Friday, January 27, 2012

BFRPG: Starting at Third Level

Although I've played D&D on and off since 1980, I have never been a fan of the "harsh reality" approach to first-level characters. None of my groups pre-Fourth Edition ever rolled 3d6 six times in a row for attributes, nor did they go by the rules-as-written when rolling hit points. Returning to Old School D&D with BFRPG has meant that I'm confronting these issues again. What I have in mind for the kids' first characters is the following:

1. For attributes, roll 4d6 six times, dropping the lowest die in each roll. Then assign the totals to attributes in whatever order is desired.

2. At first level, hit points equal the maximum result possible for the character's class hit die. CON bonuses still apply.

I'm also considering starting the characters off at 5000 xp, the minimum amount for a Magic-User to hit third level. I wanted any boys playing Magic-Users to have multiple spells to cast per day instead of being reduced to throwing daggers after using up their one first-level spell in the initial encounter. Third level gives any Magic-User a pair of first-level spells as well as a second-level spell.

5000 xp means that any Thieves will begin the game at fourth level, no problem since that starting point doesn't make using their thieving skills a cake-walk. Clerics will be 1000 xp shy of fourth level (and will have two first-level spells), while Fighters will be 3000 xp shy of fourth level as well. Elf Fighter/Magic-Users will begin the game as second-level Fighters with 500 extra xp and as newly-minted second-level Magic Users.

There won't be any "in-game" rationale for a third-level start. I.e., the characters will be fresh off the farm.  The two extra levels (three in the case of any Thieves) are essentially a narrative convention granting the PCs protagonist status (and decreasing the likelihood of an early TPK).

Two additional house rules follow from these decisions:

1. When rolling hit points for second and third level, all results of 1 will be rerolled. Once play begins, though, hit points gained through level advancement will be generated by the rules (and thus results of 1 will be possible). Enhanced survivability remains the guiding principle here.

2. Should a player's character expire, his new character will enter play at third level as well. None of my old groups were ever great fans of the "return to play at first level, even if the rest of the party is eighth level" approach to the game. We always felt that it was strange for experienced heroes to suddenly adopt a neophyte in the midst of their travails. At the same time, I want to use the differentiated experience tables of BFRPG, so a Fourth Edition approach would be cumbersome. (I assume that averaging party levels would be the likely option here, but I'll pass on it.)

Have others made similar decisions when starting campaigns at third level? Also: what are good "first modules" for third level characters, preferably adventures that wouldn't require much work to fit into a forest setting?


  1. BFRPG has a ton of free modules on its site you can pick from. Two are also available in print from Lulu.

    I also like the idea of started at 3rd level. It makes the players feel competent, which is important. Especially if they've never played before and are used to games like WoW, where you get decent abilities within an hour or two of starting.

  2. I started my characters off at 1st level but I did do the max HP plus CON bonus for starting HP. I've also considered doing something a bit different when they level. If a character uses a D8 for HP, I half that and make one half a roll (1d4) then add the other half (+4). This way a character always gets at least half their total hit points. I don't know about the rest of you but is there anything worse than looking down and seeing a '1' when rolling for your next HP? As for 1st level magic users being kinda lame there is a roaring debate over at the BFRPG site as well as a great supplement to give ways of making them a bit more useful at low levels.

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  3. 'Should a player's character expire, his new character will enter play at third level as well.':
    Historically, starting at first level was primarily a learning exercise to accommodate *new* players. Experienced ones could start at higher levels if they so chose.(This is explicitly stated in 1E DMG on ppg. 110-111 and discussed as an option in the 2E DMG on pg. 21.) 'Old hands' often didn't, as they enjoyed the challenge of working their way up to 'name' level and such. There's some very interesting game history coming out on the Net nowadays, and these tales are but one part of it!

    Somewhere along the line, starting at 1st level became a stricture, and beginning a party at say 5-10th level caused people to look askance at the DM and shake their heads in approbation.

    I find this 'evolution' strange, as by the time I began in the hobby circa 1985, the AD&D players were generally beginning their campaigns at 3rd-5th level for veterans and sometimes noobs they thought particularly good prospects! D&D players started from the bottom, though, 'cuz they're hardcore like that.(And just as likely, because the rules don't state another option...) ;-)

    'Especially if they've never played before and are used to games like WoW, where you get decent abilities within an hour or two of starting.':

    They're also used to dying and grinding for levels, as I recall. But they probably are grateful for the boost.

    In addition to Dan's excellent suggestions, here's some classic modules you might want to check out:(The original 'Orange Cover' B3 and the mass market releases of L1 and RQ1 are available as free downloads from WOTC's website. You might have to search, as the classic downloads page isn't always easy to find!) There might be a little bit of tailoring necessary to make them compatible with BFRPG, though.(I've never used it, I'm a B/X[LL] fan when it comes to using D&D!)

    3rd Level Modules:

    T1: The Village of Hommlett(Near the Gnarley Forest, Verbobonc, Oerik, in Greyhawk.)

    N1: Against the Cult of The Reptile God(Near the Dim Forest in Gran March on Oerik's Flanaess in Greyhawk .)

    L1: The Secret of Bone Hill(Lendore Isles has plenty of Forest.)

    B2: Keep On The Borderlands(Anywhere you want, really)

    B3: Palace Of The Silver Princess

    B5: The Horror on the Hill

    RQ1: Night of The Walking Dead(Near a swamp in Souragne, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's incompatible with a forested area.)

    This is actually in a desert, but it's Epic!:

    B4: The Lost City

    T1, L1, B4, and to a lesser extent B2 and N1, are good campaign lynchpins, imo. They make great home bases for your PCs.

    Good gaming!

    word verification: upbeat
    A good omen? :-)

    1. If you can find a copy of it anywhere, the BECMI (well B/E) module Night's Dark Terror is a pretty epic adventure, with a variety of interesting encounters, beginning in a forest and culminating in... well, spoilers...

  4. The boys were introduced to D&D via 4E, another reason why I'm starting the game at third level: they're used to more robust starting characters. I did not know that the AD&D DMG says that about starting more experienced players at higher levels; I never owned a copy of the DMG as a kid (since B/X was our preferred game), so I hadn't see that passage before. (Coincidentally, this is why I will be buying the commemorative DMG when it comes out--it's the one major book I've never read.)