What are some reasons people might start at level 1?


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They do not like shopping for magic items that starting at higher levels can cause.


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I am personally an E6 GM, maybe someday I'll change my mind.. but the encounters and the design of levels and plots seems like it is less hokey and like it matters more.

That said, I tend not to start people at Lvl 1, but rather start at 2 or 3, because I want their character to grow, but I feel like it is somewhat immersion breaking that level 2 you are sometimes twice as tough as you ever have been in your life, or level 6 you regularly take multiple blows that would've each killed you by themselves when you started off. Most of my NPCs are multi-level even at CR <1 (and on the pfsrd website to boot!)

The same reason I like E6 is the same reason I feel meh on Lvl 1; I feel the progression of a character should follow some kind of vaguely believable arch.

On top of this (and not my suggestion) I've been converted to no-xp systems too. I just arbitrate certain goalposts, quests, or enemies that result in the level-up and feat-gain and whatnot. Honestly, I am crazy enough I do it with skills to! But that crazyness is still experimental..


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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 on the big, grandiose stuff they WANT to do later they forget what they are capable of at level 1. It all comes down to choice and agency. If you are a passive player, reacting to what your GM puts in front of you with no real goals you're striving for then yeah, level 1 is a grind. If however you're a young, hungry adventurer with something to prove and you're working towards more than JUST level 2, the low power isn't an issue.


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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.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Browolfe wrote:
The vast majority of my most memorable RP moments come from low level games and the lower levels of campaigns.

I'd say that's true only because more play happens at the low end of the level range. If you placed an equal amount of low and high level play side by side, I believe they would have equal amounts of memorable RP.


Well, our group starts at level 1, but we also hate traditional helpless and wet noodle level 1 play.

We've incorporated two house rules in our games to address this.

First off, we use the popular World is Square feat tax variant, which makes many feats - such as Power Attack and Weapon Finesse - baseline options.

Secondly, we add Con *SCORE* to hit points. So your level 1 fighter with a 14 Con has 26 hit points at level 1.

This has the effect of making level 1 a lot closer to level 2.

We've even added Deadly Agility (the popular 3rd party feat) as an available feat.

The kneejerk reaction to this is usually that it makes the heroes too strong.

Until they realize the baddies enjoy all these benefits, too.

Even your basic goblin gets a lot scarier when they have 19 hit points, +3 to hit (instead of +2) and deal 1d4+4 damage (instead of 1d4.)

We've actually found it makes early fights MORE tense, healing more scarce, builds more dynamic, and combats more tactical, but without any of that random wizard just getting one-shotted from a crit without any chance to react.

So damage is less spikey, combats last a few more rounds, and baddies actually get to *do* a few things.


:Lawrence Foster wrote:
I don't want to sound like an old curmudgeon, but you kids have it so easy today, with your multiple spells and abilities to actually do stuff!!! Seriously, first level has improved so much, I hated the days where you might have one spell per day as a wizard. It was bad in, IIRC, 1st and BECMI.

Yep. And a 1d4 for hit points with no FCB or feats to boost it. Ah, those were the days.


tbh, you're right... now I kinda want to figure out how to make a commoner->other NPC class->Level 1(maybe all the way to level 2) "sims" type mini-campaign to generate/cultivate characters in preparation for an AP.


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I strongly prefer starting at level 1.

For me, the game is all about growth and progression.
I walk the road for the sake of the journey, not the destination.

The Exchange

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Ok so let's all start at level 2 or 3....then that can be all of our first levels. maybe then we can rename and reorder that level and all subsequent ones to reflect that being our first. but then we all start at level 1 again.....

Shadow Lodge

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oh hai fakey!


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Fake Healer wrote:
Ok so let's all start at level 2 or 3....then that can be all of our first levels. maybe then we can rename and reorder that level and all subsequent ones to reflect that being our first. but then we all start at level 1 again.....

These go to eleven.


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I usually prefer starting at higher levels, but I do find it useful to start at level 1 when exploring a new class. Getting class abilities gradually encourages more exploration of those that aren't flashy or obviously useful.


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TOZ wrote:
oh hai fakey!

The mother-lovin T...O...Z! Just throwing on a cloak isn't enough of a disguise, I'd know that sardonic smile anywhere!


I'd much rather play at 1st than 12th, though 4-9th is the sweet spot.

So long as you don't expect 1st level adventures to be like 10th level ones, there's no good reason they can't be fun. It's just different. A 1st level character can feel much more like a real person from a real world than the high level exercises in theorycraft decked out in a king's ransom of equipment that's of no use whatsoever except to kill monsters and take their stuff.

IME, RP is a lot more believable at low level where you have to behave like a real person because you are one, rather than a one-man artillery regiment. And it's the RP that makes the character.

A 1st level PF character is more like a 3rd level one from 1e. Don't get the feeling you're helpless. Sure, an orc with a falchion is all too likely to crit someone to death, but you don't have to fight orcs. Wolves, skeletons and kobolds are quite dangerous enough (my sorcerer 1 was taken to -8 by a single wolf).

I sympathise with those whose builds don't work until later, but not that much. It smacks too much of playing the numbers rather than the character, though in some cases it's a case of poor class design. Try to house-rule around it.


I think I probably enjoy the anticipation of exciting abilities more than actually using them. xD


The starfinder game my friend is running is the first game I've had to deal with level one in a long time. From a GMing standpoint it's hard for me to ever really send level one characters on a quest that has any importance because everyone around them could probably solve it themselves.

I will never understand the argument that it's best to start off at level one so you get the progression from zero to hero when level one's power level is so arbitrary. Based on what they say, shouldn't you be starting with an NPC class level and have to retrain before you become a badass warrior or mage or something.


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DungeonmasterCal wrote:
Over my gaming career, I've started out at many different levels, and have allowed players to do the same. In the upcoming campaign I'm working on it's pretty essential they start out at first level and then work their way up. Granted, if anyone new joins the game after it gets going they'll have to start at a compatible level with everyone else, but that's just a thing I'll have to put up with.

I've started games at many different levels as well. For a couple of 3.5 campaigns, I started the PCs at 2nd with max HP for both levels just so I could get to the good stuff without as much anxiety over accidentally killing them. And one mini-campaign started at 9th because of the nature of the overall adventure (which included a middling old dragon and a high-level wizard).

My current PF campaign started at 1st level because I wanted to run an long, epic, 1st-to-20th-level campaign, which I've never managed to pull off before. I think I finally have the world and the dedicated core group to do it.

DungeonmasterCal wrote:
One reason I like starting characters at 1st level is to help them learn what their characters are capable of doing as they progress, especially if they're playing a class that's new to them. Starting a noob player or even an experienced player who's not that great at character building (I have one of those) at a higher level is often too much for them to handle sometimes. This way they learn as their character grows what is abilities and powers are and have a better handle on it.

This is another reason I started my current campaign where I did. A couple of the players are still very new to PF, and none of us have played it for more than 4 years (though most of us played 3.5 for a full decade before that). I want to make sure that both I and the players have a firm grasp of the rules, and their characters' abilities, at each step of the way before we (literally) add in another level of complexity.

(Same with sourcebooks--I'm not using the ACG or OA at all, and limiting UC and UM to occasional NPCs for now, until everyone is solid with the CRB, APG, and ARG. I'm considering introducing the mythic rules somewhere in the higher levels, but we all need to master everything else first!)

DungeonmasterCal wrote:

This is RULE ONE in my new campaign house rules:

"FIRST AND FOREMOST, know what your character is capable of doing. You don’t have to know everything about every level right from the start, but you DO need to know what you can do at your current levels. If you’re unsure what an ability means or does ask me or look it up, either in the Core Rulebook or any other books you may have or use the best go-to site www.d20pfsrd.com".

I think I may need to steal this for my house rules page of my campaign wiki!


Be always preferred low levels, as they have a grittier feel.

Granted, back in the early 3.0 and 3.5 days, when I was playing a lot, my group had AL new characters start at lvl 1, didn't matter what level everyone else was. It was incredibly brutal...and honestly, I kinda licked it. If you're a chained slave being freed and joining the party of epic adventurers that saved you, you *should* be fragile by comparison.


Quite like level 1.

I like going from nothing to hero during the course of a long campaign is awesome to me and level 1 is the closest to "nothing" my PC will get.

Right now im playing a game where we actually all started with kids using NPC classes since none were trully fully trained yet.

Then again, i dont mind making higher level PCs for short games, but it really isnt as much fun to me.


Some people even ask to play at level 0 wtf?


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Vidmaster7 wrote:
Some people even ask to play at level 0 wtf?

Yep. You don't know gritty until you are a commoner with 3 hp, a +1 to hit, 1d3+1 damage, and have an AC of 11.

Sometimes, people like to simulate people realistically in pathfinder, especially for zombie apocalypse games, or similar.


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I had a player in 3.5 that wanted to play a commoner with the commoner flaws pig bound and tasty. Amazingly enough he made it to 6th level and managed to find something to do to make himself useful. I think the player had a lot of fun until that behir got a hold of him.


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In the behir's defense, he was one delicious commoner. Like, gourmet common.


Most of the problem I have with starting at level one is just the fact that characters at full health are an unlucky roll away from "make a new character".

If you figure out some way to deal with that, starting at level 1 is fine but I tend to speed through the first level anyway. I figure that yes, it's good to have time to get a handle on your stuff, but "leveling up your character" might be a better way to do this than spending time at the level where you can cast 3 spells and then have to sleep.

I'm personally more of a fan of letting level 1 be really short, and stretching level 2 and 3 a bit to make up for it.


Sure take the Behir's side.


lvl 1 is god awful starting at lvl 3 is the bare minimum, also when a campaign ends the new one starts at the same level the old one finished at so we keep all our progress


Some people actually like it.

As for Reign of Winter it is more difficult than most AP's starting off. I wouldn't use that as a good measuring stick. My character died in the first book, and I have heard of similar stories from others.

Personally I don't care for level 1 due to the lack of hit points, and as a GM I have to softball things sometimes.

Scarab Sages

Starting at lvl 1 gives you time to learn your characters abilities as others have said and from a financial perspective I find in a lot of games a character who grew from lvl 1 to lvl x is more wealthy than one made using the starting gold at higher levels.

On the subject of ability scores I prefer to roll them rather than point buy sure you may get a bad result but you also may get something far stronger than you could make with point buy system. Especially if your playing a class that needs multiple high stats.


to start a game at lvl 3 means your said character had training, a fighter would either go to an acadamy or join the watch and receive training there.

etc etc for each class

The Exchange

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Malik Gyan Daumantas wrote:
I've just wondered about this, cause I've always hated level 1 starts. Mostly because of how helpless you feel but also cause in a lot of context it makes no sense.

To me the answer has two parts: First is, that I like to play "from zero to hero" stories, so no matter the system, I will start with the lowest level possible (and if I find the players for it, I would probably even start with kind of a level zero scenario, that explains why the PCs would even start their career in the chosen classes.

The second thing is that I feel that in D&D/PF, the PCs become seriously overpowered already at relatively low levels. My interest in fantasy in general lies more in a down-to-earth, low magic, grim 'n' gritty approach, and that's also the stories I want to emulate in roleplaying. Now one can certainly make a point that D&D is not the best system for those kind of scenarios, but on the other hand, it delivers exactly the kind of high magic worlds that I prefer to have my stories play in.

So to get what I want to have from Pathfinder, I kinda have to stay within the lower-level range (just as a point of comparison: in D&D 4E I would never had much reason to go beyond heroic tier, because that's where the stories I am interested in are told), if I don't want to make a major system rehaul.

Here in Germany, we have The Dark Eye, which used to have the kind of approach I'm talking about, playing in a much more medieval-oriented world, where even high-level heroes would be challenged by comparatively mundane enemies. This has changed a bit in newer editions, but still, compared to that approach, D&D/PF are kinda like super-heroes/demi-god-style games, and to be honest, I don't need that at all.


DeathlessOne wrote:
Vidmaster7 wrote:
Some people even ask to play at level 0 wtf?

Yep. You don't know gritty until you are a commoner with 3 hp, a +1 to hit, 1d3+1 damage, and have an AC of 11.

Sometimes, people like to simulate people realistically in pathfinder, especially for zombie apocalypse games, or similar.

done that recently, not as fun as you'd think. Best part was the tables reaction when I told them I needed a natural 20 to hit AC10! That really should not be the highlight of a game.


I'm surprised by the number of people talking about learning their characters abilities. I think I must be misunderstanding their intention with that statement.... Don't people learn their abilities once they've read thorough their class once or twice?


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Milo v3 wrote:
I'm surprised by the number of people talking about learning their characters abilities. I think I must be misunderstanding their intention with that statement.... Don't people learn their abilities once they've read thorough their class once or twice?

How skilled do you think a new player is at chess after reading through the rules once or twice?


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Milo v3 wrote:
I'm surprised by the number of people talking about learning their characters abilities. I think I must be misunderstanding their intention with that statement.... Don't people learn their abilities once they've read thorough their class once or twice?

No.

And it's not just "their class", but their particular build with all their feats and spells and items and all the other chosen abilities and powers and how they all interact and which combinations look good and which are actually good.

I mean, you know the basics, but not nearly as well as someone who's played the character from the ground up.

If you're some master theory crafter, there may be no difference, since you've planned and thought out every aspect and plotted out tactics for each of those choices, but then that's a lot more than "read through their class once or twice".


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thejeff wrote:
If you're some master theory crafter, there may be no difference, since you've planned and thought out every aspect and plotted out tactics for each of those choices, but then that's a lot more than "read through their class once or twice".

And even this, I find, isn't as insightful as the master theorycrafters think. More often than not, they run into something they didn't anticipate and get frustrated because there isn't a pre-existing solution for it in their theory. So they call the class "rubbish" and complain on the messageboards... :)

Also, the players who think they "know" their class abilities prior to playing the class have, in my experience, been really not much fun to play with at the table. They usually wind up doing the handful of things they've decided, after a couple read-throughs, their character can do. And they do those things regardless of the rest of the party or the situation or the details of the encounter. Whether it works out or not, it doesn't make for very interesting play.

I think it's a mistake to think of class abilities as existing in a complete vacuum, as though you only had your character to consider and that was all that mattered in the game. Different class abilities can reveal very different aspects, depending on what the other players bring to the table.


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Milo v3 wrote:
I'm surprised by the number of people talking about learning their characters abilities. I think I must be misunderstanding their intention with that statement.... Don't people learn their abilities once they've read thorough their class once or twice?

No.

Especially with classes like Kineticist, Occultist, Shaman, and Swashbuckler.

And some people learn by doing.


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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.


Milo v3 wrote:
I'm surprised by the number of people talking about learning their characters abilities. I think I must be misunderstanding their intention with that statement.... Don't people learn their abilities once they've read thorough their class once or twice?

To expand the chess example above. You might "know" that a knight moves in an L-shaped pattern that can jump other pieces. That's not the same as "knowing" what a knight's "class abilities" really are. And that's what people mean (or at least what I mean) when I talk about "learning" class abilities.


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I honestly get bored after level 13 or 14 so I love starting at level 1 and playing a fresh new character with a new story to tell. I've never been a fan of high level play.


Milo v3 wrote:
I'm surprised by the number of people talking about learning their characters abilities. I think I must be misunderstanding their intention with that statement.... Don't people learn their abilities once they've read thorough their class once or twice?

Unless you study the rules compulsively and/or have photographic memory, you don't know every ability of every class/archetype by heart, starting at level 1 helps you get used to the abilities of your new character and learn to use them on the job, as opposed to knowing them on a purely theoretical basis.


Apupunchau wrote:
I honestly get bored after level 13 or 14 so I love starting at level 1 and playing a fresh new character with a new story to tell. I've never been a fan of high level play.

I don't get bored with a build until I've gained and used the top lvl abilities of that build (capstone for a single classed character, or at least top attainable spells/abilities for a character with multiclassing/dips)... of course, that's never happened to me yet.


I can't respond to all the responses as I'm on a train right now,
but:

Klorox wrote:
Unless you study the rules compulsively and/or have photographic memory, you don't know every ability of every class/archetype by heart, starting at level 1 helps you get used to the abilities of your new character and learn to use them on the job, as opposed to knowing them on a purely theoretical basis.

... You don't need to do that for what I'm talking about. All what I'm talking about requires is reading our own characters abilities... You don't need to know every ability in the game to read your class before play...


I recognize the realities level one play. Weak, generally incompetent characters for whom everything is quite dangerous. I adjust the way I run my games around this. So, in my games level 1 really is the kid fresh out of high school who knows nothing about the real world. Everyone else has a few levels. I generally assume that everyone can reasonably reach level 5 during their lifetime and exceptional people can go higher. Most characters in the world have far from optimal builds since all they really need is to be 'good enough' at what they do rather than the pinnacle of human achievement, so it works out pretty well.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Milo v3 wrote:
All what I'm talking about requires is reading our own characters abilities...

Just reading class abilities does not give you mastery of them. Plenty of people think sneak attack is overpowered on first read. Then they get play experience and realize otherwise.


I like level one play also. I enjoy the danger goblins pose at that level. I think 6, 7, 8 are the sweet spots and around level 12 or so I am looking at retirement. After that I think the game gets too unrealistic for me to continue my suspension of disbelief.


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Hark wrote:
I recognize the realities level one play. Weak, generally incompetent characters for whom everything is quite dangerous. I adjust the way I run my games around this. So, in my games level 1 really is the kid fresh out of high school who knows nothing about the real world. Everyone else has a few levels. I generally assume that everyone can reasonably reach level 5 during their lifetime and exceptional people can go higher. Most characters in the world have far from optimal builds since all they really need is to be 'good enough' at what they do rather than the pinnacle of human achievement, so it works out pretty well.

Whereas I tend to assume PCs are exceptional from the start. Most people around them only have a couple (mostly NPC, probably commoner) levels. If they're in a village or small town, the few level 5s will be the exceptional ones. Important town figures and such.

Means PCs will will be important and useful from the start. Not just doing menial tasks someone's grandma could handle if they weren't busy with their knitting. :)

PCs are the up and comers. Not powerful yet, but already showing their potential. If they're fresh out of high school, they're not just Joe Schmo, but the kids being scouted by the big college teams or the elite schools in their fields.

Probably a legacy of starting with AD&D where the bulk of the population was 0 level.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
Just reading class abilities does not give you mastery of them. Plenty of people think sneak attack is overpowered on first read. Then they get play experience and realize otherwise.

Except I wasn't discussing mastery, just learning your abilities.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Milo v3 wrote:
Except I wasn't discussing mastery, just learning your abilities.

Which again, doesn't come from just reading them.


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Klorox wrote:
Milo v3 wrote:
I'm surprised by the number of people talking about learning their characters abilities. I think I must be misunderstanding their intention with that statement.... Don't people learn their abilities once they've read thorough their class once or twice?
Unless you study the rules compulsively and/or have photographic memory, you don't know every ability of every class/archetype by heart, starting at level 1 helps you get used to the abilities of your new character and learn to use them on the job, as opposed to knowing them on a purely theoretical basis.

Even if you are a master theorycrafter and study the rules compulsively:

Yogi Berra wrote:
In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.

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