Friday, October 11, 2013

From the Beginning - Do You Start New Campaigns at 1st Level or Higher?

Me, I've done it both ways. When we wrapped up the ACKS sandbox last summer with the loss and gains of players, we moved on to AD&D and I allowed players to start their characters in the range we ended the previous campaign - around 5th level.

In the end, that seemed less satisfying for the players, even those that seemed excited about the idea of starting at a mid level.

This time, we are starting at first level, and the very first adventure may change the direction of the campaign depending on how things play out.

I want my players to feel invested in the campaign from the very beginning, and I feel starting the characters from the beginning is key to that.

What about you? First level? Second? Fifth? Where do you start characters at the beginning of a campaign?


  1. With Crumbling Epoch, I've got a way of handling this. First level is the equivalent of boot camp training, and you are beholden to no one. You can start at second level, the equivalent of special forces training, and you owe 10% of your income and some loyalty to a group. Or, you can start at 3rd level, the equivalent of spy training; you keep 10% of your gains (though you get experience for all of it) and you work for a group that owns you.

    In any case, starting characters have 0 experience and will not level until they get enough experience to hit the next level. Starting at a functionally higher level allows them to survive greater challenges and build up experience faster, so that's not such a bad impediment.

  2. I love starting everybody at 1st level. Even if a new player joins in the middle of the campaign with other higher level PCs. I think there's a connection the players get to the 1st lvl characters when they have to scratch and claw for all their experience, treasure, story, etc. that they don't quite get starting with higher level characters. It's like your coming in the middle of a story.

  3. I once made a first level character and joined up with a group of much higher level characters. I hung back and bided my time, and I was 4th level before I got into a fight, rolling dice to hit stuff.

    I'm not sure whether that was the DM's very generous and disassociated experience policy (I think we got experience for showing up) or a big enough gap between levels, or what. I also got some pretty sweet gear early on, castoffs of madly powerful Christmas Tree characters.

  4. In DCC, I start at 0 level. In D&D, at 1st level. There are a few exceptions here and there, but in most cases that is what I do.

  5. I've only ever started players at 1st level. I don't really have a problem with starting players at a higher level, but I've never really felt a reason to. I like low level play more than high level play. Plus, high level play often involves owning land, and interacting with major world players. So it's cool if you've had an opportunity to see those places hear about those world players as a peon first.

    If I ever have a group of experienced players who are interested, I wouldn't be opposed to jumping in at a higher level.

  6. At least since I got back to D&D in 2000, my most successful games seem to be the ones that started at 1st, so now I pretty well always do that. Just started a new B/X Wilderlands game at 1st level yesterday. It just feels more satisfying to work up from 1st rather than parachute in at higher level. The games that start at eg 3rd always seem to have something missing. I can make 1st more survivable with max hp at 1st, death at -10, best 3 of 4d6 arrange as desired, etc.

  7. For my group low-level play seems to be the most fun. I think I am going to find a way to incorporate DCC's level 0 mechanic into every game from now on.

  8. My current campaign started with a zero level adventure funnel (even though it was not DCC), but afterwards the characters who survived were fast forwarded to 2nd level with the assumption that six month’s time in the game world had passed and they had spent all of their loot. We skipped 1st entirely and replacement characters are also brought in at 2nd level. 25 sessions in the highest is 4th, and all but one of the zero level characters died within the first 10 sessions.

    The campaign before we started at 3rd and ran for 14 months and the highest level character was 6th at the end.

    I guess my point is if I want to run a higher level campaign I will need to start the characters there cause I'm stingy on XP.

  9. The lasting ones always seem to start at 1st level. Aside from a brief mini-campaign I don't think I've ever played a campaign that started out much over 1st level that lasted.

  10. Of my last few; One started at 2nd level, the others at 1st.

    I've never taken a group from 1st lv to 20th, the game always seems to end.

    But I'd like to.

  11. Low level games are definitely my favorite games to play so I almost always start the characters at 1st level. Occasionally, I'll want to jump right into a more epic campaign so I'll start the characters at 4th level, but no higher than that. Once they reach about 8th level, I'm thinking about the next campaign.

  12. From the beginning. Every time.

    Well, not quite every time, but the few times we didn't taught us the lesson. ;)

  13. I always find it amusing when players talk about how they prefer to play at first level, then go right on to describe all the house rules they invent to buff first level characters up to the survivability of second level characters.

    What people really enjoy is playing higher-level characters, but pretending that they're still first level characters!

    1. Maybe it's the "1" on the Level line of the charsheet that matters. It's not the fragility anyway - IME the "start at 1st level" rule is just as true for 30 hit point 4e PCs as for 3 hit point B/X PCs.

  14. ) For fantasy, I try to use 0 / 1st level.

    ) For post-apocalyptic games, I use 1st level, but that hardly matters what with all the mutations and HD based on CON and such.

    ) For superheroes, I generally try to use "no point limits" to get Avengers- / Justice League- like teams. You know, Thor and Wasp on the same team, or Superman and Green Arrow. They still start out as rookies ("1st level"?), but with some oomph.

  15. Definately first level. Advancement is quick for the first few levels anyway.

  16. I've never run Dark Sun, so I've always had characters start at first level for an ongoing campaign. If it's a one-off or short-term game, then sometimes higher levels are acceptable. But those games don't last.

  17. I start at level 1, but like to fast-track advancement until level 3 or so. The reason for this is that while the low levels are the formative time for the character, and thus should not be skipped, they are also a bit less interesting than higher levels, and thus should be advanced through a bit more quickly than usual.

  18. Always start at 1st. I've found my players get more involved in developing their characters personalities when they start from scratch. I average about 5 adventures before a character levels up which is why I tend to write more low level adventures.


Tenkar's Tavern is supported by various affiliate programs, including Amazon, RPGNow,
and Humble Bundle as well as Patreon. Your patronage is appreciated and helps keep the
lights on and the taps flowing. Your Humble Bartender, Tenkar

Blogs of Inspiration & Erudition