The Common Commoner

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  1. #1
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    The Common Commoner

    There have been more than a few claims that the presence of magic forever and distinctly alters the game of D&D so that magic is no longer 'unique and special' to people. It's just another +2 doohickey, it's just another Wand of Fireball, sell it at the local Magical Wal-Mart, and we'll get a Charisma boost instead....

    While I think certainly some of this problem is more in the hands of individual DM's than of the rules of the game, there still seems to be a misconception that for some reason magic is completely ubiquitous within a D&D world...

    But such is not the case, when following the rules as they are written for generating towns, for the income of commoners, for finding out how common to the everyday commoner magic really *is* in D&D. So I present to you my findings, based on the Rules As Written.

    My thesis: Magic isn't common to the everyday person, but it is common to the PC's, who AREN'T everyday people.

    As per the DMG, following the Rules As Written:
    * "Small communities are much more common than larger ones. In general, the number of people living in small towns and larger communities should be about 1/10 to 1/15 the number living in villages, hamlets, thorps, or outside a community at all. You might create a metropolis at the civilized center of the world with 100,000 people, but such a community should be the exception, not the rule."

    * 70% of all communities have populations 2,000 and below. Their markets don't sell anything over 800 gp at the highest end (a potion emporium, perhaps). 50% of all communities have populations 900 and below. Their markets don't sell anything over 200 gp at the highest end (getting so you can't even afford ARMOR in most towns...)

    * There is precious little magical power in these towns. In that 50%, the presence of spellcasters is minimal. At the highest end, they've got the following
    --> ONE adept, bard, druid, or cleric of 2nd level
    --> ONE sorcerer or wizard of 1st level
    --> TWO bards, druids, or clerics of 1st level. Potentially another adept, but iffy.
    Giving half the civilizations in existence exactly 13 spellcasters, of which the highest are 2nd level.

    * With this capacity, half of the places in the entire world do not have access to 2nd level spells. You'd be shelling out about 10-20 gp to get any spell cast -- still far beyond the limits of even your most industrious commoner, who makes 1 sp/day, maybe slightly more often for the aristocrat (but it's still a BIG investment.) He might be able to afford a Cure Light Wounds once or twice a month. Same with create water. Assuming a good 700 people, that's enough to keep the local cleric, druid, or adept busy watering fields, healing wounds, giving good luck and bad luck, repairing an expensive peice of jewelry.

    * Assuming a lot of the people can get a special discount on the spellcasting services (Would you charge your own mother for magic?), this still changes the world in no discernable fashion. So the druid's uncle never has to worry about a drought...4 gallons of water a month isn't going to save the field of every commoner, or even most of them. This is assuming 0 monsters...but....

    * Monsters raid your village about twice per day. Now monsters enter the equasion. The random wilderness encounter table says that in verdant/civilized areas, there's a 10% chance per hour of having 'an encounter.' Which is extrapolated to once in every 10 hours, or about twice per day. This meshes up with the dungeon encounters, so it basically means that 'when the area's got critters, you'll meet 'em about twice a day'. This is why 'adventuring' exists as a profession after all...

    * The fuedal system protects you from monsters. Assuming the place is a farm, the Plains will probably be a reasonable environment for the encounter table, ne? Using the table in the DMG, we'll normally have EL 4 encounters; some giant ant's nest is disturbed, some goblins pop over from their burrows, we get a swarm of locusts, an ankheg digs up the ground, a paladin comes around for a visit -- these things are not rare events in the lives of average, everyday D&D commoners...which is why you have Adventurers. Probably also why the feudal system works so great for ''s nice to have a king to go to for soldiers.

    * Commoners need BAB and HD too! This is also where the people of the town gain their XP. People in D&D town aren't all pushovers...there's one ninth level commoner in over half of the communities on the earth, and that guy got his XP from someplace...namely, the anhkegs, the goblins, the proud and egotistical paladin (hey, no one said he was a GOOD commoner. But chances are he is...). Even an 9th level commoner wielding a farming implement (-1 to hit and damage, based on the rules for inferior materials) has a nice chance to rough up a goblin or two, and he's backed up by his 4th level sons and the 4th level warrior he let marry his daughter and the 3rd level Fighter who the king sent to live there. It's why it makes sense that NPC classes advance in HD, BAB, saving throws, and skill points all at once -- most of even the most cloistered and protected wizards and clerics have had their lives threatened by something native to their homelands, often a few times per week. It's why despite the fields of the cleric and druid's kids not going dry, the town still barely hangs on...imagine what 1d3 gnolls can do to raize a field, and who'd have to go in there to stop 'em...more than twice a day....(almost 17 times a week!)

    * They've never seen a magic sword in their lives. On to magic items...they have 200 gp as the most expensive item in the community, and that's not even enough for half-plate....the most expensive item in the community might be a scroll of animal messenger that was sold by a party of adventurers passing through. None of the people in the community can even *cast* second-level spells, so they're hoping to recoup their losses by selling it to passersby. The PC's can't even sell a magic ring here (the village only has 700 gp in cash in the vacinity!). There's only three second-level spell scrolls in half the villages in the entire world (again, probably from adventurers who found them farther abroad). Your average person cannot buy any of these; even the noble (where most of that 700 gp is probably concentrated) will have trouble liquidating their assets for it.

    So, all that in's your life of your Average D&D Commoner
    - Lives in a "Village"-level town
    - Has seen the local bard cast charm person on his daughter
    - Knows what alchemical silver and cold iron look like; doesn't know what adamantine and mithral look like
    - Is angry at the Cleric's nephew for surviving yesterday's ankheg infestation.
    - Is affraid what comes from outside is either a monster, or someone who wants to charm his daughter
    - Once a month, at the big festivals, he asks the druid to wish him good luck; the druid casts guidance.
    - The only full plate he's ever seen is on that fighter that the king sent to deal with the gnolls.
    - Knows Old Toothless Joe could knock the snot out of him like he did when he was a kid, and is a better farmer, and tougher than nails to boot.
    - Knows only wacky adventuerers wear buckles like that Hennet character...
    - Has a potion of cure light wounds tucked away in case of emergencies
    - Watched his neice die when the pack of 4 worgs raged through the city last year (Toothless Joe and that fighter kid even sustained some pretty big injuries).
    - Knows not to piss off the adept who lives in the hut and scribes scrolls if he doesn't want to fall asleep at the next festival
    - Doesn't have a +1 sword...doesn't know anyone in the town who does...but knows that the bowyer sells sleep arrows by the single (and that the adept helps him make 'em).

    So discuss! What's so common (or uncommon) about the D&D commoner? Do you like him? Think he knows too much about magic?

    I'm thinking of running a campaign where the PC's start as NPC's....any great ideas for me evoking this bumpkin feel?
    Last edited by I'm A Banana; Thursday, 12th August, 2004 at 12:19 AM.
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  2. #2
    A bit of a bump.

    I love threads like these, but I can't reply just now. More later.
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    Dude, I'm stoked about this thread. I'm even more stoked at the author, the great Kamikaze Midget.

    And I'd be the most stoked if said Midget decided to make this into a PbP.
    To resist despair is what it is to be free.

  4. #4
    I've been thinking about that too. A campaign where the PCs start as 2nd level Commoners. I was thinking of locating the campaign in Barovia (Strahd's small village in Ravenloft).

    Quote Originally Posted by Kamikaze Midget
    I'm thinking of running a campaign where the PC's start as NPC's....any great ideas for me evoking this bumpkin feel?

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    Very nice, KM. This is how I have felt about D&D for a long time, but have never articulated as such.

    Another point is the tendency of power to concentrate. There is practical benefit to power, whether physical strength or magic. Those who cross the power threshold are likely to get picked up and pulled into the greater power structure. If that Cleric reached 4th level, he might be asked by the church to officiate over a larger congregation. The 4th level warrior might be brought into the King's standing army. There would not be much transience among the commoners, but every village would have it's stories about the few who have "made it." The children of those have greater opportunity and likely advance further than their parents, likely starting out with PC rather than NPC levels. But they've already been leeched away to the larger settlements and few of the villages are ever able to grow as a result.

    I don't strictly follow the rules as-written. Cities tend to have fewer power bases unless they have achieved some type of balance, which is typically tenuous at best. Think of the relationships between Eurpoean kings and Catholic popes. There was constant tension. Imagine if the Catholic church was wielding divine spells. So there is the strong city, the pious city, the magical city. Each has a primary power base, and the other two elements are far weaker. In the strong city, there are lots of high-level fighter-types, but the high-level mages are few and try not to draw attention to themselves. Of course, this does not in any way preclude the sorceror advisor to the warrior-king. It just draws the balance.

    Also, just as power concentrates, the wielders of power like to hoard it. In the magical city, magic is strictly regulated by an association of high-level arcane spellcasters. The strong city doesn't let its people run around with weapons. The pious city imparts the divine gifts, brings the willing gifted into the priesthood and brands the unwilling as heretics.

    Letting power balance itself this way lets me use the full spectrum of D&D rules while still allowing me to adjust the feel of any particular locale.

    And then, the relationships between Kings and Popes were never

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    Double bump.

    More after I get over this flu.
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    Right on! Way to debunk the "common magic" myth!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kamikaze Midget
    * With this capacity, half of the places in the entire world do not have access to 2nd level spells.
    Half of the places in the world, maybe. However, these places collectively contain a very small number of people. (Certainly less than 50%.)

    If the question is: "What percentage of the people do not have access to 2nd level spells?", I'd suggest that the answer is much lower than 50%.

    If you have 9 hamlets with 11 people each, and one village with 900 people and a 3rd level cleric, you could say:

    1. 90% of all places do not have access to 2nd level spells.
    2. 10% of all people do not have access to 2nd level spells.

    I think that option 2 is a more meaningful option, at least in the context of this discussion. (The numbers are made up to illustrate the argument. I don't have a DMG at the moment to give real numbers.)

    That's the only flaw I see in your argument, though. It was an interesting read.
    Last edited by GSHamster; Thursday, 12th August, 2004 at 04:41 AM.

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    Very interesting thoughts.

    Since there are so many marauding monsters, the lives of the peasants must be even more fatalisitic than in European peasant communities -- "We can't control 'em, we aren't given the weapons, and they keep the magic locked up in the towns!" (Hmmm, might be some very serious resentment there...) Raids twice a day would lead to a grossly high mortality rate, a very low crop yield (constantly tramelling over the fields), and a general sense of doom, unless we are counting a single wolf as a "raid". Goblins and kobolds would be fairly commonly seen, at least.

    This would suggest that the peasants are more seriously drilled as a militia than in a standard European community -- they would have to be able to drive off incursions on a more regular basis, thus the injunctions against peasants owning weapons would probably fall by the wayside. The weapons might not be stellar, but the number of spears around the scatter would be much larger than a European community of, say, 1400 AD.

    Every peasant would have seen magic actually working, often publically. This would make for a very different attitude; of course this is already built into D&D, since there is no fear of witches, wizards, etc. Low level potions, while not everyday, are available and kept in store; this makes for safer medicine than anything practiced prior to the mid-19th century, so maybe that helps balance out life expectancy from the raiding.

    Another question that arises is that of race -- are most of these communities monoracial? (e.g. all human, all dwarf, etc.) This would make the most sense if one were trying to maintain a viable community, as being the lone dwarf in a community would lead to a lot of loneliness. OTOH, we already see that humans and elves may intermarry, thus those sorts of communities would be at least somewhat common. Half-orcs, conversely, would probably come about mainly due to **hem hem** post-raid activities. But it appears that half-orcs breed oddly "true" (i.e. a half-orc and a half-orc produces a half-orc) if the species were to survive; barring that, orc males might be terrifically fertile or they are the major raiders. In any case, the place of the half-orc in these socieities would be miserable and desperate.

    **whew** lot of ideas here!

    I'll try to think of some more later.
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