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D&D 5E Levels 1-4 are "Training Wheels?"

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
There are tons of games that have people who enjoy them causally, but have others who strive to develop their skills and seek mastery.

D&D is one such game. Playing D&D is a skill and you can develop it and get better at it. Doesn’t mean any insult to those who just want to play causally.

As I said above, if low level is too meat grinder (which is as disparaging a term as training wheels in my mind)/ boring just start at the higher level that would give you the experience you prefer.

But some people enjoy what you call ‘meat grinder’ play and enjoy the challenge of overcoming greater challenges.

I apologize if my joking was taken as disrespectful to any play style.

One of the first big games I played in was certainly a grinder. Something like 1/3rd of the 1st level characters died each night and it was an accomplishment to make it to 2nd. It's apparently not the kind of game I or my friends run anymore since we haven't in ages, but I would dearly love for a time machine to take me back to those games almost 40 years ago that Bev DMed at her store Toad Hall. (I'd also like my bed time to be about 1 hour later than it used to be so that I could stay to the end of all of the sessions).
 

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Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Do you agree? If not, how do you address this? Start at 5th level? Speed through Levels 1-4? House rules to give more power or better options?
"It's not a bike. You're not a toddler. If you want to start at level 5, that's fine. But let's ask the others first. If they want to do that, great. If not, we'll call you when everyone else reaches level 5, and then you can join the game."
 



I got to wonder how do people deal with encounter building for level1 characters?

3 goblins is considered a ‘hard’ encounter for a level one party. So, if that’s all you get to deal with, then I get why people would think low level is boring and just training wheels.

If low level characters only ever get a steady diet of balanced encounters, it’s going to feel like a monotonous cakewalk.

Toss the idea of balanced encounters and those low levels become more tense and exciting than any other level of play.
It's not really about balanced encounters. It's more about appropriate adventure sites. D&D modules have had intended level ranges from the beginning.
 

I apologize if my joking was taken as disrespectful to any play style.

One of the first big games I played in was certainly a grinder. Something like 1/3rd of the 1st level characters died each night and it was an accomplishment to make it to 2nd. It's apparently not the kind of game I or my friends run anymore since we haven't in ages, but I would dearly love for a time machine to take me back to those games almost 40 years ago that Bev DMed at her store Toad Hall. (I'd also like my bed time to be about 1 hour later than it used to be so that I could stay to the end of all of the sessions).
Yeah, I apologize as well. I totally missed the joke.

I sometimes see people who disparage a certain playstyle that I like and I overreact.

I was actually playing a low level B/X game recently. Survived as a 1st level thief with 3 hit points because we were pretty cautious, planned well, and retreated at the right time. I enjoyed it because I knew death was around every corner and yet I survived. I feel like my choices in the game make a difference. Of course, sometimes, I make a bad choice and my character gets killed.. I like that its my mistake that led to the death... try to do better next time.

I get that some people don't find that fun and they want to kick butt from the beginning and not have to be so cautious. My argument is just start at higher levels. When I see suggestions to power up 1st level to be more heroic, I bounce off of that strongly because it makes a certain style of play harder to achieve.

To me it works better that way... you can have one game accommodate a wide range of playstyles by just focusing on certain level ranges.
 


Training wheels seems like the wrong metaphor. Perhaps, early levels can be thought of as the "training wheel stage," in which the characters are learning to do things that they will later perfect. The "training wheels" would be whatever supports them in those early levels to make sure they don't fail while they are learning (dm intervention?). Meanwhile, b/x has no training wheels; you learn by falling, repeatedly.
 


Training wheels seems fine really. Mearls spoke in his designer videos about the deliberate efforst made to introduce complexity slowly. He said the druid doesn't get wildshape at level 1 because they get spellcasting at level 1 and they didn't want to introduce too much at once.

I guess you could take it as a pejorative, but that seems daft really. Just...don't take it that way. "Training wheels" is just one of a range of possible perspectives.
 

Training wheels seems fine really. Mearls spoke in his designer videos about the deliberate efforst made to introduce complexity slowly. He said the druid doesn't get wildshape at level 1 because they get spellcasting at level 1 and they didn't want to introduce too much at once.

I guess you could take it as a pejorative, but that seems daft really. Just...don't take it that way. "Training wheels" is just one of a range of possible perspectives.
Ah I get it, so early levels are like training wheels for the purpose of system mastery. They let you easily learn the basics of the system by introducing elements slowly.

In that sense, however, being a player is the training wheels. Being in charge of only one character at a time? Easy. Try being a dm! :p
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Last night a player commented: "Levels 1-4 are just training wheels. The game doesn't even start until 5th level. Unless you're playing D&D for the first time, you should just start at 5th level."

Now, she hasn't been playing for ages - probably just around 5 years. I would expect it to take longer than that to become that jaded to low-level play.

Do you agree? If not, how do you address this? Start at 5th level? Speed through Levels 1-4? House rules to give more power or better options?
I disagree heartily.

Levels 1-4 are some of the best parts of the game! (levels 5-[9-12] are just as good, it goes downhill after that regardless of edition)

Were it me as DM and a player said this I'm not sure what I'd say in response but there's at least a 25% chance it wouldn't be said politely. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Of course. You don't need dungeons either.

But both are major temes in D&D. And It isn't farfetched to think the part of the gaame that can't handle both Dungeons and Dragons doesn't display the true experience of the game.
Perhaps, but IME they stop seeing as many dungeons and start seeing more dragons at right around the same point in their PCs' development.

Perhaps a better name might be Dungeons Then Dragons?
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
Three problems:

1) As noted, the “training wheel” levels should not be the most dangerous.

2) The whole idea is that level 5 is better, that’s how level based rewards work.

3) And if you skip to 5, then you hit high levels sooner, and while that may seem cool, in practice it may not be.
 

We might consider levels 1-4 as "training" for the players, since class features are gradually introduced so that you don't have to learn too much new stuff at once. Still, there's plenty of fun to be had playing at this tier if you're creative with the class features you do have.

It's definitely not "training" for the characters, who are in more real danger than any other tier of play.

The "Training wheels" metaphor makes no sense either way as there is no mechanism at levels 1-4 that reduces the risk of failure the way training wheels do for bicycles.

Personally, I like to start new games at level 3. Not because levels 1-2 aren't fun, but because it makes it reasonable to have characters who are already experienced veterans and have their subclass integrated in their backstory.
 


Panzeh

Explorer
Generally speaking, when I play D&D, i like to pick the class and actually have the class mean something and there's really not much of that at level 1-2. I didn't pick Wizard so i could shoot crossbows.
 

Last night a player commented: "Levels 1-4 are just training wheels. The game doesn't even start until 5th level. Unless you're playing D&D for the first time, you should just start at 5th level."

Now, she hasn't been playing for ages - probably just around 5 years. I would expect it to take longer than that to become that jaded to low-level play.

Do you agree? If not, how do you address this? Start at 5th level? Speed through Levels 1-4? House rules to give more power or better options?
Yes, in the sense that (a) I find these levels far far more tedious than challenging, (b) those are the levels WotC assigns to the first tier of play and so, in a very real sense, a new experience of play is intended to occur at 5th level, and (c) like trying to plan an outing that will be both challenging for a father and his five-year-old child(ren), it all too often ends in an authority figure carrying the tired little one(s) past the finish line because they weren't up to the task.

I thought level 1-2 were the training wheels in 5E and that level 3 is where it all begins?

I've heard such in every edition of the game, but its variable.
Depends. 5th level is an intentional and, in general, shared level where things change for most characters. Subclass can occur at 1, 2, or 3 depending on which class you play, so if you base it on subclass, there will be lots of exceptions. 5th level is when 3rd level spells come online (iconics like fireball and vital support functions like revivify), when "heavy" martial characters get Extra Attack, when cantrips go up in damage the first time, when Bards get their Inspiration Dice per short rest, Monks get Stunning Strike, etc. No cutoff will be perfect, but the 4->5 transition is somewhat more clean than 2->3 in terms of "almost everyone undergoes a major change/gets a major upgrade."

So they put the zero to hero levels in and then put signposts in place for those of us who actually don't care for that play style to explicitly say "hey, it's ok to skip these levels if you want and start at level 5".
Yeah...if only DMs would actually like...ever consider listening to those signposts. I've played all of one 5e game that didn't start at 1st level. It's also the highest-level game I've ever played in, because games are way too likely to fizzle out....or to run into problems because low levels are simultaneously extremely sparse in tools and extremely deadly.

It needs slowed down if anything.
For me, this would make 5e literally unplayable. As in, I would literally not be able to enjoy it anymore, doubly so since I don't tend to play with friends (I am my friend group's forever DM and 100% okay with that).

By the time you get much beyond 5th level, you're unstoppable.
Uh...what? Care to explain that one?

No, they were not, and why specifically those levels ? Why not 1, or 1-2, or 1-6 or whatever ?

Also, lots of people only play D&D at low level only, very few people play at high level anyway.
If you're going to make claims of this nature, provide the statistics. Otherwise, stop acting like you know any better than anyone else here what the preferences of players are.

I would disagree that levels 1-4 are training wheels.

You need more skill as a player to survive playing a level 1 character than you would as a level 5. You have less hit points, less abilities, less resources to overcome challenges at lower levels than you do at higher levels.
See, this is exactly the problem I identified back during the playtest. People told me I was either straight-up wrong, simply had a vendetta against 5e, or was blowing an issue way out of proportion. And then, lo and behold, my predictions were exactly right.

Because yes, you are 100% correct. These are the deadliest levels in 5e, and by far the levels where you're most likely to lose a character forever. They're also the levels where the designers specifically provide few options at a slow pace, so that players can get used to them and feel comfortable with their higher-level characters. AKA, you are 100% correct in saying that these levels are trying to serve two different masters: both the "I want a meatgrinder!" rock-bottom-zero fans (well, sort of, as demonstrated by the "no I need to be even more zero" posts in this thread) AND the "I'm a total neophyte who has no idea what a 'saving throw' is nor why you would throw something in order to save yourself...?" folks who need help and guidance. It's completely baffling to me why they thought this was a wise choice, since the game really is stupidly lethal for the first couple levels and then dramatically less so thereafter.

Some people want to start out strong and get into the high fantasy action, others want to be challenged with greater chances of death and greater difficulty.

The beauty of having low levels being weak is that each group can dial in their own challenge level. If you want less challenge and more capable characters, start at higher levels. If you want more challenge start at lower levels.
That would be beautiful if more than a vanishingly small fraction of games actually started higher than 1st level. Because they don't. Out of literally a dozen or more online games I've joined, all of one started higher than 1st level. And that was with me being extremely selective and usually ignoring opportunities because they didn't start higher.

Honestly, I find the term "training wheels" very derogatory for people who like playing at low level, for all kind of reasons.
Shouldn't surprise you, there's plenty of derogatory terms thrown at people who prefer higher-level games, as you well know.

Another thing is I think for most tables, levels 1 and 2 are done within the first handful of sessions. They pass by so quickly that some people wonder why bother even playing them?
Sadly, IME, they have not been. I have had multiple DMs drag these levels out for ages, both in PbP and in more "typical" session play. I believe, in the longest-running 5e game I've been in, we took three weeks to go from level 1 to level 2. (And, keep in mind, this was after I gave an honest attempt at convincing the DM to let us start higher than 1st level, since no one in the group was new to D&D/tabletop generally, but a couple were new to 5e.)

I got to wonder how do people deal with encounter building for level1 characters?
In my experience? Badly. Have seen multiple level-1 TPKs that subsequently resulted in group dissolution.

If low level characters only ever get a steady diet of balanced encounters, it’s going to feel like a monotonous cakewalk.

Toss the idea of balanced encounters and those low levels become more tense and exciting than any other level of play.
If you find character permadeath exciting, sure. If you don't, they're tedious slogs to test whether or not you'll be allowed to play any further. Which doesn't feel even slightly fun or exciting for me. It instead feels like, "Spin this roulette wheel and pick a color, red or black. Guess wrong and you'll be kicked out of the casino. Oh, no, don't bet any money, you'll get to do plenty of that once you survive the roulette wheel."

My son says if it does not have at least one dragon then it can't be a good adventure.

That said, you are not training at levels 1-4. Even at level 1 you have extraordinary powers.
Extraordinary compared to what, exactly? Compared to ordinary Earth humans? Of course! I don't know about you but I have absolutely, positively zero interest in playing "literally an actual Earth farmboy with literally zero more capabilities than what you could expect an Earth farmboy to have," for any amount of time, let alone multiple levels.
 


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