Thursday, July 22, 2010

0 Level Characters Love Them or Hate Them?

Ever since I saw the Cavaliers experience table in Unearthed Arcana I wondered how well it would work in play. For the cavalier they don't just start at 0 level they have two levels to of zero to work through. I always thought it would be interesting to have the players start at 0 level. At this point they would have basic stats and skills, but they wouldn't be a class yet. A GM would run short senerios through critical parts of their training.

This is a rough idea how I would do it since I really haven't thought it through. It would be broken into three parts. The random attribute and event rolls. Everyday environment factors. And encounters.

The player would roll 2d6 for attributes or 3d6 and discard the lowest. From there the player would select a class he would like to be trained. At first it would be a few rolls by the player to determine some random events that would increase or decrease his abilities. Quick off the cuff example for a farmer boy wanting to be a fighter;

1-win village footrace, gain one charisma
2-managed to get through flu season, gain one constitution
3-broke your ankle lose one dexterity
4-got into a lot of fights with other village boys, gain one strength and a 50% of gaining onecharisma and 50% losing one charisma
5-adventurer stops in village gain a weapon proficency and 2d6sp
6-find a broken sword in the woods

The second part would be the environment this village boy is in. Being a farmer he will gain strength from the constant toiling and possible constitution if he can avoid becoming sick. The drawback is he won't gain education here and the possibility of learning a skill is greatly reduced. Again the GM would need to come up with a handful of factors that would help the player develop his character.

So a player might roll on six different tables through their 0 level time. But also during this time the GM would arrange encounters that would also form who the player would become by the choices he made. Another off the cuff simple example. This same village farming boy wishing to become a fighter encounters a single goblin in woods. The goblin rushes into attack. Another encounter may be a competition at a festival where all the village boys compete in wrestling and racing. The GM would come up with rewards or penalties depending on the outcome.

What I like about this way is the player has a lot more say in the development of his character while the GM still retains the randomness of life and its affects on a person. But would require more work for the GM.

I know when I am reading books I often find the beginning sections about how the person became the hero, often times, more interesting than when he or she becomes the hero.

So tell me your thoughts, suggestions or opinions. The more I think about this the more I like it.


  1. A lot of video games do this. I think if you have the time it's a great idea, though I've never used it. Another thought would be that you could do this with flashbacks at the start of every session. Keep a copy of the character at level 0 around, and when they do the flashback give them some XP, and if they tie the flashback in to the adventure, give them a little more XP for the day.

  2. I know there were a couple of published adventures that did this - can't for the life of me remember what they were, though. I'm pretty sure one was for Forgotten Realms (Lost Island of Castanmir, maybe?) but I can't remember what the other was. Maybe there was something in an old issue of Dungeon or Dragon, too... Oh, I think the Greyhawk Adventures hardback had some rules for this...

  3. From the playtest reports of Goodman Games Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG starting at Zero level is a feature of the game. Which makes sense consider there a DCC modules based around the concept

  4. There were at least a couple of 0-level introductory modules for 1E. N4 Treasure Hunt and N5 Under Illefarn are both set in the Forgotten Realms and are designed for players to start with 0-level characters. I played N4 with a group back in the early 90s, and it didn't really go over well.

    I have generally found that the groups I have played with have preferred to use a random history generator like Central Casting or the old Cyberpunk system, rather than have to play through a few scenes or adventures as 0-level characters. YMMV.

  5. When my youngest boy was little one of his first characters started out as a shirtless, barefoot farm boy with a club made from a tree branch. He started out with absolutely nothing and worked his way up to 3rd Level before retiring a wealthy man with a farm of his own.

    I've always preferred low level campaigns as they typically mimic real life... It could be from cutting my teeth on the Holmes Blue Book, but I've never really enjoyed powerful characters as much as those with wit and a tenacity to endure difficult challenges with determination.

    Another key for my flavor is 3d6 rolled straight for attributes... You make due with what you got, just like real life...

  6. The default for my Urutsk: World of Mystery RPG is a '0-level' character, with the option of rolling all of the background details, or assigning any or all of them (out of hand, or through play).

    I echo Todd the Viking King's views in this regard, and so fondly remember playing in a very low-magic AD&D game where we started as kids and had a few local (country) adventures and then upgraded our stats and played as 1st Lvl characters.
    --Perhaps my favourite campaign as a player.

  7. D'oh - Treasure Hunt, that's what I was thinking of...

  8. I'm not usually a big fan of playing out 0th level characters, although to be honest, it may just be the idea of starting out lower than low.

    I'll have to give it more thought.

  9. As Rob points out, 0-level was part and parcel of our play-testing at garycon. I wrote a bit about it at