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I'm a new DM playing Lost Mine of Phandelver with two other adults and our kids, two 11-year-olds. We started with the pre-generated characters; I'm playing the Dwarf cleric as an NPC.

One of the kids is very interested and wants to create their own character: a Dragonborn ranger with a snake for an animal companion. However, they really don't want to give up the coins, items and EXP they've collected thus far. We'll finish with Tresendar Manor soon and reach level 3.

Would it go against all DM standards/etiquette/etc. to let someone substitute their own character for a pre-generated one midway through an adventure and keep everything if their level is still quite low?

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    – Akixkisu
    Feb 27 at 16:24
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    – Trish
    Feb 27 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ What does your own GameMaster say? Failing that, what seems logical to your own players? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28 at 22:36

4 Answers 4

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If everyone at the table is ok with it, there's nothing wrong with letting a player have a new character.

Everyone is meant to have fun in these games, and if a player would have more fun with another character, then there is no downside for letting them change except other players being annoyed at it.

There are two ways to handle the changing out of a character - an in-character swap or an out-of-character swap. The in-character swap would require the party going to a town or outpost or similar, and the player's existing character parting ways and the party accepting a new member. In this case the money and items would probably have to be "given" to the party. The out-of-character swap would just be swapping the character and everyone agrees to ignore that any swap happened.

Balance-wise, there shouldn't be any issues with the new character being the same level as the other characters.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. My group did this, with an ooc swap. The table agreed to it at the end of the previous session, and at the start of the next session we did a back-story intro and talked through any character-specific moments that had happened to agree on what the continuity impact was. (generally one of: it never happened, it happened with the new character, or it happened with some random NPC instead) \$\endgroup\$
    – Brondahl
    Feb 28 at 10:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think of out-of-character swaps like when a character gets replaced in an old sitcom. All the old stuff happened but now reality is different and we keep moving forward. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2 at 3:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, but answer could be improved by mentioning the retcon option ('always was a dragonborn, what are you talking about') and the 'stranger who just happens to have the same items, how odd' option (if people want some mind caulk to explain the switcheroo but the player doesn't want to lose the items they gained). \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Mar 2 at 4:51
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Yes, this is OK

It's great that one of the kids wants to play their own character. The game should be fun for all players, and if one of them does not like his character and would like to play another one, and nobody objects, there is no issue.

If there are objections by other players, that is something to discuss outside of the game. Listen to what their concerns are and see if you can address them fairly. They may at some point in the future want to do the same thing, too.

It is no problem to create a new character that has the same level (and accumulated experience points) as the current character.

Official rules on starting equipment

The Dungeon Masters Guide has guidance on starting equipment (on page 38). Typically, the amount of wealth and magic items such a character would have would be lower than what a character of the same level can expect to earn by adventuring. If you all are happy with it, you can instead give the new character better starting equipment without problems.

Retconning

This is a game. If everyone is fine with it, you can just replace the character, give them the equipment, and continue on. Everybody pretends the character was always like this and was always in the group and nothing happened.

This breaks internal continuity of the game world, and if you want to conserve it, you can instead play out the exchange of characters in game:

In-character justification

From an in-game perspective, the character leaving the adventure has earned his share of the treasure, and will want to keep it. Why should they hand this over to some newcomer they never met? You and your player will come up with a reason or back story.

For coins and generic equipment, it is easy, you can just give new ones to the new character, and the old character takes his with them. E.g. they both bought a longsword, they both happen to have a rope and backpack and so on.

Passing on magic items

It is trickier for magic items the old character found. First, are they the characters', or do they belong to the group and are just used by the character? If the group finds a magical longsword, that may be worth more than the character can afford to pay the others off for. If the sword belongs to the group and he leaves, he leaves it behind for the new character to take over. If the player wants to take over special items that are owned by the existing character, you have two options:

  1. You give the new character another copy of the item. They could have a magical sword with the same technical stats and another backstory.

  2. You and the player come up with a story why the current character would want to hand them over. Maybe they trade for an item the new character has and that the old one prefers.

Introducing the new character

You also should think about how that new character gets introduced to the group and earns their trust. Does the old character already know them, i.e. they are an old friend they happen to meet again? This makes it a lot easier. I had plenty of bungled up introductions of new characters, where the player wanted to show off their new character's cool powers but did nothing to earn the group's trust (in one case even ambushing them!), and it then was a painful exercise to come up with any reason why they would want him on the team.

A note on keeping treasure balance

If new characters introduced to the campaign bring their own wealth and items, and then also take over those of characters that leave, this will lead to an inflation of resources. We had that (although not in D&D), where each character that died had an heir that then joined the group bringing in new wealth...

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1. Answer is confusingly written and goes on long tangents about magic item balance. Needs editing for clarity and condensing several magic item related sections into a single one that says something along the lines of 'don't for some reason (?) add extra magic items to this new ranger character on top of what his previous character had'. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Mar 2 at 4:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user2754 Thank you for explaining why you disliked the answer, I appreciate it. The reason not to add additional magic items on top is that if you do that and several players swap characters, it will lead to inflation of items in the group. That is fine if you want it, of course. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2 at 5:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ the assumption in the answer that by default a new character would come with extra magic items leads to long, tangential sections that seem to warn of a danger most people wouldn't even consider. You need to explain this assumption in the answer if you want to talk about it - it's not a generic, normal thing that people do. WBL is not a feature of 5e. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Mar 3 at 4:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user2754, The starting at higher levels secion on p 38 DMG states "Starting equipment for characters above 1st level is entirely at your discretion, since you give out treasure at your own pace. That said, you can use the Starting Equipment table as a guide." While you are right for Level 1-4 (and we are talking about level 3 here), it recommends one uncommon item for 5-10, 3 uncommon and one rare for 11-16, those and one very rare for 17+. It is not an assumtion I am making. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 3 at 5:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ The assumption is that players would create characters repeatedly to pass off magic items onto existing characters. And then someone sitting at the table watching this would need to be told at great length why this is a bad idea. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Mar 3 at 6:23
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It's Fine

...Especially when dealing with kids that age.

I would raise an eyebrow for adults doing that sort of thing (and even then, maybe still allow it once) but more out of a sense of, "I'd like some consistency, so I can plan stuff, please."

With kids that age, I'd probably want to have a firm but gentle talk to make sure they understand this is a one time thing, and then go ahead and allow it. (And grown-ups objecting to leniency for kids would get the GM hairy eyeball.)

This does bring back memories, though: When I was about that age, or maybe just a little older, the convention was that dying PCs would have made out a will leaving their worldly possessions to the new character, who would come in at roughly the same level as the old one.

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1. Assumes that people changing characters for story reasons or other reasons is not common, or frowned upon, when that is not the case in any group I have played with online or from 3 continents. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Mar 2 at 4:49
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This is mostly anecdotal, but at my table it's a general rule that anyone can swap their character out for the first few sessions. It's no fun for a player to be stuck playing a character that they don't like — or worse hate! And it's unreasonable to expect players (especially new players) to understand the implications of their choices at character creation without a chance to “test drive” the new character.

What's important is that everyone is having fun. So the new character should fit in well with the other characters. Everyone should agree out-of-game to get the new character integrated as quickly as possible, or even to make the change out-of-character and retcon the game story. (The latter works especially well if the character is mainly changing mechanically, such as a ranger swapping to a bow-wielding fighter.) And of course, if it becomes disruptive — such as if the player wants to change characters multiple times and can't settle on a concept — that will need to be addressed.

We had one player who decided to play a very sketchy, most-likely-evil (we didn't ask) bard. He played that character for several sessions, but decided that he didn't like being in the character's head and wasn't having fun. He swapped that character out for a more upstanding druid and was much happier.

One piece of related advice: If your players seem interested in trying out different character options, you can consider letting players change characters at story milestones. If the story would skip ahead a while, it's a convenient time to say that one character had things to do and their friend/cousin/roommate is going to adventure for a while in their stead. This lets players scratch the itch of playing new characters without having to start a whole new campaign. And then you can use that character's off-screen actions to hook new plot points!

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