D&D (2024) Subclasses should start at 1st level

Horwath

Legend
If every one is supposed to start at level 3, why not rename this level "level 1"?
I'm all for that.

That is why we only played one campaign in 5E from 1st level. The 1st one in 2014 as we wanted to learn the game from the start.

but level one is so boooring, with characters that have very few options to use.


all classes could have their 1st and 2nd level features be molded into 1st level.
just so characters have more things to do.
 

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Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
Look, if the goal is to both give new players a slower on-ramp and give more experienced a quicker path to their fully realized character, which group should be asked to do something other than start at level one? Either way it’s the same thing, with different labels attached to the levels. So who gets the irregular labels? Do we ask beginning players to understand these funny levels that don’t fit the pattern of 1, 2, 3, etc.? Or do we ask veterans, who understand what they are doing, to skip ahead to 3?
 


clearstream

(He, Him)
The cool thing about the subclass as a separate design space, all kinds of character options become possible.

There can be subclasses that any class can take − a 5e version of a prestige class. The UA for Strixhaven tried to do this, but the conflictive subclass space and schedule ultimately made it unworkable.

A standard subclass space for the Monk class, will like expand it, making different kinds of Monk concepts more doable.

Because each level is about a feat, it is even possible for one class to take an other class as its subclass, by parceling out its level 1 across at least two subclass levels. So a Fighter-Wizard or a Wizard-Fighter becomes practicable, even at level 1.

Consider the Rogue class with Sneak Attack. Sneak Attack by itself is a massive feature, worth more than a feat and a half. It doesnt fit in a single level. But by having a modest level towards a half feat, the subclass level afterward can use the extra space left over to have the full-on Sneak Attack feature, while retaining balance.

Meanwhile, it is possible to switch back and forth between two different subclasses, like both Swashbuckler and Thief.

The player can reuse the subclass design space for something else entirely, such as a class that further develops race features, for particularly powerful race concepts like Dragon or Vampire.

Meanwhile, each class defaults its own subclass, like Evoker Wizard, so newbies and casual players dont need to deal with the many options.
I like many of your thoughts about level 0, and I would still not want to be locked into a subclass from level 1. Maybe I was thinking Scout, but as it turns out when I play this tiefling rogue she wants to be a Swashbuckler.

I'd even be willing to make an argument for a sub-class fork at each tier :)
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Epic
Look, if the goal is to both give new players a slower on-ramp and give more experienced a quicker path to their fully realized character, which group should be asked to do something other than start at level one? Either way it’s the same thing, with different labels attached to the levels. So who gets the irregular labels? Do we ask beginning players to understand these funny levels that don’t fit the pattern of 1, 2, 3, etc.? Or do we ask veterans, who understand what they are doing, to skip ahead to 3?
Back in the day the GM had some tools that came with "start at 3" & "start at 5" in that they allowed that phrase to continue with "but xyz" like but "use this pointbuy" "multiclassing is restricted like so" & similar. Those were all good things for the health of a campaign since there wasroom to negotiate with tradeoffs for each side of the discussion. That give & take allowed a more amicable discussion where everyone came away with things they wanted.
 

Clint_L

Hero
For newbie care, yes. D&D players are kind of like Rick and Morty fans in thinking that their hobby requires way more intellect than they actually do. The idea that newbies are too dumb to operate Rage and thus can't possibly be able to grock a subclass is a toxic and false idea that's already proven false by the fact that you typically get to level 3 in two sessions.
As previously posted, I am a teacher, and I run the D&D Club at my school, as well as D&D camp in the summer. I've run D&D pro-D sessions for other teachers who wanted to know what the game is all about.

You don't know what you are talking about, and your argument is almost entirely a straw man.

Nobody has claimed that D&D requires exceptional intellect. No one has claimed that new players can't grasp the rage mechanic. So calling ideas "toxic" that literally no one has put forward in this discussion is just a means of substituting ad hominem attack for actual argument. It is, in fact, toxic. If you want to actually argue, see if you can do so against actual positions that people hold, rather than ones you are making up.

Incidentally, my campaigns typically get to Level 3 in 3-4 sessions.

D&D is an extremely complicated game. You may have noted, for example, that there are many rulebooks together totalling hundreds, nay thousands of pages of text. But to a truly new player, even concepts that seem obvious to us veterans are not. None of them individually are particularly hard. But in aggregate, they are a lot. When I want to teach the basic concept of an RPG to a large group, I don't use D&D at all. I use Dread, because everyone already understands Jenga.

There are a great many new players who are interested in D&D, try it, and decide it's not for them. For some, it's just the entire nature of the game. Maybe roleplaying makes them uncomfortable. But there are some who have point blank told me that the amount of rules and new concepts just seemed overwhelming.

People learn at different paces and in different styles. But any experienced teacher will tell you that it is good teaching to scaffold learning so that students can develop incremental mastery by building on what they learn in logical steps.

My actual arguments against doing sub-classes at level 1 are straightforward:
1. It adds further complication to an already complicated task - not only does a new player have to understand the basic concepts of D&D (weird dice! hit points! saving throws! armour class! etc.), PLUS the basic differences between 12 different classes, they then have to further understand those classes enough to make an informed choice between many different sub-classes for each, all before even playing the game.

2. Many veteran players, such as me, don't want to be forced into a sub-class right away. We see character creation as an ongoing process rather than something that is complete before the first game, and enjoy seeing how the journey unfolds. Learning what choice feels best for a new character is a fun part of early levelling.
 
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Yaarel

He Mage
I'm all for that.

That is why we only played one campaign in 5E from 1st level. The 1st one in 2014 as we wanted to learn the game from the start.

but level one is so boooring, with characters that have very few options to use.
I agree, many experienced players want to start off with a substantial character at level 1. Compare 4e with suite of solid hit points, comprehensive concept, plus featlike Background, and various feature swaps.

The solution is using "level 0" to unpack the frontloading into an incremental advancement across several "level zero" levels. By calling them all "zero" and naming each zero level by its D&D mechanic, Abilities, Saves, Skills, Combat, and Feat, invites the experienced players to start with the amount of features that they prefer. The level 0 is literally the "zero to hero" style of character development.

all classes could have their 1st and 2nd level features be molded into 1st level.
just so characters have more things to do.
Yeah. The 1DD Ranger is an example of a very substantial level 1 character. If the model for the Ranger and the Rogue extends to Bard and other classes, all level 1 characters will be substantial.

Because it would make the 3e-style multiclassing even more front-loaded. There's easy fixes to that, but then it wouldn't be like 3e.

Similarly, 4e had lv1 characters with 20hp and with actual options, so we cannot have that ever again, because then it would be like 4e.
The 1DD Ranger feels like 5e. Yet it is feels substantial like 4e. This set up might have threaded the needle between the two preferences?

With level 1 being substantial, I would normally start at level 1. But occasionally, I would start characters during level zero for "zero to hero". In the Character Advancement Schedule above, using the 1DD Ranger as the model, level zero comprises four levels for the Background development and four additional levels for frontloading the Class features. Plus the level of Abilities and the level 1, a level 1 character comprises a remarkable ten feats at character creation. Each level is worth about a feat of design space.

When multiclassing, it seems possible to start at a level 0 of the secondary class. Thus the narrative feel more like training, and the mechanics add on more smoothly, while dips for a level 1 feature an additional level away.

Look, if the goal is to both give new players a slower on-ramp and give more experienced a quicker path to their fully realized character, which group should be asked to do something other than start at level one? Either way it’s the same thing, with different labels attached to the levels. So who gets the irregular labels? Do we ask beginning players to understand these funny levels that don’t fit the pattern of 1, 2, 3, etc.? Or do we ask veterans, who understand what they are doing, to skip ahead to 3?
A game is for its gameplayers. Teaching a game is a separate consideration. The "normal" level 1, needs to be whatever the experienced players feel should be normal. Albeit a roleplaying game does well to accommodate different playstyles as much as possible.

I feel strongly, the subclass is the essential aspect of a character concept, and must be actualizable at level 1. Level 1 must allow for a comprehensive character concept, even when looking forward to further advancing this concept at higher levels.

The solution is to unpack the zero levels, for use by players who prefer undeveloped character concepts.

I like many of your thoughts about level 0, and I would still not want to be locked into a subclass from level 1. Maybe I was thinking Scout, but as it turns out when I play this tiefling rogue she wants to be a Swashbuckler.

I'd even be willing to make an argument for a sub-class fork at each tier :)
It seems to me, the Rogue character can pick Scout for the subclass during level 0, then decide to switch to Swashbuckler at level 2 or 6.

Multi-classing can work, and multi-sub-classing can work too.

Back in the day the GM had some tools that came with "start at 3" & "start at 5" in that they allowed that phrase to continue with "but xyz" like but "use this pointbuy" "multiclassing is restricted like so" & similar. Those were all good things for the health of a campaign since there wasroom to negotiate with tradeoffs for each side of the discussion. That give & take allowed a more amicable discussion where everyone came away with things they wanted.
These kinds of recommendations sound useful for deciding where to begin during level 0.

My actual arguments against doing sub-classes at level 1 are straightforward:
1. It adds further complication to an already complicated task - not only does a new player have to understand the basic concepts of D&D (weird dice! hit points! saving throws! armour class! etc.), PLUS the basic differences between 12 different classes, they then have to further understand those classes enough to make an informed choice between many different sub-classes for each, all before even playing the game.
When dealing with players that are grocking the concept of a roleplaying game, it is, by far, more helpful to start at level 0, specifically at the beginning of the five levels of the Background, before taking any features from the class or subclass levels.

2. Many veteran players, such as me, don't want to be forced into a sub-class right away. We see character creation as an ongoing process rather than something that is complete before the first game, and enjoy seeing how the journey unfolds. Learning what choice feels best for a new character is a fun part of early levelling.
Many veteran players might prefer to go with the default subclass at level 0, then multisubclass to a different subclass at a later level.
 

So, as a preliminary remark, this topic is, I expect, going to be never more than hypothetical. WotC is not going to fundamentally change class design so that all classes will have subclasses come online at 1st level.

With that stated, I'm of the mind that a 1st-level D&D character ought to be complete. Period, end of story. Gaining levels is great, and all good fun, and is part of the game, but in principle, IMO you should be able to take a 1st-level character and play that character without gaining levels at all - maybe just picking up hit points, feats, and cool gear instead.

(Note that if you allow for the scaling of class features that you get at 1st level - such as spellcasting - this amounts to allowing a recreation of an old-school gameplay style.)

If the game's core design aesthetic includes subclasses - that is, if being a complete character means having a subclass - then subclasses ought to be available at 1st level for any character.



With respect to one's concept for a character being incomplete, or changing over time, it would be better to my mind to be able to change subclass than to punt subclasses down the road. (A game with more granularity, à la PF2, could see mixing and matching of subclass features instead, but I think that's out of line with the 5e design aesthetic, which 1D&D still clearly aims to fall within.)

As far as teaching new players goes, I think it is better to have a progressive method for introducing gameplay - rather like an instructional book for learning an instrument - that starts with the basics of the game before getting into character creation, and, if someone wants to jump into character creation straight away, specialised introductory classes for newer players that reinforce those methods. (Not entirely coincidentally, these specialised classes could in theory also fulfill the gameplay preferences of folks who want an intentionally simpler gameplay experience with respect to character mechanics.)

I can't say that I care for an extended level-zero progression - if we're looking to specifically cater to a zero-to-hero gameplay preference, I think it would be better to either have a distinct variant rule or use the aforementioned introductory classes with an eventual conversion to a 1st-level character in a core class.
 

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