NPC - Rules of Thumb

I guess that most of my blog posts are going to deal with elements of world building. Not the big flashy stuff that defines the world, but the small detail that keeps it all together and makes it feels like a proper world. For for me, that revolves around consistency - and that means maps, buildings and sensible NPCs. I never thought that any of the D&D like games have handled NPCs well, so I have my own ‘rules of thumb’ that I apply when I write games material.

I hate the thought that the standard D&D NPC is a level 1 Commoner who earns a silver piece a day and never gains any experience … It really screws up all sorts of things economically and pre supposed a world full of poor peasants scraping a living. While a few nobles and lucky adventurers live high off the hog. But then we have all these LG and NG city managers and nobles - not to mention loads of Good PCs. It doesn't fit, so I don’t use it.

In my worlds, Commoners still make up the bulk of the NPCs – the servants, labourers and general workers – all the low skilled, poorer people. More skilled people are Experts. Mercenary companies and soldiers are predominantly Warriors. A single level of Aristocrat appears in all sorts of weird places - either as an early upbringing or as a management mindset acquired later in life. There aren't all that many people with more than one level of Aristo. Adepts serve as monastics, low level priests, soothsayers and even wizards apprentices – although I have house rules for different variants of Adept to fit those rules. Many don't have familiars and the spells they have available are chosen to fit their role.

The first big difference is that I use 1st level characters to represent teenage apprentices. Once they get to (about) 18 years old, I assume the NPC advances to second level. That means the bulk of the NPCs in my world are second level, or slightly higher. Those NPCs who take on a bit of responsibility get promoted – and advance to third level, while fourth and fifth level reflect even more responsibility. And that is about it. NPCs with more levels than that, or PC class levels ALL have a small personal background to explain the anomalies. So …

L1 – Teenage Apprentice
L2 – Grown up and competent. (most adults)
L3 – Head of household, veteran, sergeant or team leader (type role)
L4 – Junior officer / manager or skilled craftsmen/professionals.
L5 – Senior officer / manager or top craftsmen/professionals.

Then (for simplicity’s sake) I use a very standard build, which makes it really quick to produce NPC stats when I need them. All NPCs get full HP at level 1, then average HP – exactly the same as a PC class character.

Commoners are my ‘5 point’ build – except they have 11 in all stats.
Other NPC classes are ‘10 Point’ builds with 12 (and therefore +1) in each stat.
NPCs with PC classes either have a 10 or 15 point build - but they are developed individually to match their background. My players (at the moment) get a 20 point build.

This all means that —

L1 Commoners don’t have any professional or craft skills
L2 Commoners have +4 in their professional skills
L3 Commoners have +5
L4 Commoners have +7 (Assume an extra plus from increasing an ability)
L5 Commoners have +8 in their primary skills

Experts get an extra +3 because they have a +1 ability bonus and take Skill Focus – which means a L5 Expert has +10 in their professional skill - which means they can make Masterwork items by taking 10.

This, when I put it all together, means I don’t have to detail residents the buildings when I build a settlement - all I need is a name to retain consistency. And make notes of any memorable interactions after PCs visits, of course.

It also fixes a couple of my bugbears. The only unskilled commoners who earn 1 sp per day are those teenaged apprentices. Everyone else can earn according to the Crafting and profession feats - and that makes the economy work much better. It also means that the average residents of my world are tough enough that they won’t die because of a single bite from domestic cat. (OK, that is an exaggeration- but you know what I mean)

The last thing I do, only affects commoners. I always got annoyed with the “Commoners can learn 1 Simple Weapon” rule, but get a -4 penalty for unfamiliarity with any other weapon they. So I have a house rule -

In the same way as Padded and Leather armour have a 0 Armour Check Penalty – I give a 0 Non Proficiency Penalty to Fist, Club, Quarterstaff and Dart. I then allow Commoners to know 1 Simple Weapon per level – if I can think of some reason for them to have learned how to use the weapons. That means I can have second level commoners armed with spear and LBX as my city watch and gives me decent firepower from the city walls without spending a huge amount on soldiers.

Having said all that, I am an old fashioned GM and I am happy to make modifications on the fly – if I think it suits the game better. However, I always make a note of it so I can replicate the changes next time the PCs visit.

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