D&D (2024) Level Zero

Background equipment but no class equipment is fun, as it means that the party has to desperately scavenge until they get a bit of money.

Also results in a lot of improvised weapons being used which is always hilarious.
 

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Yaarel

He Mage
It is cool to session before gaining a class.

Yes, one plans to be Wizard or a Paladin. But how did that happen? How did the character meet the Wizard mentor? Who is the Wizard mentor! What happened that caused one to make a life-altering Oath?
 


EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
@EzekielRaiden

Here is a level 0 character. The concept is the iconic teenager whose sorcerous powers are starting to awaken.

Afli is sixteen years old. He is staying out of town as a foster with his dads sister, Helga, who is an accomplished blacksmith. His parents want him to become a blacksmith. At his aunts shop, he turns out to be pretty good at blacksmithing and her customers like him. But weird things are starting to happen around him, especially during stressful situations. It is distracting him from his fostership. He is realizing he is the cause of the weirdness, and it responds to his intentions. The other day, his mind was wandering and remembering he needed to ignite kiln, when fire flew from his hand setting the entire kiln ablaze.


AFLI
Species:
Human
Size: Medium
Speed: 30 feet
Age: 16 (life expectancy 80)

Hit Points: 8 (5 Size + 3 Constitution)
AC: 10 (!)

Charisma (16): +3
Constitution (16): +3
Strength (13): +1
Dexterity (10): +0
Intelligence (12): +1
Wisdom (8): −1

Human Feat: Lucky
Background Feat: Magic Initiate Arcane
(Note. He just discovered the Produce Flame cantrip. His other cantrip and the slot 1 spell havent happened yet.)

Skills: Nature, Arcana
(Note. The Nature skill handles all natural sciences, including elemental alchemy, metallurgy, structural engineering, and mathematics. The Arcana is intuitive and self-taught.)
Tool Sets: Blacksmith

Combat Training: All Simple Weapons

Equipment: Clothing, Knife, Blacksmith Set, Spear, ...
Okay so...this is pretty much exactly what I mean by how this is simultaneously too little and too much.

Too little: Tool stuff is generally pretty worthless IME, and the most commonly useful one (Thieves' Tools) is going away in 5.5e AIUI. Magic Initiate for the class you're already going to play is pretty terrible all things considered--very flavorful but mechanically wasteful. And apart from lucky, a single spell, and a cantrip...you have pretty much nothing. A couple skills, I guess? I'm massively underwhelmed; I know what 5e skills are supposed to be, but in practice I've literally never seen it, they're run like the extremely narrow and limited skills of 3e (no surprise, considering how 5e is structured).

Too much: Two feats? Full set of equipment? Multiple spells? For someone who wants a blank slate, this is already half a character at least, if not more. It's nowhere close enough to being a "zero" for many folks who want a Z2H experience. Even the two skills might be two too many.

Which was sort of my core argument. Yes, you can make something that is less than a full 1st level character. But it's going to be a real thin experience for most people that aren't actively seeking a Z2H story, and far too meaty for most that are seeking that.

That's why I advocate for real, serious rules for this. Stuff that defines the absolute bare minimum baseline for a functioning character, e.g. 6 HP + Con mod, ability scores (possibly without racial bonuses!), no skills, no saves, no feats, few to no racial features because you need to grow into them (e.g. a tortle's shell isn't innately hard enough to withstand blows, a dragonborn's breath needs practice to work, etc.) And then, once you have that baseline, rules for how these truly "level 0" characters gain the features to become a 1st-level character. Ideally, said rules would then be applicable for every future level as well. 13th Age's "incremental advance" rules would be a good place to start, but they can't just be ported over simply, because 13A doesn't permit à la carte multiclassing and that makes things far, FAR more complicated.

Hence why I said what I said earlier. These rules, compared to what I would actually want "zero level" rules to do, are like comparing the Eldritch Knight to the Wizard. A pale, partial imitation of the real deal.
 

Horwath

Legend
A character can't be interesting without mechanical abilities? Like, people can't be interesting?
I would not mix real people with D&D characters.

And yes characters can be interesting without mechanical abilities, but you know what is more interesting?
Interesting characters with interesting or at least existing mechanical abilities.
Cite, please?
Personal observation over more than 20 years of D&D, both in private campaigns and local hobby shop.
Generally, 1st level is played when there is a new player so basic mechanics can be explained easily.
But, sometimes, new player is thrown to the wolves and campaigns starts at lvl3. But I would not start it any further than that unless it's a one shot.
And if campaign starts at 1st level, that level is passed in one session and 2nd level in 2 sessions, at most 3.
XP needed for 2nd level and from 2nd to 3rd level is only one daily budget of encounters. One day for each level.

Contrary to Crawfords belief, D&D players are not stupid and everyone can handle 3rd level character.
I know it's anecdotal, but in one campaign we started at 5th level with one new player.
She played tiefling aberrant mind sorcerer with Fey touched and Shadow touched feats(yeah, we did the extra 1st level feat before wizard think it was cool). That is 7 cantrips and 14 spells known. She did pretty good for 1st timer.


Also, by trolling on various forums for info, seems that people are mostly split between starting at 1st and 3rd level, with some preferring 5th level and all other levels fall into statistical error.
 
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Okay so...this is pretty much exactly what I mean by how this is simultaneously too little and too much.

...
That's why I advocate for real, serious rules for this. Stuff that defines the absolute bare minimum baseline for a functioning character, e.g. 6 HP + Con mod, ability scores (possibly without racial bonuses!), no skills, no saves, no feats, few to no racial features because you need to grow into them (e.g. a tortle's shell isn't innately hard enough to withstand blows, a dragonborn's breath needs practice to work, etc.) And then, once you have that baseline, rules for how these truly "level 0" characters gain the features to become a 1st-level character. Ideally, said rules would then be applicable for every future level as well. 13th Age's "incremental advance" rules would be a good place to start, but they can't just be ported over simply, because 13A doesn't permit à la carte multiclassing and that makes things far, FAR more complicated.

Hence why I said what I said earlier. These rules, compared to what I would actually want "zero level" rules to do, are like comparing the Eldritch Knight to the Wizard. A pale, partial imitation of the real deal.
The zeroth level homebrew rules I use are simpler than that. Everyone has "assumed stats" of 12 across the board (we'll sort "real stats" when they unlock their class), a proficiency bonus of +2, and is carrying a belt knife (a non-throwable dagger). Also 7hp (I've never seen a PC with less than that). And a cut down version of their racial bonus.

For skill proficiencies I ask the player when they try to use them whether it's something they'd be skilled at. If so they mark it in play (everyone is going to catch up to the baseline).

For weapon/armour proficiencies, there are opportunities to get them, whether from walls, from foes, or even from their kit back in their rooms. Anything the PCs get at this stage uses simple weapon stats (d6+1 damage or d8+1 if two handed - which is significant against AC10 4hp foes). And getting armour bumps them from AC11 to AC 13 or even 14, with a further +2 possible for a shield. But that influences their class.

And they get their class and hit L1 during the final fight of this session as a reward for (something set up narratively such as killing a cultist in the warlock summoning circle), encouaging bravery. And that really changes the fight of course; the difference between a STR 12 level 0 character and a STR 16 raging barbarian feels (and is) huge so someone reckless enough to jump in to save the sacrifice suddenly finds what they thought was a desperation move changes everything.
 

Yaarel

He Mage
Too little: Tool stuff is generally pretty worthless IME, and the most commonly useful one (Thieves' Tools) is going away in 5.5e AIUI.
Skills convey important flavor, representing that the character is particularly good at something.

In my experience, skills and tools are pervasively useful. I rely on them to adjudicate ANYTHING that my players imagine that seems might work but requires effort.

Mechanically, the tool sets are strictly useful, because they add an advantage to skill checks.

As DM, I use tool checks for the use of the tool, but also for anything relating to a tool set. For example, any character that knows how to implement Blacksmith tools, will generally be knowledgeable about metallurgy, including where metals come from and where to get them, mining, social checks to haggle for prices, and so on.

Where skills represent breadth of knowledge, tools sets represent depth of knowledge, and specialization.


Magic Initiate for the class you're already going to play is pretty terrible all things considered--very flavorful but mechanically wasteful. And apart from lucky, a single spell, and a cantrip...you have pretty much nothing.
I prefer the rules explicitly allow characters to swap out feats while leveling. I understand it can sometimes be awkward or tangled. But for cases like these, swaps improve the happiness of leveling. That said.

Here, the Magic Initiate feat refers to "Arcane", which doesnt exist anymore, and presumably refers to any spellcaster class. Ideally, the feat allows the character to pick any class spell list, and the extra spells from it. Swapping which class the feat gains spells from can easily happen while leveling.

The Sorcerer class has painfully few prepared spells. So, the extra slot 1 spell from the Magic Initiate feat helps during the low levels of the class. The Sorcerer has enough cantrips, but there are many good cantrips, and the two extra cantrips from the feat allow a diverse mix of combat and utility.

A couple skills, I guess? I'm massively underwhelmed; I know what 5e skills are supposed to be, but in practice I've literally never seen it, they're run like the extremely narrow and limited skills of 3e (no surprise, considering how 5e is structured).
Skills are 100% dependent on the DM gaming style.

If the skills matter to the DM, the skills will matter to the players.

In my games, skills are vital.


Too much: Two feats? Full set of equipment? Multiple spells? For someone who wants a blank slate, this is already half a character at least, if not more. It's nowhere close enough to being a "zero" for many folks who want a Z2H experience. Even the two skills might be two too many.
To me, those mechanics seem more like an 8 year old character.

It is easy enough to jot down a minimalist statblock with only: a Standard Array, speed, hit points and AC. And thats it. There seems no need for rules to explain how to do this.

Even a pet has mechanics that are more complex.


Which was sort of my core argument. Yes, you can make something that is less than a full 1st level character. But it's going to be a real thin experience for most people that aren't actively seeking a Z2H story, and far too meaty for most that are seeking that.
Level 0 is opt in for the players who enjoy the zero-to-hero campaign.


That's why I advocate for real, serious rules for this. Stuff that defines the absolute bare minimum baseline for a functioning character, e.g. 6 HP + Con mod, ability scores (possibly without racial bonuses!), no skills, no saves, no feats, few to no racial features
because you need to grow into them (e.g. a tortle's shell isn't innately hard enough to withstand blows, a dragonborn's breath needs practice to work, etc.) And then, once you have that baseline, rules for how these truly "level 0" characters gain the features to become a 1st-level character. Ideally, said rules would then be applicable for every future level as well. 13th Age's "incremental advance" rules would be a good place to start, but they can't just be ported over simply, because 13A doesn't permit à la carte multiclassing and that makes things far, FAR more complicated.
As mentioned earlier, that startup mechanics feels too minimizing.

At the same time, I am open to the idea of adding features one at a time. For example, having a level 0 character with the background features, and adding level 1 class features one at a time. To add the individual class features in an ad-hoc way is more complex, and needs a more in depth treatment in the DMs Guide or future supplement.


The benefit of the original post approach for level 0 is, all of the rules (except for hit points) already exist. Simple. The 2024 Players Handbook can refer to the "Character Origins" as the "Level Zero Character". Done.
 
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I'm surprised how many people in this thread came to attack the idea of Level Zero. If you don't like Level Zero that's fine, but attacking OP's idea because of that really just doesn't make logical sense. This should have been a + thread, I guess.
 

I like the Survivor Rules from Van Richten's a lot. I like it specifically because it gives you a stat block that transforms into a character sheet if it survives. However, I like the Level Zero ideas in this thread a lot too. I'm not sure how I'd reckon these two.
 

I'm amazed about the amount of people who seem to object to even the option of playing below level 1, even if it never effect them in any way.

Then again can't say I'm surprised with this constant push from the community to make level 1 characters more and more powerful, with god stat arrays to start with.
Geeze man, I both agree with you and disagree. I agree with the bolded part. The second paragraph, though, lmao. It's not the majority of the community pushing for more power, and even if more power is added, it really isn't all that much. A strong first level just means you can enjoy being at lower levels for longer. And it is woefully easy to make challenging combats and scenarios for characters in Tier 1. It's not like the enemy stat blocks are getting any weaker. On top of that, NPC stat blocks, even low CR ones, are usually great challenges for T1 parties. Really, if you're having trouble creating a lower power feeling in Tier 1, that's a skill issue, not a game issue. I run my 5E like it's OSR to great success.
 

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