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Starting level for a new campaign 
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Mist Elf
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Post Starting level for a new campaign
Hi Keepers.

I was wondering : do you make your players' character start at level 1 ?
If so, do you kill a handfull of them before some survive to higher levels, or try to spare them with (very) easy adventure ?

Because, running most of the low-levels modules in straightforward and logical* manner seems to be utterly dangerous for low level characters (even for a player with an average luck in his dice rolling). Thus cumbersome to players ?

* by logical, I mean that if players tend to get out of the dungeon/dangerous place they were in, without "finishing the job", to go back to a safe place and rest because of low ressources (hit points, spells ...).
And then go back to pursue their exploration/mission/quest, the dangers awaiting them should be even greater : eventually repopulated areas/rooms, reinforced security of wary inhabitants ("Hey, someone came in, killed and looted some friends and escapded ! Let's be more carefull for a while ...") etc.

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Fri Jan 17, 2014 12:46 pm
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Mogrl

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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
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Fri Jan 17, 2014 9:00 pm
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Mogrl

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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
I never make things "easy". I strive for fair and survivable, so if bad decisions are made, a lot of bad rolls occur, new characters will be made.

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Fri Jan 17, 2014 9:11 pm
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Unkbartig
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
I start with level 1, but I tend to level them up fairly quickly through levels 2 and 3, and do it through non-lethal (and sometimes even non-combat) adventures.


Fri Jan 17, 2014 9:18 pm
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Greater Lore Drake
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
I start them at 1st level, although I'm open to starting at a higher level. I don't kill PCs, nor do I try to spare them. I do try to challenge them at low levels and PCs sometimes die. I had my first TPK last fall. The players made bad decisions that session and TPK was the inevitable outcome. By "challenge" them, I mean give them combat encounters that strain their resources and carry a palpable sense of danger. For example, I've been running the party through a home brew dungeon. I don't have a specific number of monsters in most of the rooms. One wing of the first level is controlled by an orc tribe. I statted out the leader and have stats written down for generic orcs, but it will be a game time decision as to how many of them are in the dungeon when the PCs encounter them. Similarly, the party entered an ossuary last session filled with bones. All I knew in advance was that skeletons would animate. Based on the number of PCs and NPCs that session, I spontaneously decided there would be 12 skeletons. The cleric unfortunately failed his turn roll and the ensuing combat knocked out over half the party. The survivors holed up in a cleared room for a few days to heal up and everyone was fine in the end, but the situation was grim from round to round in the big fight. I wouldn't want the players to feel like they are constantly about to be slaughtered, but I do want at least one encounter per session to scare the players a little.

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Fri Jan 17, 2014 10:25 pm
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Lore Drake
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
Natha wrote:
Hi Keepers.

I was wondering : do you make your players' character start at level 1 ?
If so, do you kill a handfull of them before some survive to higher levels, or try to spare them with (very) easy adventure ?


Excellent question, Natha. 1st question: are your players experienced? If the players are new to gaming, then you absolutely do want to take it a bit easy on them. But experienced gamers should have developed a set of habits which partly ameliorate the genuine risk of low level gaming.

Also, many people start 1st level PCs with maximum HPs for 1st level. This makes a big difference to survivability because you don't have a front line fighter with 3 hp or a spellcaster with the fabled 1 hp, both of which will have very low survivability because a single wrong step will be fatal. This is also probably a better "cheat" than starting them at 2nd level, because that also ramps up their offensive capacity

Furthermore, most people allow PCs to go to -10 hp before they are dead dead, which also tends to increase survivability (some people say you can go as low as -(whatever your CON score is)

Natha wrote:
Because, running most of the low-levels modules in straightforward and logical* manner seems to be utterly dangerous for low level characters (even for a player with an average luck in his dice rolling). Thus cumbersome to players ?


There is logical, and then there is "reasonable". Remember, the overall goal is fun for everyone, not fidelity to either an arbitrary set of rules or an attempt at strict realism. Thus, the keeper tends to offer a set of challenges roughly balanced to the abilities of the players (with an occasional fight versus easily defeated rabble, or an angry overpowering dragon :D , to mix up the threat levels). Balancing challenges versus 1st level PCs is very difficult because you want the total threat of the opponent(s) to be some fraction of the PCs power level. Given that their power level at 1st level is "1", that is a bit tricky

There are two other issues that can make balancing low level encounters tricky. The first is magic. It is very tricky as a CK to not wipe out the entire party with a well placed spell. This is an issue right through the game. A first level party can be wiped out with one well placed 1st level spell (sleep). Similarly, few 5th level parties can survive a well placed fireball or two

The other issue is story. You don't want to go overboard with this. It is a game after all, and part of the game is that PCs can die in the dangerous world they live in. But if you have too many PC deaths and especially where you wipe out the whole party, it can be difficult to continue any kind of story development. Sure, the party you started with all had a good reason to go to the evil wizard's tower and rescue the princess, but that was 3 total party kills ago, and these new guys have no idea why they would want to tangle with that mean wizard.



Natha wrote:
* by logical, I mean that if players tend to get out of the dungeon/dangerous place they were in, without "finishing the job", to go back to a safe place and rest because of low ressources (hit points, spells ...).
And then go back to pursue their exploration/mission/quest, the dangers awaiting them should be even greater : eventually repopulated areas/rooms, reinforced security of wary inhabitants ("Hey, someone came in, killed and looted some friends and escapded ! Let's be more carefull for a while ...") etc.


Remember, dungeons are of 2 types: monster zoos and bad guy complexes. There is no reason why monster zoos would repopulate quickly or work together to fight the returning PCs. The black pudding does not set up a meeting with the red dragon and the three zombies to pool their strength to defeat the PCs.

In the case of bad guy complexes, this is where, especially at low levels, an emphasis on fun+resonableness might be better than strict realism and logic. Maybe the bad guys are arrogant, or the suspicious rangers of the forest make it difficult for them recruit new forces, or perhaps factions within the bad guy complex have been destabilised by what the players accomplished, so when the players return, there is actually less to fight



You are right that survivability at low levels can be tricky for the CK, but do not be afraid to emphasise fun rather than logic.


Sat Jan 18, 2014 1:34 am
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Greater Lore Drake
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
In one of my recent games I instituted Beginner's Luck, sort of a feature of the campaign world.
At first level, once, you can call upon your god, if you are in your gods good/neutral/evil graces.

You can:
1. Not die (be restored to full hp)
2. Hit something hard. (auto hit for max damage,)
3. Make someone take a penalty to a save (-4), and have the best variable effect of a spell occur.
4. Succeed with a skill (make most favorable roll with e.g. pickpocket or turn undead)
5. Be granted a first level spell if you are a spell-caster.

If you don't use it by second level, you lose it (but the gods smile upon those who help themselves.)

The other thing that works well is temp hp. Once you lose it, it won't impact your hp total forever.

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Sat Jan 18, 2014 4:18 am
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Greater Lore Drake
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
Im not generally a fan of level 1 play for C&C games. I prefer to start off at level 3 or 4 and have the players worry a little bit less about a lucky sword blow ending their career in one unfun thud. YMMV, and I used to be a die-hard advocate of starting at base level for any and all RPGs I ran. I just have found that level 1 play can be a boring experience with slow headway made and a lot of resting and recovering after very little of the fun stuff (exploration! adventure! fighting!). Just my .02 and YMMV certainly.

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Sat Jan 18, 2014 10:41 pm
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Lore Drake
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
Breakdaddy wrote:
Im not generally a fan of level 1 play for C&C games. I prefer to start off at level 3 or 4 and have the players worry a little bit less about a lucky sword blow ending their career in one unfun thud. YMMV, and I used to be a die-hard advocate of starting at base level for any and all RPGs I ran. I just have found that level 1 play can be a boring experience with slow headway made and a lot of resting and recovering after very little of the fun stuff (exploration! adventure! fighting!). Just my .02 and YMMV certainly.



There is definitely something to be said for that. Many of us came to D&D through an enjoyment of fantasy literature, and in many fantasy novels (especially the sword and sorcery ones that seem most similar to D&D) the protagonist is capable of some pretty impressive things. And they seem to rarely spend a week or two camping in a musty dungeon.

The constant resting in low level D&D has always seemed kind of absurd in a realism sense, as the OP mentioned, and it tends to slow down the fun as well, but there is something to be said for growing a character up from a 1st level nobody to a vorpal blade wielding, fireball slinging hero.

I have always found levels 3-7 to be a sweet spot for D&D type gaming, but that tends to be a fairly narrow window. PCs tend to spend a third of their career having impromptu "naps" in dungeons fighting rats and orcs and a third of their time teleporting everywhere and magic item crafting their way out of most problems at higher levels (if they ever get that high level). Whereas the real fun of D&D is that 3-7 level window when most things still challenge you, magic is interesting but not overpowering, and the constant fight-unconsciousness-nap-fight cycle has subsided.


Sun Jan 19, 2014 1:34 am
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Mist Elf
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
First things first ... thanks to all for answering.

Aramis wrote:
1st question: are your players experienced?

Yes.
The problem is : we almost never played in the spirit of OSR.
And that's what I want to do now (25 years after I got my D&D red box ;) ).
Most of the games we played were far more "easy" or "caring" for "level 1" characters.

Quote:
Also, many people start 1st level PCs with maximum HPs for 1st level.

That's what I choose to do.

Quote:
Furthermore, most people allow PCs to go to -10 hp before they are dead dead, which also tends to increase survivability (some people say you can go as low as -(whatever your CON score is)

I'll consider the -CON thing.

Quote:
There is logical, and then there is "reasonable". (...) You are right that survivability at low levels can be tricky for the CK, but do not be afraid to emphasise fun rather than logic.

I willingly exaggerated the "logical" approach in my first post but I see your point.
The difficult thing is to balance the "fun" (reasonable approach) and the "suspension of disbelief" (logicial approach : the world has to seem a bit "alive" to help getting into roleplay, imho).

Aergraith wrote:
In one of my recent games I instituted Beginner's Luck, sort of a feature of the campaign world.

Yep, it's a good idea.
I might introduce something between your approach and the luck or fate or hero points that are suggested in the CKG.

Breakdaddy wrote:
Im not generally a fan of level 1 play for C&C games. I prefer to start off at level 3 or 4 and have the players worry a little bit less about a lucky sword blow ending their career in one unfun thud.


I thought about it but the, as a player, there's such a joy to advance your character, especially at low level (because of the said danger of being level 1 or 2), that I don't want to reap my game of this "reward".

Speaking of advancement, do you go strictly by the rules to award XPs or homerule it ?
I didn't do the math (as I only ran "one shot" C&C games yet), but is a short module like "U2 - Shadows over the Halfling Hall" is supposed to get the (some, most or all) level 1 players to level 2 ?
Or is the leveling curve of C&C is slower ?

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Sun Jan 19, 2014 12:16 pm
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Lore Drake
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
Treebore wrote:
I never make things "easy". I strive for fair and survivable, so if bad decisions are made, a lot of bad rolls occur, new characters will be made.


I am in the same school with Tree on this one. That's how I handle starting campaigns also.

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Thu Jan 23, 2014 6:53 pm
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Maukling
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
Level 1. Sometimes lower.

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Fri Jan 24, 2014 1:47 am
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Red Cap
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
I've generally gone with level 1 at the start, but there have been a number of occasions where new players join after some significant advancement and then there's usually some starting at greater than 1st as, even comparing a third level to a first level, what is a challenge for 3rd level might kill in one shot a first level. I like the max hit points at first level and have played campaigns with that rule. While it can be a challenge, I'd rather not kill the PCs off the bat, unless going the low fantasy route/Cthulhu-inspired setting. I think PC death likelihood really sets the tone for the campaign, but it should not be the only thing that sets the tone, so that if PC death is likely, the players know it going in as part of that joint play contract between GM/CK/DM and PCs.


Fri Jan 24, 2014 2:03 am
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Greater Lore Drake
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
First night one PC is rolled up and played.. possibly into the second, sounds like it will go slow. After they're getting the hang of it and you've safely rolled them along and they're starting to get game mechanics some will question their initial choices (wow a wizard really sucks, I want to swing a hammer and be Cleric.. etc). So roll up a second character under somewhat different starting rules.. possibly this PC is 2nd lvl if the first batch is close to second.. Now with a second PC in the wings (and ways to quickly get them into play) you can take off the kid gloves and let the dice fall as they may and stupid decision have full "natural consequences". If you are teaching these kids, they get bored easy, they are used to staying in the action (think video games) and killing one, even if well deserved, kills it for the night at least.. so having the second PC handy is great. Let them pick which PC to play at key stages in the game. Home base has two PCs who know each other and any night's adventure could possibly have a PC swap out.. also helps when only two kids show up... they can play both of their PCs to make a group... etc etc

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Sat Jan 25, 2014 12:32 am
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
I'm a big fan of encouraging players to make full use of torchbearers, porters, men-at-arms, guard dogs and/or henchmen at low-level. Basically fantasy equivalents to the "red shirts" of Star Trek fame. Henchmen also have the benefit of being good candidates for promotion to player characters when somebody's precious snowflake takes a dirt nap.

Beyond that, caltrops, flaming-oil, tripwires, nets, paralytic poisons, called-shots to the groin, and running away are all perfectly acceptable tactical choices in the games I run (for a price of course) and can do a lot to make a first level character a lot more survivable than you'd expect.


Sun Jan 26, 2014 9:06 am
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Mist Elf
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
NJPDX wrote:
I'm a big fan of encouraging players to make full use of torchbearers, porters, men-at-arms, guard dogs and/or henchmen at low-level. Basically fantasy equivalents to the "red shirts" of Star Trek fame. Henchmen also have the benefit of being good candidates for promotion to player characters when somebody's precious snowflake takes a dirt nap.


I always wanted to use "henchmen" and other NPCs helping the plyers in my games but somewhat never have : do you, as a DM, play them or let the players control them ?

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Sun Jan 26, 2014 9:38 am
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Red Cap
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
Natha wrote:
I always wanted to use "henchmen" and other NPCs helping the plyers in my games but somewhat never have : do you, as a DM, play them or let the players control them ?


I usually do a mixture of both, for the purposes of dialog, I usually handle NPC henchmen. That way, the player never ends up talking to himself. But for combat, where I'm already potentially keep track of a lot of actions, I prefer to hand the NPC over to player control, only stopping them if they have the henchman do something they couldn't/wouldn't do or has them march off to their death knowingly. Those sorts of actions are, unless in special circumstances, the sort of thing that results in me saying something like "your loyal servant looks at you quizzically, makes a rude gesture, and starts marching back in the direction of home."


Sun Jan 26, 2014 1:51 pm
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Hlobane Orc
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
Natha wrote:
NJPDX wrote:
I'm a big fan of encouraging players to make full use of torchbearers, porters, men-at-arms, guard dogs and/or henchmen at low-level. Basically fantasy equivalents to the "red shirts" of Star Trek fame. Henchmen also have the benefit of being good candidates for promotion to player characters when somebody's precious snowflake takes a dirt nap.


I always wanted to use "henchmen" and other NPCs helping the plyers in my games but somewhat never have : do you, as a DM, play them or let the players control them ?


I let the player's control their henchmen in combat - after all they are the employer/leader/commander. So unless players ask their henchmen to do really stupid and/or suicidal things, it all works pretty smoothly. If they ask them to do really stupid and/or suicidal things then the henchmen get a secret loyalty/morale check and a couple of things could happen if that roll fails. The henchmen might out-right refuse, or more likely they'll subvert the order somehow and wait until an opportune moment to desert or betray the offending PC.

The only time I take over a henchmen is in role-play, when there's something to be discussed, but the rest of the time they're assumed to be silent partners who hang out in the background unless they have some particular piece of knowledge or personal background that really pushes them into the spotlight.

If you do it right it can add a lot to a game. But it does make an adventuring party feel a lot more like a Himalayan expedition when you've got 3-5 players and each of them have at least one henchman and a handful of porters, lantern-bearers, mule drivers and guards in tow.


Mon Jan 27, 2014 6:15 am
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Ungern

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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
I Having been playing D&D for 20+ years I am tired of both playing and running low level characters.
I personally like starting at 9th level or higher. I tend to draw inspiration for Connan, Gotrek and Felix and Pulp fantasy were the story starts after the characters are already well established in world.
I feel like,as a player, I have experienced the low level grind to greatness enough times. I would rather jump to the fun parts or to levels we have not played at frequently. Starting at higher levels lets me craft more personal back stories for my characters.

As a side note, I am a huge fan of "Epic" style play. I love the characters being truly legendary hero's shaping the world we are creating at a fundamental level. It's not the story of my world, It is the story of our world.


Mon Jan 27, 2014 3:40 pm
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Skobbit

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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
NJPDX wrote:
I'm a big fan of encouraging players to make full use of torchbearers, porters, men-at-arms, guard dogs and/or henchmen at low-level. Basically fantasy equivalents to the "red shirts" of Star Trek fame. Henchmen also have the benefit of being good candidates for promotion to player characters when somebody's precious snowflake takes a dirt nap.

Beyond that, caltrops, flaming-oil, tripwires, nets, paralytic poisons, called-shots to the groin, and running away are all perfectly acceptable tactical choices in the games I run (for a price of course) and can do a lot to make a first level character a lot more survivable than you'd expect.


This is what we had to do once. We were sent into the caverns of thracia (infested by the cult of the god of death and destruction). We had to hire henchman and war dogs to help us out. All of the henchman and all of the dogs died, but the party did not. I think this is a great idea and very helpful.


Thu Jan 30, 2014 8:22 pm
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Red Cap
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
I like watching the PCs grow and learn and develop into interesting characters, so I like starting at 1st level in my campaigns. If I run a one shot or two shot I will often run a deadly, but high level jaunt into a mysterious place. In a long campaign, though, its almost exclusively started at first level.

To ameliorate the fragility of the PCs I do a couple of things:
1) I start all PCs at max HP + CON mod + d4 hit points - it makes them hearty while not giving them a huge amount of power.
2) I let the players know that this game is deadly and that they shouldn't get too attached to their PC because the likelihood of death is very high despite the relatively high starting HP. This sets their expectations and sets the tone of the game.
3) I have each player make 2 or 3 PCs, one is their primary PC and the other two are silent partners in the background with no spotlight time or dialogue, unless the primary PC dies, in which case a silent PC becomes a star of the show and is now a primary PC.
4) I assure the players that I am NOT out to kill them - it isn't me vs them - but I will NOT pull punches. All combat attack and damage rolls are rolled in the open and I don't fudge those rolls... so if a PC is down to their last 3 HP and I roll 4 damage, thems the breaks.

The key is to be up front and honest about my methods before the first session so that expectations are set and everyone knows how deadly it is.

It also supports growth of character through roleplaying rather than creating elaborate back stories. The players know they may die so the back story stays short and the character's personality comes out during play. I like that style (no more than a few sentences of back story) but of course your milage may vary.

In terms of XP I mostly go by the book, once again this is so the players know what to expect. I do, however, often over-award XP for good roleplaying and/or quest completion. Depending on the setting, I sometimes award XP for treasure, but this is an ongoing conundrum for me, but that's a different topic.

As for hirelings and henchmen... The primary PC + silent partner method outlined above takes care vof hirelings/henchmen. When I have run such types I let the players control them for all but dialogue and suicidal commands (that gets a morale roll).

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Sat Jul 05, 2014 5:29 pm
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Post Re: Starting level for a new campaign
It depends for me. If I want the campaign to involve all these high-end threats and the party just has to deal with them, then they get the benefit of starting off a little more powerful than level 1. If, on the left foot, I want to make them get to the point they are facing down the worst in the worlds, then they get to be level 1. In either case, if I find they are not up for the challenge I can scrap the campaign or find a way to work around it... a cube of abilities is a nice way. Or they can take a bath in a fountain, or eat a magic wafer at the hostelry... really, there's no reason I can't bend them to fit the so-called "plot." But, really, its all about the players. Some times they want to be high level because they rarely get to be... so they'll start at level 6 or 7. Some people get bored with the same level progressions. Why not skip from level 1 to 8 and then back down to 5? Show them what they can have... so they want to earn it again.


Sun Jul 06, 2014 2:49 pm
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