Yesterday I did what I always tell people not to bother with. Work out the population numbers and distribution of classed and leveled NPCs for your setting. It’s almost always pointless and often leads to nonsensical results. But I did it anyway, not because the setting and campaign need it, but because I sometimes simply enjoy the fun of working with numbers.
I went into this with the following premises:
- The global population of Murya, Fenhail, Yao, Kuri, Kaska, and Sui is 1 million.
- 1 out of every 100 people has classes and levels.
- The highest level any mortal can reach is 10th.
- For every two 1st level NPCs there is one 2nd level NPC, for every two 2nd level NPCs there is one third level NPC, and so on.
- Half of all leveled NPCs are spellcasters (half of which are Priests).
I first planned on having a global population of 10 million and make 1 out of 1,000 NPCs have levels. But someone pointed out to me that that seems too high if all the population lives on the coast and given the size of my map sketch. There are about 4,000 miles of coast and I estimated civilization being within 10 miles of the sea (on average, there are also some major rivers and highland settlements), which results in a habitable area of only 100,000 km². That’s about the area of Hungary, Portugal, or Cuba. And three quarters of Greece, which is always my default reference point. That’s not a lot of land to live on, even if the continent itself is the size of Europe. With 1 million people, this leads to an average population density of 10 people per km². Which is roughly the estimate for Greece during Roman times, which does include all the uninhabited mountains. Perfect.
I was also curious what results these premises would give me for the amount of NPCs of each level. And those got really quite interesting. For simplicity, I didn’t calculate with 10,000 leveled NPCs but 8,190. When you’re a bit of a math nerd, you know the powers of 2 by heart, which makes continuous halving of numbers very easy. The distribution I got out was this:
- 4,096 1st level characters
- 2,048 2nd level characters
- 1,024 3rd level characters
- 512 4th level characters
- 256 5th level characters
- 128 6th level characters
- 64 7th level characters
- 32 8th level characters
- 16 9th level characters
- 8 10th level characters
- (4 11th level immortal sorcerer kings)
- (2 12th level immortal sorcerer kings)
That’s really not a lot. And actually gets really fascinating when you consider players wanting NPCs to casts spells for them. The number of those gets really low.
- 4,098 people can cast 1st level spells
- 1,026 people can cast 2nd level spells
- 258 people can cast 3rd level spells
- 66 characters can cast 4th level spells
- 18 characters can cast 5th level spells
- (6 characters who can cast 6th level spells)
Only half of those are Priests who have access to the cleric spell list. Getting one of those 9 priests alive who can cast raise dead to resurrect your friend could be quite challenging. However, if you are among the 100 most powerful people in the world, getting access to these guys might not be that far out of reach.
I’ve got no intentions to track the numbers and levels of NPCs that appear in my campaign. That’s too silly and impractical even for me. Instead, I came up with some rules of thumb, when it comes to creating NPCs for the campaign, that do reflect these population numbers of the setting:
- If the character does not seem important enough to get a name, personality, and motivations, it’s going to be a generic acolyte, bandit, cultist, guard, tribal warrior, or commoner with 2d8 hit points.
- Leveled NPCs who aren’t important regional individuals are 1st to 3rd level. (There are thousands of them in the world.)
- NPCs of 4th to 6th level are among the most powerful individuals of their region and regionally famous. (There are hundreds of them in the world.)
- NPCs of 7th to 10th level are among the most powerful individuals in the world and famous throughout the continent. (There’s barely more than a hundred of them in the world.)
These numbers all seem amazingly low, but when I looked at them I really started to like the resulting implications. These are distributions for campaigns in which the players play individuals like Conan and Elric, or the various ancient Greek heroes.
And still this is a world where there are CR 7 yuan-ti and CR 10 aboleths around, and CR 6 wyverns and CR 7 stone giants. A 1st level PC is not yet standing out, but when you get to 3rd or 4th level, you’ve already made it big. You are playing in the top league of heroes.
I am really looking forward to this campaign more and more every day.