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?