Ask the Game Master: What level should I start my campaign at?

Got a gaming question? Ask the Game Master to make a ruling, provide advice or referee your gaming troubles. Send your questions to [email protected]. This week, we’re talking where to start your campaigns.

I’m starting a new D&D campaign. Though most campaigns start at level one, my players are clamoring to start higher. Where should I start them? I still want their characters to be new and inexperienced, but they’re really balking at starting all the way at the bottom.


This is a question I hear a lot. There are plenty of reasons to start at different levels including player experience, campaign flavor and excitement. Frankly, sometimes it’s just fun to create 15th level badasses and go kill some ancient dragons.

Anyway, let’s first take a look at how the levels are structure in 5th edition. A level one character is essentially a person who has just decided to become an adventurer and has some amount of skill or training in their class. Glance inside your Player’s Handbook, and you’ll see a wizard only has a couple cantrips and first-level spells to cast, and a fighter has only chosen a fighting style and gained second wind.

They’re not able to do much, and by design, they have very few hit points and limited abilities.

Back in 4th edition, a level one character was more experienced and probably had been adventuring for a time. A level one 4e character is closer to a level three 5e character, so if your players are used to that edition, they may feel kinda weak starting out in 5e.

In 5e, most classes have their core, class-defining abilities by level three. It’s where the rogue, for example, really starts to feel like a rogue.

But even though characters may feel weak at level one in 5e, level progression happens really, really fast between levels one and three. They should be level two after one session and make it to three after a few more.

So you have a few options for starting points.

If you want the characters to start fresh and new, start them out at level one. If you have players new to D&D or even just new to 5e, this is probably the way to go. Let them get their feet wet while things are a little more simple and learn new abilities in the first several sessions. (Once again: They’ll level up pretty fast.)

If you want them to dive into more “standard” D&D stuff, start them out at level three. They have more abilities, and they can take on orcs and bigger baddies. If you have experienced players, this might be a better place to start. And for you as DM, adventures that are designed to kick off at level one will work fine if the characters are at level three.

If you really don’t want to deal with any of that early level stuff, I’d start at level five. That’s where most classes start to get some really fun. They’ll all have an ability score improvement and many get extra attacks, more powerful spells and new powers. It’s another good spot, especially if you have experienced players that have slogged through lower levels time and time again.

Beyond that, you can start at a lot of levels depending on what your campaign is going to be.

All that said, you’re the DM, so it’s your decision. You gotta start wherever your campaign needs to start.



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