Monday, August 8, 2011

Thoughts on My Recent Poll

It's been very interesting to see my poll change over the past month.  At first it appeared as though Name Level NPCs wouldn't get any votes, but in the last leg they got several with lower level classed NPC rulers just barely edging them out.

This is a question that I'm still unsure as to what my answer is.  The idea for the poll came to me while skimming the Cook expert set which pretty firmly states that NPC rulers must be name level or higher.  Since this was really my first exposure to Cook, this struck me as odd.  It shouldn't have.  The random castle inhabitants results for OD&D create rulers who are above name level, though it never states that these same rules should be used for determining town officials.

The reason it struck me as odd is that my first real experience with "old school" was Necromancer Games' version of the Wilderlands.  That setting introduced me to sandbox play, hexcrawling, and broke me of my earlier rail-roading habits.  One of the things that most intrigued me about them was the ability for player characters to carve out their own bit of land from either the wilderness or the cruel despots that currently possessed it.  In it, a town might only have a fourth level fighter to look to, and a castle might have a sixth level wizard in it.  Of course some of the NPCs are in fact higher level, and the CSIO is infamous for its high level blacksmiths and beggars.  Neither the 3.5 version of the setting nor the original incarnation follow the name level rule.

I've more or less followed that example in the Dark Country.  I can think of three name level NPCs on my wilderness map off the top of my head, one of whom is more or less a monster anyway.  Based on my poll I would think many of you have designed your worlds similarly.  So I have a question for you: what made you decide to ignore that particular rule?  Were you similarly following that example, or did you just think the rule got in the way of the players?

For those of you who do want your rulers to be named level, why?  Aside from the fact that there is a rule on the matter is there some philosophical principle that helped you make that decision, or do you just think NPCs should follow the same rules ans PCs?


  1. I think it depends on the nature of the setting - a frontier region that's a generation or settler-wave or so removed from howling wilderness is likely to have name-level Lords who got their fiefs the same way the PCs want to. Similarly, a region where feudal lords are expected to lead from the front would encourage the martial form of knighthood or warriorhood or whatever in its Lords. Early Lords tend to be blood-and-guts types. Once social controls develop that allow heredity, diplomacy, money, and other factors than soldiering to be worth something, there's more room for the 0-level guy to rise to the top (or be born there).

    I also have a suspicion that it's a mechanism to keep mid-level parties from just running roughshod over settlements. Gygax was firmly in the "disincentivize behavior that annoys the Referee" camp, and D&D settings usually don't have those rigid social controls on heavily-armed artillery-bearing bands of unaffiliated freebooters that, say, Harn does.

  2. That makes sense. Probably means I should look over the rulers in my own setting a bit more. It's definitely a frontier zone, but I haven't really been making them name level.

    The players haven't really tangled with them yet, so it's not really a continuity problem.

  3. I wouldn't think they'd necessarily have to be name-level, that's just one shorthand for "capable."

    It just occurred to me that the name-level thing may also have just been making the NPCs play by the same rules as the PCs.