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What are some reasons people might start at level 1?


Pathfinder RPG General Discussion

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Mark Hoover 330 wrote:

I've never had an issue with level 1 starts anecdotally, either as a player or among my players when I am running. My experience is my own though; yours may differ.

Since we're in Gen Discuss however and the OP specifically asked about opinions, here goes

1. Level 1 = no experience: poppycock. Your PC likely has 2 Traits and at the very least 1 Feat. This has always suggested (to me anyway) that said PC has had SOME kind of life-altering experience that sets them apart from sentient beings using NPC classes or Standard Stat arrays.

2. Level 2 = easily killable: this one has largely gone unproven in my games except with very novice players. Consider: an unlucky Full Attack Action from a very strong foe, up through at least mid levels, will likely lay low any PC. However consider that by the law of averages the standard CR 1 monster has a high attack of +2 dealing 7 roughly 7 damage. Even a level 1 Wizard with no Con bonus that chooses (for some weird reason) not to take their level 1 Favored Class bonus in HP still has 6 HP. This means that said wizard drops unconscious but is not fully dead and is still surrounded by their party to save them.

The reality of this game is that, on a Standard CR fight, this game is significantly stacked in favor of the PCs at every level. It's a bit closer of a margin at level 1, certainly, but starting at level 1 is by no means a death sentence.

Now all of that being said, the one complaint I get from my players is that they can't DO all that much at level 1. Again... poppycock.

At level 1 a wizard with a Craft skill and maxed out Int can use 1 spell, take 10, and easily craft Masterwork stuff so long as they've got the cash; a Cleric with similarly maxed Wis is as good a tracker as a Ranger and twice as Professional; even Fighters and other melee types, with the right builds, can use their skills and feats to do A LOT more than just murder and loot 3-5 times/day. And don't get me STARTED on the skills monkey types!

I think people in my games get so hung up...

Can't do much is subjective. Nobody is wrong. It is just that what you consider to be "much" they see as "not enough".


Browolfe wrote:

I agree that one of the biggest reasons for starting at 1st level is it increases the likelihood of the players (and often the GM's) actually knowing what the characters can do and then actually using those abilities.

Too often in games I've played that started at higher levels one of two things happened: either the game crawled because everyone was trying to figure out what they could do "on the fly", or everyone just stuck to the old "hack or cast a spell" routine and then it's pretty much 1st level with more hit points and larger plusses.

I also fall into the category of being most interested in playing through my characters' progression and growth and the more levels available to play through, the more I can do that.

I also find that first/lower level play encourages more roleplaying. The vast majority of my most memorable RP moments come from low level games and the lower levels of campaigns.

This will once again vary depending on who is at the table. I can start around level 10 and be ok, but I've been playing for a long time, and I know the rules pretty well. If I was a more casual player it might be better for me to grow into the character, but even then I could probably start at level 3 and be ok.


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Backstory is one of the reasons I don't like 1st level, since it means your backstory ends up really really really limited compared to what you could do with third level and beyond.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

I feel backstories should be written at the table, through gameplay.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber
Milo v3 wrote:
Backstory is one of the reasons I don't like 1st level, since it means your backstory ends up really really really limited compared to what you could do with third level and beyond.

I'm not a fan of backstories longer than a paragraph both as a GM and as a player. I play the game to find out how my character became notable. If they're already doing amazing things in their backstory then I'm just writing a story not playing the game.

In fact most of my backstory gets written as I make it up at the table.

For example wrote:


Me: "I approach the barkeep, do I know him?"
GM: Yeah, you've been a regular here long enough that you know his name is Macress.
Me: "Hey Mac, the usual, put it on my tab. How's the wife?"
GM: Mac pours you a mead. "The wife says this is the last one I'm putting on your tab. Your settlin' up tonight friend."
Me: "That's the same thing you said last week. Anyone interesting in? If you can get me a line on some work then maybe I can settle that bar tab."
GM: Make a diplomacy check. Mac is indifferent towards you because of the Bar tab.
Me: Fair.

See that, backstory, and the GM didn't need to read through a page of prose, or generate anything particularly customised towards my character to create a connection.


Matthew Downie wrote:
Milo v3 wrote:
Don't people learn their abilities once they've read thorough their class once or twice?

Sounds like you've been pretty fortunate with the people you game with. Some players still can't remember their Fervors / Inquisitions / Deeds after playing the character for six months. Even if they know them at one point, they'll forget within a few days. And remembering every possible spell you can cast is impossible even for most experts.

In my last campaign, one of my players had to be continually reminded how to calculate her witch's attack bonuses with touch spells--and this was a PhD candidate in sciences who had played Pathfinder before joining our group. Thankfully, for our current campaign, she has figured out that she needs to *write this stuff down on her character sheet*, and she started at 1st level rather than 7th, so her zen archer hasn't made me want to tear out my beard yet.

We also have a couple of occasional players in the local PFS games who should understand what their character's abilities do by now (having earned a few levels with their swashbuckler or whatever), but are no good at explaining them during game, and never bring the book or PDF, so constantly waste time looking up *everything* on the PRD using their phones. To paraphrase one of our principal GMs, who is normally a huge softy and an eager teacher: "I have more than enough to do tonight running the bad guys' abilities and keeping track of which tier's tactics they're following. YOU need to know how your character works and be able to give me a total result for your attack/save/whatever in a timely manner."


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TriOmegaZero wrote:
I feel backstories should be written at the table, through gameplay.

Agreed. Nothing against some backstory, but it should be just that - backstory. The interesting part of the character's story should be the part we're playing. If your backstory is so great, why aren't we playing that?

Even when we start above first level - even the occasional campaign that starts at high level, I still prefer to keep my backstory simple and not very exciting. Because the important part of the character's story is what happens in game - every thing in the backstory should be in service to that.


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TriOmegaZero wrote:
I feel backstories should be written at the table, through gameplay.

There are two ways I can interpret this. Deciding things which happened in your backstory at appropriate moments of gameplay in the campaign, or just saying that "my backstory is the start of the campaign".

If the former, then I don't really see what prevents that from happening when starting past level one?

If the latter, then it sounds like you're using the word backstory wrong.

Quote:
If your backstory is so great, why aren't we plating that?

Well for one, it might not make sense in someones backstory to heavily feature three to four other people as your allies. I've had many backstories which wouldn't really be playable because then we'd have to have everyone else bored out of their mind waiting for the solo adventure to end.


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I enjoy starting out at lower levels, myself. I like building up my character and seeing if the game takes me in directions I might not have otherwise gone in rather than planning it all out and starting in the middle of the movie, so to speak.

There is nothing wrong with starting at higher levels, either, or for that matter starting below first level if that is your thing. All sorts of games can be fun for all sorts of people. Take the temperature of your table and go from there.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
I liked the summoner player that had a whiteboard with columns for each eidolon attack, spaces to place the attack and damage dice, and minimum totals for each. His turns took less time than other melee characters.

One of our local PFS players who plays OA classes all the time worked up a spreadsheet to track all the changes to his kineticist's stats as they accumulate burn. He swears it's the only way to keep his turn as short as the other players'.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber
Milo v3 wrote:
There are two ways I can interpret this.

It's the former. Like Dudemeister said, come with a paragraph (whatever level you start at), expand on it as inspiration strikes in the game.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
Milo v3 wrote:
There are two ways I can interpret this.
It's the former. Like Dudemeister said, come with a paragraph (whatever level you start at), expand on it as inspiration strikes in the game.

You can do that in games past 1st level just as well as you can do it with 1st level. That is not a point for or against 1st level.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

Hence why I said whatever level you start at.

Liberty's Edge

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While I prefer starting at level 2, the only time I really dislike starting at first is in campaigns where you can't shop until you've reached 4th level, and they give you all your WBL in things like magic daggers and masterwork leather armor.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
Lady-J wrote:
i do a weeks worth of research b4 i make any character no matter the level so taking a single day to build one high level character is nothing
You take weeks to build the encounters for your group?

that really depends on the encounter, for named enemies that would have taken the party half a dozen or more sessions to get to yes, i also put that amount of time putting together random encounter charts for certain areas were i didn't particularly have specific encounters in mind


a pre written back story allows the gm to better fit your character into the setting as well as give your character motivation for actually going on an adventure


I generally write at least 5-6 pages of backstory before I write anything on a character sheet. Doing it the other way around feels wrong to me (I want to have a good idea who this person is before I start playing them.) So I understand the "if your character starts at 18 years old and level 1, there's not a lot they could have gotten up to by then" perspective.

So, say, playing grizzled veterans, reformed criminals, established academics, or anybody other than fresh-faced kids is a fun thing to do sometimes, and is a good reason not to start at level 1 from time to time. It's just that, by default, level 1 is the most sensible place to start.


PossibleCabbage wrote:
So, say, playing grizzled veterans, reformed criminals, established academics, or anybody other than fresh-faced kids is a fun thing to do sometimes, and is a good reason not to start at level 1 from time to time.

I get to do that when making a character for the party that comes along to investigate what happened to the previous party that got wiped out half way through the campaign.


PossibleCabbage wrote:
I generally write at least 5-6 pages of backstory before I write anything on a character sheet. Doing it the other way around feels wrong to me (I want to have a good idea who this person is before I start playing them.)

I couldn't do that, I need the character sheet info to give me ideas to seed my backstory with. Much easier to explain how a character became the one on the character sheet than to build a character story from nothing. Without the sheet a character's backstory looks like, "Uhh, he's a guy and he is here today because, uhh, reasons." A well developed character sheet can actually suggest ways to add nuances to a character's story when you explain why the character has an obscure feat or other character feature.


same here, I need to know that my d&d5e drow character Vornim de Kilsek is a warlock and what his attributes are to explain that he's always sought for respect and acceptance, that in drow society those come with having power, and that not being gifted enough to become a powerful fighter or wizard, he turned to a demonic pact to try and get the power he needed...then the rest of the story spins out logically from there.

I seldom have the backstory sprout all armed from my head and dictate the character's attributes, class, or whatever, usually, it's an afterthought to explain why I created the creater that way, though some times I'll have a concept, and the in game traits and the backstory will evolve in parallel.

Liberty's Edge

I tend to build my background in tandem with any particularly juicy class features or traits when genning the character. I'll try to figure out a few things that make them tick, get an inkling of what they did and why they're here, but leave it at that.

The finer details and motivations get filled in after playing the character a few times. The tension of level 1 in particular can be great for this.

Justifying my Diabolist's Diabolism in Wrath of the Righteous was much easier after he experienced the first book with relatively little power or ability.

Scarab Sages

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Brother Fen wrote:
A better question would be "Why doesn't everyone start at level one?"

Or "why do people keep making posts asking incredulously why other people have different gaming styles?"

Scarab Sages

Tim Emrick wrote:


One of our local PFS players who plays OA classes all the time worked up a spreadsheet to track all the changes to his kineticist's stats as they accumulate burn. He swears it's the only way to keep his turn as short as the other players'.

Kinteticist is difficult to track, even the attacks change a lot level to level. I've heard even Paizo people complain about it on podcasts. I had to add special fields to track them and to create dynamic attacks on the Roll20 Pathfinder sheet so players can easily hit a button to attack, and not have to recalculate everything manually between levels.


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Berti Blackfoot wrote:
Brother Fen wrote:
A better question would be "Why doesn't everyone start at level one?"
Or "why do people keep making posts asking incredulously why other people have different gaming styles?"

There are some things Man Was Not Meant To Know... someday we will learn why people are incredulous when confronted with other people's subjective preferences for leisure time activity... and we will go mad, and flee to the safety of a new dark age...

Between you and me, I can't wait.

Shadow Lodge

Berti Blackfoot wrote:
Or "why do people keep making posts asking incredulously why other people have different gaming styles?"

The world may never know...


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And if it does all of Quibblethulhu's prophecies will come true. And maybe there'll be a soft serve ice cream machine to go along with it.


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Berti Blackfoot wrote:
Brother Fen wrote:
A better question would be "Why doesn't everyone start at level one?"
Or "why do people keep making posts asking incredulously why other people have different gaming styles?"

Because the original post was questioning why people choose a different gaming style than the OP.


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Why doesn't everyone insist on starting at level 20? It's way better than level 19. You get all those cool capstone abilities.


Because I want to.
Because the folks I've chosen to play with want to.
Because the GM wants to.
Because I've never played with this GM or group before.
Because I have played with this GM or group before.
Because that's where PFS/OP/RPGA/other organizations start.
Because I'm not playing a full 9 level caster.
Because I've never played this particular class before.
Because I have played this particular class before.
Because I'll never see or perhaps use or grow attached to a some low level magic item, spell or ability if I don't.
Just Because :D

PS: Almost all the answers are the same if I were to answer Mathew Downie's question above.

Almost.


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Matthew Downie wrote:
Why doesn't everyone insist on starting at level 20? It's way better than level 19. You get all those cool capstone abilities.

Or level 21... where's Nigel Tufnel to explain this?


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Hark wrote:
PossibleCabbage wrote:
I generally write at least 5-6 pages of backstory before I write anything on a character sheet. Doing it the other way around feels wrong to me (I want to have a good idea who this person is before I start playing them.)
I couldn't do that, I need the character sheet info to give me ideas to seed my backstory with. Much easier to explain how a character became the one on the character sheet than to build a character story from nothing. Without the sheet a character's backstory looks like, "Uhh, he's a guy and he is here today because, uhh, reasons." A well developed character sheet can actually suggest ways to add nuances to a character's story when you explain why the character has an obscure feat or other character feature.

My characters generally have a concept and backstory long before I roll them up. That's always my starting point, and then I pick things that fit that (though I generally know what class they'll be from the beginning). I don't actually write that much out, but I know their pasts, what they're like, their families, that kind of thing. I really like making characters.

I've never felt particularly limited in terms of backstory when it comes to starting at first level, either. There are a lot of ways you can work in the character having a bit of power or influence beforehand. Maybe they were the best in their small village (with mostly low-level NPC classes); maybe they were once pretty good but have been out of adventuring for awhile and have gotten rusty; maybe they were previously doing something else and have just started to train as their current class. As long as you don't mind not having a mechanic for every aspect of their backstory, it works just fine.

Paizo Employee Customer Service Manager

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Changed the thread title to something less baiting and provocative. Removed some posts and replies. Gaming style varies wildly and is extremely subjective. You can express your preferences without insulting or demeaning others'.

Shadow Lodge

Because you can pack more fun into the allotted playing time when your opponents go down after you roll two dice as opposed to it taking forty-nine dice. Also, chasing after insanely suicidal goblins is gut-busting hilarious. The GM has a ball, the players have a ball, and everybody at the table can keep up without having to be a certified system-mastery genius with oak-leaf clusters.


For us it's when we want to have an adventure with child PCs. An average adult in our games is at least 3rd level, 1st lvl is for children and 2nd for teens.


I can understand thematic reasons for starting at level 1. Zero to here for example. Same with some or all players not having a handle on the rules. Perhaps the GM lacks the skill or experience to build higher CR encounters, or simply can't handle some of the abilities that higher level characters have. (Like say zone of truth spell.)

That being said level 1 is a really really awful game. Sure the RP part can be decent and everything but the actual chassis for the game part of RPG is just flat out horrible. And as such for me, if I can change it the starting level won't be 1, in fact I see as starting level lower than 4 as wasting my time. That being said I have been around since 3rd edition started.(Well before that but I do not view it as relevant when it comes to PF) There is simply nothing of interest left anymore at low levels on the game front. Those times that I do participate in lower level games I am just going through the mandotory motions waiting for the real game to begin, I will just instead focus on the stuff that is not mechanics related.


I'm used to start adventures around level 3-4. You have abilities decent enough to justify most of the backgrounds. And I generally don't go higher than level 12. We are not power gamer so we get lost between all the maths.

Last time my players get level 14 I just crushed them with Divination spells and ambush tactics. They had no idea how to defend against divination, and to be honest I did not know either, I just red the spells as I was building the NPC. That was a huge mistake on my part.

But there are a lots of rules we don't use. We use less magics items, but they are all powerful and tied to the story. I also craft "story feats" that give stong custom abilities, like a mythic feat. So the true progression at our table is mainly with the story and the roleplay choices. Level is just fort class advancements. Most of the time, level 3-4 is enough for you to have all your main abilities, and by the time you get to 12-14 you have almost everything even a few levels in PrC or a good multiclassing.

Also we don't use XP, even in the AP, but story advance for leveling up. The AP are the only adventures where we start at level 1 today.


SteelGuts wrote:

I'm used to start adventures around level 3-4. You have abilities decent enough to justify most of the backgrounds. And I generally don't go higher than level 12. We are not power gamer so we get lost between all the maths.

Last time my players get level 14 I just crushed them with Divination spells and ambush tactics. They had no idea how to defend against divination, and to be honest I did not know either, I just red the spells as I was building the NPC. That was a huge mistake on my part.

But there are a lots of rules we don't use. We use less magics items, but they are all powerful and tied to the story. I also craft "story feats" that give stong custom abilities, like a mythic feat. So the true progression at our table is mainly with the story and the roleplay choices. Level is just fort class advancements. Most of the time, level 3-4 is enough for you to have all your main abilities, and by the time you get to 12-14 you have almost everything even a few levels in PrC or a good multiclassing.

Also we don't use XP, even in the AP, but story advance for leveling up. The AP are the only adventures where we start at level 1 today.

Sequestered area's help and their is magic items that make it harder to scry on you. A few other spells that help too.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

regarding backstory: To me, a level 1 PC is already exceptional compared to normal humanoid beings. Which gives me a lot of leeway to introduce backstory that leads to the PC starting their journey as the new hero in town. I said before that I would prefer to have a short introductory adventure that explains, how this came to pass and how the PCs ended up as level 1 characters in their respective classes. but no matter what, I've been known for writing extensive backstories without having my PC doing anything they would need PC levels for.

As far as the matter of story vs. build is concerned, I do both. Sometimes I have a story in mind and build a PC around it, but I've also just rolled the dice for race, class, origin and so on and then used the background system from Ultimate Campaign (or similar tables) to decide about the story that goes with it. It's a very random approach but I like the challenge of building a good story out of it, especially when the parts don't seem to fit at all.

But yeah, the main reason to have any background at all is to inform the GM about what you want to get out of the game, which already can be achieved with just a short paragraph. So to be honest, writing extensive backgrounds is just for my own pleasure and I couldn't care less if anyone else reads them :)


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Ultimately, having played variations of the game since the 80's, I think starting at level one is fun.

However, we often modify level one characters to have more hit points, to make them more durable. Usually, 3 times what they'd get under the standard rules (Wiz1 with 12 Con would have 21 HP instead of the usual 7). But, they don't gain additional hit points until their by the book total would exceed what they got at level one. So, usually, no additional hit points for several levels.

This increase to hit points is not shared by all NPC's. It's for PC's and some NPC's.


I hate starting at Lv !!!!


Anarchy_Kanya wrote:
For us it's when we want to have an adventure with child PCs. An average adult in our games is at least 3rd level, 1st lvl is for children and 2nd for teens.

A small child that is fully proficient in dozens of weapons, various shield types, AND fighting in a wide array of armors?

1st level is actually a far cry from the tabula rasa that some seem to portray it as.

Shadow Lodge

Hrothgar Rannúlfr wrote:
However, we often modify level one characters to have more hit points, to make them more durable....

In my experience, 1rd-level characters tend to be a lot more durable than, say, 3rd-level characters. Few into-level opponents can flat-out kill a 1st-level PC by dropping them to neg-CON on anything except a confirmed crit. 3rd-level? GM drops a troll in for claw/claw/rend and, oh dear....

Liberty's Edge

A troll with rend is dealing on average 37 damage if all attacks hit. A deinonychus is a CR = APL +2 threat for level 1s that deals 21 damage if all attacks hit. Considering most level 3s are going to have hit points equal to 3 x (hp-n) + n where n equals the difference between full hit dice and average. If the troll the same ratio of damage a deinonychus did as a 3rd level fighter has hit points compared to a first level fighter, it would be up around the 50 damage mark. Heck, a CR 3 challenge could be 6 orcs, who could focus fire for up to 54 average damage provided everybody hit, with 18-20 crit weapons as well. The only scary thing with a troll is that rend can trigger on the attack that drops a character to negatives, killing them in the process.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

It took the 3.5 troll both claws and rend to take the 1st level druid to negative 10 in one of my first games. It's unlikely to drop a 3rd level fighter, especially to negative Con.


troll actually has to hit the 3rd level character 1st which is unlikely to do with all 3 attacks in 1 round


I had a concept for a grizzled veteran who was incredibly strong, but in one battle almost died and tore all their muscles. Now they're middle aged, still recovering, and rusty on their battle skills. This drove them to do social work and learn to communicate with and inspire people. It was a battle herald concept that would start with the martyr paladin archetype.

Shadow Lodge

TriOmegaZero wrote:
It took the 3.5 troll both claws and rend to take the 1st level druid to negative 10 in one of my first games. It's unlikely to drop a 3rd level fighter, especially to negative Con.

What I meant is: it has a full-attack plus automatic bonus damage. Most (all?) intro opponents have single attacks. Aside from crits, if that baddie rolls max on his dice versus a 1st-level character a 1hp, that character will not die (he might die in a few rounds, but it's unlikely he took -13 or whatever). The troll? ...3rd-level fighter has been chewed up halfway but is still in the game, but then he eats 25 at once on a couple hot rolls. His eyeballs go XX and he's done.


That is a corner case. Most trolls are not hitting a fighter 3 times in a row, and taking him down. To find out the true survival chance its best to use the most likely scenario.

The troll is also a EL+2 encounter. If we put a level 1 character up against a CR 3 creature the chance of dying is higher. There are CR 3 monsters that can do 25 or more points of damage if they roll max.

The Exchange

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Wultram wrote:
There is simply nothing of interest left anymore at low levels on the game front.

to me it's the other way round. With probably most APs Paizo has published so far, the first issue is the part of the AP that I'm most exited about and that I generally consider to be the best part of that AP. But that's because those are the ones that generally tell stories that I'm more interested in than in what happens at higher levels.

And that hasn't changed basically since I've started roleplaying, now matter how you categorize the power level of a campaign according to the level system. In BECMI D&D, it was the Basic and Expert set, that covered the parts of the game I'm interested in (maybe a bit of Companion set, but nothing higher than that). I said before that the Heroic tier of D&D 4 E is the part of the game I'm looking for and one of the reasons I loved the Eberron campaign setting so much is that, while being high magic and all, at least in the beginnning, it mainly catered to the lower half of the level range, and with level 10 you were already one of the super-heroes of that setting.

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