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Level Adjustments and the 1st Level Character


D&D 3.5/d20/OGL


I'm working on some character generation house rules for an upcoming campaign and I've been thinking about level adjustments. Mostly so because I want to offer up to the players nearly any playable race they'd like to roll up in an effort to have a sort of "Star Wars-like" universe where all walks of life are all around you, it's how you play them (alignments & role-playing) that dictates them to be good or bad.

That said, I'm not sure how to handle races with level adjustments. I've flipped through Savage Species and while I like the ability progression idea it's not available for every playable race and I kind of like having certain abilities from the get-go...but not without a properly balanced penalty.

The only thing that initially came to mind, and mind you I'm in no way a guy who likes (or even had an aptitude) for changing rules, is to make some sort of minus to things equal to the level adjustment the character's race has. For example: a 1st level Bugbear Barbarian (LA= +1) would have a -1 to attacks/skill checks/saves. In an effort to work out of that penalty once the character has surpassed the level adjustment the penalty goes away.

Sure, if someone wanted to play a 1st level Mind Flayer Sorcerer he would have -7 to attacks/skill checks/saves (and spell DCs?) until 8th level but at that point he'd be free of the negative shackles. Or maybe subtract one each level gained up to the level the LA disappears.

Does this seem right or way off base? Is there already a rule somewhere that I haven't yet come across (any d20 source, WotC or others)? Any assistance/feedback is much appreciated.

- Chris Shadowens (Did I mention that I'm planning on DMing after a nearly 15 year hiatus? Yea, no pressure. ;) )


I doubt that'd really work...

Imagine someone playing a Balor. Hell, take a -20 on your save DC. Even a commoner will make all his saves. And thus only take half damage from your Meteor Swarm... So what? He'll still be dead.

Some abilities are wáy to potent to have, even at a massive penalty, on first level. Characters that can teleport, even with a hefty penalty, can easily deal with just about any trouble a first level party might come up against. Same goes for things that fly.

Also; don't forget you also need to factor in HD. A Mind Flayer has 7 HD of itself; so you'd need an ECL 14 creature to be a Mind Flayer; and you'd still have no class levels.

If you want people to play monsters at first level; you should really use a racial progression. I can't really think of any other way to balance an ECL 14 Mind Flayer with an ECL 1 Human Sorcerer, other than stripping away most of the Mind Flayers powers.


I remember a book from old D&D which used to do that for select races, so you could play level 1 centaur or pixie, starting with less hit dice and powers, and they became equivalent of the thing described in DMG only in level three or four (in old D&D races were classes, so no need to worry about those).

Something similar have been thrown around in issues of Dragon, like half-elementals taking "monster levels" to gain full powers. But it is indeed a bit problematic for players since in most cases if the levels are spent on these monster classes are inferior to normal class levels and on the other hand, if you let the powers develop on side of getting class levels, that tends to lead to overpowered characters.
And of course anything with extraordinary powers (Mind flayers, Balors) breaks the system.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Modules Subscriber

I´m not sure if I understand you right, so I might be off the track now.

Level adjustments work like this: You add the LA and the racial hit dice and gain the final value of the race in question. Your bugbear has three racial hit dice and a LA of +1, so a bugbear would be a "mature" specimen at level four. Have a look at the centaur progression in Savage Species: The Centaur has 4 racial HD and a LA of +2, so he has six levels in the progression. The Bugbear is not among the examples, so you would have to work out the progression yourself.
A Mind Flayer has 8 racial HD and a LA of +7, so he has a 15 level progression in Savage Species.

I would not use a negative modifier over the board to offset the advantages. I think that would unbalance the game (taken to extremes, a Mind Flayer would take a -15 at first level - even all his abilities would not offset this and leave the character unplayable). I recommend doing the work and use the Savage Species progressions - there are a lot examples in there, and creating the other ones is not that diffcult. I do not have the time to work out the bugbear right now, but you could take the Ogre from Savage Species as starting point and adjust accordingly. Otherwise, ask on these boards for help if you have the ideas of your players.

The game mechanics of D&D do not quite allow an alien population playable as PCs like in Star Wars without heavy modification to the existing races. And these modifications would be even more work than writing up a few progressions.

HTH,

Stefan


To the OP: I know what you are trying to do, because I already did it. And yes, it works. (At least in my games, my wife's games, all the games our friends run...)

It works best with a combination of Savage Species progressions for abilities, coupled with the "minuses" per "level" of level adjustment, gained incrementally through level up.

If you would like a copy of my system (for most base classes and monster HD, with notes for figuring it out for others) let me know; I'll send it your way, since my Query for an article with it was already turned down.

This applies for anyone who wants a copy, by the way.


Wizards has come up with a good system to work in lots of ECL character types at first level, without disrupting things-- or having to worry about the corner cases that Frats mentioned.

Level Adjusted Races has progressions from first level for Aasimar, Drow, Duregar, Faetouched, Half-Fey, Svirfneblin, and Tiefling. The whole series adds lots of other options-- fiends, ghosts, werewolves, and more. Add in Savage Species, and just about every race winds up with a progression, all balanced from level one.

Cheliax

I have also used the "negative levels" concept for races that only have an ECL, with no racial hit die (such as tieflings or githyanki). Running it as a -1 penalty to all d20 rolls, and a -1 penalty to starting hp, for each ECL of the race (tiefling would be -1, while drow would be -2 and the half-celestial would be a more daunting -3) worked out, with the negative decreasing at each time the character would normally level. The special abilities do offset the penalty, but keep in mind that a player who wants to play a half-dragon wizard may not be able to last in a fight with only 2hp. Now, the assumption has been for me that if a player is choosing such a race, they know what they are getting into and should be experienced enough role-players to handle the initial complications, but it would be worth pointing out the potential downfalls if you are going to use this idea.


I think the Black Bard has it right.
You need to combine negatives from the actual LA with a racial progression, so things start out with few, if any, of their racial abilities and HD and gain these as they level up.
In practice, it can be difficult. Some things have such a high LA that they couldn't possibly survive to pay the LA off on the 1 HD they have until they get to a point to earn more of those. The aforementioned mindflayer would only have one HD (as an aberration) until it got to 8th level.
You could try an every other option, though. One level they pay off LA, the next they get a HD. At least they wouldn't be completely useless to the rest of the party.


Sparrow wrote:

Some things have such a high LA that they couldn't possibly survive to pay the LA off on the 1 HD they have until they get to a point to earn more of those. The aforementioned mindflayer would only have one HD (as an aberration) until it got to 8th level.

They'd pick up racial HD along the way.


Just my (highly opinionated, likely not very useful) two coppers:

I understand what you are trying to do, I think, but the answer may not be so much in what players are allowed to do as it lies in the often under-used tool of NPCs. You can have almost any creature imagineable walking around, interacting with the party, displaying to them the way the world works, without actually allowing the party to play something as challenging to balance as, say, a mind flayer. They'll get the hint, and so long as you open up almost every race with few to no "exceptional" powers, they'll probably feel they have enough diversity to mesh with the world in which they exist.

That, and I personally have some problem with the idea of a racial progression. For things such as centaurs and minotaurs, it makes some sense, as we at least assume they have a fairly normal developmental cycle. But for things such as undead, whose racial progressions can be found in Libris Mortis, I have more of an issue. A white doesn't slowly accumulate its powers. It gains them more or less instantaneously. I would never allow such a being to acquire its powers over the course of "levels." That may be a bit of an extreme example, but there are other creatures that I feel the same way about (don't have my books with me on vacation, but I'd name them if I did).

Again, sorry if I wasn't too helpful, but I just thought I'd chime in with my opinion.


Saern wrote:

Just my (highly opinionated, likely not very useful) two coppers:

I understand what you are trying to do, I think, but the answer may not be so much in what players are allowed to do as it lies in the often under-used tool of NPCs. You can have almost any creature imagineable walking around, interacting with the party, displaying to them the way the world works, without actually allowing the party to play something as challenging to balance as, say, a mind flayer. They'll get the hint, and so long as you open up almost every race with few to no "exceptional" powers, they'll probably feel they have enough diversity to mesh with the world in which they exist.

That, and I personally have some problem with the idea of a racial progression. For things such as centaurs and minotaurs, it makes some sense, as we at least assume they have a fairly normal developmental cycle. But for things such as undead, whose racial progressions can be found in Libris Mortis, I have more of an issue. A white doesn't slowly accumulate its powers. It gains them more or less instantaneously. I would never allow such a being to acquire its powers over the course of "levels." That may be a bit of an extreme example, but there are other creatures that I feel the same way about (don't have my books with me on vacation, but I'd name them if I did).

Again, sorry if I wasn't too helpful, but I just thought I'd chime in with my opinion.

I agree with you here. I'll note that if one combines having all sorts of creatures wandering around with a rule that players can't take certain races until the party reaches certain levels then it is not necessary to futz around with level progressions. In my opinion a better approach then having all of these immature Illithids wandering around – especially considering that an immature Illithid is this scary slug thing that wants to crawl into a sentient creatures ear, eat half its brain and hijack the rest.


Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
Sparrow wrote:

Some things have such a high LA that they couldn't possibly survive to pay the LA off on the 1 HD they have until they get to a point to earn more of those. The aforementioned mindflayer would only have one HD (as an aberration) until it got to 8th level.

They'd pick up racial HD along the way.

I know they would pick up racial HD along the way, but if said mindflayer has to spend each of it's first seven levels paying off it's LA, then it would be an 8th level mindflayer with a single aberration HD. One HD. That's it.

Not a formula for success.


The level adjustment is probably the best way to go. Anything else usually ends up with sometning that will work for a little while and then create some monsterous problem that will screw everything up a few levels down the line. Beleive me, iv'e tried.


Sparrow wrote:
Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
Sparrow wrote:

Some things have such a high LA that they couldn't possibly survive to pay the LA off on the 1 HD they have until they get to a point to earn more of those. The aforementioned mindflayer would only have one HD (as an aberration) until it got to 8th level.

They'd pick up racial HD along the way.

I know they would pick up racial HD along the way, but if said mindflayer has to spend each of it's first seven levels paying off it's LA, then it would be an 8th level mindflayer with a single aberration HD. One HD. That's it.

Not a formula for success.

Not to sound irritable or anything but they get an HD level then an adjustment level, then an HD level, then an adjustment level, etc. The adjustment levels AREN'T front loaded; they're interspersed, with the creature slowly gaining abilities and improving abilities that started weak. With templates the LA IS front loaded, simply because there are NO HD levels to intermix with the adjustment levels.

Cheliax Bella Sara Charter Superscriber

Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
Saern wrote:

Just my (highly opinionated, likely not very useful) two coppers:

I understand what you are trying to do, I think, but the answer may not be so much in what players are allowed to do as it lies in the often under-used tool of NPCs. You can have almost any creature imagineable walking around, interacting with the party, displaying to them the way the world works, without actually allowing the party to play something as challenging to balance as, say, a mind flayer. They'll get the hint, and so long as you open up almost every race with few to no "exceptional" powers, they'll probably feel they have enough diversity to mesh with the world in which they exist.

That, and I personally have some problem with the idea of a racial progression. For things such as centaurs and minotaurs, it makes some sense, as we at least assume they have a fairly normal developmental cycle. But for things such as undead, whose racial progressions can be found in Libris Mortis, I have more of an issue. A white doesn't slowly accumulate its powers. It gains them more or less instantaneously. I would never allow such a being to acquire its powers over the course of "levels." That may be a bit of an extreme example, but there are other creatures that I feel the same way about (don't have my books with me on vacation, but I'd name them if I did).

Again, sorry if I wasn't too helpful, but I just thought I'd chime in with my opinion.

I agree with you here. I'll note that if one combines having all sorts of creatures wandering around with a rule that players can't take certain races until the party reaches certain levels then it is not necessary to futz around with level progressions. In my opinion a better approach then having all of these immature Illithids wandering around – especially considering that an immature Illithid is this scary slug thing that wants to crawl into a sentient creatures ear, eat half its brain and hijack the rest.

The ones that bug me the most are when there is a size change.

"So, Bill, can't help but notice you're size large today."

"Oh yeah, I had a real big breakfast this morning. Weird huh."

"Yup."

"Yup."

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Chris, this probably doesnt exactly answer your question, but if you want to get that many, many races, "star wars" type feel, I think you can readily achieve that using races with no level adjustment or racial hit dice, or at least very low LA (say +1 - I have found in my game that allowing races with a +1 LA alongside standard races at the same class level is not terribly game breaking).

If you allow such races from just the PHB and the Monster Manual 1, you'd probably have a dozen or so playable races (not including all the various subraces). If you include various other supplements and sources (Eberron campaign setting, Planar handbook, and Winning Races articles from Dragon magazine come to mind for some weird and wonderful races with no or low LA), you would easily be up to 20 + playable races, which is enormous choice for the standard 4 - 6 player party. Combine that with the suggestion of an earlier poster about having monstrous races generally more often accepted, seen and encountered, and that star wars feel is achieved.


delveg wrote:

Wizards has come up with a good system to work in lots of ECL character types at first level, without disrupting things-- or having to worry about the corner cases that Frats mentioned.

Level Adjusted Races has progressions from first level for Aasimar, Drow, Duregar, Faetouched, Half-Fey, Svirfneblin, and Tiefling. The whole series adds lots of other options-- fiends, ghosts, werewolves, and more. Add in Savage Species, and just about every race winds up with a progression, all balanced from level one.

Just want to say thanks to delveg for posting this. I was about to make a duergar character, and those links are really handy :)


Wow, I'd first like to thank you all for all the input and assistance with my query. I knew it'd be a massive undertaking but until I read a few posts here I didn't realize how much work I was trying to create for myself and my players.

I also was clearly missing something obvious: the HD levels. That alone made me rethink my plan as it was way off from what's feasibly playable (i.e. my example of the mindflayer was WAY off base!)

That all said, I think I'm going to keep it a bit simpler, taking Mothman's approach:

Mothman wrote:
(snip)...you can readily achieve that using races with no level adjustment or racial hit dice, or at least very low LA...(snip)...you would easily be up to 20 + playable races, which is enormous choice for the standard 4 - 6 player party. Combine that with the suggestion of an earlier poster about having monstrous races generally more often accepted, seen and encountered, and that star wars feel is achieved.

...and there's how I'm going to handle it. Now I've just got to compile the list. I've been dragging my butt on this but I'm feeling reenergized. Thanks again, everyone!

- Chris Shadowens


The Black Bard wrote:
If you would like a copy of my system (for most base classes and monster HD, with notes for figuring it out for others) let me know; I'll send it your way, since my Query for an article with it was already turned down.

I would definitely like to see the system you've put together, in the event I decide to do something a bit more advanced down the line. Please send me a copy, whenever you get the chance. Thanks!

(edit) ***Tried to embed a "mailto:" link above and failed, can't figure out why. Anyhoo, my addy's posted below.***

- Chris Shadowens
- chris(dot)shadowens(at)gmail(dot)com

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Chris Shadowens wrote:

...and there's how I'm going to handle it. Now I've just got to compile the list. I've been dragging my butt on this but I'm feeling reenergized. Thanks again, everyone!

- Chris Shadowens

Hey Chris, a little while back I started putting together my own database of "playable" races for my games, based on the sources I own ... if the file hasn't gotten lost when I recently upgraded my computer I can send it to you - I'll take a look for it on the weekend.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Chris, I found that "Races" document I mentioned, the formats a little screwy, but would you like me to email it to you at the address you've listed above?

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