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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The beginning dilemma

So, I want to make this campaign epic and memorable so that the players will remember it and stories will be told for years. I have the overarching concept for the game, plus the end result for the finish. There is even a clever way of getting the party together. But right now I'm stuck on the horns of a dilemma...

Do I start players at 1st level characters, or do I advance them so I can get them into the meat of the epic?

I plan on having experienced players for this game, so it's not like we'll have a huge learning curve to get through... but the way I'm bringing the characters into play, they won't necessarily be accustomed to their skills and class specific stuff like spell casting.

I feel that if I start the characters off at 1st level, there may be a level of boredom for the players as the tediously advance to a level where I can begin running them through on of the adventures I've scouted for this campaign.

I know that reading this may not make much sense to some of you, but I don't want to give away my surprise for this game. Think of it like watching M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense" or "Signs" for the very first time. You didn't know what the twist was or where it would come into play, but when it did come, you were amazed... or at least amused. I'd like to try and get that feeling from my players.

I've already been able to adapt a couple of modules from 3.5 to get the characters to at least 3rd or 4th level, and that's almost enough to get them ready for the larger campaign.

I am planning on giving the players a brief questionnaire that will help me to give the world a feel that they would enjoy instead of playing everything cookie cutter canon. My intent is to give the campaign the fantasy feel of whatever setting world they choose, but give it enough customization to liven it up and give it a more personal feel. (i.e. Inclusion of black powder weapons. Use of undead.)

I welcome your thoughts and opinions.

I think the next step I'm going to take is developing my NPC's and figuring out a clever way to organize character creation.


  1. Definitely start at the beginning, especially if you want it to be memorable. You want your players to be "I played Buzzkill the Paladin all the way up from when he was an urchin in the street". Don't make the whole world available to your players at the start - you want them to learn about it as they play.

    As far as creation goes, one thing that I've found to be interesting is to start the characters at "zero" level - that is, one level of an appropriate NPC class which represents where the character "comes" from. It provides a handful of extra HP which makes them a little more robust when they start adding on their PC levels.

    1. I appreciate your advice. I wish I could give some good hints as to why starting the characters out at level 1 may not be ideal. At this point, I think I'll start them out at level 1. We'll see how it pans out once the first game has completed and the "big reveal" has been made.

    2. Hmm - I logged in via Google to post the first message, but it shows me as "Unknown". This is John Holeman :)

      Anyway, yeah, the "level zero" thing does have some difficulties in terms of how to scale the rest of the game well. If you're playing Pathfinder, I've found that the "traits" mechanic does a decent job of doing what the "zero level" is supposed to: define what the character was doing before heading out for adventure. What did they leave behind? Is there something/someone to come home to? Maybe this is the same reason they went adventuring in the first place (remember, Frodo left the Shire to protect it as much as to do something about the Ring).

      If you're expecting the first adventure to have a high body count, maybe each player should create two or three 1st level characters. The one that survives goes on with the campaign (or the player gets to choose if more than one survives).

      Also remember that not all characters survive higher levels - one thing that I've found is that increases the "memorability" of a new character is to encourage a little bit of antagonism from the "current" members of the party and the new guy - "are you *really* going to let this stranger stand watch all by himself?"

      As far as "big reveals" go, I've found that they're overrated. The characters live in a big world, and heros or not, they don't know everything that is going on. Let them do what they want. Sometimes these things have repercussions, but they don't normally know for sure. For example, in the last Pathfinder I ran the characters went through a basic "treasure grab" dungeon. What they didn't know was that the alter they "accidentally" destroyed ("accidentally" because it was scripted - they couldn't avoid it) was a powerful artifact. When it blew up, it killed every other hero in the entire world ("hero" defined as any good-aligned character over 5th level). I didn't tell them that that's what happened; I doled it out a little bit at a time - after arriving at a village after traveling for a week, they find it in mourning for the beloved elder who died mysteriously the week before. Travel a couple for weeks to another city, and they lost their great hero three weeks before, etc.Eventually, the players figured out that the deaths were all at the same time as their last adventure, but I never let on just how widespread the damage really was. I always hold something back - they know they're involved in something "big" but they never really know just how big. Plus, it allows me to change my mind later, if I want to - flexibility is good.

    3. That's some interesting reading, my good Mr. Holeman. I like your last part, and I may use something similar to that at some point.


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