The Demographics of Heroism

Once I figured out the wage rate of a peasant and the value of an acre of land, that put ACKS on solid economic footing. From there I was able to extrapolate the income of a wide variety of professions, as well as the income of various levels of lords and nobles. Since the classical "gold for XP" mechanic drives the advancement of characters, the wealth of the society in turn told us how many characters of various levels could exist in the setting. Here, then, are the demographics of heroism...

  • 0th: Most able-bodied humans
  • 1st: 1 in 12 - The best in an extended family
  • 2nd: 1 in 40 - The best in an estate or hamlet
  • 3rd: 1 in 100 - The best in a tiny barony or village
  • 4th: 1 in 200 - The best in a small barony or large village
  • 5th: 1 in 500 - The best in a barony or large village
  • 6th: 1 in 2,000 - The best in a march or town
  • 7th: 1 in 6,000 - The best in a county
  • 8th: 1 in 10,000 - The best in county
  • 9th: 1 in 30,000- The best in a small duchy or big city
  • 10th: 1 in 100,000 - The best in a duchy
  • 11th: 1 in 500,000 - The best in a principality
  • 12th: 1 in 1 million  - The best in a small kingdom or large principality
  • 13th: 1 in 2,500,000 - The best in a kingdom
  • 14th: 1 in 7,750,000 - The best in an empire

This gives a useful sense of scale and of threat level. For example, a 14th level wizard can threaten a kingdom. A 10th level fighter can threaten a duchy. A 9th level assassin is the terror of a city. A 6th level thief preys on the residents of a barony. It also lets us benchmark some famous heroes based on their reputation and area of operation:

  • Bilbo, most famous adventurer in the shire, was a 6th level Thief.
  • The Castellan of the Keep on the Borderlands, lord of a march, was a 6th level Fighter.
  • Sir Tristan, the best knight from the county of Cornwall, was a 7th level Fighter.
  • Robin Hood, hero of Nottingham County, was an 8th level Explorer.
  • Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, the best thieves in Lankhmar, are a 9th level Explorer and 9th level Thief.
  • Sir Gawain, the best knight from the principality of Orkney, was an 11th level Fighter.
  • Beowulf, who arrives to deal with the threat to the small kingdom of the Geats, was a 12th level Fighter.
  • Lancelot and Roland, the best in all of Dark Ages England and France respectively, were 12th level Fighters.
  • Merlin, the best magician in all of England, was a 12th level Mage.
  • Conan, conqueror of the kingdom of Aquilonia, was a 13th level Fighter.
  • Thoth-Amon, most powerful sorcerer-priest in Stygia, was a 13th level Chaotic Cleric.
  • Achilles, the best warrior on either side of the largest war of Antiquity, was a 14th level Fighter.
  • Elric, most powerful sorcerer of the vast Melnibonean Empire, was a 14th level Spellsword.

Of course these are just the minimum level of experience. It's possible Robin Hood was the best archer in England (12th level). But we know he was at least 8th level. Beowulf might have been the best fighter in Christendom (14th level). But he was at least 12th level, in ACKS terms.

I like this.

This is an exceptionally interesting breakdown, and I like the way it puts a framework around the advancing levels. Useful in all kinds of ways. It neatly addresses one of my main complaints against a lot of campaign settings - the overabundance of power. Very nice!

I just did a quick check and this fits perfectly with the demographics of my 1e Yggsburgh campaign - 40,000 people, a big city, and 1 or 2 9th level NPCs.

S’mon - I’m glad that your intuitions and ours worked out.

When I worked these up, I took as the baseline the apparent “implied demographics” from B/X and AD&D’s Monster Manual, before the level inflation of later years gave every small town a 9th level mayor, etc.

It just occurred to me that smaller communities always feel “right” for 0e/1e D&D - - with the simpler rules and the maximum 10th level, tinier towns and villages and hunkered-down keeps feel more appropriate, somehow. Anyone else feel this way?

Zac, I agree. I generally run my campaigns on the frontier. The highest level NPC in the Borderlands was 11th level. Late in the game the “conquering” PCs might expand to tackle tougher foes in the empire at large.

“Elric, most powerful sorcerer of the vast Melnibonean Empire, was a 14th level Spellsword.”

Impressive since Spellsword caps at level 10. I think the guidelines get skewed for high experience classes like that one.

Odd, I would have thought Conan was a Barbarian.

Very cool concept. One thing to be careful with is that it should be based more on population than “title.”

For example, the Principality of Orkney is a remote, thinly-populated area both then and now; population would be c. 5000-15,000 tops. So Tristan ends up 8th level or so. Lankhmar’s population might well be much larger than a “big city” - most depictions suggest a metropolis rivaling medieval Constantinople or Bagdhad, in which case we might be talking 100,000 to 1,000,000 million and level 11-12 or so for its heroes…