Do most people start higher than level 1?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


I just assumed everyone started the campaingn with everyone at level 1, however, I read a while back most people actually start higher so what gives?


Depends what you're doing.

My group tends to run published APs for the most part (starting at level 1), but when we do one-shots or short adventures we tend to start at higher levels.


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In a campaign not using APs then yes, I think most start higher than L1. It gives a wider range of concepts - a ranger 4 can still be a fresh-faced youngster, but it could also be a grizzled veteran which isn't particularly believable of a ranger 1.


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I start my campaigns at level 2, outside APs, its enough to give everyone room in their backstory to have had an adventure on their own while also making it much harder to accidentally murder a PC with a crit.


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In my anecdotal experience, the higher the level the campaign started at, the less I enjoyed it.

For lack of anything better to do, players actually have to roleplay their low-level characters more.


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Most games I've been a part of start at level 1. Starting with higher level characters you never really get into the RP aspects of the character. Or at least nobody else cares about your character other than stats.


My group rebels if they start at level 1. I'm kinda sad because I enjoy it. It creates the most tense moments and the best for character/group relation build.


It depends on why the character is being created. If the intention is for the character to be part of a long running campaign of some sort (AP or otherwise) then I always start at level 1. If the character is for a convention game or some other kind of one shot then its whatever level the GM wants. This has been anything from level 3 to level 20. Finally, if I'm being added to a long running campaign, sometimes I start at level 1, sometimes I'll be the same level as the rest of the party and sometimes I'll be whatever level the party is minus 1. Again it's all dependent on how the GM wants to handle it.

I would say that personally I feel like starting at level 1 is the rule rather than the exception. Anytime I'm not starting at level 1 there's a reason for it. In my most recent game we are effectively starting at level 2 and it feels really weird. I say effectively, because The DM split us up into groups of two and each group had a session 0.5 where we had to overcome an extremely difficult scenario which provided some minor loot and enough xp to hit level 2.


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In our first two campaigns, we started out at 1st level. In our 3rd campaign, we started off as 1st level commoners.

We have had one-off scenarios where we built higher level characters for the occasion.


ShroudedInLight wrote:
making it much harder to accidentally murder a PC with a crit.

This is the main reason why people don't start at Level 1, IMO. A 1/2 BAB character with no CON bonus has 6 HP and can be knocked unconscious by a d6 weapon's non-critical hit. Realistic? Yes. Fun? Only for experienced players.

Another (minor IMO) reason is that Level 1 characters tend to be cookie cutter. A lot of times you need the feats at level 2 or 3 to build the character you envision.


I prefer starting around level 3 so everyone can get the basics of their character running and have room for some exciting events in their backstory.


Depends on the campaign. If it is a pre-made adventure path, we generally start at 1st level. The sole exception I've allowed thus far is for the Ironfang adventure path. I actually let the players start as 2nd level NPC classes, with a signature ability of their intended classes available to them. By the time the adventure got into full swing in the first book, the players had essentially 'retrained' their levels into full PC classes. This let them start the game as established citizens of the town. It made things fairly immersive.

I have a customer campaign that I am running using a Frankenstein's monster type of custom rules combining 3.5e savage species, libris mortis, magic of the incarnum, and gestalt levels, with Pathfinder. Such things require a starting level of two.


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To answer the OP question: most of my games start at level one with exceptions for new players joining the group after we've played awhile.

In my most in depth campaign ever the players were required to take 6 levels of commoner before heroic classes were available, after which they could retrain. Most of the players kept some of their commoner aspects because they were part of the character by that point.

Stats were also 3d6 straight down and roll first level hp. This avoided cookie cutter characters and pushed everyone to step up their game.

Lower is better, I say.


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I start my campaigns at 3rd level typically. I don't want to deal with players who suddenly need spell books, holy symbols, unusual weapons and what not. I'll probably move it up to 4th so spontaneous casters can start with their second level spells and everyone can iron out their stats with the level 4 bump. I'm also not a fan of the spike in survivability within the first few levels.


ErichAD wrote:
I'm also not a fan of the spike in survivability within the first few levels.

The easy way to deal with that is to simply not have 'dangerous' encounters at all in levels 1-3. I.e., crits don't happen, deus ex mechina is omnipresent, etc.

It liberates the home-game GM and the players to concoct a good story and riff off each other.


"Most people" is an inaccurate statement. It is often thrown around by people either to support their own position, or based on faulty data (posters on a message board are not necessarily representative of the community as a whole) or, even worse, people assuming that because they've heard a couple of people stating something this somehow means 'most' people do this.
My groups and I are (surprisingly?) often not part of 'most people' or 'everyone'.

/my opinions that are entirely based on real data and not mere impressions, honestly

I and many/most of my players prefer to start at 1. I like the swinginess, the zero-to-hero potential, and the extra care you have to take to survive.
We have started at higher levels for specific adventures (e.g. RHoD) and one campaign which was started at 11 or 12.

Liberty's Edge

I'd much rather start at 2 or 3 than 1, both as a player and as a GM. It just gives more tools to round out the character you want to play.

That said, spheres of power and spheres of might (3pp) help create who you want to play as from first level so I don't mind them as much, but I'd still prefer 2-3. They just make 1 more palatable.


I started the current campaign I'm GMing at 3rd level, for four reasons:
1) Randomly dying isn't fun. If you take glee at other PCs dying, I don't want to support that. If you don't care about your own PC dying because you treat your own characters as but a name on a piece of paper, I don't want to support that. Lastly, I'm playing Pathfinder, not gritty survival horror.
2) Casters dominating everything with Color Spray or Sleep isn't fun.
3) Playing without notable class features isn't fun. I think different classes should be different.
4) Some builds don't really work prior to 3rd level (e.g. Zen Archer and unRogue). Having to suffer through two levels of neigh-uselessness because the writers were too bad at writing to find a different way to prevent dipping isn't fun. I had initially planned to start at 4th level, but found 3rd to be somewhat of a sweet spot.


Slim Jim wrote:
ErichAD wrote:
I'm also not a fan of the spike in survivability within the first few levels.

The easy way to deal with that is to simply not have 'dangerous' encounters at all in levels 1-3. I.e., crits don't happen, deus ex mechina is omnipresent, etc.

It liberates the home-game GM and the players to concoct a good story and riff off each other.

I'm a bit anxious about changing difficulty after the players have become accustomed to a game designed without dangerous encounters. It is funny to kill a character whose player thinks the DM won't kill them, but I'd rather keep the threat level at a constant level.

Derklord's right on with sleep and color spray, I forgot about that problem.

Silver Crusade

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I can only think of one campaign that I played that started at higher than 1st level, and that one wasn't Pathfinder.

I personally enjoy the first level experience. I would feel that I was missing out if I started at 3rd lvl.


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I think we’ve always started at level 1. I enjoy the feel of getting to know the character, and the fact that you have to be clever about dealing with obstacles because you don’t have the perfect counter to hand.

E.g. we are playing book 1 of War for the Crown, and (without giving spoilers), the difference between low level characters with restricted access to equipment versus equivalent level PFS characters with backpacks of optimised stuff has made the adventure a lot scarier, but also a lot more fun because the party have to work together a lot more.


For long term campaigns we generally do APs*, and they generally start at level 1, so so do we. That said, we also do minicampaigns and one shot adventures, and for those we start at whatever level suits.

And for PFS I often use GM and/or pregen credits to skip or shorten first level.

_
glass.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I generally start a campaign with level 1 characters.
I have tried giving the players a free NPC class level, but while it is good for first level survivability, it is problematic when the characters increase their level, even if you don't allow the staking of the initial +2 save modifier for good saves.
A single level in the Adept NPC class makes several interesting spells available as class spells, opening up the use of wands and scrolls.
A level in the Aristocrat or Expert NPC class will make several skills class skills and give a +2 to will saves, something that martials will love.
A level in Warrior gives a +1 to BAB. and a +2 to fortitude saves, something that some 3/4 BAB semi spellcaster will like.
The only "safe" choice is the commoner, but at that point giving out 4 bonus hp that will be "absorbed" by the normal hp increase when you increase your level will have almost the same effect.

It is a pity because I like the role-playing aspect of having an NPC level that reflects what was your life before learning your adventurer class skills, but if the players do a minimum of optimization the effect becomes excessive when they rise in levels.


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I always start my campaigns at level 1.

I find that events transpiring at that level can shape how a character acts and is viewed by the other players for the entire campaign.


It varies a great deal, depending on the adventure or campaign. For truly long-term campaigns, I usually start them at 1st, in order to include the full range of experience. My current campaign is one of those; it was intended as a 1st-to-20th campaign, possibly with some mythic tiers thrown in eventually.

My only previous long-term PF game was converted from 3.5 halfway through, at 6th level. I had started them at 2nd, mostly so I could use more interesting monsters from the start without as much risk of a TPK. That was my 3rd campaign in Green Ronin's Freeport setting. The first had used 3.0, and started at 1st because it was mostly based on the Freeport Trilogy. My second foray (in 3.5) started at 6th, because that's where the one continuing PC was. The third one was all-new characters, so we started lower.

I think the highest I've ever started PCs for anything longer than a one-shot was level 10, back in 3.5. I wanted to do a limited-run game using creatures I didn't normally get to use in my previous lower-level games (like vampires and a beholder). That game was essentially one long, extended dungeon crawl; they reached 13th by the end of the year of real time that we played.

(Then, of course, for PFS, we always start at 1st level, because everyone must. I have occasionally put enough GM credit on certain characters so that I won't have to ever play them at 1st level--which my squishy arcane casters really appreciate.)


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I tend to start between 2 and 4

And saying people stating at higher levels don’t need to role play or don’t care to in a fallacy and it’s dismissive.


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When we start at 1st level it's only for two reasons:
- to trach a new player the basics
- when it has a reason in-campaign
Otherwise it's 3rd or above, always.


Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
...saying people stating at higher levels don’t need to role play or don’t care to in a fallacy and it’s dismissive.

I agree, but I can understand the idea. Most people seem to need time to get comfortable with who a character is.

I can see how, when you slowly acquire power, experience and depth, step by step over sessions, the character feels more three-dimensional and real than if the character started the game at a higher level.
It's probably all down to acting and storytelling, honestly.


Quixote wrote:
Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
...saying people stating at higher levels don’t need to role play or don’t care to in a fallacy and it’s dismissive.

I agree, but I can understand the idea. Most people seem to need time to get comfortable with who a character is.

I can see how, when you slowly acquire power, experience and depth, step by step over sessions, the character feels more three-dimensional and real than if the character started the game at a higher level.
It's probably all down to acting and storytelling, honestly.

It could be a misunderstanding of cause an effect. Generally when I'm making a character that isn't level 1 I don't tend to put as much into the character's backstory. However, this has less to do with the character's level and more to do with how long I expect to be playing that character. If the character is above level 1, more times then not the character is being made for a 1 shot. So, instead of coming up with a background the DM has to incorporate my character simply has whatever background is easiest for the setup of the game and details can be added during the game as needed. Of course I DM a lot so I'm comfortable with coming up with details on the fly.

If a character is something I expect to be playing long term then I will develop their backstory regardless of level. Plus, some backstories make more sense when the character isn't 1st level. If you want your character to be a grizzled war veteran it's going to be a hard sell if they are still only level 1.


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Level 1 or bust for me.


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In the last one-shot I participated in, I made my 9th level PC the kid sister of my previous PC. Since the two PCs grew up together, most of her backstory was already written.

When I started the previous campaign, I actually came up with a pair of siblings as potential PCs and picked which one I would actually play when I saw what the other players were building. That left me with an alternate PC with a very similar backstory to bring in case my original PC dies (which of course didn't happen) -- and, when the campaign ended, a potential PC that (I thought) I would never get to play.


I enjoy 1st level adventures... But onlynif they don't last.more.thN 1 or 2 sessions. There just isn't much to learn and do at that level... And the thrill of having every encounter against a squirrel be a mortal danger gets old really fast.

I like the idea of going from Zero to Hero to Demigod-ero... But the first 2 or 3 levels should be over quickly. Specially if it's a campaign I don't play every week.

The Exchange

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I rather enjoy lower level play - and it often takes me all three 1st level games to get the PC set in a final form ready to advance to 2nd level.

To bad we don't still have the three First Steps games - each different enough to help us get a good "feel" for our PCs. Now there are so many ways to "skip ahead" and get to higher levels, without ever even playing the PC.


It depends on the game. Most of the PF I've actually played recently has been PFS, which means starting at one. But when I ran my own game, I started people at two, just so they didn't die from an unlucky hit in the first combat or whatever. I wanted to design encounters that didn't randomly kill people, only if they made mistakes, and starting at one with the magus on 9hp didn't seem to fit that.


I literally wrote a novel about my characters and have 3 more planned.

I have no trouble getting into there heads or knowing who they are. Lv to one is a place of unfortunate random death syndrome, little in the way of options or synergy and a lot of casters agonising about whether to cast there 1 precious Spell now or later.

I also find quite often it doesn’t even feel like you’re playing your class until LV 2 or 3.

All my games start between level 2-4 for that reason. Unless we are doing a particular one shot. Which I have played at various levels for example 1, 10 and 15.


I almost always start my campaigns around level 3, but this current campaign I'm running started at level 1 (but it's a gestalt campaign). It's really rough to start at level 1. Players don't really have a whole lot of options or spells yet, and one crit can cause a PC to have to re-roll.


One thing that shouldn't be overlooked is that level based RPGs are usually a treadmill, especially if you observe balanced encounters and wealth by level.

Players rarely make any real progress relative to the encounters they face.

Levels 1-3 are dangerous. Surviving past them is one of the first real victories a character has. It's one that doesn't get immediately taken away by the treadmill.

Also, In the older days of the hobby there was the concept of "name level." Essentially, before this level (sometimes as late as level 9) it wasn't even worth naming a character because their survival wasn't likely. Achieving this deserved respect, in character and out.

There's no wrong way to have fun. Food for thought.


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"Name level" was actually the level at which the level title matched the name of the class (sort of) and didn't change after that. I am pretty sure that most players named their characters long before then.

The Exchange

I can recall arriving at games with 3 or 4 pages of "back-story" - character notes on my PC that were created (sometimes before the PC was "rolled") long before they were ever "Played"...

But by the same token, I remember a good friend of mine who had a PC in my home game that ultimately gained the name "Nameless" when she was 7th or 8th level, because we never really settled on a name for her. Ran that game for years... Had a detailed back story (including a child, with full background on her too), but just always referred to the PC as "The Nameless Cleric" or just "Nameless"...

Sovereign Court

creating and playing a PC can be compared to a trip...

To some players it is all about the destination,
to others it is about the journey itself.


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Entymal wrote:
Levels 1-3 are dangerous.

*Yes*. -- And starting at 1st is an excellent way to acclimate your players to the idea that combat ought not be the PCs' one and only solution to every problem.

Scarab Sages

Slim Jim wrote:
Entymal wrote:
Levels 1-3 are dangerous.
*Yes*. -- And starting at 1st is an excellent way to acclimate your players to the idea that combat ought not be the PCs' one and only solution to every problem.

The last time I saw a PC death at the gaming table, was my sisters 16th level Barbarian missed a Will save. Save or Die. Bang! you're dead. Full heath with over 300 HP to dead in one dice roll...

Took a Miracle to bring her back...

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