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As the title states, I have a new member joining the group. He is also new to the RP game, meaning he has no experience at all with any system (much like the rest of the group, who are only 3 or 4 sessions in).

While the rest of the group are only up to level 3, I feel like I should ask him to boost up his character level to match the rest of the group, so that;

  1. He doesn't feel inferior to the rest to the group
  2. It's easier for me as a GM to manage

Should I boost his level or not, and why?


Post note: I am a fairly experienced player in 5e, however this is my first group I have GM'd, so I'm still getting used to the mechanics from this side.

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  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ This question would be much less opinion based if it only asked what the pros and cons are of each choice. "Should I..." is rarely appropriate for this site. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Oct 24 '16 at 4:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/37775/… \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Oct 24 '16 at 5:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/79071/… (That question is talking about ongoing attendance, but some of the same considerations are relevant.) \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Oct 24 '16 at 13:20

14 Answers 14

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Yes, you should boost their character level

Heterogeneous parties don't work very well in DnD. The game is designed around the whole party being roughly the same level.

When you give the new player a level 1 character, they will be handicapped not just because they lack experience with the game rules but also because their character is less powerful. That will prevent them from contributing to the party in a useful manner and likely end up as a quite frustrating experience for them.

You might want to help them with building their character and recommend them what choices to make at the simulated levelups, because they still lack the game experience to make smart choices in this regard. You might want to recommend them a mechanically simple character build. A front-line tank like a Barbarian or Fighter is likely a good option. Also, don't forget to give them level-appropriate equipment.

The only argument to not boost their level is if you want to give them the experience of working their way up and building their character incrementally while playing. If you want to do that it would be far better to start a new party with everyone in the group rolling a new level 1 character. When the old players don't like that break from their campaign, you could have the stories of both parties take place in the same world at the same time and have their stories intervene with each other. When the new party reached the level of the old party, you could arrange for the two parties to meet. Then every player can decide if they want to continue playing with their old character or with their new one. Your group then forms a new party from their picks with which you then continue the campaign.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 regarding level difference making the new player frustrated. D&D tends to scale up pretty fast, making it difficult for a level 1 PC to even just survive a 'typical' 5th level group encounter - let alone being useful. I'd add a tip that it's probably a good idea to build the higher level new PC with simple, easy-to-use capabilities - a barbarian or fighter built around a single weapon can be easy to handle for a new player, while a druid or wizards with a wide array of spells to choose from is much more difficult to use (especially when not 'grown up' from scratch). \$\endgroup\$ – G0BLiN Oct 23 '16 at 12:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I wish this answer would spend some time considering the XP necessary to level between 1 and 3. The way it's presented it reads like the two-level difference is going to be a big deal, where in my experience it's likely to last for exactly one session. (That is, a L1 "tagging along" with a party of L3 will earn 300 or more XP in one session, and maybe even enough to hit L3 their second session, likely while the L3 are still on their way to L4.) {300, 600, 1800} strikes me as an important set of numbers to discuss. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Oct 23 '16 at 13:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ −1 because “Heterogeneous parties don't work very well in DnD” is only true in 3e and 4e, not in 2e and earlier or 5e. In fact, the DMG explicitly suggests that a D&D 5e novice should always have a 1st-level character (“New Players”, p. 236). \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 24 '16 at 4:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie The rest of the very same paragraph from the DMG talks about hetrogeneous parties not working well. "allow the new player to create a character of a level equal to the lowest-level member of the party". It does talk about "significantly higher in level", but it is quite explicit that a significant amount of hetrogeneous levels in 5e doesn't work. It also states that a 1st level character for a brand new D&D player is wise, but that is nothing to do with hetrogenous parties working in 5e. Instead, it states if there is a significant gap, to not play together! \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Oct 24 '16 at 13:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ The heterogeneous parties comment is too broad to be accurate. I suggest that you rephrase that to address how big of a level gap becomes a problem. Our first 5e group often had a one level difference that did not cause trouble. We had a short time where two characters were 1 or two levels lower than the others due to death and re-rolling new characters. Not a problem. In 1e, OD&D in particular, it was not uncommon to have significantly larger level gaps, and many 1e modules were written by TSR for a spread of 3-4 levels among the party. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 26 '16 at 16:45
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It's Probably Unnecessary

The difference in power between level 1 and 3 is fairly significant, but it's unlikely that a level 1 in a party of level 3s would remain level 1 for long. Let's run some numbers*:

The Level One

The threshold for a hard encounter for a party of four level 3s and one level 1 is 975xp. By defeating such an encounter, each member of the party would earn 195xp. The threshold for level 2 is 300xp. Thus, the character can expect to be level 2 after about 2 encounters.

The threshold for a hard encounter for a party of four level 3s and one level 2 is 1050xp. By defeating such an encounter, each member of the party would earn 210 xp. The threshold for level 3 is 900xp. Thus, the character can expect to be level 2 after about 3 more encounters.

Total: 5 encounters to reach level 3.

The Other Characters

Assuming that the rest of the party start at exactly 900xp, let's see how far they would get towards level 4 in this time:

195xp x 2 = 390xp

210xp x 3 = 630xp

390xp + 630xp = 1020xp

1020xp + 900xp = 1920xp total.

Thus, the other characters are about half way to level 4 by the time the level 1 reaches level 3.

Going Forward

As the campaign progresses, this gap will steadily grow smaller, as lower level characters level up faster, and levelling up gets steadily slower, giving the player longer to catch up.

How long will it take?

In one session, I usually get through about 3 or 4 combat encounters. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on how combat heavy your game is. The less combat heavy your game, the less the level difference will matter, so everything balances out. It should take the level 1 about one or two sessions to catch up. That isn't a long time for them to feel behind, and they will have the benefit of the learning curve built into the 5e levelling process (for example, paladins don't get spells until level 2).

My advice is to start the new player at level 1, and tell the rest of the group that they will need to look after the character. Perhaps go easy on him with attacks. Particularly at level 1, just one attack from a creature could instantly kill the character.


*Some very, very approximate numbers, with plenty of assumptions and early rounding.

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It depends.

It's not a good idea to give high level characters to players unfamiliar with dnd 5e, because there are several things which this player need to keep in mind at once:

  • Rules: checks, combat, stats.
  • Character list: hp, inventory, resources (and for high levels there may be plenty of them)
  • Abilities: which to use, which keep safe for emergency.
  • Game itself. Player need to understand how to influence world and take part in the action.

All at once this leads to frustration and loss. Player can't follow the game, because they try to understand how to play.

On the other hand, an experienced player can hop in right away in most cases.

Don't create a big difference between players levels.

DnD is heavily influenced by party level. With big gap between levels you will have either of this situations:

  • Low level players will find themselves useless.
  • High level players will find game easy and boring.

Both situations are bad and lead to frustration and it's not fun.

And RPGs must be fun!

What to do with newbie player.

If you need to add newbie to the game then consider running additional session or even mini adventure for him. Other players may create new characters and try something new.

Depending on your situation and group: main group level, eagerness to help new player and attitude towards switching adventures. You should consider different options:

  • With low-level main group 1-3 sessions may be enough.
  • When gap is bigger and everyone wants to be back in main campaign ASAP. I suggest to run a couple of sessions to make new player acquainted with rules, his character sheet and how to play a game in general.
  • When gap is big and everyone eager to play new characters with new player, you may gradually guide him to level appropriate for the main group and to the events of main campaign.
  • If you want gradual leveling, but don't have time to run many sessions for the newbie to catch up with the rest of the party: you may award more XP at the pace suitable for your situation and plans.

When GM can't run additional sessions for a newbie.

Maybe no one wants another campaign and/or you just don't have time to guide new player in additional sessions. Then I suggest to give them a level comparable to the rest of the party. Maybe 1 or 2 levels behind. Never consider giving them level which will be 3 or more levels behind for the reasons I described earlier.

In any case: work with them!

Guide them, give advice, present options, show how they may do this or that, give a chance to correct a mistake, check their character list and see if they forgot something, etc.

With your help and, even better, with the help of your group they will learn pretty fast and will enjoy your game even more!

And similar advice from DMG(p236):

When a new player joins the group, allow the new player to create a character of a level equal to the lowest-level member of the party. The only exception to this guideline is when the new player is completely unfamiliar with the D&D game. In that case, have that player start with a 1st-level character. If the rest of the party is significantly higher in level, consider taking a short break from the campaign and having everyone play a 1st-level character for a few sessions while the new player learns the ropes.

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Start the PC at 1st level

This is covered in the Dungeon Master's Guide on page 236 (emphasis mine):

New Players

When a new player joins the group, allow the new player to create a character of a level equal to the lowest-level member of the party. The only exception to this guideline is when the new player is completely unfamiliar with the D&D game. In that case, have that player start with a 1st-level character. If the rest of the party is significantly higher in level, consider taking a short break from the campaign and having everyone play a 1st-level character for a few sessions while the new player learns the ropes.

The section continues with advice for integrating a new player into an ongoing adventure, so it's worth reading the whole thing in your own copy.

In any case, it covers your situation exactly:

  • The new player is unfamiliar with D&D 5e
  • The rest of the part is not significantly higher level

Therefore, you should start him with a 1st-level PC.

Starting with a 1st-level PC allows a new player to have an easier introduction to the game (which is the point of the way levels 1 through 3 are designed). Since power disparity between levels is not a lot in D&D 5e, this won't be a hindrance to the party. And since lower-level characters advance faster when XP is split among the party members, level disparity quickly evens out and they won't be lower-level than the others for long. This is especially true in this case, since the XP to advance from 1st to 3rd level is deliberately set very low to allow new PCs to quickly reach 3rd level.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Agree. Plus, all other players could temporarily donate all XP gains to the new player for a while, to accelerate the new player leveling up to be comparable to the other players. \$\endgroup\$ – Bohemian Jan 14 '17 at 1:55
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In this situation, No. Start the new player at level 1.

Reason 1: As referenced many times here, the DMG itself recommends new players coming in at level 1.

Reason 2: First time players can be seriously overwhelmed by the rules. Even experienced players may prefer taking a 1st level character of a class they've never played before, just to get fully acquainted with who their character is and how to play them.

Reason 3: Brand new players to RPGs will get a chance to focus on all aspects of play, not just "this is how I destroy things". You don't need to be a high level to engage with an NPC.

Reason 4: Level 1 is practically 2 adventuring days away from a level 3. They're going to catch up after a few hours of play. Letting them get their bearings beforehand turns this into a bit of a personal achievement.

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I would follow the advice in the DMG, especially as a new DM.

When a new player joins the group, allow the new player to create a character of a level equal to the lowest-level member of the party. The only exception to this guideline is when the new player is completely unfamiliar with the D&D game. In that case, have that player start with a 1st-level character. If the rest of the party is significantly higher in level, consider taking a short break from the campaign and having everyone play a 1st-level character for a few sessions while the new player learns the ropes.

2 levels isn't huge. It is a factor of 2 in HP, but everything else is pretty close.

First, determine if the person is someone who likes playing with mechanics (are they a Johnny from MtG or similar games?) If they are, it might be worth sitting down and getting them to write up a character.

Otherwise, ask them for 3 different kinds of fantasy character they might want to play. Pick one you can emulate in D&D to some extent, and write up a reasonably optimized yet easy to play 1st level character.

Either have them show up in the adventure (as someone the party runs into), or have them show up themselves from "off-screen". Give them a backstory connection to at least another PC (with that player's consent), and a motivation that lines up with what the group is doing (in consultation with the new player).

If you have time, do a short origin adventure and fight, to get them used to the mechanics of combat. This can be with the other players, or just one-on-one. The plot can be as simple as "you are travelling and your caravan is attacked. The guards fight off most of the bandits, but you are alone and end up having to fight off a few of them yourself". The other players (if present) can play "NPCs" and join him in that fight. Ensure somehow that the new PC gets the spotlight in this fight, however (use gimped NPCs compared to 1st level characters, or have them show up on round 2-3, or whatever).

This combines the advice from the DMG. New D&D players should start at level 1, as mechanics get more complex as you gain levels. Getting some experience with playing before "starting for real" is mitigated, due to both the small gap in levels and because of how fast level 1 characters reach level 3 (by the time they are level 4, the level 1 character should be well into level 3).


To be concrete, as abstract advice is of limited value:

Create a Level 1 reasonably optimized character based on an archtype they describe.

Work on a motivation or hook and a connection to an existing character in the party.

Tell a story of how they are travelling, and their caravan is attacked by bandits. They wake up in their wagon as the fight rages outside. A guard on the back of the wagon is killed, and a bandit (CR 1/8) breaks into the wagon as they gear up for fighting.

Fight the bandit. As they win, hear the wagon driver being killed by another bandit, and the bandit riding off with the wagon. Spot a healing potion (on the dead guard).

Fight second bandit, starting with surprise (from inside the wagon) with time to drink the potion first.

If fight goes poorly, a guard shows up and (if first fight), next fight does not occur.

If player is defeated, player is KO'd and the rest of the party finds the player trapped/caged by some bad guy they run into. Maybe a slave market if in town. If player is not defeated, player (following pre-arranged motivation) shows up in a way aligning with the party's current goals. (Ie, have plans ready for both cases). (Hopefully character-in-party's pre-arranged connection to new PC is strong enough to have them buy the slave's freedom. If not, you probably have bigger problems than the plot going off the rails.)

Grand modest quest XP for rescuing the new PC to either the party or the party member who does so. Grand modest quest XP to the new PC for surviving the raid & reaching the party or escaping slavery.

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It Depends...

It depends upon the level disparity and several other factors... most especially which methods of experience gain you use.

5E & Level Disparity

5E is FAR more forgiving of mixed level parties than most other editions of D&D.

It's fair to state that mixed level parties in 3E or 4E were major problems, in that they broke the careful balance of the encounter design mechanics.

In AD&D (1E and 2E), and in Cyclopedia/BECMI/BX D&D, mixed level parties were all but inevitable - but there were no carefully worked out balance systems, and due to the way experience was generally awarded by the rules as written, parties tended to have wizards of about 2/3 the level of fighters, and thieves higher still.

5E was built to allow for dissimilar levels; ideally, characters from the same tier will be good fits for other characters within that tier. The total modifiers will be similar, and the range of the abilities by class will also be comparable.

To recap the tiers:
I. Levels 1-4
II. Levels 5-10
III. Levels 11-16
IV. Levels 17-20
(V). Epic (level 20 with one or more epic boons)

"Standard XP Rules"

If you use the standard rules, which, to recap, include:

  • XP shared for defeated monsters
  • XP shared for traps survived &/or defeated
  • Individual XP for Roleplay &/or session (= easy encounter)
  • Individual XP for Chapter or Major Accomplishment (= moderate encounter)

Using those benchmarks, it's quite possible for a PC to come to a reasonably useful level in a reasonable number of sessions. They're always going to lag, but will be within a level or two fairly quick, as fair challenges for a high level party are sometimes instant level gains for low level characters.

Catching Up in Standard XP

The character will naturally catch up with, but not equal, the party. Unless, of course, they get more major goal or roleplay bonuses than the other members.

It's reasonable to allow a bonus for being behind, but the rules don't support it.

Using Chapter Leveling

If using the "Chapter leveling", the character will not catch up until Epic Tier. Which isn't a good thing. If the difference is 2-3 levels, it's noticeable, but not really problematic after about level 4.

The solution in this case is to offer anyone below average party level an extra chance to level up mid-chapter.

The Gygaxian Old School Way

Everyone sets aside the high level characters for a couple months to let the new guy experience the lower level play.

It's inherently fair, but it interrupts storylines, and many times, players won't go back to the originals. It did, however, need to be mentioned.

Should You?

The game isn't going to break if one character is 2-3 levels behind. It does change the encounter math a bit, but it's not a huge issue.

That said, whether one should or not boils down to a group nature. Competitive personality types might actually be offended by giving a new player "free XP", while some group players will whinge about an inequality.

Also, the learning curve on character classes is steep for some - having those lower levels down really helps the higher level play.

Bottom Line: Ask your Players.

It's your Choice to make, but you should ask the rest of the group for input, not strangers on the internet. We don't have to live with the consequences, you and your players do.

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Recently I had to face a very similar situation.

I was GMing a group of 5 very experienced players, when some guy asked to join the game.
I was openly looking for a 6th player so the players were all ok with this.

The new guy was a total newcomer, 100% excitement 0% experience.
I was afraid he would have died immediately with 1st level HPs, so I decided to make him start from 5th level.

He wanted to roll a wizard, I advided him to chose a less handbook-intense class. He settled for a human paladin.

Long story short, after eight or nine sessions he still has not understood all his class features and the other players are starting making fun of him (they helped him a lot with the basic mechanics but they are not so keep on slowing down combat to remind him that Divine Smite hurts undead more, for example).

What I could have done:
Give him a 1st level premade character of the class he wanted, he could have made another from skratch after some time (I'm ok with players rerolling characters).
Than make him a "squire" of some PC able to shield him from excessive damage.
Than give him some bonus XP to make him level faster, since I do prefere the party around the same level.

My two cents, hope this helps.

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Start the character at level 1 to ensure decent character optimization

(Whether to catch them up to the party later is more of a personal preference.)

There are lots of ways to mess up character creation if you aren't real familiar with the rules. One example is making a spellcaster who has no good spells to use at close range.

One of the strengths of D&D 5e (in my opinion) is that a lot of important character choices can be put off until leveling up time, when players have been able to suss out any problems they’d like to fix. Front-loading levels ups onto character creation defeats that.

D&D 5e lets characters advance quickly over the first few levels (especially quickly if they are teaming up with higher level party members) almost as an extended character generation. If your new player has limited expererience with D&D 5e, starting his character at level 3 may put the character at a longer term disadvantage.

Character Complexity

Also consider character complexity. If your new player is relatively new to role-playing games, he or she might not have a real clear idea of what sort of character build would suit them.

Some players don’t want to keep track of a bunch of options. If that person is playing a fighter, a Champion with ability score improvments, rather than a Battle Master with complicated feats, would problably be a better fit for them.

Regardless of whether the player likes complicated characters, first level characters are simplest to play, and the player can get familiar with higher level character powers as they level up.

Catching up later is your preference

Unless your new player is deeply familiar with D&D 5e, make sure their character gets a couple good fights in at level 1 and 2.

After that, it’s really up to you and your table, whether you want to “catch him up” to the rest of the party. Suss out how everyone feels, especially the new guy. Some folks get a kick out of counting experience points, others like everything to be fair. Just find the fun.

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It depends on how you build your adventures, and the nature of the challenges you throw at your players.

If you build adventures as described in the DMG, you should have the party all the same level, or close to it. This is because a standard adventure built as a series of encounters the party faces together is very unforgiving to any character who is not up-to-snuff. You can fudge rolls and take it easy on the lower level character, but this comes across as patronizing.

If you build more old-school decentralized adventures where the party splits up and regroups regularly, with scattered encounters of varying level, including levels higher and lower than the party can handle, then it works just fine.

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You've seen lots of great posts here so far, but I'd like to add my $0.02:


If you have an experienced player coming in, then absolutely, follow the guidelines in the DMG, and start them with XP = lowest players XP.

However, if they are new, or aren't very good at building characters, here's what I would do:

Start them with the same XP as you would if they are an experienced player: the same amount as the player with the lowest XP. But make them play a 1st level character. (1)

Then, at the end of the session, level up a level or two. (2) Still keep track of their XP as if they were a normal player, but again, artificially restrict their progress.

Continue leveling them up this way until they reach the level they should be based on their XP.

This way, they are not stuck being under powered for a long time, but can still get accustomed to their character. Making a bad character is easy, especially for a newbie, so slowing them down helps them understand where they want their character to fit in the team (helps with archetype, spell, and feat selection).

But punishing them for showing up to the game a few sessions after the rest of the group isn't going to be fun for them.

I used part of this before. I upgraded the player through the levels to match our level 7 team, but I didn't do the health part. Consequentially I had to be very conscious about not attacking him with real attacks. If I were to do it again I would most definitely give the health (and maybe start them with armor appropriate for a character of their true level) to make them less squishy, so I didn't have to worry about holding back.


(1) However, give them the HP they would have if they started normally.

(2) Remember you gave them their HP already, so don't do it again.

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For totally inexperienced players letting them start in a starting level game is the best option. That way (s)he has the time to get to know the base mechanics and can join the higher level game later. Give it one Weekend of char building and solo gaming (or small group gaming) with rapid advancement should be enough. Now the newbie has a PC with which to join the main game.

If that approach is impossible and the new guy has no experience with RPGs whatsoever I'd rather give him a PC with the hp, proficiency and equipment of the same level as the other PCs but add his special class abilities at a rate of one level/session until he catches up. That way he has a lot of the survivability of a full PC without the complexity.

I played too many games where you had to start at 1st level no matter if you were new or your former PC died. And often that lead to the new guy having to make another PC every now and then because he was just not tough enough for the monsters thrown at the party.

Fireball - new guy dead. Sorry, make a fresh pc.

Took a random hit - dead, next one.

That's a good way to make sure someone quits roleplaying altogether.

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For the given situation you should start at Level One

  • player is new to RPG, let alone D&D
  • remainder of party are also newer players
  • the party members are all Level 3 (3-4 sessions into their first campaign)

Intro Adventure

Given the level of the party (3) and their RPG experience (almost none), it is a really good idea to take a night off from the main story and run an intro adventure outside of the story line. Everyone gets a chance to taste a different class/role and the new player can probably get enough XP to hit Level 2. Some players may even elect to switch characters if they enjoyed it more than their first one.

Remind the new player that..

  1. Your biggest weakness is health
    • the BigBadGuy may kill you with a single blow if you try to go toe-to-toe
  2. Use your Skills
    • there isn't that much of a difference between an L1 and an L3 using the same skill with the same stat (maybe you can't stab Orcus in the eye but you can look for the secret door to his chamber)
  3. Use your class Features
    • it may be wasteful for a L3 Barbarian to waste Rage on a Skeleton but an L1 needs to learn how the ability works so they can decide when/where to use it

As the DM don't forget that..

  1. Their biggest weakness is their health
    • They are not an equal threat so don't treat them as an equal member of the party for target selection
    • The enemies should be able to judge him as a lower threat and put less resources towards controlling/defeating him. The enemy spellcasters and range-weapon-users tend to focus on the biggest threat - not that L1.
  2. You can offset some of the health gap by providing them one or two Healing Potions that their mentor gave them (or they lucked into)
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I would let him start with level 1, if he's new to it. One time our DM had someone new join the group and he chose to play a wizard.. We lost 1 to 2 hours of time just to create his character! (And we were only level 4) This time could have spent by actually playing the game and have him see how it works. (Instead we were all getting very stressed..)

So yeah; if I were the DM I would do as following (with inexperienced players):

  • Let the character start at level 1 and let him see the basics of the game. Don't give him the whole thing right away...
  • Don't have him share a portion of the experience he gains throughout the game, instead let him level up with each session/in game-day. (Should the player feel ready to play along with the others, then I would have him be of the same level as the lowest level character in the group)
  • Allow the PC to use the same proficiency bonus as the other heroes, so he can at least tag along with that. (At least he gets to help with skill-checks!)
  • Have the player KNOW that his character is fragile and shouldn't stand in the front during encounters...

I don't know, I feel this is necessary for new players. (This is also mentioned in the DMG, page 236)

As for experienced players; I would simply have them be the same level as the lowest level character in the group. (But have him make the character before playing the game and talk with the DM about his character)

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  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ "We lost 1 to 2 hours of time just to create his character!" — That's a consequence of doing character creation at the table (instead of in advence), not of starting at a higher level. \$\endgroup\$ – Quentin Oct 23 '16 at 13:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't always have to take that long to make a new character, even if you're new to it. The experienced people can help you out making it easier and faster.. But the problem was that my group told the player to read through all cantrips and spells, and that was such a waste of time... Oh well, Spellcasters... \$\endgroup\$ – Cédric Antunes Oct 23 '16 at 13:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ "•Have the player KNOW that his character is fragile and shouldn't stand in the front during encounters" That leads to the new ones playing complicated caster classes and/or to frustration. Why play a fighter if you can't joint in the fight? \$\endgroup\$ – Umbranus Oct 26 '16 at 8:09

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