Could a campaign start before level 1?

Pathfinder RPG General Discussion

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Years ago there was briefly a concept of level 0 characters. (I think in 1st ed.?)

Could you start a campaign with the players at level 0 perhaps via giving them the stats of an NPC class along with perhaps a handful of traits and then set the campaign into motion in a manner that offers the characters an opportunity to get training. So after the first session or two the players will have chosen training and gotten to 1st level (probably the skipping ahead a period of time to represent that training?)

Anyway I haven't really looked deeply into this but was curious if anyone has done something like this before in a previous pathfinder campaign?

Shadow Lodge

It's been talked about.

Yes, this was done in 1st edition as a sort of lark, it wasn't RAW for 1st edition even. I can't remember if it was in a Dragon Magazine or some other source. We tried it a few times, it was interesting, but not something that we adopted for general use.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

You can have the players start out as an NPC class, then exchange that class level for a PC class level at say 500 xp, then levelling up as normal from then on.

The Exchange

There was a 3rd edition module that did exactly this. "Legends Are Made, not Born" by Goodman Games had pregenerated characters using NPC classes. In this scenario, there are no heroes around to deal with the monster threatening their village, so a group of villagers take up arms to deal with the problem themselves. It gives the option of having it be the start to an adventuring career where the characters "level up" into 1st level PC classes (e.g. the warrior becomes a fighter or ranger, the adept becomes a druid, etc.)

Liberty's Edge

Starting as Level 1 Commoners (with only Craft and Profession as class skills), then upgrading to 1st level in a normal class at some point, seems very doable.

you could have 0HD, only gaining your con modifier on hp (min. 1) and your int on skills, so only ability modifiers change anything, you've got 0 in all your base saves, bab, or whatever.
It's hard not to TPK them with any fight.

Adding NPC levels is also an option, but will end up being stronger.

In my next campaign (I'm probably going to use Legacy of Fire after a swift major rewrite of the plot to make it darker and more "everyone is out to get us" (than it already is)) I'm going to start all PCs as level 1 but in an NPC class, when they get to 2nd level they'll be able to take a level in a PC class if they wish. Which is more or less the equivalent of a 'Level 0' since starting characters with say half hit points (or just their Con modifier - Richard you are an evil minded spirit) would be just too risky. This will slightly reduce the PCs power over the course of the campaign and I might need to write some extra encounter areas, but I was almost certainly going to do that anyway, and there'll be 5 PCs and the change to PF from 3.5 substantially increases PC power in any event.

The idea was tossed around in my old play group. I never got an opportunity to enjoy such a campaign, but the primary GM did it many years ago for 2E, said it was a blast.

Basically it was characters starting with a level in an npc class, then gaining a class level and going 1 to 20, from what I had heard.

Honestly I'd personally like to see a campaign where a PC gets a few NPC class levels before PC class levels. Just seems interesting to me.

The Exchange

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This product, apprentice level characters has a good way of starting with "1/2" level PCs. It allows the players to start at -500 xp and they level up to 1st level at 0.

The advantage over playing NPC classes is that they start in their own classes.

If you look on my profile under Pbp campaign there is one called FW Forest Force which used the original rules from the first edition scenarios Treasure Hunt and Under Illefarn to produce Pathfinder 0 level PCs. I think they also appeared in the hardbook, Grey hawk Adventures, if memory serves me right. I have used these adapted rules several times in various campaigns and they suit my style, but that may not suit everyone.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

My idea was in part to have players roleplay class decisions versus starting the campaign with a preconceived 1-20 plan in place.

ie if you start with an NPC level or as a 0-level "normal" person perhaps with a few unusual things (higher abilities than typical etc) then are thrust into needing to be (or bing inspired to be) heros it could be really fun for the players (and for me as a gm)

I suspect that this might lead to seeing some less common classes/archetypes and may also help solidify the party dynamic.

It may however make it a bit trickier to add new players in the future or to add a replacement character should someone die. I'll have to make sure to have some openings to add additional characters in the future if necessary.

The advantage I see for NPC classes or for a generic 0-level is that it doesn't set the characters on a specific trajectory. A 0-level which is for a specific class (or multiple classes as some propose - though that then is considered functionally equivalent to a level 1) requires players to pick a class before the campaign starts.

What I'm envisioning would have the players and I set the story framework - races, families, personalities and connections to each ther before any decisions about classes are finalized.

Crunch wise I'm not sure yet how I would implement this and likely I'll do something to give players enought flexibility in picking classes. I probably will want them to end up at or just above a normal 1st level character.

One thought, for example, would be to start with a 15 point buy and then give the players a further 5 or perhaps 10 points to spend when the get level 1 in their pc class. Possibly also they start with two traits (with perhaps some restrictions such as no traits that define classes (campaign specific class traits for example)

The campaign I'm putting together for my home game right now is going to start with level 1 NPC classes that are replaced with level 1 PC classes at 1000 xp, using the slow advancement track, which doesn't reach level 2 until 3000 xp.

I was worried the PCs would be too weak as NPC classes so I pitted four of the Village Idiot (commoner 1, 10 AC, 6 hp, 12 STR) from GameMastery Guide against a CR 1 giant spider and only gave them clubs and slings (not the improvised club from the Village Idiot entry), and ran the combat myself to see how it worked out. It worked out fine. One of them was reduced to -1 hp, but didn't die. Since the spider is 400 xp, that's 100 xp apiece. Nine more like that and they're in their regular classes.

When I actually run it, I plan to allow any level 1 NPC class except adept, because adept doesn't transition well to the caster classes.

Shadow Lodge

ive ran campaigns where i make the Pc's use a level of commoner, then swap it out after the intro fight to establish their characters in a "fast forward to the present" type of plot device.

the players never played in a game like that, they liked it.

The Exchange

Rycaut it sounds similar to the way I did things.

Here is a precis of the way I distilled and adapted the original rules (which were percentage based).

In short, I had the PCs start as teenagers with lowish stats, choosing their race and what class they were hoping to achieve. They rolled for background family such as wealth level, siblings and the like then moulded that into a childhood which was the basis of their upbringing (3.0Ed had a simple version in the WOTC Herobuilder book).

Next the player decided what three things they would hope to learn, weapons, skills and class abilities during a one year period. We roleplayed finding a mentor and any possible adventures. At the end of the period they rolled (including any bonuses for relevant stats, good mentoring and masterwork equipment) to get a pass of 15. This could also apply to stats, so for instance a blacksmith apprentice could try to learn the craft skill (Int based) with a good mentor (Grum the dwarf) and his masterwork tools.
So the player rolls a 1d4 on Int to reflect the years brain work at the forge, making his PC Int 12. He then rolls a d20 + 1 (Int 12) +2 (Good mentor) +2 (masterwork tools) to get 15. Pass and he has one requisite skill for several different skills. Maybe he comes to the attention of a local wizard for some great work and gets the chance to move in that direction as a mage or magus?
But if he fails then he could try again next year with an extra +2 bonus for familiarity.
Any d20 rolls of 1 or 20 indicate areas that the PC either excels or should steer well clear of.

Each year took one evening session including a mini adventure and rolls for life events that impact their lives (comes from Cyberpunk 2020).

By the end most PCs had a strong identity and several contacts, friends and enemies.

I found that the process helps alot until someone dies. Then the past tends to be something the survivors have as a bonus.

I have run this through a Lords Manor, a family of drow, a family of snow barbarians and the Greyhawk adventure you see on "Forest Force".

Hope that helps.

I'm actually doing this for a campaign i'm starting in June. I'll have the party make their level 1 characters, then i'll take some abilities away and make theme essentially level 0.

It'll basically all be custom changes, as I told the players that some characters might have ability scores higher or lower than what they have at level 1, as the adventure at 0 level will have some dramatic effects. Other class abilities and starting scores will be changed as needed for the 0 level.

Five years pass between the level 0 prologue adventure and the start of the campaign.

I guess technically the campaign won't start at 0 level, as after they complete the adventure, time will pass and they will be level 1. Experience gain will be irrelevant for the 0 level part of the campaign.

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I've run games where everyone's first level was an npc class level that was converted to a full pc class level after a time (as sort of coming of age story for our characters. But that can get sort of complicated, because of the different age progressions of the different races. For instance you couldn't play teen years into adulthood for that first level (zero to one) if you had an elf, and a human in the party.

There is also the genius guide to apprentice level characters which is a 3rd party product with rules to help represent such a character.

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
JAF0 wrote:
Yes, this was done in 1st edition as a sort of lark, it wasn't RAW for 1st edition even. I can't remember if it was in a Dragon Magazine or some other source. We tried it a few times, it was interesting, but not something that we adopted for general use.

They were indeed published in Dragon, and then were expanded and re-published in the 1st-ed AD&D hardcover Greyhawk Adventures in 1988.

By the way, that book also introduced cantrips to the game.

As an aside, that book had some of the most ridiculous spell names ever published, like Bigby's feeling fingers.

"Treasure Hunt" - Module N4 by Aaron Allston - Advanced Dungeons and Dragons -

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