General Power Levels?


I am wondering what the default assumptions are in Conan regarding the power levels of NPCs.

Frex, local militaries/constabulary/militia: are we looking at low-level mooks who will not challenge higher level PCs? lower level mooks who will still be a potential threat to higher level PCs? Mid-level soldiers who will outclass low level PCs? Or are these types intended to scale with the PCs?

Secondly, if either the first or the last options are the case, how difficult would it be to work around these assumptions, applying either the second or the third instead (the potential problems including not just mechanics, but also believability).
First things first, do _not_ scale NPCs with the party power by default.
I'd say that should be proportional to the "pool" that the local institution can draw from. Also, you find some hints in the book.
For example, each and every Cimmerian adult has at least 1 level of Barbarian -- so they are significantly tougher than your average Aquilonian peasant.

Looking at civilized lands, city-states etc., you can assume that most inhabitants are commoners. In a village of a few hundred people, you can expect a handful of guards / militiamen, probably Soldier level 1 or 2, with the leader being a level 3 at best.

The bigger the pool gets, the higher-class individual fighters can get. A city-state of, dunno, 40.000 people, may have up to 1.200 men-at-arms - 3% of the populace. Power also depends on how much action they see. If they don't have to actually fight a lot, 5/6th of them should be level 1. If they do see a lot of action, there may be, for instance, 500 lv1, 300 lv2, 200 lv3, 100 lv4, and so forth. The "cream" of maybe 10-50 troops can be higher level -- whatever the local ruler can afford.
The recruitment level may also be just 1% or 2%. I'd say 3% is the maximum that a civilized system can afford and support.

In Barbaric settlements, most free men (and sometimes, women) will be (at least) Level 1 of the appropriate class (Barb or Nomad), each having a "day job" like hunter, carpenter etc., and a handful of professional "sentinel" warriors which may rise to much higher ranks/levels.

So you see, there are several ways to create any situation you need, as long as you don't go over the top. :)
Do, your PCs bring an army with them? No? Then PCs are easily taken down. There is no way, that a group of 3 10th level PCs can wipe out an army of ... say ... 1000 1st level mook soldiers. Which I'm sure a lordling can easily bring out, within his power. To punish the ebil doings of PCs.


First, since a Soldier (the class) needs to be third level to know formation combat, I assume that most professional soldiers (the job) are third level or higher. Wartime conscripts don't need to meet this requirement, naturally. Veterans should be even higher. When the party meets a unit, and I tell them that this unit was recently involved in border skirmishes with Zamoria, I feel free to bump the average soldier a couple of levels. One level per known battle seems right, with a couple of green soldiers still at 3rd level (or lower) and a couple of silverbacks at 7th level (or higher). Officers could be higher level Soldiers, or any level Nobles.

Local militia likely have a job in addition to their military duties, so I make them 1st level soldiers by default, with a Skill Focus feat for their other job. They're civilized, soft, and no match to real men. At the same time, they're likely family men just trying to protect their community. A decent Intimidate check keep them out of your business.

Frankly, any decent enemy has to be sold to the players. Don't spring high level NPCs without warning. If the local constable is going to be 8th level, let the PCs know that he survived an Aquilonian campaign into Cimmeria. Whisper that the local bruiser used to sail with the Black Corsairs. Let them read wanted posters for the thief who's going to steal their map.

Lastly, Conan was never first level. I start PCs at 3rd or higher. When I ran my first group starting at 1st level, I let them know that we were doing it just to learn the system, and the NPCs would be at a lower level than normal.

But that's just me, eh?
Yeah, it would take all afternoon. But after the first waves, the soldiers will be fatigued, because they have to scale uphill to reach the heroes.

I think you can expect 10th-level chars to be immune to level-1 attacks except for the natural 20. Crits can be neglected because it would require 2 20s in a row. So if there are 200 archers in range, 10 arrows will hit each round. We can assume that half of those don't get past the DR, and the rest will do 1-5 points of damage.
So we have, on average, 30 points of damage per round, or 10 HP per character.
Each character will be able to kill off 2 to 8 fodder soldiers per round, depending on feats (great cleave) and fighting formation (better keep some space free for dodging the arrows). If any soldiers get the chance to attack in melee, they'll also need a Nat20 to hit and do a few points of damage.

Prediction: the soldiers will drop like flies. However, the natural 20s should suffice to bring down the Lv10s in around 10 rounds.


The DMG has some guidelines for how many NPCs of a certain level are in a typical town of a certain population. Unfortunately, it's not in the SRD.

Typically, I've done the following:

Thugs, guards, soldiers, pirates - 1st level
Personal guards - 2nd-3rd level
Sergeants, avg. fanatic guards - 3rd level
Guard captains, pirate officers - 5th level
Fanatic guard captains - 6th level
Major NPCS: Pirate captain, merchant prince, high priest - 10th level

I've stayed away from higher level NPCs for this first story. The PC's are 5th-6th level.
Though it's a fair point that enlisted soldiers should be proficient in one type of formation combat, and thus should be Level 3, the book states otherwise.

The Aquilonian forces are described in good detail, and it clearly states that the largest share are level 1 soldiers; some more specialized troops are level 2, and most knights are lv 2 to 3 soldier/noble multiclass.

You could explain it this way: soldiers _do_ fight in formations, but they do not get a special benefit out of doing so by default. Only veterans and similarly experienced soldiers can use the formations to their advantage.


Oh yeah, I know what the book says about levels. It also says Nemedian Adventures are 3rd level, IIRC. :? Is the book referring to a kingdom's standing army, or its wartime army?

Most people carrying weapons in a major battle would not be what I consider professional soldiers. When a king in a feudal society needs his army, he tells his dukes "I need 10,000 fighting men from you", who then tell their landed knights "I need 100 fighting men from each of you". These guys grab every available man who's been trained to hold a weapon (whom they're responsible for training, in preparation for this), meet up with their duke, who joins the king. (Yeah, that's pretty simplified. Who owes how many men to whom is a large part of what makes a feudal society.)

Most of that force will not be professional soldiers. They would be the 1st level schlubs who'll do most of the dying. The duke likely has surrounded himself with a core of knights (hopefully with 3 levels of soldier and cavalry formation fighting) and professional infantry. They would be a professional minority.

The king would also provide professional soldiers come from a) mercenaries, and b) honour guards.

So most soldiers would be first level, but they also spend most of their time doing something other than soldiering (milling, cobbling, etc.) and wouldn't consider themselves soldiers 11 months of the year.

Does that make sense? Am I loopy or ill informed here? I think that makes a playable gameworld where the guy guarding a village's bridge against bandits is 1st level, but a professional soldier knows how to fight in formation, can slap down the rubes and threaten high level characters.

In conclusion, I don't follow the book's suggested levels. :p


sbarrie said:
Oh yeah, I know what the book says about levels. It also says Nemedian Adventures are 3rd level, IIRC. :? Is the book referring to a kingdom's standing army, or its wartime army?

Personally, I'd assume it meant standing army for the very reasons you state in your post.

sbarrie said:
Does that make sense? Am I loopy or ill informed here?

Makes a lot of sense to me. There is of course the possibility that we're both loopy.


First off note that Conan abandons the concept of CR, EL and balanced encounters entierly. You, as DM, need to rely on eyeballing the situation as it relates to your particular group to decide if the encounter is going to produce the results you want.

Secondly remember that there are a few rules that make mooks more deadly in conan than otherwise: for each ally that attacks a target after the first they get a cumuliative +1 bonus to hit and a character who does not have an ajacent space either free or occupied by an ally takes a -2 to Dodge DV. Flanking and aid another can also come into play here. Most classes get TWF for free and using a light weapon that means a 0/0 penalty so even low level mooks can get multiple attacks. Clever use of reach weapons, readied attacks, and formations can really punish a character. Heavy armor and large sheilds can greatly increase the duribility of even low level mooks unless your PC's are prepared to crack armor. Grapples and triping reward mob tactics. And lastly, sooner or later a crit is going to force a massive damage save. In short don't undersell the mook.

Having said all that I am going to start one of my favorite rants now. Feel free to skip the rest of this post if I bore you :?

I loathe the pardagrim that 90% of npc's are supposed to be 1st level. I abhore the idea that most people are built with a 12 point buy. And I despise the Commoner class with a ferocity that most people usually reserve for child molesters. In short; my hat of DMG standard demographics know no limit. :evil:

The purpose for these demographics is to make the GM's job easier. If 99% of the population of your world is a 1st level commoner with a 10 or 11 in every stat then it is easy for a GM to use the rules to calculate the behavior of unprepared NPC's in improvised situations. Unfortunaetly it also causes the game world to break down once the PC's pass 6th level (unless the PC's are the first people ever to pass 6th level). Instead of this madness I propose a different, but equally GM-friendly, solutioun.

If a NPC isn't important enough to be at least 3rd level and built with 20 points then he isn't important enough to have stats at all.

Sure there may be a first level stablehand built on 12 points somewhere in the world. But do I really have to know what his DV and attack bonus is to decide what happens to him? If ever someone should feel the need to fight this poor schmuck I will simply roll dice for sound effects and describe a dramitically appropriate outcome for him keeping in mind that he is a pathetic and unimportant individual destined to meet an equally pathetic and unimportant end. For skill checks and the like I can simply decide how good he ought to be at what he is trying to do (if I made a stat block for him isnt' that exactly the same thing? ) and give him a flat 0%, 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% chance.

IMC the average level is 3 and the only NPC class is Expert. PC's start at 3rd level or higher unless the player is a newbie in which case I have him make a first level character and run him through The Burning Plague. Everybody should be first level and scared of a kobold at least once in their life... its a right of passage. That makes my demographics look something like this:
1: incompetent adolescent
2: newly-trained
3: competent young adult
4: experienced (most NPC's spend their lives at levels 3-4)
5: vetran
6: master (by normal standards)

So for the whole population percentages might look like:
1-3: 50%
4-6: 25%
7-9: 13%
10-12: 6%
13-15: 3%
16-18: 2%
19+: 1%

Finally if the NPC lives in a harsh enviornment (Bosonian Marches) or has a dangerous job (mercenary) and has survived give him 1 or 2 extra levels to represent him being tough. For me this give the game world a much more realistic feel than using standard demograhics; the PC's can still become uber-heroes but not every town guard or even dockhand is going to loose a battle to the death with the common housecat.




I havent' go my group together yet, but I just intend to throw stuff at than until they either kill it or run away.

Got eaten by a Marsh Crocodile?

Guess you shoulda chosen the other option...:lol:


So, it sounds like Conan fits fairly easily into the standard D&D paradigm. Which is good, because it makes it relatively easy to change things without upsetting anything.

When I'm looking for a more realistic and gritty ditribution of power, I generally use a system of "ranks" and levels similar to what argo presented, although I haven't done so for a d20 game before.

Off the cuff, what I'm thinking of is something like:

1-2 = Green
3-4 = Experienced
5-7 = Veteran
8-10 = Elite
11+ = Hero (ie, beyond the usual human best).

Again, as with argo, I will probably start the PCs at level 3. Although I know I have at least one player who would like to start at level 1, I'm not sure I could find something challenging and interesting, but without a high chance of lethality, for level 1 PCs in a world with the experience levels indicated.

Oh, and thanks for the responses so far.


sbarrie said:
Most people carrying weapons in a major battle would not be what I consider professional soldiers.

As I understand Conan (and I'll admit, I don't understand it all that well yet), professional soldiery is quite prevalent. Otherwise you wouldn't have mercenary companies that can remain constituted over extended periods of time. Further, there are many martial cultures where the average male member would be quite a competent combatant.

Historically, once the concept of the professional soldier (initially found in the mercenary company) takes hold, large militia mobs fall quickly out of fashion. The standing national army (beyond perhaps a small core) is still quite a while coming, however.

For context, consider that the peasants that made up a large proportion of the the English force in the Hundred Years War were predominantly expert longbowmen. The "mob" militia was long gone by this stage.

What this translates to in game would depend on at what level you place an experienced, professional soldier or the average members of strongly martial cultures.


SableWyvern, your previous listing of levels to experience is pretty close to what I use (although I've never formalized it before).

I also agree with your opinion on small if any standing national armies and the use of mercenaries. Mercenaries would be very important in a Hyborean war, although many kings may not realize that. (One who once served as a mercenary would...)

I do see a place for poorly trained militia. They're cheap and loyal, neither of which can be said of mercenaries. If professional soldiers are common, then the civilized world doesn't seem so meek to a wandering barbarian anymore.

And of course the above applies to civilized nations. For barbarians and nomads, the average citizen should be a bit more formidable. Maybe something aged-based, with barbarian kingdoms having a shorter life expectancy than civilized? Barbarian lifestyles are more challenging, so a person couldn't stagnate at a low skill level like a civilized man could and still survive.

Age Level
15-17 1st level
18-20 2nd level
21-23 3rd level
24-25 4th level
26-28 5th level
29-32 6th level
32-34 7th level
35+ 8th level

Just a first attempt. Individuals would vary greatly.


Well...we talk about this to some extent in Free Companies.

I'll post a bit of a preview:

All levels listed are for "raw" companies. Not only do individuals vary but many 'professional' units (and there are a goodly number of them) gain expereince as they serve.

RE: Local vs. Mercenary balance
In the Hyborian kingdoms nobles fight local wars with one another using their own fighting forces. Kingdoms mostly fight using mercenary troops, as you cannot really trust your nobles that much.

Except for Nemedia and the Meadow Shemites, who had the foresight to make their own mercenary companies.



If you want to change the standard d20 rules to fit a book-Conan feel rather than changing Conan to fit d20, I think you need to get rid of the uber-levels; Conan was never superhuman. I suggest using the first 10 levels only, with maybe Feats & skills gained for XP once PCs hit 10th.

Level distribution:
1st - novice
2nd - trained
3rd - experienced
4th - veteran
5th - elite
6th-7th - minor hero
8th-9th - major hero
10th - legendary hero

Going strictly by the books, Conan would be ca 5th level in Tower of the Elephant and 10th as King of Aquilonia decades later, ie the power curve in the stories is much less steep than D&D-3e-standard.


Interesting thoughts, S'mon, that hit upon what I probably consider d20's biggest failing, IMO and based upon my preferred style of play.

I've got a few other solutions formulating in my head, but I'll have to wait until I've had a good look at the actual rules before I start turning them into potential reality.


Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of just trimming down some of the level benefits at higher levels. Specifically, an end to BAB increases after level 10, and probably Save progressions as well.

Or, slowing the progression down at certain points. So, for example, a 1/1 BAB progression slows to 2/3 at level 8, then 1/2 at level 16. That would go a long way towards levelling the curve.

I realise it would be a lot simpler to just work with a flat level cap, but I don't know that either myself or -- more importantly -- my players would be happy looking at all the cool options they'll never get to use.

Anyone got any other ideas along these lines? Some more specific examples of what you might do S'mon?


SableWyvern said:
Anyone got any other ideas along these lines? Some more specific examples of what you might do S'mon?

Hi Sable! Glad you asked - check out this thread on ENW about using an
XP-for-abilities (feats & skills -could be Spells too) system after a 'level cap' is reached:

The poster suggests 6th level as the maximum level for his low-power D&D game, I think 10th would better fit literary-Conan's* swashbuckling feel; a 10th level warrior is the equal of several elite 5th level guardsmen or several dozen 1st-2nd, but won't be detroying armies single-handed the way a 20th level guy can.

So my idea is to use a system like that once PCs reach 10th level, in the meantime I already give out 'free' skill ranks to reflect general life experience that's not of the overcoming-heroic-challenge sort that gains XP; eg a year sailing the western ocean gets all the PCs a rank in Profession (Sailor). As Conan doesn't use the CR/EL system, this approac doesn't have the problems it would in regular D&D where all 10th-level characters are meant to be the same CR.

Whatever level cap you use - 5th, 10th, or standard 20th - I recommend that only the 'best of the best' heroes actually be that level, the great majority of adventurers' career should be spent within the regular d20 XP-level system. The Conan RPG recommends 1-2000 XP per session, which I think is right - it gives rapid progress through to ca 3rd-4th level, then advancement slows through the 'sweet spot' of 5th-9th and PCs can climax their careers at 10th with characters who are powerful but not demigods.

*Some of the Marvel SSOC Conan stories I've read seem guilty of coniderable power-creep, they take 'Conan is the best warrior of his age' a little too far beyond what REH envisaged. REH Conan is the best warrior of his age because he's smart & indomitable-willed as well as strong, tough & fast, not because he has a +20 BAB.