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.