D&D 5eThoughts & Things

Level 0 Characters for a Dungeon Crawl

After being introduced to Dungeon Crawl Classics, I decided to add some of that Old School flavor to our Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition Apprentice Character Program (ACP). But these Level 0’s aren’t exactly apprentice characters. They don’t have a class yet, and with the Character Funnel method, not many of them are meant to survive very long. The Level 0 characters are just low hit point monster fodder for a dungeon crawl adventure, and most of them will not make it out of the dungeon. If a player runs out of their initial 4 characters, they get a sheet with another four characters to play that are also set at level 0.

So if you have 4 players, there will be a large group of 16 Level 0s delving through the dungeon. Creating that many characters can seem onerous, but I have an spreadsheet generator that helps with character generation, and it can create 4 level 0s on one page for each player.  Here is the methodology we are using:

Level 0 Character Generation

1. Race – Random

We make this a Random roll, and we base the result on our Campaign world’s population diversity that I setup. I can manipulate the diversity rather easily in the spreadsheet, and here is what it looks like with rolling d100:

d100 result Race
 01  Dragonborn
 02 – 04  Dwarf, Hill
 05 – 13  Dwarf, Mountain
 14  Elf, Drow
 15 – 23  Elf, High
 24 – 30  Elf, Wood
 31  Gnome, Forest
 32  Gnome, Rock
 33 – 34  Half Elf
 35  Half Orc
 36 – 42  Halfling, Lightfoot
 43 – 46  Halfling, Stout
 47 – 99  Human
 00  Tiefling

Once you know the character’s race, then go ahead add racial skills, proficiencies, languages, special abilities

2. Ability Scores – Roll in Order

Roll the ability scores (4d6 drop lowest or 3d6), but put the results in the order that you rolled (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma).  The character has a race, so add the racial ability score increases. And if you use Luck, then roll 3d6 for your Luck.  Luck is helpful for the DM when choosing which of the 4 characters a player has that runs into an unfortunate accident. 😉

3. Background – Random

It’s a Random pick, but there’s 17 of them, so pull out your 17 sided die if you have one, or use a d20. Each character will gain all the background skill and tool proficiencies, and languages. Each character also starts with the background feature. They receive all of the equipment and gold, and also a weapon based on the character’s background. We treat proficiency with the weapon as normal (see below). Also, wait on filling in character personality traits, ideal, bond and flaw.

 d20 Result  Background  Weapon
 01  Acolyte  Club (1d6)
 02  Charlatan  Dagger (1d4)
 03  Criminal  Dagger (1d4)
 04  Spy  Dagger (1d4)
 05  Entertainer  Club (1d6)
 06  Folk Hero  Light crossbow (1d6)
 07  Guild Artisan  Club (1d6)
 08  Guild Merchant  Light crossbow (1d6)
 09  Hermit  Club (1d6)
 10  Noble  Shortword (1d6)
 11  Knight  Longsword (1d8)
 12  Outlander  Quarterstaff (1d6)
 14  Sage  Dagger (1d4)
 15  Sailor  Club (1d6)
 16  Pirate  Club (1d6)
 17  Soldier  Longsword (1d8)
 18 – 20  Urchin  sling (1d4)

We don’t give out gold to Level 0 characters, but instead give them a few copper pieces (2d4). That can be one of the reasons that the player’s character is going into the dungeon: The lure of gold, or a test required of them by a guild or wizard.

4. Trinkets – Random

Roll d100 for a Trinket. By the way, if the character’s background is a Sailor or Pirate, then roll twice.  One of the two trinkets is the character’s lucky charm.

5. Hit Point

Each character has 1d4 hitpoint plus Constitution modifier, and a Hill Dwarf character adds 1 more hitpoint.  If the Constitution modifier is negative, and would drop HP below 1, then set HP to 1. That is the character’s maximum hitpoint(s) for level 0. They will receive the remaining hit points when 1st level is achieved.

As an example, for a Level 0 hill dwarf character rolls a 1 on the 1d4 roll, and with a 12 Constitution, would have a total of 3 Hitpoints at level 0

Once Level 1 is reached, if the player chooses Fighter for their character, then the remaining 9 hitpoints would be gained bringing the player’s character up to a total of 12 HP

6. Hit Dice – Not yet

The characters don’t get any HD yet. They can gain hit points during a long rest, or magic healing.

7. Experience Points

Each Level 0 character starts at 0 XP. Each encounter has a minimum of 0 XP and a maximum of 4 XP. When your level zero is at 10 XP, then level up to level 1. The DM will give out experience based on the difficulty of the encounter and each character receives the same XP. Here are the guidelines from Dungeon Crawl Classics:

Each encounter is worth from 0 to 4 XP, and those XP are not earned merely by killing monsters, disarming traps, looting treasure, or completing a quest. Rather, successfully surviving encounters earns the characters XP in DCC RPG. A typical encounter is worth 2 XP, and the system scales from 0 to 4 depending on difficulty.

0 XP – A very easy encounter with little damage or resource loss for the adventurers
1 XP – An easy encounter An encounter with damage and resource loss.
2 XP – A typical encounter.  No fatalities or significant losses
3 XP – A difficult encounter.  Significant losses, and even a fatality
4 XP – An extremely difficult encounter. Multiple character fatalities, and even retreat required for the remainder to survive.

8. Proficiency

Use a +1 for the proficiency bonus for Level 0 characters. This bonus would apply toward

  • Attack rolls using weapons that your character is proficient
  • Attack rolls with spells that your character casts
  • Ability checks using skills that your character is proficient
  • Ability checks using tools that your character is proficient
  • Saving throw DCs for spells that your character casts

Each Level 0 character will also gain proficiency in these basic weapons: daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, & light crossbows.

9. Saving Throws

Saving Throw Proficiency is a class feature. So it doesn’t apply yet.

10. Describing your Character

Choose a first name, simple physical details, alignment, and starting age. Don’t get all crazy with the details. The odds are not in your character’s favor, so wait until they make it to level 1 to get all fancy.[blogoma_divider type=”thin” ][/blogoma_divider]

What about a Dungeon Crawl Adventure?

All of the Level 0 characters should be fleshed out now, and ready to tackle some 0 level encounters. Here is a good Level 0 adventure with some awesome backstory that can be played with level 0s.  If the players are doing well, then make it harder:

Sailors on the Starless Sea
Digital Copy – DCC – Sailors on the Starless Sea – Level 0
Hard Copy – DCC – Sailors on the Starless Sea – Level 0

or you try this one from Purple Sorcerer Games that we are currently playing:

the sunken city

Digital or POD Hard Copy – Sunken City Omnibus from Purple Sorcerer Games

If you’re the DM, then go ahead, and have some extra Level Zero characters prepared to bring into the game. Hand out the random characters, and have some fun. Remember, it’s okay if the encounter is overwhelming and kills 50% of the Level 0s. What doesn’t kill them makes them stronger! Well, the ones that survive without permanent disabilities. [blogoma_divider type=”thin” ][/blogoma_divider]

Here is the Google Sheet with my Level 0 Quad character generator. It is ever changing, so let me know if you see something off, and I can fix it.

Have Fun!


You can reach me on twitter @mrlong78 or in the D&D 5th Edition Facebook group if you have questions: https://www.facebook.com/groups/DnD5th

  • ben eastman

    So… at level 0, if you wear armor, you’re attacking with disadvantage and only with your ability modifier. This seems like it wouldn’t be much fun.

    Why not “choose one weapon and one armor type which your apprentice class would grant a proficiency.” This feels more like how commoners are usually treated as proficient with the weapons that they’re equipped with, and helps balance out the fact that a wizard with firebolt or cleric with sacred flame is going to be the choice as an apprentice. Heck, limit it to simple weapons and light armor if you think that it goes too far into what level 1 should feel like.

    Otherwise, the goblins are going to wreck your apprentices face. The fighter tries really hard to attack (with disadvantage) while learning how to use his armor, and any successful attack by the goblins is more likely than not to down an apprentice (1d6 + 3 = average of 5.5 damage, while 1d4 + Con = 2.5 + Con 16 = 5.5 hit points with superior consitution).

  • Theo Brinkman

    For most classes in 5e the ‘apprenticeship’ period seems to be levels 1 & 2. At level 3, you pick your specialization, and come into your class abilities more. Level 1 can be quite deadly as is because of the low hit point to typical damage ratio, and starting at about 1/2 that normal value (or less) seems like a really good way to go through 3-4 characters before you manage to survive *that* long.

    • Yes, this is a little throwback to AD&D that had options for Level 0 characters.

      Also as a tribute to the original D&D, DCC starts off with level 0 characters.