Zero-level NPCs

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Giving the “Normal Man” a bit of character.

The bulk of campaign populations is comprised of semi-professional and so-called “”Normal Men.”” Such NPCs are not classed; indeed, in many cases, that would be inappropriate, illogical, or too much work for the DM. Yet they lack any real skill under the current rules. The solution outlined here uses Weapon Mastery and General Skills to help these important NPCs do their campaign jobs without the need for character class.


Zero-level NPCs occupy the middle strata of any campaign, nestled above completely unskilled people and below classed characters. These “semi-professional” NPCs play the roles of talented craftsmen, skilled artisans, marginal mercenaries, and even bureaucrats and politicians who maintain and rule over campaign settlements. In fact, zero-level NPCs can represent any enemy or ally of the PCs who the DM wishes to invest with more than the bland stats of a “Normal Man.”

All zero-level NPCs operate under a single, broad limitation: they do not possess or advance in an actual character class. As a result, they do not earn experience, do not improve level-based stats (e.g., hit points, saving throws, et al.), and do not ever (in game terms) rise above 0-level. However, these restrictions can be overcome through the use of Weapon Mastery and General Skills—not to the point of raising them to the same ability level as PCs, but certainly enough to help them do their jobs in the setting. As a final introductory note, you may or may not choose to use this system to generate NPC specialists (e.g., alchemists, animal trainers, sages, etc.; RC/133). The decision is based on what the specialist needs to do in your campaign. For example, a sage with deep knowledge of history and humanoid races could probably be a zero-level NPC; if you need that sage to cast spells, he should probably be a classed magic-user.Many thanks to Robert Weber (aka. Bobjester) of the Yahoo! ODDguild group for his inspiration and insight into this piece.

Class Details

Primary Attribute: None.
Experience Bonus: n/a.
Hit Dice: As race (see below).
Maximum Level: 0.
Armour: Any.
Weapons: Any.
Combat: Attacks as Normal Man (RC/107).
Special Abilities: See below.

Special Abilities

Zero-level NPCs use the Weapon Mastery (RC/75) and General Skills (RC/81) slot system to acquire and improve abilities. All zero-level characters begin with 2 slots, plus a number of slots equal to their INT adjustment (RC/9). Each slot may be spent to acquire or improve a general skill, gain a weapon at Basic mastery, or increase one’s weapon mastery level with an existing weapon. Slots are gained with age, as shown below:

Age Category Slots Total Slots
Adolescenta 2 + INT adj. 2 + INT adj.
Young adult +1 3 + INT adj.
Adult +1 4 + INT adj.
Middle-age +1 5 + INT adj.
Old +1b 6 + INT adj.
Venerable +1b 7 + INT adj.

a. For pre-adolescent NPCs, use the character’s INT adjustment only.
b. INT, WIS, or CHA skills only, and no weapon mastery slots allowed.

Traditionally class-based abilities are beyond the scope of zero-level characters, though some may be equated to General Skills. Unobtainable abilities are noted as “”n/a”” in the table below; talents that may be equated to General Skills are noted with an ability score or General Skill equivalent:

Class Ability General Skill
Clerical spells n/a
Turn Undead n/a
Lance attack n/a
Set Spear vs. Charge n/a
Figher Combat Options (RC/104) n/a
Magic spells n/a
Figher Combat Options n/a
Backstab n/a
Open Locks DEX
Find Traps INT
Remove Traps n/a
Climb Walls STR
Move Silently Stealth
Hide in Shadows DEX
Pick Pockets DEX
Hear Noise INT


Zero-level NPCs are not limited to humans only: depending on the campaign, other races may support zero level characters as well. To create non-human zero-level NPCs, start with the normal class or monster description and remove any ability based on experience points or level, and any ability that (as a DM) you feel outside the capabilities of the average member of the race. Replace each separate ability removed, add one slot to the NPC’s pool or substitute a specific General Skill. A non-exhaustive list appears below:


  • Lose: Fighter Manoeuvres and Combat Options, underground detection (traps, sliding walls, sloping corridors, and new construction), half-damage from spells
  • Keep: Infravision, languages (dwarf, gnome, goblin, kobold)
  • Gain: 3 slots (suggested: Bravery or Endurance, Craft (choose type), weapon mastery slot)
  • Save As: Dwarf 1
  • HD: 1d8 (+CON)


  • Lose: Fighter Manoeuvres and Combat Options, half-damage from dragon breath, detection (secret and hidden doors), magic spells
  • Keep: Infravision, languages (elf, gnoll, hobgoblin, orc), immunity to ghoul paralysis
  • Gain: 4 slots (suggested: Alertness, Alternate Magics, Nature Lore, weapon mastery slot (bow))
  • Save As: Elf 1
  • HD: 1d6 (+CON)


  • Lose: Fighter Manoeuvres and Combat Options, missile attack bonus, half-damage from spells and dragon breath
  • Keep: Initiative bonus, Hide bonus, AC bonus vs. larger than man-sized opponents
  • Gain: 3 slots (suggested: Bravery or Endurance, Danger Sense, Singing or Storytelling)
  • Save As: Halfling 1
  • HD: 1d6 (+CON)


  • Lose: Association with dire wolves
  • Keep: Infravision, Daylight combat penalty
  • Gain: 1 slot (suggested: Stealth)
  • Save As: Normal Man
  • HD: 1d8-1 (+CON)


  • Lose: Automatic damage bonus (base on STR score)
  • Keep: Daylight combat penalty
  • Gain: 1 slot (suggested: Intimidation)
  • Save As: Fighter 1
  • HD: 1d8 (+CON)

You may, of course, tweak what’s lost, kept, and gained in each race, as suits your campaign. The only recommendation we have in this regard is that for each ability lost, the race gains a slot; for each ability kept, a slot is lost.

Age Categories

A zero-level NPC’s available slots are based on his age category. Since the RC contains no official indication of racial lifespan, here’s a suggested set of values to equate age in years with age category:

Age Category Human Dwarf Elf Halfling Goblin Orc
Adolescent 6-12 40-80 80-160 10-20 2-4 3-6
Young Adult 13-24 81-160 161-320 21-40 5-8 7-12
Adult 25-36 161-240 321-480 41-60 9-12 13-18
Middle-Age 37-48 241-320 481-640 61-80 13-16 19-24
Old 49-60 321-400 641-800 81-100 17-20 25-30
Venerable 61+ 401+ 801+ 101+ 21+ 31+
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Erin Smale

Erin Smale is the author of the Chimera RPG and, a sporadic, rambling blog that provides tips and tools for the time-challenged game master. He lives in secret along the New Jersey coast with his ass-kicking wife Kim and astoundingly cute dog Bella.

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