Friday, July 11, 2014

D&D 5th Edition, Backgrounds, and 0-Level Characters

No kobolds is gonna' eat mah family, a'yup...
Edit 8/25/14: With the release of the PHB, I have updated a few things in this post. 

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.

4) Details
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
1) Quarterstaff
2) Mace
3) Cudgel (club) and padded armor
4) Heavy iron censer on chain (flail)

1) Sling and 20 stones
2) Dagger and leather armor
3) Shortsword
4) Handaxe

1) Stiletto (dagger)
2) Sling with 20 bullets
3) Stocking full of 100 copper pieces (flail)
4) Shortsword

1) Dagger
2) Juggling pin (light hammer)
3) Whip
4) Darts (x12)

Folk Hero
1) Spear and barrel-lid shield
2) Pitchfork (trident)
3) Shortbow and 20 arrows
4) Woodaxe (battleaxe)

Guild Artisan
1) Carving knife (dagger)
2) Mallet (light hammer)
3) Cudgel (club)
4) Walking stick (quarterstaff)

1) Quarterstaff
2) Dagger
3) Sickle
4) Hatchet (hand axe)

1) Rapier
2) Longsword
3) Longbow and 20 arrows
4) Serf-whacker (club)

1) Shortbow and 20 arrows
2) Spear
3) Warclub (mace)
4) Tomahawk (hand axe)

1) Quarterstaff
2) Dagger
3) 12 Darts
4) Cudgel (club)

1) Belaying pin (club)
2) Crate axe (handaxe)
3) Cutlass (scimitar)
4) Trident

1) Dagger and longbow and 20 arrows
2) Dagger and pike
3) Spear and shield
4) Shortsword and padded armor

1) Dagger
2) Club
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!

Jack Apple
Human, 0-Level Folk Hero, Neutral Good
AC: 12
HP: 5
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


  1. I would gladly bring this to my table! Awesome suggestions!

  2. This is just great! I think I can use this as a segue from old school to new school for my group.

  3. Replies
    1. I lost a shield in a fight with a rust monster and fashioned one out of an out house door it was amazing. We called it the S#!THHouse Shield. +1 AC.

  4. I like it, but don't think that giving them a weapon is necessary... let them improvise or find one during their 0-level adventure.

    Great idea, and I will likely use this.

  5. Nice. Dungeon Crawl and Dragons.

  6. One could also allow alignment to set in over the course of the 0-Level adventure.

  7. Maybe you could have your players roll 3d6 for their stats in order to make them like normal people. Then, when they hit level 1, they roll 1d4 six times and assign each roll to a separate stat as a they wish as a stat bump. Zero to hero!

  8. 3) Several large rats tied to a stick (flail)

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.


    Making a blog of custom backgrounds and encounters. Check it out!

  11. Just came across this looking for rules for 0 level, I like these, I was also thinking perhaps the Sage, Hermit, Entertainer, and the Acolyte could have 1d4+1 cantrip scrolls on their weapon list. Hermit can choose from the Druid list, Acolyte from the Cleric list, Entertainer fromt he Bard list and Sage from the wizard list.

  12. Showing up very late to the game to say I think this is great. You could probably use these same tools to play the characters in any flavor or edition of D&D you choose...!