Vanilla Essence: 1E Demographics and the Implied Setting


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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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.


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. :)

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
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.

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

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.

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.


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.


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?

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