(or Making Communities Make Sense)
A look at NPC Advancement
Has anyone ever actually generated a community using the system presented in the DMG? If you did you probably noticed that it produces and absolute plethora of 1st level commoners (166 out of 200 in the example in the DMG). Not a problem, right? Most of the population shouldn't be of very high level.
However, if we read Sean Reynolds article "A Theory About Peasants (and other non-adventurer NPCs)" and take it at face value, then we have a major problem. Combining the two systems means that the vast majority of the population never lives to see their 21st birthday. However, even for a middle ages type population the average life expectancy of a human should be somewhere in the 30's or 40's, and that includes the effect of a high infant mortality rate. If we take out the high rate of turnover in the young population, then life expectancy increases to over 60 years. Obviously, the two systems are incompatible, so either one or both is wrong.
If we assume that the DMG system is correct, then the vast majority of the population never gets beyond level 1. They live and die without ever improving their skills or lot in life. Certainly a select few grow to fairly high level (like the level 28 commoner that appears in 1 out of every 64 metropolises), but they are a very elite selection of the population.
If we assume that Sean's system is correct, then most adults will eventually make it to level 8 or 9, and if they live in a particularly harsh environment, they may even make it to level 14. I don't know about you, but with NPCs of that level running around, it just diminishes the uniqueness and impact of the PCs (who the story is supposed to be about anyway).
I don't know about you, but to me, it seems that both systems are wrong to some extent. NPCs, even commoners, should have more opportunity to advance (their skills, not in society) than the DMG's system allows, but they shouldn't be advancing so much that low level PC's are forced to wonder why they even bother adventuring when there is so much opportunity right in their own community. So, how do we go about "fixing" the two systems?
Well, first, lets examine the assumptions Sean made in designing his system:
1. Each month is a CR 1 encounter for an NPC except without the instant life-or-death risk of an adventurer
2. XP should be halved for encounters which do not involve an instantaneous threat of life-or-death
3. There are two adults in the average household
Now, while I whole heartedly agree with Sean on point 2 and think that point 3 is an acceptable approximation for humans (I'll take up the other races later) I must disagree with point 1. The concept of living month-to-month is actually a fairly recent one. The advent of monthly rent (and other bills) and biweekly paychecks is a modern convention. In the middle ages, a dominantly agrarian society, getting through a single month wasn't so much the challenge. The challenge was to get through a single season, and thus reap the benefit of that season, or get through a single year, reaping the benefit of the harvest, depending on how you look at it. If you examine the way the tax structure was setup during the middle ages, you find that taxes were collected annually, right after the harvest, when people naturally would have a surplus of coins and/or goods on hand with which to pay them. However, before we jump to the conclusion that each year should be a CR 1 encounter, let's examine the results of making a season be a CR 1 encounter, just to be thorough about this.
If each season is a CR 1 encounter then the average 1st level NPC earns 300 XP in a year (300/2 people /2 no immediate danger * 4 seasons). Since the award for a CR 1 encounter stays the same until level 7, he'll continue to earn this amount until he reaches age 85 (assuming the starting age of 15 listed in the PHB). Now, I'm going to assume that most NPCs 'retire' at age 70 when the venerable aging penalties kick in. The reason I assume this is because at this point your average human has a STR, DEX, and CON of 4, so its unlikely that they are a productive member of society any longer. Most likely, they live with children or relatives, helping out where they can, but mostly living off the support their hosts provide. Once they 'retire' the NPC ceases to gain XP and stops advancing, so most will end their life at level 6. If they live in a swampy area, where the average encounter level is 5 higher than normal (making the CR of a season 6 instead of 1), then those that make it to 'retirement' will be at level 11. These levels are still a bit high for my tastes, so I'm going to go with my original plan of breaking things up by years.
If a single year is a CR 1 encounter, then your average NPC earns 75 XP a year (300/2 persons /2 no immediate risk). A quick check of the maximum age for a human (110 according to the PHB) tells us that if this reward were constant for their whole life, then even the oldest human NPC would still only be 4th level ( (110-15) * 75 = 7,125 XP). Since the reward doesn't change until they reach 7th level, we don't have to worry about aging NPCs gaining less experience. Now, if we implement our above assumptions about the 'retirement' age we find that most NPCs will stop advancing at level 3, although harsher environments (like the aforementioned swamp) may lead to NPCs as high as level 7 since they'll earn more XP each year. (Note: Just because Im using a year as an equivalent to a CR 1 encounter doesnt mean that NPCs only earn experience once a year. To be fair they should gradually accumulate the XP over the course of the year. However, the XP award system based on CR doesnt support this very well so Im going to limit myself to discussing things as if the award were once/year.)
Using our modified system we see that a 1st level NPC can be anywhere from 15 to 28 years of age, a 2nd level NPC would be from 29 to 54, and anyone over 55 would be third level. Harsher environments and the lengthy training times of some classes would tend to change these numbers, and well examine how in our next article.