The Snark – Low Level Characters

If you are a player of Role Playing Games (outside of the bedroom) then by now you have most likely been subjected to the horror that is playing a low level character. This is a tired topic for me as I am already to the point that I just refuse to play an RPG that starts me at level one. But let’s take a moment to consider what has jaded me to this point.

The easiest argument to make is that there is no point in getting attached to any character that is one pin prick from death every moment of every day (though if you play with our DM that is the situation for even a level twenty-five character). The squishiness of all low level characters means that you probably are not going to be fighting anything that you would run back to the farm house and tell your dear old mom and pop about but instead you will be taking care of the sewer rat infestation for someone else because they have better things to do. Seriously though while it is true that a bite from a sewer rat might kill me eventually if I decided it was not worth paying the insurance deductible to go see a doctor to not die; for a level one character that same bite could be instant death. Not from the plague the bite could give you but from the three points of damage the bite itself inflicted!

Another thing that I hate about lowbies is that they are cookie cutter copies of each other with different starting gear. If for example you are playing a wizard and your buddy is playing a warrior you will both hit that poor sewer rat with a stick about the same percentage of the time and do something similar in damage. A priest and a warrior are basically the same when it comes to “tanking” as both will take the same hit from the boss rat and take about the same amount of damage the priest will just die one hit sooner than his warrior friend because he will still refuse to cast his healing spell even when it is his life on the line. As you level of course this goes away as warriors build melee skill at a faster rate than his wizard buddy who is going to eventually become a demi-god when he gets a spell worth casting but the balance between classes is a talk for another day.

So what is it that eventually makes a character worth playing? What other than the obvious increases in power makes a character fun? At what point does the annoyance start to fade and an attachment start to grow? For me the line is around level ten to twelve. By midlevel the character has developed enough that in some way there is something special about it. Two people both playing a wizard could be completely different by level twenty but probably not by level ten. As characters level they become more specialized to fill the role that the player has in mind for them and it is this specialization that I would argue makes any character worth playing in the end.

Some people get all giddy about the idea of making some fresh characters and starting off on a new adventure with their friends. At this point in my RPG career all I can see is a group of people determined to try (and probably fail) to not to die together.

2 Replies to “The Snark – Low Level Characters”

  1. I agree 100%. I always, as a DM, start my team off at level 4. That is good enough that you can at least start to see the Tank and Spellcasters take form. At level 1 when you can die from a stick it’s too bland and random. I like to have a little control over my character. Although I don’t think ‘attachment’ is found through levels, but session. After about 7-8 sessions I start getting attached to my character because of the stories I make and the actions I’ve done and my goals, not just because of the stats I have on paper.

  2. Your players are failing you.

    Let’s take two wizards, both level 3. Wizard 1 is Ol’ Blasty. He grabs Magic Missile, Scorching Ray, and Burning Hands as some of his favorite spells. Wizard 2 is Reality Warper. He’s got Web, Color Spray, and Silent Image.

    Ol’ Blasty is absolutely fantastic against boss creatures. When you need that extra ‘oomph’ against something with 30 HP and a 20 AC in full plate that your fighter can barely touch, he opens up with a quick ~12 damage from 30 feet away, does it again next turn, then starts following up with a reliable 5 damage a turn from Magic Missiles for 2-3 turns. If Bossman has minions, he’s going to walk up somewhat close to them, but out of melee range, and flambe the whole bunch with 7-8 damage. As long as everybody else can keep the BBEG off him, he’s got a decent chance of bringing that ‘untouchable’ monster down all by his lonesome in 3-4 turns- which is good, because he’s about out of spells too.

    Reality Warper is a team player. He’s not going to kill you. He’s not going to do mega damage against BBEG. But he’s going to alter the way the entire party fights. Party comes up against a swarm of 1-2 HD foes? Reality Warper throws a Color Spray into the mix and says “Hope you can make a DC 14-15 Will save, because otherwise you’re going to be twitching on the floor while my party guts you.” A challenging encounter just got turned into a cakewalk.

    A little while later, the rogue says he hears something up ahead in the dungeon. He peeks around the corner and says there’s a freakin’ bugbear wandering through. Everybody hauls tail back to the next T, and Reality Warper puts up a Silent Image of a bricked-up wall. Everybody on your side of the wall knows it’s an illusion, so it’s a ghostly phantasm. As the bugbear ambles past, everybody attacks through the illusion- and your rogue thanks you for the surprise round by landing a quick 12 damage, which lets the rest of you finish the monster off before his initiative comes around. Encounter vanquished, minimum resources expended.

    When you do come up to the BBEG, Reality Warper doesn’t like the engagement paradigm, so he shifts it. Web, now everybody pull out ranged weapons and turn BBEG into a pincushion.

    Reality Warper and Ol’ Blasty are both highly effective in their own way, but it’s a totally different way for each of them.

    Your DM is failing you.

    Your fighter is a tank. He can do this in two ways- either by tripping the heck out of anything that tries to get past him or otherwise hindering passage, or by physically inserting himself between the bad guys and the squishies. He should get the opportunity to do that, whether by opportune choke points like bridges or doorways, or unintelligent monsters that willingly go after the first thing in front of them.

    Your rogue, even by level 3-5, should have Spot/Listen/Search checks that make him invaluable, and his ability to deal with traps has probably saved the party a few times by now. They have run into a few of those traps, right?

    In the event there’s a 10 foot choke point, your cleric teamed up with the fighter to keep the squishies safe- and everyone’s going to remember the time the party got ambushed by a two dozen zombies in close quarters, and the cleric whittled the numbers down enough for the rest of the party to deal with the remainder.

    Even at level 1, your party members can have significant differences that will allow them to shine in their own unique way, if the DM permits it.

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