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Vanilla Essence: 1E Demographics and the Implied Setting

SavageRobby

First Post
T. Foster said:
Fantastic post -- too good for a message board, this should be published as an article somewhere.

Agreed. I cut and paste the thing into a word doc and saved it in my archive of gaming materials. I'm going to use that distribution (possibly with the 70% modification suggested by Delta) in my Wilderlands campaign.

Thanks for posting that.
 

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Sepulchrave II

Adventurer
mmadsen said:
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...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.

HellHound said:
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.

Maybe. But it really depends on how elves are characterized in the campaign in general. I suspect (maybe wrongly) that the urge here is not to regard them as Real People, but as monsters/faeries or whatever - i.e. inhabitants of the mythic world: in such a case, then Heroic levels would be appropriate anyway. In stock D&D they are simply variant humans, which makes their status harder to peg.

With humans, I'm not convinced that it's necessary to characterize the bulk of the population as anything other than 1st level - if the +10 modifier is available to a skill check, then a 'difficult' task becomes routine with the take 10 rule for the most accomplished 1st-level characters.

I admit, I find myself wondering whether DaVinci or Einstein or Edward Teach could be adequately described using 1st level nonheroic classes, but maybe they could.
 

ST

First Post
Just wanted to chime in as somebody else who's saving this thread in a "DMing inspiration" folder somewhere. I haven't run D&D for years, and this is the first time something made me really want to use it.

I think it's interesting that I've reached some of the same conclusions (about "real people" versus those people statted using the rules PCs use), but coming from the fuzzy literary indie-gaming side. Seeing it from the statistical plausibility side makes it gel better for me. :)
 

I disagree with dumping NPC classes, and here's why: After a certain (low) point, the party bard or rogue will never fail to be able to sneak past the town guards, never fail to be able to shortchange the local innkeeper, will never fail to be able to hoodwink a knowledgeable craftsperson.

If the only way for them to stand up to the casual bullying of even a level 5 character requires that they have PC levels -- Hey, an ex-adventurer turned innkeeper! Never seen that one before! -- things end up stupid all over again.

Otherwise, I think your argument is interesting and has merit.
 

Sepulchrave II

Adventurer
Delta said:
What I don't subscribe to is the half-advance-each level rule. Although widely accepted and easy to remember, it does not match up with other details in the 1E AD&D rules. If you compare to things like: (1) mercenary leader levels (vs. number of troops), (2) leader-types for men (as in bandits, buccaneers, nomads, etc.), (3) rulers listed in Greyhawk (vs. population figures), then the 50% rule fails to produce enough high-level NPCs.

I've been fairly selective about which cues from 1E sources to use in the above post, and I agree that a 3:2 ratio more accurately reflects the incidence of Heroic characters of level N to N+1 in much published material. In fact, I know that at some point, I moved toward those numbers when designing settlements myself, simply because it felt more reasonable - I hadn't made any kind of study of Greyhawk's demographics at that point.

Ironically, when I first got my hands on the Greyhawk boxed set - maybe 1984 - I felt that it was a relatively 'high-powered' campaign setting :confused: Much of my conditioning was based on the 1E DMG, with its repeated admonitions against handing out too much loot - something which also was not reflected in 1E modules themselves.
 


I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
I think that's a pretty good analysis of the "setting shift" in 3e, of how classes and levels are not just for PC's (and villains) anymore, but for everyone.

For me, I like the shift, because I like knowing that the PC's, while heroes, aren't the only heroes around. Other heroes give them potential challenges and allies, and can shape the world in ways the PC's can't. It gives me a way to measure relative NPC power (the village blacksmith vs. the greatest blacksmith in the land) without resorting to DM fiat, and I really enjoy that.

There is something to be said about the "darker" feel of only about 10-12 people in the world having any class levels, however. It paints a much starker picture of humanity in distress in the world. In 3e, an army might be able to handle an orc attack without the PC's help. That pretty much isn't true in any other edition.
 

Sepulchrave II

Adventurer
Whizbang Dustyboots said:
I disagree with dumping NPC classes, and here's why: After a certain (low) point, the party bard or rogue will never fail to be able to sneak past the town guards, never fail to be able to shortchange the local innkeeper, will never fail to be able to hoodwink a knowledgeable craftsperson...the only way for them to stand up to the casual bullying of even a level 5 character requires that they have PC levels

But there will always come a point where a PC rogue can outsneak a town guard, it's just a question of when.

In the kind of low magic vanilla I'm suggesting, a 5th-level rogue is not a common, low level occurrence - he is literally a 1 in 12,800 character. Let's say he's human, and has a Hide skill of +17 (+8 ranks, +4 Dex, +5 magic cloak).

A sentry chosen for his awareness - Keen-eyed Bob - might reasonably be expected have a Spot skill of +5 (+2 ranks, +2 Alertness, +1 Wis). With opposed rolls, the rogue will successfully make a sneak 13/14ths of the time.

Admittedly, things get hairier if the adventurer is a Halfling with a Dex of 20 and a Hide skill of +24. Keen-eyed Bob needs help (other sentries, using aid another?). But the main point is that a 5th-level halfling rogue with a Hide skill of +24 is absolutely extraordinary in the context of the game world, instead of the 15th-level halfling rogue being absolutely extraordinary. These days, we're just accustomed to drawing the bar much higher.
 

Alratan

First Post
An interesting way of constructing "heroic" campaigns, but I do partially agree with Whizbang.

Interestingly, as I like to run campaigns where the PCs aren't automatically special, but have to prove them selves so over the course of a campaign, I take a very different approach to demographics.

Basically, if a young punk PC challenges a couple of semi-grizzled old workmen in a bar after his first adventure, he can expect to get his ass handed too him.

All first level characters are basically teenagers.

With this in mind, I have all humanoids start of at a classes starting age, and then accumulate 1 level equivalent of xp in a class for every 5 years of normal practice of that class, up to 5th level. Then 6th -10th level take 10 years each, 11th to 15th 20 years each, 16th-20th 40 years, etc

With the caveat that you can't normally advance to a level of a spell casting class that would grant access to spells you can't normally cast, and special training is required for PC classes (usually from childhood) excluding favoured classes (except humans, who don't have one). Multiclassing is very common

Thus, the militia (most adult males) in an average human frontier village will be something like commoner 3/warrior 1, and a venerable elder might be commoner 3/warrior 2/expert 3/adept 2. In an elven settlement on the other hand, an adult would be something like: warrior 2/wizard 5/expert 2, and an venerable elder, warrior 2/wizard 10/expert 8.

The power of the nobility would be based on the fact that they intensively educate their children in a PC class from a very young age (squires etc), so they start off better, as rather than a human starting their progression at 15 they do so at 10, and live lives much richer in experience. Thus, a 25 year old human noble may well be a war blade 4 (Note that war blades replace Fighters IMC) if the eldest son, or a wizard 4 if the second son, or a cloistered cleric 4 if a daughter.

Of course, exceptions and prodigies still exist, such as the PCs, but also other high level characters from short-lived races., but most high level beings come from races that can expect to last a long time.

This of course, has effects on the nature of the campaign world. The survival of the long lived rates despite their incredibly slow reproduction is explained, as their sheer individual might means that attrition isn't such a threat. Although their are lots of high level characters around, most are so multi-classed as to not over-shadow high level PCs, whilst keeping the low-level ones careful. Low level adventures still exist, but they are very small scale affairs, and generally don't involve huge amounts of physical conflict. You're not saving the village at first level, you're scouting out the tracks of something mildly unusual the local ranger has seen that isn't interesting enough to follow himself, or you're finding the source of an infestation of (normal) insects - essentially a 15 year old kid and that is the type of work you'll be doing.

If you ant to start of doing something more interesting, w begin at 3rd level.
 

grodog

Adventurer
Out of curiosity, Sep, how does your inspiration to discuss this topic relate to the epic+ level Wyre campaign? Are you trying to find a way to bring the power levels down again for your next game, so that you'll not need Demogorgon to reasonably challenge the PCs?
 

Sepulchrave II said:
But there will always come a point where a PC rogue can outsneak a town guard, it's just a question of when.

In the kind of low magic vanilla I'm suggesting, a 5th-level rogue is not a common, low level occurrence - he is literally a 1 in 12,800 character.
But this is not SimDungeon. What works at the table has to be considered, unless this is a purely on-paper exercise, like so many oWoD discussions used to be.

That fifth level rogue will show up early in any campaign, at which point, he might as well have a wand of suggestion where no one is able to beat his saving throw. That's fun for an adventure or two, but very quickly, that becomes very, very boring.

I would push the "guaranteed success" threshold in a campaign much closer to name level.
 

Quasqueton

First Post
Hommlet, from The Village of Hommlet by Gary Gygax, for AD&D1

Total population: 166 (not counting young children)

0 level = 146

1st level = 1
2nd level = 5
3rd level = 4
4th level = 3
5th level = 1
6th level = 2 - cleric, fighter
7th level = 2 - druid, assassin
8th level = 1 - magic-user
9th level = 0
10th level = 1 - thief

12% of the arms-bearing-age population is above 0 level.

[The amount of treasure and magic items would shock you. I'm truly bewildered looking at the list and total.]

I'm considering adding up The Keep, Orlane, Restenford, and Garroten also.

Quasqueton

Edit: I just added up all the gold piece value of monetary "treasure" in Hommlet -- 134,324gp total value. Yes, that's one hundred thirty-four thousand, three hundred twenty-four gold pieces total value! This is not counting magic items value.
 
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Quasqueton

First Post
Restenford, from The Secret of Bone Hill by Lenard Lakofka, for AD&D1

Total population: 173 (not counting young children)

0 level = 114

1st level = 23
2nd level = 17
3rd level = 9
4th level = 5
5th level = 1
6th level = 1 - cleric
7th level = 2 - fighter, druid
8th level = 0
9th level = 1 - magic-user
10th level = 0

34% of the arms-bearing-age population is above 0 level.

Quasqueton
 
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Doug McCrae

Legend
Excellent, Quasq, as always. Old school power creep.

It's hard for a DM to stick to Sepulchrave's numbers because he finds he continually needs new challenges for the PCs.
 

Sepulchrave II

Adventurer
Quasqueton said:
The amount of treasure and magic items would shock you. I'm truly bewildered looking at the list and total.
:D It's funny, I was thinking of your analyses of 1E modules earlier - I've read some of them before. They were truly out of whack with the guidelines in the 1E DMG: I remember clearly the amount of strikethroughs that exist in my copy of Keep on the Borderlands. With a few exceptions, I didn't generally use modules (although B2, S4 and GDQ saw a lot of recycling).

But like I say, I've been pretty selective about the 1E sources I've referenced.

Doug McCrae said:
It's hard for a DM to stick to Sepulchrave's numbers because he finds he continually needs new challenges for the PCs.

It's really tough. Resisting the urge of power creep has always been a losing battle for me.

For me, part of it is also that the PCs exist in a bubble - a kind of discontinuity, around which the normal campaign reality can be expected to warp, and then spring back into its normal shape after the PCs have passed through it.
 
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Remathilis

Legend
It really is an excellent analysis, good job.

One of the biggest changes you cite, but its not really given proper attention, is the removal of name level. In all older D&D, 9th-11th level was special in the same way epic level is now special. This was due to the length of time required to gain that much XP and changing face of the challenges faced (first orcs, then giants, now demons).

A while back I remember a thread/poll asking how many people got to 20th level before 3e. It was surprisingly few. I know it took 11 years (off and on) to get to 16th as a thief in 2e. It was not uncommon for games to end at 9th and the dynamic shift in gaming. Hence, a lower-level populace seemed better suited to the game. Thanks to 3e's emphasis on faster advancment and actually using levels 11-20, the low level population seems annoyingly weak. This is doubly true for DMs who love to use human or humanoid NPC villains like evil mages or corrupt priests; if 1% of the population is PC level, I'd say half of them are evil mages, if any campaign is to be believed. :)

3e's demographics are a response to a couple of fundamental questions...

1.) In a world of animated dead, crushing golems, powerful intelligent swords, and cursed rings, who makes all this stuff?
2.) Where were that PC (my best friend who just rolled up as a new character) before he joined our group?
3.) If guards kill orc raiders for years on end, don't they get the same Xp as I do?
4.) "Don't worry, I can steal every last coin from the mayor's vault. I'm 6th level, what can they possibly do to me?"

Lastly, if the current demographics seem often like a superhero comic (X-men in particular, aren't there mutants who have non-crazy powers and fetishes for skintight latex?), then 1e D&D can be compared to Wuxia (rent Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). There are a finite amount of powerful kung-fu masters in the area, they all know who each other are, and they are constantly doing crazing things (like flying) while fighting each other in spectacular battles while normal people either watch in awe or are mowed down like mooks. When you limit the amount of advancement a group can make, you make them special. You also make them notorious. If Lord Bragg the Anti-Paladin is the most powerful warrior in Helmhome, you better bet a PC knows of him, will find him, and want to kill him. Like Immortals in Highlander, they'd be drawn to each other as the only people who could seriously challenge each other. That creates its own unique feel not simply stated in the DMG, but implied none-the-less by the analysis.

All that said, I applaud you on your article. Good job.
 

Sanguinemetaldawn

First Post
Quasqueton said:
Hommlet, from The Village of Hommlet by Gary Gygax, for AD&D1...

Hommlet is a very poor choice for an example because of its unique circumstances.
Those circumstances being *spoilers* The battle of Emridy Meadows in the recent past and its function as a watch station on the Temple.
 


SWBaxter

First Post
Sanguinemetaldawn said:
Hommlet is a very poor choice for an example because of its unique circumstances.

Fair enough, but chances are most places an intrepid band of adventurers goes will exhibit some kind of unique circumstances, that being what draws them there in the first place. That makes the demographics outlined in the OP of only academic interest, as the PCs will generally see many more high level folks than the demographic analysis implies. Since the same idea can be applied in 3E (and has been - see Ptolus, for example), the idea that this is some kind of difference between editions is also on shaky ground. I suspect it's much more likely to be a difference in DMing style that transcends editions.
 


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