A Hopeful Solution to New Character Levels

For quite some time, I have been mulling over how, exactly, I wanted to handle levels of new characters in my game, which I focused on in two posts here on the blog.  Funnily enough, through my readings, I discovered that over at Save or Die, Nathan was thinking about the same things pretty close to the same time, and dedicated two posts of his own to the topic.

Like Nathan, my instinct is to begin new characters at level 1, especially since the 3.x/Pathfinder experience system is self-correcting, and that new character would catch up eventually, allowing the player to organically develop their character in-game and give a basis for roleplay for the other players, instead of just slapping in a fully developed character who should have probably already been on the PC's radar, if they are on par with the group's abilities (which usually outstrip almost everyone in a region fairly quickly).

As he also pointed out, and of primary concern to me because I'm currently running an adventure path, however, is that it's simply not feasible to put a 1st level character in a story-driven campaign (one with scaled encounters, as I spoke about before). In those types of games, sadly, the power curve is a meat grinder for low-level characters.

Similar to Nathan's way of doing things, I usually start new characters at 1 level below the lowest level member in the party. This chart-based system, however, will allow players the opportunity to begin play in my games (or replace their fallen characters) with characters of up to the highest PC's level.

For this, I think there's no reason to fix something that isn't broke, so I will make very few changes to what is presented on Save or Die. Characters, of course, have first level as a given and then will roll for each additional possible level on the following chart, making additional rolls and completing level-specific tasks rolled as necessary until they can no longer progress.

The mechanics are as follows:

For each level, roll once on the following table.

Roll - Encounter Type
1-3 - Easy Combat (CR -1)
4-10 -  Medium Combat (Equal CR)
11-13 - Difficult Combat (CR +1)
14-15 - Easy Skill Challenge (DC 10+PC level)
16-18 - Medium Skill Challenge (DC 15+PC level)
19-20 - Difficult Skill Challenge (DC 20+PC level)
If combat is rolled, check current level and randomize an encounter from the particular CR/EL rolled. Check the following chart for the result of this combat. Treasure gained is determined randomly for the EL of the opponent.

Result - Reward
PC loses battle - Nothing
PC wins, but has lost over half hit points - 50% chance of level gain or treasure (player’s choice)
PC wins, but is wounded - Level gain, 50% chance of treasure
PC wins without being harmed - level gain and treasure 

Skill Challenges consist of a test of three skills, each determined randomly. The success or failure of any of these checks determines the possible rewards, as noted below.

Result - Reward
PC fails all three skill checks - Nothing
PC makes one skill check - 50% chance of level gain or treasure (player’s choice)
PC makes two skill checks - Level gain, 50% chance of treasure
PC makes all skill checks - Level gain and treasure

Please note that this could land any character made stuck at 1st or 2nd level, but it gives a fair chance at moderate advancement, and has the added bonus of treasures that a character made at the flat level might have, as these are in addition to the gold allowance at the character's starting level.

I realize that the treasure being in addition is not really the spirit of what is presented with this system, but I like the possible character it could present for some campaigns, like my Wilderlands, where having anything scavenged from dungeons makes you a veritable badass.

All in all, I find this to be a pretty good system, and I hope some of my players will chime in on their thoughts, as well.

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