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Zero Level

You are NOT the one with the knife

The other day, one of my players mentioned that he'd checked his records at it was the four-year anniversary of his now 13th (soon to be 14th) level cleric's inception. She began as a 0-level character in a cell in the basement of the Wicked Haunt Tavern.

She perished in the City of Brass under an avalanche of Stone Throwing Devils, but a Hexed Efreet Heart was used to Wish her back.

I have, quite a few times over the course of the campaign, required certain characters to begin at level zero. This is often a bit more fun than you'd expect and (for which the example above might serve as proof) more viable as well.

Steve's mention of his character's 4-year achievement from humble beginnings, combined with my return to low-level adventure design, prompted me to clean up and post the system I've more or less been using. I plan to include this as a variant in the appendices of the Silver Castle but, for now, consider it a stocking stuffer.


Step One:

Roll 3d6 to generate 6 ability scores. Do not arrange yet. Optionally: wait until an Ability Score is tested. The first time the character tries to lift something heavy, for example, roll 3d6 to determine STR. The first time they hear a language other than common, roll INT, etc.

Either way, in lieu of class, the Player rolls (†) a trade background.

† (IF determined randomly, parentheses denote a +1 bonus to the listed Ability Score with a chance of wealth as well.) Probabilities for each bonus coming up on the roll are as follows:

  • +1 STR 12%

  • +1 INT 16%

  • +1 WIS 7%

  • +1 DEX 7%

  • +1 CON 7%

  • +1 CHR 11%

  • Wealth 10%

  • Choice 4%

  • Double Bonus 4%

  • No Bonus 38%

Trade Backgrounds (& Bonuses)

1. Actor (CHR)

2. Acrobat (DEX)

3. Advisor (WIS)

4. Alchemist (INT)

5. Animal Trainer

6. Apothecary (INT)

7. Architect (INT)

8. Armorer (CHR)

9. Aviator/Zeppelin Pilot (INT)

10. Baker

11. Barman/Restauranteur

12. Beggar

13. Bounty Hunter (STR)

14. Bowyer/Fletcher

15. Brewer

16. Butcher

17. Carpenter

18. Carriage Driver

19. Cartographer (INT)

20. Ceiling Painter (DEX)

21. Charlatan (CHR)

22. Chef

23. Cooper

24. Courtesan (CHR)

25. Dancer (DEX [or] STR)

26. Diplomat (CHR + Wealth Bonus*)

27. Dung Sweeper

28. Engineer (INT)

29. Executioner (STR)

30. Falconer

31. Farmer (CON)

32. Fish Monger

33. Fisher (CON)

34. Former Slave (STR)

35. Fortune Teller (CHR)

36. Gambler (DEX [or] CHR)

37. Goldsmith (Wealth Bonus*)

38. Gravedigger (STR)

39. Grocer

40. Groom

41. Gypsy

42. Heir/Heiress (Wealth Bonus*)

43. Herbalist/Gardener (INT)

44. Hound Master

45. Hunter (W)

46. Inventor (INT)

47. Investigator (INT)

48. Jeweler (Wealth Bonus*)

49. Lamplighter

50. Lawyer (INT + Wealth Bonus*)

51. Leather Worker

52. Leper

53. Mercenary

54. Merchant (Wealth Bonus*)

55. Metallurgist (INT)

56. Midwife (WIS)

57. Military (CON)

58. Miller

59. Miner/Excavator (STR)

60. Minstrel (CHR)

61. Moneylender (Wealth Bonus*)

62. Mortician

63. Musician (DEX)

64. Navigator (INT)

65. Occultist (INT)

66. Page

67. Painter

68. Parlor Magician (DEX)

69. Philosopher (WIS)

70. Physician (INT)

71. Pilgrim (CON)

72. Porter (STR)

73. Professor (INT)

74. Prostitute (CHR)

75. Rogue (CON)

76. Sailor (STR)

77. Scout

78. Scribe

79. Sculptor

80. Server

81. Shaman (WIS)

82. Shipwright

83. Silversmith (Wealth Bonus*)

84. Spy (CHR + Wealth Bonus*)

85. Squire

86. Stonemason (STR)

87. Street Performer (DEX)

88. Street Vendor

89. Tactician (INT [or] WIS)

90. Tailor/Weaver

91. Thug (STR)

92. Tinker

93. Torturer

94. Trader/Importer (WIS + Wealth Bonus*)

95. Trapper/Furrier (CON)

96. Vestal

97. Watchman/Guard (STR)

98. Weapon Smith

99. Woodsman (STR [or] CON)

00. Writer/Poet (WIS [or] CHR)

Without skill checks (which I personally loathe) use DM fiat to magnify the sorts of things a Trade Background might allow.

A vestal, for example, might know deep religious lore, the schedules of the local church, which doors are locked, where the keys are located and where the valuables are kept. Sounds like this vestal turned over a naughty leaf...


Step Two:

Once a background is selected, Players select an age category and then roll their age within that category. If all characters are starting at Zero Level, simply roll 1d7+13 for their age and apply effects. Young Adult is allotted 2 points to be allocated to any Ability Scores the Player wishes, simulating the foundational choices of youth:

Age Categories (not cumulative):

Young Adult: 1d7+13 years

-1 WIS; +1 CON; +2 discretionary Ability Score points; Must start at Zero Level

Mature: 1d20+20 years

+1 STR; +1 CON; May start at 1st Level

Middle Aged: 1d20+40 years

+1 INT; +1 WIS; 66% chance of Wealth Bonus*

Old: 1d30+60 years

-1 STR; +1 INT; +2 WIS; -2 DEX; -1 CON; 80% chance of Wealth Bonus*

Once age is known, arrange Ability Scores in any order [or] if using the optional method, apply any bonuses from Trade Background & Age Category to Ability Scores as they are rolled.


Step Three:

Zero Level characters roll 1d6, divide this by 2 and multiply the result by 100 (a roll of 1 = 50; a roll of 6 = 300). CON adjustment (+1 or +2 at most) is also divided by 2 and then multiplied by 100 (granting either +50 or +100). Zero level characters therefore have an effective HP range of from 50 to 400.

All dmg dealt to Zero Level Characters is multiplied by 100. Zero Level characters are unconscious at 0 hp and die at -100. Thus, when a Zero Level Character with 250 HP takes 2 dmg from a dagger, he has 50 hp remaining. If he takes 1 more point of dmg, he is at -50 and unconscious. Another point of dmg kills him. When a Zero Level Character is unconscious, he loses 10 HP per round.

This system adds ½ hp granularity for zero-level dungeon design and effectively reduces the negative hp cushion (-10) enjoyed by level 1 characters while still allowing reasonable time for stabilization once a character is KO’d.

When a Zero Level character reaches 1st level, you may reward the achievement by dividing their Zero Level HP by 100 and adding that number to the result of the First Level HP Roll. Normal maximums would of course apply.

Example: Pinhead (1st Level Assassin) used to be 0 Level. He had 400 hp including CON. Now that he’s 1st Level he rolls a d6 and adds 4 to the result. Pinhead rolls a 3. This bumps his HD roll to maximum (6) and he now reapplies his CON bonus (2). Pinhead now has 8 HP as a first level Assassin.


Step Four:

Starting Money in Silver Crowns (SP). Wealth bonus is added to the amount rolled:

Class 0 level 1st Level Wealth Bonus*

Clerics 1d6x200+400 3d6x200 +10,800

Fighters 1d5x200+800 5d4x200 +12,000

Magic-users 1d3x200+200 2d4x200 +4,800

Thieves 1d8x100+300 2d6x200 +7,200

Monks 1d10x10+90 5d4x20 +1,200

Note that 0 level minimums are the same as 1st level minimums


Step Five:

Zero Level Characters:

  • THAC0: 20

  • Poison/Paralyzation/Death Magic: 16

  • Petrification/Polymorph: 17

  • Rod/Staff/Wand: 18

  • Breath Weapon: 20

  • Spell: 19

Begin with -625 XP

  • Upon attaining 0 XP, the Character selects any class for which they qualify

  • No training is required to become 1st level

Optional Rule:

Upon reaching 0 XP, a class is selected. Ability Scores that do not meet minimum requirements for that class are elevated to minimum upon attaining 1st level.


as always, peace...happy holidays

and happy gaming

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