Erik Tenkar runs the Adventurer Conqueror King or Die! campaign most Saturday nights. The session reports I’ve been posting for the last couple months are shameless pandering to his ego (in exchange for a 10% increase in XP… I’m not proud).
We recently acquired henchmen who accompany us into the dangerous places. We gained them after they went through a DCC-style ‘funnel’, where three of us each ran four zero-level characters (mine were cleverly named ‘K1’, ‘K2’, ‘K3’ — now ‘Kathryn the bard’ — and K4) through an adventure with what would normally be somewhat disastrous effect (only seven survived, and the cow). In the process we explored, gathered some loot, and actually got a bit of a feel for the characters.
… didn’t get too attached, mind you. Our first fatality was at the front door when one of them went ‘shinies!’ and tried to pry the presumably precious stones off the door. I suppose they were precious, he certainly paid for his actions.
The various characters were generated using the Purple Sorcerer Character Generator: roll 3d6 straight down, d4 hit points, randomly choose an occupation, done. This tool generates a single page containing four 0-level DCC characters (go ahead, give it a try!). We each ended up running through several times until we got sets that had at least one character each we hoped would survive.
I’d forgotten how brutal 3d6 straight could be.
Today I read a Dungeon World adventure (prepared for a convention, sorry I don’t have the link handy) that made me think a bit, and reminded me of the 0-level character rules found in the AD&D first edition Greyhawk Adventures book. I’ll look it up when I get home, but for now I’ll work from memory.
Develop in Funnel
Reduce ‘character creation’ to choosing (probably randomly) race and occupation. That’s it. You have a race (which may or may not have effect at this point) and a nominal occupation that gives you some gear that can probably be used as a weapon, a trade good, and a small amount of copper. All ability scores start at 8 (which has a -1 penalty in every edition of D&D or similar that I can think of). You can apply racial modifiers now, but I would wait until later.
From here, character design is entirely ‘Develop in Play’. As your characters face challenges they can mark ability scores by how they address them. A character who hits things with other things and lifts heavy stuff might mark Strength, while one who thinks about his problems might mark Intelligence, the one who talks his way through problems might mark Charisma. While you’re at it, if you plan to use skills (D&D 3.x style for the sake of conversation), mark them off as you make the checks. Let’s do the same with weapons used (I think it might be best to start off unproficient, so -4 for everybody!).
I’m not sure yet what to do about non-mundane abilities such as turning undead or casting spells. I remember the Greyhawk Adventures book allowed you to try, but I don’t remember particulars. I’ll look it up later.
From time to time (we only did one adventure as our funnel, but if your funnel lasts several adventures you might do this after each one) count up the marks and adjust the scores accordingly. Each mark translates to a single ability score point, to a maximum of 10 on a single score and 25 total (at which point the funnel is done). Consider doing the same with skills (one rank per check to a maximum of 4 — or perhaps 3, since the normal limit is ‘level+3’ after all). Each use of a weapon reduces the nonproficiency penalty by one. Wearing a suit of armor through a fight might provide a mark that will lead to proficiency — one mark each for light, medium, and heavy, and you have to gain at least the one mark for each using armor of at least that weight (three fights wearing armor, at least one wearing heavy armor, will give you proficiency with all armor, but no number of fights in leather will make you proficient in medium or heavy armor).
You could do this as you go, but I’d hate to make adjustments on the fly, especially across four characters at a time. Well, three. No, two, because you’ve lost them alrea… okay, fine, go ahead and do it each time, it probably won’t be that arduous, especially if you’re using BECMI-style ability score modifiers, where you’ll need five points to get a bonus (and ten points to get a score of 18).
When you’re done your funnel you can expect to have some characters with a decent range of abilities and some degree of specialization. Their ability scores will be reasonably consistent between them (just under 12.25 on average, slightly less than the average of 4d6 choose 3, with 18s fairly uncommon but not impossible). Each character will likely have some skills and proficiencies. Depending on how spells and other special abilities work they might have a few special tricks.
Incidentally, ignore the ‘trained only’ requirement on skills (and probably other special abilities). Part of the fun of the funnel is watching the nascent characters failing at things they really have no justification for trying.
After the Funnel
When they’re done the funnel, look them over and choose classes for them. Apply racial modifiers now (which is why I waited, this can now give an opportunity for the racial modifiers to push them beyond normal human ability).
If you want to reward running through the funnel, start with the survivor exactly as is, and add from there. This might mean:
- Roll the Hit Die (or use maximum hit points) for the first level, same as usual. You’re a rough and tough survivor, even if you are a tree-hugging elven wizard.
- Add skill ranks as usual, but you can exceed the normal limits. That is, if you have three ranks already and add four more, you can be a first-level character with seven ranks in a skill. It might be best to not advance until otherwise legal again (so no more ranks gained in that skill until fifth level), but this can vary by GM.
- Any proficiencies can be kept. Your wizard learned how to use a bastard sword because he wasn’t loved as a child.
- I’m not sure how this might help fighters and other characters who otherwise gain proficiency with all weapons and/or armor. Perhaps free Weapon Focus?
- Special abilities that look like feats might be gained if they have 3-5 marks (I’m not sure how many).
- Spells depend on how that part works, but I can imagine a rogue or the like knowing a few cantrips. Perhaps if you successfully cast them some number of times during the funnel you know and can cast them? Higher-level spells might be limited to knowledge but no ability to cast (again) until you have slots for them and are legal.
This is pretty rambly at this point, but I think it might make be a good start on a variation to the funnel.