D&D 5E "When I Run D&D 5E, the Arc of the PCs' Adventures is 'Zero to Hero'." (a poll)

"When I Run D&D 5E, the arc of the PCs' adventures is 'Zero to Hero'."

  • True.

    Votes: 55 53.9%
  • False.

    Votes: 47 46.1%

Yeah, exactly this.

Also, mildly humorous that the poll switched so hard toward "true" over the time since I voted. I had been mildly surprised to be in the larger group. My surprise is now thoroughly gone. It's pretty clear that there's a strong old-school style preference on these boards, even if there isn't a strong old-school system preference per se (such preferences absolutely are represented, but the preference for the style vastly outstrips that for the systems specifically.)
This is a binary poll so it is really not going to get any nuances, but ultimately I read "true" as the "levels matter" answer, and whilst that is certainly true in old school, I don't think it is only an old school answer.

A lot of other games often don't have levels or similar power progression than D&D, so I think it is rather natural if to a lot of people that progression being a big deal is strongly associates with D&D, and thus being seen as one of its defining features.
 
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Oofta

Legend
Pretty much. As far back as I can remember, a 1st-level PC has never been an untrained, callow youth. Every PC was assumed to have received some training in their class - a 1st-level fighter was even called a "Veteran", implying that they have been involved in several battles already. (As an aside, a 4th-level fighter was called a "Hero" so technically going from Zero to Hero means the campaign should end when the fighter reaches 4th level.)

Where I think WotC published adventures are lacking is that high-level adventures are still almost all about the same combat experience, just using more powerful PC abilities, in more exotic locations, and with more dangerous opponents. What I'd like to see more of is interesting challenges and consequences related to the PCs joining or setting up organizations, growing and administering them, and eventually leading them.

While I agree, I sympathize with anyone trying to write generic mods for high level PCs. Capabilities, group dynamics, class choices, goals and desires are significantly more difficult to plan for the higher you go. I run homebrew campaigns so it's not an issue for me, but I can't imagine trying to come up with campaigns for general consumption without knowing the target group.
 

Oofta

Legend
If people think that 5E PCs are overpowered at 1st level, I gotta wonder what they would have thought of 4E where they explicitly stated that they wanted PCs to already be heroic from the get go. In 5E, it's easy to get a TPK with 1st level PCs if you aren't careful.

I will agree that older edition wizards were ... well terrible. It was all about "when I become a powerful mage" but until then we called just our wizards "baggage". ;) Other classes weren't that bad from what I recall (and depending on DM any PC could die at any moment no matter what the level), but it's been a long, long, long time.
 

This is a binary poll so it is really not going to get any nuances, but ultimately I read "true" as the "levels matter" answer, and whilst that is certainly true in old school, I don't think it is only an old school answer.

A lot of other games often don't have levels or similar power progression than D&D, so I think it is rather natural if to a lot of people that progression being a big deal is strongly associates with D&D, and thus being seen as one of its defining features.
Interesting. Because I absolutely believe levels matter, and if that was the intent I would have voted "true" without question. I just really really really don't like what most people refer to as "zero to hero," because in my experience, the thing people are referring to when they use that phrase means, to me, being forced to sit through the levels that are simultaneously the most stressful and the least interesting: I could lose my ability to participate at any moment due to a single unlucky roll, and yet I have almost no tools to leverage against that environment (by design.) It makes me feel like a trapped animal, metaphorically anyway. Further, because many campaigns are not "long runners," starting at low level means finishing at a lower level most of the time, so I won't get to see the cool mechanics of high levels or fun combinations I would like to implement.

Hence, I almost always avoid "zero to hero." But I very much enjoy the process of going from a competent but green adventurer (meaning, too high to be "zero" but not yet much of a "hero") to being a legendary figure with a storied past (what I consider to be a "hero," which many others apparently consider to be a "superhero.") I enjoy levels as a metric of showing that you have grown and the fun of "numbers go up."
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
False. "Zero to Hero" is a narrative construct, not a mechanical one.

Thus it matters not what the mechanical level of the PCs are when we determine their background at the start of play. They can be a bunch of kids starting at Level 1, they can be a trained military unit starting at Level 1. The character level is purely for gameplay purposes.

And thus, every campaign of mine has the characters at whatever starting point in their backgrounds the campaign is set up for, which does not necessarily mean they are Zeros to begin with, and likewise does not necessarily mean they will be Heroes at the end.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I suppose it depends what zero means. I think the accumulation of power is built into the very fabric of D&D play. But the starting point can be anywhere from just another random commoner to a seemingly ordinary person with a special destiny, to an already somewhat experienced adventurer, or if you start at higher levels than 1st, potentially even a seasoned veteran. So, I guess no?
 


Same. My homebrew is way high magic, to the point that the next time my group returns to it, I'm thinking about including magitech smartphones.

Yeah, that is exactly what I want too. Good way to phrase it.

I actually like high magic settings. At the same time, I want the characters to develope organically in within the setting.

It can be done, sure, and many people do just that. For my part, my feeling is that characters evolve very differently when they get an advanced start. I'm not going to make someone start at 1st level when everyone else is 8th, but when I'm starting a new campaign, I always prefer to start at the beginning, at first level.

This can be done as Heroes though.

Most of Spiderman's major struggles in all forms of media come well after he becomes a well known NYC crimefighting hero.

I think a big issue is that many don't know how to tell stories of challenge with extreme weakness in the protagonist and people aren't always willing to allow vulnerabilities in their played heroes.

The powerhouse with weaknesses is a story not told enough or told in the same way too often.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Same. My homebrew is way high magic, to the point that the next time my group returns to it, I'm thinking about including magitech smartphones.
Call them "crystal balls" or "magic mirrors", and you are good to go.

Similar concepts include a goblet that one fills with water or wine, and then scries within the liquid surface.

Keep in mind, the viewer doesnt see tiny images of scrying inside the ball, mirror, or goblet. The surface that is partly transparent and partly reflective is a method of entering a meditative state of mind. The viewer actually experiences the scrying in a waking dream, a full-on first-person virtual reality.
 


Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
It can be done, sure, and many people do just that. For my part, my feeling is that characters evolve very differently when they get an advanced start. I'm not going to make someone start at 1st level when everyone else is 8th, but when I'm starting a new campaign, I always prefer to start at the beginning, at first level.
True, characters do evolve differently if they get an advanced start.

You really can't do the "veterans and experts assembled by a patron to do a quest" with level 1s.
 
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Panzeh

Explorer
Most of the reason I start with Zero is practical- i find it very difficult to meet players' expectations with challenges and things to do that befit a level 8+ character. It's just hard for me to think of things for them to do- i don't think traipsing through caves but now it's a balor or whatever at the end instead of an ogre is satisfying to me.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Zero is stretching it as there is fir bit of difference between a commononer and a first level PC - but in a campaign I run the PCs will go through a few stages. At the lowest levels (1 to 4) they are trying to surivive when there are harsh threats all around them. Between 5 and 10 they start to feel like they can survive with confidence in the crazy world around them unless they seek out great danger. Here, they're heroes. 11 to 16 are the levels in which they become champions of a region or a nation - they have a presence that matters to a lot of people. By Level 17 they become legenday figures that are known widely and for good reason. You can change the subject matter of the campaigns, but those core structures remain true from game to game.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I don't think the poll is particularly informative as people's answers seem to mostly depend on how literally they interpret "zero." 🤷

Or is it?

Baroness Von Sketch Show Cbc GIF
 



False. I don't always start games at first level, particularly for one-shots.

Even otherwise however, a first level Wizard or Cleric for example is unusual and capable of feats that the majority of people in the setting cannot match. Thus I would consider even starting at 1st level to be more than zero.
 

In the last campaign, there were "Mana Telegnosis Devices," essentially great big text messaging or email machines. The one NPC had a tablet-sized version (think Sheikah Slate from Breath of the Wild) by the very end. I figure in a ten-year gap they should've spread to general population. I'm debating over whether or not they'd have cameras by then.

Regardless, if the PCs misuse them, they're totally getting "out of data" error messages or their devices hacked!

Call them "crystal balls" or "magic mirrors", and you are good to go.

Similar concepts include a goblet that one fills with water or wine, and then scries within the liquid surface.

Keep in mind, the viewer doesnt see tiny images of scrying inside the ball, mirror, or goblet. The surface that is partly transparent and partly reflective is a method of entering a meditative state of mind. The viewer actually experiences the scrying in a waking dream, a full-on first-person virtual reality.

There are lots of different stories you can tell with D&D in different configurations. The sky's the limit, and that's one of the things that's so great about it. I just so happen to prefer starting small and building from there.

True, characters do evolve differently if they get an advanced start.

You really can't do the "veterans and experts assembled by a patron to do a quest" with level 1s.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'll give this a "more true than not". The leveling system definitely encourages this mode of play.

But one-shots don't have this aspect. I've also run campaigns where the characters started as heroes, be it from position, starting level, or whatever.

But generally yes. As levels go up, the scope of what they deal with grows as well as the level of challenge. So even if they start off small-time heroes, they usually end up as big-time heroes.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'm with Quickleaf: there's an entire spectrum of possible positions between a beer & pretzels one-shot and a giant, sweeping mega-campaign epic.
Fair point - the poll question assumes (I think) but does not state it's referring to campaigns rather than one-shots.

One-shots can, obviously, start at and be of any level.

Longer, sometimes multi-party, campaigns - I'll always start the campaign itself at 1st, but later parties or groups within that overarching campaign might start at whatever makes sense at the time.

My "True" vote is based on the overall-campaign view.
 

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