What level should NPC's be in town?

edited August 2011 in General Discussion
So, I know this is a vague question but I am having trouble putting numbers to my NPC's in a town. I am thinking the players will be anywhere from Level 5 to Level 10 ECL. So, what would you all suggest for the level of my NPC's?

Some details I can provide: I will be using the Pathfinder system. The town is a pretty large port town. PC Classes will range the gamut as I will have probably 8+ players.

Sorry if that is not enough information. If you need more please ask. I am still a pretty inexperienced DM and appreciate any help yall can give! Thanks!


  • DarkMagus
    Posts: 425
    My approach is usually to come up with a few basic types that they might run into, and give them stats like you'd find in the monster manual. So maybe the common guards are level 1 but the palace guards are level 4 and the king's swords are level 8 or something. Same type of thing for other areas, like thieves. Common street thugs might be level 1, while more expensive experts higher levels nd assasins ghigher than that. The level gap depends on two factors: 1) the "feel" of the world. Are you going for a world which will feel "realistic" or more fantastic or do you want them to be overwhelmed and 2) the level of the PCs. That's my approach, hope it helps.
  • Baalshamon
    Posts: 585
    I agree with DarkMagus, NPC's should range in levels for my campaigns I ussually run 70% of NPC's at 1-3, 25% at 4-6, 4% at 7-9, and 1% at 10+

    The higher the level the more renown. If the players pay attention to hints in the story they can often judge the rough level of the NPC without ever meeting them.

    For soldiers/guards:
    Simple guards level 1
    Sergeants level 3
    Officers level 4-6

    Elite units level 4-6
    Sergeants in elite units 7-9
    Officers of elite units 10+

    I also always put in one or two retired adventurers who run ins or taverns, or shops. This keep the players honest and makes them think twice prior to robbing a business.

    "Star Trek Late Night":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/star-trek-late-night
  • Stygianheart
    Posts: 6
    I'm glad I ran across this thread, it's something I too was mulling over.

    Thanks to Darkmagus and StephenWollett.

    You both finalised some of the ideas I had trouble pinning down regarding some of my own NPC's.

    For instance, in my Pathfinder game I have an Innkeeper who is a retired war veteran, a personal guard to the king.
    I had him pegged at around level 8-9 but was wondering if that was a little much, it seems though that I was pretty much spot on in my estimation.
  • arsheesh
    Posts: 850 edited August 2011
    Justin Alexander, game designer and creator of the "Alexandrian":http://thealexandrian.net/, wrote what I've found to be a really helpful article entitled "D&D Calibrating Your Expectations":http://www.thealexandrian.net/creations/misc/d&d-calibrating.html which discusses this and related matters. Interestingly, he argues (convincingly to my mind) that, were one to evaluate people in the actual world using the D&D level system, one would never find a human that exceeded level 5, and these are the most iconic figures in our world history and/or literature (Einstein, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Conan, Robin Hood, Zoro, Aragorn etc all were 5th level max). Beyond 5th level you've moved to the realm of the super-human. In a real world setting, the vast majority of NPCs (90% or so) are first level. Second level characters are rare, third level characters are even more so, fourth level characters are world leaders or Olympians and fifth level characters are, as previously mentioned, figures upon which human history turns.

    D&D however, is the world of epic fantasy in which humans transcend the limits of their humanity and are capable of attaining power almost equal to that of a demi-god. Hence, in this environment, NPCs of mid and high level are possible (if exceedingly rare). The question really is what sort of a campaign do you intend on running. I you intend to stick with the Pathfinder world of Golarion (epic high fantasy), then I'd go with the level suggestions that have already been made. However, if you want to run a campaign that is more akin to the real world, the world of Conan or even that of Middle Earth, then you will want to scale down the levels of your NPCs (and perhaps even your PCs) quite a bit. For more on this, I'd encourage you to read the article.

    Post edited by arsheesh on
  • Baalshamon
    Posts: 585
    arsheesh I have to agree with the assesment for real world numbers. In a past game, Ravenloft setting, we decided to play down and dirty, gritty to the extreme. While people gained levels and power we locked hit points at 1 hit die [d8] +1 per level for maged, +2 for rogues, +3 for clerics, and +4 for fighters. This made monsters truly scary and require alot of though on how to tackle just one bugbear or for that matter one bear. lol
    In this gritty world we ran nearly everyone at level 1-3 with only a couple of legendary heroes or villains at levels of 7-10. To finalize the grittiness we limitted experience gain to 1/10 the standard. It was a rough game but ultimately created a team of really good adventurers. Now whenever we play any game they still use the skills they learned in that nasty little experiment.

    It all comes down to level of realizism you desire in your games.
  • KenSee
    Posts: 93
    Wow, awesome input guys. I will read that article as soon as I can Arsheesh. I am currently in my first two weeks of the semester an don't have much time but will get to it asap.

    On terms of the realism level I desire for my games. If I had my way, it would as real as it can be in such a fantasy world. I don't know if my players like that though. So, when we meet sometime next week, we will see.

    Keep the suggestions coming please.
  • zalambar
    Posts: 14
    I think that Darkmagus and StephenWollett touched on this indirectly already but I would start by considering what you want your characters to be capable of compared to the NPC inhabitants of your world.

    If you keep NPC levels low then your characters might be standing toe to toe with foes who could carve their way through much of the town before the locals could hope to stop them. This might be a good thing if that's the feeling you want your players to have. It might also be a problem if you don't want your players able to sack the local village with impunity. Similarly if you want the players to have any fear of dark alleys it might be important to be able to construct encounters in town which threaten your players but which the city guard can prevent from depopulating the city.

    If you maintain a spread of NPC levels then you may need to be careful to give your players clear hints that the drunk barbarian in the corner of the tavern really could take their first level party apart before they throw a drink at him. Similarly you would need to scale encounters with local cutpurses, town guards, and so on to give your players reasonable targets they might fight in town (or NPCs who can survive following them outside the town walls). Hopefully your setting allows for some low level residents the players can encounter at first but with a reasonable way for their encounters to scale up as the player level and the local population takes them more seriously or they gain access to higher level populations within town.

    Ultimately I would try to decide how do I expect my players to spread their play time across the different levels (or at least their play time in town) and for how much of the game do I want them to feel stronger or weaker than the local population. Personally I think I would favor putting roughly half of the town's population at the players' starting level with an exponential drop off from there. Hopefully that lets players stand on even footing with most of the town in a fair fight from the beginning but still be threatened by a crowd (especially with some higher level leaders) mid-game. By the end of the campaign there should be few locals who can match the players and any threats the players face can seem truly catastrophic to the local population. That's just my preference though, adapt to your campaign as needed to keep things interesting.
  • igornappovich
    Posts: 76
    I am old skool... I still believe in good old fashioned Level Zero NPCs for the vast majority of citizenry. But the discussion above might be more practical if you want each NPC to be a potential risk for the players.
  • HurstGM
    Posts: 205
    yes but now matter how high speed low drag you are your always outnumbered by the medocire. 25 to one with zero level NPCs with pitchforks is enough to cause some serious damage. Think about how vicious you would be defending your family from four or five jerks who have done soemthing horrible (at least from your perspective)
  • igornappovich
    Posts: 76
    Yes, Hurst, you are correct. That is one of the things I loved about those old Fritz Leiber books, with Fafhrd and Grey Mouser as the protagonists, total badasses-- but when the odds got to even 3 against 2, they started having a tough go of it. Made everything seem more believable, even though it was a fantasy setting with magic, etc.
  • vstraydogstrutv
    Posts: 209 edited February 2012
    I know this thread is dead, but since Arsheesh put it into the Hot Topics sticky, I figured I'd drop my two copper.

    That's one of the reasons in Cityscape (and more in depth in the DMG II) I love the idea of a mob. If you haven't read up on it, it's really interesting. A mob of commoners is much like a swarm and has a CR 8, no discernible anatomy, and can do a TON of damage (5d6). It's considered an expert grappler, has a trample ability, and with some creative rules you can have them disarm and hold a character depending on how organized you want the mob to be.

    The best part, is that since it's so generalized the idea of a mob _should_ be able to fit into a lot of different systems.
    Post edited by vstraydogstrutv on
  • Black_Vulmea
    Posts: 277
    bq. I am old skool… I still believe in good old fashioned Level Zero NPCs for the vast majority of citizenry

    Right there with you, brother.

    Mike aka Black Vulmea
    "_Le Ballet de l'Acier_":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/le-ballet-de-l-acier - swashbuckling adventures in the age of the Three Musketeers and Captain Alatriste
    Featured Campaign of the Month - August 2011
  • GamingMegaverse
    Posts: 3,001 edited February 2012
    This discussion is always alive, as we all have run into it on occasion.
    I have had town encounters as random- in other words, I have a table that I use, and then roll level of character faced on APL for # of NPC and their level. Current APL is 7, so I roll 1D8 for both.
    "A God...Rebuilt":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/a-god-rebuilt
    "Duskreign's First Ever COTM":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/wyrmshadow/wiki_pages/112011
    Post edited by GamingMegaverse on

    Just trying to help out.

  • AnthonyDluzak
    Posts: 69
    I too, have most NPC's as level 0....

    I know its real easy to slip into the idea that the most powerful of villains should be high levels with all sorts of spells or specialties -- but when you think about real life, often times the ones with the power are so because of charm and the ability to talk to others and bend them to your will. Great speakers, tacticians and minds. Sometimes just being born into money. But those people, are often surrounded by people with great skills in swords or magic.

    Of course, it all depends on which way you want to go. I say, go with your gut feeling.... If it doesn't seem to work, change it!
Sign In or Register to comment.

April 2024
Season of Strife

Read the feature post on the blog
Return to Obsidian Portal

Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!