TODAY I WANT TO TALK about one of the most important aspects of the game. Not weapons or player characters, not even the worlds greatest villains and heroes of the realm. No, I’m talking about the backbone which our world’s society is built upon, 0-th level non-player characters! They train the horses, run the inns, brew the wines, cook the foods, they do everything in the world which we don’t want to deal with. They also bring life and interaction to our worlds.

Now, I’m not talking about advanced NPCs. The beauty of the older additions are that NPC’s can be generated with a minimum of work and book-keeping. The NPCs we’ll be talking about are simply the walk in, ultra-generic characters which the players will probably never think about again. A city can have thousands of these guys, and we’ll only need to know more about them if the players decide to interact with them.


Everybody who isn’t important to the story is probably a 0-th level character. These are farmers, and serfs, to Kings and Queens. Naturally, if the players are looking for a specific person, and for a specific reason which is considered a group goal, then they aren’t necessarily going to be 0-th level. Specialists, such as magic-users, clerics, rangers aren’t going to normally be 0-th level either, unless they are students. Most of the population, about 85% +/- don’t have a level. They are the people which the players are struggling to save.


I think that the rule is 3d6, as their stats can be anywhere from 3 to 18, but I find rolling them to be absolutely pointless. There is a logic to stats, a general laborer should have a high constitution and possibly be stronger then average, while a scribe or clerk should be more intelligent then the average person. Simply rolling stats will give us bizarre numbers, which won’t be very helpful at all. Typically we don’t need to know what their stats are, so we can just ignore this, however if we are on a ship, and the crew is 0-th level, DEX will come up when it comes to managing the ship in a storm. The navigator might need to have his WIS score consulted to keep the ship on her course, this stuff does, and will come up, and we should have an idea of what kind of stats that each should have.

Now naturally, they won’t be exceptional. If they really had any exceptional qualities, then they wouldn’t be 0-th level, now would they? A good base for STATS that they don’t use or rely on, is 5-6. Stats which they rely on daily should be either 7-8-9. Once in a while you can have an exceptional score, but it should be very rare.


0-th level characters don’t usually succeed in a task because we check their rolls, they succeed because we said that they did. We can, and should apply checks for success if their lives are on the line, or if the amount of skill which they are employing is severely tested. This brings up a question of what kind of proficiencies does a NPC have? We, of course, don’t need to write any of this stuff down, because it would be a waste of our time! Inn Customer #6 doesn’t need to be stated at all, if the characters decide to interact with him, then we’ll act like we had stated him out, but we’ll just come up with information for him right there on the spot. Who cares what his proficiencies are, but to give you an idea of how a NPC would spend them, we can delve deeper into the subject.

While characters take up various hobbies, such as armor tinkering, or animal handling, NPCs specialize in these different proficiencies. They are capable of great works of art, because instead of learning how to cast “Knock” spells or how to fire a bow, they spent their lives focused on their trade.

Now, weapon proficiencies are a different matter entirely. An NPC may not have any weapon proficiency! But then again, he may have some skill because of his trade. A blacksmith, for example, is probably capable of fighting with a hammer, a farmer can wield his tools effectively, and a bartender probably got really good at clubbing drunks over the head with the axe-handle below the bar. The NPC should be able to defend himself, or at least have a backup plan incase he gets robbed. A store owner isn’t going to allow any theft to take place in his shop, he isn’t insured! Though he probably will value his life enough not to die over a stolen sack of grain, but he should be capable of defending his property, or at least have access to somebody who will do it for him.


It takes a dirty player to start attacking 0-th level characters, but in situations where the PCs rely on their help, or are trying to protect them, they can become drawn directly in the line of bodily harm. For this, we do need to know how many hit points a 0-th level character has.

0-Level Hit Points by Title

Profession – Die Range
Average Human/Elf – 1d6
Average Dwarf/Gnome – 1d8
Manual Laborer – 1d8
Soldier – 1d8+1
Craftsman – 1d6
Scholar – 1d3
Child – 1d2
Youth – 1d6

That is about it! The rest is easy to improvise, and of course, the NPCs status can always change. A shop-keeper who appears over and over, or a woodsmen out in the forest can be a common character enough to justify implementing some extra book-keeping if the players take enough liking to them, but when it comes to NPCs, these times are rare.

Art by David Day

Bonus Link: Children in History


Tony Law said...

I love 0th level characters. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend grabbing Goodman Games' "Legends are Made, not Born". It's an adventure specifically made for 0-th level characters and has 6 pre-gens. I've run it a few times; for my own group, twice at GenCon, and at my local Con. Everyone had a great time. :)


Timeshadows said...

Playing 0-level characters is very fun, too. :)
Weren't they first officially unveiled in Greyhawk Adventures?

Ripper X said...

Lots of people think that the sweet-spot is 5th-8th level, but for me, I've always liked 1st-3rd. 0th level might be fun!

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