If you don’t want to suck in older edition D&D…

You may well be SOL

If you don’t want to suck in older edition D&D and don’t want to up the beginning level at which you start playing the game, then according to some you’re probably out of luck.

Is that really the case? Is that the only solution? Is that the best solution?


Maybe that’s what’s wrong with RPGs. Or maybe that’s what’s wrong with how RPGs are run by GMs these days. Apparently levels 1-4 are so universally equated to “suck” (or at least near suck) that they represent the dregs of adventure, those terrible beginning levels that necessarily must suck because the power level of the characters is so low in comparison with the “rest of the multiverse”.

Like a simple level 1 character can’t possibly be cool and do something amazing until level 5 because the game rules, convention, and the all mighty gaming gods  forbid it!

It’s like you’re all saying, “C’mon Kevin, just up the level to 5 and ignore the suckage that is the first 4.”


Are you telling me it’s not possible (or at least not easy) to run D&D in the low levels and NOT see the characters as just above suck? Or is that just the easy way out, that it’s simpler to agree this is the case and not tax yourself as a GM?

“Sure,” you say, “it’s possible. But the cool that supersedes the suck doesn’t show up until level 5.”

Like it’s some sort of fact we all just have to agree to.

Color me a healthy shade of skeptical. I disagree.

Now let’s be clear that I’m not trying to tell you how to play.

But I will challenge you that every level of D&D should be cool. Heck, in a way, every stage of every game should be cool in some form or fashion. If it isn’t, then as the GM you’re not doing your job well. That’s right, my opinion is that it’s your job as the GM to facilitate the cool regardless of the power scope of the actors.

Now you may claim your players don’t want cool at every level, but I find that hard to believe.

Your players want cool and it’s your role to provide it.

And that’s the real fact that seems to be ignored here.

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4 Responses to If you don’t want to suck in older edition D&D…

  1. N Wright says:

    It’s one of my firm beliefs that low-level play is the coolest play possible in D&D because what you accomplish is divorced entirely from “I Win” conditions. Nobody can say “You won because that’s what Frostmages do at that level, they always win in that situation,” because it’s not true. Winning at low levels can be hard when you’re not ready, and that’s why it’s awesome.

    That’s also the exact reason why people think it sucks, but I digress.

    Very thought provoking post, thank you.

  2. Kevin says:

    That’s a lesser held opinion for sure.
    And I for one think you’re on to something.

  3. Deadgod says:

    I think part of the blame falls on our perceptions.

    Firstly, “cool” moments in the game often comes from a clever idea, a series of well-timed events, or a perfect dice roll. All of these things are independent of level.

    Secondly, 1st level characters in older editions are generally supposed to represent ordinary folks. They may have some weapon training, or know a spell or two, or have some advantageous racial traits, but they are basically the same as you and me. Now imagine if you decided to pick up a sword, walked to the caves at the edge of town, and found a monster there. You are scared to death, might even get injured, but you manage to kill that monster. This is a big deal. You looked death in the face, locked swords with it, and managed to walk away. That, in my opinion, is an exciting and compelling story.

    Later, you–again, an average person–have managed to do the above a couple times. You are a little bit wiser. A little more prepared. Your combat instincts have sharpened and you know a couple of tricks. Not to mention, you have managed to put several hundred bucks into your bank account for your efforts. You are not quite an action hero yet–not quite capable of those physics-defying feats you see in the movies. Combat is still a tense event where you have a chance of dying, but you can look back at your first days and know that you are not a beginner. You have survived. You are something greater than level 1, but not quite level 5 yet.

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