How powerful should you be at first (1st) level?

I think the biggest area we've seen power creep is at first level. In the olden days, the first level character had the worst to-hit number, poor saving throws, no skills/traits/feats/backgrounds/variants/archetypes etc.

Today, using both Herolab to create a first level PFRPG character and using the character builder to create a first level 4E character, the amount of "stuff" you can front-load them with is unweildly -especially for new players to the game.

Don't get me wrong, I think all of that stuff characters can do is fun, but it loses its appeal at first level when it's frontloaded onto the character. The power at first level also serves to hinder the long game in that in order to continue driving character advancement, the power curve needs to steadily increase at each successive higher level.

Add onto that Multi-Classing, Power-Swapping, Prestige-Classing, Paragon-Pathing and you have a game that has blown its proverbial lunch by level 10.

I am not a fan of dead levels. No one wants to level up and only get some HP. But I am not a fan of feats/bonus feats/backgrounds/skills and all of this other stuff that frontloads on the first level character.

I think characters should get a meaningful choice at each level on top of static power increases. I think this would drive the players to continue to want to advance, keep the game unbroken longer, and leave something truly special for the higher levels.

This myriad of front-load options only serves to make 1st level increasingly powerful,needing to be surmounted by each successive level.

Let's put 1st level back where it belongs.
"If it's not a conjuration, how did the wizard con·jure/ˈkänjər/Verb 1. Make (something) appear unexpectedly or seemingly from nowhere as if by magic. it?" -anon "Why don't you read fire·ball / fī(-ə)r-ˌbȯl/ and see if you can find the key word con.jure /'kən-ˈju̇r/ anywhere in it." -Maxperson
One of the nice things about 4e was not spending my first level living in fear of house cats.
right and in 4e it was also nice to have all the powers of an 5th level character at first level, and start with abilities that most superheros would envy.

warrent- heres the issue, all those feats all those prestige classes etc. what they do is make it so that a character built from a concept is in no way as powerful as a character built for power. all the options mean that if another player does not choose a similar build they will be extremely weak compared to a character that is optimized. The only way to get rid of all that is if things like feats really dont make a character more effective.

and heres the big issue... if I build a character and make him well rounded, say a fighter with a feat in use of a bow, a feat in use of a melee weapon, a few general feats to fit my concept... how much worse will I be combat wise than a character who spends all feats on maximizing one aspect of combat, like trips or no of attacks?

If the answer is the rounded character is dog meat to a optimized character, the system is broken.
"The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules." Gygax
Yeah I'm not a fan of 3e either.

Good thing 4e shrank that gap too.
The point is, what fun is it to get to higher levels when you have all of this front-loaded power at first level? What is there really to aspire to? You have so many options and resources and complexity that even low level combats take an achingly long time to resolve.

Higher levels devolve into Pin-N-Spin the BBEG until he's dead, or involve some massively powered spells. This stuff starts to become commonplace at 10th level. In both 4e/PF/3.x.

Why can't we dial back the starting add-ons somewhat? Why can't a character start with a weapon, money, HP, and a background....that's it?

2nd level maybe he can do something like choose a feat. 3rd level a new option opens up.

That way power creep is incremental and each level is meaningful and something to look forward to.
"If it's not a conjuration, how did the wizard con·jure/ˈkänjər/Verb 1. Make (something) appear unexpectedly or seemingly from nowhere as if by magic. it?" -anon "Why don't you read fire·ball / fī(-ə)r-ˌbȯl/ and see if you can find the key word con.jure /'kən-ˈju̇r/ anywhere in it." -Maxperson
Because if i wanted to be a blank character with no unique abilities whatsoever I'd play a non-mage in 3e.


I imagine this concept could work, and work well if the entire game structure was made to acomidate it.  PCs do not exist in a vacuum.  It is easy to look at 4e characters and say that they're more powerful than say 3X characters, but that's not really the case.  This is because monsters are stronger in 4e than in 3X.  The 4e characters could be fighting standard goblins that would wipe the floor with standard 3X goblins after all.

It would be also be very hard to offer a modular aproach to this, becuase there would need to be ways to scale monster power with PC power.  I guess it could be done, I just imagine it would be rather complicated.  
I really dont see the power of uberness in a 4e character at level 1. 

You have more hp, but then again monsters hit harder so you get a little more wriggle room but nothing unbalanced.

Standard character has 2 at will abilites that do 1x weapon damage and a minor special (snare for tanks, knock back etc for others)

You get 2 encounter powers

you get 1 daily power

your gear is the same as other versions of D&D and generally everything is compariable in power. 

What you dont get is a gimpped fighter with 1 attack roll for 3 levels or a wizard who has to only spam magic missle for most of an entire adventure


 
Slightly to the side, I have 2 newish gamers in my group and both of them found 4e much easier to understand than any other edition they tried.  So level 1 might seem a lot of info but 4e does a really good job of clearly displaying abilities and how things interact. 

As for level 1 power level - it depends

Ive run games from beggers to godlings at level 1 depending on what the players and I felt like - as long as the new rules allow some form of scaling of power then I think we will all be happy. 
Anywhere from farmboy to minor superhero depending on the variant rules.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

Well the most sensible answer to the OP's question is a first level character should be slightly stronger than the first level monsters but a lot weaker than the second level monsters.


As far as player options, I think more options are good things. I don't see this as front loading a character; I see it as setting down a foundation for all the subsequent class abilities to build from. Any class really should have most if not all of the tools necessary for them to be that class right away. If they don't get it right away then they need it very quickly and subsequent abilities should build on top of the basic concept rather than introduce new things.


Sometimes, it's appropriate to introduce something totally new part way up the levelling ladder, but usually those abilities are not centrally defining to the class concept. Usually, they're just an adjunct power that reinforces a certain status within a class. The paladin's mount is a good example of that because you don't need a paladin's mount to have the look and feel of a paladin, but it reinforces the concept and marks a certain coming of age for the character.

One of the nice things about 4e was not spending my first level living in fear of house cats.



wait, in 4e couldent you have a 20th level housecat? what about a druid's "animal companion" housecat? couldent that mop the floor with most 4e 1st level characters?

yes, in 4e the 1st level characters were about equivilant to superheros or had the abilities of 4th-5th level characters in many other editions, especially when you include all the wacky races and their racial abilities.

the big issue with all that is it throws the whole reward system off, you start out as uber in comparison to say a commoner guard and it just stays that way the whole game. character progression equates to just a grind, magic items become just more options for doing similar things, there really isnt a good reward system in 4e in my opinion, very little character development so very little reason for me to want to play or run... just boring.  

they said their fixing that in 5e, I hope so...
"The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules." Gygax
The big difference with 4E was the amount of hits points, damage, etc. at first level. If you scaled that back, they could fit in previous editions.

The benefit of 4E was the potential to do that without breaking the game. So in that respect clear rules, without an abundance of sub-systems, or how multiclassing works has more influence of the power of any character in respect to the world, or each other. You also have to consider power creep as additional rules supplements are released.
My tables answers: Characters should be common men, with just the slightest spark of something special that may one day lead them to greatness if they work hard and are very lucky. They should be just slightly better than absolute average, though being even less than that can be quite a bit of fun. "Hero" shouldn't be a proper synonym for PC until well into their careers. While I don't ask for this to be the 'default' power level, if it isn't equally easy to implement fully we won't have any reason to play 5th edition.

Regarding the OP: pretty much agree with your reasoning as well.



At your table, do common men cast spells? Picks locks and pockets? Have dangerous animals following them around and fighting for them? Ask their god for help and expect to get it? Have familiarity with a wide range of armour and weapons? 

If NO, then PCs are not common men. They may be trained in doing quite uncommon things, just not very experienced at performing them "in the field", but that isn't common.

These, in the day when heaven was falling, The hour when earth's foundations fled, Followed their mercenary calling, And took their wages, and are dead. Playing: Legendof Five Rings, The One Ring, Fate Core. Planning: Lords in the Eastern Marches, Runequest in Glorantha. 


the big issue with all that is it throws the whole reward system off, you start out as uber in comparison to say a commoner guard and it just stays that way the whole game. character progression equates to just a grind, magic items become just more options for doing similar things, there really isnt a good reward system in 4e in my opinion, very little character development so very little reason for me to want to play or run... just boring.  




You never really played 4e did you?  I can completely get and understand that you don't like the fact that the characters feel beefier in 4e compared to previous editions - but you don't seem to understand that EVERYTHING was bigger in 4e.  

The things you could do at first level pales in comparison to the things you could do at later levels, especially if you hit paragon tier and epic tier respectively.  Even adding a theme onto a character which usually granted an extra encounter didn't stunt your growth - you still have much potential as you level.

And what you state about a guard isn't exactly true, though I know you won't like the answer.  A human Guard in 4e was often considered to be level 3, sure a whole group might be able to take a couple of them, but 5 guards against a group of 4 PCs would likely be too much for them to handle.  

If you have access to them, go back and re-read some of the forum letters in Dragon and Dungeon magazine for AD&D and 3e - you can find some really interesting notes on how the characters felt too weak at level 1, and often the answer was to start them out at levels 3 or highter.  
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Yes, thievary is COMMON in developing societies.
Yes, animal attacks or training are COMMON in developing societies.
Yes, religion is COMMON in developing societies.
Yes, combat is COMMON in developing societies.



Most people don't know how to pick locks, though. Most people don't know how to train animals to attack. Most people don't get theeir prayers answered. Most people aren't trained warriors. Your PCs who do know these things are unusual people. 

PCs in our games (not just D&D, but most everything we play) begin as just another bloke down the row. VERY seldom does someone play anything more experienced or special. Special is because of what they do AFTER they're created in our games. For instance, in Shadowrun games we reduce the starting build points by 1/3-1/2 in order to create 'average' people. In Star Trek we usually begin play in the academy, or as random people rather than Starfleet personnel. In Top Secret we strive for average people being recruited into the lifestyle. It's just our preferred playstyle in almost everything. Heck, we even created an entire superhero rpg around being starting, floundering noobs just so we could have 'our game' in that genre. In D&D that means average stats (3d6 to create a normal distribution), rolled hps and other factors, a more realistic economy (especially for starting characters), extended early level experience requirements, etc. Again, just a farmhand with a penchant for some set of skills that find themselves beginning a career in adventuring...probably through unforeseen circumstances.



So these "Just another bloke(s)" qualify to go to Starfleet Academy, that rather elite institution. Mr Johnson employs people with limited training, talent, and gear out of the goodness of his heart. Although the superhero thing sounds like Mystery Men, which is cool, so I'll give you a pass on that.  Not on the D&D farmhands, who know a lot more about farming than about anything to do with adventuring, and certainly aren't likely to be spellcasters of any sort or have the range of skills possessed by a 1st level character.

These, in the day when heaven was falling, The hour when earth's foundations fled, Followed their mercenary calling, And took their wages, and are dead. Playing: Legendof Five Rings, The One Ring, Fate Core. Planning: Lords in the Eastern Marches, Runequest in Glorantha. 

I think this really really depends on the campaign. I almost always start at level 1 but really it's all about how you describe your stats in 4th. I have run games where the players started as criminals locked up in a jail. Commoners locked up for petty offenses. They had all the starting stats of a 4th edition character, but our descriptions for actions were grittier. 
In opposition to that, I have run games where the characters had either been trained in monasteries or elite fighting units and were just now getting out in the world. Also level 1 but our descriptions for at wills and things were tinged with a bit more flair.
One thing I loved about 4th was the stats let the TABLE decide who the characters were, not the rules. That is wonderful to me. You can have anything from super gritty to amazingly fantastic, all at 1st level with nothing but word choice. (for the record this was probably possible in earlier editions but my experiance has not been that and I am only going off my experiances.)

The point being, 1st level should be a wide margin determined by the table to fit all playstyles.   
One of the nice things about 4e was not spending my first level living in fear of house cats.



wait, in 4e couldent you have a 20th level housecat? what about a druid's "animal companion" housecat? couldent that mop the floor with most 4e 1st level characters?

yes, in 4e the 1st level characters were about equivilant to superheros or had the abilities of 4th-5th level characters in many other editions, especially when you include all the wacky races and their racial abilities.

Nah. A first-level 3.5 character can mow down an orc warrior every round without breaking a sweat. A first-level core-only fighter. A highly optimized 4e character built to do nothing else, if they get lucky, can maybe take out the feeblest thing in the MM in a single round - once, by using up all their available resources, and then it's back to several rounds of back-and-forth. You can all but forget about something beefy like an orc. This is obvious to anyone who's spent any time whatoever with either system. The belief that 4e characters are totally superiffic does somehow have a lot of traction, though. It is true that combat in 4e at low levels is a lot more back-and-forth and less first-hit-wins.

---------------------

Here's my basic rubric for how notable 1st-level characters should be:

- A 1st-level wizard should be clearly a wizard, which means he should be able to cast some spells. Whether that's a lot of weak spells, or a few more noteworthy spells, or both, he can cast some spells. Unless magic is incredibly common in the world, that's at least somewhat noteworthy of an ability, although not truly remarkable.
- Other characters should be at roughly the same level - at least somewhat noteworthy, but not truly remarkable. Note that this doesn't exclude someone from having a simple or non-combatant background. There's sort of a conceit in fiction that ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations can do noteworthy things, and many characters sort of ride on that.
Dwarves invented beer so they could toast to their axes. Dwarves invented axes to kill people and take their beer. Swanmay Syndrome: Despite the percentages given in the Monster Manual, in reality 100% of groups of swans contain a Swanmay, because otherwise the DM would not have put any swans in the game.
well before 4th edition many people complained how fragile you where at low levels and that you lacked intresting options.
I remember treads from then on here and ENworld about how strong a 1st level character should be.

and the consensus seemed to be about as strong and varied as a 4th level ADnD 2nd edition character or a 3rd level 3.X character.
and the designers seemed to have listened as that is the case in 4th edition where 1st level characters are comparable to 3rd level characters from older editions 
I think 4e had too many powers in general. If you cut out the dailies and reduced the number of utility powers to 3-4 for all 4e characters that would be about right IMHO. Unfortunately you miss out on some "awesomeness". I think awesome things can be relegated to an optional fate point milestone esque module though. I think having a PCs should have 3 ish cool signature attacks (of limited use in a single fight either as encounter powers, stamina based abilities, or something else), 3 ish at will attacks, and 3 utility abilities not directly related to combat (aka no +X bonuses to attack, damage, or defenses).

I think 4e did get things right about PC strength at level 1. A level one fighter will most likely lose a 1 vs 1 fight against a Orc, but will win against a goblin. 2 goblins vs the fighter though and the the fighter loses.
I kind of like the way D&D Next has it now really, except I wouldn't mind an extra feat for more options, but in terms of 'power' , its fine the way it is.
At 1st level, I want:
(a) Enough options for two characters of the same race and class to be mechanically distinct to some (obviously subjective) acceptable degree; and
(b) Enough "power" to reasonably deal with "typical" low-level challenges; and
(c) For it to be a good place to start the game, regardless of "style of play".
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I don't want to loose fights to house cats.
I don't want to loose fights to house cats.



I see this argument a lot, and while I think we agree on this issue. What if the house cat is level 20? Shouldn't a 1st level character loose that fight? 

3e character were the gods at level 1. A wizard could wiggle his fingers and take out an ogre. A Druid could control 8 ninja house cats and slaughter a whole village in under an hour. A sorcerer could charm people to automatically become his best friend for a few hours. These are all way more potent than anything a 4e character could accomplish.
I still like this idea, so I'm going to pitch it again:

In order to accomodate different starting power levels, as well as facilitate the balancing of multiclassing, I think there should be an official level 0.  THis would feature about half-ish of the starting features of any one class, and would probably be about as strong as a 1st-level 2e character (in theory, I obviously don't know details).  You only get this level 0 once, at the start of the game.  From there, you get a level 1 package that would put you right where the level 1 character is currently in the playtest.  Alternately, you could multiclass right out of the box, with the 'level 1 package' (which, as I said before, would not include the base 'level 0' stuff) to have a varied character right out of the gate.

The advantage here is twofold. 
1. You get to have a commoner-level start if you want it, with little more than a background, a sword, and maybe a cantrip.  On the other hand, you also have the freedom of starting at level 1, with a much more defined role and power set, if the basic level doesn't feel -ish enough for you.
2. It helps make multiclass math work better.  As was discussed in the first conversation about it, the first level is front-loaded with power, so you are encouraged to just 'dip' into several classes, but have no incentive to really specialize.  This makes the 'starting bonus' an easily defined one-time thing, allowing each level to be balanced on its own merit.  Ideally, this would allow people to multiclass because it was cool, not to optimize.

Well, that's my grand idea.  Trash it all you like.
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I still like this idea, so I'm going to pitch it again:

In order to accomodate different starting power levels, as well as facilitate the balancing of multiclassing, I think there should be an official level 0.  THis would feature about half-ish of the starting features of any one class, and would probably be about as strong as a 1st-level 2e character (in theory, I obviously don't know details).  You only get this level 0 once, at the start of the game.  From there, you get a level 1 package that would put you right where the level 1 character is currently in the playtest.  Alternately, you could multiclass right out of the box, with the 'level 1 package' (which, as I said before, would not include the base 'level 0' stuff) to have a varied character right out of the gate.

The advantage here is twofold. 
1. You get to have a commoner-level start if you want it, with little more than a background, a sword, and maybe a cantrip.  On the other hand, you also have the freedom of starting at level 1, with a much more defined role and power set, if the basic level doesn't feel -ish enough for you.
2. It helps make multiclass math work better.  As was discussed in the first conversation about it, the first level is front-loaded with power, so you are encouraged to just 'dip' into several classes, but have no incentive to really specialize.  This makes the 'starting bonus' an easily defined one-time thing, allowing each level to be balanced on its own merit.  Ideally, this would allow people to multiclass because it was cool, not to optimize.

Well, that's my grand idea.  Trash it all you like.



Level 0 sounds like a fantastic idea. 
Level 0 was a fantastic idea, and it's time for it to be published somewhere less obscure than Dragon Magazine (yes, it existed in 4E).

In 3E levels 1-4 really felt like the "tutorial" levels in a video game.  You know, where they give you a sword or something but you can't do any moves or anything cool with it, then they unlock a few core moves that you'll use during the video game, then they'll unlock some other core things with overlays, then you're actually playing the game.  

I hated feeling like I was in a Video Game Tutorial.  4E you're not up to speed until level 5 either (2 encounters/2 dailies) but you just feel much more robust and active - it feels like your character is naturally growing, not that you're unlocking things from a tutorial. 
Level 0 sounds like a fantastic idea. 

It would work if getting to level 1 was 125xp, to fit the underlying math of the current table.

Level 0 sounds like a fantastic idea. 

It would work if getting to level 1 was 125xp, to fit the underlying math of the current table.




Or just make it outside of the xp table. A DM who wants level 0, makes the players level 0 until he/she feels that they have done enough to be level 0. I think at this point though, the xp tables are far from finished and level 0 could be brought in as a factor to determine the values of the final table. 
It would be sooooo much easier if level one wasn't zero xp.
Level 0 is clearly for roleplaying purposes.  People shouldn't be trying to quantify it.  Otherwise it does feel like the tutorial level of a video game again.
A class should mature over the first three or so levels, and any table wanting to not be killed by housecats just starts at level 3.
A class should mature over the first three or so levels, and any table wanting to not be killed by housecats just starts at level 3.


Why?  Ye gods, why?  

I'm serious, it feels like booting up a video game.  If I wanted to do that I'd sit through a tutorial in Final Fantasy or something, at least it has nice graphics.  

What's the advantage to having this mentality?  At least in a Video game it's explicable because most are real time and you don't want people experimenting with new mechanics on the fly in realtime, but D&D is turnbased, there's literally no advantage at all.  You just irritate your players.   
The "advantage" is obviously "Some people want that, and will complain less."

The disadvantage, though, is "I will find a more competent game to give my money to - or I'll just keep my money."
Feedback Disclaimer
Yes, I am expressing my opinions (even complaints - le gasp!) about the current iteration of the play-test that we actually have in front of us. No, I'm not going to wait for you to tell me when it's okay to start expressing my concerns (unless you are WotC). (And no, my comments on this forum are not of the same tone or quality as my actual survey feedback.)
A Psion for Next (Playable Draft) A Barbarian for Next (Brainstorming Still)
I'm serious, it feels like booting up a video game.  If I wanted to do that I'd sit through a tutorial in Final Fantasy or something, at least it has nice graphics.

...or just start at level 3.

It would be sooooo much easier if level one wasn't zero xp.



If level 0 was implemented at launch, it would be 0xp. (level 0, oxp, it all flows.) Those of us that wish to play actual classes and trained people could start at level 1. Those that want a more rugged start where they are the farm boy finding their dead fathers old rusted sword would be level 0. Seems like a good solution to me. I would use both styles in different campaigns. 
Note about 4e: To me, 4e didn't even start until paragon level. That is when characters of the same class quickly began to diverge from one another. Level 1 4e characters felt more durable than 3.x characters, but, as others have pointed out, the monsters in 4e are more durable as well so I don't really feel 4e characters are more "powerful". This is neither here nor there but just tossing out another opinion in the bucket.


Starting levels: The concern addressed in this topic is not so much how powerful a level one character should be but rather where do people want to start their game (ranging from common man to an already skilled adventurer).  The easy solution is to, as mentioned above, have pre-level 1 character options or a different level progression that occurs before reaching level 1. For instance if your group wants to start out as common men, put in apprentice classes that cover "levels" -3 to 0 or whatever. Simply three, or however many, levels before reaching level 1. 

Then level 1 can keep the same feel as level 1 from previous editions using the assumptions already set forth in 5e that characters are somewhat durable and have an array of easy to understand options out of the gate.

The argument to simply start at a higher level does not really solve the issue, since progressing from level to level generally yields the same benefits per increase in level. Meaning that an increase from level 1-3 gives X bonuses, feats, skills, etc... while an increase from 3-6 generally gives the same benefits adding to what you had before. The benefits gained are the same. So simply starting at level 3 means that a precedent will be set as to the benefits subsequent levels will grant.

Assuming that level 1 is just a common man means that progression from 1-3, from "common man" to "adventurer" is setting a precedent of a certain increase in power that will be carried to level 20. Unless, of course, the designers decide to make level progression non-linear'ish. Allowing pre-level 1 characters will preserve the progression of powers originally intended for 5e while allowing for apprentice like characters.

I hope that makes sense!
I'm serious, it feels like booting up a video game.  If I wanted to do that I'd sit through a tutorial in Final Fantasy or something, at least it has nice graphics.

...or just start at level 3.



Yay, your video game includes the button "skip tutorial."

You're missing the point, why are you designing a pen and paper game like it's a video game?  What purpose does it serve?  There's no reason for PnP games to have tutorials.   
There's no reason for PnP games to have tutorials.   

Then why all the love for level zero?
"What should level 1 mean" is only problematic when multiclassing gets involved, but then it instantly becomes a monster problem.
There's no reason for PnP games to have tutorials.   

Then why all the love for level zero?



Everyone I've met who wants to run that sort of campaign wants to run it because they want to explore the character's lives before they became heroes.  They want to start with the farmboy who finds religion, the young teenager who is training under an irritating old master wizard and dreams of the outside world, the young woman whose village burned and who trains herself night and day so she can avenge herself on the orcs that razed it.  

It's a roleplaying opportunity.  "Here's your characters before they were somebody.  Play em, love em, and then when you're heroes you won't forget your simple origins."

Level 0 is a great thing.  It could even have its own separate advancement from traditional leveling, as the level 0 characters start to acquire the skills that will define them.  But for the love of god, make it its own separate system.  Don't try to pretend that the guy who can hurl bolts of magic or chop down a door with a few swings of an axe is an "ordinary person."  That's what level 1 has traditionally been, and the party is never "ordinary."  It's just tutorial levels of video games.  
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