From Hero to Zero; and, a New Name!

You may have noticed, if you’ve been here before, that this blog is very much a work in progress. I’ve never had a blog before, so I’m only slowly going through and finding all the things I can toggle, tweak, and toy with to make this appear the way I’d like it to. Hence, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll see this site slowly change over time.

Today’s one of the bigger changes, that being the name of this blog. Don’t get me wrong, calling it “Alzrius’s Blog” was certainly doing what it should in terms of description – I’m Alzrius and this is my blog – but it just wasn’t poetic enough. So yeah, I’m taking my name out of the title, and instead changing it to its new moniker: Intelligence Check.

Why call it that? Well, because that’s sort of what I’m making each time I make a new post. I’m hoping to lend some new insight into something familiar, or even unfamiliar, and showcase things in a way that’s different from how they usually appear. Of course, other times I’m just trying to be entertaining…but calling this “Charisma Check” didn’t seem quite as catchy.

But enough self-aggrandizing, let’s move on! Today’s topic is another break from the Bestiary, to focus on something else:

ZERO-LEVEL CHARACTERS

I recently started thinking about 0-level characters after a conversation I had with the DM for my Pathfinder game. I was pressing him for stats about the town our characters were in, and he offhandedly replied that most of the town guards were 0-level characters.

Now, this made me blink since Pathfinder doesn’t have 0-level characters. The lowest you can be is to have one level in an NPC class. However, I cut my teeth on Second Edition, and though I’m not totally sure, I think it did have 0-level NPCs in it. Needless to say, that got me thinking about the what’s and why’s of having such characters in Pathfinder, and contrasting the idea versus low-level NPCs.

First, we need to define just what a 0-level NPC is. Okay, simple enough. It’s a character with no class (insert lame joke about being uncouth here). More specifically, it’s a character with no class features – specifically, no Hit Dice, no skill points, no Base Attack Bonus, no Base Saves, and no level-based things (like feats, which are gained at odd-numbered levels).

Now, some of this is a problem. A character with no Hit Dice has no hit points…and a character with no hit points is dead. So by default, we can’t have that. Instead, we’ll assign all 0-level characters a flat 2 hit points – this is because even the weakest NPC classes (which don’t, as I recall, grant full hit points at 1st level) have a d6 hit die, which has an average of 3 hit points (rounded down), so it nicely shows how these guys are less than even level one nobodies. They have more than 1 hit point because otherwise they’d die from a stubbed toe (let alone something really lethal, like a cat’s claws).

So then, what does our 0-level character’s stat block look like? Well, here’s an example. Remember, this affects only class, so all racial abilities apply. I’m also using base stats of 10 and 11, since no 0-level characters are noteworthy in any particular regard.

Joe Average, 0-level Human: CR 1/8; XP 50; Medium humanoid (human); hp 2; Init +0; Spd 30 ft.; AC 10, touch 10, flat-footed 10; Base Atk +0; CMB +0; CMD 10; Melee unarmed strike +0 (1d3 nonlethal); AL N; Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +0; Str 10, Dex 11, Con 10, Int 11, Wis 10, Cha 13; Languages Common.

And there you have it; that’s your base 0-level character right there. Of course, I can foresee a few questions about this build coming, so I’ll answer them here ahead of time:

Where are this guy’s skills and feats? They’re not listed, because he doesn’t have any. Remember, 0-level characters get no feats, and no skill points. Humans, you’ll notice, get their bonus racial feat and bonus skill point starting at 1st-level, which this guy hasn’t achieved yet. He likewise has no armor check penalty, no racial bonuses or penalties (being a human), no class skill bonus since he has no class skills (and no points to spend in them anyway), etc. Basically, the only thing this guy will get is a +1 to untrained skill checks that are Charisma-based, due to his 13 there.

Why does he have a Charisma of 13? You said all 0-level characters had stats of 10 or 11? I did, but any racial bonuses are taken into account. A Pathfinder human has a +2 to one ability score of his choice; this guy wanted to be a bit more charismatic than most people.

What weapons and armor is this guy proficient in? None, save for his unarmed strike (which everyone is always proficient in). Real proficiencies are reserved for people who actually gain a level in something.

Why is his Challenge Rating 1/8? Because that’s the lowest CR possible for a Pathfinder character. Simply put, this guy is about as unthreatening as you can possibly make a creature, short of removing things like the ability to attack altogether. As such, he deserves the lowest CR imaginable, since he’d never be able to seriously threaten a 1st-level character.

Can I play a 0-level PC? You can…but it’s a really bad idea. For one thing, just playing such a weak character is an invitation to wind up with a dead PC. There’s virtually no creature in the Bestiary or anywhere else that couldn’t kill such a character in one hit. Moreover, it’s tricky to have a 0-level character and keep to things like “no remarkable ability scores” since PCs would end up rolling for those anyway once they hit 1st-level; and that leads us to the final question…

How much XP does it take for a 0-level character to hit 1st-level? This is a tricky one, since normal 1st-level characters start off with 0 XP. Strictly speaking, I’d say a 0-level character shouldn’t be able to gain XP; they’re the background characters, the ones who don’t count for anything in any regard, so the idea of them bettering themselves and growing stronger is counter-intuitive.

That said, if you really want a value to level-up one of these guys, I recommend having them reach 1st-level at 50 XP – this is the value of another CR 1/8 creature (and hence, the value of another 0-level NPC). The implication here is that killing someone is enough to make you hit 1st-level; a grim message, though an apropos one for games like Pathfinder, which can be summarized as “kill things and take their stuff.” A quick tip though – if you have PCs going this route, don’t let them gain XP from doing dinky things like finding the most non-threatening animal they can (e.g. a chicken) and killing it for its XP.

Once they level up though, they can then roll (or purchase) their ability scores – which might be a bit awkward to explain how they’re suddenly so different, especially if some go down, so you might want to bend that rule and let them roll up their ability scores as 0-level PCs (after all, aren’t heroes a cut about the rest?) – and choose what class they want to take.

And there you have it! Rules for making characters who truly don’t matter. The next time it’s important to know anything about minor background characters, and you don’t want to bother calculating the skills or picking a feat for your commoner, just pull out a 0-level NPC. And if you’re actually going to try and run a PC this way, good luck…you’ll need it.

Beyond that, did I fail my Intelligence check for this post and leave something important out? If so, post a comment and let me know!

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18 Responses to “From Hero to Zero; and, a New Name!”

  1. Freddy Manchild Says:

    I just killed Joe Average with a housecat. I don’t think that’s by any means average for the farmer I was building. I understand you want to make these guys unimportant, but I feel like your regular grown man can withstand an assault from a cat he forgot to feed in time. Mr. Mitten’s wrath has been incited.

    • alzrius Says:

      Here’s the thing; as amusing as the “housecat” example is, it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. That’s because the Pathfinder rules for damage state “If penalties reduce the damage result to less than 1, a hit still deals 1 point of nonlethal damage.” Given that a housecat deals 1d2-4 damage with its claws and 1d3-4 damage with its bite, it will never be able to kill Joe Average. (This is a change from 3.5, where such a hit was stated to simply cause, “1 point of damage.“)

      (I expect that some people think that taking nonlethal damage in excess of their full hit points will begin taking lethal damage. However, that’s not a general rule that’s applied to all nonlethal damage; rather, it’s specifically called out as being the case only for particular circumstances, such as extreme heat or cold, or starvation/thirst.)

      EDIT: I made a mistake above: the rules for nonlethal damage do indeed state that accumulating nonlethal damage in excess of your full hit points causes further nonlethal damage to be converted to lethal damage as a general rule, rather than being limited to particular circumstances.

  2. Freddy Manchild Says:

    Update. I just killed Joe Average with a house centipede. This must have been quite the angry centipede to have sent a man into an unconscious state so quickly. I wonder what he did to anger it. Maybe he swatted at it and failed to hit for some reason, because he’s failed to stomp two creatures smaller than him thus far. I’m willing to accept suspension of disbelief, but this is just ridiculous.

    • alzrius Says:

      The house centipede is exactly the same as the housecat in your previous listing. It deals 1d3-5 damage on a bite, which means it’s never going to be more than 1 point of nonlethal damage, and even its poison only causes a daze effect.

      It’s not really that ridiculous if you read the rules, instead of reading what you think the rules mean. Now, one could very well argue that such creatures shouldn’t even have the ability to inflict even a single point of nonlethal damage, but that’s a question of those creatures being poorly designed, rather than the design for average humans.

      • Freddy Manchild Says:

        I’ll just pick this one to respond to. I did in fact overlook the nonlethal damage actually, thank you for pointing that out. I’ve been overlooking that one for my own adventurers. But my point is even being given a proper challenge, say, Joe Average vs Jane Average. One to three punches resolves. the entire conflict. This is not normal. This is a man with osteoporosis and a muscle problem. My issue is the HP is way too low.

      • alzrius Says:

        Strictly speaking, you’re correct that if two people with “Joe Average” stat blocks were to fight, it would only take one or two hits to knock them out. An unarmed strike from a Medium creature does 1d3 points of nonlethal damage (though it provokes an attack of opportunity). If the average result is a 2, one Joe Average will knock another out in a single hit.

        That’s not in question; the issue at hand is this being “not normal” due to the hit points being “way too low.”

        What you’re saying is true insofar as fidelity to reality goes. While it’s technically possible to knock someone out in a single blow, that’s not going to be the average result of a fight between two ordinary people. However, that’s not necessarily going to be the case here either, for several reasons.

        The first is that there’s roughly a 45% chance that this strike will miss, since one Joe Average attacking another will need to make an unmodified attack roll versus AC 10, so a roll of 9 or less will be an attack that doesn’t connect. That might not seem like an issue, but insofar as narrating the failed attack, there’s no reason why that couldn’t be portrayed as a punch that connects but fails to cause notable damage (e.g. minor enough damage that it doesn’t translate to nonlethal damage). This isn’t unintuitive, since attack rolls have always aggregated both the question of successfully landing a blow, and landing a blow with enough force to cause damage.

        There’s also the fact that there will be at least a few instances of point-counterpoint going on. That’s because one unarmed strike from Joe Average 1 will provoke an attack of opportunity from Joe Average 2…and if he takes it, his unarmed strike (used for the AoO) will in turn provoke an AoO from Joe Average 1 (but the cycle stops there, since neither have Combat Reflexes or a Dex bonus). That can likewise be narrated as punches going back and forth.

        There’s also the issue of one person who put their +2 human racial bonus into Constitution, and so has a total of 3 hit points. True, that means that they can only withstand three successful unarmed strikes at most, but that’s still a not-insignificant increase when combined with the two ideas presented above.

        These are all ways in which a fight between two 0-level individuals could be more than a game of “whoever strikes first wings.”

        But there’s another issue that deserves to be brought up here, which is the difference between the basic presumptions between “how things work in the real world” and “how things work in Pathfinder.” Insofar as the issue of fidelity to reality goes, I don’t believe that Pathfinder is trying to mimic how various things – including combat between ordinary people – work in the real world. Rather, Pathfinder’s basic backdrop of reality is the world as presented through the lens of an action movie. Real people can be potentially downed in one hit because that aids and abets the idea that a tougher-than-average person (e.g. a PC or NPC) can outfight hordes of ordinary people, despite such a thing not being feasible in the real world.

        Pathfinder isn’t “normal” because it’s not supposed to be. Even at the most basic level, Pathfinder checks “normal” at the door in favor of what’s more dramatic.

      • Freddy Manchild Says:

        He was rendered unconscious from non-lethal damage, even still. He was then the victim of failing his Fort save of a Coup de Grace, by the way. Which does still hold up.

      • Freddy Manchild Says:

        Thank you for putting up with incessant posting by the way. Newish to the game, and navigating the PFSRD is a nightmare I am learnign to cope with.

      • alzrius Says:

        I’m not sure why it’s a problem to be rendered unconscious from nonlethal damage, but I mentioned below that there is – at best – a level of ambiguity regarding using a coup de grace with nonlethal damage. That would make it seem to be impossible to beat someone to death with your bare hands, making it an odd corner-case in the game rules (albeit one that won’t come up in most games).

        It’s fine about the myriad posting; I can sympathize with having to swim through huge tracts of rules to try and figure out how things are supposed to work.

  3. Freddy Manchild Says:

    In fact, even if this man (formerly known as Joe Average, now known as “Jimbob Subpar”) were not inciting the wrath of a very ineffective druid, he could not survive even paying rent and food enough to survive by Paizo’s standards. Failing to supply these modified buildings to supplement your 0-Level Character, it is to be inferred these remain unchanged.

    For a week of work, Jimbob Subpar earns 7 silver pieces.
    A poor inn room costs 2 silver pieces per day to live in.
    Barring getting 7 or 8 roommates, Jimbob Subpar isn’t paying rent if he can’t even manage a louse-riddled room of an inn.

    This isn’t counting food costs, so, now he has 7 or 8 roommates to feed instead of just himself. So that cost exponentially rises.

    The average human being is starving to death on the street and nobody owns houses.

    • alzrius Says:

      Now that we’ve debunked the whole “death by ineffective druid” bit, we’ll turn to the latest issue at hand regarding his ability to earn enough to live.

      You’re right that this character would only earn 1 silver piece per day, as per the Profession skill listing. What you’ve overlooked are the rules regarding cost of living. Specifically, the “Poor” entry, which notes that it costs 3 gp per month…exactly what someone earning 1 silver piece a day will earn in 30 days.

      That entry further states (emphasis mine): “The PC lives in common rooms of taverns, with his parents, or in some other communal situation—this is the lifestyle of most untrained laborers and commoners. He need not track purchases of meals or taxes that cost 1 sp or less.”

      So Joe Average is perfectly able to survive, in that he can feed and house himself. He’s not dying on the street, is able to keep his name, and functions just fine as the ordinary background character that he’s supposed to be.

      It’s almost like the game rules are self-consistent in that regard. Funny how that works.

      • Freddy Manchild Says:

        The PC doesn’t need to track meals costing 1 SP or less. The man who got Coup de Graced by a centipede for being Helpless, after being rent Unconscious, is not a PC. I’m going through his life to make sure everything adds up. I never actually understood why it was that poor people didn’t need to track meals when they blatantly don’t make enough.

        Actually, we were generalizing “rent” with estimations for not being able to find a proper listing for houses, so maybe it was that we set rent too high.

      • Freddy Manchild Says:

        Even under the 3 GP per rent cycle rule, the man clearly and mathematically does not make enough to eat, as any detracting from that would send him into the Red Zone. And I mean -any- detracting. From food, which for some reason don’t get tracked (I track them anyway to make sure it functions, it doesn’t in this instance), asking for repairs made on a Hoe that was snapped in half during a struggle with a vicious housecat,

        ANY detracting whatsoever would cause him to miss rent.

      • alzrius Says:

        The use of “The PC” insofar as the phrasing of the various Cost of Living entries is shorthand, and not any sort of indication that those rules apply to PCs only.

        It’s also highly questionable whether or not a house centipede could perform a coup de grace. The rules for that action state that you “automatically deliver a critical hit.” The rules for a critical hit state that ” you roll your damage more than once, with all your usual bonuses, and add the rolls together.”

        Now, I suppose we can debate the semantics of adding only “bonuses” to a critical hit and not “penalties,” but the intent seems clear; you’re essentially making two damage rolls, with all of the normal modifiers therein, save for special exceptions to the critical rules (e.g. additional dice of damage). So that house centipede is going to deal 2d3-10 on a critical hit. Since it’s not dealing actual damage, then it can’t make the commoner roll a Fort save versus dying. So, unsurprisingly, that house centipede isn’t really a threat to Joe Average on its own.

        Finally, insofar as Joe Average living in a world where he can’t afford any monetary disasters without being driven into poverty…that’s correct. While he’ll technically be able to scrimp and save a measly 5 silver pieces if he works every single day out of a 365-day year, that’s not significant enough to make a difference. For the most part, Joe Average is a poor person living on the very edge of falling into poverty, and that’s an accurate reflection of the state of ordinary people in the game world, which is entirely believable. If something bad does happen, then Joe Average is going to be up the creek…unless he gets help. This is why people tend to form communities to begin with, since having a close-knit circle of people who’ll help you out also means that they’ll in turn have people who’ll help them out when they need it. Beyond this is the concept of organized religions giving alms, loans (probably for non-monetary repayments), and if worse comes to worst, Joe Average will just have to try and make an untrained skill check to repair something (since Craft can be used untrained), or make do without it.

        Nowhere in the article does it state that Joe Average’s life is a good or easy one.

  4. Freddy Manchild Says:

    I’d also in general just like to know why NPC classes were not suitable where http://www.d20pfsrd.com/classes/npc-classes/non-player-characters lists “commoners” among the classes and the stat blocks seem fairly balanced in and of themselves.

    Some people are better at life than others, hence the addition of skill points and level ups. Because people have skills, like the ability to swim or climb or learn how to function better in your given profession, which your 0-level characters don’t seem to have. They will forever be stuck at 7 GP a week until they literally murder another human being and somehow gain nearly double, or even triple what he had before in HP.

    • alzrius Says:

      I think you misunderstood the point of this post. I wasn’t suggesting that the NPC classes weren’t suitable; they function just fine, and as you note the NPC stat blocks do a fairly good job in having people differentiate themselves from each other without inflating them with any notable degree of power or ability compared to PCs.

      I made a stat block for a 0-level character partly as a fun intellectual exercise about what a 0-level character would look like in Pathfinder, partly to make a ready-to-use stat block for background characters that didn’t require a GM to have to come up with skill or feat allocations, and partly to define what seemed like the lowest common denominator of background NPCs you’re likely to meet in a typical town. (There’s also the fun idea of a 0-level character being able to “graduate” from being 0-level to 1st-level…especially if they do so to a PC class.)

      Joe Average is the most basic of background NPCs, the kind of person who has no real task in the game except for being a face in the crowd. He isn’t meant to represent anyone that the PCs would ever bother interacting with, since even the typical NPCs that they would bother to talk to – such as shopkeeps, blacksmiths, and innkeepers – are all above this guy in virtually every conceivable metric.

      • Freddy Manchild Says:

        I see.

        Though. Hah. “He isn’t meant to represent anyone that the PCs would ever bother interacting with.”

        My PCs would like to say otherwise, which is why I went snooping around for an easier method of making characters that are just that. Faces in the crowd. Because I got tired of them ending up getting in the way and resolving how they’d resolve the crossfire. We are running a Downtime Heavy campaign currently, and as it turns out, spending a lot of time within the city tends to get faceless mooks caught up in the fray when things do go South and combat plays a factor.

      • alzrius Says:

        Oh, I completely agree; the nature of PCs is to throw curveballs at the GM, so it’s not at all unthinkable that you’d need a stat block for someone that is otherwise so overwhelmingly unimportant that no stat block should be necessary – as I said, one of the reasons I made wrote this was so that GMs could have one on hand if they needed it.

        After all, as I confessed at the beginning of this article, I’ve been one of the players who’ve put their GM in that position to begin with.

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