5th Edition,  Coldforged,  Creating Character,  D&D,  DMXP,  RPG,  World Building

Coldforged: The Problem of NPC’s

During this, the second year of writing Coldforged material, I have covered many topics in preparation to print as is possible. I believe I’m in the home stretch. I believe I’ve finished out the new series here about writing adventures and trying to get the flavor of Coldforged setting to come to life. As a final to that, I want to talk a little bit about the problem of NPC’s and the levels in character classes, and then talk about what I am working on to fix it!

Prodigious Power

When building a specific feel for your games, it is imperative that the creatures and characters you populate the world with reflect that same feel. It is very hard for a player to suspend their disbelief in a world that is supposed to be light on magic and moderately realistic when the first town they are in has a 9th level Priest for the local church, the captain of the guard is an 11th level fighter, and the Baron is a 13th level paladin. we often do this in order to give our players a sense of scale: They aren’t the biggest and meanest people in this world, and can’t simply fight their way through every problem, as even the basic people in the world can, and very well should, a challenge.

This is a problem that I’ve been mulling over for some time, and I’ve pondered a few different options. I want to go over the ones I didn’t just pitch into the waste bin, and then talk about what I am working on in order to address this, a system of creating NPC’s without shattering the world.

Limited Levels

The first, and simplest basic option, is limiting the levels of the NPCs in the world. This goes hand in hand with limiting the player’s levels too, but I think they accomplish different goals. Limiting players allows the game to shift to a new focus, new character to enter the story, and a different take on the limits of power.

The NPC’s, however, simply create a weakened state of the rest of the world. It does, to be very clear, make the characters extremely important, as they are the first fighters attack so swiftly in a generation, the cleric can heal more than anyone can comprehend, and rogues become masters of subtlety and subterfuge very early. contrasting that, the power of the NPC is often reduced significantly, and you need to replace many of them with monsters. I’m not a fan of every mayor being a secret vampire, or the local constable being a werewolf.

Additionally, this tactic doesn’t really address some of the larger grievances with low magic and gritty worlds. Cantrips perform amazingly basic magical effects that players aren’t always over the moon for, but a single arcanist with mend has an absolutely enormous impact on the economy and setting of a small town. While there are awesome and interesting ways to weave this into your world, sometimes that isn’t what you want to do for a specific town or city. I don’t find the idea to have the substance I need to achieve the effect I desire.

Population Control

Another fairly early idea is to simply limit the quantity of NPC’s with PC like abilities within the game. This has greater merit, as it achieves the rarity of the character’s skills and retains the gritty fundamental world. What else it does, however, is to reduce the wonder in a fantasy world. While gritty and realistic is a great way to play – I have done it all of my life – It is still a wondrous world that has magic and gods and wizards. Its fun to be able to picture those characters interacting with their peers, either wizard to copy spells from, fighters to befriend, or the other varied options.

This take has the same, relative, flaws when it comes to understanding the characters roll in the world, and can easily lead to the party being overwhelming to many towns and villages, as the counterbalance is often that the players have equivalents individuals in town. Often it takes at least a few levels of a given class to get an NPC to the expected level of proficiency needed to be convincing. It’s really hard for the players to accept that the leader of the local thieves guild has a persuasion of +2.

Build Your Own

Building my own NPC generator came to me as I wrote an article the other day, and this is the task I’m currently pursuing within my book. I think that, if I can get this method out of my head and onto paper, it could really do well.

Let me see if I can summarize here what I am trying to do.

The NPC would be created following a number, hopefully limited, of steps to create the type of individual needed for the situation.

Select the CR you want your NPC to be, varying from 1 to 10. I assume that, as an 18th level wizard is CR 12, we won’t be needing anything stronger than that. If you do, you probably need to get them some lackies, don’t be afraid to add more.

Second: Select the NPC Style to provide the HP and Stats: Warrior, Government, Arcanist, Sneak, Clergy.

  • Warriors are Military individuals and the town watch. They could also include local guides, street toughs, and other fighting types.
  • Government includes all nobles, Merchants and trade folk, Tax collectors, judges, and other folks that are involved in making the town run.
  • Arcanists are people who, through a number of different methodologies, have discovered arcane power.
  • Sneaks include thieves, smugglers, storytellers, and jesters among other types of characters that hide their motives.
  • Clergy are the individuals working for religion and trying to provide to the tasks that their individual deity has placed in front of them.

Lastly, Choose their “feats” for lack of a better option. These are the things that I think make it so that the NPC’s are on par with the PC’s, but don’t need to have access to the vast and wide array of abilities that a PC needs, and they are very tight, very specific.

Hedge Wizard: Choose 2 cantrips and a single first level spell from among (List) Cantrips are cast at will, the first level spell can be cast 2 times per day

Healer: Choose 2 Spells from among (list). you may cast those 3x per day

Guardian: You get medium armor proficiency, shield proficiency, and 2 weapon proficiency.

These are but examples, and I’m not sure which direction I want to take the feat selection: Do I make some paths that are automatically improved with HD, do I allow mix and match, or is it simply a pick and complete?

Anyway, I’m going to go work on this for a bit, and see what I can make of it.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll talk to you next time.