Businesses in RPGs.

This week, I have been thinking about businesses that I have run in FRP world, and how they have evolved.  I was looking for some old (RL) finance files and came across the Role Play stuff at the same time.

The first FRP business that I have on record is the Far Flung Trading Company (or FFTC as it became known) with a spreadsheet from 1998.  FFTC came from a table-top game where the characters captured a ship and wanted to keep it, rather than sell it.  We were playing in the Al Qadim setting, which contains some basic rules for businesses run by the Merchant-Rogue class, so we developed a trading organization based on those rules.  It stayed with us for a long time.  Characters died and shares were distributed according to wills and new characters spent good money to buy into the company.  It never really made any money for the characters, but it gave the group a focus.  Even when the playing group started to break up, when given a choice, players chose for their characters to retire into something FFTC related, and many of them went on to captain ships or become master of a merchant caravan.

FFTC has stayed with me ever since.  It provided the local shipping when I started my first on-line game, it has appeared in a Traveller universe that I ran and now it is the main trade outlet in a NWN world that I am building.  It always makes me smile.

Next was the Kassen Kompany, which runs from about 2009.  I was playing in a local Pathfinder game, where the DM had pulled a number of modules from different APs together, we had just taken down the evil guild running Falcon’s Hollow and I managed to blag the local barge shipping business as part of our rewards.  Again it finished up with trade ships, after all they are easy and give the party transport options.  However, we also finished up owning a hippogriff breeding (and training) programme and a library for all the books that we collected while we were out adventuring. It expanded to include a Sword School, quarrying business and rented accommodation – all in one village right on the edge of the civilized area. Again, it gave us a party focus, with characters dropping in and out or investing in personal projects – but all under the Kassen Kompany banner. 

FFTC was focussed on trade and was little more than a glorified Merchant House although one that worked well for the party – perhaps that was my fault because (as DM) I didn’t give the characters options to move into other areas.  Kassen Komany was different, trade and ships were there, of course, but we diversified into so many other areas.   This time around, I was a player looking for opportunities in another DM’s world – and I had a couple of willing accomplices.

Then there was Jahi’s Magic Store in about 2015.  I had joined a pathfinder game at RPoL (gone now) where the DM had allowed players to build NPC businesses (with secondary characters) using the Down Time rules.   So I set up a low level Magic Shop using an Adept as the main character.  That all went interestingly pear-shaped, quite quickly!   Adepts make clerical scrolls, and have a weird spell list – which means almost no PC classes can use their scrolls.  So quickly recruit a wizard as an assistant, and then a witch, because they can get Brew Potion at L1 ….  and the shop became a bit more useful.  However, as the shop grew, so did the book keeping.  Keeping track of the business became quite time-consuming and turned into a chore.  At the same time, my PC character (in partnership with his siblings) bought an Inn, that was easy to run and developed into a minor RP focus for a number of characters.  The moral of that story – keep it simple!

Which brings me to the rules I use in my game at the moment.  Paizo’s attempts at Kingdom Building and Down Time businesses were brave and exciting – but they didn’t really come off.  Both rule sets were complex, times consuming and intrusive, and they didn’t fit together very well – you try doing a cost analysis across the two sets of rules.  However, I wanted something that offered that sort of RP opportunity to my players – so I combined the two and simplified them.  However, rather than treating the m as two separate systems, I have rolled them into one – but all very much ‘Standing on the Shoulders’ of those who have gone before.

There is a fairly simple core mechanic that calculates income and allows businesses to grow, but which discourages characters from cashing their businesses in.  You can build Noble estates (which can be turned into Kingdoms), businesses or organizations.  A Cleric can build their own churches and religious orders, Merchant Houses can flourish and you can even set up charitable or community organizations.  The complexity varies, most things are easy to run –  but Merchant Houses and Noble Estates need planning, thought and some effort.

Most importantly, growth depends on RP between characters, if you want to build a new shop, you need to negotiate with the land owner.  All very simple and straightforward –  BUT it encourages conversations between characters, and that is the basis of Role Playing 🙂

The rules are still being developed – and they are growing all the time as player think of new ways to use the rules. You can find the current rules set here although a newer, streamlined, system is under development here.

Music & Dancing (2)

In Part 1 of this double post on Music and Dance, I looked at music in a fantasy setting, however I wasn’t very innovative, and played on stereotypes that have been established in FRPGs and literature.  That is because I like my game worlds to feel familiar to players, I like the game background to exist in the background, familiar and consistent, to give the players things to build on and work with as they concentrate on the game I set out before them.  If I do it properly, it should make it easy for players to add little bits of RP flavour to their game play, rather than RP being something that requires a lot of effort.  It should facilitate RP for all the players, rather than just those who like to build heavy RP into their game.

In short, we finished up with Elves liking long complex pieces of music, Gnomes with complex and avant-garde instruments and musical styles, while dwarves are into brass bands, marches and Oompah bands.  Halflings and half-humans fit in the local culture they grow up in – but Half-Orcs have a penchant for drums and chants, while Halflings tend to use small and discreet instruments.  However, it is important to remember that is just the ‘average’ position and that most NPCs from those races will follow those trends.  Certainly not all of them, and players should not feel that that their characters should be constrained by them.  It is just what they are most likely to have encountered in a traditional setting.

Most importantly, I am always happy to work with players to tweak bits of my game background to suit their needs.  Those tweaks might just relate to a specific area that the PC can use for their personal background, although it might develop into something game affecting.  While it doesn’t deal with music or dance (yet),  the Duchy of Stonewall, started out as a single player tweak and has been developed as four or five players designed their characters.  The way it has developed could affect the outcome of a war,  later in the game.

Anyway back to the matter in hand – and this is where it starts to get more specific to my current game world.  The world is very human centric with a fair few half-humans and Halflings scattered about, Dwarves are fairly common but Gnomes and full Elves are infrequent.  Certainly among the NPCs.  I am using the AD&DII Complete Bard’s Handbook as guide to instrument costs – there was some excellent supplemental information in that series of books. Books from that series are available on DriveThruRPG in a PDF format.

Folk Music and Dance

This is the music of the ‘common people’, hobbyists rather than professional musicians.  In game terms, the people playing (or dancing to) this sort of music have probably only put one or two skill points into perform and don’t make a living from it.  The majority of them (Commoner is the most common NPC class, by a long way) don’t have much money and can only afford cheap instruments.  You are likely to hear it casually, in bars that don’t specialize in entertainment, or when every-day people throw home parties.

Tunes are simple to reflect low skill levels and basic instruments and musical groups are quite small with two, three or four musicians.  Songs tend to be straightforward, without backing or harmony parts, and are often sung by a single person – or the group all singing the same vocal part together.  Crowd accessible choruses are a feature of many of the songs.  I tend to imagine this music played on penny whistles or recorders, accompanied by a simple drum or tambourine and, perhaps, a single stringed instrument.  I know this is difficult to accept in the modern age, but stringed instruments are difficult to make and were one of the more expensive types of instrument, so they are less accessible to the NPC classes.  Any NPC with a stringed instrument is likely to treasure it and may have aspirations to become a professional musician.  You can add in colour with a Halfling playing an ocarina, a Half-Orc with a rhythm block or a gnome playing the spoons.  Wash-tub bass, Pan Pipes, Maracas (Rattles) are other ways to add a bit of variety.

Listening music is liable to be ballad-y, with story songs about soldiers going to war, country life and young women either pining or getting into trouble.  Very traditional Folk or Country & Western style to keep it cheesy, stereo-typical and familiar.  Dancing follows the same pattern with jigs, reels and other lively foot stomping songs.  There might even be clog dancers …

Semi-Formal Music and Dance.

This is the type of music you find played in dance-halls or bars that think of themselves as ‘Music Venues’ – in my game world that is places like The Golden Flute or the Palace of Dance in Restov and The Dragons Den in Tusk.  This is played by professional, or semi-professional, NPC musicians – although they are liable to be experts, rather than bards.  They have higher skill levels that ‘folk’ musicians, can afford more expensive instrument and tend to play in larger ensembles.  However, much of the music they play is similar in style to the every-day music of the region –  just a bit more complex and better executed.

The performers might have flutes, violins, lutes, mandolins, brass instruments and more sophisticated (and louder) drums.  Songs and tunes are more complex than the stripped down versions played by folk musicians, and are intended to entertain larger groups of people.

When it comes to dance venues think of Ceilidhs and Barn Dances, with set dances and a caller to help people get through the steps – most people will have only put one or two skill points into dance.   Modern ballroom dancing didn’t really become a real thing until the 19th century, and styles such as Jive and Rock & Roll are later still.  That doesn’t mean there is no scope for ‘personal’ dances around the side of the set dance – just that the majority of NPCs are all dancing one formal dance together.

In my game world, The Mountain Toast in Restov is a Dwarf themed bar, and is more likely to have a specialist Dwarf Brass Band playing Oompah style music.  However, the concept for both the music, and any late night dancing, is the same as above.

Formal Music and Dance

This is the music of the nobility, and is likely only performed in noble estates and palaces, by professional musicians.  The majority of the NPC performers will be experienced Expert Musicians, possibly led by an NPC bard or two, only the very wealthiest of nobles can afford an orchestra containing all bards.  Most noble estates won’t have a full sized ball room, but they may well have a dedicated music room, which will probably be used for recitals and small dances.  These nobles probably keep a small orchestra of half a dozen musicians, who are versed in the most sophisticated tunes and music, possibly based around a piano or other keyboard instrument – think chamber music with a bit of extra spice. 

Those nobles lucky enough to have a multi-use hall, might well have a larger orchestra, perhaps a couple of dozen musicians, with a larger range of instruments that are capable of playing music loud enough to fill the whole hall.  Remember that the modern day electric amp hasn’t yet been invented, and that any form of magical amplification is liable to be expensive.   The wealthiest of nobles might keep a larger orchestra, perhaps up to sixty or seventy musicians, capable of regularly willing the ballroom with good quality dancing music.  

In larger orchestras instruments are duplicated, one of the reasons a modern orchestra has a whole section of violins playing the same part of the tune, so they are loud enough to be heard across a crowded ball room.  As there are often two violin parts in modern symphony music, so modern orchestras have two sets of violinists, playing separate parts – not to mention all the other string sections that go to make up a full orchestra!

For smaller ensembles pianos (they are expensive but loud) are often the central instrument, supported by a few strings, wood wind and maybe a brass instrument or two – they may not have a percussion  instrument as a double base or a large brass horn (perhaps a Tuba) can act as a rhythm section, if required.

Larger orchestras are liable to be supported by timpani, or other large drums and may well have sophisticated rhythm sections with large glockenspiels, or metallophones, as well.  Think symphony or philharmonic orchestra, with a tendency to ‘jazz it up’ occasionally.  When you describe the orchestra throw in a mixture of instruments – Violins, Double Bass, Trumpets, Trombones etc playing in groups to get the volume.  It is, however, probably better to stay away from Lutes, Guitars and other plucked instruments – as you start to lose the ‘feel’ of an orchestra.

Dancing is very formal, with set dances such as formalized minuets, quatrains, quadrilles and marches.  You don’t need to describe the dances, just that they are formally regimented, performed as a group and have set steps.  Think very stately and courtly with a bit of formal Scottish dancing thrown in for good measure. 

However, the nobility has always had multicultural tendencies – after all they socialize more with nobles from neighbouring countries than they do with the common folk labouring in their own estates.  So throw in a formal Dwarven March (featuring the brass section of the orchestra) followed by the Elvish Quadrille (featuring the string section).  But once the senior nobles have retired, and leave the Young Bucks (and their female equivalent) in charge – the party is likely to hot up a bit.

Note 1:  All nobles, and anyone with Knowledge(Nobility) or Perform(Dance), knows the steps to a few of the formal dances – clearly the higher the skill score, the more dances they know.  This doesn’t mean that they dance them well or gracefully – just that they can follow them through without making a fool of themselves.  As always, the quality of an individual’s dancing performance relies on their Dex or Perform Dance skills.

Note 2:  I know I have mixed up a number of styles and periods in this piece –  but (IMO) it gives a historical feeling to the game world setting – but still keeps large chunks of it familiar to the majority of players.

Music & Dancing (1)

Ach.  I have been doing all of these serious posts, and I have a more planned in the sequence.  And I should really be writing up the Down Time rules, but ….. SQUIRREL!  Here in the UK it is Proms season, for those of you who don’t know, The Proms are an annual series of classical music concerts, many of which are performed at The Royal Albert Hall and shown live on national television.  I am not a great fan of classical music, but every so often I see a concert that appeals to me.  This year it was Warner Brothers film scores and scores from Sci Fi films – all played by full symphony orchestras.  And that got me started thinking about music in fantasy worlds, and that lead to dance in fantasy worlds, and ….  SQUIRREL!

However, it turned out to be a bigger project than I thought. So expect Part 2 later – as I think about dance 🙂

Suddenly, I was wondering what sort of music I would hear at a grand ball or in a dwarf bar – and at all points between.  What sort of music would people be dancing to?  How would they be dancing?  I wrote a piece on this some time ago, but things have moved on and it was time for a rethink.

To start with, the world I run my games in has changed.  Back then, I was running D&DII in a bespoke world, now I am running Pathfinder in Golarion (slightly modified) and that is a big change.  Paizo have re-imagined the history of the races and changed their backgrounds.  Elves left the world to avoid a cataclysm and didn’t return for many years.  Gnomes become exiled members of the First World who have a reputation for obsessiveness and flamboyance.  Dwarves lived underground but fought their way to the surface, while Halflings have become mini humans with little to distinguish them culturally. Humans rule the civilised world and the various races have few (if any) cultural centres.

Half-Elves and Half-Orcs are just as popular as ever 🙂

All of that said, this will only be an overview with broad cultural guidelines – it isn’t meant to be prescriptive or tie PCs down.  I also like my world to be recognisable –  so I tend to use a lot of stereotypes and traditional interpretations.   This just documents and formalises them so I remember them all next time around.


Tolkein, and Bilbo in particular, spoiled me for elves – so  elves live for a long time and can spend years creating complex and sophisticated art.  Formal performance music probably entails a small orchestra playing masterwork instruments with complex interplay between them.  Music for the people, in my mind, probably consists of a single musician playing an instrument and singing a complex ballad.  The Forlorn, Elves brought up in non-elven cultures, have been cut off from their mainstream culture, and have a limited understanding of the nuances in a full eleven piece – and probably recognise that short coming. Unfortunately, Humans (and other races) can only appreciate an even smaller fraction of the subtle complexity. 

Dances, both formal and informal, are liable to include a series of intricate forms, performed precisely and accurately – with minor changes of posture having great symbolic and emotional meaning. 

In game terms:  If you meet a travelling elven bard –  they will probably be singing sophisticated ballads and accompany themselves on (perhaps) a lute or mandolin.  While they appreciate the attention, they probably smile sadly at how much of their performance went unnoticed.


Golarion gnomes are both flamboyant, obsessive, have a penchant for inventing things that are over complicated.  Formal gnome music, if there is such a thing, is liable to be experimental music played on weird and wonderful instruments making weird and wonderful sounds.  There are no (known) formal dances, but there are performance artists specialised in different dance styles.  Informal dancing is very individualistic and does not follow any set pattern.  It probably includes the worst elements of 60’s hippy dancing crossed with a good helping of dad dancing.

In game terms: If you should enter a tavern in a Gnome run town – you may well find a bard of a different race (probably Halfling) providing the entertainment.  If you should ever come across a travelling Gnome musician – they will probably have some sort of weird home-brewed musical instrument.  Examples might include an accordion fitted with the drones from a set of bagpipes or some sort of small, mouth blown keyboard instrument (such as a Melodica) with bird calls built in.  And who knows what they might be playing!


I got Dwarves right first time around. J  Their mining and metal working skills mean metal instruments, Pratchett’s Glod means horns and the traditional dwarf with a Germanic accent means Oompah bands.  So horns of all types (Trumpets, Euphonium, Tuba, Sousaphone, etc) and drums – ranging from the largest Timpani down to smaller metal-bowled bass and snare-like drums – other instruments might include the glockenspiel and metallophones.

For music think Marching bands and Oompah bands!  Formal dancing involves participants parading in lines or sets, and are carried out at a walking/marching pace, they are known, appropriately enough, as Marches.  Dancing to the Oompah style often happens later in the evening (after a fair number of drinks have been consumed)  and involves a lot of thigh slapping as well as dancing.  These dances are known collectively as Polkas.  NOTE – check YouTube for Traditional Polkas.

In game terms:  If you are in a Dwarf Bar the entertainment is liable to be something like a brass three piece in the corner playing rowdy drinking music, that might well lead into some raucous Polka music later. Quieter ‘folk’ type music is liable to feature a singer accompanied by someone picking out a simple tune on a small glockenspiel. If you should come across a Dwarf bard they are probably skilled in both horn and percussion.


In Golarion halflings are low profile member of human communities, often slaves or in service roles, who get ‘wander lust’ as they are growing up.  However, they have a rich heritage of racial stories and heroes that few ‘big folk’ have ever been aware of.  Which all points to small, portable and quiet – but from all over the place.  So instruments such as the harmonica, penny whistle/recorder, mouth harp, pan pipes, rattles, bones, and tambourines are popular.

Halflings have an eclectic mix of dance and music styles, as experienced through their ‘wander lust’ years, but normally settle down to the style associated with the area they finally settle in.  However, it is said that there are a few simple songs and rhymes, that tell of halfling racial heroes, that are passed down from parent to child, as the child grows up.

In game terms:  Most Halfling musicians and story tellers go along with the local style and tunes, although they often have a large repertoire of different types of music they can call on if they need to.  Even if you come across a wandering Halfling Musician, they are liable to try and take a less significant role in a musical ensemble – even if they are the harmonica or recorder player in town.


Half-Humans, haven’t really changed much and tend to follow the culture that they were brought up in although, traditionally, they feel as if they are outsiders.  They don’t have racial cultural centres of their own.

Nothing new or out of the ordinary is noted for half-elves.  However, they are seen as extremely versatile and half-elf musicians and dancers soak up whatever the local culture is.

Half-Orcs, in Golarion, are noted for being impetuous and impatient as well as having an innately savage nature.  I tend to interpret this as a preference for (typically orcish) drums, chants and shuffling/stompy war dances.  (Yeah, I know it is stereotypical).

In game terms: Most half-orc musicians you meet will be percussionists, and they  aren’t natural dancers. Half-Elf musicians could be playing any sort of musical instrument and just about any style of music.


Humans are incredibly populous, they are very versatile and come from a number of different cultures and backgrounds.  They play many different types of musical instrument, and different types of music. In the next post, I’ll look at the styles most associated with my Midmarch game setting.


Recently I have been discussing alignment with one of my players – so I thought it would be a good time to look at it in a bit more depth.  I know alignment has gone out of fashion as a role-playing tool, but I tend think that it just means players aren’t using properly.

As I go through life and meet real people – I can see that nearly all of them have a recognizable alignment.  There are people who like to have rules and structures to follow, while others have moments of absolute genius that appear to come out of nowhere and work much better without strict regulation.  Some people book their holidays a long way in advance, know exactly where they are going, and often go to exactly the same place. But there are others who are more spontaneous and leave it to the last minute, take whatever is available, and make it all work out really well.  I have worked with some mean people, there have been selfish or inconsiderate people and bullies.  But there have been others who are always kind, considerate and go out of their way to help everyone they interact with.  There are other people, of course, who behave differently in different circumstances.

It is easy to interpret: Structured > Lawful; Spontaneous > Chaotic; Considerate > Good; Mean > Evil – with those who I can’t categorize as True Neutral.  Of course these are watered down version of alignment, but then very few characters are strongly aligned in D&D style games either.  Take Pathfinder – unless a character is a cleric (or an equivalent class) they have no alignment aura until level five and even at L-20 they only have a Moderate alignment aura.  By contrast, a cleric has an Overwhelming alignment aura at level eleven.

In a long-running campaign game, the last thing I want is strongly aligned characters.  In a one off, or short game, it doesn’t matter if characters fall out or screw up each other’s plans – and sometimes it can be fun.  In a campaign game, however, I want characters that work together in ways that don’t irritate their players.  There is nothing worse than a chaotic who screws up every single plan the party makes –  or the extreme lawful character who can’t ever countenance any other character ‘bending’ a law.  Every player has the right to play their character with being constantly thwarted by someone else – if you can’t play the character you envisioned, the game stops being fun and you leave.

However, I tend to still see alignment much as we did back in the old AD&D days, with lots of overlap between the main alignments.  On the diagram below you can stray quite a lot, for example a character with a Lawful Neutral alignment could be in LN, LN(G) or LN(E) but a Lawful Evil character could be in LE, LN(E) or NE(L).  Even then, there aren’t big rules penalties for changing alignment – but there might be social consequences.

I should point out that I don’t allow evil alignments in my games.  I like running games for good aligned parties of heroes – so those are the characters I invite to join my games 🙂


It feels like a long time since I have posted on here, although it is really only a couple of weeks. Since that last post I have re-enacted an English Civil War Battle, been on a Bee Keeping Experience and spent a few days at a music festival! But life is getting back to normal – so another post about NPCs, and this time it is Commoners.

Commoners are the bedrock of a D20 society and make up over half of the NPCs in my games worlds. They provide all the unskilled labour that makes the economy work, and they are everywhere. Typically, you will find commoners working on farms, cutting trees, unloading ships, carrying goods around, cleaning out the stables, acting as servants, working behind a bar, working in the penny store – basically any job that requires minimal training or education is work for a commoner. They are the background – they shouldn’t stand out, and they shouldn’t be memorable. They should just be there, doing what ever needs doing. Because of that, most commoners remain part of the Copper Economy.

My standard commoners have all abilities set to 11. That works out, roughly, to a 5 point build or the equivalent of average abilities (10.5), plus racial bonuses. It is easy, straight forward and means commoners don’t get ability based bonuses on Skill Rolls. If I want a commoner to be different or significant, then I build personalized character sheets for them.

Level 1 Commoners

In my world every character starts out as an L1 Commoner – or at least with the same stats as an L1 commoner. Commoner-1 represents a young person who has just attained adulthood and is ready to make their way in the world (about 15 for a human). They haven’t learned anything useful, but are keen and ready to face the world. These are the guys who work for 1sp per day, doing jobs simple jobs such as cleaning, running errands, delivering messages or holding a PC’s horse OR go on to train in other classes. See my Training and Development post if you want a detailed explanation.

  • Commoner-1,   CR 1/3 ; Init +0
  • STR 11, DEX 11, CON 11, INT 11, WIS 11, CHA 11
  • Saves: Fort +2, Ref +0, Will +0
  • Defence: AC 10; HD (1d6); hp 6;
  • Offence: Club+0 (1d6); Punch +1 (1d3 non-lethal)
  • Skills:  Diplomacy +1, Perception +4, Sense Motive +1;
    (2 for level & 1 for chosen class)
  • Feats:  Endurance, Great Fortitude

They don’t have any traits, feats reflect the simplicity of their life so far, and they don’t have any saleable skills. As such they can be employed for 1sp per day to do unskilled work. They have full HP at level one (I do that with all of my NPCs) and then advance with average HP/level.

I use this basic profile for nearly all commoners regardless of race, gender, creed, background. It is close enough all the characters are all interchangeable background material, as far as the main game is concerned.

Level 2 Commoners

After a year or two, some L1 commoners retrain into a different NPC class, and follow different development paths, but the rest stay as commoners. Eventually, when they are18 or so, they gain enough experience to advance a level.

As a Commoner-2, they have learned some basic skills and can earn more than 1sp a day, if they are lucky. Some might be fortunate enough to have a regular job, such as builder’s labourer, cleaner, bar maid, stevedore or workshop assistant – it might be a part-time job, but it still provides a regular wage. However, many Commoner-2s still work on a casual basis. Sometimes they can pick up a few days semi-skilled work at other times, they might have to take unskilled work, just to keep some money coming in. In the countryside it is a bit different and many commoners are subsistence farmers or small holders – but they still need to take paid work such as farm labourer, road builder or groundsman, so they can pay taxes, rent and fees.

  • Commoner-2,   CR 1/2 ; Init +0
  • STR 11, DEX 11, CON 11, INT 11, WIS 11, CHA 11
  • Saves: Fort +2, Ref +0, Will +0
  • Defence: AC 10; HD (2d6); hp 9;
  • Offence: Club+1 (1d6); Punch +1 (1d3 non-lethal)
  • Skills:  Craft (X) +4, Diplomacy +2, Perception +4, Profession (X) +4, Sense Motive +1
  • Feats:  Endurance, Great Fortitude
  • Trait: See Below

A fairly standard progression with three extra skills added, in this case Diplomacy with generic craft and professional skills. They are all class skills, so they work they give a Skills Modifier of +4. In play, I give them what ever skill I want them to have 🙂 It might be Profession(Farmer) for a smallholder (or farm labourer) or Craft(Cloth) for someone who spins yarn or weaves cloth.

This helps me to keep skill levels consistent across a game. If a village doesn’t have a blacksmith (for example) there is might be someone who has farrier as a ‘second skill’. While they don’t do it full time, they shoe horses and do basic metal work when villagers need it. In this case, a PC might be able to get their chain mail ‘stitched’ back together, get metal spikes made, or a chain repaired. They won’t be able to find someone to make a sword – although the farrier might be able to make a club with nails in. Basically quick and simple fixes / replacements that will work OK until the PC get back to a town and get a proper fix. In reality, this is what I have been doing for years – this just formalizes it 🙂

The one big difference is that they might have a trait – but only if it fits with what I want the NPC to do. Again, this helps me to maintain consistency across the game without doing too much record keeping. Rather than recording everything separately, I just use the ‘standard’ profile with the following ‘add on’ traits.

  • Existing Traits
  • River Rat: +1 Dagger Damage and Swim+1
  • Bully: Intimidate is a class skill and Intimidate+1
  • Convincing Liar: Bluff is a class skill and Bluff+1
  • Criminal 1 : Disable Device is a class skill and Disable Device +1 (Disable Device +4)
  • Criminal 2 : Sleight of Hand is a class skill and +1 on Sleight of Hand (Sleight of Hand +4)  
  • Life of Toil: You gain a +1 trait bonus on Fortitude saves.
  • Poverty Stricken: Survival is a class skill and Survival +1 (Survival +4)
  • Suspicious: Sense Motive is a class skill and Sense Motive +1 (Sense Motive +4)    
  • Miner: Appraise is a class skill and Appraise +1  (Appraise +4)   
  • River Folk: Profession (sailor) +2 and +2 on any skill checks involving ropes
  • Smuggler: Bluff +1 and Sleight of Hand +1 :
  • New Traits
  • Military Auxiliary: Proficient with Light Crossbow & Dagger; Prof(Soldier) +1 (Military Servant / Missile Support)
  • Militia: Proficient with Spear & Darts; Prof(Soldier) +1 (P/T Reserve Soldier / Posse)
  • Watchman: Proficient with Club & Sling; Perception +1
  • Bandit: Proficient with Club & Light Crossbow; Intimidate +1
  • Poacher: Proficient with Dagger & Sling; Survival +1  (Small Game Hunting)
  • Street Guide: Knowledge Local is a class skill and Knowledge(Local)  +1  (Know(Local)  +4)    
  • House Keeper: Craft(Cooking)+1, Craft(Clothing) +1 (This could be a servant or a ‘stay at home’ husband/wife)

Level 3 Commoners

Commoner-3 represents NPCs who have grown into positions of responsibility. They are normally in their thirties and oversee other commoners, perhaps as head smallholder, senior teamster, or some other similar role. They are more perceptive, do their main job a bit better and have basic management and diplomacy skills. These are the guys who make decisions on behalf of their group and keep the commoner world working properly.

  • Commoner-3,   CR 1; Init +0
  • STR 11, DEX 11, CON 11, INT 11, WIS 11, CHA 11
  • Saves: Fort +3, Ref +1, Will +1
  • Defence: AC 10; HD (2d6); hp 13;
  • Offence: Club+1 (1d6); Punch +1 (1d3 non-lethal)
  • Skills:  Craft (X) +4, Diplomacy +3, Perception +6, Profession (X) +5, Profession (Team leader) +4, Sense Motive +3
  • Feats:  Alertness, Endurance, Great Fortitude
  • Trait: See Below

These are my get-out-of-jail-free NPCs. They are rolled out when I need an NPC with a slightly wiser head, or able to calm down situations. Most Commoner-3 NPCs are in regular work and earn enough to be right at the top of the Copper Economy or bottom of the Silver Economy. In the countryside, you will most likely find a Commoner-3 as the head of a household, and the highest level NPC in a smallholding.

Beyond Level 3

I can’t think of any commoner in my current games that are higher than L3. The last one, that I recall, was a half-orc called Helga. She was initially taken on as a crew member for the party’s boat and quickly took charge of the rest of the crew. Racial advantages, such as Intimidation and the ability to use a Great Axe, saw to that. She soon became a party favourite, took charge of shore parties and finished up with all sorts of cast-off magic items. I just checked my old files, and she progressed to Commoner-6, and possibly higher.

Guidelines, not rules 🙂 Be prepared to break them when you want to, just make sure you keep notes when you do.

Food and Cooking

Perhaps not the most important question out there, but one that I find interesting and allows me to add a bit more ‘world-flavour’ on the few occasions it comes up in-game.  Again, I am going to combine various bits of historical information in with some basic information extracted from D&D style games.

So first a quick analysis of costs of basic food types, from the various rule sets.

  • The cheapest type of food, at 1cp per pound, is wheat. I am going to assume that is for barely processed grain – and class it as covering all types of cereals. In my game world that is oats, wheat and barley as cash crops, with maize as a small-holders crop. In other words, maize is only found in the countryside.
  • Most vegetable come in at 2cp per pound, and I found turnips, beans and potatoes listed, there were others, but these three were fairly consistent. In my game world I add cabbage, onions and peas as basic vegetable crops in the same price range.
  • Flour also costs 2cp per pound, and I extend that to all simply processed grains, such as rice, oat-meal or couscous – although only oat-meal is common in my game.
  • I make common fruits just a bit more expensive at 3cp per pound. In my world that generally mean apples, as they are the only local fruit that travels well, or a few plums in season.
  • Interestingly, bread works out something like 5cp per pound/loaf, which is much higher than I remember it. However, that is probably a reasonable price, when you consider that flour costs 2cp per pound and it still needs processing to make the bread, I would use the same price for pasta and any other cereal based products.
  • That about wraps it up for food stuff that falls easily into my definition of the Copper Economy.
  • Eggs are the cheapest form of protein at about 1cp each, and will probably be the most common addition to the Copper Economy diet. However, they are likely to be mode common in the countryside or hinterlands, than in the city itself.
  • The cheapest fish works out at about 5cp per pound, although the prices in the books are all for preserved fish. Fresh fish will be a bit cheaper if you live in a smallish port that exports fish. However, it is getting closer to the Silver Economy than the Copper.
  • Cheese is much more expensive and comes in at over 2sp per pound – and is well into the Silver Economy. However, that (in part) represents the labour and processing required before it can travel.
  • Meat is also about 2sp per pound, unless you want some very dodgy street meat, and may not even be eaten every day by less well off members of the Silver Economy.
  • Fancier cuts of meat, imported vegetables or anything that requires complex preparation or cooking just slots straight into the Gold Economy.

With a list of ingredients, we only need to have a basic understanding of the cooking facilities to work out a likely menu. For this I am going to take a historically informed view that fits my setting – although I really wouldn’t want to argue it in any depth. In broad terms the kitchen stove was invented in the 18th century and became a fixture in large houses fairly soon afterwards. The stove didn’t move to smaller houses until the 19th century. Chimneys didn’t become common until the 16th century in Europe.

I interpret this as most people cook over an open fire, much as if they were cooking over a camp fire – however they have the advantage of a solid chimney and fireplace to work with. This means most people are ‘down hearth’ cooking using kettles and cauldrons suspended over the fire, or pans set on a trivet. I also decided that small fireplaces (in cheap accommodation) don’t have ovens built into the chimney breast. Larger houses, with designated kitchen staff, might well have a stove – but certainly have a selection of fires and ovens they can cook with.

Taking all that into consideration – most commoners and other members of the Copper Economy eat a lot of porridge and vegetable stew – partly because they can only really have one pot on the fire at a time. The stew is occasionally spiced up with some cheap fish, which for my game world means a portion of Mud Eel. Lunch might be a flatbread, that can be cooked in a flat pan over the fire, with an apple, or perhaps an egg to liven it up.

Most NPC class families, and other members of the Silver Economy have a fuller diet, but they are still restricted to how many things they can cook at once. They probably still eat flat breads (because they are quick) but now they can bake their own loaves, and even make simple baked desserts, such as apple pudding. Stews are still an important part of the diet, but fish stew (perhaps with a more appetizing type of fish) is fairly common and there is even meat (probably game, chicken or bacon) on the menu occasionally. Lunch might run to bread, cheese and an apple, and there might be an egg for breakfast – after you have had your porridge, of course.

At the top end of the economy, things really open up. Pot-roasts or spit roast meat, perhaps even grilled fish becomes a possibility. There is enough room on the fire to cook more than one thing at once, so vegetables and other dishes can be prepared seperately. In part, it comes down to how good the cook is and how my the Aristocrat (or PC) is prepared to spend.

When the PCs eat out, that guides what dishes are on the menu. Most places will have a vegetable stew, a fish stew and a meat stew on offer – all served up with a hunk of bread. Lower status eateries might just have a veggie stew and flat breads to offer, and if you want something different you have to go to a restaurant serving ‘good’ food.

A Mansion in the City

This morning I went down a rabbit-hole. I should have been doing on-line training, but while I was getting set-up for the day, I came across a plan of a large town house. Originally, I had intended it as a home for an aristocrat from a merchant house – but today I re-envisioned it as a mansion in the city.

This is, perhaps what a PC buys when they have ‘made it’ and want to live in town, or where a minor aristocrat might live, and it makes a good Role Playing hook for players as they progress. Suddenly they have servants to look after them, keeping the place clean, cooking meals etc. If you use my Campaign Rules, this counts as a mansion and has space for live-in members of the PCs entourage.

Outside you might find a small garden, and perhaps a small mews stable for the owners horse – although it probably isn’t large enough for a carriage. Outdoor staff may live in an attic room above the stable.

The semi-basement is where the domestic staff live and work. There is a servants’ hall, rooms for a housekeeper, cook, housemaids and other domestic servants. The kitchen and laundry provide food, clean clothing and hot water for the house, while the back staircase means they can be delivered discreetly to the floors above. The semi-basement is partly below ground and is accessed by steps that lead down from street level. All the rooms have small, high windows and are a bit dingy.

Broad steps lead up from street level to the mansion’s reception hall. Guests are met at the door by a servant and shown into a small Receiving Room to await the owner’s pleasure. Favoured guests will be invited into the spacious sitting room and, perhaps, into the library or dining room. Double doors from the sitting room open onto wide steps that lead into the small garden. Servants deliver meals, snacks or report for duty, discreetly, via the back staircase. The reception hall has a staircase that leads up to the middle floor.

The stairs lead to a good sized landing with a door off to the master suite, which consists of a private sitting room, bedroom, bathing room and a walk in closet. The bathing room won’t have hot running hater, but there are enough servants to keep the bath filled. Other doors lead to smaller rooms for guests or family members, and there is a small enclosed staircase that leads up to the attic floor.

The attic floor can be configured in a number of ways. In this example there is a nursery, which provides accommodations for any children as well as their Nanny or Tutor. Four smaller rooms could serve as accommodation for grown children, favoured employees or entourage members. Or even be used as a junk room.

The Economy

I have been round and around this subject so many times, because the various rules and rule iterations really don’t fit together very well – however, I have dome to a compromise position that gets reasonably close. 

I use a three tier economic model based on the principle that there aren’t enough regular jobs to go around and that many people have to take whatever work is available, when it is available.

The Copper Economy, is based on ‘Unskilled labour earns 1sp per day’ – a rule that made a lot of sense in AD&D, but stopped making sense with 3rd edition.   Many commoners, nearly all L1, most L2 and even a few L3 commoners live at this standard – as well as many other L1 NPC-class characters.

My views on the economy are partially informed by this post that deals with food and cooking.

The Copper Economy

Characters in the Copper Economy can afford things that are costed in Copper Pieces, but have to save for anything costed in Silver.  This probably means plain porridge for breakfast, a flat bread and an onion at mid-day, with vegetable stew (perhaps Potato, Beans, Turnip or Cabbage) for dinner.  A couple of times a week there might be some chicken or fish in the stew, and occasionally there might be some cheese with lunch. Clothing is often second hand, or hand-me-downs, that has often been altered or patched – it looks reasonably tidy, rather than ragged.  Even the lowest peasant has some personal pride.

Characters in the Copper Economy live communally – this might mean a whole family sharing two rooms in a city or a basic cottage in the countryside.  However, it could also be bunk rooms, dormitory accommodation, students room-sharing, or any other form of communal living.

The Silver Economy

The Silver Economy is based on Skills in the various d20 rule systems.  All of them seem to have a section that says ‘Earn ½ your skill roll in GP per week’, or something similar.  For most skilled NPCs in my world that works out at between 10 and 20sp per day, on average – this includes a few well-off commoners, most of the other NPC classes (once they have been trained) and NPCs with a few levels of a PC class. 

Characters in the Silver Economy can afford things that are costed in Silver Pieces, but have to save for anything costed in Gold.  Meals are more varied and include meat much more frequently – sometimes even twice a day.  Breakfast Porridge is still probably a staple, but it might be flavoured with honey, lunch might include an apple, a hard-boiled egg or cheese on a regular basis.  Dinner will quite often still be a stew (it is really easy to cook) but with more fish and meat, a better range of vegetables and bread to mop up the gravy.  NPCs in the silver economy have more than one set of clothes, with at least one decent-looking set for best.  At the top end of the Silver Economy scale, characters might have a courtier’s costume to attend up-scale events.

However, the biggest difference is privacy.  Silver Economy households have more rooms with specific purposes.  The head of the household and their spouse will have their own bedroom, children will probably share rooms, but there are separate rooms for the boys and the girls. There is a separate ‘living room’ for cooking and socialising.  The toilet only serves this household, there is probably a small private yard – rather than shared facilities.  There might be a live-in apprentice or even a servant, to help keep the house and workshops running smoothly.

The Gold Economy

The Gold Economy covers everyone who can readily purchase items valued at 1gp or more without saving.  This includes PCs, most NPCs with PC levels, many Aristocrats and a few higher level characters with other NPC classes.   It is by far the widest ranging part of the economy – but covers the least number of people.  It can include anything from a decent house in town, mansions, noble estates or even palaces.  Meals will be varied and enjoyable – accompanied by anything from a decent ale to an expensive wine.  It almost certainly involves at least one courtier’s costume and in some cases, noble or royal clothing.  It almost always includes servants or assistants – with the wealthiest having a whole entourage of staff.

Social Mobility

There isn’t much social mobility, most people stay at the economic level they were born to.  The big exception are characters with PC classes, who can crash through to the Gold Economy.  PCs tend to do this really quickly as they go adventuring and find huge amounts (in relative terms) of treasure.   NPCs with PC classes tend to do it more slowly, but normally enter the Gold Economy at higher levels – in my games that normally means level five or six,  although that could be very different in your games.

Other than that, moving between the economic bands is generational.  A commoner who does really well for themselves and moves to the top part of the Copper Economy might be able to afford Military Training for their eldest child.  That child might then work their way into the Silver Economy as a sergeant or junior office in the local military, and be able to afford a better education for their own children and establish a whole generation into the Silver Economy.  In the next generation, one of the children mi break into the Gold Economy …


There has been lots of stuff written about demographics in Fantasy Worlds. In AD&D just everyone who wasn’t a PC was a level 0 Commoner – except for a few special character classes such as the sage.  In early D20 all the NPCs were L1 because they didn’t get XP – but that was never reflected in the modules or APs that people wrote.  Then we went through a phase of NPCs learn something every day – and there were a series of well worked out character sheets and histories for L20 commoners.  None of which quite made sense, or made for a consistent game world.  So I did some analysis, made some calculations – and decided that I could make the numbers say whatever I wanted them to.   So I just made some decisions ….

Something like 60% of the characters in my worlds are commoners, and they average out at (roughly) second level.  Younger Commoners are L1, the average adult is L2 and some reach L3.  A very few go beyond that, but they are few and far between.  There are two main reasons for that:  I want Commoners who won’t die at the drop of a hat; and I want to control the skill levels available to commoners.  Commoners are equally distributed between towns, cities and the countryside, and provide the basic labour force across the land.  In the countryside they are small holders and farm labourers, in settlements they perform all the grunt labour and low skilled jobs.

Another 30% of the population are NPC classes – Adept, Aristocrat, Expert and Warrior.  There are fewer Aristocrats than the other classes – but they all average out at about L3.  Again, that is an arbitrary figure, but it means that Experts can be significantly more skilful than Commoners, that Warriors make reasonable guards and that there is an Adept in most temples who can brew potions.  Lower levels are still in training, and there are a few higher levels – but rarely higher than L5.   You will find more of these classes in towns than you will in the countryside.  The markets are a lot bigger with more people to protect, pray for and sell to.

The last 10% of the population have PC classes.  This includes all the Player Characters as well as their peers, colleagues, competition and many of their enemies.  In my world, most of these have some sort of ‘adventuring’ experience – although I am quite flexible in the way I count adventuring.  Working as a caravan guard or a mercenary counts, so might body guard, working as a navigator or a missionary, dealing with bandits on the frontier or nursing the injured in a war zone.  Years ago, I had a sage character, who accompanied a group as a chronicler and field artist –  be flexible, it all counts.  However, many of these PCs are lowish level and, unless they are in direct competition with the party, rarely go above tenth level.  Enemies are always of a high enough level to pose a decent threat.

Most turn up where you would expect them:  Clerics in temples; Rangers and Barbarians in the wilds; Fighters and Paladins running the military; Wizards in colleges and towers.  However, they are also the wildcards that let me do the unusual – the Oracle in a distant cave, the weird old witch or even a self-sufficient village miles from anywhere.

It makes for a stable, predictable, world where the PCs are the stars of the show –  but still lets me throw in the occasional curve-ball to keep them on their toes.

NPC Training and Development

A strange place to start, perhaps, but this is the concept that underpins much of my thinking in world design, although it doesn’t really affect the players and their characters at all.  However, in a campaign game you have some idea of the PCs background, where they have come from, where they learned their skills, what ages they are –  all things guided by various game rules.  This just codifiers those rules for NPCs and tweaks them slightly to make a useable framework.

The playing areas of my worlds are very human-centric – so the number work well for humans and half-orcs and can stretch to halflings and half-elves without too much hassle.  Elves, Dwarves and gnomes are generally home educated, although the stages are about the same.  99% of NPCs go through the following stages – although not all of them continue to the end.  In my worlds any NPC that doesn’t fit this model has a personal history and character sheet – although it is probably short and basic.

  • Child – Minimal stats
  • Adolescent – Young Template Commoner
  • Adult – Commoner Class
  • Adult – NPC Class
  • Adult – PC Class


Up to about the age of ten or eleven for a human or half-orc, longer for a half-elf or halfling.  Children stay at home, looked after by parents or servants and play.  They don’t have skills and they don’t have stats.  They run away if they are attacked and tend to get very shy if they are spoken to by strangers – or they gable about everything under the sun that is interesting to them.  Take your pick.


Four or five years until they reach their Adult Age.  This is a time when the character starts to interact with the wider world, they go to school and do minor jobs for a few coppers, and they start learning how to interact with people.  For most adolescents school  doesn’t happen every day – instead they might attend two or three half days a week where they learn reading, writing, arithmetic, local customs and basic social behaviour.  Between lessons these are the kids you hold your horse, run errands or deliver messages.  Some street kids might be begging, picking pockets, stealing fruit from market stalls or acting as lookout for older street gangs.

If every you need stats for an adolescent –  treat them as a commoner with the young template and  no skill points  (ie natural roll in every skill).  You are unlikely to employ these guys for a whole day at a time, but you might drop them a copper or two for holding your horse or delivering a message.

Adult – Commoner

When humans reach the age of fifteen, or thereabouts, they become full blown L1 commoners – over half of them stop their education here.  Most of these L1 Commoners don’t have useful skill and need to go out to find work, in the 1sp per day unskilled labour market.  After a few years of this (I normally say 20-21 for a human) they have seen enough to advance to L2, and learn a useful skill which lets them hold down a regular job.  A few will go on to be L3 commoners, even less will become L4 or L5 Commoners.  This 60% of the population make up the working class whose labour keeps the world working.

Adult – NPC Class

The rest are the lucky ones – they come from a wealthy family, a skilled family, a family with contacts, have a benefactor or are extremely gifted.  But somehow someone takes them on as a trainee or pays for them to go to school for extra training.  This might be an apprenticeship, working in the family business or going to a school of some description.  Whatever it is, the character remains an L1 commoner for a year or so and earns next to nothing (more of the 1sp per day employment market).   

Once the training is completed, and the character is about sixteen years old, they become an L1 in the appropriate NPC class (Aristocrat, Adept, Expert or Warrior) learn saleable skills and start to earn better money.  However, the training doesn’t stop there.  The NPC may be working in a family business or serving as a junior member of a temple, as a mage’s apprentice or taking work as a body guard – and gaining experience in their chosen vocation and perhaps taking extra classes.  I use the following ball-park figures and say twenty years old for L2 and twenty-five years old for L3 – with most going on to get those extra levels.  A few will go on to become L4 or L5, and possibly (in exceptional circumstances) L6.  Higher levels are very rare.

NPC class characters probably make up about 30% of the population of my worlds, and manage the day-to-day running of the world.

Adult – PC Class

Few, about 10%, go on to train into PC classes.  These characters are exceptional – they either have wealth families, are really lucky, or have outstanding abilities.  These guys go on to be leaders, specialists and companions (or competition) for the PCs.  In their training the passed through the NPC class stage –  but then either went out adventuring or followed the same path as Adults with  NPC  classes.  It is only when they get to higher levels or they come into direct conflict with your PCs that you need specific character sheets for them.

PCs are most likely to meet Clerics running larger churches,   Fighters as military officers and Wizards as academics.  Other classes slide into equivalent social when appropriate.

The main exception is Aristocrats who go on for PC class training.  Unlike other characters, they generally multi-class aristocrat with their PC class – so they retain the traditional aristocrat abilities as well as their class abilities.