A guard is one of the most classic Dungeons and Dragons (DND) non-player characters in the game.
What is a DND guard?
A DND Guard is an armed or unarmed sentry, bodyguard, or protector. Guards are designed to deal damage in the lower 2-digits but present enough of a threat for players to want to avoid direct confrontation. There are magical, nonmagical, human, and nonhuman guards. A guard’s level can go up to 15.
In this article, you will discover everything you need to know about DND Guards.
DND Guard Stats
But first, let’s go over the DND guards’ stats:
|Armor Class||16||Chain Shirt|
|Alignment||Any||The designer is free to choose|
|Speed||30 ft.||Slightly above average|
|Actions||Spear attacks (short range and long range)||Melee weapon attacks unless the guard belongs to a special class|
Why Do DND Guards Exist?
DND Guards exist to make a quest more challenging and specific arcs more engaging.
In-universe, guards often exist to protect noblemen and kings, just like real-world security staff.
It’s helpful to understand how guards in DND differ from the guards you might be familiar with in real life.
If you set up guards to be too weak, the game becomes uninteresting, and if you make them too strong, it can make the quest lopsided.
In the real world, there is a dichotomy between unarmed and armed guards.
Unarmed guards are physically intimidating and usually serve as deterrence for tomfoolery.
Professional security staff for people at serious risk owns guns. And the problem with guns is that they level the playing field.
If a Blackwater security guard were to teleport into the D&D universe, he would have a CR 19, the same as a tank guard captain.
In the real world, the gun-owning security guard is as lethal as a gun-toting assassin.
Weapons and abilities in D&D are far more nuanced.
So the guard is not adventure fodder like your local school’s security guard would be, and they’re not as challenging as a blackwater mercenary.
The key point to note is that there is no set CR for D&D guards.
You can choose to set the challenge rating of the guards to suit your game goals.
Types of Guards
There are many different types of DND guards:
- City guard
- Elite guard
- Royal guard
- Magical guard
City guards are creatures, including humanoids, whose primary goal is to protect a city.
They can be called “village guard” if they protect a rural settlement, but their stats, abilities, and species categorization remains the same.
One thing that sets city guards apart is that there is no species-specific or background-specific requirement for their recruitment. You can use this to make them more challenging.
They could be magical creatures, excellent retired mercenaries, or even dragons.
But given that their duties range from guarding the gate to fulfilling the role of a dungeon warden, making them too powerful doesn’t facilitate gameplay.
Elite guards are creme de la creme of city guards.
They can be positioned around high-value areas and even at the city’s gates.
Usually humanoid, they have more attack capabilities than the average guard, including two attack actions. These guards can make the game more interesting when monsters and evil humanoids are attacking the city.
The Royal guard usually protects the king, royals, and the elite.
These guards have similar abilities as regular guards, but their attack and defense points are at least five times high.
They can be subcategorized as King’s Arms, Elite Honor Guard, and Palace/Fort Guard, based on how they serve the king and his interests.
While these guards are mostly humanoid, the designer is not bound to keep royal guards ambiguously humanoid.
Body Guards are the privatized version of city guards and have lower abilities.
They simply increase the dice-roll toll on anyone trying to attack the person they’re hired to protect. Bodyguards can be human if you choose to include humans in the gameplay.
But to make the game more engaging, it is best to make bodyguards slightly more powerful. They usually have one weapon and can make one attack at a time, including a short-range and a long-range one.
Magical guards are trained by and as wizards to deal with magical attacks, threats, and unregulated usage.
Their attack and defense capabilities are magical.
For instance, a spell mage guard (also a name for the magical guard) has a shield that can protect him from a spell.
These guards are mages, and the species they belong to should align with whatever species your game’s mages hail from.
D&D Guards and CR: A Brief Overview
CR refers to the challenge rating of a character in Dungeons and Dragons.
It represents the difficulty of defeating the character from the player or the game theory’s perspective.
Generally, the CR is also reflected by the hierarchy of command.
The main feature of the hierarchy of command’s correlation with CR is that it necessitates that a guard’s challenge rating be considered in the light of the guard’s captain/commander’s CR.
If you assign CR:15 to a guard, you cannot have anyone commanding the guard except a character like the king.
This creates almost unplayable odds because of the number of guards.
In contrast, if you assign CR:1 to the guard commander, you cannot have guards under him, making his position useless.
The best CR to assign a guard is usually CR:2. This aligns with the guard’s medium humanoid categorization while allowing enough of a challenge through quantity and leaving room for higher CR commanders in the watch’s hierarchy.
You can use guards with low CR to create a protective barrier around desirable assets.
Alternatively, you can protect certain people who themselves have low offensive capabilities.
Guards can also be used as exhaustive fodder. Unlike regular fodder, exhaustive fodder is meant to nerf characters before they reach a challenge that would otherwise be easy for their abilities.
For instance, if the protagonist group’s collective capabilities make a city very easy to sack, placing a large enough quantity of guards in multiple rows and across various points can raise the collective challenge level. When they reach the decisive battle, they might have incurred enough injuries and handicaps to make the challenge fair.
Once guards have been decapitated, they serve no purpose.
That’s why they are usually NPC and positioned as monsters instead of playable characters. But the guard’s value is not directly tied to their attack capabilities.
Ways to Make Guards More Challenging
Many Dungeons and Dragons players complain that guards are easy to outmaneuver unless their dice roll is particularly unlucky.
You can use quantity as a challenge.
But the guard’s role can also be made more challenging by raising their ability to raise the alarm.
Those are the only two possibilities to make D&D guards worthy opponents.
You can go the classic “more guards” route and have several rows of them. This can increase the odds for the dice roll to be unlucky.
You can also line up a CR:5 guard commander behind a platoon of guards.
The second possibility is to use fewer guards but increase the odds of them raising the alarm. This strategy works well for city guards and guards positioned to protect areas and assets, not people.
You have to decide who responds to the alarm.
If a guard calls someone with a CR:1 rating, the alarm is ineffective, but if the guard can summon a CR:15 fighter, the guard himself becomes almost as threatening as the CR:15 fighter.
The main advantage of using the quantity method (more guards) is that the game goes longer.
Because the dice roll happens many more times with fewer odds of the roll being deadly, the protagonists can have fun for a more extended period while still having cumulative odds of losing a character.
That said, quantity can be easy to overcome.
Especially when protagonists are powerful and the dice rolls start occurring in a pattern.
On the other hand, the most significant advantage of raising the alarm rating of guards is that they have higher individual threat levels while also being easy to subdue based on chance.
Giving chance a higher role per dice roll improves the engagement of a D&D quest.
If you watch movies where the hero has to infiltrate a castle or break into a fort, you’ll come across the scenes where the hero kills the guards before the guard can make a sound.
That’s exactly what overcoming a CR:1 guard with high alarm potential is like.
The drawback of giving guards the ability to summon extremely challenging characters is that the party can lose members pretty rapidly, and the quest gets wrapped up within a few hours.
Overall, it is better to categorize your guards and distribute high CR and high alarm based on context. Sentries and members of the city watch can be assigned different abilities. This customization can allow you to make certain arcs more challenging.
Here is a great video about how to use DND guards in your next campaign or one-shot:
How Many Guards Should an Adventure Have?
A difficult encounter should have enough guards to take out one member of the adventuring party.
This creates a balanced game where the party can proceed to the next encounter even if the dice roll is poor. Yet, this strategy doesn’t reduce the guard to a boring fodder character.
Again, the guard’s melee isn’t going to turn him into a hard-to-beat character.
But the guard becomes tougher with the use of quantity or alarm and appropriate condition tailoring to put at least one playing character at risk anytime a set of guards is confronted.
D&D Guard Commanders
Now that we have addressed how to make NPC (non-player character) guards interesting to confront, let’s look at the D&D guard commanders.
They are usually five times as powerful as a guard and command over five guards.
If a platoon of guards doesn’t have an immediate commander, then the guards need the ability to call a character of equal strength.
For instance, in a well-fortified holy city.
The city guards with no commanders should be able to call level 15 clerics from the church in certain conditions.
Guard Assignment Mistakes
Now that you understand the position of guards and how they can be deployed to make the game more engaging, let’s go over some of the most common dungeon master mistakes regarding guards.
Lumping All Guards in One Category
Nothing makes a D&D quest more tedious than getting pulled out of the game because of monotony.
Remember that when you’re engaged in a “quest,” you’re already performing the same physical actions repeatedly.
The trick is to create enough narrative variation to make the quest absorb the players into the universe.
If all the guards are lumped into the standard guard category and have the same CR, any time the players come across one, they will start playing on autopilot.
You must avoid the brainless dice roll at all costs!
To combat this monotony, you can categorize guards separately and give different types of guards different CR and contextual advantages.
Overstacking the Deck With Quantity, Alarm, and CR
As a Dungeon Master, you have to walk a tightrope balancing playability and difficulty.
If you try to bolster your reputation as a tough Dungeon Master, you might lean too much on the side of difficulty. You can make the game too difficult if you give the guards a CR:5 rating, the ability to call a CR:15 figure, and the quantity equivalent to an army.
And here’s why that’s bad…
According to Panksepp’s 1998 work, Affective Neuroscience, when rats are paired together for rough and tumble play, the play diminishes if the bigger rat pins the smaller rat more than 70% of the time.
Yep, we just applied solid lab rat research to DND.
In other words, when the odds are too difficult, animals and humans become less interested in playing.
The guards (and other characters in your narrative) should collectively have a less than 70% chance of immediately defeating the party long within the dedicated time.
Remember: the game already doesn’t have a winner.
When the engagement is the reward, you have to make sure players have fun and don’t get pulled out of the game.
Turning Guards Into Fodder
The other extreme is to turn the guards into easily defeated “steps” in the journey of the narrative. Again, this entails the risk of making the game super repetitive (and boring).
If the moment your players see a guard, their immediate reaction is, “Oh, I’ll just move past this,” there might as well be no guards.
Adding Guards Without Tactical or Narrative Purpose
Even the best-equipped guards with just the right balance of “tough yet ‘manageable” can seem like a nuisance if they come out of nowhere storywise.
The element of surprise is a good tool that keeps everyone on their toes.
However, you should not design the game to contain endless surprises…just for the sake of containing surprises.
Each event and encounter should tie back to the plot of the adventure.
And each adventure should connect to the overall storyline of the bigger campaign. Think of each encounter as a microcosm of the campaign.
All the DNA of the campaign should show up in each “scene” of your DND story.
That includes DND guards.
All in all, guard designing mistakes can be pretty detrimental to the overall gameplay.
But they’re not irreversible.
No matter how much thought you have put into modifying different NPC characters, a few quick adjustments can offset their meta-play drawbacks.
How to Fix Guard Problems in DND
- To fix broken guards: Reduce their quantity to get to a collective average of no more than CR:12 per squad. In other words, if you have assigned CR:3 to city guards and stationed a platoon of 15, the collective CR is 45. You need to get four guards at CR:3 to get a good balance.
- To fix fodder guards: Add a guard commander. A commander with CR:5 to CR:12 can improve the challenge level of the obstacle and keep the challenge engaging.
- To fix monotonous guards: Create at least two categories and alternate between them as the quest proceeds. The first type of guards should be able to call higher-level fighters. The second type should form a formidable force because of the member quantity.
Where To Position Guards in DND?
You can position guards at gates, in front of a single passage to high-value territories and assets, and around high-worth individuals like noblemen and wealthy merchants.
The position of the guards should make narrative sense.
The way to avoid having dysfunctional guards is to place them where the odds of them coming in contact with the players are around 90%.
There can be some lucky dice rolls that can let the platoon past the guard through another passage.
But the fun of having a fairly easy-to-overcome character is in taking him head-on.
That said, it is not necessary to place guards on gates and passages only. They can be “off-duty” and wandering.
What is more important than where the guards are positioned is the civilian-to-guard ratio.
How Many Guards Are in a Village?
In a village, there are two guards for every hundred people.
A village of 200 people has four guards. Any guards over four are usually off-duty, slacking, or very low-powered.
Villages have inherently fewer people than towns which is one reason why they have a low overall guard population.
But another factor can increase the overall guard count in the village—with more civilians comes a higher chance of crime.
How Many Guards Are in a Town?
There are five guards for every 100 people in a town, so a town of 1000 people would have 200 guards.
Multiple guards would be positioned at the gateway, entrance, or passages that lead to the town.
But the bulk of the guards would be positioned inside.
Not all guards are hired by the local lord.
There are plenty of noblemen and merchants who have private guards, and this can result in different guards within the same town having vastly different capabilities.
Where the citadel guards’ alarm can bring in a much stronger fighter, a merchant’s guard might be the strongest character defending him.
How Many Guards Are Around the King?
A king has 12 guards with different capabilities compared to town guards.
The king’s armsmen have higher CR than an average guard commander. This can be derived from the real world, where a local bodyguard is far less trained and equipped than the secret service agent tasked with protecting the president.
You might want to increase the number of armsmen around the king.
This can be done within reason, but you should not infinitely scale the king’s guard into an army.
Abilities and Attributes of Guards
Having established the best practices for customizing guards, let’s address their general attributes and abilities.
You can alter these to suit your narrative and gameplay.
Just keep in mind that straying too far away can make the game too hard or too easy.
Guards usually carry a spear.
They attack with a 1D8 with +3 and +1 damage options in a close range (within 5 ft) attack.
When they throw a spear, the attack is considered a ranged-weapon play and has a 1D6 roll with a +3 and +1 damage option.
King’s guards can be given swords with 2D4 or 2D6 attacks.
Guard General Abilities
Now, let’s look at the general defensive capabilities of DND guards and their weapons. You can also see what speed to assign them.
- Armor/Defense – Chainmail and Sheild (16 points)
- Hit Points – 11
- Speed – 30 ft.
Guard Specific Abilities
In general each DND guard’s stats would be as follows:
- Strength – 13 + 1
- Constitution – 12 + 1
- Dexterity – 12 + 1
- Athletics – 10 + 0
- Intelligence – 10 + 0
- Perception – 11 + 0
- Charisma – 10 + 0
- Wisdom – 11 + 0
What Languages Do Guards Speak in DND?
Guards in DND usually speak one language.
Being humanoid, their single language is usually the common language. Guards of other species may speak their native tongue or might be bilingual.
As you can tell, the rules regarding guard language are usually pretty loose.
The Immutable Rules of Guards
Most of the above-listed capabilities can be altered, but there are a few rules regarding DND guards that you probably should not change.
At least, if you’re following the official Basic Rules of Dungeons and Dragons.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- A non-special guard cannot have CR higher than 15 – If this rule is subverted, the guard becomes a standard warrior.
- A non-special guard cannot have multiple weapons – If this rule is subverted, a guard becomes the equivalent of a mercenary.
- A non-special guard has to have a protective purpose – If this rule is broken, the guard becomes a local outlaw.
- A non-special guard cannot be wiser than higher-value characters – If this rule is broken, a guard becomes a mercenary or a warrior.
- A guard cannot have a 1D10 or higher roll for an attack – If this rule is broken, the guard becomes non-humanoid for all intents and purposes.
Which Species Are Guards?
DND guards are typically humanoid and exhibit similar capabilities as human fighters unless they belong to a special class or category.
If you want, you can make guards of any race but that will move into homebrew territory.
You can even build guards with the ability to cast spells and throw fireballs.
They don’t adhere to the limits of non-special guards.
Is the Royal Guard Non-special?
The royal guard and its equivalent interactions were non-special up until the 3rd edition.
In the 5th edition, the royal guard is not different from a standard warrior, except with a self-sacrificial tendency.
These DND guards can fight with every human weapon.
Which Creatures Can Be Guards?
Every humanoid creature in the DND universe can be assigned a guard position.
When a non-standard humanoid is tasked to guard a position, its regular abilities supersede the standard guard capabilities.
For instance, a mummy is capable of death glare, one of its signature attacks.
The same attack is also available to the mummified guard.
The rule that the non-special guard cannot use a special attack does not apply to a mummified guard.
After all, the undead guard is, by definition, already special.
Any creature that you set to guard a place or person should be considered a non-special guard unless they are an ambiguous humanoid guard.
There is an exception.
The only time you would not be able to turn a creature into a guard is when the creature is supposed to be the ‘final boss.’ If a creature comes around once a quest, it is better not to shoehorn it into a guard role.
As a Dungeon Master, you have almost infinite options for tweaking your guards, but I strongly encourage you to make sure every change makes the game more fun and playable.
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