Pugilist is unusual among kobolds. She isn’t a sniveling sneak. She doesn’t hide behind cover and snipe with a blowgun. No matter what the old gray-scales on the war council might advise, she’s not going to stand back and let spiked pits do the fighting for her. Not Pug! She’s out there with her dukes up, ready to take on the world.

This is my favorite way to design monstrous NPCs.

As you might recall, Pug was introduced to Handbook-World as the archetypal race-class mismatch. Brawling with a racial Strength penalty and a size-small frame is no easy task, but it brings all kinds of fun Napoleon complex tropes with it. Weird personalities, unusual fighting styles, and outsider status combine to make memorable protagonists. That’s an interesting way to build a player character, but it works just as well for NPCs.

Imagine an apparently dimwitted ogre who owns a detective agency. Imagine a dragon taking a stab at civilized life in the kingdom’s capital. Imagine a barbaric half-giant showing up for Wizarding 101 at the local mage academy.

“But Colin! That’s just playing against type. It isn’t innovative or original or unnecessarily complicated!”

No, it isn’t. It doesn’t have to be. Subverting expectations might not be an especially impressive trick, but I find that it produces more interesting NPCs than the stock characters that otherwise emerge from stat blocks. Especially when you’re running a lot of similar dudes — a thieves guild; a hag’s coven; a kobold tribe — inserting one member that’s a little different than the others can make all the difference in the subsequent scenes.

Here’s an example. Imagine that your party fought Pug and her tribe. You’ve managed to beat the ambush, and now you’ve got prisoners to interrogate. Is it more interesting to deal with yet another obsequious, frightened little lizard man, or to adopt the pissed off pink one that just challenged your fighter to single combat? I’m pretty sure that’s how Pug earned her character levels in any case.

Question of the day then! What monsters have you met that play against type? Did it come off as different-for-the-sake-of-being-different, or was it a truly memorable NPC? Let’s hear about those unconventional monsters and their odd career choices down in the comments!


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