Vanilla Essence: 1E Demographics and the Implied Setting

This began as a short argument in favor of 1E demographics, and got rather bloated on ideas about play style. It's kind of long, so you've been warned.

Recently, I've been pondering the issue of demographics in the typical campaign world and wondering how (or if) to fix it. There is the compelling question of why bother? After all, D&D is a game of heroic fantasy, so why worry about this trivia? Nonetheless, it bugs me, and being a geek who would like a model to at least be superficially plausible, I've been fiddling with the numbers.

I've also been Jonesin' for that 1E feel – the more so after reading Reynard's An Examination of Differences Between Editions thread, probably the most thoughtful, non-partisan exchange of views I have ever read on the subject – at least, the first three or four pages. Something that struck me was the truth of the 'Darker' feel of 1E: I think the demographic assumptions of the 1E world were largely responsible for this.

So I've been scouring the boards for prior threads on the subject of demographics – there are surprisingly few, as I think it's something which people generally hand-wave for a variety of reasons. One of the more informative threads is here, where many of the key issues are raised – as well as a variety of possible solutions to the nagging inconsistencies which bother people.

Finally – perhaps rather strangely – an exchange which occurs in a bathroom in Reservoir Dogs kept resurfacing in my mind, so I looked up the exact quote:

MR. PINK: Tagged a couple of cops. Did you kill anybody?
MR. WHITE: A few cops.
MR. PINK: No real people?
MR. WHITE: Uh-uh, just cops.

Real people aren't gangsters, and they're not cops. They're everybody else. Somehow, the analogy seems apt. Whether the PCs and their enemies are the good guys or the bad guys is immaterial – they aren't real people. We all know what happens when real people fall a hundred feet, or get shot ten times by crossbows. For the purposes of this post, anyone who isn't a Real Person is a Hero.

As an aside, I think this system would work rather well with rycanada's E6 rules

Heroes and the 1% Solution
Many years ago, I read an article in White Dwarf magazine (I think an issue numbering in the 50s or 60s) which alluded to the likely incidence of high-level characters – specifically high level Magic-Users – in a campaign. I suspect that Lew Pulsipher wrote the article, and I think it was about (and against the notion of) 'Magic Shops' although I can't be sure – it's been twenty years since I read it, and my mags are in a box somewhere in Britain and I'm in the States. I might be conflating two different articles.

In any event, the numbers were burned into my mind. For a long time, when I was playing AD&D, I used them when I was designing settlements in order to determine the incidence of PC-class characters: I know some still use this system (S'mon, amongst others), or variations thereof. Here are the magic numbers:

  • 1% of characters are PC-class; the remaining 99% are 0-level
  • For every PC-class character of level N, there are half as many PC-class characters of level (N+1)

Bear in mind that this was 1E, and we don't have 0-level characters anymore. But the assumed incidence of PC-class characters is more-or-less 1E canon (if such ever existed). On p.35 of the 1E Dungeon Masters Guide it states:

Human and half-orc characters suitable for level advancement are found at a ratio of 1 in 100.

The populations of characters above 1st level is not addressed in the 1E DMG, but the White Dwarf article to which I refer assumed a survival rate of 50% from each level to the next – after all, adventuring is a hazardous business. This seemed reasonable to me; Skip Williams assumes the same incidence of higher-level characters in the 2E supplement Dungeon Master's Option: High-Level Campaigns, possibly from the same source.

For example, in a town of 3200 people, the breakdown might be like this:

  • 3168 x 0-level characters
  • 16 x 1st-level characters
  • 8 x 2nd-level characters
  • 4 x 3rd-level characters
  • 2 x 4th-level characters
  • 1 x 5th level character

It would take a population of around a hundred thousand people to produce one character of 10th level, according to these numbers. This is consistent with the idea that, by the time a character reaches 'Name' level in 1E (Master Thief, Lord, Paladin, Wizard or whatever), he or she has likely made a significant impact on the game world.

The numbers in the 3E DMG obviously paint a very different picture of the world. Using Jamis Buck's handy Town Generator, a random large town (pop. 3014) yielded the following distribution of character levels:

  • 2798 x 1st-level characters
  • 28 x 2nd-level characters
  • 16 x 3rd-level characters
  • 6 x 4th-level characters
  • 8 x 5th-level characters
  • 6 x 6th-level characters
  • 2 x 7th-level characters
  • 2 x 9th-level characters
  • 2 x 10th-level characters
  • 2 x 11th-level characters
  • 1 x 12th-level character

The main gripes against the 3E method of population generation are
  • [1]It scales poorly – you can't break a population up into more convenient chunks and then recombine them
    [2]You get many more PC-classed characters per capita in smaller communities than in larger ones
    [3]You get too many high-level characters overall

A high population of powerful Heroes – especially spellcasters – changes the shape of the campaign world to the point where it is very difficult to predict, which is contrary to the Essence of Vanilla.

10th-Level (or Thereabouts)
When characters reached 'Name level' in 1E (generally between 9th and 11th-level, according to class), it was implicit within the ruleset that the nature of the game would shift. A number of rules factors conspired to encourage a change of playstyle:

  • Characters could establish a stronghold, attract followers, and levy taxes from the inhabitants of their 'fief'
  • Further increases in hit points were limited: instead of rolling a die (+ Con modifier), a character instead received a set number of hit points for advancing a level (+3 for Fighter-types, +2 for Rogues and Clerics, +1 for Wizards)
  • Access became available to key spells which radically changed the basis of the campaign: commune, contact other plane, teleport, plane shift, raise dead

The PCs' concerns became more global at 'Name level,' or shortly thereafter. They were established in the campaign world, they could potentially go anywhere or know anything; death was now an obstacle which could be overcome. There was a natural tendency to look to exotic locales – the planes or the underdark – because the mundane campaign world could not logically contain sufficient challenges to keep the characters occupied on an ongoing basis.

How Big is the Pond?
One of the key features of the Vanilla setting is that population density is very low: for example, the World of Greyhawk has a population density around one tenth of that of medieval Europe. In Vanilla, large areas of unexplored or unsettled wilderness remain, and some kind of 'frontier' exists. The frontier is a liminal zone, representing the interface between the world of Real People and the world of monsters and demihumans (the mythic world, so to speak); much of a campaign's action is expected to occur in this space.

Higher-level PCs and NPCs can be considered to have a 'pond' – an average radius within which, all things being equal, they would be the most powerful character: i.e. the biggest fish. If we assume a population similar to Greyhawk – 10 people per square mile – the size of a character's pond according to their level looks something like this:

3rd level: 5 miles
6th level: 15 miles
9th level: 40 miles
12th level: 100+ miles

When a 12th-level fighter boasts that no-one within a hundred miles is his equal, he is probably telling the truth.

Incorporating the Norms from 1E Greyhawk
The Glossography from the 1983 Greyhawk boxed set (p.3) suggests the following numbers as far as population is concerned:

  • 20% of the population are fit to bear arms
  • Half of these are in prime condition, suitable for man-at-arms status

This is not to suggest that each of these characters is a Warrior who comes equipped with arms and armor; more that they represent a pool of resources upon which a ruler can draw in times of need.

Furthermore, the distribution of PC-classed characters by character class (p.16) can be expected to follow this pattern (I'm using 3E language, here):

  • 50% Fighter-types
  • 25% Rogue-types
  • 15% Cleric-types
  • 10% Wizard-types

For our purposes, Fighter-types can be assumed to incorporate Paladins, Monks and Rangers; Cleric-types can be assumed to include Druids; Wizard-types to subsume Sorcerers; and Rogue-types to include Bards. Populations of 'new' base classes – such as Warlocks or Knights – can generally be set against obvious existing populations (e.g. Wizard-types and Fighter-types respectively).

A world where lots of high-level spellcasters are present is obviously going to be very different from anything resembling a medieval one – and that's fine. The problem is that the medieval model still remains the default setting 'type.'

The DMG II (p.81) states:
A successful Dungeons and Dragons setting is neither an authentic portrayal of medieval history, nor an exercise in logical extrapolation from a fantastic premise. Instead, think of it as a medieval flavored game environment.

Quoted for truth. But it's a sad truth. Essentially, it's saying don't think too hard about the game world, because if you do, it will fall apart. This may have always been the case, but I think the veneer of plausibility was once a lot thicker than it is now.

Much of the 'Darkness' of 1E was predicated on the fact that the PCs were highly unusual in the power and scope of their abilities. The vast majority of people – mooks, chumps, fodder (if you will) – were frail, vulnerable Real People ™.

Real People
Real People often die when they're stabbed. They don't cast spells or have amazing supernatural powers, they're not descended from dragons or celestials, and they usually pursue mundane occupations such as farming.

1E was good at modelling Real People – it called them '0-level.' Usually, they stayed in the background; sometimes, they got in the way; occasionally you could pay them to lug crossbows around, and shoot things that you pointed at. They were crazy easy to kill – a Fighter could make as many attacks in a round against 0-level characters as he had levels of experience.

0-level people stayed at 0-level, never gaining experience. They weren't eligible, and that was that. Curiously, this rule applies to the followers of characters with the Leadership feat in 3.X, although the rationale (aside from balance considerations, presumably) is not made clear.

I would argue that it is precisely the sharp contrast between the mundane world of Real People and the liminal world which the PCs generally inhabit which gave earlier editions that special feel. That's not to say that there should be no overlap – the PCs themselves often exist at the interface of both worlds, equipping themselves with weapons which they purchase from a Real Person, before venturing into the unknown; or staying in a tavern where Real People might also be enjoying a drink when their evil nemesis sends a demon to attack them.

One of the principal complaints levelled against the preponderance of 'bizarreness' (half-fiend ogre PCs, or whatever), is that it renders the fantastic commonplace, thus stripping it of its mythic quality; or that the game has become too 'superheroic,' resembling a Marvel comic more than the conventional fantasy genre. But in D&D the PCs have always been superheroes: I think the real problem is that now there are too many NPC heroes as well, and not enough 'regular Joes'.

Getting Rid of Class Levels for NPC Classes
I can find no compelling reason why NPC classes should exist in their current incarnation at all, and essentially I'm advocating the return of the '0-level' character – or rather, a 1st-level NPC who is incapable of gaining experience in the conventional sense. Some differentiation between the abilities of NPCs is desirable (a noble will have a different skill set to an artisan or a peasant farmer) but it strikes me that the idea of class levels as pertain to an Aristocrat, Commoner or even an Expert or Warrior are just nonsensical.

Levelling up – the notion of gaining power (of the metaphysical kind) through overcoming challenges – is a very Nietzschean idea. It is perhaps the central premise of D&D, and it works rather well with regard to PCs as it keeps players interested in the game. I don't necessarily think it works with the vast majority of the NPC population. The dilution of the idea of levelling up – by extending its potential to everyone – has come to mean that the population-at-large has moved from the mundane world into the mythic world which should be the province of the PCs.

Not Necessarily a Meritocracy Based on Ability
There is a tendency in D&D to equate personal power (how many levels does a character have?) with social power (who is the baron?). Within a population where far fewer high level PC-Class characters exist, the notion of power being transferred through more conventional channels – such as wealth and heredity – becomes more viable. That said, because Heroes demonstrate greater aptitude than Real People in all aspects of life, it is likely that they will meet outstanding success in any area, given the opportunity.

The 1% figure of PC-Class characters in a given population is assumed to represent normal inhabitants – i.e. those who generally fulfill a socially integrated role – and not temporary residents or transients (such as adventurers typically are). Because of their superior ability, their positions will often come to involve exercising power: the relative scarcity of Heroes means that this dynamic is not assured, however, and factors such as a privileged birth will often guarantee success or prevent it. An unusual member of the Garde might be a Hero – a 3rd level Barbarian, say – but he exercises no special social power as a result, and his commanding officer is still an Aristocrat.

A DM is often wasting his time when he stats out a Real Person, and they can be handwaved for most game purposes. Alfric the Barkeep is just that – a name and an accent is probably all he needs, but there are times when it is useful (e.g. if a PC is attempting to persuade a merchant of a certain course of action)

The four main types of Real People are derived from equivalent NPC classes at first level. Three of them – Aristocrat, Expert and Commoner – map approximately onto the upper, middle and lower class strata of society; the fourth (Warrior) is harder to place, as a certain degree of social mobility is implied, but most will be drawn from the lower classes. Spellcasting of any kind is considered beyond the abilities of a Real Person, and is the province of Heroes: the Adept class is omitted, or used as an alternative to PC-classes where appropriate (e.g. tribal 'shamans' and 'witch-doctors', the 1E basis of the class).

The Warrior uses the following stats:
  • d8 Hit Points
  • BAB +1
  • Fort Save +2
  • 12 Skill points (Climb, Handle Animal, Intimidate, Jump, Ride, Swim)
  • Proficient with all armor and shields, and simple and martial weapons

The Aristocrat uses the following stats:
  • d8 Hit Points
  • BAB +0
  • Will Save +2
  • 20 Skill points (Appraise, Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, Forgery, Gather Information, Handle Animal, Intimidate, Knowledge, Listen, Perform, Ride, Sense Motive, Speak Language, Spot, Swim, Survival)
  • Proficient with all armor and shields, and simple and martial weapons

The Expert uses the following stats:
  • d6 Hit Points
  • BAB +0
  • Will Save +2
  • 28 Skill points (any 10 skills)
  • Proficient with simple weapons and light armor

The Commoner uses the following stats:
  • d4 Hit Points
  • BAB +0
  • 12 Skill points (Climb, Craft, Handle Animal, Jump, Listen, Profession, Ride, Spot, Swim, Use Rope)
  • Proficient with one simple weapon

All real people (I'm assuming they're human) receive two feats; if their Intelligence is above average, they receive 4 extra skill points for each point of Intelligence modifier. Like 1st level PCs, they may invest up to 4 skill points into any single skill.

Danger of Overidentifying NPC Class with Social Role
The populations of NPC classes can give a broad indicator as to the shape of a community: for example, a city with many Experts and few Warriors might be considered relatively peaceful, and possess a high culture. It is a mistake to exactly equate the population of NPC classes with their typical social role, however, as considerable overlap is likely in individual cases.

For example, not all members of the nobility will use the Aristocrat class. The Aristocrat class represents a noble who is trained in war as part of his feudal obligation (martial weapon and heavy armor proficiency), but also has an important social role and general level of education (skills and skill points).

  • The Warrior class can better represent a noble who is more focussed on the martial aspect of his duties. The Warrior gains +1 BAB over the Aristocrat at the cost of a more limited skill list.
  • The Expert class better describes a noble who is more focussed on social manipulation and/or scholarly pursuits: an abundance of skill points and skill versatility is gained at the cost of a reduced list of proficiencies and a smaller hit die.
  • The Commoner class can even be used to describe a noble who has failed to distinguish himself in any way: the lazy, drunken son of a baron, for example.

Allocation of feats, skills and abilities allows further refinement within these categories: Weapon Focus will make an Aristocrat or Expert as effective as a typical Warrior with their chosen weapon; Skill Focus and a high Charisma can make a Warrior an effective diplomat etc.

Skills and NPC Classes
Because of the way skill check DCs are organized (DC10 = average; DC15 = tough; DC20 = challenging), there is no particular need for a Real Person to have more than a +8 or +10 modifier to any skill check. A formidable task (DC25) is generally beyond the abilities of a Real Person – it is the province of Heroes such as the PCs – although a lucky Real Person might hit it. Very occasionally, a Real Person might pull off a DC 30 check: i.e. perform a heroic act.

'Taking 10' and 'taking 20' can often apply to skill checks. In groups, Real People can also use the aid another option to grant a +2 or higher circumstance bonus to skill checks. A Real Person might have a high ability score adjustment to a skill check. These factors all push the ceiling for achievable DCs higher.

Certain tasks – such as the creation of some alchemical items (DC 25) or a +4 Str bonus MW composite bow (DC 28) – are generally beyond the abilities of any single non-heroic character, although conceivably a group of highly skilled Experts could collaborate and use the aid another option to reliably produce goods such as these.

Consider the following archetypes:

  • Master Swordsmith: Expert. Craft (weaponsmith) +10 (4 ranks, +3 Skill Focus, +1 Int, +2 MW tools). Such a character can 'take 10' to routinely create MW (i.e. the best nonmagical) weapons.
  • Sage: Expert. Knowledge (history) +10 (4 ranks, +3 Skill Focus, +1 Int, +2 library); three or more other Knowledge Skills at +7.
  • Veteran Mercenary: Warrior. Toughness and +1 Con. 1d8+4 hit points. On average, a Veteran Mercenary has more than three times as many hit points as a Commoner.
  • Suave Noble: Aristocrat. Diplomacy +10 (4 ranks, +3 Skill Focus, +2 Negotiator, +1 Cha).
  • Nomadic Tribesmen: Commoner. Handle Animal +4 (4 ranks), Spot +7 (4 ranks, +1 Wis, +2 Alertness). Toughness feat. 1d4+3 hit points.

Compared to Heroes, the abilites of all of these characters are trivial; compared to each other, however, they are meaningful. The skill to required to produce masterwork weapons is a rare talent and socially significant; a Warrior who can take one or two hits from a longsword and not go down is a hard man; a +10 modifier to a Bluff or Diplomacy check represents a baffling, silver tongue to one with no ranks in Sense Motive and an average Wisdom.

At the risk of invoking the 'V' word, a campaign which generally rests on normal human interaction and abilities – i.e. lies within the scope of Real People – is much easier to swallow because it is predictable. The actions of the PCs, their enemies and their allies – who are Heroes – is not limited in this fashion, but they represent a massive deviation from the norm.

The Plausibility of PC Actions
If we return to the 1% PC model with a halving of the population of characters for each successive level, the actions of the PCs and their current adventuring 'status' make a lot more sense. Typically, "Save the ____" type quests work far better with regard to a 1E demographic, because the power level of the characters relative to their immediate backdrop:

  • A Save the Village type quest makes a lot of sense when the characters are 1st to 3rd level. If a settlement has only 300 people, then a group of four 1st-level characters can reasonably make a significant impact on its fate.
  • A Save the Town type quest (say a town of 2000 people), makes sense of 4th-6th level characters when the highest level local is only 4th or 5th level.
  • A Save the City type quest (say the concerns of 20,000 people), is appropriate for characters of levels 7-9, when there aren't thirty or more PC-classed characters in residence of 10th level or higher, all occupied doing something more pressing.
  • A Save the Kingdom type adventure (from the giants, or whatever) is something worthy of characters of 10th-12th level, because they will be among the most powerful characters in the kingdom by this time.

In each case, the actions of the PCs remain heroic in the context of their environment, and their growth is percievable against the background of the campaign. Conversely, the characters' current nemesis – assuming such exists – always remains a plausible threat to the village/town/country, and a suitable foe for the PCs. Over time, a PC's aura of 'geographical significance' grows.

Sculpting Populations
Using the various guidelines gleaned from 1E sources, it is possible to derive populations of characters: the trick is to ensure that the distributions in the final population approximately fulfill each of the various criteria. A more organic approach than the one presented in the 3E DMG is necessary, and requires a simultaneous 'top down' and 'bottom up' approach; that said, some 3E mechanics have been retained. I've tried to minimize appeals to real medieval demographics, looking for an approach which is intuitive and straightforward. At all times, the premise is that the campaign is humanocentric and generally vanilla in flavour.

If we know that 10% of the population are "in prime condition, suitable for man-at-arms status," we can define the most bellicose societies as those in which "everyone capable of being a Warrior is one." Less warlike populations will support proportionately fewer Warriors; 1% (enough to ensure 1 guard or soldier for every 100 inhabitants), is the bare minimum according to the 3E DMG, and that seems a reasonable figure. A city with a large population of Warriors might include the garrison of a professional army, large numbers of private retainers, guards, gangs of street thugs etc.

By similar parallel, the population of Experts in a community might be expected to fall in the 1% to 10% range. A city where 10% of the inhabitants are Experts might be a thriving centre filled with merchants, artisans and scholars – it represents a sophisticated skill base: bear in mind that even though a city might have fifty percent of its inhabitants engaged in crafts of one kind or another, the bulk will still be Commoners.

If 1% of the population are Heroes – i.e possess levels in PC-classes – this leaves only the number of Aristocrats to worry about. As noted, the Aristocrat character class doesn't map exactly onto the upper social class – say 3% in a typical medieval society – but up to 1% seems a reasonable number. When they gather in numbers in wartime they are dangerous – in a feudal setting, they represent a large portion of the armored gentry.

Logical Characterization
Characterization – in mechanical terms – is something that 3E is rather good at. When there are far fewer high-level characters, this also becomes a less daunting prospect. The key to unravelling demographics lies in characterization: individual NPCs are detailed, and various organizations can be built upon and around them.

1. Determine the General Details
How many people live in the area of settlement? Is it urban or rural? Does it occupy a region of geographical significance? What are its connections with other areas and cities?

Let's say the DM wants to create a large city-state, with a population of 60,000. It is located on a peninsula in a warm sea, and is a bustling port. The DM decides on the following distribution of classes:
  • 1% Aristocrat (600)
  • 8% Expert (4800)
  • 5% Warrior (3000)
  • 85% Commoner (51,000)

In addition, there are some 600 characters with class levels – "Heroes" – with the following expected distribution:
  • 300 x 1st-level
  • 150 x 2nd-level
  • 75 x 3rd-level
  • 37 x 4th-level
  • 18 x 5th-level
  • 9 x 6th-level
  • 4 x 7th-level
  • 2 x 8th-level
  • 1 x 9th-level

Of these, around 50% will be Fighter-types, 25% Rogue-types, 15% Cleric-types and 10% Wizard-types.

2. Fix the Power Centres
The DM determines that there are four main power centres in the city:

  • An elite aristocratic class exerting power through wealth (LE, nonconventional)
  • A powerful merchant's guild (N, nonconventional)
  • A city council (LN, conventional)
  • A cabal of Wizards (N, magical)

Such centres are unlikely to be discrete entities, and the relationships between them – and any smaller loci which the DM determines – will shape the political landscape of the city. Influential personages often have their fingers in several pies at once, so there will be overlap between the power centres: Aristocrats will have typically have mercantile interests, guildsman will sit on the city council, and so on.

3. Allocate Highest PC-Class Characters
Within this context, and with a minimum of creativity, the seven highest level characters in the community can be detailed. Four of them are related directly to each of the power centers:

  • Wicked Noble: Wicked Noble (9th-level Fighter-type) is an influential character within the aristocratic caste.
  • Sly Agent: Sly Agent (7th-level Rogue-type) is a Guild representative and spokesman.
  • Honorable Soldier: Honorable Soldier (8th-level Fighter-type) is Captain of the City Guard, and serves the city council.
  • Benign Wizard: Benign Wizard (7th-level Wizard-type) is a senior cabal member.

The DM determines that the remaining highest-level characters fall outside of the established power structures:

  • Daring Swashbuckler: Daring Swashbuckler (8th-level Rogue-type) is a nobleman with a scandalous reputation
  • Scarred Boss: Scarred Boss (7th-level Fighter-type) is an underworld leader who gets the job done.
  • Zealous Priest: Zealous Priest (7th-level Cleric-type) is a militant but popular local figurehead.

4. Allocate Warrior Resources
Control over numbers of Warrior class NPCs represent a power centre's ability to promote its agenda in the world and defend its interests. Power centres can exert economic, magical, religious and social pressure as well, but having muscle is never a bad thing. The DM decides to allocate the number of warriors thus:

  • 600 city guardsmen (City Council) This is the minimum required for an effective town guard (1% of the total population), suggesting that its resources will be spread pretty thinly.
  • 400 guild retainers (Merchant's Guild) Caravans and ships need to be protected. Warehouses need to be guarded. Estates need to be patrolled.
  • 1300 men-at-arms (Aristocratic Caste) There might be a hundred or more families who count amongst the gentry. Whilst the most minor might have few or no warriors in their retinue, the largest and most influential might employ scores – if not hundreds – of retainers.
  • 200 street thugs, in various gangs The DM decides that the largest gang – led by Scarred Boss – includes fifty warriors.
  • 300 mercenaries employed in private duties These might include doormen for inns, bodyguards for unaffiliated merchants, temple guards etc.
  • 300 warriors currently employed in no particular capacity
Some of these might be retired thugs or soldiers, but mostly they simply represent a pool of untapped potential.

4. Draw Some Inferences and Make Some Arbitrary Decisions

a) The City Guard is broken into fifty squads of twelve men, and each squad is led by a sergeant (a 1st-level Fighter-type). Nine lieutenants (2nd or 3rd level Fighter-types), and two adjutants (a 4th and 5th level Fighter-type respectively) comprise the command, in addition to the Captain of the Watch – Honorable Soldier – already mentioned. It employs a half-dozen special operatives (two 1st-level, two 2nd-level and two 3rd-level Rogue-types) in the capacity of spies, infiltrators etc. Numerous Commoners and several Experts form a support staff.

b) Wicked Noble is fabulously rich, and lives in a fortified palace outside of the city walls. He has a private army of nearly a hundred men, and a trio of assassins (all 6th-level Rogue-types) serve him. Wicked Noble also sponsors Furtive Witch (a 5th-level Cleric-type) for her gruesome divinations; Ruthless Henchman (a 6th-level Fighter-type) is his aide.

c) Whilst Benign Wizard might be the most important member of the magical cabal, the overall outlook of this power center is True Neutral. This would suggest some balancing influence is present – in this case Sinister Necromancer (a 6th-level Wizard-type) and Crafty Enchanter (a 5th-level Wizard-type), who are in cahoots with each other.

d) A private company of swords-for-hire operates under charter within the city: their leader – Grizzled Condottiere – is a 6th-level Fighter-type. Two captains (4th-level Fighter-types) serve under him. There are four lieutenants (2nd and 3rd-level Fighter-types), 8 sergeants (1st-level Fighter-types) and eighty men-at-arms (Warriors, drawn from the pool engaged in 'private duties.') Soldiers within the mercenary corps are well-equipped, with banded mail and heavy warhorses; leaders wear half-plate or full-plate.

5. Stop and See What's Left
All of the higher-level NPCs have already been accounted for. Only three characters of 6th-level remain, and a slew of 1st – and 2nd – level characters (mostly Fighter-types) have already been alotted. I won't go any further, but you get the general idea.

Skewing It
Say the DM wants to introduce an elite order of monastic knights to the city – senior members are represented by a Prestige Class with a minimum BAB +6 entry requirement. If the order's upper ranks contain even fifteen members, it will skew the incidence of powerful PC-classes within the community, doubling the number of characters of 6th-level and higher. In order to support a broad enough base of characters who were even eligible to be members, such an organization would need to look beyond the walls of the city into neighboring territories, and would probably be truly international in scope.

An Implicit Low Magic Campaign World
One of the most obvious repercussions of using a 1E demographic model is the effect upon the incidence of spellcasters – especially high level casters.

Certain spells are notorious for their ability to challenge the viability of the default medieval setting, as their existence – or rather their assumed ubiquity – will distort the shape of society to the point where it no longer follows the rules of normal human interaction. In some cases, magic will assume the role of minor technology and its applications will be quite mundane; in others, magic can offer possibilites for society so profound and far-reaching that the DM needs to do an enormous amount of work in order to extrapolate a logical campaign premise, or content himself with a 'medieval-flavoured game environment' which cannot bear too much logical scrutiny.

A high population of high-level spellcasters necessitates an increasing escalation of magical countermeasures: zone of truth fights with glibness; scrying leads to nondetection; teleport requires forbiddance or dimensional lock to counter; discern location means that mind blank is necessary, and so on. Perversely, it requires powerful spells (like antimagic field) to restore the balance to the point where human activity becomes predictable again: within a narrowly defined area. Much of the game world's logic becomes predicated on "She needs this to protect her from that," which feeds the buffing frenzy which many campaigns suffer from.

Give Leadership Free to Everyone
The BBEG doesn't need the Leadership feat in order to head an evil cult; nor should the PCs be penalized (in the form of investing a feat) for deepening their commitment to the campaign. Leadership is an excellent hook and springboard for many adventure ideas. I'd suggest only two minor modifications to the feat itself:

  • Let a PC attract cohorts whose combined CR doesn't exceed the CR of the maximum level for a cohort: e.g. a character can attract two 4th-level cohorts instead of one 6th-level cohort.
  • Increase the bonus for having a base of operations from +2 to +4 when considering followers.

Whether a character chooses to attract followers will naturally shape the direction of the campaign. I'd consider any of the following:

  • Give Leadership free at 1st-Level: This reinforces the notion that the characters are Heroic from the outset.
  • Give Leadership free at 6th-level: This is a familiar and 'comfortable' level at which to bestow the feat.
  • Give Leadership free at 10th-level: this is reminiscent of the benefits of 1e 'name' level

Just some thoughts.
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Kid Charlemagne

I am the Very Model of a Modern Moderator
I'm a bit of demographics stickler - I like having the details like you present them. 3E doesn't have an easily discernable demographics system - it varies based on settlement size, so its tough to tease out the precise details.

Myself, I like having NPC's of equal level to the PC's around so that they can provide a challenge later in the game - I don't want my PC's to utterly outclass all other humans after 9th level or so.

You bring up the populations densities in the World of Greyhawk setting - I'd love to think they were highlly thought out, but I'm afraid after 30 years of gaming, I'm pretty sure they were totally a shot in the dark. The densities in the most highly populated kingdoms are less than the most sparsely populated areas of Earth. You can come up with explanations, but Occam's Razor tells me that the reason is the same as why Eberron is too big - they just didn't give it any thought whatsoever.

I currently use an assumption of around 10% PC classes, and I use the following as the basis for my NPC levels - I've used the same assumptions since 1988 or so:

Roll 1d3
1: 1st level
2: 2nd level
3: roll 1d6 on next table

Roll 1d6
1-3: 3rd level
4: 4th
5: 5th
6: roll 2d6 on next table

Roll 2d6
1-6: 6th level
7: 7
etc, etc - going up to rolling 3d6, then 4d6.

This creates more of a gradual curve that slowly gets steeper as levels go up. So you have a lot of 6th level and below NPC's, and they get rarer and rarer as levels get higher. For NPC classes, I roughly slow the progression down by half.

Its a simple system, and I'm happy with it.


ENnies winner and NOT Scrappy Doo
Interesting analysis. One thing I think it glazes over in a 3e environment, however, is that a majority of the characters in the levels 2-7 zone will be NPC classed, not PC classed, and therefore immediately inferior to heroes.

Not that this is a big hole that I'm poking in it, just an observation.


The Star Wars Saga Edition has one NPC class -- "Nonheroic" -- which has low BAB, d4 hit die, and doesn't get most of the defense bonuses that PC classes do. (In D&D terms, their saving throw would be the stat bonus only.) Most Nonheroics never get past 4th or 5th level, and if they do, they start picking up heroic classes anyway.

One interesting side effect of this is that while Nonheroics can still be a challenge in terms of Skill vs. Skill contests and the like, they are made of tissue paper and make for great mooks to wade through. Thus, when the fighting starts, Nonheroics are toast -- but in the social arena, they can still be quite a challenge.

It's a pretty nifty arrangement. :) Works well, I think.

-The Gneech :cool:


First Post
Kid Charlemagne said:
You can come up with explanations, but Occam's Razor tells me that the reason is the same as why Eberron is too big - they just didn't give it any thought whatsoever.

Keithe Baker has stated that there was some sort of art dept. error and that "his Eberron" is 10 times as small. Which makes the continent about the size of Europe rather than Eurasia. You would have thought the error would have been caught, as the Last War is a critical part the demographics and feel of Eberron. And the "cold war" feeling it is going for does not seem to fit with a humongous playing area.

The Eberron demographics are really interesting. Magic as industry/science is very prevalent, but characters higher than 6th level are not. The war took care of most of them.
So the cities have a very modern feel. Sharn is very New Yorkish. But it is a mostly commoners.


First Post
You raise a number of issues Sepulchrave II.

I agree that 1E style demographics place the game in a more "realistic" setting by (a) more closely matching pre-modern demographics and (b) drastically reducing the number of high-level spellcasters.

I like your "real people" metaphor, but I don't think that such real people have to be implemented as 0-level characters to work; they just need real-people classes that don't grant hit dice and improved combat abilities (BAB and Saves) with every level. (This would be more elegant if D&D moved away from hit dice and toward a Damage Save; then real-people classes simply wouldn't improve BAB and Saves.) The bulk of elf society, for instance, could be 10th-level experts, but they'd fall before the orc barbarian hordes like wheat before the scythe. Of course, the biggest difference between adventurers and real people should simply be that real people don't look for fights, and they don't stand and fight if one finds them; they run away.

Lastly, I agree that Leadership should play a much larger role in the game. Charismatic characters should have plenty of "human resources" to call upon -- enough to rival the power of a hermit wizard's spells.


ENnies winner and NOT Scrappy Doo
The_Gneech said:
The Star Wars Saga Edition has one NPC class ...


It's a pretty nifty arrangement. :) Works well, I think.

Awesome for the SW universe. High level diplomats that still go splat when shot.


ENnies winner and NOT Scrappy Doo
mmadsen said:
The bulk of elf society, for instance, could be 10th-level experts, but they'd fall before the orc barbarian hordes like wheat before the scythe.

As it stands, having the bulk of them being commoners would still make them toast before the blades of an orc barbarian.

With an average of 1.5 hit points per level, even a level 10 elven commoner will be toast in a round or two.


First Post
As my game group is more Beer & Pretzels style most of the details you are speaking are fiddly bits beneath my radar. But I think it would make a great souruce book for WoTC to put out. Rouse had started a thread about Fluff books and several people mentioned a World Building book with some mention how prevalent magic would affect the the world.

Not my cup of tea, but it would probably be good read. Sep, I think you should send in a submission. :cool:


Penguin Herder
One thing I've always wanted was for the Commoner to represent not merely a less-able person, but a person who's undergone some debilitating sickness or injury.

Basically, everyone would be "born" as a Warrior-type. You could advance into Expert-type or Noble-type, but the only way you ended up as a Commoner-type would be to suffer some kind of ability reduction.

Anyone have a way of modeling that?

Cheers, -- N

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