Randy and I were having a conversation last night about character ideas and starting power levels. I’m one of those people that enjoys starting out at first level with a campaign. Randy isn’t, perferring instead to begin play with a character that more closely matches the capabilities of the orginal character concept.
There was a lot to say on the subject…

To a certain extent, I put this down to which game each of ‘imprinted’ on. I’m a Lonely DnD Player from way back — getting the pink boxed set of DnD stuff via the Sears catalog when I was ten and spending three years just working out the rules and making character after character, trying to figure out how it all worked with no examples, no help, and no other players. I became enamored with the process of character creation, looking at the new sheet and thinking about all the ways that the character could go as things progressed. Starting out on a game like that makes me automatically think in terms of The Beginning Character — the One Who Doesn’t Know What’s Going On. (Look at Hidden Things and Strange Weapons… same deal.)
Randy imprinted on Amber, where the characters start out completely competent at any skill they include in their background, fully capable in sorcery (if they take it), able to change reality at a whim, and (normally) able to handily embarrass or subjugate any ‘normal human’ they run into. Decades, perhaps centuries of the character’s life has passed before we ever focus on them for the game’s story.
That’s a simple explanation of why I like starting a d20 character with the beginning power levels and Randy prefers a more advanced version. I do see the argument for an advanced character in some cases — sometimes the GM has a game she wants to run that involved defeating 2000 mummies, and sometimes you want to play the character you envision, not the character that might eventually become that character after 133 life-threatening encounters. It’s about having what you want. I get that.
On the other hand, I’ve run games where the players told me “We’d just like to be better than first level when starting off — if that throws off the bell-curve or makes us too powerful for the end of the arc, then start us at 5th or 6th and just leave us there until we would have gotten there anyway, or double the experience points to advance levels for awhile, or something.”
That doesn’t work. I’d like to say it does — in the campaign (OA) where I did that we survived the process — but it didn’t work. The main reason is the same as the one behind why I like playing beginning characters.
It’s not the having that’s important, it’s the acquiring; the change that occurs with your character needs to be a semi-constant thing that tangibly affects them (and you) — slowing that down to a crawl, even when your character is all pumped up and touch, is eventually unsatisfying — it’s not fun to be static. Again, starting things out at a higher power level is fine (not usually my cup of tea, but that’s not relevant), but don’t start people out a higher level and just slow down advancement to make up for it — people will eventually resent it.
It’s change that really jazzes most people, even if they don’t realize it. It’s one of the reasons that d20 is still popular: Levels — you get into a new one and BOOM, stuff changes: your base attack gets better, your saves might improve, ditto skills, maybe a new feat or class ability… heck, there’s people whose eyes will dilate just thinking about it — it’s not that they’re power gamers — it’s exciting. I think that a lot of people who want to start out at higher level might subconciously want to get that ‘charge’ all at once. That’s not always the case (in some instances, granted, you can’t play the really whacked out, cool idea you have without a few more points), but I think it might be so more times than most folks realize.
Maybe that’s obvious to most people, but I’d never really thought about it in those terms before. 🙂

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