Friday 10 June 2011

Why we gravitate towards low-level characters

By now the early beta edition of the anticipated Dungeon Crawl Classics has blazed the roleplaying blogosphere like a wildfire. I've had a brief nosey at the rules but I will need to read them in detail before setting out a full-fledged review. 

One aspect that immediately jumped out at me about Goodman's latest effort is the inclusion of 0-level play. Initially, each character begins in XP debt and must endeavour to work her way up to first level via a good old fashioned dungeon bash that, as the author stresses, from which she will be unlikely to return.

You have probably noticed that the latest poll on this blog asked readers to answer what kind of level characters they prefer to play as. It closed with a 50-50 split between low to mid-level play, meaning people aren't all that enamoured with the superpower heroics of higher levelled characters.

Dungeon Crawl Classics and, to some extent, DemonLord, has a heavy focus on putting players in the shoes of gritty, incompetent pre-adventurers with mundane occupations. There's obviously something about playing as vulnerable novices, taking a beating from mere goblins and shuddering at the thought of even the smallest of dragons, who could easily decimate them.

It seems counter-intuitive at first thought. After all, don't most of us play these games as an escape, to become someone who is larger than life and be able to accomplish almost impossible feats? Instead it seems that many of us gravitate towards rookies with swords. Perhaps it's because in reality we want to see what we would do ourselves in the positions the characters are put in. Having a super-powered epic adventurer who can launch fireballs from her eyes is all well and good, but it's so far removed from what we can do ourselves that it's difficult to imagine performing such actions, and so creates a division between the player's personality and the character that is maybe too deep.

Of course, this is the speculation of someone who has only had elementary training in psychology, but it seems to be logical reasoning. We all relate to our characters and low-level ones are frankly more relatable. However, I'd really like to know what you think about this. Also, if you prefer high level play I'd be interested to know why.


  1. Your reasoning is why I was so enamored with playing a mortal in the World of Darkness RPG. Vampire? Werewolf? No thanks, I'd played those in D&D. What I really enjoyed was playing an average-joe on modern day Earth who unwittingly gets caught-up in supernatural events, knowing there was no way to get out of a jam with fists or guns. That was fun.

    As for high-powered characters in a fantasy rpg, I'd love to play one, would have no problem playing one. Only thing is, my characters either get killed or I decide to retire them by level 10, when their wealthy enough not to have to risk life, limb, or soul to save the village. That and I just get flat-out tired of running them by then.

  2. I prefer low to mid-level games. I really have no interest in playing high level games. IMNSHO, games tend to break down at higher levels. Lower level games are more "believable" and fun.