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I started to GM 5th edition D&D a few weeks back; I am running them through the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure.

After a few games I've almost already killed two new level 1 characters but I was intrigued about how the 3rd player's character didn't seem to be fazed. I mentioned in passing, "Wow, you should be pretty close to dying!" (having been hit by three goblin-arrows), to which he replied: "No, I am at 44 health."

Then I asked his level and he replied, "Four."

He never mentioned at all that his character was level 4. He helped everyone else (including me before I decided to GM) make a new level 1 character. The module is for level 1 characters. He wanted to play this particular module because the specific character he is playing has never completed the module.

I am at a loss for what I should do. I considered a few options:

  • Find a way to activate a spell that curses him to level 1.
    • Since I am so new to GMing and 5e, I am unsure if that is a viable option.
  • I also considered just making everyone else level 4 and having him help level everyone else up for the session.
  • Raise the monsters levels for the rest of the adventure.

    • But, I'm sure the level 1 characters would die from the extra damage and I would have to pore over the DMG, which I haven't bought yet. (I'm using the DMing info in the Starter Set.)
  • What if anything can I do here?

  • Should I raise the monsters' levels to keep it fair and challenging, or just overlook the 'oversight'?
  • Should I require the person to stop what we are doing (in the middle of the goblin cave), and force him to make a new level 1 character and reintroduce his character to the group?

Any help would be appreciated.

I am also going to ask other GMs I have played with in the past for any ideas. I will look over any answers I get here after the game session. Thank you all for your help.

(For reference, I started playing D&D in 2nd edition, up to and including Pathfinder, 3e, 3.5, and various other games. I did not play D&D 4e.)

To answer a few questions that your various responses left for me:

  • It was his idea to start running a game.
  • There are 4 of us [originally 6 but one had to drop out and the 5th had been stuck in a 'working on Friday' loop, leaving 4 [3 plus GM]. He [lets call him 4B] gave the idea of everyone making 1st level characters [where my assumption that he was level one to begin with]
  • I do not believe 4B was trying to pull a fast one on me, or trying to cheat. I have not been able to get a copy of his character sheet to look over anything. We used just the core book, no other books [PHB]. We used backgrounds [there may be some bonuses coming from there].

As for solution options, I have strongly considered either leaving things as they lie and have the goblins target the big buff fighter type that cant see in the dark, or asking him to revert his character to level one. Since 4B is hosting D&D at his house, I worry about how he may react to this. I have considered hosting the games at my house. I like the idea that he gets a visit from a Godly source, but i am unable to get an answer from him on his characters beliefs.

I have already taken steps to possibly avoid any version of him using player knowledge through his character. [Mind you, I am not saying that he is doing this in any way; he has told me he would not do that and has so far shown it through his character's actions that he 'doesn't know' anything.]

One step was to change some of the details of the rooms:

[An example is the room with 3 wolves tied to stakes - the back room connected to another room; I have changed it to that area being fully cut off in rubble, so there is no connection.] I have changed a bit on how the goblins react vs. how the book had them react. [The 2 goblin guards were actually guarding instead of being bored, and almost surprised the characters.]

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    \$\begingroup\$ What did you tell this player when you invited them to the game: Did you tell them to make a level 1 character? How did you communicate your expectations? \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ May 12 '18 at 2:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MikeQ Since the player helped the other players make level 1 characters, and he saw they were playing as level 1, I think it's safe to assume that OP did say that the starting level was 1. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 May 12 '18 at 3:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ How does he have 44 HP left on level 4? Did he also give himself max HP at each level? \$\endgroup\$ – András May 12 '18 at 6:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a thing to ask him....is his character an Adventurer's League character? Because that would completely explain his faux paus. By Adventurer's League rules, LMoP is a Tier 1 Adventure, and a level 4 character is at the very top edge of Tier 1. He may not have realized that the portability of AL characters does not apply to non-AL games. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty May 12 '18 at 11:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you asked him why he chose to make his character level 4? That would be the best way to open any conversation on the topic. \$\endgroup\$ – Arcanist Lupus May 12 '18 at 17:15
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Consider not worrying about it and just continuing on. At Adventurer's League, tables are divided by tiers, and while new players (or players with new characters) start at level 1, that same table can have players from level 1 to 4. I know you're not doing Aventurer's League, but the same "tier" concept still applies — see chapter 1 in the DMG.

In fact, I've specifically played (parts of) Lost Mine of Phandelver both as a 1st-level character when there were also 4th-level characters at the table, and as a 4th-level character when there were others at 1st level. In both cases, it was fine. The higher-level characters took more risk and did some covering for the lower-level ones, but (especially once over the jump from 1st to 2nd), there wasn't even much of a real-world issue of the higher-level characters taking up too much game spotlight.

You mention that the module is meant for 1st level characters, but actually it's meant to take characters from 1st to 5th. Think of it as a first tier adventure. Starting at 4th certainly makes things easier, but... it'll all work out. Particularly, consider that it takes 2700 experience points to get to 4th level, but 6500 (that is, 3800 more) to get to 5th. Your other players will catch up, and everything will be fine.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Having played in a number of games with 2-3 levels separating players, this answer looks like the best one of the bunch. +1. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 16 '18 at 18:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you have a good/well-informed answer. Just add a sentence or two recommending that the OP talks to 4B about his getting surprised on learning the character's level and about how he now expects 4B to take care of the unexperienced others and this answer will be all good. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ May 16 '18 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZwiQ Okay, let me think about how to work that in. There's also the part about He wanted to play this particular module because the specific character he is playing has never completed the module., which seems like it might have been a missed opportunity to ask "Wait, what existing character?" — I'm not sure what exactly went on there. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm May 16 '18 at 20:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ i really appreciate this answer. with all the other answers and this one i have a lot of ideas and a better understanding of how to carry on. I will say that on the 2nd game session, while just about no one could get a hit on a particular guarding goblin, 4B decided to take said goblin in a grapple, take him to the river, and hold him under water until he drowned. do not think for one instant that it went unnoticed by the goblins farther back in the cave... \$\endgroup\$ – Delwarren May 18 '18 at 4:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ depending on how many other goblins are left, the word may have spread by the time he comes back about how the ugly brutish no-seeing fighter hume must die.... or at least take a few arrows before running away... \$\endgroup\$ – Delwarren May 18 '18 at 4:01
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Some miscommunication must have happened to cause this situation. Did you tell the player to make a 1st level character, and they brought a 4th level character anyway? Or did you simply assume they would start at level 1?

Regardless of who is at fault, the important part is that you're the GM and you can fix this.

Tell the player to play as a 1st level character.

You're playing a game meant for a party of 1st level characters, and having a character who is significantly beyond the others will create a party imbalance. The details of this situation are fuzzy and I can't quite say the player is cheating, but they're causing the game to be unfair to the other players who are at level 1.

Don't frame this as a punishment. Since the challenges in the module are designed for a 1st level party to handle, this character is going to make them too easy. If you're unable to adequately challenge your players, then the adventure gets dull, and the fun and excitement is lost. From this point of view, down-scaling the player character is a good thing!

Talk to the player about the logistics of how to do this.

  • You could have them create a fresh 1st level character, a completely different adventurer. The 4th level character will temporarily retire. It's up to you two to decide some clever reason that the existing character has to leave - maybe they have some personal quest to attend to. You can have them come back once the party reaches 4th level.

  • Or, you could scale down their 4th level character, and rebuild the character at 1st level. As GM, you don't need an existing spell for this. Maybe a ghost or trickster god appears and curses them. Maybe they are suddenly weaker without an identifiable cause. You're the storyteller. You simply tell them how it is.

The alternative methods - scaling up the other player characters and everything else in the campaign - it's going to take a lot of preparation and planning. As spellcasting characters increase in level, their power and versatility increases, and the nature of challenges have to change to keep up with them; simply adding numbers isn't going to cut it. Since you are new to GMing, I do not suggest this route. Stick with the prewritten adventure and learn from it.

For future reference, you need to communicate your expectations to players before you start playing. Have a session zero where you and your prospective players discuss what they want out of a campaign, what levels they should start at, and what sources they can use. That way, everyone is on board before the game begins, and you won't have to pull any emergency brakes mid-game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I will admit that i was at a severe disadvantage because while i have played for years, i have never really tried to GM and i am completely new to 5e. Compared to 3.5 and Pathfinder, it is a different animal. Is there any advice that i could take with me when we get done with this adventure and then have them move onto the next. \$\endgroup\$ – Delwarren May 12 '18 at 9:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to stress this: «Don't frame this as a punishment». The player is simply equipped with the wrong tool (a character of a level different than needed) for the game, just like if they showed up with a baseball bat at a tennis match. \$\endgroup\$ – DaG May 12 '18 at 13:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Delwarren GMing is more art than science. You may want to browse other questions with the "problem-player" tag to learn how other GMs deal with these issues. Feel free to ask for advice and feedback in the Role-playing Games Chat room. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ May 12 '18 at 19:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaG Except that a baseball bat at a tennis match would put you at a distinct disadvantage. Until goblins attack. \$\endgroup\$ – aroth May 13 '18 at 13:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ I perfectly see your point, @aroth (in fact, both of your points), but one might even argue that having a character for which the adventure is far too easy isn't necessarily an advantage for the player's enjoyment. \$\endgroup\$ – DaG May 13 '18 at 18:39
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The simplest solution for you would be to scale down their character to level 1. Here's how:

  • Ability Scores. If the player took an Ability Score Increase at level 4, make them decrease those abilities. Remember to decrease any bonuses (skill, attack, saves, spell save DC) that might have decreased because of this. If they took a Feat instead, they lose it.
  • Hit Points. Forget trying to workback their HP increases and just start them at maximum of 1 hit die + con mod.
  • Class Features. Just remove all the class features that's not available at level 1. This goes for multiclassing as well, let them pick their 1st-level class and give them just that. The same is true for spells and spell slots as well, they can keep the features written down, but they can't use them until they reach that level.

The result is that you will have a PC that is inexplicably weaker than when they first started out where they were tanking goblin arrows. Personally, I wouldn't bother explaining why, and am just willing to let it slide- this was a table-level error, solve it at the table, not in-story.

Of course, if that breaks your immersion, and are not willing to let it slide, you can come up with any narrative circumstance ranging from character death to curses to "I was a doppelganger all along, and the real PC is locked up somewhere in this cave!", but in my experience in using these narrative "excuses", they almost always sound goofy and forced, and I don't use them anymore.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think past performance requires any retconning. They were just "phenomenally lucky" before. We'll just assume the goblins somehow rolled minimum damage with each shot, and so forth. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis May 12 '18 at 18:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Since the OP is new to GMing, I am not sure if downscaling the character is actually the easiest option. You provide a good instruction on how to do that, but it would likely be better to note that building a new character from scratch is actually easier. In any case, +1 for the instruction itself! \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy May 12 '18 at 19:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Baskakov_Dmitriy I'm not sure how their player does it, but if this particular player wants to make a character from scratch complete with equipment, writing down all the features, rolling stats, figuring out a name... In my experience, it's way easier to rollback \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 May 12 '18 at 23:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ The immediately previous comment seems to indicate that idea that rolling back is superior to starting over from scratch due to the physical effort involved in writing on a new character sheet. I find this to be a weak argument. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. May 16 '18 at 19:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. Starting over from scratch is more than just the physical effort of writing, though. It's generating ability scores (roll or point-buy?), figuring out what equipment and items you start with, what languages you know, picking skills proficiencies, recomputing AC and HP and all the bonuses, rewriting your background, personality, backstory. Now, if you just copy all of the character details I mentioned from the previous character, then you're not making a character from scratch, you're essentially just rolling back. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 May 17 '18 at 0:47

protected by Community May 12 '18 at 14:57

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