Wednesday, May 05, 2010

House Rules: Determining NPC Levels...

Good Morning, All:

How do you set the levels of your NPCs? Personally, I tend to base the levels of NPCs on population. Small villages tend to have a maximum of 4th level NPCs, while townships can support up to 7th level characters. Cities typically harbor up to 10th level characters, and you can typically find NPCs of up to 13th level in a thriving metropolis. As a rough rule of thumb, I assume that there are either one or two characters of the highest level in the settlement, and double that for each level down.

Why do I do this? Because I want to create a world where characters, even low level characters, stand out. The smaller the community, the lower level you can be and still stand head and shoulders above your peers. Likewise, in bigger communities, you shouldn't stand out unless you are significantly talented, as there are a much broader selection of talent to compete against when there are more people to choose from. This models my perceptions of the Real World, and I find that this assumption lends itself well to common gaming experiences, making my worlds easier to accept for suspension of disbelief.

For the leaders of a community, I assign character levels manually, so to speak. However, I use the following table when I'm trying to determine the level of a character randomly. I typically cap the results based on the local area, but it is not uncommon to have some high-level NPC in the region to serve as a patron or contact for the party (or to represent the Big Bad Guy's interests). I typically limit results above the cap to only one or two characters per region, though.

Table: NPC Level
19-20Roll again, add 4 to the result

You can also reflect the relative rarity of a given class by imposing a penalty to the resulting level (treating all results of less than one as 1st level). For example, many campaigns assume that clerics are rarer than fighting-men, and magic-users are rarer than clerics. When determining the level of a cleric NPC, you could subtract one from the generated value above. For a magic-user, subtract two. Doing this also makes such player-characters more accomplished in the setting, because they achieve levels above the locals more readily than their peers. After all, if 7th level magic-users are rarer than 7th level fighting-men, then a magic-user PC will likely get more attention from the community than a fighting-man PC of the same level, for better or for worse.

While I offer this suggestion for Swords & Wizardry, it can be used for almost any level-based game. I've been using it (or a variant thereof) since my AD&D 2nd Edition days, and it has served me well.

Hope This Helps,

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