B40 Normal Human

Revisitation: a series of posts that each feature a quote from a classic source along with a short discussion. Quotes that make me question some previous assumption I had about the game or that seem to lead to otherwise unexpected consequences will be preferred.

This entry comes from the Normal Human monster entry in Moldvay Basic (page B40):

A normal human is a human who does not seek dangerous adventure. A normal human does not have a class. … As soon as a human gets experience points through an adventure, that person must choose a character class.

So this is how humans in Moldvay D&D become adventurers: not by training, not by having exceptional ability scores, but rather by sheer audacity.

Retainers (at least the kind recruited in a tavern) should probably have the statistics of normal humans. Once they survive their first excursion into the underworld or wilderness, perhaps the player of their employer should be allowed to select the retainer’s class? That would help give the player a stake in the fate of the retainer, and maybe also be a good time to introduce the traditional idea of the retainer as a PC-in-waiting. I’ve liked that idea ever since I read about it, but I have never seen it used in play.

Finding a retainer with a class (like some of the NPCs in Bone Hill) could be a special occurrence, almost form of treasure or reward, rather than a disposable grunt. Especially if that means that dying means that you go back to level N (where N is the level of your highest retainer) rather than level 1. That, however, is probably anathema to many new school players, who suffer from “my precious character” syndrome just as much as many referees suffer from “my precious encounter” syndrome. Many people are only happy with wish-fulfillment characters, which also undergirds much of the drive for being able to control every aspect of character creation.

When discussing normal humans, it is also perhaps worthwhile to note that many monsters in the bestiary are in fact thinly disguised versions of other monsters with minor cosmetic changes and trivial rules differences. There are four alternate type of troll, for example, in the Fiend Folio (giant troll, giant two-headed troll, ice troll, and spirit troll, in case you were curious). I would argue that most of the humanoid races as presented in D&D are pretty much just this. Much like the aliens of Star Trek, they are just humans in makeup.

James Raggi said it better than I could. In the LotFP Grindhouse Edition Referee Book, he wrote (page 51):

Humanoids are basically man-like creatures who have a gimmick and are present merely to give PCs intelligent, organized opponents which can be slaughtered wholesale with little reflection, remorse, or consequence.

Whenever you think to introduce a humanoid, just ask yourself, “Why would these not work as humans?” Much of the time it is of the desire to not portray humans of a barbaric bent as savages.

This also allows the referee to keep the truly monstrous humanoids waiting in the wings for portrayals such as Beedo’s Orcs of Gothic Greyhawk or my own Goblins as Corruption. And to make more use of the monster entry on page B40: the normal human.

8 thoughts on “B40 Normal Human

  1. Trey

    I would say humanoids do allow one to explore a couple of pulp motifs that regular humans don’t. Howard and Lovecraft (and really a lot of horror writers) use sub-humans to bring a little extra “horror of degeneracy” to the proceedings.

    If goblins are just there so you don’t have to slaughter humans, I agree with Raggi that they are probably unneccessary. If goblins are the degenerate, cannibalistic descendents of a human group driven underground, then I think they become useful.

  2. Peter

    So this is how humans in Moldvay D&D become adventurers: not by training, not by having exceptional ability scores, but rather by sheer audacity.

    I think, to be fair, it’s how some humans become adventurers. It’s a very cool way to become an adventurer (especially for a “normal human” hireling) but I’d hate to think no one got to level 1 except by adventuring. You get a little too much of that Forgotten Realms “adventuring is a perfectly normal career choice” approach, and I think that kills it. The Castellan is level 6, so he must have been adventuring for that to happen! Ehh…it takes out some of the specialness.

    But I do love the idea that Ned the Torchbearer survives three trips to the caves of chaos and achieves level 1 fighter status somehow . . . that’s always fun.

  3. Beedo

    I agree with Peter a bit – I like the idea that NPCs can be powerful without adventuring (although that path to power isn’t open to PC’s).

    One post I like is this one Why Caesar Had 70 Hit Points

    I go back and forth on why kings and rulers should be bad-ass versus 4hp normal men, and this is a good defense of the other side (using historical accounts, taboot!)

  4. Brendan


    I agree that there should be other routes to power. In my defense, I didn’t say that’s how all humans become powerful, just how all humans become adventurers. I do think that some powerful NPCs should be zero level though. In the case of a military commander, or powerful sorcerer, perhaps it does make sense to have them accumulate levels in a manner analogous to the adventurer. I think my inclination is towards a much flatter power curve than is present in many D&D games, with fewer accumulative bonuses and powers, making levels not quite as much of an advantage, so the difference between a 0 level NPC and a classed NPC is not so dramatic.

    I also dislike the conception of adventuring as a mundane career choice. Similarly distasteful is the 3E conception of NPC classes, which was partly a reaction to the phenomenon of giving all influential NPCs an adventuring class. 15th level blacksmith? I don’t see why a very skilled craftsman or very devious merchant kingpin should have the extra toughness and luck represented by hit points and attack bonus. Maybe in some cases, but not necessarily. I can see the counterargument, but somehow, from a style perspective (my concern here is not realism per se) it does not appeal.

    Here’s a funny example (to me at least) from the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide along those lines. In the NPC chapter, there is a two page spread on sample royalty which includes a princess. Stats: human aristocrat level 8, XP 2400, CR 6, HP 40.

    Those Autarch blog entries are always a good read; thanks for the link. I had not read that particular one before. In this case though, I disagree with the strong form of that argument (“your NPC leaders should be high level”). As noted above, military figures are a clear exception (and all of the Autarch examples are military figures other than Rasputin).

    I am really looking forward to my copy of ACKS though; even if I don’t apply domain-level assumptions to all NPCs, having those rules for PCs will be invaluable.

  5. Brendan


    No argument there. The degenerate, cannibalistic descendants of a human group driven underground is a pretty awesome use of humanoids. Reminds me of the morlocks too. It’s when humanoids just become shorthand for other cultures that I start to get bored.

  6. Beedo

    Yeah, that’s one area where I broke from 3.x quite a bit, those 7th and 8th level Artistans and Nobles and whatnot, just to make the skill and proficiency system make sense.

    In general, I believe PC’s and NPC’s should follow the same rules, but if the rules for PC’s are complex and variable, it means NPC’s are complex and variable, and you have the problems inherent in 3.x like those 40hp Princesses that require the DM to level up their NPC’s (if they want to be by-the-book, at least).

  7. Brendan

    Yeah, I prefer the way classic hit dice work (as summarized recently by Al at Beyond the Black Gate). Unless there is a good reason to deviate (like an exceptional NPC), one sword thrust = one hit die.

    From that post:

    This is deceptively simple, but its an important reason why D&D works. Starting with this baseline, a regular sword has a chance to kill a regular guy in 1 round. The randomness of tossing dice to determine the regular guys hit points, whether or not you hit the regular guy, and how much damage you do if you do hit the regular guy, means nothing is predetermined, nothing can be taken for granted, and there will always be an element of risk.

    I think this is also important to consider if you want to keep monster hit points in check. For example, if that previously discussed princess has 40 HP (and is not a super assassin or something) how could a dragon logically have only 10 hit dice?

  8. Matthew James Stanham

    I like my orcs and other humanoids to be truly monstrous, prime material incarnations of evil and hate sent forth by dark gods to do their bidding upon the earth. The ability to create life should be unavailable to them; they are mockeries and corruptions of true living beings, outside the natural order and the product of foul sorcery. So, yeah, no women and children generally.

    ACKS is interesting to me, and occasionally disagreeable, but I think they have missed a trick here. Their historical examples are all within one paradigm, which is to say the forgers of empires. What so often come afterwards are the weak willed successors, fallen into debauchery and idleness, incapable of defending their birthright. Nah, I am not buying this bit about levels and rulership.

    It is probably a bit easy for “normal men” to become classed and levelled characters in B/X. I prefer a more discretionary based policy myself. We have had hirelings advance to henchmen status, but their attributes tend to be a good deal lower than “true” player characters, which can be discouraging. A tendency towards player characters as more remarkable and exceptional even than their henchmen has in the past undermined my expectations that they be used as back-up characters. On the other hand, when player characters are knocked out of contention, they do mean that the player has not been, which works great.


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