The Unlikely Heroes series is a development based on the Dungeon Master's Guide NPC classes, enabling the GM to create more interesting and personalised NPCs. And who knows, maybe one of them will take up adventuring one day and truly become an unlikely hero!
Originally issued individually, the NPC classes herein are the Arcane Dabbler, the Guard, the Labourer, the Mystic, the Professional, the Noble and the Scholar. There's also a compilation of class skills (new uses for old skills and new skills) for them to use; and bonus material not found in the individual classes - plot seeds and information on the design process. This is all presented in a printer-friendly landscape format, accompanied by a Word document containing all the useful tables, so that you can use them in other formats if you so wish.
The Introduction explains the rationale behind the development of the book, that the DMG NPC classes are very underpowered compared to the 'adventurer' ones, which is just about OK if the two never meet in the same individual but tends to make adventurers so much better at everything than everybody else that it can be a bit ridiculous. It also makes it hard to run the 'unlikely hero' type of campaign so beloved of fantasy fiction, where some unsuspecting farm lad or maidservant suddenly finds themselves swept up in world-changing adventure... someone built using the NPC classes just wouldn't cope! These could provide either NPCs who are genuinely powerful enough in their own way to look adventurers in the eye, or perhaps be the starting class of someone who may develop into an adventurer later - they are all too light in combat skills to make a living out of adventuring as is, but judicious multi-classing will enable a character to develop the skills they lack without feeling that the non-adventurer classes are so weak as to be a waste of a level pick.
The Arcane Dabbler is a kind of magic hobbist. Just as we go to our day jobs and think about tonight's role-playing game, he's counting the hours until he can close his shop or pack up his tools and retreat to his study. They gain and cast Wizard spells, although slower than those able to devote themselves to the art full-time. Perhaps a Dabbler will do if a small township doesn't boast a Wizard of their own, or maybe the Dabbler will venture forth and become an adventurer himself.
The Guard is somewhere between a police officer and a soldier, often hired to protect a township but with some combat skills to round out observation and investigation. It's possible that they will form the opposition to a party of adventurers, particularly those who set out to steal or cause trouble in the area being guarded. However it may not end in tears, as Guards pride themselves on their 'people skills' at least as much as they do on whatever weapons skills they have picked up.
The Labourer is someone who earns his bread by the skill and strength of his own hands - he may be a skilled craftsman such as a smith or a potter, or a farm hand whose chief attribute is a strong back. It's often badly-paid and poorly-regarded work, but there is a pride in being able to look at a gathered harvest or a well-built wall and say, "I did that." One interesting ability that they develop as their levels rise is an ever-increasing carrying capacity.
The Mystic is one who has been touched by the Divine in some manner, but not in a way organised enough for them to seek the religious life as a Cleric. Unlike Clerics, their powers are not fully under their control, they come, rather than being called upon, enabling the working of miracles at the drop of a hat rather than as a result of study, training and prayer. They are even more limited than Clerics when it comes to which Domains they can draw on when casting spells, although they gain access to more Domains as they rise in level. In addition, each Domain that the Mystic can use also confers a special power that they can use. A Mystic character may either be 'gifted' - chosen by a deity of similar alignment to his own as an emissary - or 'empowered' by a deity who may be of a completely different alignment and is seeking to influence the character. As every Mystic has an aura based on his patron deity's alignment, this can prove embarrassing, especially if a deity regarded as evil is trying to corrupt you!
The Noble is a interesting character, well-educated but perhaps short on real-world experience. Their fighting has been learned in the practise yard, not the battlefield or the back streets; while they are also likely to be educated in literature and other aspects of cultured living as well. Sometimes their interests will lead them to hire or sponsor adventurers - for anything from archaelogical research to diplomatic errands - and at times they may wish to come along. Some young nobles want to prove themselves, or sow a few wild oats before settling down to running their estates, and will attach themselves to a group of adventurers for company. Their special ability is leadership, which grants them a loyal retinue that grows as they rise in level. Many will view themselves as the 'most important' person in any group, and will insist on a prominent position in any activity. At second level, a noble needs to decide if he wishes to pursue a career as a Knight, concentrating on the development of martial skills, or as a Courtier, building skills in diplomacy and governance.
Next comes the Professional. The epitome of the middle class, they strive to achieve mastery of a particular skill. It is more likely that adventure will come to them than they will go out and seek it, generally prefering to stay at home and practice their skills for profit and prestige. Like the Barbarian's 'rage' ability, a Professional is able to get 'in the Zone' where his skills operate at a superhuman level (but can be a bit disoriented once he emerges!). They also are able to count all skills as class skills.
Finally, we have the Scholar. They pursue knowledge and understanding with the same devotion that a monk or a wizard dedicates to their chosen pursuits. They get advantages to language and lore learning, and are able to enter a state of trance - Focus - which enables them to use their capabilities in a heightened and concentrated way, but means that they lose track of what is going on around them. (Oddly enough, the same thing happens to me especially when coding!) At higher levels they might gain total recall or other useful mental capabilities including advantages against those who would use mind control spells or abilities on them.
The book rounds off with a selection of plot seeds. Most of these have absolutely appalling puns as titles, if you can get past that the actual ideas are well worth a look, albeit based on easily-recognised sources. Part of the challenge for the DM is to run the plotline without their players recognising the source!
All in all, it's an interesting and thought-provoking look at some of the other people that populate the average community, and builds in ways of getting them involved in your nefarious plots. They are particularly good if you want to start your story with 'ordinary folk' rather than trained adventurers, or if you like your locals to be on a more level footing with those who earn their keep delving dungeons.
Return to Unlikely Heroes Compilation page.
Reviewed: 29 May 2005