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How to Improvise a Stat Block

Make NPCs quirky, not crunchy.

Photo courtesy of Geek & Sundry

Dungeon Masters spend a lot of time making D&D 5e NPCs.

But while it is useful to imagine their backstory and especially their mannerisms, most of the time is spent fully statting them out. But the reality is that most NPCs never even draw a sword. Yet hours of time was spent fiddling with their stat blocks!

Monsters in D&D have quite a bit of crunch to them, which is necessary. Hit points and armor class is important at the table, but fortunately we have the Monster Manual for that. But NPCs typically don’t need all that crunch.

For that quirky bartender we need memorable, not stat heavy. You want quirky, not crunchy. Things like an endearing giggle, a nervous tell, a distinctive smell, or the fact that he walks around all the time with a goat on a leash. In fact, we have a table where you can just roll 2d10 to create a NPC with similarly interesting mannerisms that will help your players remember that NPC for the entirety of the campaign.

So while most of the time an interesting accent by the DM is all that is needed, we do have two quick and easy options for simple combat. The best news it that you can literally improvise this at the table!

Fast and Easy D&D 5e NPCs: Stat Blocks

76c94ee0b5cddc6ab031ffc4cc0a96f1What if combat actually does break out? Well, there are two options, both of which are simple and will allow your NPC to have the necessary crunch.

OPTION #1: Reskin something from the Monster Manual

The first system is to reskin the NPC with a stat block in the Monster Manual. The NPC section at the end of the book is pretty good for coming up with some arbitrary NPC combat statistics.

Simply take the NPC in question and flip to the back of the Monster Manual and match something up as quickly as possible. If it is a simple encounter, treat them like a simple thug, for example. Below are some more examples:

  • The Berserker on page 344 of the Monster Manual makes for a “tough guy” NPC that is itching for a fight.
  • The Spy on page 349 of the Monster Manual makes is a good analogue for a shifty NPC that the party suspects is hiding something.
  • The Priest on page 348 of the Monster Manual is excellent for the NPC contact at the temple who assists the players from time to time.
  • Volo’s Guide also has an excellent set of these stock NPCs in Appendix B.

It’s not perfect and the balance might be a little cattywompus. But it is smooth and comparable enough to make for a combat that is fun for the players, which is what it’s all about.

OPTION #2: Build a stat block on-the-fly.

D&D 5e NPC BartenderThe second system is to use some basic math to build a quick stat block. Choose the basic challenge rating of the NPC and determine the rest off of that. A quick guide:

AC: Anywhere between 12 and 18, dependent on the challenge of the NPC.
Hit Points: 20 per CR.
Attack Bonus: Somewhere between +3 and +9.
Damage: 6 damage per CR.
Saving Throws / Attributes: Simply set a DC between 10 and 20 based upon how hard you think the check is. (Here is how to improvise a skill check on the fly.)

Honestly, I imagine most DMs will mix and match these systems dependent on whichever one is preferred at the moment. The point is that it isn’t necessary to fully stat out that bartender. Focus on making them quirky, not crunchy.