Monday, February 8, 2021

#TBT - The First Book - Zero to Hero, Uncommon Commoners

Today's post is a #TBT. Back to my first book. I can't believe it's been over two years and 300 downloads later. Perhaps it's time for an update.
I play a fusion of B/X and AD&D. Back in the day, we had no internet, so I had no context as to which books went with which games.

I vaguely recall some sort of conversion rules to bring your Basic and Expert Characters to AD&D and vis-à-vis. I liked that idea, but then when going through the process, I said, "Screw it! There aren't enough differences between AD&D and Basic/Expert to really warrant this much effort. Elves can be Generic or classed. You can generate stats using either set, etc. We are just doing this."

After years and years of play, I know the differences between AD&D and Basic and Expert. The main twist is that AD&D characters have higher stats, higher bonuses, more of everything in AD&D from weapons to magic spells to magical item and monsters. Demi-humans advance faster with clearly defined abilities in B/X but have level limits, even with the lower levels and ability scores. For the homebrew game, the differences aren't so great. Missile fire is the great equalizer in AD&D, you get more per round which is deadly compared to B/X. 

One thing that bothered me about each set of rules was the lack of secondary skills as a fully fleshed out set of statistics. The options were always there to vaguely support NPCs, but when tacking on an professional skill to a Player Character, the DM had to do it all.

I love my NPC characters, usually they act in the supporting role. They don't cast magic, they don't own a sword. They are there to do far more that carry torches and equipment as per the rules, but not sling a sword or spells. Over the years, I developed a set of rules to accommodate these types of characters. I called it Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners. They were the type of characters populating a small town to large city.

My first principal was developed from looking at the to hit and saving throw tables. Most of the time, player characters are challenged by rolls in the low teens at low levels. Well, making buckets is easier than that, so my NPCs have a better than 50-50 chance of making something. Second, failure is not applicable. You aren't much of a bucket maker if you fail 50% of the time. Failure for NPC professionals is missing one or more of their target goals. They make 8 buckets instead of 9, they are a day late, some are wood and some are metal, etc.

Second principle is they suck as combatants, but might have some terrifying skill with a tool. Stoneworker's hammers are just brutal, scribes have razor-like knives, and roofers have their terrible zaxes. These characters have an advantage with tools as weapons, but the tools themselves are poor weapons. Also, lumping someone in the head can damage the tool and the target, limiting the user to use it as a tool again. 

Third, they have horrible hit points, attributes are rolled on average dice and saving throws are poor. They max out at 7 or so hit points, including constitution bonuses. "Luck number 7" was the guiding thought in this choice. It's luck that they have more HP than a first or second level character, but this is a poor meat shield choice for the PCs.

Some people have asked if this is character sieve, it is very much the opposite. In fact, there is a section on how an NPC professional can transition to Player Character, saving a poorly rolled character. This method generates characters fast by allowing the DM to save those who have abysmal stats. The process of generation assumes the professional character started with averaged die rolls and this can be used to "lift" someone who didn't qualify for a true PC at first. 

In Uncommon Commoners, you'll find over 50 character classes for professionals. They can be used to flesh out your towns or add a bit of flare to a PC. They are far from overpowered, but do add zest to any campaign.


  1. When we were stupid teenagers we constantly argued about whether "real" heavy metal (1985) had keyboards. Everyone had a preference about what was the purest or the best. I won't even mention jazz a-holes in this, if Joe Pass could outplay Jake E. Lee. Who cares? They're both awesome.

    Same with fantasy rules. It's a pizza. Sit down, decide what goes on the pizza, pour some soda and enjoy the pizza. You could always tell who was a nerd because they would spout about how fast a car could go 0-60. No one races 0-60. We race 0-120, or until the car overheats, shakes too much, or someone lets off the gas.

    The Uncommon Commoners (also called the Spice Cabinet, or Pedal Board) element is what gives an adventure the memorable quality we all remember forever.

    A fantastic concept and execution. Leave rules to the nerds. Just play. Hendrix was going into jazz, anyway.

  2. Also: if I route my bloated Amazon family-spending through your portal/link, and buy regular stuff, jewelry, purses, rabbit gloves, etc., for my wife and questionable children (they don't look like me at all, curious?!?), do you receive a residual, even if I buy items other than D&D books? It would be an easy way to support your enterprise.

    1. Generally, I do get a percentage of a sale. It has to be purchased within 24 hrs of the first click for Amazon goods. It applies to virtually everything physical. For DriveThruRPG, it's mostly electronic goods like pdfs.

      Some items don't have a payout for me, such as a subscriptions to Amazon products, Youtube links, gift cards, etc. If I post about these things, it's because I just like it enough to mention it.

      All of the podcasts fall into this category and most of the video games like Gemstone IV. They're interesting, so I mention them as much as possible. I get nothing for these links.

  3. I deleted your post so as not to have an exposed email link.

    Basically, the way affiliate programs work is if a consumer clicks an ad link, a cookie is placed on the consumer's computer. As they travel around a shopping site, that cookie tells the company that I referred the consumer. If the consumer makes a purchase, then the affiliate (me) gets credited with the sale and I receive a percentage. If you click a link for a D&D book and ultimately buy a frying pan, I still get credited.

    There are a couple of product categories where I don't receive credit for because of the terms of the program. To be honest, they are odd things like ebooks and movies, where advertising tends to be a part of the product (The Avengers Films) or like an ebook where margins are tight. For example, today I have a link for The Minus Faction books I enjoy. I don't get a credit for that, I just really like the series.

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    While you seem "all in", many people just want out, which is why I don't personally collect information on readers. I do collect websites for analytical purposes, which is actually controlled by the Google link in my privacy policy.

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