A long, long time ago (1988), the Greyhawk Adventures book from TSR presented a set of rules for adventuring with level 0 characters in the AD&D system. Every so often, an adventure designer returns to that idea, and creates an adventure for characters that haven’t quite settled into their character class. The idea is that through the actions you take on your first adventure, you discover what sort of class your character is.
It’s a nice concept, although one that I haven’t needed to employ for the most part. Sacrosanct Games has just released Rise of Heroes, an adventure for the D&D 5E system that uses some house rules to allow the experience of playing with these 0-level adventures. It’s a 30 page PDF, with the adventure and rules taking up 15 pages and the rest of the work being maps, handouts, contents and title pages.
The system for running 0-level characters is fairly basic but it is serviceable. In short, characters begin with ability scores of 10, and gain points with which to improve their ability scores. At various points, they can also learn a talent from a small list of class abilities. When a character’s ability scores reach the normal point buy levels, the character must choose an actual class and begin as a proper first level character. The rules have a few holes – do the characters retain the out-of-class abilities they’ve gained while level 0? – and the entire concept is a little curious considering that levels 1 and 2 in the new game are “apprentice” levels when characters rarely have all of the abilities of their full class. However, the rules serve to give an alternative gameplay variant.
The adventure takes place around the town of Novoszybkov, which is detailed over 5 pages, thus taking up a significant amount of the adventure. It’s good to see that detail here, because the players will need a home base, and a lot of the action revolves around the town.
The adventure is split into three sections.
In the first section consists of a number of opportunities for short adventures. There’s the standard “clear the rats out of the widow’s barn”, although I appreciate that, in this case, the widow is still married; her husband is just in prison, something that fits the Russian-sounding nomenclature. The other adventures are more interesting: delivering a package (a test of integrity), working or the local sergeant, helping the townsfolk deal with the corrupt mayor, and helping find some lost sheep. The last is made significantly more interesting by the discovery of a cave…
The second section continues on threads raised in some of the first section’s adventures, by having the group investigate the mayor’s dwelling. This could be potentially problematic, as there are a number of guards that would be very challenging for level 1 PCs, as well as quite a few traps. It’s a nice idea, but I’m not quite convinced by the execution, especially as the adventure presumes the group then recover a ledger which is well-protected to continue onto the last section of the adventure.
The adventure finishes with a couple of expeditions into small dungeons, where the plot threads are wrapped up.
The writing of the adventure is quite good, although there are a few small errors that could be cleaned up. One goblin wields a “short short”, and it seems that his name changed from Blurg to Glurg and back again over the space of a few paragraphs! Although most of the stat-blocks are fine, there are a few very short stat-blocks that omit ability score modifiers, which offers problems with resisting spells in 5E.
The maps are nicely done, and there’s a bonus character sheet in the old Basic D&D style from the early 80s to round out the product.
All in all, I rather like Rise of Heroes. The adventure is interesting, and a group of players and their DM should be able to fill in blanks and really expand the material for a memorable experience. I look forward to Sacrosanct Games’ next release, which may possibly be Depth of Felk Mor, a 225+ page adventure!