vice versa. Additionally, for average damage output you’ll have to look at what spells and abilities your monsters will be using to figure that out. It is not uncommon to have player class monsters be two or three CR levels higher than their base monsters would be.
Give player class monsters a try and see how you can mix up your normal sessions with something more intense!