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Vanilla Essence: 1E Demographics and the Implied Setting

gizmo33

First Post
Remathilis said:
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?"

These are interesting questions, I see them come up all of the time, and I have a few problems with what seems to be the conventional wisdom. In order:

1. A 5,000 year old campaign world over time could produce plenty of golems, intelligent swords, etc. without all of those wizards existing in the current campaign year. Also, I don't think the DnD rules are such a simulation that there aren't other means for creating these items other than those outlined in the rules. This was especially the case in 1E, where demon lords and such could create items where no explicit power in their stat block gave them the ability to do so (just as no explicit power allowed them to grant cleric spells). It's a question of how complete you expect the rules to be - IMO the rules are geared towards those elements most likely to come up during the adventure - and a power that allows a demon lord to create an intelligent sword over time is not such an element.

3. A guard who is responsible for the death of more than one or two orcs in his career is an exceptional individual IMO. In any case I think the advice in 1E was that powerful characters would be more prevalent in dangerous areas. 3E doesn't solve this problem anyway because AFAIK there's no distinction made between peaceful and dangerous areas.

4. A mayor who can't deal with his local problems requests help from the local duke, who in turn would request help from the King. It's a natural result of stingy demographics that if 6th level thieves are that rare that the mayor can't deal with them, then 6th level thieves aren't common enough to cause problems in other areas of the kingdom, meaning the Duke doesn't have worse threats to deal with.

(Edit: Oh - also 3E sort of created a problem in this area anyway, because a CR 6 creature (like the thief in the example) is as powerful as two CR 4 creatures in theory. However, IIRC this was not the case in 1E - two 4th level thieves could probably kill a 6th level thief pretty easily. This means that large groups of low-level mooks were more capable of dealing with mid-level characters than they are now.)
 
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Baron Opal

First Post
Very interesting, Sepulchrave.

At what scale would you consider the minimum or maximum? If I count out the demos for a 1 million people kingdom I will get very different demographics than 1000 towns of 1000 people. Granted, determining who goes where would be a chore.

Does this become the villian / ally pool? If there are competing adventuring parties, are their numbers drawn from these ranks? Put another way, once you determine what the distribution is, who are the exceptions from the rule?
 

Jeph

First Post
I'd put all those extras in the larger population centers, or in relative isolation. Like, for each town you end up with a few characters in the 5-6 range, but if you add them all together you've got a few in the 10-12 range, and you don't want to just throw a dart at the map and plunk these personalities down in some random hickory town... those NPCs would be the high priest of the grand temple in the capital city, the reclusive archivist in the wizard's tower in the mountains, the spirit-mediator in the depths of the dark forest, and so on.
 

mmadsen

First Post
Remathilis said:
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.
I really think that's the key point, and it explains so much of the difference between editions.
Remathilis said:
In a world of animated dead, crushing golems, powerful intelligent swords, and cursed rings, who makes all this stuff?
Most fantasy assumes a great fallen empire in the past, and most of those magic items don't degrade over time.
Remathilis said:
If guards kill orc raiders for years on end, don't they get the same Xp as I do?
Sure, but how much combat does an average soldier even see, and if he sees much combat, does he survive it? PCs are living an oddly blessed existence, where they keep stumbling across challenges just within their reach.
Remathilis said:
"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?"
That sounds like the start of a great adventure...
 

grodog

Adventurer
Sepulchrave II said:
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 Pulpisher 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.

Found it, Sep. It's "Magimart: Buying and Selling Magic Items" by Lewis Pulsipher in WD 43 (July 1983), page 15. For reference, I posted the article to my site @ http://www.greyhawkonline.com/grodog/temp/WD43-page15.pdf
 

grodog

Adventurer
Sep---

Will you be using some of the ideas herein for your looming B/X campaign, or have your thoughts on 1e demographics changed quite a bit over the past couple of years?
 

Coldwyn

First Post
I don´t really think the post was so thought out, or to clarify, the assumptions made are based on rules that fail to represent a functioning game world.
That´s due to the fact that the opposition is much more powerful than the depicted societies could defend against in a meaningful way.
If I take the Monster Manuals into account, no matter which edition, pick a creature and examine it´s ecology and possible population, it´ll show that a mostly class-less and no- to lowlevel world couldn´t possible put up any resistance.

[Additional Thought] You´d need o chance "a" to "the" to simulate the monsters with the low demographig, so changing "a hydra" to "the hydra", making every capable monster unique and reducing their number to the equivalent number of possible named level characters, thereby dismantling any meaningful sense of simulation.
 
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S'mon

Legend
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.

Why would you want the PC to fail?

I think PCs using abilities within their area of expertise should not be failing vs mundane people. The Rogue should be able to sneak past the soldiers in the castle, just as the Fighter could kill them with his swordand the Wizard go Invisible or Fireball them without fail. Higher failure rates on skill checks really shaft the skill-based PCs IMO, especially when they're also weak in combat.

Anyway, great article from the OP, sorry I missed it first time round - August 2007 my son was 2 months old, so not surprising! :)

Gearing up to run 4e, my perspective has shifted a lot. Unlike 1e through even 3e, 4e steers hard away from any rules-as-physics, and encourages arbitrary or ad-hoc statting of NPCs.

Currently I don't think I'm going to be using any PC-class NPCs in my upcoming 4e campaign, rather all NPCs will be statted as 'monsters', like the sample Humans in the MM. What were high-level spellcasters will be given a Ritual Casting level; blaster wizard types can use the human warmage stats from the MM, increased or decreased in level. Warrior types can use eg the Human Bandit or Human Guard stats, possibly with different special powers.
 

S'mon

Legend
I don´t really think the post was so thought out, or to clarify, the assumptions made are based on rules that fail to represent a functioning game world.
That´s due to the fact that the opposition is much more powerful than the depicted societies could defend against in a meaningful way.
If I take the Monster Manuals into account, no matter which edition, pick a creature and examine it´s ecology and possible population, it´ll show that a mostly class-less and no- to lowlevel world couldn´t possible put up any resistance.

I think you need to grok the concept of the Threshold, as Joseph Campbell puts it, between

(1) The Real World - the World of Real People per Sep, the Mundane World, or as Gygax put it in B2 the Realm of Man and

(2) The Myth-World, the World of Adventure, Campbell's Underworld, Gygax's Realm of Chaos.

Creatures from (2), the inhabitants of the Monster Manual, simply don't/can't manifest in (1). This was strongly implicit in Gygax's OD&D, weakened somewhat in AD&D (with its vampires and demons in the town encounter table), and explicitly abandoned in 3e (Monte Cook's "This is a mistake" advice in the 3e DMG).

Gygax makes clear in eg B2, or the 1983 World of Greyhawk demographics advice, that the Threshold, the liminal zone, the area of "high PC activity", does not follow the rules of the Mundane World when it comes to demographics, because this is where heroes & villains both concentrate. The heroes are there to hold back the Realm of Chaos and/or expand the Realm of Man. The villains are there to do the opposite. If the heroes fail, *then* Chaos floods into the Realm of Man and the perytons and gargoyles start eating the 0th level NPCs.

Places like Gygax's Hommlet are clearly on the Threshold. Their demographics are irrelevant when creating a 'real world' backdrop against which the PCs adventure.

Of course this Gygax/Campbell 'Frontier/Threshold' approach is not the only way to play D&D. Bob Bledsaw's Wilderlands has almost no identifable Frontier, at most it has islands of Law in a world of Chaos.
 

S'mon

Legend
[Additional Thought] You´d need o chance "a" to "the" to simulate the monsters with the low demographig, so changing "a hydra" to "the hydra", making every capable monster unique and reducing their number to the equivalent number of possible named level characters, thereby dismantling any meaningful sense of simulation.

You'd be simulating mythic Greece or the Sagas, Beowulf and medieval Romance... :cool:
 



Mathew_Freeman

First Post
Fantastic thread, and it brings up a lot of interesting questions. I really like the idea of reminding the players that they're special and different, and surrounded by Real People.

4e can fall a little bit into the trap of escalating power levels (you fight with the Kings Guards... who are conveniently all 11th level Soldiers...), which can mean that sometimes you can step back and say "But if the King has 6 11th level Guards hanging around, why aren't they out conquering the Kingdom for him?"

I think I'm going to make it clear in my own game that people that aren't PC's are effectively "1st level" and have only the minimum of a skill training or two to mark them out. With that kind of thing, like you say, the can be differentiated from each other whilst still being less powerful than the Pc's in nearly every way.

Plus it makes it easy for a 1st level Real Person to match skills with a PC. +5 for trained, +2 or 3 stat bonus, possibly +3 for a skill focus feat (assuming all Real People get one feat) gives a score of +11 or so - easily challenging in an opposed skill check for any Heroic tier character.
 

Mathew_Freeman

First Post
I think you need to grok the concept of the Threshold, as Joseph Campbell puts it, between

(1) The Real World - the World of Real People per Sep, the Mundane World, or as Gygax put it in B2 the Realm of Man and

(2) The Myth-World, the World of Adventure, Campbell's Underworld, Gygax's Realm of Chaos.

I really like this as a conception for a campaign world. It makes a really clear distinction between different areas, and also neatly explains why the PC's end up doing so much of the "hero" work in a world - they are the ones that are on the Threshold all the time, and so this stuff just keeps happening to them.
 

S'mon

Legend
I think I'm going to make it clear in my own game that people that aren't PC's are effectively "1st level" and have only the minimum of a skill training or two to mark them out. With that kind of thing, like you say, the can be differentiated from each other whilst still being less powerful than the Pc's in nearly every way.

Hi Matt - that's pretty much how I'm going to do it in my 4e campaign. I'm assigning Ritual Caster levels to spellcaster NPCs, who may or may not have any combat-casting ability. At the same time I'll assign appropriate skill mods to expert NPCs like smiths, where necessary. For hit point total & combat stats, making them 1st level (probably artillery or skirmisher) should work, or they can just be Human Rabble.

For combatant 'mundane' NPCs like town guards, the MM & MM2 stats for Human Guard, Human Bandit, Human Noble, Human Cavalier et al are useable, and can be levelled up or down several levels - eg an 8th level version of the MM Human Guard would work well for Overking's Palace Guard IMC. If I were running a Paragon campaign though I might stat them as eg 15th level Minions instead.
 

S'mon

Legend
I really like this as a conception for a campaign world. It makes a really clear distinction between different areas, and also neatly explains why the PC's end up doing so much of the "hero" work in a world - they are the ones that are on the Threshold all the time, and so this stuff just keeps happening to them.

It's noticeable that many CRPGs like Diablo & Diablo II, which tap into the classic Gygaxian model, use this. If Joseph Campbell ('Hero With A Thousand Faces') is right, it has a powerful mythic resonance, which helps explain why D&D is so much more successful than other RPGs. In a game like Diablo, the PCs' powers only function beyond the Threshold; "in town" you can't fight people, you can only talk and buy things!

In OD&D's original books, 'adventure' took place only in "The Underworld & Wilderness", and thus it stuck very close to the Campbell paradigm - which notably is not the Swords & Sorcery paradigm at all. It's a mythic paradigm, and you see it in Star Wars as well as many many 'mythic' 'fairy tale' 'fantasy' type movies & books, including The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings*.

But Swords & Sorcery is modernist, not mythic. In S&S evil lives in the mean streets of the City, and in the hearts of Men. It's Raymond Chandler - "Down These Mean Streets a Man Must Go". The hideous monsters of the Outer Dark pale before the horrors of the human psyche.

*Lord of the Rings does of course include a final bleak flourish to Modernism - The Scouring of the Shire. It's notable that Peter Jackson rejected that, along with the humourous elements in the original books, and created something much more in line with traditional Romance of the 19th century & earlier.
 

Sacrificial Lamb

First Post
I'm sorely tempted to start a separate thread to put an end to the myth (yes, myth) that leveled characters in AD&D are this "rare commodity". They're not. Sepulchrave subscribes to the "1% fallacy". The "1% fallacy" is that in AD&D, only 1% of the population had levels, while the rest of the NPCs are zero-level nobodies. Nothing could be further from the truth.

He mentions this:

Sepulchrave II said:
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:

From the 1e DMG said:
Human and half-orc characters suitable for level advancement are found at a ratio of 1 in 100.

Unfortunately, the OP takes this quote completely out of context. That magic number of 1%? It refers to the level advancement of henchmen. Now before anyone says, "so what?"....please allow me to point out a couple things. For starters, in AD&D, you can already have class levels, and be unsuitable for level advancement. For an example, check out the 1e DMG on page 30. That section is devoted to "expert hirelings", and one of those hirelings is labeled as a "Captain", which is simply a capable leader who happens to be a fighter of 5th to 8th-level. Again, you might say..."so"? And I'd say, "captains are incapable of working upwards in level". In other words, they have levels, but they don't advance.

Oddly, that's not even my main point. If you really want an idea of the level of NPCs you might encounter in 1e, then just skim through the City/Town Encounters Matrix in the 1e DMG, on page 190. It's a perfect example of what to expect if you travel through any town or city. If you read it, you'll see that over half the encounters have NPCs that could easily mulch a 1st-level Fighter. But don't take my word for it. Read it.
 

S'mon

Legend
SL - The DMG Town Encounter table is intended to provide exciting city encounters for D&D's core level range. In terms of demographics, the highest level NPCs on it - around 12th level - are likely to be the most powerful people in the city. You see similar from the Random Fortress table, albeit it's intended for 'Wilderness' fortresses beyond the Threshold (making up 1 in 20 random Wilderness encounters), not castles within the mundane civilised world. Its Fortress rulers are typically 9th-12th level, up to 14th for some classes.

However you are right that that 1% figure is for 'heroic', PC-type NPCs, who can gain XP and advance as PCs. It does not include fixed-level NPCs like mercenaries and sages. It probably doesn't include the leader-type NPCs in the Men section of the MM, like Pirate Chiefs (although again those are Wilderness encounters, you don't expect to battle 20-200 Bandits + Leaders while travelling the roads of Furyondy, unless the DM is very mean).

You also need to take account that cities are power centres for a wide area; a rural population around 20 times that of the city. A city of 30,000 will likely hold most of the highest level NPCs from a rural hinterland (including market towns) of around 600,000 - in Greyhawk; in the real middle ages it'd typically be 3 million to 6 million+, but Greyhawk population figures are all very low, as has been noted.

Thus, when the PCs walk through the city and the GM rolls up an encounter with a 12th level high priest, that may well be the highest level Cleric in a population of hundreds of thousands of people.

A final point - the 1/2 ratio is for levels up to name level. After name level the 1e XP curve flattens out and the ratio becomes more like 3/2, per the 1983 Greyhawk set. Actually at the highest levels it gets more like 1/1 as progression increases rapidly while lethality declines; that's how you get 29th level Arch-Mages.
 

Eridanis

Bard 7/Mod (ret) 10/Mgr 3
What a great discussion; I'd missed it last time round. I'll archive it for posterity when the new discussion has died down.

For myself, I'm always torn between campaign worlds where so much of the "good stuff" has already happened (the great warriors and mages lived in the past, and we live in the ruins of what they left behind) and worlds where someone cool and interesting could be right around the corner (we are the history makers, we change the world). Elements of both appear in my games, so I've never come down on one side or the other, but the great majority of everyday NPCs are 0-level, and always will be (even if they have interesting backstory, as appropriate).
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
If you really want an idea of the level of NPCs you might encounter in 1e, then just skim through the City/Town Encounters Matrix in the 1e DMG, on page 190. It's a perfect example of what to expect if you travel through any town or city. If you read it, you'll see that over half the encounters have NPCs that could easily mulch a 1st-level Fighter.
But what if the encounter table is for PCs only? Like heroes in adventure fiction, they lead coincidence strewn lives quite different from those of ordinary people.

PCs go in a tavern and it's a front for the Thieves' Guild. PC gets a girlfriend and she turns out to be a succubus. They travel by boat and it's attacked by pirates. They step outside the front door and get eaten by an ankheg. Normal people don't experience any of that, they go in a tavern and have a quiet drink.

The encounter tables may not be simulationist.
 

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