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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pellatarrum: Broken River 2

Broken River
Part 2: NPCs
by Mike (Rhishisikk) Kochis


Disclaimer
Okay, before we start on NPCs, you should know a few things about how I design my worlds.

Point one: The PCs should feel awesome compared to the NPCs. I've played too many games where the GM's precious NPCs stride large above the PCs, while they just watch. Conversely, I've seen a player (after convincing me to run a specific module) build a social-max character just to get the NPCs to resolve their own problems.

Point two: If the adventures don't threaten the NPCs, there isn't a point for the adventure. This one seems obvious, but if there are a dozen goblins attacking a town and the sherriff is an 8th level fighter... You see where that's really not something to worry the citizenry. The sherriff rides forth with a ranger, tracks down the 200 strong goblin tribe, and wipes them out. No adventure there.

Point three: Commoners should be common. I know, seems obvious. Now, look at your average town. Paladins and monks and bards and practically drowning in experts. If you're lucky, the town's undertaker and garbage collector are commoners. Nope. I've seen a town write up where an experienced farmer is a 4th level expert.

Now, given these three points, I am a HUGE fan of articles like "Aragorn was 5th level". Go ahead and follow that link, it's a good read. Now, realizing that the legendary figures that straddle the world and induce awe in commoners are (gasp) 5th level – we need to re-think our world design. Settlements are now the bright lights surrounded by a sea of chaotic darkness. Things that go bump in the night are scary.

Just the sort of environment for bold adventurers!


Where NOT to Start
Okay, it's Pellatarum. So we start at the church and the order of paladins, right? We'll just make an exception and have a 9th level cleric so the characters can get ressurected. So, if we make the head of the paladin order his cohort, we've got a 7th level paladin. This makes an equally experienced fighter head of our city watch, and – if you don't have your ruler out to smack me now, you haven't been paying attention.

Okay, so we start with the mayor, right? The NPCs cap out at 5th level, so he must be a 5th level aristocrat, with 5thlevel experts for our town smith, bricklayer, and so on. And we can put in 5th level trainers for each class – and again, you should already know this is also not our starting point.

Ah. Gotcha. So we start with our 5th level commoners, the most experienced farmer or mudmucker... Nope.


Where to Start: Commoners
As you've probably guessed, we start at the bottom, with first level commoners.

But don't get ahead of yourself. First, as a general rule of thumb, every settlement has 1k XP per population to divide among its NPCs. The temptation, as pointed out earlier, is to stat out our shining NPC "heroes" where we want them and leave the rest to first level. While not wrong, it does create a definite feeling of "has versus has-not" in the world.

For verisimilitude (a feeling of realism), I start at the bottom, and generally have fewer 2nd level in a class than first level, and so on in a tapering pyramid effect.

But, back to the meat and potatoes. Commoners should be common. About 90% common, in my opinion. Half of these should automatically be first level commoners; we'll be adding more back into the pool later. But just face it – at least 45% of your population is just – common. (Surprisingly low when compared to the real world, but let's not go there right now.)

So we have a total of 1125 commoners. About half (the automatic level ones) are 562. This gives us our "base number."


The General Math
Okay, we're going to be using this process a lot, so pay attention. Bookmark it and come back later. Open a second window with this part centered. Whatever you have to do. This is super simple, but is the core of how I design my NPC settlements.

Our base number is the number of level ones in any particular field. In the case of commoners, we have determined this number is 562. So half that number should be next level up, and so on, right? Almost right. Our number of level 2 commoners IS half of our base number (281), divided by the XP needed to reach that level, in this case, 1k XP, for a result of 281. So, our commoner chart looks like this:


Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
562
0
562
0
0
1250
2
281
1
281
281
281
969
3
140
3
43
129
410
840
4
70
6
12
72
482
768
5
35
10
3
30
512
738
6
17
15
1
15
527
723


I know what you're saying. Two possible complaints: there's an exceptional commoner in town, and almost HALF the town's XP is gone with characters the PCs will probably never meet, never care about, and certainly never treasure. So let's deal with those in order.

The legendary commoner must be very powerful and experienced, right? So they must be – the mayor! Nope, and not because the mayor is an aristocrat. In most societies, the most experienced person will be one who is central to daily living, connected to nearly everyone, and a pillar of the community. Our "legendary" commoner is probably the town baker, or owner of the general store, or warden of the docks, or (gasp) the barmaid at the town's favorite watering hole.

As for half our XP limit being gone? Live with it or die. Ninety percent of the populace got fifty percent of the XP. They're getting shafted – let's move on.


Next: Other NPC Classes
Yes, yes, I hear you weeping for your 9th level cleric – you're not going to get him, not in this town. When your PCs goof up and die, they're going to have to travel to the capitol city, into the possible clutches of Seamus Gantry, nefarious 7th level commoner and clerk, in order to get their raise dead on.

But back to our NPC classes, of which we have four: aristocrat, adept, expert, and warrior. We have 723kXP to divide among them. So we give them half of what remains, right? Right? Okay, what you're experiencing now is called hyperventilating. You need to control your breathing.

Yes, we give them half the remaining XP. Now, now, stop crying. Actually, go ahead and let it all out now. It's okay. I can't hear you, and the words in this document can wait.

Okay, now that you've calmed down, there's two reasons for this. Firstly, and most importantly, unless the community is meant to defend itself without the adventurers (preposterous!), it shouldn't be brimming to the gills with player-classed NPCs. Secondly, as you'll see, they don't actually use all of their half.

First we divide the XP into equal parts of 20, dropping fractions. We'll see this again later, but for now, just know that our NPCs are only getting ten of these twenty shares, each of which is 34kXP. Why do this instead of just give them 362 kXP? It's easier to divide in pre-portioned shares, an idea that becomes SUPREMELY important when we get to PC classes.

So, who gets what? Well, I want aristocrats and adepts to be rare, so I only give each of them one share. We have a garrison structure in town, so I want many warriors to reflect that – five shares. This leaves three shares for experts, which also seems about right to me.

In order for our cascading math (above) to work right, we feed only half that XP into our base number. Here's where your mind is about to boggle again: to reflect how rare even these individuals are, I give them a +1EL adjustment for this calculation only. Yes, I feel that wince over the internet, and yes, it applies to PC classes also.

Anyway, this gives us a base number of 17, 17, 51, and 86, respectively. This makes our highest levels: 3, 3, 4 (or 3, if we round down), and 4. This falls within our expected power curve, and leaves us with 400kXP for our PC classes.

Erin has persuaded me to show the math (skip over these charts if you want, I'll be sticking them into an appendix on the actual design document):


Aristocrats and Adepts

Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
17
1
17
17
17
706 - 689
2
9
3
3
9
26
697 - 671
3
5
6
1
6
32
691 - 659


Experts
Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
51
1
51
51
51
608
2
25
3
8
24
75
584
3
12
6
2
12
87
572
4
6
10
1
10
97
562


Warriors
Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
86
1
86
86
86
476
2
43
3
14
42
128
434
3
21
6
3
18
146
416
4
10
10
1
10
156
406


Finally: Adventurers
Okay, first off, half of the NPC adventurers in my worlds die off before they reach first level. Yes, that means that we cut the XP in half, burying the rest in the graveyard. What sort of animal is that howling in the background? Well, whatever. Let's move on.

I like the idea of the "big four", or core, classes: fighter, rogue, wizard, and cleric. Only – this is Pellatarum, which plays more to sorcerers than wizards* (plus I want to have an Elemental Circle in town, one sorceror tainted with each of the four elements), so I make that substitution now. Each of the "big four" gets two shares.

The rest of the main "base" classes from the rules get one share each: bard, barbarian, ranger, druid, and wizard. Note that bard and paladin, due to extreme alignment and behavior code restrictions are actually moved down one category.

Expansion classes get half a share each: alchemist, cavalier, inquisitor, magus, monk, oracle, paladin, summoner, and witch.

And three "variant" classes just get punked – they may exist in my world, but don't deserve their own class. This list is: gunslinger**, ninja (rogue), and samurai (cavalier). If gunpowder exists in Pellatarum, maybe we go back and add a single gunslinger. The others are just retooling of their template classes, and just don't merit their own class in my campaign.

But wait! We have two shares left! I divide these evenly among the "big four", giving us base numbers of: 25 (12), 10 (5), 5 (2), and 0 (yes, the classes we aren't using get zero XP). In turn, this gives us generous numbers of our "big four" classes, a second level in each of the other classes, and a veritable plethora of level ones of all classes (except those we're not using) to distribute among our town.

Now, I know you're just reaching out to that third level cleric to put him in charge of the Temple of Light, and the second level paladin to run temple security. Sit on those hands. Sit on them! One big fallacy of world building is the tendency to put the highest level person in the slot with the most authority. Remember our discussion about the 6thlevel commoner? Still applies. So – hands off (for now).

And, for those who need them, the charts:

Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Sorcerer
Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
12
1
12
1
1
201 - 198
2
6
3
2
6
7
192 - 174
3
3
6
1
6
13
168 - 150


Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Ranger, Wizard
Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
5
1
5
5
5
145 - 125
2
2
3
1
3
8
122 - 110


Alchemist, Cavalier, Inquisitor, Magus, Monk, Oracle, Paladin, Summoner, Witch
Level
Base Number
kXP each
Actual Number
kXP expended
Total kXP expended
kXP remaining
1
2
1
2
2
2
108 - 88
2
1
3
1
3
5
85 - 55


The Worm That Doth Corrupt
One final issue with this part of the process: notice how we have 55kXP left over? That goes to antagonists, those NPCs the PCs will hate, and want to kill, but can't. The tailor who sticks them with pins and calls them unholy sinners in front of the town council. The harlot blackmailing the town council. Those beggar-brat children who target the PCs every time they're on the "dirty side" of town.

But we'll get to those people later. Our next installment is on notable locations and NPCs -- now you finally get to touch those character-leveled NPCs.


EDIT: Due to confusion, Mike has explained his math and how the charts work here.


Editor's Notes
*I'm not sure where Mike is going with this, but he's promised me answers, so I'm content to let this play out.

** If firearms exist in Pellatarrum -- and I'm undecided if they do -- they were invented by the dwarves and are a closely-guarded state secret. Therefore, any PC gunslingers will be hunted and hounded by dwarf repo teams.

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