Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Low Level Characters with Nothing to Do

Over on MeWe (yes, I'm on it, not sure I like it though...), Steven Fowler in the OSR community posted about how older players see newer edition PCs as superheroic, while younger players look at older edition PCs and see them as powerless (aside from the Fighter).

Apparently the complaint is that the 1st to 3rd level PCs have only a few spells, poor skill chances, and next to no combat ability, so what should they do in a fight?

IMO (and judging by the types of comments I get, most of my readership is likely to agree) that's a feature of older editions, not a bug.

Of course, we older folks know exactly what you're supposed to do in a fight at low levels - find a way to stack the deck in your party's favor, stay back and support the front line, or just get out of the way. When combat's over, there's time for all characters to participate in exploration, NPC interaction, and problem/puzzle solving (or not if the player doesn't want to).

My son, and the other kids in my 5E game, have been pretty creative overall. They're learning from adults with a mix of experiences and preferences for games, and it's been pretty good for them. They don't instantly look to the character sheet to solve problems, and they try interesting things in combat. The two girls in the group especially enjoy turning dangerous animal encounters into a chance to collect more pets. My son is a creative problem solver, thinking about the creatures we fight and the environment, and trying to come up with interesting solutions (or just smiting things - he is playing a Half-Orc Paladin...).

If anything, it's the other adults in the group who focus a bit too much on what skills they have trained, what spells they have prepared, etc.

In combat, 5E allows every character to be competent, which is fine. But the game is not only about combat.

Every character isn't expected to contribute to a role-play encounter. Sometimes it's best to have the drunk, aggressive, crude Dwarf Barbarian just stay quiet in the back while the party negotiates safe passage across the Withered Wastelands with the Duke of Death. Why should everyone be expected to pull equal weight in combat?


  1. If a player thinks his figure has nothing to do, he’s not thinking hard enough!

  2. I agree completely, Scott. But at the same time, I think it's valid for a player to decide to sit back and let other, more competent, characters handle any particular situation. Not every PC needs to be fully engaged at all times.