Tired of your closest NPC allies and animal companions falling behind the rest of the party once you get past level 5 or so? Check out these rules for Sidekicks to help level up not just your game, but the aforementioned poor low-level sods.
Alternate title for this article: Villains don’t want you to know this one weird trick that keeps NPCs fighting alongside PCs. Because the crux of this month’s Unearthed Arcana can be boiled down to one (not all that) weird trick: give your NPCs class levels, but there’s a lot more nuance to it than that. The guidelines presented in the latest batch of playtestable rules can transform an ally of any kind–whether human or animal or otherwise–into a companion that gains skills and levels and abilities as the party advances. And how do you do that? By giving them some of these Sidekick Classes.
via Wizards of the Coast
There are three different Sidekick Classes, Warrior, Expert, and Spellcaster, and if you’re getting some serious NPC Class vibes that’s because these are very close, and I’d argue they’re the spiritual successors of things like 3.5’s NPC classes. Two even share the same name, but, these play very differently. And taken at face value, they are about comparable to some PC classes, you could probably use these as some basic classes if you have people new to D&D and want to help them learn the ropes; all three classes are straightforward to play but still allow for some cool surprises. They’re powerful enough that you could still feel like you’re hanging with the big kids; in fact at first glance, some players might complain about how good they seem.
Many players will look at the Spellcaster and see that you can take the Sorcerer or Warlock spells list, cast with Charisma, and still gain loads of casting and cool features. But they won’t realize that these are trading off a lot of the flavor of the other classes (namely Pact abilities and Metamagic, which is arguably the stronger of the two and what makes Sorcerers superior to many casters in spite of their lower number of spells known) for some more straightforward magic. And more to the point, they also won’t see that these classes are designed to add to creatures that are CR 1 or lower–which frequently will have more than 1 hit dice to begin with.
So a player with a Brown Bear Sidekick, for instance, will probably be around 5th level or so, and will, as they level up, have a Sidekick that levels up from 1–so that 4d10 Bear gains levels as they go, but will always be at least a little behind the party.
The Warrior is an excellent catchall class for any Sidekick that is all about fighting or being tough. Most animal companions that level up along with you fall under this category, but these can also be Squires or Knights or foot soldiers–basically any creature that primarily does physical violence counts as a Warrior.
Got some favorite undead you want to keep around?
And Warriors get a ton of cool stuff: Second Wind and Improved Critical are straight out of the Champion Fighter, while Danger Sense and Battle Readiness are lifted straight off of the basic Barbarian chassis. And that right there should give you the gist of what you’re getting. It’s like playing something between a Fighter and Barbarian, without getting any of the fancy features, just sort of steadily exchanging base class features until level 20. But it makes for an awesome warrior type.
Also known as the skill monkey class, the Expert is all about providing aid to whomever they’re the Sidekick to. This can be through the Inspiring Help, or other features that move towards supporting player characters.
Don’t have a skill? Your Expert Sidekick is ready to help you out. And as you level up Reliable Talent will play incredibly well with both Expertise and Jack of Many Trades. This class combines the basics of the Rogue and the Bard into a decent little support character.
Here’s where things start to get interesting. The Spellcaster is the one that’s most likely to ruffle a few feathers (except for players of Beastmaster Rangers who will look at the Warrior Sidekick and find new ways to complain about being underpowered, which to be fair, they’d be right) because it carries a few features that are straight up better than their PC counterparts. Things like Potent Cantrips are a great example, with the PC version offering disadvantage on saves from Cantrips, while the NPC version just gets to add their spellcasting modifier to damaging Cantrips.
At any rate–these all feel like they’re on the right track. I think both the Spellcaster and the Expert could do with a little tweaking–and it would be nice to see these classes feel a little more distinc, but all in all they’re easy to use. And all it takes is a little creativity and you can apply them to anything. Want specific summoned creatures that feel unique or like they’re buffed a little more than the Conjurer Wizard does? Here you go. Want to work an animal companion into your play, or even have that one NPC Guard you befriended turn into a trusted sword, ever at your side? Knock ’em out,
These rules might not be perfect, but they’re all inspiring. Reading through the list of classes does what it should: it makes you think about how you’ll use them in the game, and gets you excited to play. They give characters some fantastic non-leveling up goals to chase after. It’s satisfying to seek out an apprentice for your Wizard or an acolyte or even just novice warrior for a Cleric. Having someone to pass things onto can also really amp up your engagement with your own character.
After all, the best way to extricate character information is to have to explain things to another character. So get out there and playtest these, and we’ll followup when there’s a survey.