Monstrous Monday: Spellcasters Without Spells

I’ve decided, recently, that all spellcaster NPCs and monsters I design, from now on, will no longer actually use spells. I have a rant planned on why that is, but suffice it to say for the moment that it’s much easier to design NPCs when you use customized abilities, rather than pre-packaged spells.

First up, we have a magician. I figure this is the kind of enemy you might encounter at an evil carnival, surrounded by a group of ruffians and thieves (Perhaps my Bandit Thug and Bandit Rake, located HERE). They have some basic hedge magic and throwing knives, as well as a consistent Mage Armor effect.

Magician

Next, we have the priest. One thing I wanted to do with this priest was create someone that could act as a hireling for groups of PCs who might not have a healer in their midst. It also has a bit of paladin in its blood, with an aura and a divine strike.

Priest

And, finally, I wanted to create a full-blown arcanist, and I hope this does the trick. It has iconic spells at his disposal, but designed without the need for an actual spell list, and customized to fit its level.

Arcanist

And, of course, here’s the PDF: LINK.

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4 thoughts on “Monstrous Monday: Spellcasters Without Spells

  1. I really like these. They read more like 13th Age NPCs/monsters, which I enjoy so much, it was a factor in deciding to stick with 13th Age when 5e came out.

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  2. I definitely agree with the need to create focused caster spell lists over the full spell sheets available to PCs. The few caster NPCs I’ve run were brutal to manage at the table. I like your approach and will likely adopt something similar.

    Any thought to how you’ll manage interactions with Counterspell and Dispel Magic? Jeremy Crawford/Sage Advice has been pretty explicit that those only affect official spell-spells and do not interfere with spell-like abilities (unless that ability specifically calls out a spell in the description). Would you just consider these abilities and not subject to those spells? Or are these official spells that need to be marked as such? The solution is probably a lot simpler if it’s a stat block for a home game than a stat block for sharing with the wider community.

    I started thinking about adding a line like “This is a spell and is subject to effects that modify spells.” That’s explicit but not particularly elegant and adds to the wall of text if you have to do it for every spell. You could also create a section called “Spells” to match the “Actions” section or just add the word [spell] in the action title.

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    • I would likely do the latter if I was adding these enemies to an adventure, or if I published them on the DM’s guild. This was mostly an experiment in simplicity of npc design. For my home games, they would most definitely be considered spells.

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