Old School Design Idea: 99% of the Population are Zero Level Characters

I have been thinking about my next game design and after much thought, I’ve designed I would like to take 0e and “redesign” it with some different assumptions.

The first of these different assumptions will actually be more like what the original designers probably expected. The game will be based on the idea that at least 99% of the population are 0 level characters who have 6 hit points or less. For example, normal humans will have a negative combat bonus and a saving throw of 20. Here’s what I’m current thinking:

Level  Hit Points  CB  ST   WpnD    Talent
Child 1 hp -3 20 1 -
Youth 2 hps -2 20 1d2 1 talent (1 Good at)
Adult 3 hps -1 20 1d3 2 talents (or 1 Expert at)
Master 3 hps -1 20 1d3 3 talents (or 1 Master at
or 1 Expert at and 1 Good at)

While those with combat training will look something like this:

Level  Hit Points  CB  ST   WpnD    Talent
Milita 4 hps 0 20 1d3 1 talent
NCO 5 hps +1 20 1d4 2 talents
Officer 5 hps +2 20 1d4 2 talents
Cmdr 6 hps +2 20 1d4 3 talents

where CB is Combat Bonus, ST is saving throw, WpnD is the damage they do in combat with any weapon, and Talents is the mundane skills they have.

This means a 1st level fighter with (as currently planned) hit points of 1d6+8 and a CB of +3, a ST of 16, and a WpnD of 1d6+3 is already head and shoulders above a trained and experienced human warrior, let alone a normal farmer or merchant.

Let’s look at what this means with regard to monsters. A normal human only has a 5% chance of making a saving throw, this means that monsters with special abilities are truely a terror to the normal population. A first level fighter will have a 25% chance of making their save which is five times better than the vast majority of the population. Most 1 hit die monsters will do at least 1d6+1 damage which means they do more damage than even a trained and experienced normal warrior. The least healthly first level fighter will have 9 hit points, that is 50% more than the most experienced normal human with combat training and 3 times the amount the average adult has.

First level characters in this game will not be that much more powerful that first level characters in most OSR games, but because you will not normally have leveled characters as blacksmiths, innkeepers or villiage guardsmen, they are effectively (and noticeably) more powerful in the world. This means the 4th level fighters will truly be the heroes and 8th level fighters will truly be the superheroes that they were originally called in 0e.

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6 Responses

  1. Joseph Bloch says:

    This is why first level fighters are called veterans. Only someone who has been through a battle or campaign has even the abilities of a first-level fighter.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I don't thino this kind of differentiation would make much of a difference. The nice thing about everyone being level 0 is that it removes the need to stat all these NPCs. They are mechanically all the same and you can very easily memorize the stats for all of them at once. Maybe at 1st or 2nd level there might be a small statistically observable difference between fighting youths and milita, but I am not sure if the players would even notice. And at higher levels it would really make no difference.
    I go with one list of stats for everyone in my game.

  3. Randall says:

    Joseph: Unfortunately, the game as played seem to move away from this very quickly. The early Judges Guild stuff had most of their shopkeepers and innkeepers have classes and levels. Sure, the occasional retired adventurer is going to run a shop or an inn, but having most people having classes and levels changed the feel of the game.

  4. Randall says:

    yora23: Perhaps the difference between a youth and a militia member will not be much. I don't expect or want there to be much between a teen and a militia commander on the PC scale of things. The point is in this system even a first level character will be a noticeable cut above a normal person: able to take more damage, dish out more damage, resist magic much better, etc.

    As the entire world will be built around this, I suspect players will notice. But even if they don't if this makes the game system and worlds build for easier to handle in a consistent manner, it's worth doing.

  5. Eric Diaz says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Eric Diaz says:

    I like this as a perspective of 0e, and I agree first level characters should be noticeably stronger than normal men, but I prefer to start PCS at level 3 and leave level 1 to peasant militia, etc. Your first level fighter with +3 CB and 1d6+8 HP is quite tough for first level. I like the idea of negative CB, since it allows for some granularity in lowest-level foes. In any case, I'm looking forward to see your next game.