Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Of HD, Levels and NPCs, Cabbages and Kings

As a general rule, for human NPCs in games I tend to assume a default of being 0-level, with a single 1d6 HD. This includes anybody of any profession or background who isn't likely to have 'levels' in the strict sense - whether a serf or a king - because he's probably never gained the necessary experience. Magic-users, clerics and high-level warriors will have actual levels, just like PCs. Non-human NPCs simply have monster HD.

Why? I'm really not sure. It was simply ever thus, and I've never rationalised it. Nor have I ever really rationalised levels at all. Why not have everybody, PC, NPC, and monster, use HD, varying the dice used for PCs according to their class? Is it just because it feels better to say "I'm 3rd level" than "I've got 3 HD"?

Or is it because PCs are special in some sense - different from the rest? In a G+ post I mused that perhaps there are two categories of person in the world. There are the vast mass of humanity, who do not have levels and indeed cannot - although they might improve their skills slightly and/or come to possess fortunes and great power - or be born as royalty for that matter. And then there are the special ones, maybe minor demigods, plane-touched, faerie-blessed, dipped-in-the-River-Styx, annointed by storm giants, etc., who have this innate capacity to be something more than human (which a high level D&D PC undoubtedly is) even if they don't realise it.

I don't like the idea particularly, because a) the idea that D&D PCs are nobodies like anybody else but make it by applying themselves is innately appealing; and b) it sounds a bit like the plot of a bad YA novel. As a matter of fact I think it's a cabbage of an idea, and no, that's not even a remotely pathetic attempt at tying together an Alice Through the Looking Glass gag.


  1. Just off the top of my head, because I've never rationalised it either, I'm not sure it's "innate capacity". Maybe it's simply this: Adventurers gain XP/levels, while non-Adventurers don't. All PCs are, by definition, Adventurers. Once you take that first step into the dungeon, or the haunted forest, or whatever, you become an Adventurer.

    Or, to recast Zak's recent post about Bilbo Baggins, if he'd not got involved and just stayed comfortably at home in Bag End - no XP, no levels, no adventure, not an Adventurer. Just 1d6 hp for the rest of his (rather shorter) life. But off he goes with Thorin's company and, therefore, an Adventurer he becomes.

    1. This is how I see NPCs with or without levels. It is not because they cannot acquire levels but that they have not done anything to gain levels. Experienced thieves in a thieves guild, sergeants and captains in the king's army would have earned levels doing their jobs.For wizards in academies and priests in temples, the DM could rule that they still only have 1d6 or 1d4 hp because they have not gone through the hardship, risk and rewards of adventuring, but have still gained spellcasting levels due to diligent study or prayer. To be honest though when creating NPC wizards and clerics I apply the same rules to the as apply to PCs.

    2. That makes sense, and is a nice way of looking at it.

  2. If you have class levels you're muther fuckin' conan. It's a measure of how badass / batman you are.

    Think about all the shit you have to successfully kill or steal to get them. When you're that badass the system sits up and takes notice.