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Low-Level Characters in D&D Next
Mike Mearls

A while back, I wrote about how the character classes in D&D Next offered few, if any, choices at 1st and 2nd level. Low-level characters in D&D Next look a lot like their 1st Edition and 2nd Edition counterparts, with features and abilities largely locked into place. We came to this design decision for a number of reasons.

To start with, we wanted to make creating a 1st-level character as quick a process as possible. In the past, creating a character could take an entire session on its own. We wanted to ensure that a gaming group could create characters in thirty minutes or less, allowing you to pick up and play D&D in the same way you might pull out a board game.

Simpler low-level characters also make it much easier for experienced players to aid newcomers in creating and running their characters. With a few games under your belt, you can memorize almost everything a 1st- or 2nd-level character can do, especially if you steer new players toward the fighter, cleric, wizard, and rogue. A DM introducing new players to the game can help them make decisions without constantly referencing the rules.

Of course, we know that experienced players like to have a variety of choices to help shape a unique, memorable character. In D&D Next, backgrounds shoulder a big part of that customization at 1st level. Though each background comes with a variety of prebuilt options, you can choose your own proficiencies in skills and tools, plus a background benefit to match your character's story.

In D&D Next, we very intentionally allow any character to take any skill and tool proficiencies. If your fighter was once a street thief, you can take a background that reflects that, selecting proficiencies that allow you to pick locks, tell lies, and sneak around. The old model of limiting skills by class—saying a rogue can train in Stealth but a fighter can't—appears to provide a kind of game balance, but it's an empty balance. In the end, the usefulness of skills is driven by the adventure or situation, and the more skills you have, the more likely you are to gain a bonus and to have a chance to affect the game. By keeping tool and skill choices wide open, D&D Next makes proficiencies easy for a DM to adjudicate and gives players enough choice to make their 1st-level characters feel unique.

In addition, the game's level progression assumes that 1st and 2nd level each take about one game session. That gives anyone enough time to master the basics of a class before diving into making significant character choices. For new players especially, those first game sessions can provide an understanding of the character and the campaign that creates a strong foundation for choices. For groups that like the experience of playing at 1st and 2nd level, DMs can use an optional experience progression that allows for more play at those levels. On the other hand, for experienced players who want more options for character creation than 1st-level backgrounds, the game includes rules for creating experienced 3rd-level characters right from the start.

In terms of campaign design, adventures we publish will treat 1st and 2nd level as the DM's chance to introduce the campaign to the characters, laying out potential options before opening up the campaign at 3rd level. Those two levels can be focused on giving players a chance to get their feet wet, allowing them to understand the campaign and develop a sense of their characters' goals.

Using the classic adventure The Keep on the Borderlands as an example, the first two levels of that adventure might cover the characters' journey to the keep, perhaps marked by a bandit ambush and a running battle with a peryton, then a follow-up mission to drive the bandits from the area. Between those encounters, the characters meet the key NPCs in the keep, pick up a few rumors that point to adventures, and develop a sense of what they want to tackle first. When the characters hit 3rd level, they are powerful enough to survive extended forays into the Caves of Chaos and the wilds around the keep.

For your own game, these elements of D&D Next allow you to run a campaign the way you want to. Beginner groups might want to use slower advancement at 1st and 2nd level to spend even more time getting a feel for their characters and the game world. Experienced players might want to create characters starting at 3rd level, making maximum use of all the character options in the game at the outset. Flexibility has always been a hallmark of D&D, and it's an aspect of the game we're making even stronger in D&D Next.

Mike Mearls
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.
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I believe skills, backgrounds, and feats should be for every class to choose equally. And I have no problems with the game starting off simple and offering more complexity later on. Or even allow the game to be more complex at first level if the DM and the players want that style. But what doesn't make sense to me is a class like a cleric or wizard making complex choices at first level (choosing spells or domains), and a class light the fighter is static until later levels.
Posted By: Uchawi (2/14/2014 6:12:53 AM)


I'm not entirely sure if I just am hesitant about change, but "quicker" characters does not appeal to me. I like 4E, where you could customize a lot, especially with powers and feats, but there was a clear and easy path (or paths) for a working character. I mean, the build descriptions had recommended everything, including playstyle. "Quicker" should be an option, but I do not want to skip the fun of the first levels if I want to customize.
(P.S. I have not playtested, so I have no firsthand experience, but from the comments I am not hopeful.)
Posted By: Xenohaz (1/25/2014 11:02:58 PM)


Cant see myself buying 5th edition. Just feels borring from my groups playtests. I never liked 2nd edition and 5th seems to most mirror it. 3rd gave us customization, 4th gave us tactical depth, 5th seems to go back quite a bit to appease some older audience. Frankly it amuses me that Paizo is kicking Wizards butts with their own product, but then again it was mostly TSR that developed 3rd, and that talent has mostly gone and done their own things (Monte on Numenera, Tweet on 13th age, etc).

It pains me that Wizards could not put the effort into fleshing out 4th edition with more options, or didnt make a '4.5' but instead dropped a great system on its face that many people enjoyed. Its worse because even in the last few years the support was painfully small, with smaller supplements that were of questionable quality (the 4th edition book of vile darkness is the worst offender, a 30 dollar soft cover bunch of pages that have been stapled together and thrown into a cardboard s... (see all)
Posted By: Faytte (1/22/2014 1:17:23 PM)


Mike, there are only a few negatives I've found during my playtesting of 5th ed. The 5th ed background mechanic is one of them however. I just don't like it. Here's why. I don't think that backgrounds necessarily need to be codified with specific rules for each one. Namely, it restricts the player to the number of backgrounds in the rules (not many at this point). I realize than anybody can make homebrew background rules but not every background will have a benefit that is 'equal' to others. Or even have a benefit at all! Not to mention that some of the rules currently in the background section are troublesome from an adventuring standpoint--namely the retainers from the Noble background. Lastly, a lot of these benefits are things that should come to the player character over the course of adventuring. Not right up front.
Posted By: TheBurt (1/18/2014 4:21:36 AM)


Sword Saint wrote: "You want to be inexperienced characters with a greater degree of diversification of important class-based abilities. Am I getting that right?"

I want the *option* to do so and not necessarily for just class-based abilities.

I usually make what my group refers to as "John characters." They tend to be...unique. For example, I once had a Don Quixote-ish noble Fighter who I invested heavily in skill-orientated options. He had a number of different cross-class skills, Skill Focuses, etc.. To do so, I needed to be able to select from among various options. With Next, I can pick a Background and *say* he's good a very broad but shallow education, but it doesn't seem like I can back at least some of that up mechanically.

Sword Saint wrote: "You aren't going to get that without house rules..."

Except that isn't true. I could make two very different 1st or 2nd level Fighters in 3e or 3.5. You can't do... (see all)
Posted By: Seanchai (1/15/2014 6:31:02 PM)


I like your direction here Mike, but I have one thought that might calm some of the anger over missing the first two levels. Have you thought about two pre-levels? For example if level three becomes level one, then we have two pre-levels called Rookie and Experienced, or something to that effect. This allows veterans who want options to start at level one. Other groups get to build into the story with two pre-levels. Don't know if this sort of thing has been discussed, but it was a simple thought i had. Keep up the great work, can't wait for the release (hopefully early summer!)
Posted By: tirwin (1/15/2014 6:18:50 PM)


Then give me a feat at first level. (One that doesn't require me to trade in a stat bonus) That way I don't have to wait 3 levels before I can specialize my character beyond another. Background isn't enough for me to give my character what I want.

I want choices at every level. I don't want Builds already made for me. I want to be able to craft my character as I develop him. Pre-made characters can be made for those who are too dumb or just there because their wife likes to play but I want more. Character creation and creating my character ideas to paper are important parts of the game for me and that doesn't start at third level for me.
Posted By: ZaranBlack (1/15/2014 3:57:16 PM)


Why not just agree/discuss with your group that all 1st level characters should be able to take a feat? I really don't understand why something such a miniscule thing - and yes, it really is a footnote - has to be an official rule, written by WoTC themselves.

Same with this uproar about starting at 3rd level if you wish for more complexity, choices and "uniqueness" when initially creating your character. Why do you think that starting at 3rd level is bad? Is it because it just isn't 1st level, which is the level one would assume one would start at? Or is it simply because you miss the 2 levels that you skip? That's sort of the same as saying "I hate Next, it only has 20 levels. 4th Edition has 30 levels, so I'm essentially being cheated of 10 levels, right?", even though the two editions play out completely different in terms of progression, encounters, and tiers.

I really want to know why this has to be critized to this degree. I'm glad, how... (see all)
Posted By: Omgdestroyed (1/15/2014 4:54:37 PM)


Starting at 3rd level in order to gain access to more choices for a character might be considered "bad" because levels measure experience, not complexity. If you want an inexperienced character to have some choice and starting at 3rd level is the only way to get it, that's "bad." Or could be seen as bad.

It could also be seen as "bad" because WotC told us that's not what Next was going to be like.

As far as house ruling things go, that's true. Of course, Next could offer more complex character creation and the people who don't like that could just house rule their games...Or, really, we could say that about any issue in the game. Don't like Levels? House rule it. Don't like what they did with Wizards? House rule it. While I agree with the principle, there comes a point for individual where that's just not a satisfying answer. - John

Posted By: Seanchai (1/15/2014 6:12:22 PM)


For me, I feel that in terms of customizing my character, background choices offer far more options for customizing and distinguishing my character than does a feat. A feat is just an improvment over what you can already do and so it dosn't add as much story to your character as a background can.

For example, a 1st level fighter in 3.5 would have three feats to chose from. Typically, you just chose feats that agumented what ever combat style you wanted to do. But a background adds additional skills as well as unique abilities. You can even make up your own backgrounds pretty easily. I made a background for a level one wizard in which he was a clone of a more powerful wizard that lived centries ago. I created a set of skills that made sense for him, and gave him an ability to recall anciet lore, since he had memories from the ancite times that he lived in. This is far more exciting than just a feat that gives me some extra cantrips or a +1 damage with fire spells.
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Posted By: moes1980 (1/15/2014 6:20:45 PM)


I love it! want to start out a a hero with abilities that sets apart from the average person then skip the apprentice levels! Want to do a short origin story to kick off the campaign or introduce the game to new players, then run the party the rough the apprentice levels for about two sessions. Prefer to have more of an OSR feel with low level play then just use the slower progression tables and spend more time at level one and two (which is my personal preference, as it makes 3rd level a more important milestone and it adds variety to the type of play experience you encounter over the course of the campaign).

I have been running the latest packet with dungeon of graves and, despite the lethality of the setting, no one has died yet (been Lenny of close calls though). It has been an exciting first two levels, and now, as the party hits third level, you can really feel the change in pace and style of play as the characters are getting stronger and more bold, and accomplishing... (see all)
Posted By: moes1980 (1/15/2014 5:02:11 AM)


I agree with this direction. I long ago swore off ever starting a 3.5 game at level 1 again because it was just so tedious to play at that level. Players are going to customize their games regardless of what the rules say, so you might as well build the rules to support as much customization as possible.
Posted By: nukunuku (1/14/2014 4:49:30 PM)


I understand what you are trying to accomplish with lower levels, but it seems a bit off.

I can see 1st and 2nd levels being "story-building" levels, with no to little combat, as combat is too deadly. But, XP would have to be primarily for role-playing, and it makes it hard to justify the increase in combat abilities.

As for the 1st to 3rd level only taking 2 sessions, I am uncertain. 950 xp is needed, so you are expecting 250 xp on the first session (to get to 2nd level), and 700 xp on the second (to get to 3rd). That makes it 25 kobolds killed to reach second level.

According to the DM guidelines, for a level 1 character, an average encounter is 20 xp (2 kobolds), and 4 average encounters per adventuring day (8 kobolds). So, yes, if a DM keeps to this schedule, a player could get to 2nd level in one adventuring day.

For a 2nd level character, an average encounter is 40 xp (1 giant spider), and 160 xp per adventuring day (4 giant ... (see all)
Posted By: Rlyehable (1/14/2014 3:03:01 PM)


R'lyehable is making h/hself a poster child for not understanding that the chosen few have moved beyond the last, nerftered issue of the playtest, but h/h (I think s/he's a dude, since a chick would be more sensitive & insightful) and others' point about the initial 2 levels being boring is valid.

People who want to start at 3rd, 5th or whatever level for the awesomeness are going to do it & don't need a rule to tell them how. They shouldn't be asking for feats, though, because that threatens the simplicity which is already shelved by having to pick a background and 3 skills. Make that part optional, and add a mechanic which doesn't blow up the complexity.

I call it a package. You get one from your background, and one from your class. It's nice and modular, allowing the customizers to take 2 background packages instead, or with DM permission, 2 class packages. What the hell am I talking about? Stuff like Thieves' Cant and the Burglary & Fast Hand... (see all)
Posted By: RadperT (1/21/2014 12:51:18 PM)


Hey folks, what if you could trade in some of your prodigious amounts of human ability score bonuses for a feat or two at first level if you so chose, hm? Would that be a good step toward pleasing everybody?
Posted By: Dreamstryder (1/14/2014 11:46:52 AM)


I don't know that anything will make folks happy. Personally, I'd be okay with that option, provided that the Feats allow for some kind of customization.

Of course, I, personally, may be happy Next's level of customization at low levels anyway. I'll wait and see. Based on the latest packet, I'd like a little more - but I'm guessing the game will change from that packet. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (1/14/2014 8:14:45 PM)


Mike and DnDNext crew: you guys are on track!! (as always).
Thank you for the awesomeness!
Posted By: sjap (1/14/2014 6:33:24 AM)


So… tell me again why this isn't handled by an optional 'Level 0'?
Posted By: OskarOisinson (1/14/2014 12:59:58 AM)


A valid question. My thoughts on why: Most games with levels use Level 1 as the lowest level. Generally, it may feel less intuitive to start at 0 than it does to start at 1 (unless you're a computer coder). One could draw a parallel between not having negative hit points in the last playtest and not having a level below 1. Next's method of offering the simple and quick way as default, with more complex methods as additional choices, means beginning players needn't adapt an option to a game they don't know how to play yet before playing to make it easy for them.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (1/14/2014 7:44:30 AM)


PS: Many veteran players like a simple-and-quick start, too. This may also make stating groups of hirelings or enemy/ally troops easier (in my experience they're usually level 1-2).

Perhaps a big reason is that this is how they balanced people who want feats with those who don't want feats, not to front-load character creation with yet another ability boost from the start.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (1/14/2014 8:07:17 AM)


Level 0 tends to imply a classless character (such as in DCCRPG or goodman games level 0 option for dnd 3.5 ). The problem with being classless is that there is an overwhelming and almost universal demand for each character class to be distinguishable from other classes. Thus, there is enough features at level one to make wizards, fighters, rouges each feel significantly like their own special class.

A level 0 game would probably involve rolling ability scores, record racial features, and that's it. No class features, no skills, no profecency bonuses, and only access to cantrip magic, and every one gets 1d4 HPs. That is zero level play and you are welcome to give it a go (it certainly is fun in DCCRPG).

But here, the point is to 1) have a quick and easy character creation process (either to help introduce the game to new players or, for those players to use who just simply like the less heroic play when first starting a campaign) and 2) offer a way to introduce ... (see all)
Posted By: moes1980 (1/15/2014 5:16:35 AM)


Or beginner groups might want characters that are relatively forgiving of mistakes (reasonably durable), so they don't have to make new ones every single session - in which case 1st level in 5e is just about the worst place to start.

And, experienced players might like to linger over some intensive RP and character-development in their heroes before-they-were-heroes backstory, by playing through an 'apprentice tier' in detail - with detailed characters.
Posted By: Tony_Vargas (1/13/2014 9:26:19 PM)


I think Mike and team are on the right track. Being able to create charcters and start gaming quickly will make it easier to get new people playing. You also really appreciate your strengthes and abilities more after you have fought and survied to get them, even if it is just a couple of sessions.
Posted By: BaneOfBargle (1/13/2014 6:57:39 PM)


I'm about to run a 2nd-edition campaign for new players. Looking at the classes now, I can see that they're bland and fairly weak all the way to the level cap. Even kits don't add much. Perhaps that's a perception because of the experience with 3.5-, 4-edition and Pathfinder as much as anything else. However, it hasn't been difficult to give each 2nd-edition class a little oomph - picking up spells a little earlier, giving the Fighter the Action Surge from DnD Next and so on. None of them are particularly powerful but add some interest to the classes. It seems that levels 1-2 for Next might lack that oomph of some editions and equally it seems to be no trouble to boost them a little. To me, whether or not the need exists because of or despite the promises is immaterial. All DMs run their games the way they see fit.
Posted By: Maerlius (1/13/2014 5:23:10 PM)


The real problem I had with every iteration of the NEXT playtest at low levels was lethality. The fact that a single kobold hit could take down my character made me feel not at all like a hero. Having fewer options at low levels further makes the PC less heroic-feeling. While I know a lot of folks complained that 4e (my choice system) felt like an MMORPG, this whole "You have to get through the crappy levels before you can take advanced options" feels more like the crappier MMORPGs out there.

I also feel like leveling once a session for the first two sessions sets a precedent that will disappoint players afterwards when suddenly it takes them several sessions to get to level 4 or higher.
Posted By: JoeyLast (1/13/2014 3:27:06 PM)


I think, in some sense, that that's the point. At 1st or second level, you're not *supposed* to "be a hero". You may be on the road to becoming one, but you're not there yet.

As for going up in level more than once per session... bear in mind that in many games, it takes multiple sessions to go up a single level. Especially in OSR type play.
Posted By: greyhawk_grognard (1/13/2014 4:17:56 PM)


I would expect a single kobold vs a single 1st level character to be a close battle, with either side winning with a single solid hit. That is why both kobolds and adventurers hunt in packs. A challenging encounter should use about a quarter of the party's resources. So if you have 4 characters against 1 kobold, depending on who hits first, dropping a single character before the kobold dies uses a quarter of your HP resources. I doubt you'd die outright however thanks to heal checks.
Session length can vary dramatically so I am not a fan of using that as a mechanic. When I first started playing 2nd Ed, our average session was 12 hours. Currently our sessions are about 6 hours. I know of other groups that a session is 3 hours.
Which one of the above would you expect to gain a level by the end of the session? At 1st level I would expect to get to level 2 after a 6 hour session, or in the first hour of the 2nd session. In the 12 hour session I would expect to be well on the way ... (see all)
Posted By: Rartemass (1/13/2014 4:59:14 PM)


I was actually a supporter of the earlier iterations' low-level monsters (goblins, kobolds), having attack rolls that were in the negatives. Hey, they suck, and probably can't reliably hit you... But if they do, they're gonna mess you up. Because, you know, that rusted blade will hurt even in the hands of a goblin. :D

I guess more DMs wanted to be able to hit more often.
Posted By: beej_silver (1/13/2014 9:51:57 PM)


I guess the thing that turned me on to 4e when I first picked it up was that my character felt like a hero right from the get-go. I could do stuff, and I felt like I had options. And even as a 1st level wizard, I had enough hit points to not be killed by a single kobold hit. The separation of "Heroes" from the commonfolk felt right for me, and then it made it easier to explain why, for example, in a world where Resurrection spells exist, death should ever be a factor... because the gods can only bring back the strong souls, the Heroes, who have risen above the commonfolk to have a chance of changing the destiny of the world.
In every iteration of the NEXT playtest, I felt like my character was no different than any other peasant in the village... I was just wearing better armor. That made my character a lot less fun to play, because I didn't feel like a hero. By the time you hit level 1, you've made a decision to be a hero, you've received enough training in your ... (see all)
Posted By: JoeyLast (1/14/2014 10:41:46 AM)


That's great - and the point is that this style of play is still 100% supported by starting at 3rd level.

That is the entire point of this article.
Posted By: nukunuku (1/14/2014 4:38:00 PM)


Here one needn't start at level 1. One could think of level as a dial of power. I do like a game wherein PCs aren't built different (or "heroes"), instead having to think critically about how to use what they have to survive, accomplishing heroism instead of heroism being granted, but that that's a different mental approach to using the rules, and I wouldn't force everyone to play the same way in case they did not so desire. I'm happy I can turn a dial to find different ways to play.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (1/15/2014 8:33:04 AM)


Levels 1-2 being for beginners to start playing at is fine, but I have to agree with some comments here. So why do Wizards and Clerics jump in complexity at 2nd level and not 3rd level.
Posted By: Prom (1/13/2014 2:52:37 PM)


The biggest deal with character creation for my groups, has been access to the Character Builder Software. When 4E started, it was freeware. My players had a copy on their systems, and could create characters easily in 10 minutes! Once it became subscription, it has became a mess to access. Right before play, everyone tries to logon. If 3E had a decent character builder, I'd still be playing it! (Average build time = days)
Posted By: genegoldner (1/13/2014 2:34:59 PM)


Agreed. A subscription should allow say 6 people (5 players, 1 DM) to access the system at the same time and perform different tasks.
I understand Wizards want to milk funds out of every player but the reality is the entire group gets a single subscription and share it.
If Wizards allowed access for the group with a single account and have it available on Android (and iPhone), everyone could be logged at the table via tablets or phones. I know my group would appreciate this, even if subscription cost increased 30%, it would be worth it for access to all tools by all players at the gaming table.
Posted By: Rartemass (1/13/2014 5:05:25 PM)


Updatability and subscription are probably tied together, but this is most needed if edition releases specialize in varied character building supplements. If instead most releases are adventures, campaign settings, even monster tomes (any of which I'd prefer to things that complicate character creation with "choice paralysis" and "power creep"), updatability may not be so important, and the builder could be bought once only.

Another way is to include a way to enter your own race and class information into the builder. Updating it yourself may not sound preferable, but it would also allows you to support your home brew or material from third-party products in the builder by simply entering the information. Hopefully one could share this info with others too, if only by copy-pasting the abilities into entries in the builder program.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (1/13/2014 11:01:19 PM)


The online 4th Ed character boulder killed 4th Ed games at my local game store. Every one was just doing a subscription every three months and even sharing the program with others. Meanwhile, the store owner sat month after month watching his 4th Ed product accumulate dust on his shelves. Eventually he abandoned supporting the edition in his store and turned to pathfinder so that he wouldn't go out of business. After that, the awesome nights of 2-3 groups playing living realms every Thursday night vanished and no one was playing it any more. Eventually the online stuff was changed so that you could only access it while you had an active account, but by then, everyone had most of what they needed and weren't about to buy books that, by that time, already knew they were outdated.

I am a huge fane of DnDNext but if it uses the same online approach as 4th Ed, the local game store owner isn't even going to waste his time trying to promote it. He will just keep selling magic card... (see all)
Posted By: moes1980 (1/15/2014 5:30:45 AM)


You would fit in well at my table.
Posted By: mbeacom (1/13/2014 1:18:43 PM)


"For your own game, these elements of DnD Next allow you to run a campaign the way you want to."

Unless you want to have a lot of options to choose from at 1st level. You know, for a project that didn't want to shoehorn people into certain "playstyles," you're doing a good job of shoehorning people into certain playstyles. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (1/13/2014 10:55:25 AM)


That aside, a few things...

It's been my experience that it isn't choices or a variety of choices which slow down character creation and make it difficult. It's suboptimal choices and people who want to either know what every possible choice is or select the very best option possible for their character.

Personally, I find "start at 3rd level" wholly unsatisfying. Levels mean experience in the game. If I want unexperienced characters, I want unexperienced characters. To my mind, "experience" does not equal "variety." You can have a wide range of unexperienced characters.

If the goal is to create an easy introduction for new players, why change the entire game? After all, veteran players will be starting at 1st level, too. Why not create a separate product or additional material for the new player? Instead of changing the game, add advice, templates, discussion about what the choices mean, etc..

But, to my mind... (see all)
Posted By: Seanchai (1/13/2014 11:19:30 AM)


The lack of subclass and a feat ... when compared to race (and subrace), ability scores, class, equipment, and background at first level, does not feel to me to be a dearth of options.

For those not using feats, a 1st level feat would be an ability score bonus at first level in addition to racial adjustments. Weird.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (1/13/2014 11:33:35 AM)


Personally, saying, "You can make two 1st level fighters mechanically distinct by using equipment and race," just doesn't do it for me. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (1/13/2014 2:33:15 PM)


Do all your fighters have the same ability scores, and do background skills and proficiencies mean nothing? What if a feat and one class ability were the only differences instead? Just trying to understand your preferences. :)
Posted By: Dreamstryder (1/13/2014 11:10:17 PM)


Skills can be meaningful, but to really differentiate characters, there needs to be:

- large lists
- few choices from those lists
- large scale differences between levels (a character with a 35 is effectively just as a good as a character with a 31 if the scale is 1-100, for example)
- little duplication among characters
- a relative inability to try unskilled checks

Next doesn't really offer that sort of thing.

As far as Ability Score go, they're random, their effects aren't as pronounced as other choices in many cases, and, essentially, yes, I would expect the thrust of all the fighter's focus to be on a couple of Scores. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (1/14/2014 12:04:21 AM)


I don't understand this complaint at all. You can start at 3rd level. That's the whole point.

Why is it a sin to start at 3rd level? What are you missing - other than the stuff you specifically said you wanted to skip?

But you know what? Even if you just hate the idea for whatever reason, you are completely free to change it. Give everyone options at level 1. Or just call level 3 "level 1" and add some additional levels later or whatever. What's stopping you? It's your game: customize it how you want!
Posted By: nukunuku (1/14/2014 4:43:20 PM)


I think it's fine choosing your path to take with your class at 3rd level, most experienced players would already have an idea of what they want there character to be at the start.
Posted By: KoboldAvenger (1/13/2014 10:36:47 AM)


I like the concept and have used something similar even in 4e. If a player is completely unfamiliar with the combat and skills mechanics of 4e, I've started them at pre first level. They just choose from a type of character, big strong guy, nimble quick person, smart brainy chick, etc. All they have is their skill set and the basic melee and ranged attack. I run them through a simple scenario to teach them the standard, minor and move action mechanic, and they get to see how skill checks work.

In Pathfinder, 3.5 and 4e character creation can indeed take a whole session. And it's tough for a person who's never played any of the mentioned games to have any idea of what they want out of their character's 'build' or how to achieve that concept.
Posted By: Kazadvorn (1/13/2014 10:08:23 AM)


I like this; the quicker I can build a character and the easier it is to learn and teach others, the quicker we can actually use our characters instead of just thinking about them. Both quick start-up and smooth high-level play is dependent upon the game not being mechanically heavy in general. Deep mechanics needn't be heavy mechanics.

I feel there's enough customization to be had at 1st level without throwing feats into it (feats are not the only customization that matters, and some people don't use them at all), but, as always, one shouldn't feel like they're cheating if they start at other levels to leap into the thick of it. Level number isn't a badge of survival as much as what you've done per level survived.
Posted By: Dreamstryder (1/13/2014 5:54:37 AM)


I can confirm the quickness of Levels 1 and 2. I DM'd a level 1 Party and they leveled up after their first session, and leveled once again in the second session. So by session 3 they were level 3. The first 2 levels were great as a warm-up, especially to new players (of which we had several). They weren't overwhelmed with options and eased their way into their characters.

If you don't like levels 1 and 2 as "introductory" levels, then you can easily start campaigns at level 3. The difference is really only 2 sessions of play. Not a game-changer.
Posted By: Ramzour (1/13/2014 5:26:15 AM)


ALMOST perfect... I can totally understand the reasons behind the "apprentice levels" concept, and how dialling on XP is the key to make this system work fine for everyone. In the 3e era it was very common in experienced groups to start beyond level 3 anyway, either to immediately allow some more interesting character design, or simply because they wanted to run a higher-level adventure. But just as many gaming groups don't want this, either because they want to start at lower complexity, or because they like the "zero to hero" campaign style.

Why "ALMOST" then? Because in light of this article, the current 5e rules (as in the last playtest packet) contain 2 mistakes: Cleric's domain at 1st level and Wizard's tradition at 2nd level. Not only these increase complexity (Clerics and Wizards are already more complex than Fighter and Rogues at level 1, because of spells), but they are choices those PC are going to be stuck with forever, therefore it'... (see all)
Posted By: Domenicaccio (1/13/2014 4:50:01 AM)


I don't argue for two Clerics choosing different domains, but why do it smack in the middle of the campaign and not presume this had already happened before the campaign starts?

Choosing a subclass really makes for a very important character decision and ideally it should leave some space to build a story around the selection - if someone wants. Forcing it all on 3rd level really breaks suspension of disbelief and puts a DM in the position to accomodate every player's narrative needs at once, even when this is not relevant to the campaign.

I really like apprentice levels where you start a total rookie - but maybe they should put that as an optional module.
Posted By: man.of.tomorrow (1/13/2014 6:37:47 AM)


I think it would make very little narrative sense for a cleric to choose his/her domain after level 1. Those who become clerics do so because they feel called by a particular god who has a particular domain. Wizards on the other hand study magic and reach specialization later. The same goes for fighters and rogues.

Clerics have a different element. The only way it would make sense to me for a cleric to choose domain later is if his/her god held sway over multiple domains.

One does not simply become a "general" cleric, because for the narrative it doesn't make sense. One is "called" to the service of a specific god, and if that god only has one domain, then the cleric has no choice in the matter at, say, level 3.
Posted By: rookrock (1/13/2014 9:27:06 AM)


Specific gods almost always have multiple domains. They've told us that for over a year.
Posted By: Sword_of_Spirit (1/13/2014 2:03:04 PM)


Fighters choose a Weapon Fighting Style at level 1. Great Weapon Fighting, or Archery, or the others... They are stuck with it forever as you say
Posted By: JamesManhattan (1/13/2014 2:31:55 PM)


I'm glad to see that there will be the option to extend low level (1st and 2nd level) play beyond the xp values we've seen so far. I'm sorry, but I don't think my table will be very happy with going from 1st to 3rd level in 2 sessions. They like being able to build up over time. I can see how the quick advancement would be useful for some groups, but I really appreciate that that is not going to be the only way to do things.
Posted By: Tulloch (1/13/2014 4:15:45 AM)


I understand Mike's argumentation - for less features on low-level characters and I partially agree. It goes a long way to make the game more accessible to newbies (and restrict class dipping) but there is a BIG BIG narrative problem the way it is handled right now.

It really doesn't make any storytelling sense to 'swear' the 'Oath of Vengeance' on your way to the Caves of Chaos after defeating a few goblins. These things are better selected on character creation so you can sell a new player on what his character can do.
You can still provide the more streamlined standard options on low levels - but IMHO it's best to select the subclass when you choose class. Otherwise you put a huge narrative burden on the DM.
Posted By: man.of.tomorrow (1/13/2014 3:58:59 AM)


I agree with some of what he says but the fact remains that there are not enough options at level 1 to distinguish characters of the same class. Backgrounds, goals, flaws, bonds, race, and equipment will make some differences but IMO they need starter feats (call them what you will) that add a bit of mechanical flavour.
Posted By: pauln6 (1/13/2014 3:34:40 AM)


I don't think there is a good reason that characters should be mechanically distinct at level 1. It makes it more meaningful to become distinct over time. Fantasy is full of stories with one guy special from birth, but 4-6 of them, who just happen to run into each other when they are starting out? Not so much. Talk about inflicting narrative issues on the DM.
Posted By: Mechagamera (1/13/2014 10:04:59 AM)


That is not a fact: it is an opinion. The whole point is to *not* have a lot of options at level 1 so that players and DMs who want low-option low-level characters have such a choice.

1st level 4e characters, for instance, convert to 3rd level Next characters.

There seems to be some sort of resistance to allowing the designers to tell us what 1st level is intended to mean! We can't get stuck in the mindset that "1st level means starting level, and starting level should mean X" when the designers have clearly said, "1st level means Y. 3rd level means Z. Start at whatever the heck level you want."
Posted By: Sword_of_Spirit (1/13/2014 2:00:01 PM)


"There seems to be some sort of resistance to allowing the designers to tell us what 1st level is intended to mean!"

Because they said they weren't going to. They said that people who wanted high complexity characters could play them at the table with low complexity characters, each being viable in play. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (1/13/2014 2:36:29 PM)


The way they are representing that in the current setup is that a fighter can be a warrior (low-complexity) or a weaponmaster (higher complexity), and that he can take an ability boost or a feat.

Did they initially intend to allow that sort of diversification as 1st level characters? Probably. Then game design happened and they realized it was going to be a lot more effective this way.

So all we have to do is allow them to simply tell us what 1st level is intended to mean and what 3rd level is intended to mean, and then use them as we see fit.
Posted By: Sword_of_Spirit (1/13/2014 5:46:31 PM)


People won't get to pick up weaponmaster at 1st level, however. My understanding of WotC's statement about different types of characters and "play styles" at the same table wasn't that it could potentially happen under certain circumstances, but that it was how the game would work by default.

They have told us what 1st level and 3rd level means: experience. Experience points measure experience. A 3rd level character is more experienced than a 1st level character in a general, abstract way.

If we tie player choices too much into character experience, we start running into problems. It seems to me that it's certainly reasonable for players of experienced characters to have more choices than players of comparatively inexperienced, but I still want to have a fair degree of choices for my inexperienced character. (Meaningful choices, that is - not just hair color and eye color.)

Here's a concrete example. I once ran a game of Midnight where the ... (see all)
Posted By: Seanchai (1/13/2014 6:45:45 PM)


There is nothing stopping you playing in a five person party with the following characters
-1st level fighter
-3rd level mage
-5th level cleric
-2nd level rogue
-4th level barbarian

That party consists of low and higher complexity characters. After a few sessions the party level should become something like this
-3rd level fighter
-3rd level mage (nearly 4th)
-5th level cleric (part way to 6th)
-3rd level rogue
-4th level barbarian (well on way to 5th)
Posted By: Rartemass (1/13/2014 5:47:35 PM)


And, moreover, my understanding of WotC's position about complexity at the table wasn't based on level. If I understood what they said - and I'm fairly certain I do - they meant a 3rd level complex character could play with a 3rd level simple character in the same game. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (1/13/2014 6:53:32 PM)


What's stopping me from having a five person party with those character is the players in my opinion rightfully bitching about some people starting out at higher levels.

If some players are better at building characters than others, if they're able to do more with the opportunities given them, I, personally, consider that fair and equitable. However, players in my opinion should all be given the same basic opportunities.

That generally means they all have the same number of experience points to start. - John
Posted By: Seanchai (1/13/2014 6:51:56 PM)


(Won't let me reply further into the sequence)

Okay, I see what you're position is now. You want to be inexperienced characters with a greater degree of diversification of important class-based abilities. Am I getting that right?

You aren't going to get that without house rules, just like I'm not going to be able to get language barriers as a meaningful game element without houserules.

As much as I'd love it if they'd take Common away from everyone by default, I can grudgingly admit that it's probably, maybe, the better design decision to leave it as is.
Posted By: Sword_of_Spirit (1/14/2014 6:15:16 PM)


I totally agree with this article (even though it's all old information), except the part where he basically says the players shouldn't get to the real game until level 3. I'd rather throw them all into the Caves of Chaos from level 1 and see who survives. Then again, I'm kind of a sadistic DM like that. >:)
Posted By: G_X (1/13/2014 2:48:46 AM)


This article was a pleasure to read. I think it goes to show how much Mr. Mearls really has been listening to feedback, and how much care he is putting into the game.
Posted By: SirAntoine (1/13/2014 1:32:10 AM)


I like low level characters having very few options for beginners. Experienced players still don't seem to grasp that they need to start characters at 3rd level, even when you spell it out, Mike. There's a problem I'm not sure how you manage.
Posted By: Prom (1/13/2014 1:22:54 AM)


For myself and my group, Next is a big let down in terms of options for creating our characters, especially at low levels. In the first few Playtest packets it was the opposite, and we were excited by how simple and yet open creating characters based off our intended concepts could be. What happened?

The latest packets character creation is by far too restrictive, and we find the Sub-classes don't really add much to the game at all. "Too little, too late" is the general consensus. Too boring.

All in all, we'd rather return to the model presented in earlier packets, which allowed us to more freely build our character concepts.
Posted By: LupusRegalis (1/13/2014 12:54:25 AM)


Just wondering if you ever played 2nd Ed?
There wasn't anything like backgrounds or feats or large character options. You chose a class, rolled stats and selected proficiencies based on the class. You had to come up with your history and character details. A fighter with a mace was essentially the same as a fighter with a sword or a bow, mechanically.
I like the addition of backgrounds as examples, but if you have to choose one it builds restrictions. I'd much rather have fewer specified options but a guide on how to make your own, using the samples provided.
4th ed is an anomaly in the series, in that it strayed onto a divergent path from previous editions. I like that it is going back to a 2nd and 3rd ed feel but with updated mechanics and streamlined. I want simplified rules so we can worry about actually role playing rather than the mechanics of combat.
Posted By: Rartemass (1/13/2014 5:35:09 PM)


I played ADnD, using the Dragonlance, Spelljammer and Greyhawk settings, with a few others thrown in. Had good times doing it, but I wouldn't go back to it, and I find it irrelevant to modern gaming.
Posted By: LupusRegalis (1/13/2014 8:34:54 PM)


Finally: a 1st-level Barbarian trained in Diplomacy, History, and Arcana. Thank you 5ed!
Posted By: Alter_Boy (1/13/2014 12:31:54 AM)


I think you're being sarcastic. But I can't see why.
My 1st level barbarian has therefore been trained from birth how to recognise those evil magic users, he has an understanding of their deceitful words and gestures so as to better combat them.
And that's because he's steeped in his tribes history - he may nor know much about the lost culture of WooNosWot from the last century but he can tell you how his great-great-great-grandfather sacked the city of Dhomed and carried away the princess as a wife.
And hey, barbarian tribes have a whole culture of deplomacy - knowing when to bow and when to kick and what's an insult and what's a complement.
May not be your history or your diplomacy, but he's got knowledge.
All you then need is a DM to understand the complexities of "diplomacy"...
Posted By: peterstiles (1/13/2014 3:17:43 AM)


"Language and writing were also made available, the poetry of Khitai, the philosophy of Sung; and he also came to know the pleasures of women, when he was bred to the finest stock. But, always, there remained the discipline of steel." - Conan the Barbarian
Posted By: PoppyLocke (1/13/2014 7:17:31 AM)


What does that mean for power acquisitions? Don't Wizards have to spend time when they learn a new spell, spend time studying over the spell and committing it to memory? If a Fighter is learning new martial arts or how to action surge or such, shouldn't that require downtime? If the first two levels are just a handful of combats, meant to be the "journey to the dungeon," does that mean the the abilities you gain at 3rd level aren't the sort of abilities you should be resting and meditating on to learn?
Posted By: Marandahir (1/13/2014 12:20:41 AM)


i don't know why it would require downtime. You learn those activities through your experience so they are part of who you are. I can understand a long rest to gather yourself and assess your new skills, especially for casters, but I don't think any downtime past that is warranted. It's a fantasy game after all. You just learned a new skill from fighting a giant bear that looks like an owl... ease up on the realism requirements.
Posted By: Spykes (1/13/2014 12:53:10 AM)


Liken it learning a new skill in real life. Let's say I am teaching you web design. It may be a week long course and I teach you the principles of web design. I show a few techniques and give you the skills and resources to educate yourself. By the end you are level 1.
Now you go into the world and attempt to make your own web pages. You may get stuck but each issue presented, you delve into your training and research how to fix it. Doing this repeatedly gains experience. You'll discover new techniques to add into your repertoire and gain confidence in the initial skills. Now you are level 2. You will continue to refine techniques and discover more thanks to the lessons of that 1 week course. At times you will get stuck and need an advanced course to spur the next several levels.
To be the best you need people to teach you and practice, but if you are taught the idea of how to teach yourself you can go a long way.
Posted By: Rartemass (1/13/2014 5:21:18 PM)



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