When a character dies, what level is the new character


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If a character dies, and a player rolls up a new character, what level is the new character?
I feel like the new character shouldn't start at the exact same place as the other character who have survived to this point, but I also don't feel like a heavy penalty is appropriate.


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There's no official answer, just whatever the GM and group agree on. Sometimes I do a % of their previous character's experience, other times I do one level lower than the lowest PC in the group. Makes PC death more meaningful IMO.


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Whatever keeps the game flowing. Often I just let them hop back in at equal level.


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Same level as lowest level party member with minimum XP's for that level.


Tormsskull, what is the percentage method you eluded to?


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This is up to each individual GM.

In my experiences as both player and GM all player characters should always be the same level. There is already enough power level difference between certain classes, putting players a level behind (or more) leaves that player feeling more like a sidekick than a meaningful member of the party.

What I'm really hearing Aaron is that you want death to be a meaningful event to the player and the party, and I too have had that same thought. And even made a thread about it here where I got some really good input. Check out the thread here.


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I like bringing them back at the same level as the party. Otherwise it makes the party weaker, and if they are at a lower level it makes it harder to survive individually also. It could start a downward spiral.

Sovereign Court

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I bring them in at the same level as the rest of the party but with slightly below WBL gear. So it stings a bit, but it's not long-term. Plus - as they didn't buy gear as they level, they can often purchase stuff more efficiently.


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Aaron Gillespie wrote:
I feel like the new character shouldn't start at the exact same place as the other character who have survived to this point, but I also don't feel like a heavy penalty is appropriate.

In my view, creating a character takes enough time and effort to constitute enough of a penalty. Not only do I give the replacement character the same number of XP, I also give his/her full share of the XP from the fateful battle that killed the previous character.

wraithstrike wrote:
I like bringing them back at the same level as the party. Otherwise it makes the party weaker, and if they are at a lower level it makes it harder to survive individually also. It could start a downward spiral.

Yeah, particularly if you're going through a big module / module series / AP which assumes the party is at a certain level at any given point.


I prefer to have them come back as 1 level lower, starting experience for that level. The minimum being 1 level lower than the lowest member, but keep a minimum level or that could downward spiral as someone said. Adjust the difficulty and you don't have to worry about AP or modules.

I agree it does harm the party to see a character die, which I think lends to the team mentality. If it matters to the whole party, perhaps they should work together to avoid character death.

I've enjoyed Pathfinder, but I've found death to mean less in my opinion.


As mentioned, bringing a character in at lower XP means either leaving them handicapped against the rest of the party for the campaign or creating specific instances for them to try to catch up while not letting the other players gain XP or wealth. It encourages the set back player to "up their game" to make up for the penalty and makes them more likely to lose their replacement character.

For these reasons when i run games i will normally lock all players to the same XP value regardless of character death or player attendance.

It only creates problems when a player appears to be trying to cycle through characters every few sessions which is best handled as an off table conversation with the player.


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Note: Downtime can be used to catch up to the rest of the party in terms of XP. It's basically off-screen solo adventuring, and takes away time that could have been used for crafting, working, or whatever else a character might do during downtime. You don't have to use this, of course, but it's an option.

(Me, I'm on the side that thinks needing to make a new character - which can be hours of work, and more so the further you get in the game - is enough of a penalty. Also, I level at story points instead of by XP...)

Sovereign Court

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I will say - bringing a character in a level lower worked better in 3.5 when the EXP system was set up so that a character at a lower level would get more EXP out of the same encounter as their higher level buddy, which led to an inherent catch-up mechanic.

Pathfinder did away with that when they simplified the EXP system, so being any amount of EXP behind is permanent.


I'll second what a lot of people are saying about how it handicaps a player to come back a level lower than everyone else. Death already hits players hard, having them come back at the same level as the rest of the party with minimum XP for the level is how I would run it.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Same level with wealth by level and purchase cap restructions. Old char's loot is returned to family, sold to donate to charity or loaned out to make enough interest to ressurect the dead pc eventually. PCs should have a death plan.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

There is no right or wrong answer to this question in RPGs in general. Many games work just fine mixing a character freshly generated with veterans. Most of them aren't level-based games with substantial increases in power and ability as characters advance.

For level-based games like D&D and Pathfinder, that's a bit of a tougher question. Back in 1e days, we usually brought new PCs in at 1st level when we could. But under that system, XP requirements to reach the next level tended to approximately double, so it really didn't take long for a PC to catch up most of the way. Also, in a lot of ways, character advancement wasn't as steep as it became in later editions, particularly when compared to monsters they'd be fighting.

With the introduction of 3e (and running through PF and 4e) including mixed character levels is much harder. The XP requirements for level advancement don't allow for such easy catch-up as in 1e days, character power increases more steeply in a number of ways, and monsters are powered up and more closely matched to the level of the PCs. Lower level PCs (at least lower by more than a couple of levels) are going to struggle a lot harder in the typical 3e/PF or 4e game and are going to die a lot more often. In many ways, given the number of powers and synergies in the highly customizable characters of these editions, it would be nice to play through a whole character's career, to learn how to better master the character as they add new powers if nothing else, but sadly, the mechanical demands of survival don't easily allow it for ongoing campaigns with higher level PCs.


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GeneticDrift wrote:
Same level with wealth by level and purchase cap restructions. Old char's loot is returned to family, sold to donate to charity or loaned out to make enough interest to ressurect the dead pc eventually. PCs should have a death plan.

Of course, plans can only cover so much. In the Start at the End adventure, when my character fell into a trap and plunged into a lava pool, both he and his loot were lost forever. The same would be true if the party was forced to run for their lives and abandon their dead comrade to looters.


Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber

I have the new PC at the same level as the rest of the party. In my games, PCs will often gain bonus feats or skill points for completing quests or defeating a major enemy, the PCs are also usually a bit ahead in WBL, so the new PC will have less feats and less money even at the same level.


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Same level but less gear.
Levels is not really something that is importantly "earned", it merely measure of progression in the campaign.
Magic items are something you found usually and are more "earned".


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I make them do the 36 questions for building relationships, and a set of about 20 questions for creating a character background and interesting character. That's to make up for them not having developed their character through gameplay.

My group is ADHD and, unlike me, cannot build solid back stories or well rounded characters. So this system is punishment enough for them.


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There is only one correct answer to this question. Whatever is the most fun for everyone at the table.

Please note that that is everyone, not just the Game Master.


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Same level always. I despise level disparity, it is the devil. I don't even hand out XP anymore. All character level at important plot points at the same time, no one is ever a different level.


Aaron Bitman wrote:
GeneticDrift wrote:
Same level with wealth by level and purchase cap restructions. Old char's loot is returned to family, sold to donate to charity or loaned out to make enough interest to ressurect the dead pc eventually. PCs should have a death plan.
Of course, plans can only cover so much. In the Start at the End adventure, when my character fell into a trap and plunged into a lava pool, both he and his loot were lost forever. The same would be true if the party was forced to run for their lives and abandon their dead comrade to looters.

This also only tends to work out well if the party is going out on discrete adventures from a home base and coming back to visit family regularly. If they're off on a world-spanning quest, it might be a major adventure just to get back to the family or find a proper charity.

Our characters' death plans are usually more like "Hope we survive long enough to deal with whatever catastrophe we're faced with", but we're not usually playing "adventure as a business" kind of games.

I get that a lot of the point is getting rid of the loot so the party isn't ahead of WBL, but we generally sort that out by bringing the new PC in a bit under geared and the GM skimping a bit on loot for awhile. And by not trying to exploit it.
Makes more sense than the characters deciding, while in the midst of a desperate quest to save the (village/kingdom/world/whatever) that they should ditch vitally needed resources that just because the now dead one had been using them.

Liberty's Edge

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Apupunchau wrote:
Same level always. I despise level disparity, it is the devil. I don't even hand out XP anymore. All character level at important plot points at the same time, no one is ever a different level.

Yup. This.

Level disparity is fun for nobody and serves no good purpose unless people are switching up characters every session and you want to punish them.

Which is trying for an in-game solution to an out-of-game problem, something that is basically never a good plan.

Wealth...wealth is a slightly different matter and depends on the nature of the game.


Same level as the lowest level pc with the minimum xp for that level.
I've not see this method result in more then a two level spread among the pcs more then once or twice. Having a party with a 4th level pc, 2 3rds and a 2nd doesn't generally cause me balance issues.

Personally I despise that everyone levels at the same time withe the same xp table. Insisting on this is one of the barriers to fixing the balance between the classes that seems to bother some people. It also is what killed multi-classing from 2nd edition.


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I keep everybody at the same level, period. It's just easier on bookkeeping, it keeps down any feelings of favoritism, and it just makes things better with my groups.


I'm also in the same level camp, not only is it easier, it is also fairer. You wouldn't give one PC 50% of the loot and let the rest share what's left would you? Well by making everyone different levels that's basically what you are doing. Also why are they different levels? Are some people missing games and you play without them? Is one PC really good at roleplay, and gets experience from that? Or does one PC do solo adventures? Or perhaps does everyone at the table die like really often?

If PC die really often it's probably the GM's fault, unless the players are really incompetent. in which case it's everyone's fault. Solo adventures should be rarely allowed and never rewarded with xp. It encourages spotlight hogging. Roleplay is important but shouldn't be rewarded with xp, or if it is there needs to be some balancing mechanic for the shyer players. If you reward the expressive player exclusively, you are punishing the shy player in a sense by pushing him/her down the ladder little by little. If people are missing games, why are they missing games a: a good real life reason, b: poor/no reason. A: they shouldn't be punished for a real life situation. B: Punishing a player who does this is not the right way to go about fixing the problem.

I don't really see other reasons why people would have different amounts of xp. Although it's fun to earn xp for different things it shouldn't unbalance the party in general, it's more fun if everyone contributes equally. The fact that you can have different amounts of xp is a weakness of the system imo.


Of course ymmv


If you want authority for your answers, Gygax's suggested guideline was one level below the group average, to encourage players not to get themselves killed off.

On the other end of the spectrum, Erick Wujick of Palladium and Amber fame believed that experience comes from failure as much as success, everyone should get equal exp for concluding a series. He wasn't much of a thing for level-based games, so the question would be moot.


Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
...experience comes from failure as much as success...

True dat.


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Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:

If you want authority for your answers, Gygax's suggested guideline was one level below the group average, to encourage players not to get themselves killed off.

On the other end of the spectrum, Erick Wujick of Palladium and Amber fame believed that experience comes from failure as much as success, everyone should get equal exp for concluding a series. He wasn't much of a thing for level-based games, so the question would be moot.

Well, even in non-level based games, the equivalent question exists.

Even in Amber, though the players may not know how many points their characters are built on after some experience drops, there's still a baseline number. If the PCs started at 100 pts and have all earned roughly another 50, then a replacement character who starts at 100 is going to significantly weaker than the originals. It's basically the same problem and sees the same range of answers: From "Sucks to be you. Hope you can still have fun with a weak PC" to "Of course they come in at the same point cost" and all points in-between.


Aaron Bitman wrote:
Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
...experience comes from failure as much as success...
True dat.

IIRC, AD&D gave xp for dying and being resurrected.

Still in this case, while experience can come from failure, the new character hasn't failed. Or succeeded. The new character is new and didn't learn anything from the death of the predecessor.


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Deadmanwalking wrote:


Level disparity is fun for nobody.

That's pretty much my point of view as well.

"All right, Ted, your rogue died last week, so your ranger will be coming in a level lower than everyone else."

"A level lower? This will be AWESOME!" -- who, in history, ever said that?

The best reaction I could hope for would be someone saying "well, that sucks, but I suppose I should take my medicine." But why the hell am I giving people medicine that they don't have to take?


Aaron Gillespie wrote:
Tormsskull, what is the percentage method you eluded to?

I generally separate PC deaths into two categories - bad luck or poor choices.

If a PC dies because of bad luck, I award the new PC 90%.

If the PC died because of poor choices (as in, the player made a poor choice, was asked if they were sure they wanted to continue with the poor choice, they proceeded anyway), then usually 75% with a few really egregious examples resulting in 50%.

One note of caution - This method works when the GM has a more or less constant group of players and everyone is informed of the rule and agrees.

If you have a situation where players will quit playing if their new PC loses experience, the rule will fall apart as soon as a character dies.


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Giving a new PC a level penalty is as much of a punishment to the rest of the party as it is to that player; now you have one PC that is going to be weaker than the rest of the party, from now until forever, which means the rest of the party has to deal with a weak link they are required to focus on protecting (and if they don't focus on protecting that character, they will just die again and come back even further behind).


Charon's Little Helper wrote:
I bring them in at the same level as the rest of the party but with slightly below WBL gear. So it stings a bit, but it's not long-term. Plus - as they didn't buy gear as they level, they can often purchase stuff more efficiently.

Generally speaking this is a larger penalty than you may be intending. In my experience characters are generally somewhat above the stated wealth by level. Particularly when they've been that level for a while.

WBL is often a 10+% pay cut for new characters, which is good enough I think.


Oh, as an aside, I don't run with level disparity unless the PCs are monster races, at which point I remove monster levels, and knock them down a couple of levels. At party level 6, 11, and 16 I let them solo adventure to remove a level adjustment.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Level disparity sucks.

Either your group is invested enough in their characters as characters that the death will have impact, or they're not- in which case you simply cannot make them care and it's folly to try.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

In general I strongly discourage gms from penalizing players for what happens to characters. The player has earned their respective level, there isn't a reason to penalize them for something that already sicks (losing a character).

The only thing something like this accomplishes is creating antagonism between players and GM. You are encouraging power gaming, because if they don't optimize the most powerful character they can and get killed you are going to pointlessly punish them for the rest of the campaign (you will never 'catch ups in pathfinder. There just isn't reason to do this.

If you want players bot to needlessly suicide characters to play another, just don't let them do that. That is the only legitimate reason that ever existed for a level penalty, and that can be overcome by simply talking to your players.


The only reason why I'd ever introduce a lower leveled character into the party after one of the members died would be if the player in question wanted it that way. And even then I'd only allow it as long as the party wouldn't be put in a sub-par situation, where keeping the new guy alive would just be in the way of the game instead of a part of the game. For example: a lower level front-liner is just padding and fodder. A skill monkey/utility spell caster would be much easier.


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Level drag can easily result in a downward spiral that can end campaigns


I favor a starting wealth penalty. Starting with half WBL can still make a decent character and the disparity basically vanishes in just a couple of levels.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I like that idea. Disparities in wealth are easier to overcome than disparities in level/XP.


I really hope those who run with a level disparity give the poor sucker a chance to catch up.

Even with that it doesn't sound like much fun to me.


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Again...

Downtime Rules wrote:

Earn XP

If you've missed a campaign session or otherwise fallen behind in XP compared to the other characters, you can spend downtime adventuring to help catch up to the other PCs. Usually downtime adventures feature encounters that are much easier than you'd normally expect as part of a group. For example, a 5th-level character might clear zombies out of a crypt or assist some lower-level adventures with a problem that's a little too difficult for them.

Spending 1 day of downtime adventuring earns you XP as if you had defeated an opponent whose CR was equal to your character level. For example, if you are a 3rd-level character, you would earn 800 XP. You do not earn any treasure or other capital for downtime adventuring.

If using this downtime activity would increase your XP above the highest XP value among all the PCs in your party, it increases your XP to that value instead; any XP earned beyond this amount is lost. This activity allows you only to catch up, not to get ahead.

By downtime rules, you're not going to be behind forever if you invest the time, and may even be able to catch up fairly quickly. XD There's no reason to be permanently behind unless your GM demands it, and since it's downtime, it's not even particularly hard.


GM Rednal wrote:


By downtime rules, you're not going to be behind forever if you invest the time, and may even be able to catch up fairly quickly. XD There's no reason to be permanently behind unless your GM demands it, and since it's downtime, it's not even particularly hard.

Except you're still going to be behind in something because everyone else is still using downtime for something.

Even something as simple as the 10% WBL penalty means that you have less money than everyone else and if you split the treasure equally, you will always have less money than everyone else.

Why the need to put people behind in the first place?


Generally when a GM feels the need to apply an arbitrary level penalty, they're not inclined to allow a way around it.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I tend to concern myself more with "who the hell is this new person and why are they allowed to hang out with the others?"

'Cause aside from groups explicitly set up as professional mercenary companies, they tend to need a reason to trust the new guy to watch their backs.

After sorting that out, I see no reason to impose further handicaps.


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GM Rednal wrote:

Again...

Downtime Rules wrote:

Earn XP

If you've missed a campaign session or otherwise fallen behind in XP compared to the other characters, you can spend downtime adventuring to help catch up to the other PCs. Usually downtime adventures feature encounters that are much easier than you'd normally expect as part of a group. For example, a 5th-level character might clear zombies out of a crypt or assist some lower-level adventures with a problem that's a little too difficult for them.

Spending 1 day of downtime adventuring earns you XP as if you had defeated an opponent whose CR was equal to your character level. For example, if you are a 3rd-level character, you would earn 800 XP. You do not earn any treasure or other capital for downtime adventuring.

If using this downtime activity would increase your XP above the highest XP value among all the PCs in your party, it increases your XP to that value instead; any XP earned beyond this amount is lost. This activity allows you only to catch up, not to get ahead.

By downtime rules, you're not going to be behind forever if you invest the time, and may even be able to catch up fairly quickly. XD There's no reason to be permanently behind unless your GM demands it, and since it's downtime, it's not even particularly hard.

Assuming of course that you're using the downtime rules and that you have downtime available.

Which is a given in some kinds of games and near non-existent in others.

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