|No kobolds is gonna' eat mah family, a'yup...|
I have a soft-spot for 0-level characters. I love the apprentice cheesemaker, the blacksmith's son, or dirt farmer who rises from nothing and forges their own heroic destiny. It's one of the elements that I liked about Beyond the Wall; it's one of the things I love about Dungeon Crawl Classics.
Now we have D&D Fifith Edition (I refuse to call it D&D five-point-oh), and look what we have here--these groovy little things called Backgrounds. Backgrounds tell you what your PC did before they took up the life and class of an adventurer. They give you a couple of skills, some small special ability, and a handful of useful equipment.
Why, I bet you could make an eager young 0-Level character with just background and race. Let's do this thing!
(This, of course, only uses what I've seen in the Basic Rules PDF. The Player's Handbook might (probably will) monkey-wrench this whole thing). (Edit: It totally doesn't! Yay!)
Follow the normal steps for character creation, as found in the Basic Rules, with a few modifications.
1) Choose Race
You get your normal stat mods and special abilities for your race. No change here. High Elves can sling cantrips, Mountain Dwarves can use medium armor, etc.
2) Choose Class
You're like school on Sunday---no class. Ipso-facto, you gain no armor, weapon, or tool proficiencies. No saving throws or skills either.
Your level is 0.
You start with 4 Hit Points + CON Modifier.
But you have no Hit Dice, which means you can't use HD to heal during a short rest.
Your Proficiency Bonus is +1, but since you have no weapon proficiencies or saving throws, it will only effect the skills and tools you get from your Background and Race.
No class starting equipment, obviously.
3) Determine Ability Scores
Using whatever method you normally use. Make adjustments for race, too.
At some point, go ahead and come up with your name, physical description, and other character details. You can pick you alignment now, but since your PC is still figuring out what his or her destiny is, the DM should be pretty flexible about you changing it later.
5) Choose Background
The Basic Rules PDF lists five Backgrounds: acolyte, criminal, folk hero, sage, and soldier. I expect to see more with future books. Choose whatever Background appeals to you and/or sets you up for your future class.
You get all the benefits of Background that you normally would: skills, tools, equipment, and feature. Most of the backgrounds don't give your PC any weapons. You'll want to fix that. Roll 1d4 on the chart for your Background below to see what murder-tools your PC starts with.
Note that some of these rolls give a character armor or a shield. Unless their race gives them proficiency in such things, they will have Disadvantage on many rolls if they wear it. It's up to the player as to whether the added defense is worth the handicap.
(EDIT: Now that the Player's Handbook is in my hands, I've added weapon listings for all the backgrounds)
Random Weapons for 0-Level PCs by Background
3) Cudgel (club) and padded armor
4) Heavy iron censer on chain (flail)
1) Sling and 20 stones
2) Dagger and leather armor
1) Stiletto (dagger)
2) Sling with 20 bullets
3) Stocking full of 100 copper pieces (flail)4) Shortsword
2) Juggling pin (light hammer)
3) Whip4) Darts (x12)
1) Spear and barrel-lid shield
2) Pitchfork (trident)
3) Shortbow and 20 arrows
4) Woodaxe (battleaxe)
1) Carving knife (dagger)
2) Mallet (light hammer)
3) Cudgel (club)
4) Walking stick (quarterstaff)
4) Hatchet (hand axe)
3) Longbow and 20 arrows
4) Serf-whacker (club)
1) Shortbow and 20 arrows
3) Warclub (mace)
4) Tomahawk (hand axe)
3) 12 Darts
4) Cudgel (club)
1) Belaying pin (club)
2) Crate axe (handaxe)
3) Cutlass (scimitar)
1) Dagger and longbow and 20 arrows
2) Dagger and pike
3) Spear and shield
4) Shortsword and padded armor
3) Several large rats tied to a stick (flail)4) Nothing but the fists and teeth God gave you
5) Hitting First Level
I haven't seen the Experience rules for D&D 5th Ed yet, so let's assume you start at -75 (negative seventy-five) XP--enough for a party of 4 to kill about a dozen kobolds, four encounters or so. We can refine that when we see the actual XP rules.
When you hit 0XP, you can choose your first class. At this time you get all your class's new proficeincies, skills, saving throws, and other special abilities.
Your Proficiency Bonus increases to +2
Your get your first Hit Die.
You HP increases to Hit Dice maximum +CON Modifier
You do not suddenly, magically acquire your class' starting equipment or money, but the GM should make an effort to have roughly-equivalent gear and cash available to your PC in a timely manner.
And that's it! Let's take a look at what a 5th Edition 0-level PC might look like. As you can see, Jack Apple here isn't quite as fragile as a DCC starting PC, but he's still a a bit green around the edges compared to a full-fledged D&D hero. Jack looks like he has a bright future as a fighter or even a cleric!
Human, 0-Level Folk Hero, Neutral Good
Hit Dice: 0
Proficiency Bonus: +1
STR: 16 (+3)
DEX: 11 (+0)
CON: 13 (+1)
INT: 9 (-1)
WIS: 15 (+2)
CHA: 14 (+1)
Skills: Animal Handling, Survival
Tool Proficiencies: Carpenter’s Tools, Vehicles (land)
Attacks: Spear (+3 to hit, 1d6+3 damage)
Equipment: Spear, barrel-lid shield, carpenter's tools, shovel, iron pot, common clothes, belt pouch, 10gp
Background Feature: Rustic Hospitality