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RPGBOT.Podcast Season 2 Episode 3 – Why are you running your one shots at level 1 (or 2 or 3)?

Show Notes

In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discuss running one-shot adventures and what level at which you should do so. We discuss the pros and cons of a 1st-level adventure, what levels we recommend for 5e and PF2 one-shots and why, and how to handle one-shots for classless systems and systems that don’t use the concept of levels like Shadowrun and Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPG.

Special thanks to @oaks_and_ravens on twitter for the question of the week this week.

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Materials Referenced in this Episode

Transcript

Randall 

Welcome to the RPGBOT.Podcast. I’m Randall James, your second level podcast host, and with me is Tyler Kamstra.

Tyler 

Hi, everybody.

Randall 

And Random Powell.

Random 

Evening.

Randall 

Tyler, what are we going to do today?

Tyler 

Today we’re going to talk about running one shots and what level you should run a one shot at. If you’ve ever run a one shot D&D game, you’ve probably looked at it and thought, Okay, we’re gonna make everyone level one. And we’re gonna ask the very simple question “Why?”

Randall 

Yeah, no, I think that’s a good summary of exactly where this came from. I can say, spoiler, I don’t think the right answer is one in most cases. And my early, you know, starts and stops in tabletop gaming, were really frustrating because I kept having these level one adventures. And it’s like, this character sucks, and I don’t enjoy playing it. And I keep having to do it over and over again, hoping that one day I’ll make it a little bit further.

Random 

Level one is a really rough place to be. Level one is where a substantial majority of characters that are going to die die because you have very little by way of defenses, you have very little by way of hitpoints. A straight crit can kill you from full, which is incredibly frustrating. And there’s a lot of classes that don’t really feel like their classes at level one, because they haven’t hit their subclass. You can feel like, or you can say “I’m going to be an assassin!” And someone says, “Cool, but you’re Rogue.”

Randall 

You haven’t quite made it there yet. Yeah, I think, I think that’s exactly right. And so what we’re going to do in this episode, we’re going to talk about fifth edition. We’re also going to spend a little bit of time in Pathfinder 2. And then we also want to talk about what are the targets? So do you have new players? Do you have folks who are experienced in one tabletop role playing game but not another? Or do you have some concept you want to execute? So spoiler alert, that’s what we’re gonna do. It’s gonna happen. So let’s, let’s start with 5e. Tyler, I’m gonna point to you. What is the right level to be running your one shots for 5e?

Tyler 

What a great question without a good answer. So it depends on what you’re trying to do. A lot of times when you’re going to run a one shot, you might be running it either… Maybe you’re playing with a group that you haven’t played with before, maybe you’re playing with some new players, maybe you have a gap between games, and you’re just like, hey, we need to fill a session, let’s do one shot. And depending on your objective for the one shot, you want that to be at a different level. So I want to talk first about novice players, people who are new to the game, especially maybe completely new to tabletop RPGs. Those low level one shots are really important for them, because it gives them time to understand just the basics of the game, the basics of mechanics, even just doing a first level one shot, that frailty that your characters have, the mechanical simplicity, the lack of options that you have can actually be advantageous for new players. If you’ve never played D&D before, and someone hands you a fifth level Wizard and says, “good luck” you’re kind of in trouble. If they hand you a first level Wizard, you’ve got like, two spells, some cantrips and a stick. And it’s like, all right, goblins. Go get ’em.

Randall 

I will say I feel like that even cuts both way. Like if we think about that fifth edition spellcaster. Immediately, like as the DM is like, Okay, well, are you a Wizard or are you a sourcer? What’s, what spells do you have prepared today, Wizard? And that person looks at you. And they’re like, “I have all the ones that are on my sheet. Is that an answer? Can I say that?” And I do think like, that’s exactly the advantage of, like you say, if I give you that level one, there’s super few options. And we can get to the simple things like, what’s a spell attack? What’s a saving throw?

Random 

This is a place where if you do have someone experienced in your group, you can really leverage that. If you are a DM running, and you know, you’re the only person who’s played before, you’re going to be a hot commodity if you try and have players build their own characters. This raises a really interesting question for your one shots, are you building your own characters to give to your players ahead of time? Or the players building their characters? That really becomes a question more of, again, what is your target audience? If you have a group of all veterans, you’re just going to say yes, you know, go at it. But at many low level one shots are because you are either introducing people who have never played that particular system, or TTRPGs in general, to what D&D can be. And so a lot of times you want to remove a lot of the stress from them by having these characters pre-built. Because really, as cliche as the saying that you never get a second chance at a first impression is, it really applies to introducing people to tabletop roleplaying gaming. It is no lie that it is a complex hobby. I will give huge props to Wizards for making fifth edition by far the most approachable that D&D has ever been, and really most role playing games with much weight have been. But it’s still a lot. It’s still a lot of math, it’s still a lot of tracking, why does this go here? Why does this go here. And on the one hand, you can try and just get by and especially if your players are, you know, more interested in just experiencing the little one shot story than really learning D&D, you can get away with a lot of, I’m just gonna build you a level one or two character, and you can enjoy Fist Rockgroin the Monk, a real character that showed up in one of my games. Just enjoy participating in the story. Or, you know, you can take this as a way of guiding somebody in like, Alright, there’s a lot of complexity, because character creation is honestly one of the most complex parts of role playing games. So you know, you can guide them through at a very low level, like, Alright, we’re going to build you at level one, because you really only have like five decision points. And then we can add those decision points later on if you decide that this is something that you’re actually enjoying.

Randall 

I want to make the first assertion and then whatever you disagree with, I want you to push back on, I think, really, the only way you should be playing your one shots at first or second level, is if you are DMing for a group of new players who have never done it before and you just want to teach them a system. I would even say if you have somebody who really knows 5e, well, but doesn’t know Pathfinder, or vice versa, even those folks, you can start at a higher level than level one, level two. And they’re going to double down on that by saying, I think Random, you nailed it. The most complicated part of getting started, I do not think is playing the game as a first or second level character. The hardest part is creating that character. And so doing, you know, we have a great resource will link in the show notes, where Tyler walks our good friend Jodie through creating a character to play in a one shot. Do that with your players. If this is a hobby you’re trying to share, you’re evangelizing, you’re trying to bring people into it, sit down with them and help them build that character. And then you’ll be able to show up, you’ll play that one shot at level one, level two. I would even say by the end of it, just Hey, everybody, congratulations, you’re all level three. Let’s have a real game if we choose to play again.

Tyler 

So one more thing I want to touch on for playing at levels one and two. Those are good levels to understand how dying works in the game, because you’re probably going to die. If you’ve played the fifth edition starter set, yhe first encounter is three hob… er, sorry, three goblins with short bows. If you listen to our episode from last week with Keith Ammann, goblins can be really scary if they ambush you. And I have run… I’ve run Lost Mine of Phandelver for a group of fairly experienced players. It was their first time with fifth edition. Random, I’m pretty sure you were in that group. But it only lasted one session because… you weren’t? Okay, I’m getting the shaking head. But anyway, I ran it for a few people who’ve been playing D&D with me for years, and we almost got a TPK to three goblins by the roadside. Level one. Very lethal. And that might teach new players, you might actually die in this game. Like, your character might die. This isn’t a video game where you’re going to pop back up and be like, Oh, yes, green mushroom, I’m fine. That becomes less of a problem as you gain levels and you get access to more healing options and things like that. But understanding what it feels like to have a character die at early levels can be a helpful lesson for people new to the hobby.

Randall 

Yeah, except for when it’s like, Oh, we’ve lost Jim. Oh, no. But look, Tim, his identical brother who’s had the exact same training. Ready to go! No, but I mean, that’s a good point. Like, let’s double down. So we’ve already established that if you’re running a first or second level group in one shot, it’s because you’re introducing to new players. I would agree with Tyler, like, let them experience the pain of death. One, I’ll point out, you said you almost had a TPK which meant you didn’t which meant everybody was able to get up, they were able to use their hit dice. They wrote it’s like okay, that was a bad idea. What if we, you know, “what if we suck less next time?” and they continued on, but as a as a DM I think in that scenario, even if you get there, find a way to let it through or like oh, and then a group of identical adventurers comes in and finds all the bodies. Let’s, let’s just keep going. Let them have their fun, right?

Tyler 

I have definitely done that.

Random 

I have been the party who… a consideration was made where I would end up as the party who came in and I’ve definitely had… one of the long running jokes in my game. One of my players had a really cool Barbarian character named Katyusha which is apparently like a Russian version of our Katie and he played that character. It was a great character. He died. Kathreesha showed up.

Randall 

And so on and so on.

Random 

Right. Well, that was, you know, Kathreesha made it for quite a while, but some people do get really attached to their characters. And there’s, especially for these new players who you are introducing to a system, don’t punish them for the high lethality of low levels. You know, if you do spoilers for about 20 minutes from now, if you do try and turn this one shot into like, Okay, well, you enjoyed this, let’s maybe continue this story on. If somebody died, but they were really enjoying a fragile rogue life. Don’t make them reroll, if they want to just play that rogue again, that’s fine. The purpose here is the table has fun. And especially as people are being introduced the system for the first time forcing them into trying to become invested in one character and then immediately become invested in a different character is not going to be an easy task and a lot of people are going to buck that.

Randall 

I do want to give a little bit of a special consideration to Pathfinder 2. So I was talking to Tyler ahead of this episode, cuz he’s DM’ed for me, or I apologize. He has GM’ed for me several times in PF2. And the first time I did not own the core rulebook yet, so I was just trying to do this with online resources. And the only tabletop game that I’ve ever played is 5e until I played Pathfinder two, and I did not get it at all. It was very confusing, and I’m trying to create this character, and I’m asking for help. And I kind of got it. Two things. One, like sitting down in like a one on one and just running through okay, no kidding, how do I make this character? Probably would have made a lot more sense to me. Two, having the core rulebook in front of me was tremendous. So I initially had like some hesitance in saying, for D&D, you could start somebody who can count the 20 at third level, and they’ll be fine. That would, that’d be my assertion that is my assertion.

Tyler 

Totally.

Randall 

Pathfinder 2, I was hesitant, and then I got the core rulebook in front me and I’m like, Oh, actually, this is perfectly lovely. And I do think as long as you have that resource, you’re probably good to go.

Random 

Special sidebar rant. Yes, but that core rulebook is like 600 something pages.

Tyler 

Yeah.

Random 

And as someone who has not played just three, er, fifth edition, as someone who’s 20 odd years, I tried to sit down and make a character using just online resources. And I, I think I technically made a character. It wasn’t good.

Randall 

Probably wasn’t right.

Random 

I didn’t understand how I wasn’t offered some of the options in the builder that I was using that I thought I was going to be offered so Pathfinder 2, you definitely want a guide for.

Tyler 

Yeah, at some point we’ll need to create some resources for how to get started with PF2. But yes, Pathfinder 2 first level characters are about as complicated as third level characters in fifth edition. A first level character in Pathfinder second edition always has their subclass, they have like four or five feats. Maybe more depending on your your ancestry andyour class, you have a lot of decision points at level one. Just in the core rulebook, there’s well over 100 ways to build a Wizard before you start picking spells. There’s a lot of decision points. It is fairly complicated. The core rulebook actually does a really good job walking you through it if you just go through the, like, here’s how you build the character section but I’m pretty sure that section isn’t reproduced in online SRDs. Like Archive of Nethys doesn’t have it because they can only reproduce the actual, like, stats, essentially. If you’re going to play Pathfinder second edition and build a character grabbed the core rulebook. Otherwise, it’s totally fine to just use pre gens in one shots. Randall, I just ran for you and some of our some of our other regular D&D folks the Big Trouble in Little Absalom one shot.

Randall 

Which was awesome.

Tyler 

Yeah, it took us about four hours of total play time to get through. You play a party of level one kobolds dungeon crawling an old lady’s basement.

Random 

Wonderful.

Randall 

Spoilers.

Tyler 

It’s on the tin. Part of the splash art is an elderly woman giving cookies to kobolds. It’s wonderful. It is a good adventure. If you’re going to play Pathfinder second edition for the first time, i strongly recommend tha,t and then go to the starter kit, which also has pregen characters. But probably want to play PF2 a couple times for you try and build your first character.

Randall 

Yeah, spoiler, those cookies were delicious. Yeah, but if you have the core rulebook in front of you, though, like in the introductory matter, there’s a section with a sample character of like, step by step, here’s how you build a character. And then there’s this section on how do you level up that character. And then as you read on and you get into the ancestries, backgrounds, and finally in the classes, like in the class guide, they actually have a section where they’re like, this section only exists to remind you to take your ancestry feats. And so there’s a there’s a fixed schedule that you get your ancestry feeds, and then every, like, similar to the player’s handbook, where there’s kind of like a quick summary of like here’s what you get at every level, each class also has that. It’s just that, yeah, the options, you know, the combinatorics on the options are ridiculous. But I do think it’s pretty easy to follow if you’re sitting there with one physical book in front of you. I say that to say, we’ll have an affiliate link where you’ll be able to purchase the Pathfinder 2 core rulebook in the show notes so you can find that. It is a pretty cool resource.

Tyler 

It is. It’s a good book.

Randall 

And I want to roll all this up that I think if you have the book and you read through it, and your person who’s generally familiar with TTRPGs, I do think you could skip to a more interesting level. The cool thing is, by third level, it’s interesting still. Like, you have plenty of feats in your pocket, you’ve been able to make lots of choices. You’ve had some customization, I think you’re ready to party. So yeah, I think I think we’ve nailed down novice players. What do you folks think?

Tyler 

Yeah, I think so.

Randall 

We’re now ready to level up. So let’s talk about experienced players. Folks who generally understand TTRPGs. One better is if they even already know the system. And I’m going to take a step back again. I keep going backward and forward. I feel like at this point, it is torture, to make the folks that you’ve been playing with for two years in a system go back and play a level one character.

Tyler 

I kinda agree.

Randall 

I sincerely believe that, like, as I… and we play, we play two hours a week, this is what we’re able to make time for. Like, you’re gonna make me for… what is that gonna wind up being two weeks? Three weeks? A month? Play a level one character?

Tyler 

In fifth edition, the experience point progression is set up in such a way that you can be expected to play one four to six hour session at level 1. One four to six hour session at level two. And then after that, the space between levels gets a bit longer. But since we play two hours a week, yeah, those little levels can take a really long time to get through.

Random 

As someone who has made… I don’t think I’m in triple digits yet, but I’m probably getting there, number of characters, especially in in fifth edition, where a lot of classes don’t have their subclasses yet at level one, playing a level one… It doesn’t matter if you’re a level one Rogue who wants to be an assassin, or level one Rogue who wants to be an arcane trickster. You’re just a level one Rogue. And, like… great.

Randall 

I see you’re a Druid. Can you become an animal? No, no, not yet.

Random 

Sure can’t! Right? And so a lot of things not only don’t have their flavor, but they’re just really frustrating. So I, well, I had an example. And then he interrupted me and I lost it.

Randall 

My bad. I was just really excited to make fun of Druids who can’t become animals. Like, what are you even doing?

Random 

No, but I mean, that’s that’s really the point. Especially like I was talking about where you’ve played, how many characters? You’re not really investing in this you’re, you’re certainly creating a character that you want to play. But as a one shot this is where you get your your characters named “Medium Rarey.” This is where people go to have a little bit of fun and exactly like Tyler was talking about, you know, maybe you fill a gap between sessions, which we’re going to maybe hit on filling that with other games like I’m doing right now. I’m currently running “Dot Dungeon,” which is a fabulous system that I will talk more about in a couple episodes, when we talk about media. Really letting characters hit their stride. Level four, if you’re multiclassing, maybe level five. This is a perfect sweet spot. And we’ve actually done this twice, right? We have played one shots for Halloween and for the winter holidays. And we did, we played one level four, one at level 5. And the characters felt great. And at level four in fifth edition, you get to pick up an ASI, which is almost always going to be some kind of feat to make your character do something fun.

Randall 

ASI stands for…?

Random 

Ability score increase?

Tyler 

Yes.

Random 

Yes.

Randall 

Perfect. Okay. And sincerely, I was actually sitting here going “I have no idea what that means.”

Random 

I also don’t think about it a lot. It’s just it’s an “Ah-see”. Oh no, wait, that’s…

Tyler 

Isn’t that a berry?

Random 

That’s not how that works.

Randall 

The acies?  No, no, that’s “acai”. Ahsee? Aqui? Anyway. Right but so like these are when you’re going to play characters with flavor, right? This is where you’re going to be on assassin. This is where you’re going to be your particular paladin oath. And this is where you’re going to get enough choice points to make it actually feel fun. And that’s really the… I, especially right like if we are doing a one shot for experienced players. They know the game they’re not here to learn. They’re here to have fun in a way that’s different from whatever their main game is or whatever the last thing they played is. So that’s, that’s really, I think, the best way to get somebody the feeling of fun while still keeping things constrained enough that you as a DM are not going to have a really hard time trying to manage your bag of cats that you’re dealing with. And one other thing I’ll say for it, because I did have this experience of like, if you’re playing the same group of level one, or even level two characters, it feels like you’re playing the same game with the same folks over and over again, but you can’t quite get that campaign going if that’s the case. I feel like at level four, even if it’s a one shot, if it folks are building their characters slightly different ways, it really does feel like playing a different game with a different group of characters every time you approach it.

Tyler 

Yeah, level four also gives you enough room to multiclass. Like, you’ll give up that ability score increase, which is a huge increase in power a lot of times, but if you, like, maybe you want to play a hexadin, a level three Paladin level one Warlock. That’s still a solid build at level four. So you have enough room to experiment there that you can make your mechanical, your mechanical choices distinct and interesting. And yeah, like you guys have said it, it feels like a different game with a different party, as opposed to oh great, another party of level one, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard.

Randall 

And so we’ve said, like, four through six is all kind of fun, it still feels like a young character that isn’t fully fleshed out, because it’s not, there’s a lot of options that are in front of it. But it’s a lot of fun. And of course, this is for 5e. For Pathfinder, I actually kind of want to push for all. For Pathfinder, I want to say like, it feels like everything starts at level five, right? You have your ancestry feet, you should be getting some of your class feats, you should have gotten a bump in skill feats. And so the feat tree is kind of opening up in front of you. You can make a lot of foundational choices that are going to be really important for the character as it goes. But I feel like you could have a lot of fun at level five and PF2.

Tyler 

Yeah, I agree. A lot of the PF2 one shot adventures that get published are set at level five, there’s one that they keep giving away on roll20. It’s pirate themed. I’m struggling to remember the name, but we’ll link it in the show notes. And yeah, it looks like a lot of fun. It’s set a level five, you get some pregens. And yeah, Randall, like you said, you’ve got you’ve got your notable subclass features, you’ve had a few class feats, your first ancestry feat after level one comes online. So there’s a lot of room to build a really interesting character by that point. But it’s still not so complicated that things are going to be a problem. Now, I want to jump back to fifth edition real quick, I forgot to say one thing. So there’s a big CR jump at level five, the challenge rating. The, the encounters get a lot more difficult at level five all of a sudden. Lik,e you go four, things are progressing nicely, and then you hit five and just shoot straight up. Because at level five martial characters usually get extra attack, spellcasters get big spells like fireball. The party’s ability to output damage is significantly higher all of a sudden. So the encounters get more difficult to compensate for that. We’ll we’ll share a link to my practical guide to campaign planning, but I did the math and figured out how many encounters it takes characters to go from a level to the next level. And it’s, it’s roughly the same at levels like one and two. It’s a few more three and four. At level five, it just shoots up, and like there is no other level that takes as many encounters to go up a level as from level five to level six. So, like, you’re expected to hit that level, kind of dhrun, like, tread water a little bit while you get your bearings. And then you can move on to level six and carry on and things kind of stabilize.

Randall 

So I’m smirking, I’m smirking in the video, and everybody’s staring me wondering why. When Tyler says, like, oh level five you get fireball and of course you take it. It reminds me of a time that a during our game Tyler tweeted that he didn’t catch what spell I picked up at fifth level, but surely it was fireball.

Tyler 

And then it wasn’t!

Randall 

Spoiler, folks, it wasn’t. It was melf’s tiny meteors, and I love them, and I’m keeping them

Tyler 

You killed like four things with that in the first encounter you used it, and it worked out. It was good.

Randall 

Tt’s such a silly spell. What’s really funny, though, because again, I’m the most novice at the game, is after it, like, I’m throwing my tiny meteors at things. And I’m like, “hey, could I have done that with a fireball?” Everybody’s like “Yeah, you totally get it done that with fireball. You’re good. It’s fine.”

Tyler 

But you couldn’t have done it as a bonus action.

Randall 

And that’s, really, what… that’s all that you ever want. I get to deal damage as a bonus action? As a Sorcerer?

Random 

Yes, it’s called “Quicken.”

Tyler 

Wait, doesn’t that… doesn’t that do your taxes?

Randall 

No, I’m pretty sure it pays people, Tyler.

Random 

That’s on the episode. All right, there you go.

Tyler 

Show Notes are gonna get real weird, today.

Randall 

We’ll have an affiliate link to Quicken and Intuit. Everybody, it’s tax season. You’re welcome.

Tyler 

I’ve got, I’ve got to say, we have… we very frequently have some very strange things in our show notes. No one has ever commented on it, so either people are just totally used to it, or people are just missing out on all the goofs I bury in there, because there are some.

Random 

Sorry, if we’re looking at buried goofs, please, at some point, go back and look at the transcription for the episode a few episodes ago, where Randle’s voice was credited as “The Confused Navi/Deckard Cain hybrid”.

Randall 

I remember that!

Random 

Yep.

Tyler 

Another thing people apparently don’t realize, we do an audio transcription of every single one of the episodes in a blog post on RPGBOT.net. So if there’s ever something we say, and you’re like, “What are they saying? This is garbled words!” Yeah, it’s all in text. It’s all in there. Go check it out.

Random 

Also, cool thing. It means that you can google search it because you can, you know, if you want to Google like a phrase that we’ve said, and you can do the operator “site: RPGBOT.net.” There you go, you’ll find it really easy.

Randall 

Yeah, I actually I do about all the time if I’m trying to refer back to stuff because I’m not gonna sit here and scrub an entire episode. Instead, I just go to the site, and I search, text search. So that, sincerely, pro tip buried in the episode. We’re being goofy. So I’m gonna continue being goofy. In the show notes, there is the phrase “classless systems.” And I’m supposed to get us to go to that. And I have no idea what it means.

Tyler 

Well, those are systems where you go to put your elbows on tables and belch during dinner.

Randall 

It was good.

Tyler 

It fell flat, it was fine. So a classless system is a system which…

Randall 

Tyler is part of the bourgeois. But anyway…

Tyler 

A classless system is a system where you build a character without the concept of a class. So you think in D&D, you have your elf wizard, or dwarf fighter, etc. So you take off that second noun there, so you might be a dwarf, elf, human. And then the rest is more freeform. So these are systems like GURPS, Shadowrun, lots of others. Basically, instead of building a character using discrete levels where you you gain a level, you gain some stuff, you gain another level, you gain some more stuff, you generally have a point-based system that’s used to buy specific capabilities for your character. So like Shadowrun, you may be, oh, I want to be a little bit of decker and a little bit of street samurai, so I’m going to put some points into hacking and swinging swords. And I’m just going to build my character however I want that way. And it allows a lot of flexible customization of your character. Like, if you look at Pathfinder, Second Edition amd say, like, “this is not enough,” then a classless system may be for you. But it also means that you frequently don’t have those discrete roles where like, I am the Cleric, I’m going to do some magic stuff, and probably some supporting and some healing and some blasting of bad guys. And then if you’re playing GURPS you’re like, my character calls themselves a Cleric, but I’ve never once cast a spell.

Randall 

If I understand that correctly, so we can go all the way from like 5e where it’s like oh, you know, did you did you take a level in this? No level, no skill. That’s it. To Pathfinder 2, it’s like, Well, are you technically qualified to take this feat? If you are, it’s yours. And then finally go all the way to something like gerbe or Shadowrun where, nah, like I whatever. Yeah, sure. You’re a cowboy. Go nuts.

Tyler 

Yeah, pretty much.

Randall 

Okay.

Tyler 

So those systems are a little harder to account for when you’re doing one shots. And I don’t have a ton of experience with those systems, so I’m definitely not the right person to ask about this. But you will generally create characters with some budget of some kind, like GURPS you’ll have some number of points to spend, Fantasy Flight Star Wars, you’ll have your species, your career, and then depending on your species, you’ll get some number of experience points that you can then spend on specific upgrades like buying skills, buying talents from your talent trees. Shadowrun, you’ll… the current edition has this priority system that’s a little too complicated to go into right now, but you’ll essentially get your metatype, which is your D&D equivalent of a race, then money, skills, things, and then you’ll have some amount of karma which is Shadowrun’s experience system that you can then use to customize your character a little bit further past character creation. But if you’re playing those classless systems, like, the starting budget for your characters… think of it as the equivalent of level one. And then the rules for that game will generally give you some guidance about how much experience or whatever to give your players as they as they progress through the system. So like Edge of the Empire recommends 10 to 20 experience points per session, basically. So you’ll give that to your characters every session, and they advanced by gaining experience points. And if you want to run a one shot that’s a little more powerful that you can say like, okay, give them maybe 10 sessions worth experience or 20 sessions worth experience, something like that. And that will give them a larger budget to build and customize their characters that might be more appropriate for whatever challenge you’re planning to give them.

Randall 

And kind of, the rules still apply that we were talking about before that if it’s somebody who’s new to it, it probably is better to start off at that level one character. But if everybody understands the ruleset, 100% do exactly what Tyler saying, give them like, here’s your bank of XP, go spend it the way that you know how to spell spend it to build a character that you want to play at this level.

Random 

And there’s definitely some transfer of skills here. I you know, for me to go from a ton of 3.x to Pathfinder 2 would not be that much of a stretch, but like when I did go into Tyler’s Edge of the Empire game, I definitely wanted a certain level one because that was a very different system, right? You know, this is all of a sudden, like, alright, well, yeah, I understand how talent trees work. Which of these options are good? And none of us… right, Tyler had played, I think, a different Final Fantasy… er, not Final Fantasy. A different Fantasy Flight game.

Tyler 

Yeah.

Random 

And had some experience the system, but like, it was still not enough for him to really be able to understand enough to like, yeah, describe a good character creation to me.

Randall 

Like, is this gonna be good? I don’t know, what’s a combat?

Tyler 

The other Fantasy Flight System I had played was Dark Heresy, which is completely different system from from their Star Wars game. So like, the experience did not transfer. So we were all going in blind, and we skipped the starter set.

Random 

But that’s just the I mean, that that really nails home. Like, consider your transfer of training that your players are going to have. A D&D-ish to a D&D-ish is, you know, going to be fine. But if you are going to try and run a one shot in something really far afield, like Dungeons the Dragoning, maybe consider taking it a little bit easy before you go ham.

Randall 

Actually something that came out and when we were getting prepped for this episode, Tyler, you mentioned this idea of like, yeah, you know, here’s here’s 100, 200, 300 XP, go build a character. In Shadowrun, like, here’s a ton of nuyen, here’s a ton of karma, go build a character. In 5e, it’s actually kind of hard to get an answer to how much wealth, how many magic items should my 10th level characters have? And so, actually, Tyler, you know, hey, RPGBOT, you solved that problem, right?

Tyler 

I sure did! So this episode will come out on Wednesday night, Thursday morning. We’re recording this on Sunday night, the article is going to be posted tomorrow. But as of when you’re listening to this, I have posted an article on starting above first level in fifth edition, which includes a detailed wealth by level table, including magic items and all those things, guidance on how to build your character without accidentally cheating, suggestions for how to bring your character into an existing party. If your character died, or if you’re joining a group midstream, or if you’re playing a one shot and you’re like, “how do I build these characters?” It solves all your problems. Well, not all your problems. It won’t make you dinner?

Randall 

Yeah, but but it is important, right? Like if you’re if you’re showing up to a party, like you’re joining a party who’s mid-campaign, they probably have accumulated a few magic items, they’ve probably accumulated some gold and spent them on something. And so I think, you know, having read the article, I think it does a great job of highlighting, like, hey, DM, here is my starting offer for what I think this character ought to be able to come with. And here’s what’s gonna happen, your dungeon master is going to look at the site and be like, Oh, well, it’s an authority, so we’re ready to party. You’re welcome, listener.

Random 

I just have to say, personally, I have been wanting this since fifth edition’s inception=. I’m reasonably certain it’s page 106, although it’s been long enough that I don’t remember. In the Dungeon Master’s guide of 3.5 was this table, that Tyler has recreated, the wealth by level. And I had that page number memorized for like a decade because it was so integral to creating characters at higher level. Now, obviously, 3.x, the math was a little bit more concrete, so that mattered more but still, it’s a great resource. You should check it out.

Randall 

I want to go back to kind of what do we do for experienced players. So we talked about 4 through 6 is awesome for 5e. For Pathfinder, maybe starting at 5 makes a little bit more sense, because you’re going to get just a little bit more and I think it’s gonna make the game a lot more fun. What about everything in between? Like, what about all the way up to 20? One idea that I want to bring up, we always talk about making the game in context, making a character in context. Here’s what I’ll say: if you’re a DM, and you want to have the best BBEG that you can. Like you have this idea in your mind. Like, let’s say, it’s Dungeons and Dragons. I want them to fight a red dragon. And so you flip open your resources and you find, okay, I’ve got this young Red Dragon with the CR of 10. You can’t take four level 4 characters and say, “Hey, folks, you’re gonna find a young Red Dragon.” Makes absolutely no sense, right?

Tyler 

Okay, so if you have a boss monster that you want to build your adventure around, grab a copy of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Flipped to chapter two, it’s the dungeon master’s workshop, and look for the designing encounters section, I think it’s called. They present an alternate system to the one in the DMG. So in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, you’ll have essentially an XP budget, like you have some number based on the number of players in your party in their level, and you multiply that and you… addition, subtraction, there’s the easy, medium, hard, deadly scale, like there’s all that. And you could do all that math, and that’s fine. If you say I want to take an adult Red Dragon is CR X, what level do I need the party to be? Go to the Xanathar’s, flip open the table, there’s a table titled Solo Monster Challenge Rating that is very specifically for legendary monsters. And you can say, okay, it’s CR X, how many players do I have? What level should they be? So let’s say we’ve got a CR 10 Dragon and five players, it looks like the players should be level 7 for that to be an adequate challenge for them. That entire system, a lot of people find it a lot easier than using the XP budget system, it makes it a lot easier to include, like, a mix of different CR’s. So like, honestly, it’s a really good system. And another thing that’s rolling out this week, I’m updating the encounter builder to include helpful tables to help you use this system, which I don’t think I told you guys about, so surprise!  We’ll link the encounter builder in the show notes as well. Yeah, if you’ve found the XP budget system to be a pain, this might be a good alternative. It’s also a great way to figure out, like, yeah, what do you need for a one shot? Let’s say we’ve got that CR 10 Dragon, we’ve got four players, we’re building on one shot. So tell them level 8, no other context. Give them the Practical Guide to Starting Above First Level, and they can build their characters with all the gear and stuff that they need. And you’re ready to go.

Randall 

Great news! Yeah, I think and I think this is a fantastic way to build a game because again, there are these amazing monsters are amazing creatures that you would love to use as the BBEG. And if you’re always playing somebody else’s, like, published campaign, or you’re playing, like, these one shots that are starting at low level, you never get an opportunity to meet the most interesting creatures in 5e. And so I think starting with the basis of like, I want to see what combat looks like it’s one of these things, to me makes complete sense.

Random 

And to talk about a way that you can take that and amp it up to 11, as part of a contest that Dungeons and Dragons, WotC, had back a long time ago, I wrote a this is meant to be a short module with my dad and we basically created this floating city, there was a bunch of stuff. But the thing is, this was intended for level 18 characters. And that meant that I got to include a lot of really cool monsters. Things like a flight of beholders and really high level undead. And…

Randall 

That is a phrase I never wanted to hear.

Random 

Correct. Yes. Because it turns out that having beholders prepare actions where, like, one of them has their eye open than everyone, else prepares actions for close eyes, shoot beam, shoot beam, shoot beam, and then the last one prepares an action to open its eye again, is a really awful thing to do to your players. 15 year old me was a little sadistic in D&D. But you got to play around with all of these super fun high level things that you know have these really intimidating statblocks. The the final boss for that, in 3.x, was the one before greatwyrm. I think it was ancient.

Tyler 

Acnient, yeah.

Random 

An ancient Red Dragon pretending to be a white dragon so that people would use the wrong element on him because, you know, dragons, they’re crafty. And so just getting to do that in a really low investment environment where people are enjoying their characters. But you know, if your pile of BS TPK’s the group in two rounds, well then, sorry, but you know, we got to have fun and it’s not like I killed the character that you’ve been spending two years inhabiting. Using one shots, two shots as a way to just explore concepts for these veteran players can be incredibly rewarding. And that was in fact the last time we ever played 3.5 And then we transitioned to that long running Pathfinder game.

Tyler 

Yeah, that was a good session. month, my character if you if you look at Patreon or Twitter, currently, the banners on both is me just doing the math on how much damage my character could do. I got the math wrong. I undervalued it by about 400-ish

Randall 

Only… only 400. So don’t tweet at you with critiques of the banner.

Tyler 

Yeah, right? In all of its low pixel glory, because I took it on an old camera phone way back when it’s been up ever since.

Randall 

Alright, so I want to, I want to kind of do like a quick roll up because we’ve we’ve said a lot, but I don’t know if we’ve said much yet. For for novice players, we think level one, level two makes sensein both Pathfinder and 2e. Because you want to introduce the game, you want to get them comfortable, you want to get them excited about it. for experienced players, folks who have played TTRPGs a lot, or folks who have at least played a particular rule set a couple times, it makes sense to hop in. For 5e, maybe four through six is great, because there’s still a lot opportunity in front of them. But at least there’s choices, and it’ll be exciting, it’ll feel like a new game every time. For PF2, maybe you need to bump that up to level five. And then more generally, if you as a DM have some creature that you want to have be your BBEG, it makes perfect sense to have them, you know, okay, pick that and then back out from that what your player characters levels ought to be. Now, I think, you know, you’re sitting home, and you’re pretty crafty, and you’ve had an original idea that nobody else has ever had. I’m going to tell everybody, we’re gonna play a one shot. But then at the end of it, I’m going to be like, surprise, we could keep playing with these characters. And everybody’s going to love you for it. And you’re going to have a campaign in front of you.

Tyler 

You monster. How dare you.

Randall 

I mean, we all try to do this. 100%. Like, cuz it’s, it’s like, hey, you’ve never played a tabletop game, let’s get a campaign going. And they’re like, I don’t… I don’t even know if I would eat lunch with you yet, like, this is this is new. And honestly, that’s a lot of commitment that you’re asking for me for. I don’t know if I’m ready for that. What if we have coffee first? Okay. I think you could do that. And I think you can have all the joy of a one shot, but still have the opportunity to at the end of the game, if everybody had a great time, you can of course continue it.

Random 

Given that we’ve said start at level one for mechanical, the opposite of complexity… simplicity, there we go. If you’re starting at level one for simplicity but you’d want to get people out of that really lethal zone, because maybe now they are going to be invested in these characters long term. Don’t hesitate to skip a level or two. Get people out of the super danger zone. Or you know, maybe, maybe that group that did that piece of the story, they’ve gone back to the tavern and they’ve been playing some three dragon ante and the new party overhears them and says, “Oh, well, we knew that that was just the first layer in that cave. Let’s go explore the rest of it.” And you know that that would be a really easy way to like transition stuff. But the short answer is like, there’s a lot of ways to do that. And you, I mean, basically just whatever creative solution you’re going to come up with to keep the players at the table even if you don’t keep the exact same characters at the table is going to work great.

Randall 

I think that’s exactly right. And I think there’s a couple things that you can do. So one, I think the idea of you go back to a tavern and you have a conversation, you spill something, I think it’s great. I think in the middle of the game, if you can reveal some mystery, like, they find a tome and there’s a secret passage in the tome. Alright, they finished the one shot, they never answered the question that, but you can tease like, I have an idea that extends from this if you want to keep playing and, and maybe half the folks at the table were like, Yeah, I want to come back. Fantastic. And the other half said, Okay, maybe this isn’t for me. They’re wrong, and that’s okay. The other thing is, everybody has a good time. But these aren’t the characters that they’re in love with. I love the idea of basing, like, okay, look, you know, whatever we achieve right now is going to directly impact some bonus that I’m going to give you for a campaign that we might start. You have the group, they fight the BBEG, and they win, but then afterwards, like a bunch of minions of the BBG start pouring in. And so you say like, Okay, stand up as long as you can, however many minions you take out is going to directly impact. And what does that do? Maybe the town they’re from gives them like a certain amount of prosperity, you know, which means that you’re… the next group of adventurers start wealthier, start at a higher level. They start with maybe some additional feat that you just grant out of nowhere, or maybe the way is open for them to start the campaign in an exciting way. But you can give them that where it’s like, okay, if the only thing we do right now is a one shot, we’re going to go out and glory and it’s going to be fantastic. But also imagine

Random 

Bro, why you got to “objective: survive” me. Too soon.

Randall 

This is a Halo: Reach?

Tyler 

It’ll be in the show notes.

Randall 

But still, it’d be it’d be amazing like to sit back that table and then you start telling the story of these legendary adventurers who wandered in the cave to fight, I guess at level one, what was it, like, one goblin? No, I’m halfway kidding. And you know, through long odds and you know, idiotic rolls they manage to survive. And look at all the bounty that is now in front of you because of it. As a player, that’s super rewarding. And I won’t even realize you duped me into playing D&D with you.

Tyler 

Yeah, I like all these ideas. And even if you do start at level one with that one shot, and then want to jump up to a higher level, like, yeah, you guys have offered some great suggestions. Just doing a time skip, and like maybe some of the characters move on to distant pastures. Maybe some of the people liked their characters and kept them. So you say like, yeah, the two people who stayed in town, they’re level 3 now instead of level 1, and they’ve made some new friends who are going adventuring with them.

Randall 

Yeah, I think that makes perfect sense. All right, I have to ask the question, either system, do you ever allow a 20th level one shot?

Tyler 

A 20th Level one shot is something that everyone should do at least once because almost no one makes it to level 20 any other way.

Random 

I remembered that I actually ran that floating city module for a different group that basically did it as a one shot between our regular sessions. Because we we made it a few rooms and never got anywhere. But that was actually the first time I ever got to adjudicate Wish. And it was a ton of fun. Like, ninth level spells. Obviously, in in fifth edition there, they’re even more special because you get an first level spell a day, and maybe even ever, depending on your class. Getting to play around with those crazy powerful things without having to deal with the long term consequences in your your long running story can be really satisfying.

Randall 

You meant to say a ninth level, like one 9th level spell.

Random 

Yes. An ninth level spell.

Randall 

Okay. Just making sure. Yeah, I think I think that makes perfect sense to me. And for the exact reason you say. Lik,e so few campaigns get to go this far. Most published modules, and a lot of folks play publish modules, don’t go that far. And so if you’re gonna get to level 20, what does it say? You have a group committed for that long. And you have a DM who can put together a story that’s appealing for that long. And you have a character who can survive with you as a player driving it for that long. You know, when you put… it’s like, oh, man, what’s the great filter? That’s gonna drive me crazy. The reason why we don’t find intelligent life?

Tyler 

Either no other species has made it through the Great Filter, and we’re the first or we haven’t hit the Great Filter yet.

Randall 

Well, but there’s yeah, there’s like 10 Different reasons put together and it’s somebody’s hypothesis. Producer Dan, we’re just gonna cut this and we’ll say the right thing later, it’ll be great. Anyway. But yeah, like it’s it’s a long shot to actually make it all there level 20 starting at level one in a campaign with a group of other adventurers starting level one. And that said, I’d say, go have fun, right? There’s nothing that says that you can’t just create that group of characters and go nuts. And the beauty of it is there are plenty of monsters from the monster manual, which are not level 20 CR, not level 21 CR, level 30 CR, right? Like, you can go fight… Okay, not a ton, but there are a few creatures who, even if you’ve hit the peak, they’re probably still going to knock you down a peg or two.

Tyler 

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I’m looking at the lich statblocks. Like, CR 21. Just a little above 20, but yeah, they’ll they’ll kick your teeth.

Randall 

Okay, without googling. I think it’s Drake’s Equation is what I was trying to draw a second ago. Yeah. So, Producer Dan, don’t cut that correct equation. It’s Drake’s equation for D&D.

Random 

It’s “the Drake Equation.”

Randall 

Fine.

Tyler 

It’ll be in the show notes with the right name, we hope.

Randall 

Okay. Hey, folks, I think we did it. And we have a question of the week this week. The question of the week comes from @oaks_and_ravens on Twitter: which do you think is the strongest overall Strixhaven background? Which do you think is the strongest class? So yeah, they managed to sneak in two questions on us and we failed to perceive that, but we’re gonna answer them.

Random 

I’ll take the first half of this because this is really easy. It’s Silverquill, because that gets you Silvery Barbs. De-noot-doot. Like, that, I mean, yeah, the other ones are all really good. Or, well, the other ones are all good. I think the Witherbloom is probably the least strong in my opinion, depending on the class that you’re putting it on. With Silvery Barbs being as ridiculous as it is, getting access to it as the background is crazy.

Tyler 

Yeah, I agree. Silvery Barbs is enough of a problem just on the classes that it’s already on. Granting it to every spellcaster as a background is a little nuts.

Randall 

Okay. And then the second part is, like, what is the strongest class? So I actually wanted to see what you folks thought. Do you think this was a more general what’s the strongest class and 5e? Or was this what is the strongest class backed by some strixhaven background?

Tyler 

Oh, well, the strongest classes the bourgeois.

Random 

So I very much interpreted it as your second question, you know, and in particular so if we look at who does giving the strixhaven background or strixhaven initiate background to who does that make much stronger? Well, if we just talked about how Silvery Barbs is crazy good, and one of the few classes that doesn’t already have it is Druid. Chucking Silvery Barbs on Druid, not that they needed the help. Druids are already a very strong class. But they are notably somebody who doesn’t usually have something to spend their reaction on. And so if they have a bunch of first level spell slots that they can just Silvery Barbs, Silvery Barbs, Silvery Barbs. Oh, no, they  did not need the help.

Tyler 

Yeah, I think most of the primary casters don’t really need any help. They are generally among the strongest. D&D has had this long-term concept of linear fighters, exponential wizards, which is just the concept of how the classes scale. Like your your Fighter, Barbarian, Rogue, they will scale linearly as you gain levels. So numbers will go up in a mostly linear progression. Spellcasters, the things that they can do improve exponentially as you gain level. So at first level, like, you can blow somebody up. At third level, you can blow a few people up. At third level, you can blow everybody up. At seventh level, you can teleport! The capabilities expand far beyond what martial characters can do. So the strongest class in any edition of D&D is almost always going to be a spellcaster. And it’s almost always the Wizard. Just because the Wizard has the best spell list and they’re the coolest with their cool book that they lug around on adventures.

Random 

The Wizard bias coming in strong here.

Tyler 

Yes. Randall, I believe you’re muted.

Randall 

Yeah, no, that was true. One of us has famously been banned from playing Wizard in certain games. I don’t know which one of us it is. Maybe it’s the one with the Wizard bias.

Random 

It was never ban. It was just a suggestion.

Tyler 

No, I remember being a pretty strict “you are never allowed to play a wizard again”.

Random 

There was maybe once or twice that I said “don’t play a Wizard.”

Randall 

Okay.

Tyler 

I deserved that, honestly. It’s fine. I’m limping along with sorcerers and causing plenty of problems.

Randall 

Yeah, believe me. Alright. @oaks_and_ravens, thank you very much for your question. And we do enjoy it. Our next episode: who put these consonants next to my spell? What are verbal, somatic, and material components? Yeah, that’s right. We want to talk about magic. I’m Randall James. You can find me at amateurjack.com and on Twitter and Instagram @JackAmateur

Tyler 

I’m Tyler Kamstra. You’ll find me at RPGBOT.net. Facebook and Twitter at RPGBOTDOTBNET, and patreon.com/rpgbot.

Random 

And I’m random pal finding me does in fact require a DC 30 perception or investigation check. But if you do manage to find me, it’s probably because you search places where people play games for Hartlequin or Hartlequint. But mostly, you’ll find me here contributing to RPGBOT.net with some articles, which, looking to seek a new one in there soon and here on the podcast.

Tyler 

And you also find all three of us hanging out on the Patreon-only Discord

Randall 

RPGBOT Discord, Leisure Illuminati,

All 

Hail, hail, hail, hail.

Randall 

You’ll find the affiliate links for source books and other material is linked in the show notes following these links helps us to make this show happen every week. You can find our podcast wherever find podcasts are sold. If you enjoy this podcast, please rate review and subscribe. And please please please share it with your friends. We can see the growth that’s happening. We really appreciate how much folks are enjoying what we’re doing. Continue to tell your friends it’s gonna help us grow. It’s gonna help us keep doing this. If your question should be the question of the week next week, please email podcast@rpgbot.net messages on Twitter at RPGBOTDOTNET.

All 

Outro music plays.

Randall 

Some people can tell when they’re muted. So I did one these: “quick say something about 5e” and I thought he didn’t care. I said something about bias, and then Random said something about bias, so I thought it was in the conversation. Like, I… Oh, yeah, we’re hearing each other, it’s going great.

Random 

Wonderful.

3 Comments

  1. zebeev January 21, 2022
    • RPGBOT January 22, 2022
      • Keovar January 27, 2022

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