How to Role-Play a Guard in D&D
Updated: Feb 19, 2019
Guards are part of a defense organization for farming villages, small towns, and established cities. Depending on the size of the city and organization, rules of the land, and the society they protect, the types of guards characters will interact with may vary widely. However, there are some key principles to keep in mind when role-playing guards.
Guards are usually seen in their standard uniform, representing the military they serve, causing many guards to look the same. However, uniforms may include special badges, stripes, or medals which identify the rank of the guard member, as well as a crest of the city or a special crest of which family they serve.
Because the guard consists of citizens of the city, guard members are usually composed of common races. However, they may have disproportionate numbers of a specific race or gender, representing possible disparities within the city or discord the characters may encounter later.
When introducing an important guard NPC, be sure to spend extra time describing their facial features, distinguishing marks on their uniforms, or other interesting traits to help characters identify and remember them.
The most important thing to remember when designing guards is that they are all real people, who happen to work as a guard. Guards have families, children, and friends to return to at the end of the day. Very few of them are willing to die in the line of duty, since being a guard is just a day job for them. Of course, there are always zealots and other extreme devotees within the guard’s ranks.
Personalities between guards vary widely, just like personalities vary between all coworkers. Because of this, some guards may be open to bribes, whereas others may find it morally abhorrent. Some may slack off during work and can be easily encouraged to abandon their posts, whereas others are strictly lawful and will not leave their posts unless ordered to do so by a commanding officer.
When designing a guard, try designing a normal citizen, and then imagine how they would act if they were a guard member. This helps create more varied and dynamic guards, which seem more alive and realistic to characters.
Guards can have a varied subset of duties and roles. Some guards may simply guard an outpost, keep watch over a wall, or protect a specific person. As guards move higher in the organization, their roles become more varied, including managerial and ambassadorial duties.
There may also exist various factions within the guards who are loyal to different nobles, leaders, or commanders. Spies, or guards who are paid for information, can also exist in larger cities. Even though a guard may seem to have a single unified cause, there are many potential allies, enemies, pitfalls, and plot hooks which may exist within a large and diverse city guard.
Guards focus primarily on following orders from higher-ups and following the rule of law. When in combat, they focus on disarming and arresting combatants, always choosing non-lethal force when applicable. Depending on the individual’s personality, guards may follow orders to the death or may choose to flee insurmountable foes. When fighting in a city, where reinforcements are available, a guard may use an action to ring a bell or otherwise signal for reinforcements.
While most guards are standard melee combatants, city guards frequently include or work alongside other organizations which consist of mages who work to reinforce laws. For example, the Brotherhood of the Cloak in Mulmaster is an organization consisting of all mages in the city, which regularly works alongside the guard to help enforce laws, protect citizens, and assist in investigations. Other cities, such as Waterdeep, include mages in their regular guard ranks.
Guard NPC Ideas
Example guard NPCs may include two partners, one of which is a dwarf who is rough around the edges (a “bad cop”) and another who is a human that is kind and understanding (a “good cop”). They’ve worked together for a dozen years and developed an effective strategy to interrogate suspects.
A guard captain may be a young elf who rose quickly through the ranks after mastering his courses at the Guard Academy but lacks the real-world experience to deal with his subordinates and uncooperative inmates. He actively seeks the input and guidance of adventurers, and can be easily swayed to perform actions that seem logical “for the greater good.”
Have you ever played a memorable Guard? Tell us about it in the comments below!