D&D 5E How common are magic, monsters, and NPC's with class levels anyways?

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Something that comes up a lot in discussions on this forum is exactly how common some things are in D&D worlds. In one thread, I'll postulate that trade, as we know it on Earth, would be impossible due to the presence of monsters constantly sacking caravans, or sea travel being insanely difficult due to the large number of intelligent creatures that lurk in the world's oceans (especially since D&D ships are designed just like real-world ships, and aren't particularly well suited to fending off, say, a Kraken or Dragon Turtle trying to capsize them).

In another thread, I see someone saying that the reason technology doesn't advance in D&D worlds is because the world is lousy with 3rd-5th level characters.

One person will claim that characters like the PC's are rare. Another will say adventurers are all over the place and make civilization possible.

A typical army is made up of 1-2 HD NPC's, yet town guards can take out 7th level PC's.

High-level magic is rare, but somehow a Dragon doesn't just roll up on a kingdom and destroy it utterly, Lonely Mountain style.

I know a lot of this depends on the campaign- Eberron has prevalent low level magic, but few high-level magic users, and the Forgotten Realms, despite a large population of adventurers, seems to be the reverse- there's no low level casters making huge advances in society, but the setting is lousy with powerful archmages and liches.

But it makes discussing the game difficult since everyone has a different idea of how common or uncommon these things are. Is it possible to reach some kind of consensus here?
 

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I think the short answer is no, you won't be able to reach a consensus. This sort of thing has to be worked out by individual groups, provided they care about the answers at all (I suspect many don't).

I tend to use large polities that are mostly free of those kinds of monsters, usually separated by swathes of wilderness. Adventurers of all levels are reasonably rare but not unique to just the PCs, and their actions do change the world.
 

Something that comes up a lot in discussions on this forum is exactly how common some things are in D&D worlds. In one thread, I'll postulate that trade, as we know it on Earth, would be impossible due to the presence of monsters constantly sacking caravans, or sea travel being insanely difficult due to the large number of intelligent creatures that lurk in the world's oceans (especially since D&D ships are designed just like real-world ships, and aren't particularly well suited to fending off, say, a Kraken or Dragon Turtle trying to capsize them).

In another thread, I see someone saying that the reason technology doesn't advance in D&D worlds is because the world is lousy with 3rd-5th level characters.

One person will claim that characters like the PC's are rare. Another will say adventurers are all over the place and make civilization possible.

A typical army is made up of 1-2 HD NPC's, yet town guards can take out 7th level PC's.

High-level magic is rare, but somehow a Dragon doesn't just roll up on a kingdom and destroy it utterly, Lonely Mountain style.

I know a lot of this depends on the campaign- Eberron has prevalent low level magic, but few high-level magic users, and the Forgotten Realms, despite a large population of adventurers, seems to be the reverse- there's no low level casters making huge advances in society, but the setting is lousy with powerful archmages and liches.

But it makes discussing the game difficult since everyone has a different idea of how common or uncommon these things are. Is it possible to reach some kind of consensus here?
3rd Edition (the real sim edition) had actual rules on demographics. You could consult a table and determine not just the highest level (insert class here) for a city, village, etc, but how many PC-classed characters there are there. I'm not sure what you mean by town guards taking on 7th-level PCs, that is pretty rare in any edition I've dealt with town guards in. IIRC they tend to vary from 1st to 3rd level (depending on the edition). Are 5e town guards badass?

A dragon has little reason to destroy a kingdom. Why do that when you could harvest one instead? Furthermore the typical kingdom is kind of large. Sure a dragon could torch a lot of farmland, but that takes time. You might torch a town, but torched towns can be rebuilt, and time torching one town is time not torching another town. Taking on a castle is actually difficult even for a dragon. It could kill an entire army packed together so, um, don't send an army against a dragon. A party of high level adventurers might work though. I suspect there aren't that many dragons or other powerful creatures like that. No numbers for dragons, but IIRC there are only 13 pit fiends, and each is given a specific task to do. There might only be a few elder wyrms in existence at any one time.

Different settings are where things start to fall apart. The Forgotten Realms has so many high-level good-aligned wizards that, yes, the setting doesn't really make sense. That's one reason it got spellplagued. Sure Elminster is still around, but his (in-game 4e stats) are a far cry from his 2e heyday.

For my own setting, I put things in the early 1300s, since I'm a fan of the Hundred Years War, and also don't want to deal with explosives or hand-held firearms. Sure, the setting may advance a hundred years in a hundred years, but my campaign will not last that long, so I don't need to worry about it. Of course Forgotten Realms and some other settings have histories going back thousands of years where nothing changed. I don't think the demographics are the issue, but the frequent Realms Shaking Events.
 

Oofta

Legend
It's very dependent on taste and campaign style. In my campaign world fairly powerful NPCs are not uncommon, although they do tend to max out in the low double digits. I wouldn't bother putting an actual percentage on it, but the elite guardians of a city are probably around level 10-ish at least. The number of 20th level NPCs running around is few, even if many are PCs from previous campaigns.

With bounded accuracy, a large number of even low level troops can do significant damage to most high level monsters. Add in thing like ballista that are specifically designed to take down dragons that we never invented because we didn't have a reason to, a bit of magic here and there, and voila cities can be defended. The world has always been a dangerous place. Historically the danger came from other people, not monsters.
 


James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
3rd Edition (the real sim edition) had actual rules on demographics. You could consult a table and determine not just the highest level (insert class here) for a city, village, etc, but how many PC-classed characters there are there. I'm not sure what you mean by town guards taking on 7th-level PCs, that is pretty rare in any edition I've dealt with town guards in. IIRC they tend to vary from 1st to 3rd level (depending on the edition). Are 5e town guards badass?

A dragon has little reason to destroy a kingdom. Why do that when you could harvest one instead? Furthermore the typical kingdom is kind of large. Sure a dragon could torch a lot of farmland, but that takes time. You might torch a town, but torched towns can be rebuilt, and time torching one town is time not torching another town. Taking on a castle is actually difficult even for a dragon. It could kill an entire army packed together so, um, don't send an army against a dragon. A party of high level adventurers might work though. I suspect there aren't that many dragons or other powerful creatures like that. No numbers for dragons, but IIRC there are only 13 pit fiends, and each is given a specific task to do. There might only be a few elder wyrms in existence at any one time.

Different settings are where things start to fall apart. The Forgotten Realms has so many high-level good-aligned wizards that, yes, the setting doesn't really make sense. That's one reason it got spellplagued. Sure Elminster is still around, but his (in-game 4e stats) are a far cry from his 2e heyday.

For my own setting, I put things in the early 1300s, since I'm a fan of the Hundred Years War, and also don't want to deal with explosives or hand-held firearms. Sure, the setting may advance a hundred years in a hundred years, but my campaign will not last that long, so I don't need to worry about it. Of course Forgotten Realms and some other settings have histories going back thousands of years where nothing changed. I don't think the demographics are the issue, but the frequent Realms Shaking Events.
The super guards are kind of a joke, but I have seen games where DM's abjectly refuse to let players just run amok, regardless of how weird it is to have super guards like old school CRPG's (Ultima III requires you to rob a chest in a town, and then you have to try and avoid endlessly spawning guards who can totally murder your party).

And yes, I'm aware that humans are a big problem in our own history, but there's no shortage of regular bandits and raiders in D&D before you take into account humanoids and rampaging monsters.

As for Dragon vs. town, no, I don't imagine the average dragon is going to be like Smaug and try to burn a town to the ground (though don't forget, he almost succeeded!), they have more efficient ways to deal with annoying humans and the like, but there are big monsters that are basically immune to normal people's ability to harm them. The dragonfear of a big old dragon alone can be impossible for non-adventurers to save against, after all.

Again though, this thread is simply a reaction to how everyone has a different view of how things occur in a D&D world. One guy says "high level characters are rare", great, fantastic, so why don't monsters run amok? Another guy says "well monsters are rare", to which my response is, then how to the PC's keep running into them?

To which yet another individual replies "there are no monsters near major centers of population". Ok, but why?

"Well that's because of high level characters."

Wait...didn't we establish those don't exist? LOL. And yes, I know, that's not the same person saying both things, but in aggregate, any time you have a discussion about these things, someone is going to show up saying "you're wrong, it's not like that because...", as if the way they see the game is the only possible viewpoint, and the rest of us are madmen.

Oh wait. Maybe I am a madman after all!
 

but there are big monsters that are basically immune to normal people's ability to harm them. The dragonfear of a big old dragon alone can be impossible for non-adventurers to save against, after all.
This reminds me of a post on an Eberron forum, where a demon (or devil) with Teleport Without Error (at will) and Dominate Person (at will) could literally take over the entire setting.

I don't think there's a "fix" for the varying viewpoints issue, but I use the 3e demographics table as a "starting point".
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
But it makes discussing the game difficult since everyone has a different idea of how common or uncommon these things are. Is it possible to reach some kind of consensus here?
I don't think it's possible to reach a consensus, and I don't even think it's desirable to reach a consensus. I've run different campaigns with those values at very different levels to achieve the feel I want for each particular campaign.

Trying to achieve a baseline to facilitate forum discussion doesn't seem like a particularly worthy goal over giving people freedom to determine the playstyle they want for their games.
 

In my Jewel of the Desert game...it's a bit difficult to nail down precisely.

Formally, by Dungeon World rules, there is only one Wizard, and it is the party's Wizard. There is only one Paladin, and it is the party's Paladin. Etc. I find this excessively limiting. But I do take seriously the idea that the player characters are special in some way--and have worked to build up appropriately special characteristics for each of them.

So, in the Tarrakhuna, there are many rawuna (bards), but only Tajah al-Abayya is a half-human, half-devil, half-demon (it's complicated and magic is involved) hybrid Bard/Druid/Cleric/soon-to-be-Swordmage who has been revealed (or declared, depending on your perspective) as the messiah-like figure, the Lord of the Ravens, for a murder cult, which he is now using his "living prophet" status to reform from within. (He's slowly winning converts from the skeptical faction--the cult naturally split into internecine conflict over whether Taj IS the Lord of the Ravens or a flashy false prophet--but on pure numbers alone, his faction would still lose if they resorted to open warfare. Given they are all effectively ninjas, they have not resorted to open warfare...but it's not off the table.)

In the Tarrakhuna, there are many Safiqi priests (in principle, Clerics) and their Temple Knights (Paladins), but none are proper character-class Paladins. The way I view this, protagonist-hood falls upon someone perhaps by chance, perhaps by fate/destiny/heritage, perhaps by unremitting ambition (technically, all three of these are present in our current party). Ironically, we don't have any Clerics or Paladins, but at this point, four different characters have chosen to at least learn from the priesthood, taking some amount of formal lessons (in order of chronology, the now-absent Wizard, the Bard, the currently-hiatus'd Ranger, and the recently-returned Druid have all sought some amount of Cleric training, with the Ranger and Druid seeking to become proper priests in addition to their other focuses.)

More or less, the "camera" only "focuses on" the PCs because there's something worth focusing on, but sometimes why that is isn't clear initially. We build it up together. But ultimately, no one in the world could ever quite be what these folks are, whether because luck doesn't strike twice, destiny is choosy about its champions, or no one else has quite the ambition these folks do. (The latter mostly because the typical ambitions are not "get really good at doing super dangerous things for occasional rewards" and instead are usually "become incredibly rich and retire to a life of luxury and parties in my private villa.")
 

Stormonu

Legend
I've gone by this advice from the DM's option: High Level Campaigns for years:

High-level characters don’t just spring into existence overnight. It takes an exceptional person just to survive the rigors of an adventuring life,
and characters who make it to the top should be both rare and famous.

Just how rare are high-level characters? Let’s assume, for purposes of this example, that the minimum requirement for an adventurer is having an ability score of 15 or better in a prime requisite in one of the four character classes (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom), a Constitution score of at least 9, and no other score lower than an 8. About one person in 10 meets these requirements if ability scores are rolled using the standard method of rolling 3d6 once for each ability score. (If your campaign uses an alternate method for rolling ability scores, what you’re really doing is making sure your PCs fall into the top 10%, non-adventurers are still assumed to use the standard method).

Now, let’s assume that out of every group of adventures only half actually make it to the next level (the remainder either die, retire, or just haven’t yet accumulated enoughexperience to advance). This last assumption is an oversimplification, of course, but a little arithmetic produces some instructive results:

There is only one 10th level character in a general population of 5,000. The actual numbers are summarized in Table 1.

An 18th level character of any class is truly a one-in-a-million individual. Only .2% of the population (1 in 500) qualifies to be a paladin. Other subclasses with strict ability score requirements (such as bards, rangers, and druids) are equally rare. Keep these numbers in mind when creating NPCs for your campaign. Your world not only becomes more believable if it isn’t overrun with super characters, but your players
have a greater sense of accomplishment when they realize just what they have achieved.

Be sure to keep important NPCs alive when possible—it can take a generation to replace a high-level character.

Table 1Demographics
General PopulationCharacter LevelApprox. No. in 1,000,000
10​
1 1st
133,120​
20​
1 2nd
66,560​
40​
1 3rd
33,280​
80​
1 4th
16,640​
160​
1 5th
8,320​
320​
1 6th
4,120​
640​
1 7th
2,080​
1,380​
1 8th
1,040​
2,560​
1 9th
512​
5,120​
1 10th
256​
10,240​
1 11th
128​
20,480​
1 12th
64​
40,960​
1 13th
32​
81,920​
1 14th
16​
163,840​
1 15th
8​
326,680​
1 16th
4​
655,360​
1 17th
2​
1,310,720​
1 18th
1​

As shorthand, I treat a war veteran as about a 3rd level character, a "master" character (such as wizard or drill sergeant) whose competent enough to train apprentices as 5th and an experienced warlord/king/master craftsman - anyone at the peak of their skill - as 9th level. Anyone above 9th is a mythical sort of character who is famous in song and tale.
 


steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
BAHAHAHA! You're looking for consensus on any issue/element/topic in D&D!?! HAAAAAHAHAHAHA!

Seriously, though, <wipes tear from eye>... come on...

You know the answer to your title query is, "Anything [however "common"] you want or need for the given game/campaign." Right?

Of all the various topics, this could possibly be the one with the broadest swing, because it goes to the very fabric/structure of the setting world...so sits at the very foundational bedrock of the game, itself. So, you're never going to find common agreement among all settings for all gamers.

For me/my homebrew setting:
Magic: Magic is everywhere. But there are different levels of magic in different regions of the setting. You can be somewhere that high level magic hasn't been seen or only exists in their legends of decades to ages ago. You can be elsewhere that high level magic is expected and if you're not a caster (or at least student!) of some kind of magic, you're going to be looked down upon. There are different kinds of magic, where you might be seen as odd or dangerous to be a mage or [gods forfend!] a psychic, but hailed and praised as a cleric or druid, and vice versa.
Monsters: Monsters are everywhere. Again, different critters are different places. Is every land you walk into going to have a dragon sleeping on a giant treasure hoard under that mountain over there? Certainly not. Will there be a story claiming that from some centuries ago? Yeah, probably. The only "ubiquitous" creatures would be those "most common" foe types. Kobolds and goblins you are probably going to find just about anywhere. Even orcs, in my world, I've sequestered into the mountains and caves/caverns/shallow subterranean dwellers. Raids happen into areas adjacent, but you're not going to find an orc around every corner of every forest or dungeon. You're not going to find a troll (openly) stolling down a fortified town street. But there might be cautions/notices (and bounties) about one that was seen at some farmstead not far from (in fact, far too close to) the town. Want to catch and train a griffon as your mount? Better go find some royal elves or fae nobility to tell you where they get theirs (They're definitely not selling you any of their domesticated ones!). Otherwise, you can look at these pretty pictures. I heard there was one seen from the walls of Ablidon over the Whitegull Bay some years back.
Classed NPCs: Same answer. They can be common. They can be disturbingly rare. It depends where you are. You could be in a village with a middling level mage/witch/druid "healer/potion maker/apothecary." You could be in a bustling trade town with noone over a 2nd level thief in the local gang (trying to make themselves into a "guild."). You could be in a shipping hub with archmages and world renowned warlords coming and going at any given moment. Or some ridiculously high level priest who just happens to be living his best life at a secluded shrine, all on his own. He's renowned as a healer and exorcist of evil demons by the local folk, who are clearly a very superstitious lot. But no one really knows of just how [truly] powerful he is.

It just depends. Where is the particular campaign taking place (and will it stay there or move to other regions)? What are the needs of the particular party (as far as the degree of challenge to produce fun)? What are the flavor preferences or general "mood" one is going for in a particular campaign, or singular session/section of the game? A "save the princess who disappeared in the faerie wood" is going to play and contain very different degrees of all of these things than the "party must infiltrate and bring to justice the problematic bandit gang between towns."

If I want to do a "gothy/halloweeny/horror-ish genre" section to a story, that's going to involve very different monsters and magic and NPCs, than a "seek out the Lost MacGuffin of Unknown Wildland and save the kingdom from invasion." Or a few sessions (or entire campaign) of courtly intrigue and murder mystery in the Duke's castle. Or a party that just wants to seek out the fame and glory (and buckets of treasure) surviving the "Dungeon Delve of Doom."

(Personal Side Note, here, I am not sure where there are town guards who can easily take down a group of 7th level adventurers. Other than, like, an honor guard for monarchs or temple high priest with a bunch of mid-level underclerics or something like that. I can't imagine some "joe normal soldiers" or your average "town constabulary" from Commonfolkville being able to pin down -much less defeat or detain- a party of 7th level guys. But, then, that too would be a sheer matter of preferences of game/play style and flavor.)
 

The 3.0 product Enemies and Allies had a guard unit who could probably take on 7th-level PCs.

1. The guard commander was a veteran.
2. This was a special force acting like a "SWAT Team".
3. The book pointed out that these NPCs could ask for help (eg hire more powerful NPCs).
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
I know a lot of this depends on the campaign- Eberron has prevalent low level magic, but few high-level magic users, and the Forgotten Realms, despite a large population of adventurers, seems to be the reverse- there's no low level casters making huge advances in society, but the setting is lousy with powerful archmages and liches.

But it makes discussing the game difficult since everyone has a different idea of how common or uncommon these things are. Is it possible to reach some kind of consensus here?
No, you won't. And this is one of the strengths of 5e as a game actually. Every campaign is going to have assumptions about these things that fit with what that campaign is supposed to "feel" like and the system still works pretty much as written.

People write a lot about trying to suss out a "default setting" from the core rulebooks. I think up through 4e you could use this approach and come up with a consensus on these things - in fact, in 3e you'd find many of those expectations written up in the DMG (and is why it had things like the Commoner class for NPCs). In 5e I think it's a fool's errand - the game is too flexible in the kinds of games it's trying to support to dictate things at that level. The designers of 5e were trying to make it the edition that everyone could agree was D&D - and if that's your design target you aren't going to have the kind of easily agreeable assumptions that you're talking about.
 

Some players "insist" that the PCs are the only unique outlier within the whole "world" of the campaign. That no other "heroes" exist outside of the world, which is supposedly only shaped by the PCs. Of course, all tables play different. Perhaps they are the only ones. That all the world is a stage in which only the PCs may dance upon. Ignoring the shakers and movers who made the kingdoms and what not the PCs can frolic and murder hobo with glee with their edgy 20 page backstories and dice rolling hamsters.

But no matter what, there will be no consensus because everybody rolls differently at their table. Take guns: goodness all this talk about realistic guns/how to replicate how to be more power when all ya need is just sit down, roll that 1D10 for your pepperbox, and hope ya hit a crit and not misfire.

For me, there are others in the world and not just the PCs. So the highest leveled NPC that is an established adventurer at my table is level 10 basically. Such characters are usually not just a random villager. Only characters of importance or other main important NPC will have class levels.
 



bloodtide

Adventurer
No. Really all you can do is write out "your world" so everyone can see where you are coming from. Then, if anyone reads it, they might understand what you are talking about and talk only about "that" world.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
No. Really all you can do is write out "your world" so everyone can see where you are coming from. Then, if anyone reads it, they might understand what you are talking about and talk only about "that" world.
Or tell you you're doing it wrong because five hundred years ago, there was this Dragon article that...

And then you wake up in hospital because you fell asleep and banged your head on the edge of your desk.
 

RoughCoronet0

Dragon Lover
I don’t think a consensus can be reached because many of us play D&D differently from others.

In my world, many npcs and monsters have various class and subclass levels/features. They aren’t fully stated like a PC but often have some defining features from different classes and subclasses.

I even have some npcs that are the equivalent of 20th level characters running around. Most are the chosen of certain gods. What makes them different from the PCs is that those npcs are connected to different organizations or follow a particular entity that they work for and serve in some capacity. PCs are typically free to do whatever unless they chose to align themselves with others.
 

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