Save My Game
New Players, New Campaigns
What's the Best Level for a New Campaign?
By Jason Nelson-Brown

This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!

Problem: What's the Best Level for a New Campaign?

I am fairly new to this concept and have a few questions: Every time you play a different campaign, do you start a new character at a low level?

-- Kevin, from AskWizards.com

Welcome to D&D, Kevin! We will answer your first question first and get to your others next time. You also might look at our Tutorial series for more advice on creating characters and getting started as a new player.

The question of what level your campaign should start at depends on the preference of the players and the DM. What kind of game do you want? Do you want to start out playing as a big shot, someone who has already made their mark and developed their skills? This is part of the attraction of superhero games -- you start out already being super! Sure, you can slowly or incrementally advance your character, but at the time of creation you are already bench-pressing 747s and leaping tall buildings in a single bound and bending the power of the atom to your will with your mind.

Or do you want to start off as the wide-eyed apprentice or country boy or light-fingered sneak trying to find her destiny? The whole world of possibility is open to you, and you get to enjoy the journey.

Clearly, starting at 1st level isn't mandatory. If you are new to the game, however, I recommend that you do start at 1st level. I say this not because 1st level is inherently more fun than higher levels -- in some ways that's true, and in some ways it's not. People who have played the game since the 1970s or 80s honestly disagree on their favorite level for play.

As for starting at 1st level, I say that is the way to go, especially for a relatively new player, because it is easier to understand the rules of the game and how to play when you are at lower levels. No matter how many times you read the Player's Handbook or any other rule books, there's no substitute for actually trying things at the game table to see how you like the feel and operation of different kinds of characters. This is true in terms of developing a personality for a character, in the context of the party and the game world, because that character has a chance to mature and develop. Your original character concept gives you a starting point, but then you develop a history -- not just an individual history but a shared history with the rest of your party -- that breathes life into a character throughout the course of the campaign. Sure, you can start a higher-level character with a pre-made history, but it will never carry the same weight in your concept of the character and the fit of that character within the party as if you had actually played it all out.

Maybe more important than your character development, though, is the mechanical side of the game. It pays to know the rules and to be able to look ahead, but tons of feats and spells and magic items and monsters will not come into play until later levels. Thus, your resources limit your choices. When you have only 200 gp, you don't need to choose between buying a magic wand or a suit of full plate armor, to research a new spell or start building a castle and staffing it with servants and soldiers, because you can't afford any of them! You need to plan within your means, so most shopping trips are pretty short and to the point.

Your qualifications also limit your choices. Your feat choices are limited by the prerequisites you meet. You can stick with base classes, because prestige classes are outside your reach. You have only so many skill points to allocate, so you focus on the skills that are really important to your character.

The biggest place where lower level is easier, though, is combat. At high level, characters can do so many things that it is often hard to decide what to do. Should you use temporary or permanent magic items, use special class abilities or feats, command cohorts or followers or summoned monsters? With the right spells or feats, characters can act even when it's not their turn or act multiple times within their own turn. At low level, the turnaround is quick, the choices are simpler, and things move much more smoothly. Sure, there is still room for creativity and cleverness in combat or otherwise -- in some ways, it is more important than at high levels, because you don't have the resources or firepower to just blast your way through challenges (combat or otherwise).

It's OK to start a campaign at whatever level everyone likes the most, but if you are new to the game, take the time to enjoy the low-level experience, and don't rush ahead. A lot of the mystery and the magic and the fun of the game can only grow if you give it time.

D&D Tutorials

If you're new to the game, this series of articles is a great way to learn the ropes. Just pick a topic and explore.

Have a question for the Save My Game column? Head over to the message boards: What's a DM to Do or What's a Player to Do. Be sure to include "Save My Game" as part of your message's title. Or, send us a question directly, to Ask Wizards -- and again, be sure to include "Save My Game" in the subject line.

About the Author

Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, and son Allen. He just finished his doctorate in education and is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981.


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