When building your future PFS characters, what initial character level is YOUR starting point?

Pathfinder Society


I spent most of the latter half of '14 playing characters (both in PFS and in a home RotRL AP campaign) from level 8 to level 12, with very little play during that time on characters below that range. Before this stretch of time, most of my pathfinder gaming in general had been in the range of levels between 1 and 7, especially when in PFS.

So, long story short: I got a significant taste of "higher level" play, at least in terms of the pre-retirement range for PFS characters.

As my "high-level" PFS characters approach their retirement and my RotRL home game takes a (scheduled) hiatus, I have found myself having to start some new PFS characters at level 1 or level 2, depending on credit accrued...and I'm pretty underwhelmed, it just feels like they're all so weak, simple and/or boring. I've had a few false starts, concepts that sounded good to me but that obviously I just couldn't fully realize with a single character level and 150gp. I find myself looking at higher level abilities and progression items...most of which wouldn't come into play until beyond level 4, 6 or even higher.

As an aside, I'm purely asking from a mechanics perspective. I can generally come up with personalities, character hooks, descriptions, roleplaying ideas etc. that are enjoyable for me and put smiles on the faces of my fellow players/gms. I am at a bit of an impasse/block almost purely with the crunch, not the fluff.

So, in regards to what advice I'd like...where do you all start, level-wise, when building your PFS character's mechanics? Level 4? Level 6? Level 12? Do you build up, from say level 1 to a higher level? Do you reverse-engineer, say building the starting character at a starting level of whatever and then strip off levels, allowing you to plot how the concept might work at lower tiers?

Do you even bother with low level play, or just accrue GM credit?
Do you try to have a complete concept at level 1 or 2 that you then build on, or do you come up with mechanics that really on 'flesh out' at a higher level and make do until then?

Do you do something I haven't listed?

tl;dr - going back to level 1 or level 2 fills me with boring sad and I feel pretty limited so tell me how you build instead and help me be not sad when building low level characters for PFS

Silver Crusade 3/5

I outline characters starting at level 1. Planning progress throw what ever level I expect them to reach. This allows me to get a good idea of what to expect at various level ranges. I plan characters for post level 6 and post level 10. This helps me get a good understanding of how they will preform at there job. For most characters I expect them to be under welling at low level and not come in to there own until after level 6. If they can not come in to there own by level 6 I will redo the outline until they can. I don't like to use the word build as there are new things coming out every month that could change the character. However I have a good understanding of where they are going. This is more important for higher level play then any thing else.

Scarab Sages

I start with what I want my concept to do in the later levels, because no one can do everything they want to in the early levels. From there, I do an initial level 12 build, making tweaks and changes until I'm happy with the progression. It takes me roughly 4-6 hours to "make" a character. Then I come up with a small backstory. Many of my characters don't see actual play until level two or three, as I GM often enough.

Silver Crusade 3/5

For me, somewhere in levels 3 to 7 is the sweet spot. I dislike level 1, but I usually don't mind level 2.

About half of my characters have started at level 1. Most of the rest start at level 2, a couple at level 3.

The highest I've started a character is level 5. That particular character was built to replace another character whose build I liked but whose personality fell a little flat for me.

Regarding planning, I map out most of my characters to level 12. This might be a mistake for me though. Neither of my two favorite characters have been mapped out. One of them I had a general idea of what classes I wanted her to have, but I hadn't thought of feats or spells or anything like that. With the other, I tacked on classes willy-nilly as he gained levels, choosing not-quite at random (he is alchemist 4/barbarian 1/gunslinger 1/ranger 1/rogue 2/wizard 1).


My plan is to basically run the same Character over and over and over at lv1. Once he gets to lv2 then his real class and stuff comes into play and a new character is now the Lv1 guy.

Silver Crusade 5/5 5/55/5 **** Venture-Captain, Germany—Bavaria

Well with enough pregen/GM credit/AP Credit, you can avoid the lower levels.

I prefer PFS over level 3-4 once characters aren't quite so squishy.


I first come up with a concept, either in terms of mechanics or character.

Then I usually build it out to level 4, then 7. If both of those look good, I extend it out to 11 to make sure it will be viable to retirement.

After all that, I strip it back down to L1. I try to always build up enough GM credit to start at 2. Sometimes I'll start at 2xp so I have one last chance for a rebuild in case it flops.

I personally don't like playing the L1 barbarian-> L2 wizard rebuild game, but I have decided to start tweaking my L1 builds for survivability. For example, on a character with casting, I may give him 11 in his casting stat at L1 so I can pump up Con.

Though lately my L1 rebuilds have been more about tweaking the personality of the character. Like realizing a I can't pull off that accent after all.

Shadow Lodge

I know the perfect solution for Lamontius!

He needs to GM games for myself and a handful of wonderful individuals to play in until he has enough GM XP to achieve the appropriate mechanics for his idea. In this manner, he never needs to see level 1-3 play again...

This sacrifice by the players will be made!


I have one character I didn't play until seventh level, because dragon disciple is solid, but multi-classing before then not so much. He is also a TWF so I wanted to be through the prerequisite feats. I have another that I built based on the cleric domain power. I doubt s/he will see much play after level six or so when the domain power becomes almost useless.

In both cases the 'build' was a single aspect (what is an interesting melee character, or I haven't played with the bull rush rules enough)

I do like playing level 1 though, if for nothing more than the rebuild. In a couple cases a concept didn't work (arcanist at level 1 became a sorcerer 1 wizard 1 at level two) and I have an oread saurian shaman and an oread inquisitor that are both my fifth character.

Dark Archive 2/5

Apparently I'm an oddball. I seem to follow the rules and start with my characters at L1. (I like to make L1 characters, out of 33 made characters 20 are still level 1.)

Plus there is the joy of playing a character from L1 to whatever. My highest is L11.1 Switch Hitting ranger made to kill demons for season 5. He did die once in sacrifice to save a fellow pathfinder against an ooze. But he got better with a hatred for oozes. After hating demons and humans.


I like starting at level 1. It takes a few games to work out the character's personality and then at level 2.0 I can re-build to fit the mechanics to the personality.


Level three is ideal. At that stage any awkwardness normally fills out and if there is a lot of multiclassing I can retrain at level four. Also by that point they are healthy enough where I can focus on what/who that character is and not have to worry about my supercool concept getting oneshot.

Shadow Lodge *

Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

I start with a vision of my character, which is usually something that won't be fully realized until somewhere around level 6-8.

But I always try to make sure that I play a character at least once per level -- I can't really get a feel for them if I just put GM credit on there.

Grand Lodge 5/5

I almost never play starting gold characters but often play level 1 or level 2 characters, and 1 character that I GM'ed straight to level 3.

Generally, I like the idea of playing martials at first level to see how their mechanics are working so far (so I can adjust things) whereas casters not so much.

As a separate but simultaneous step, I build out the character, if it doesn't look mechanically viable to me by level 3 or 5 (generally at the latest) I scrap the idea. (I may keep tinkering but I've yet to put one into play) Reason being PFS play really favors low to mid level play (as you said until last year you were mainly in 1-7) and being viable early is really important IMO. Most character show major growth at 5-7 range, but playing before this is important to me to get used to the characters mechanics.

Grand Lodge 4/5

Generally speaking, I try to make my characters work at as early a level as I can. I've discarded multiple ideas because they wouldn't start working until level 9 or later, because I just don't have enough GM credit to do all of those that I come up with.


It depends on the character. It depends on what catches me about the story or the build. I have played a few characters that I thought would be a blast, but they were no fun, and I'm glad I didn't invest more before finding that out. I have also had characters with really elaborate backstories die at level one, and was angry that I had wasted so much time on them. Low level is just supposed to be risky I suppose.


Gregory Connolly wrote:
It depends on the character. It depends on what catches me about the story or the build. I have played a few characters that I thought would be a blast, but they were no fun, and I'm glad I didn't invest more before finding that out. I have also had characters with really elaborate backstories die at level one, and was angry that I had wasted so much time on them. Low level is just supposed to be risky I suppose.

Ask any of my home game about my paladin. Even those who've joined us later can tell you the story. 11 page short story. Died in the first round of the first combat of the first campaign. Oh well rebuilt her for another campaign. Missed with a nat 1 in the first combat, spider retaliated with a nat 20 (& max DMG die). Died in in the first round. Oh well, next campaign is gestalt. Died in the second encounter of the campaign (first encounter was non-combat). GM felt bad, let everyone level up to 2. Poison killed her before hp damage did. :)

The Exchange 3/5

I find a mechanic or concept I want to use and then create a character who can use it best. Hopefully the build will leave a little bit of room to develop the character other ways.

So far this has meant the character starts its 'core mechanic' between 7-9.

I try and use replayable games for the first couple levels. This make me feel like I'm not wasting my time as well as ruining the experience of low tier scenarios.

Example of a character I want to create (can't yet requires boon):

1. Finding the Mechanic: After a bit of poking around Archives of Nethys I found that Rovagug has a strong unique spell rule; several classes receive baleful polymorph as a 4th level spell instead of 5th. I quickly identify both cleric and druid as the strong classes.

2. Find the Class: Two full-caster wisdom classes? I've never played either one but I see the Blight Druid archetype is favored by followers of Rovagug. Time to read it. Oh cool it gets a familiar (and Familiar Folio is out!) as well as a Miasma which can lower enemy save DCs. Sounds like I have the right blend of strong mechanics with a cool spin on Druid flavor.

3. Research: We know we want to specialize in Transmutation save spells. The entangle line looks promising but it will only work in areas of plant life. It also looks like there's some earth element spells. Shifting Sands, Soften Earth and Stone, and Binding Earth. The last one is an Oread only spell but I know they are a wisdom race and would make excellent Druids. They even have a cool racial trait from Blood of the Elements to enhance their spells. Now we have some other aspects of the character to make it more playable until our core mechanic.

4. A bit of Flavor: The character has almost built itself with flavor. We have an Oread with yellow sulfuric rock formations. They are the source of his miasma and people have trouble taking a liking to such a.. smelly fellow (-2 chr). As a blight druid of Rovagug he would rather see a ruined land than a vibrant one, this coupled with Oread's natural tendency to live alone has lead him to only have his animal companion at his side. Any time he spends with the Pathfinder Society is because he values their sometimes destructive aspects and views his title of 'Murderhobo' as a honor before his god of chaotic destruction.

Liberty's Edge

I build and play my characters from level 1 (or maybe 2) on up for PFS. I scatter my GM credit where it feels right at the moment.
No, the character may not do everything I envision for him at low levels, but I expect it to be fully functional. I absolutely HATE the thought of playing a character concept that can’t seem to function and the rest of the organization needs to carry me until I get to X level. Not sure why, but I just can’t stand it. So I am unlikely to have a mystic theurge in PFS (especially since the new FAQ), unless I save up a whole bunch of GM credits for 1 character.
Note: It doesn’t particularly bother me if someone else has ‘work in progress’ in the group, I just can’t stand it for myself.

So my whip character didn’t really come into his power until about level 5. But I made sure he was at least still viable up until then. Even though that means he won’t be quite as powerful at level 11, unless I go for a bunch of retraining.

My switch hitting ranger will eventually be pretty decent with the bow and elven curved blade. But as a brand new baby, he has a great club and sling. That fulfills the same basic concept of THW melee/ranged and allows me to purchase better other gear. And I’m not wasting any cash on slightly better weapons that I will be replacing ASAP anyway.

I do not plan out my gear purchases though. That changes based on what I feel like at the time. Plus I don’t make builds that are exceptionally dependent on having a particular item by level Y in order to function.

Sovereign Court 1/5

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I love love LOOOVVVEEEE starting from nothing and building up. I'm a total sucker for it. So it's starting gold level 1's for me!

However, I do like to plan out when to do with the character, and I make sure the character can hold his or her own in whatever situation, regardless of level.

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