Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Common Sense and a Little Class

Though most folks are short on both
I've been thinking recently about running a game with a little more grit than your average game. However, I don't want to change the setting to a grittier world. (But how cool would it be to have adventurers be mostly commoners and the occasional 5e Character Class be on the level of a Demigod? Dang cool)

So instead of dialing up my Grimdark-o-meter, I can simply lower the power of the players! And I can do that by making a class just for commoners. You know, the unwashed masses?

But I want to accomplish two things: first, I don't want to give a Commoner a neat ability that a player wouldn't ever have. That's just begging to unbalance the game. Second, I want these commoners to eventually be able to take up adventuring if they wish to.

You see, it's not a terrible secret, but nearly every NPC in the Monster Manual is just the Commoner stat block with a bunch of levels stacked onto it. So it stands to reason that a commoner who "answers a higher calling" to adventure could just as easily "answer a higher calling" to become a Priest, Archmage, or Thug. So we don't want to give these "ascended commoners" a weird leg up.

So how do we do this? Simple - we just use the Commoner Class as a method for building a background. By the time a character reaches the end of the commoner class, they can become an adventurer - or not.

Here's how that would look.

Commoner Class

Hit Points
Hit Dice: 1d8 (does not increase per Commoner Level)
Hit Points at 1st level: 4 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at higher levels: 1 per Commoner level after 1st

Armor: None
Weapons: None
Tools: None
Saving Throws: None
Skills: None

  • Fine Clothes, Robes of a Faction, Common Clothes, or Rags
  • A pouch of Copper and Silver pieces (your DM and your Role determine how much)
  • A Set of Tools related to your Apprenticeship, or a Book in the Language you learn

At 1st level, a commoner already knows their place in the world. Your ability scores must be 10 before adding racial modifiers, you do not gain the benefits of a Background, and you must select a Role to undertake in your community. This Role determines how you survive in the setting. Work with your DM to determine your Role, choose from the list below, or roll randomly.

In addition to the Role you choose, you must create two personality traits, an ideal, a bond, and a flaw for your character. See the Player's Handbook pg. 123 for detailed descriptions of each of these traits. Each time you gain a level in the Commoner class, you may change any one of these traits, which reflects your personal growth.

At 1st level, and again at 3rd level, you gain the benefits of prolonged study in a specific profession. Select a Tool or Language and gain proficiency in it. The Tool or Language can be related to your Role, but it can also reflect training from your past.

At 2nd level, and again at 4th level, your interactions with the world and the people within it have expanded your understanding. Select a Skill and gain proficiency in it. The Skill can be related to your Role, or it can reflect something you have learned through your exploration of the world.

By 5th level, you have forged a bond with a certain type of person, place, or faction. Work with your DM to determine the benefits created by that bond. The benefit you receive cannot affect your combat capabilities in any way. However, your connections can grant you leverage in situations that require exploration or interaction with the world and the people in it.

By 5th level, you are a capable member of society. You could easily live the rest of your life with the trades, skills, and connections you have forged. However, your character may not wish to be consigned to such a simple life. At 5th level, you may recreate your character using the Player's Handbook classes, equipment, and stats.

To properly reflect this transformation, your character may need to spend months or even years training with a member of your class or a faction that instructs members of your class, such as a Bardic College or Military Academy. Work with your DM to determine how long such training would take.

If your character would rather not become an adventurer, they can instead become an NPC. Select an NPC stat block from the Monster Manual (MM pg. 342). Your character works to learn the skills required to become that NPC, taking an amount of time equal to the NPC's CR x 3 years. Your DM may restrict or allow certain NPC stat blocks based on their availability to your character.

Why bother adventuring when you can upgrade to Noble?
Now, since we need our character to start their adventuring career with 0 XP, I'd suggest using milestone experience for the commoner class. Focus on life events, surviving, and personal growth - since that's what the class emphasizes. It's no different than writing a lot of social encounters because the party contains a Bard. You could even do multiple milestones a session, since leveling is relatively easy.

Finally, let's talk combat. These PCs are the equivalent of a CR 0 monster. Thus, I'd only use CR 0 and CR 1/8 monsters against them. I'm not kidding - more than a single encounter with a few rats could kill one of these Commoners. Kicked by a mule? Dead. Surprised by a Crawling Claw? Goodbye. Flumphs are now officially terrifying.

All in all, I wouldn't play with Commoners for more than a few sessions. D&D is about heroism, adventure, and gaining power over the world. It's hard to feel heroic when you get one-shotted by a single Kobold. But it can establish a baseline about the world and how much the people within it need saving.

Unfortunately, most commoners end up using this mini...
Thanks for reading!

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