My friends and I have a tendency to do one-time sessions that can last anywhere form 3–10+ hours. The difficulty I have when I'm going to be the DM is deciding what level to start everyone at. Usually the variables for each session change; some have a good portion of time for character creation, others have a very short time. Also, sometimes the player base is a mix of new and experienced players.

What are good levels to start a one time session at? Are there clear breakpoints, or ranges of levels to avoid starting at? By "good" I mean either quick character creation, or allows a good mix of character creation while keeping it simple, or for later on when you want a higher level session.

  • \$\begingroup\$ wouldn't this depend on the adventure you intend to run? \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 17:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle we have acutally never done a mod. \$\endgroup\$
    – DForck42
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 17:51
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I highly recommend pregenerated character for a 4e one-shot. \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 18:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @oblivioussage a mix of both. if there's enough time beforehand usually pregens are made. if not then someone usually sits and walks through character creation. \$\endgroup\$
    – DForck42
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 18:26

4 Answers 4


I would suggest you back into the level based on the amount of time you're willing to commit to character creation. In my experience, there tends to be a non-linear relationship between character level and time required to create the character from scratch. Let's create a simple model of how long it takes to make a character (assuming players are familiar with the process):

  • 15 minutes base for a concept, name, abilities etc.
  • 10 minutes per level for powers, hitpoints and other level-dependent choices
  • 10 minutes per tier above heroic, representing the additional complexity

This gives us twenty-five minutes for a first-level character, and about two and half hours for a eleventh-level character. Your model may be different, and will likely have different values based on your group. Use your model to calculate how many levels of a character your group can build based on the time you've allotted for prep.

For example (using my model): You have a short game running about four hours, and you can only allot 45 minutes to character generation: you would calculate that your players can build level three characters in that time, so build a level three adventure.


If you're going to generate characterss at the table, by all means start first or second level. You have few powers to choose and few feats too. Thus, this will take a short amount of time.

I'd strongly suggest to roll pre-generated characters. My favourite method is having three or four more characters than players, and at least two for every role and let them choose. Building and explaining the characters to the new players beforehand and letting the others do their homeworks is fine too. However, start at low levels (again 1-2) if you have people that's not familiar with the game. At higher levels, the game assumes you know how to use group tactics and use the right power at the right time.

By all means, choose the adventure according to the levels you choose. At the first tier you can have 2-3 levels higher encounters with no troubles.


If at all possible, use pre-session character generation. Unless you find the act of building characters with the whole play-group a pleasant part of "we're doing a one-shot scenario".

Second, I would scale the level to be suitable for the scenario you're planning on running. It's not the most helpful thing to say, but sometimes it's fun playing level 1 characters, running around and meeting resistance suitable for the level. Sometimes, it's fun running around with epically powerful characters, meeting resistance suitable for the level.

But, it's almost never fun running around, meeting resistance that is way out of scale with the party (so a level-1-tuned scenario probably doesn't work with a team of level 20 characters).


Any level you want to. But limit class, power and equipment selection if you're going to generate at the table.

The ideal situation her is the play the simpler Essentials classes. They power selections are largely done for these character so the only real choices are feats and equipment. If you do some advance work it's pretty easy to nail down feats (or you can just only use the feats published in the essentials books as they are both useful, level/tier independent and a much shorter list than the full line).

Equipment presents a slightly different challenge, however you can either build an equipment table for your level (roll dx on the weapon, armor, neck and random table for starting equipment) and assume whatever mundane items are a given if you start past L1 or 2. Or again you can just limit selections to Essentials equipment only.

Getting a group of characters up and going really quickly seems to be one of the things Essentials does really well pretty much regardless of level. Most classes barely have 3 choices to make at any one level so you should be able to build characters pretty rapidly.

If your players do not want to play Essentials then you have some options.

  • Do some prep work and either build some roll tables, or just narrow power selections at each level.

  • Make them generate before the sessions.

  • Generate for them.

But if you want that sit at the table and roll up a character feel the best way to do it, regardless of level in my opinion will be to go with Essentials. The books are well laid out and easily referenceable and there are not too many choices to make as you level the characters up.

Last thing, and this is from playing some one shots with my group (who are mostly players with <2 yrs RP experience). If you're group is not a group that quickly learns character sheets and power synergies etc etc, then choose lower level one shots, that way the character don't have to process 12-15 options and instead have 5-6 different options/turn (This is fixed somewhat by essentials for certain classes (the basic attack focused ones), but even those have more options at higher levels).


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