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The Planescape campaign that I am DMing is reaching its end, and we are about to start a new one that is going to follow the previous one, starting from 1st level.

In the new campaign, I would like to play a 1st-level bard who is the missing father of one of an old player character. The problem is that the father was 8th level when he went missing. Is there any mechanic in 5e that would cause an 8th-level character to revert to a 1st-level one? I know previous editions had level drain, but I cannot find that in 5e.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I personally think it would be interesting if there was lore planescape mechanics that could do this and it's worth an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 16 at 13:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I agree, but I’d prefer to see that endorsed by LupaShiva before looking into it, since as it stands the question very explicitly asks for a mechanic (and I am not in a position to confidently even state there is none, as you have done, so I can’t even do a good “No, but....” answer). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 16 at 13:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Did I get it right — there was an NPC in the previous campaign and you want to play his as a PC? Or was it a 8-lvl PC, and now it has to be 1-lvl PC because the new campaign is 1-lvl, it is also chronologically linked with he precious one and occurs later? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Apr 16 at 14:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Has the player of the old PC agreed with your idea to play their PC's missing father in this new campaign, (assuming the old PC wasn't also yours)? It might be worth checking with them if they're OK with it. \$\endgroup\$ – Tiggerous Apr 16 at 15:30
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It's your character, just make it part of your story

I don't think you actually need a true mechanic, which is good because 5e has no actual mechanics for XP loss or level drain.

But the good news is, this is just your backstory. It doesn't have to fit in with mechanics. Your 8th level bard has for REASON X lost their skills and is now a level 1 Bard. This affects their personality, but not much else, and does provide an interesting hook for a DM and for RPing your bard.

You don't actually need a true mechanic, you just need to go with the aftereffects of whatever happened.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There are other ways to roleplay this as well; for example, it could be decided that them being level 8 before was kind of "compared to" the previous campaign's characters... in this new, "bigger" campaign, being level 1 "the equivalent" of being level 8 before. It doesn't make much more sense, mechanically, but it is another story angle that it could be approached from \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Apr 17 at 1:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's a lot of space in 5e for DM fiat and "and then the magic happened". For your backstory (assuming it gets accepted and you wind up with a valid starting character) you pretty much are that DM. (This comment mostly trying to point out that this answer is pretty much directly supported by the official rules, and might be strengthened by saying so.) \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Apr 17 at 20:24
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Just... ignore the previous level

Levels are a game mechanic. They're there to offer you a progression and to determine what your character can do, but that's it. You're playing in a story, and the levels are there to help you with the rules.

Is Gandalf a level 5 wizard at the start of the Lord of the Rings? Is he a level 20 wizard? Nobody knows and nobody cares, because "levels" is not a thing characters in universe keep track off.

If you want to make him a level one character, make him a level one character. Unless people are going to specifically go out of their way to ask why the character no longer does insert ability a level 8 bard has that a level 1 bard does not have there's really no reason to put any more thought into it.

If players do insist on constantly questioning it, just ask for their suspension of disbelief because a level 8 character in a level 1 campaign isn't going to work, but you'd like to play the character from a story perspective.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wait, I thought that Gandalf was a Solar in disguise ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 16 at 14:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ To be fair, characters suddenly unable to do things they did before can be a bit jarring, so "just decide he's a total n00b again" is not always quite as simple as you make it out to be. Suspension of disbelief and all that. This especially applies to obvious spell effects, "We know you teleported in there before, so what do you mean you can't teleport?" for example. \$\endgroup\$ – WakiNadiVellir Apr 16 at 14:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WakiNadiVellir I think Theik is saying to handwave that and just 'restart' the character at level 1 and simply ignoring/retconning it was ever level 8. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 16 at 14:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ How easy it is to just handwave away depends. Another example, if the bard used to slay dragons (small ones at lvl8 I guess but still), and suddenly can't deal with a couple of goblins... What I mean is, "If you want to make him a level one character, make him a level one character" isn't as simple as just deciding for many players (and this includes everybody in the table), often a story reason must be invented too or it bothers people who want consistency (many do). \$\endgroup\$ – WakiNadiVellir Apr 16 at 15:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WakiNadiVellir - "The planar energies behave very differently here in Planescape than they did back home, which messes up my teleportation spells. I'm trying to work out how to compensate for that, but it's going to take some time." I do understand your point in general, but the unusual nature of Planescape gives a lot of leeway for explaining why a character who used to be able to do something in a more normal setting can't do it in Planescape. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Apr 17 at 8:20
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Create an in-universe reason

There isn't really a mechanical solution for a character losing levels in 5th edition D&D. So I think NautArch's answer of just making it part of your backstory is the right approach. I would like to suggest some potential story reasons that don't break the player's suspension of disbelief.

You're out of practice

Class level is a reflection of a character's experience, knowledge and training. To me, it doesn't take much to believe that if a character didn't use this knowledge or training for some period of time that it would begin to fade. Much like real-life skills do if you don't practice them.

This changes the leveling up story from "gaining new powers" to "re-discovering what you once had". I think this could be a really enjoyable character story to play out.

You swore never use your power again

The loss of a loved one, a mistake that cost them dearly, any traumatic experience can work for this. For whatever reason that character has sworn off the use of the magic and abilities they had before.

I once played a character that was once a powerful ranger capable of fighting dragons, but he made a mistake that cost him his family and he walked away from the ranger life entirely. Slowly as the campaign unfolds he rediscovers why he wanted to be a ranger in the first place and allows himself to use more of the powers he once had. This story let me explore a very personal journey that was more about conquering his own demons then fighting external threats.

Something external took your power away

An encounter with a powerful being, a punishment from the gods, an illness or curse. Some external force took your power from you, now you are on a quest to get it back. Maybe you know what took your power, maybe you don't. Either way I believe this give plenty of story hooks for a DM to use.

With this version you are on a quest for vengeance, atonement, or a cure. Whatever it is, there is sure to be powerful story moments as you slowly weaken its hold on you, regaining your previous power.

Something else

These are just a few idea I could think of just from reading your question. With more knowledge of your campaign world and the character themselves I am sure you could come up with some suitable explanation for how your character lost the power the once had. My advice is not to ignore or retcon. it but instead lean into it and use it as a basis for a powerful backstory with plenty of depth.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My first thought was 'amnesia', which falls into the "out of practice" category. Nice! \$\endgroup\$ – Mooing Duck Apr 17 at 16:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I really like #2 - basically the "That man is dead, call me X" approach. Offers a wealth of mature storytelling potential beyond the typical Noob Hero's Journey. \$\endgroup\$ – MandisaW Apr 19 at 5:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's also the possibility of this legitimately not being the same individual, given the long period missing (presumed dead). D&D, especially Planescape, includes many, many ways for someone to look/sound-like, even believe themselves to be, a different person, whether for nefarious reasons or divine fiat. And there's always long-lost twin brother... \$\endgroup\$ – MandisaW Apr 19 at 5:57
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Your character could have gotten a hold of the Deck of Many Things and pulled the Fates card. The Fates card reads:

The Fates: Reality's fabric unravels and spins anew, allowing you to avoid or erase one event as if it never happened. You can use the card's magic as soon as you draw the card or at any other time before you die.

Maybe the reason the Bard went adventuring was something he wanted to change and used this card to undo that instance in time and therefore stopped him from adventuring and thus gaining no levels.

This is as close to a mechanical reason as I could find.

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