Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Gap Beneath First Level

Yesterday's post provides the groundwork for solving two questions that have nagged at me since I began with AD&D - how does an non-player character upgrade from ordinary person to 'man-at-arms' and how does a man-at-arms upgrade to a 1st level fighter?

It's no wonder that later editions did their best to gut the structure put blithely in place back in '79. Let me recount for those of you who have long since forgotten how it used to be.  These are all considered zero level:

  • Sedentary female, 1-3 hp.  I assume this describes the average princess.
  • Sedentary male, 1-4 hp.
  • Active female, 1-4 hp.  In other words, a woman who participates will take as much damage as a male that sits on his ass.  Her attack die is at least one better.
  • Active male, 2-5 hp.
  • Laboring female, 2-5 hp.  Says right on the page that a carpenter does not labour as hard as a farmer.
  • Laboring male, 2-7 hp.
  • Man-at-arms (regular soldier), 4-7 hp.

The man-at-arms reference is from p. 30; the rest from p. 88.  The numbers given are supposed to fit into a system where monsters with hit die are neither 'zero-level' or 'levelled' . . . because that makes everything as clear as mud.  Let me, however, make these additions:
  • One hit die monster, 1-8 hp.
  • Human bandit, 1-6 hp. (from the Monster Manual)
  • First level mage/illusionist, 1-4 hp.
  • First level thief/assassin, 1-6 hp,
  • First level cleric/druid, 1-8 hp.
  • First level fighter/paladin, 1-10 hp.

Those are the traditional numbers.  If played exactly as written, 30% of first level fighters will have less hit points than a regular soldier.  The average mage has less hp than an active male - mages aren't active?  Do they think those spells are easy to cast?  And what the fuck is that bandit number?  A piece of flotsam that got ignored when the DMG was written (the MM was published two years earlier).

The numbers make no sense . . . yet I admit, I stuck with them for twenty-eight years.  I am nothing if not stubborn.  I stuck with them because most of the details could be glossed over, because I gave leveled characters the benefit of rolling in the upper half of their range, because I ignored the numbers of ordinary citizens and because I turned a blind eye to the mess, futzing with the numbers during the game in order to produce representations I could live with.  I did it without thinking because I had begun doing it back in 1980, the way everyone did it because we had to.  I didn't fix the mess until, with age, I began feeling that futzing around during play was wasting my time and annoying me.

I had to get rid of that zero-level bullshit.  There is no such thing in my present world. Creatures, regardless of race of form, have hit dice, period.  The number of hit points vary, so that a sprite can still have 1d4 hp while an orc has 1d8 hp, due to their mass, but their hit die remains the same. Additional hit points for levelled training is universal.  I do not care if you're a kobald, a hobgoblin or a hill giant - if the creature is a 1st level thief, it adds 1d6 hp.  It does not add more because you're bigger - training is training.

Up until recently, however, I was still stuck with this common citizen versus regular soldier problem.  Increasing the number of hit points for the latter was easy; as I wrote yesterday, combat experience could logically increase an individual's overall hit points.  But since it's never been explained how the training/experience/upgrade from Frick the Farmer to Frick the 1st level Fighter is accomplished, it's remained something glossed over and futzed with during my campaign.

This is something that matters to the players.  They pick up a girl in an adventure, they decide they like her and they want her attributes.  A sweet roll turns up and the party adopts her, deciding she should have a sword and some armor.  She hasn't done any fighting before, but the die roll indicates she's game so she joins the party as a follower.  She holds a torch in the dungeons, binds a few wounds, fetching bottles of holy water and flasks of oil from a backpack.  A couple goblins corner her in a big fight and she manages to kill both of them, even though she's only got 5 hit points and a THACO of 21.  Now the party really likes her.  Her morale improves and she continues to be lucky. When the party speaks of Jonida, it is with great affection - and they want to know how Jonida can become 1st level.

Good question.

I consider it a very good thing that my online players (from the campaign that seems like it must be dead) browbeat me into sage training for fighters, thieves, assassins, monks and bards, because creating a knowledge study called 'Training' is an ingenious way to solve the problem.  It frees the whole process from the eternal straight-jacket of character level (there are far too many aspects of the game that have been restrained by that one mechanic).  An individual accumulates knowledge in teaching others to be soldiers, in turn to be fighters - without needing to a dazzlingly high level.

Moreover, the knowledge eliminates the need for another mechanic intended to keep it rare and difficult to obtain - the mechanic of money.  1,500 g.p. per level per week?  Page 86 is easily the most inept, absurd, mean-spirited, clumsy page that has ever been included in a game manual.  I cannot stress that enough.  Consider Numbskull Gygax's system for punishing players that do not play their characters appropriately, by increasing the number of weeks of training a character must spend money on in order to improve to the next level:
"Clerics who refuse to help or heal or do not remain faithful to their deity, fighters who hang back from combat or attempt to steal, or fail to boldly lead, magic-users who seek to engage in melee or ignore magic items they could employ in crucial situations, thieves who boldly engage in frontal attacks or refrain from acquisition of an extra bit of treasure when the opportunity presents itself, 'cautious' character who do not pull their own weight - these are all clear examples of a POOR rating."

I did not add the caps at the end - those are there to truly emphasize the disgust Gygax the Hardhead feels about mages who show bravery or thieves that fail to act like moneygrubbing worms, clerics who are not slaves to the party or fighters who cautiously consider the odds before acting as everyone's shield.  Punish them!  Punish those fuckers for not obeying the Default Principles of Petty Play!

Sigh.  But I digress.

One last aside, though.  I'd love a psychiatrist with experience at the game to take those megalomaniac I-will-tell-others-how-to-play-this-game paragraphs apart and put together an evaluation of the Great God EGG.  What a miserable, mewling muck-fucker he must have been.  But of course, I'm no Wayne or Garth who got to meet him, crying that I'm not worthy.

Where was I?  Oh, yes, training.

I see training - particular combat training - as dirt cheap.  Most soldiers are going to get it in the field of battle, in actual combat, being worthy of their salt by living.  Many cultures, however, did exercise combatants, teaching them weapons, traditions, ideals, improving their morale for the confrontations they would face.  Mercenaries and new conscripts were never front line soldiers because they would break early in battle.  Better to build a dojo, a daily routine of practice and guidance mixed with meditation and festivity.  The party can raise their charge Jonida from 5 hp to 7 hp, improve her morale further and ready her for becoming 1st level.

Which means that first level fighter cannot have 1-10 hp.  No one would take the time to drill a conscript with 1 BU (see previous post) for weeks in order to improve that individual's hit points not-at-all!  Then to give them more training or time or effort to see that they become a fighter of the first rank?  Ridiculous.

I'm going to leave this post here.  I'll be applying myself to fighter sage abilities as soon as I finish the druid - which looks like it will take another 3 weeks.  I'm making good progress.

I'd like to know - is the problem considered at all in later editions, 3.5, 4e or 5e?  I really don't have any idea.  Do those editions even have zero-level or non-level characters?


  1. I do like the idea of training to overcome this issue. It seems to motivate players to share their knowledge and experience with NPCs.

    The problem persists for the most part in later editions. They are referred present in 3rd, and the issue enhanced it somewhat with such vagaries as the average "commoner" having a very good chance of being slain by a housecat (based on a single HD of d4 and the ferocious feline's matching damage output), and I believe 4th edition classified them as "mooks" with only a solitary hit necessary to dispatch (no hit points per se).

  2. 5e has the following to say on what was previously referred to as 0-level NPCs (5eDMG pp282/3):

    If you need completely new statistics for an NPC, you have two options:
    - You can create an NPC stat block (similar to the ones in the Monster Manual) as you would a monster stat block, as discussed in the previous section
    - You can build the NPC the same way you would a player character, you can skip choosing a background and instead pick two skill proficiencies for the NPC.

    The NPC features table summarizes the ability modifiers of various nonhuman races, as well as various creatures from the monster manual with a challenge rating of less than 1. Apply these modifiers and add these features to the NPC stat block, then determine the NPC's challenge rating as you would for a monster.

    It continues on with rules to give classes and levels to monsters. An example entry on the NPC features table is: Gnoll, +2str -2Int, Rampage; Darkvision 60ft

    But then there is an appendix in the monster manual called Nonplayer Characters, which starts (5eMM pp342):

    This appendix contains statistics for various humanoid NPCs that the player might encounter during a D&D campaign, including lowly commoners and mighty archmages. These stat blocks can be used to represent both human and non-human NPCs.

    It continues with rules to customise the NPCs presented by adding racial traits, spell swaps, armour and weapon swaps and magic items. An example, the commoner has: HP: 4 (1d8). Another example of an NPC who may once have been considered a 0-level character is the Noble, he has HP: 9 (2d8)

  3. Something that has bothered me about 5e is that they have the concept of level 0 body mass hp built into the monsters but were afraid to pull the trigger and give it to PCs also. The MM even has a chart giving HD type by monster size, and even your lowly goblin/kobald has 2HD. The fighter with just 1d10 seems even more pathetic in comparison. A veteran he is not.
    Thankfully it is easily fixed by simply granting first level PCs an extra "level 0/body mass" HD based on their size (d8 for Medium).
    Enjoying this current topic, something I have spent too much time thinking about as well.

  4. in 3rd edition D&D there were not really rules for 0 level characters. Instead NPCs were leveled in a "Commoner" class. I forget exactly what the classes were, but they had bad hitpoints, bad saves, a bad attack bonus but generally a good amount of skill points. The idea was that the traditional Burly Old Blacksmith was a level 5 expert. He probably had 5d4 hitpoints, can could hit better than a level 1 twerp fighter, but would still go down far easier than a level 5 anything else.

    If, for instance, this Blacksmith were recruited by the party, and they wanted him to train as a fighter, he would multiclass. Multiclassing was not fun in 3rd edition though.

    Basically you have character level, regardless of what class you may be. You have to achieve X amount of experience to gain the next character level, at which point you can either level up in your current class, or take a level in another class.

    The Blacksmith above would have to earn 6000 experience points (on top of his already existing 10,000) to add the abilities of a 1st level fighter, paladin, ranger, wizard, or whatever else. Of course, very few classes got any tangible benefits until level 2.

    in 4th edition there wasn't a level 0, but there was a clear demarcation between Heroes and Everything Else. When I was running 4e, if I expected someone to be attacked I would stat them in the same way I would a monster. I might borrow some abilities from the player class they most match, but the books encourage ignoring the rules that the PCs have to live by. this is more because of the fact that if an enemy had the full list of powers that the party has, and don't have to worry about conserving any of it, then the party is kinda screwed.

    4e did have the concept of Minons, though these were often leveled creatures. The concept of a minion is "something the party can kill in droves, because that's awesome! But something that's still dangerous." 4e's math made it so that throwing lower level enemies against the party would be completely ineffective (Their would be a statistical impossibility of the enemies hitting, or the party missing.)

    The minion was basically a monster that died in 1 hit, no matter what it was hit by. The caveat was that they couldn't be killed by attacks that deal damage on a miss. (something very common in 4e, because god forbid someone feel they wasted their turn.)

    The short of it though is that for anything meant to represent common people, rabble, etc, the solution has been a massive "Fuck you! Why do you even care! Go do something level appropriate!"

  5. Mmmphf! Now I want to make little yellow minion monsters.

    Thank you for that run-down, Matt. Clearly, I'm still relevant.

  6. Although Matt has almost nailed it, I'd like to present a little more detail.

    About NPCs, AFAIK, the 0-levels never appeared in D&D after AD&D. In 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder (no significant changes or maybe no change at all among flavors) all characters, player or otherwise, would have at least 1 level of a class, and its associated HD. NPCs could have (DM's choice) PC's classes (being then completely equal to PCs) or NPC's classes (and you were encouraged to use those). You were also suggested to select lower stats ("pure 3d6" instead of "4d6, take 3 highest", or a lower equivalent pregenerated sequence), which would be the real problem if you were to level them up later. Each NPC class was a souped down version of a basic PC class. Adept was a minor/untrained cleric, Aristocrat was a rogue with less skill points, Expert was a mix (fight like a secondary fighter (druid/ranger), but skills like a rogue), Warrior was... surprise, a warrior. Each of them was thus in some way handicapped, but not by much. Less spells per day, and only one "good" saving throw out of three, instead of 2/3 for the PC classes. Hit Points were more or less the same. And only the Warrior had the "good" progression for the Attack Bonus. About the problem of multiclassing, as Matt said, it was worse for higher-level NPCs, but if you were to recruit a level 1 NPC and train him or her from 2nd level onwards on a PC class, it would have just a little handicap. The whole section always seemed to me to be an exercise in futility. Do we really need so many redundant, overlapping classes? The exception was the Commoner class, which really sucked. "Bad" saving throws all around, attacks like a mage, has d6 HD, little skills, no proficiencies or feats, no special skill points... for that, they could have saved the ink and ruled them to be worthless. Anyway, even that would be only a handicap were they to be trained in PC classes from lv2 onwards. I have to disagree with Matt and say most (not all) classes had a good selection of interesting powers and abilities at Lv1, and in fact several interesting builds were possible involving multiclassing (usually as a human) in several classes, all of them at level 1. One should remember at this point, Alexis, that "basic" D&D 3.0 et al assumed one level up from ~13 level-appropriate encounters, so higher-leveled NPCs would be much, much more common in a "by the book" setting that your world would ever be.

    About monsters, they were treated the same. All monsters had at least 1HD in hit points (although several rules allowed to treat some of them as 1/2 or 1/4HD with other purposes), and as for attack, they usually had the stats associated with their HD, minus or (usually) plus racial HD/attacks/skills, plus (sometimes) levels in classes. Interestingly, usually monsters had PC classes, though some humanoids were assumed to use NPC classes too.

  7. Sorry I'm a little late to the party, but I had to address an inaccuracy. 0th-level characters were, in fact, present in 3e (albeit under the term "apprentice-level") though I believe they were removed in 3.5. The apprentice-level rules were optional and intended to allow multi-classing at 1st-level like in previous editions, and even emulated the old rules somewhat by requiring one of the classes to be your race's favored class. This was for PCs. NPCs formerly considered 0th-level were now 1st-level (or higher) characters of an NPC class, making the whole thing a non-issue. NPCs could simply level up in their current class or easily pick up a PC class just like a player


If you wish to leave a comment on this blog, contact alexiss1@telus.net with a direct message. Comments, agreed upon by reader and author, are published every Saturday.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.