"The First Level Start" Problem


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


Do you like playing first level characters? I've encountered this sense from the community that the essential low-level experience involves getting crit and rerolling until you're finally strong enough to be a “real adventurer." Other opinion I've discovered include "low level play is boring" and "I've been gaming long enough that I don't need training wheels."

So here's my question: Do you like to start games at 1st level, or do you prefer to start campaigns at second or third level? What's the rationale for your preference?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

Dark Archive

Honestly, i like to start at 5th

most abilities come online buy then, and you can actually do something other than just swing and hope or cast your only non-cantrip spell


For experienced players, I'll usually start at level 3, 8, or 12, depending on the campaign.

For new/inexperienced players, I'll usually start at level 1.


DRD1812 wrote:
"I've been gaming long enough that I don't need training wheels."

This pretty much sums up my stance on the matter. I really don't care what level of gameplay we are at, I am there to have fun, and if its in the cards that my character gets totally erased due to bad rolls or circumstances, so be it.

Is it annoying to have a low level character you spent about an hour creating bite the bullet really early on? Sure. Especially when its in a game that's supposed to be more than just dungeon delving and hack/slash through everything. Figuring out how to tie in a new character, with a new backstory, into the campaign ... well, it is a pain.

As a GM, I'll start out pre-made adventure paths at first level, like they are intended to be. I've made a few exceptions (such as the Ironfang Invasion) but that's generally when I am trying something new and want to see how well it does. In the example above, I had the group start out as 2nd level NPC classes with a signature ability of the class they eventually wanted to train into. When they got 1000 exp they got to retrain one level, and when they hit 2,000 exp (2nd level), they were fully level 2 adventurers.

Now, I love PF1 once it hits level 7 and above. But I am in no actual rush to GET to that level. Building up the character in actual play, and seeing how that shapes the choices made to the expected build, brings me more satisfaction that just plopping down a fully fleshed out character with no actual wear and tear behind the stat block.


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We always start at 1st level. it lasts less than a session, and helps the build to flow organically.


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I love L1 adventures. I love playing them, running them, designing them and so on. Literally anything is possible; no PC has an established "niche" yet, scores are so low that luck is just as important as skill, and threats are still threatening.

At Level 1 a familiar is JUST as squishy as it is, comparatively at L20; 1 good hit takes it out at either end. Despite that a Tiny sized flying familiar with the right Wisdom and Perception skill is just as valid a scout as other PCs, meaning that such a familiar doesn't just have to be a freaking talking paperweight that gives you a bonus to Initiative.

Burning Hands and Sleep can still be relevant. Let that sink in; these 2 spells that are so lame they are given to NPC classed Adepts can actually turn the tide of battle in a single casting. Such is the joy of L1.

And don't get me started on martial types. L1 is both a time of dominance and utter fear for these PCs. Monsters from CR 1/4 - CR4 don't typically have teleportation and even Fly speeds can be uncommon, so in a fight where foes are on one side and PCs on the other it's super easy for a spellcaster to take cover, spam Acid Splash and call it a day.

Martial types? Every action they take needs to be a chess move. Your AC isn't ridonkulous yet so you've got to anticipate every AoO. If you're a ranged martial, so what? You've still only got 1, MAYBE 2 attacks if you're a human fighter. Every attack roll counts and there are no guarantees of success like there are when you are hitting on a 2 or better.

At L1, the game has stakes and accomplishments come from hot dice, good strategy, and the contributions of everyone in the party. And at last, when you get that first taste of treasure, consumable magic items, masterwork weapons and such, there is a genuine sense of improvement. Take pride in your L1 folks, you won't get that back again until the next campaign.


The only reason I sometimes skip level 1 is because after you've done it many times, you'd like to skip on to some later and rarer levels.

But if you have any new players in the group, I'd advocate for level 1 every time.


One of my groups starts at level 2. The reasoning is that at level 2, a random crit is less likely to knock out or even kill. Unless you're a wizard or something, in which case why are you on the front line anyway?


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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Didn't you start a thread about pretty much the same topic two months ago?


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Dragonchess Player wrote:
Didn't you start a thread about pretty much the same topic two months ago?

Crap. So I did. My notes are out of order. :/


I've almost always started at 1st level.

I'm inclined to say that the driver for the level that the PCs start at should be the story itself. For example, the old Dragonlance Classics adventures started everyone at 4th-7th level, because the story involved experienced adventurers reuniting after years of campaigns, expeditions, and so on.

I get it, starting at 1st level may not be as exciting for players who have grown accustomed to higher levels and challenge rating encounters. Honestly, though, that comes down to a GM's experience and creativity. There are six bestiaries' worth of official monsters. You shouldn't have to worry about tackling the same stuff as they did last time they started from scratch.


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I start at level 1, with a 'free' NPC class level (1st level warrior/1st level wizard, or the like). This gives some extra skills, hit points, and proficiencies right away.

I don't count the NPC class as part of the leveling process, so players interested in things like the eldritch knight prestige class don't have to take a dip into fighter later to get their proficiency in all martial weapons, they can take the warrior class for free and not sacrifice a level of spells casting.


Mage of Swords wrote:

I start at level 1, with a 'free' NPC class level (1st level warrior/1st level wizard, or the like). This gives some extra skills, hit points, and proficiencies right away.

I don't count the NPC class as part of the leveling process, so players interested in things like the eldritch knight prestige class don't have to take a dip into fighter later to get their proficiency in all martial weapons, they can take the warrior class for free and not sacrifice a level of spells casting.

I might have to borrow that


Mage of Swords wrote:

I start at level 1, with a 'free' NPC class level (1st level warrior/1st level wizard, or the like). This gives some extra skills, hit points, and proficiencies right away.

I don't count the NPC class as part of the leveling process, so players interested in things like the eldritch knight prestige class don't have to take a dip into fighter later to get their proficiency in all martial weapons, they can take the warrior class for free and not sacrifice a level of spells casting.

This is a good idea.

Do you find that there were some downsides to this approach? Or was it all positive?

Liberty's Edge

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Darigaaz the Igniter wrote:
Mage of Swords wrote:

I start at level 1, with a 'free' NPC class level (1st level warrior/1st level wizard, or the like). This gives some extra skills, hit points, and proficiencies right away.

I don't count the NPC class as part of the leveling process, so players interested in things like the eldritch knight prestige class don't have to take a dip into fighter later to get their proficiency in all martial weapons, they can take the warrior class for free and not sacrifice a level of spells casting.

I might have to borrow that

For this campaign, I have tried adding a "child" level.

4 hit points (no constitution bonus) and 4 skill points taken from "children's" skills (i.e. skills that a child of that background and society will commonly take). The characters are still limited to having a skill rank equal to their level, so they get a broader base, not higher skills.
Classed NPCs get the same bonus, so they have a bit more hit points without getting more offensive power.
The result was positive, the characters were less prone to die because of an unlucky critical hit, and their skills were a bit more rounded out.

It is only one of several houserules that I am trying in this campaign, but I think it will work well even by itself.

Dark Archive

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I always start at level 1. I enjoy trying to keep a character alive at low levels, and it is much easier to do in Pathfinder than it was when I started with BECMI many, many years ago.

If it was practicable, if my character died I'd replace him with a level 1 character. Unfortunately the nature of Pathfinder means you can't really do that after the party gets to about level 3 or 4.


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I love first level play. I love GM'ing first level players.

Everything matters. Everyone pays attention.

There is no random buzzing of insects as part of the description for scenery... it must be Stirge... or worse, a swarm... every word is heard, and received with maximum suspicion.

It's awesome when everyone sucks. Nobody has fancy toys. Good. Clean. Fun.


Mage of Swords wrote:

I start at level 1, with a 'free' NPC class level (1st level warrior/1st level wizard, or the like). This gives some extra skills, hit points, and proficiencies right away.

I don't count the NPC class as part of the leveling process, so players interested in things like the eldritch knight prestige class don't have to take a dip into fighter later to get their proficiency in all martial weapons, they can take the warrior class for free and not sacrifice a level of spells casting.

So, you basically start at level 2, and go to level 21....

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

The exact numbers can vary a bit from class to class, but in general:

levels 1 and 2: hell; why bother, we are here to have fun, and this is not fun

levels 3-5: purgatory; may be needed to understand your character at the fun levels, but if so, is suffering to earn your fun later

levels 6-8: OK

levels 9-12: game is starting to get really fun

levels 13-17: this is where PF1 is at its best. Characters have many different things they can do, and feel like heroes who can change the world to make it better

levels 18-20: have not played enough to have an opinion


I like low level play, especially for a class I haven't played before. It's not as "exciting" as high level play sure but it can help build a tone and story line for a campaign.

I'm less keen on "high level adventurers show up to this problem" kind of stories because establishing why these 10th level adventurers are around and aware of the problems in the first place is pretty hard to make believable.


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I'd go to the opposite extreme of some of the folks in this thread. Add a child level or an NPC level? Naw... delete your PC level.

Everyone starts at the table with the heroic NPC array: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8. You can arrange them however you'd like. Everyone gets one level in an NPC class. Finally, you get a total of 75 GP to spend on any gear.

However.

All encounters you survive, be they social, combat, skill challenges such as traps or puzzles, etc, will all be CR1/4-CR1/2. you need 500 XP to obtain level 1 in a PC class. At that point you receive +4, +4, +2, +2, +0, and -2 to your stats in whatever way you'd like.

Along the way, as a GM, I'd make a point to abuse the PCs by whoever I want to be the first running villain of the game. Not abuse as in unaliving the PCs mind you, but bullying, harassment, robbery and so on. Oh and also, I'd really play up the drudgery of "civilized" life. The PCs would be suffering fines, taxes, tithes and levies; they'd be forced to work a day job; guards and officials would threaten them with extremely oppressive laws, and the nobility would absolutely look down on them.

The point would be to make the players absolutely hate living in towns or cities, hate being productive members of society. I'd also try to engender in the players a burning desire to get after whatever enemy has been bullying them.

This way, when they finally hit level 1 in their PC class the players are motivated to leave on adventures and seek revenge. Oh yeah, and they'd earn a pair of Traits during the NPC level too.


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I mean, that works okay for certain kinds of backstories, but what if you just want to play a character that doesn't really have any negative elements to their backstory and the character just decided that adventuring sounded cool and decided to do it.


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Claxon wrote:
I mean, that works okay for certain kinds of backstories, but what if you just want to play a character that doesn't really have any negative elements to their backstory and the character just decided that adventuring sounded cool and decided to do it.

Ok, in that case no mechanical changes but the external forces working on the PCs illustrate the drudgery of civilization while offering glimpses into wonder of the world beyond: PCs are pranked by a pseudodragon who says "I'm sorry" with a treasure map; the nobles the PCs encounter aren't necessarily disrespectful but require inane rituals of supplication from the PCs; their day jobs are boring to the point of nausea. Oh yeah, and I'd have some mercenaries do a musical number along the lines of Tomorrow from Annie about the joys of adventuring.

Liberty's Edge

I have problems seeing how a Paladin or a cleric of Abadar could come into being with that start. It can be justified, but it would be hard. Most PC would be in the Chaotic axis. A LE-LN character would feel that as a natural situation, where order is imposed on the basis of might.

I once did something similar for AD&D, having the player start as human, non-lawful members of the legions of a pseudo-Roman Empire that was based on human supremacy, genocidal extermination of other sapient races, and an extremely lawful vision of the world. As I know my friends I was sure they would defect at the start of the campaign and they did so.
The idea was to play a law vs. chaos campaign (instead of the classical good vs. evil) inspired by Moorcock saga of the Eternal Champion.
It went fairly well till level 9, then I did lose inspiration. It was fun having the players work together with Azata and demon worshipers, and the players had fun.
It all depends on the players.


I would have liked it if, besides determining apropos Traits, Ultimate Campaign's character background system allocated bonus skill points to skills the PC unlocked with their key life events.


The last three campaigns started at 1st level, but that was because the players wanted to go from 1 to 20. The one I'm slowly putting together now will start at 3rd as they'll be playing in a completely foreign land to most of them so a little bit of seasoning would help them out.


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My favourite are the mid-levels 5-10. But really I enjoy levels 1-15 a lot. I struggle with high levels 16+. The game is really getting ridiculous by this stage. Most challenges are easily bypassed, the difference between optimised and non-optimised characters becomes so profound as to be problematic, and even short combats seem to take forever. Also, by the time I get to high level I’m usually bored of my character concept. I would rather ditch the high levels than level 1.

At level 1 you can easily have interesting non-combat challenges, even crossing a wide river is a major challenge at level 1. You don’t have to worry about the wizard making everything trivial. The only downside of level 1 is that it is easy to die in combat, but that is what makes it exciting for some players, and if that isn’t the case for your table don’t introduce any deadly combat until the characters reach level 2.

Scarab Sages

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Mage of Swords wrote:

I start at level 1, with a 'free' NPC class level (1st level warrior/1st level wizard, or the like). This gives some extra skills, hit points, and proficiencies right away.

I don't count the NPC class as part of the leveling process, so players interested in things like the eldritch knight prestige class don't have to take a dip into fighter later to get their proficiency in all martial weapons, they can take the warrior class for free and not sacrifice a level of spells casting.

Good idea I like it.

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