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When you've played a character for a while and have invested a lot of time building this character up, seeing the campaign end, losing your group by moving to a different city, or otherwise leaving your group leaves the character without a home.

Is the character just finished, or can you continue to play them in another campaign with a different DM? Is it common for DMs let you bring in a character from another DM's campaign like this? (If so, what's to keep people from simply creating a strong, high level character, taking it to a new game, and saying they've been playing it up to that level?)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Though it's important when answering questions like this to ensure you have a decent breadth of experience for the response so that it's not just "well my group has always done it this way," that is not a problem with the question but a requirement for a good answer. I think therefore this question is valid. As Good Subjective makes clear, experience is not the same thing as opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jan 30 '15 at 14:58
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The classic answer applies here as well: it depends.

Sometimes, campaigns suggest that players start at a certain level, so the players are allowed to bring characters in that are made at that level. If the DM accepts a character that has been in previous campaigns and built up to this level, then obviously it's fair game to use it. If not, then there's not much to say - you'll have to reroll.

Obviously, campaigns can end abruptly for various reasons, and even successful ones can leave characters at awkward levels with stories yet to tell. A good DM will be willing to make something work. Other times, you'll have to accept that the character is going to sleep in a file folder for a very long time.

tl;dr - Work with your DM, he's the be-all-end-all of the game state. Good ones tend to allow you to do stuff that makes it fun for everyone - and if that means "importing" characters, so be it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ But this is wrong. The question is: "Is it common?" The right answer is "No, it totally isn't." These might be interesting suggestions, but miss the point that this is a very unusual thing. If you clearly stated it is, and then gave the suggestions, it would be much better; otherwise you'll mislead him. \$\endgroup\$ – o0'. Jan 31 '15 at 15:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ You make a fair point. It's not common, but there's nothing explicitly stating that it couldn't be. Thanks for clarifying. \$\endgroup\$ – alephtwo Feb 1 '15 at 18:37
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I've run and played in games for about 30 years and been involved with many gaming groups, local gaming clubs, and large Organized Play campaigns in various states, so I have a decent historical survey of experience on this.

Nomadic Peoples

Migrating characters used to be a more common practice in The Old Days of D&D. Very long format campaigns with varied levels of characters (dying usually put you back at level 1) were the norm in the 1e/2e days and therefore you would get people wanting to bring in characters. A single GM would often run a single campaign "forever" (or until real life intervened). Since games were long and levels varied, it was easy to drop in an existing character of whatever level.

However, the power level was always a pain point, and since in those editions characters were less built by "RAW point buy" and were both rolled ("What do you mean, three of your stats are 18s?") and given random bonuses and treasure by the Gygaxian dungeons of the day ("You drink from the fountain and get a permanent +1 to STR!"), the problem you noted of people wanting to import uber-powered characters was common - you'd see discussion of this issue in Dragon, early online forums, etc. GMs would vet them but it was a contentious negotiation process.

Modern Civilization

With 3e (and 3.5e and Pathfinder) and 4e, this changed for several reasons. One, campaigns were getting shorter. Advancement was faster, and there are more games out there which drives folks to run shorter games so they can get to the next one. With faster advancement, games are over faster - an Adventure Path that goes from levels 1 to 16-20 and then deliberately ends only takes a year to play, as opposed to the "endless campaign" norm in earlier times. In the old days if you had a level 16 character it meant that either you'd played them for years and years or that you were a huge cheater.

Also, in these games level disparity is much more of a challenge, with many insisting that "you absolutely cannot" play with characters of significantly differing levels, meaning the likelihood that your previous character was ready to import was low. With rule proliferation there tended to be rules for various campaign settings and adventure paths and many third party rules choices that also meant import characters weren't legal according to the new campaign's settings. 4e was more normalized and had less third party support so is more "rules portable."

Otherwise these game systems were otherwise more import friendly, as with point buy, stricter rules, and Wealth By Level guidelines it became possible to objectively port characters with bounds on their power level. In fact, in a way the D&D Living and then the modern Organized Play/Pathfinder Society organizations basically let you port your growing character from game table to game table per session by adding a little bit of extra change tracking and regulation. But in home campaigns, the desire to import characters has shrunk significantly. I don't know anyone who's actually asked that question in 10 years.

More often than actual importing I see conceptual reuse - there are those players out there who are near fetishistic about playing only the same type of character and sometimes the same character, but they just rebuild their character for the new game according to that table's rules and give them the same name and minimalist personality.

Up Next

In 5e it's working largely the same. The rules are slightly more varied-level friendly like in the old times, but are still into extremely rapid advancement and "level 1-20 adventure path of the year". But while character porting is possible, it is still very uncommon in home games; people make characters (even if they need to advance them in level) for the new game usually. Most character porting is done in the context of Adventurer's League play, but a lot of even home play uses AL nowadays.

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I polled the DM's at two of my local hobby shops (a total of about 30 people). The consensus was yes you can bring a character over provided it is similar level. As far as someone creating a character they said that when a new person joins an existing group they almost always give that person the levels to make them similar to the group. That is the most objective way I could find to answer the question. outside of polling this site.

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Characters are your own creative material, and unless the DM has made you sign some unusual intellectual property rights waiver, the character is yours to use and re-use as you see fit. (hint: Don't sign weird intellectual property rights waivers, no matter how good the DM is)

The real question is - are there any situations where a DM will refuse to let you use that character in their campaign?

I can think of a few.

Level

Your character might be too high or (rarely) too low level for the DM's campaign. This is usually very easy to modify though - just bring their build down (or up) to the level appropriate for the campaign, and for most DMs that'll be good enough.

Background

Your character might have an elaborate background that, while perfectly reasonable in your previous DM's campaign, doesn't fit well with the new DM's campaign setting. This may require some rewriting or, in extreme cases, changing some key elements of the character. You can usually talk about this with the DM to figure out what needs to be changed, or if you can re-write the background of your character to better suit the campaign setting.

Tone

This is a little more subtle to detect, but some DMs prefer a more lighthearted take on role-playing, while others prefer a dramatic or even horrific storyline, and if your character isn't matched to the tone of the campaign, they might not fit. Worse, they could even derail the campaign. Talk it out with your DM, see if they fit the tone and if they don't, consider whether your character would survive a re-write to fit the tone.

House Rules

Make sure there aren't any essential house-rules from your previous campaign that made your character 'work', or that the new DM doesn't implement any house rules that would break your character or make them useless to the campaign - if either of these are true, you can still save the character, but it could require a considerable rebuild.

Game System

This is one where there's sometimes not much you can do to help it. If you've got a favorite character from one system that you're trying to transfer into a totally different system, sometimes the two clash so sharply that there's no hope to save any of your character's traits. On the other hand, sometimes re-writing a character to fit into a new system can be an interesting challenge. Talk it up with your DM, and see if there's any way you can make it happen.


The common thread here is that there are barriers to getting an old character into a new campaign - however, all of them can be overcome, with the help of a DM who's willing to take on the character.

However, don't assume the DM is willing. Sometimes they aren't, or sometimes they just want brand new characters because that's how they prefer their campaigns. The only sure way to find out is to bring it up to the DM yourself.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, Homebrew content is sometimes hard to port from game to game, though if you ask nicely and arrange for the GM and other players to give feedback, I'm pretty sure many would be happy to playtest something with you. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Nov 29 '18 at 21:48
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I don't know about "common", but the two times I brought pre-existing characters together (both being impromptu adventures played at a convention), we all had a blast.

Both times I opted for a strong storytelling approach, i.e. ignoring the rules for the most part in favor of getting the plot working. Since the characters were so different in tone and background, in one instance not even being from the same game system, this proved necessary to get the player's focus away from technicalities and focussed on the story unfolding. (*) Both times we had great closures for characters that would've been left dangling (or rather, filed away) otherwise.

I am not sure this would work out for characters that are more "about the rules", though (as D&D tends to be in my experience). Those tend to be less about "strengths & weaknesses" to be explored, and more about "getting the most out of the system"; in that kind of "competitive" environment, getting characters from different groups together (or mixing existing with newly generated characters) bears the potential of player frustration if you don't get the balance "just right".


(*): There was one conversation I will never forget. I asked the first player (in an impromptu group of fourteen players), "tell me about your character", and he started rattling off numbers. I interrupted him, "tell me about your character". He hesitated, then started describing his outward appearance. I interrupted again, "No! Tell me about your character". He gave me a strange look... and then put away his character sheet and told me who his character was, what he did, what he was good at, how he saw life. From there on, the group had understood what I was about, and how this adventure would be told. As I said, we had a blast -- something the players had claimed to be impossible, given the ad hoc nature of the adventure and the size of the group.

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Absolutely! My group once the others learned the flow of the game (usually after 2 or 3 campaigns) started swapping the Dm with each that chose to DM running the entire campaign from beginning to end. 2 of my players occasionally play with other groups and don't want to give up their character. I just explain that any XP and benefits gained at other games does not carry back over to our campaigns... instead they become a part of that character's back story and history in future campaigns... tricks they saw or witnessed being used, campfire chat while prepping to "rest" etc. The DM of the other games can and do dictate what wares and abilities the characters keep when they transition into their group.

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