Reading this post on Discourse and Dragons, about relatively straightforward adventures that build up to a climactic battle against an archetypal monster, I was struck by how inappropriatethis adventure structure is for low-level characters. And I wondered how other DMs handle low-level adventures. What I mean is, D&D promises players that their characters will be heroes, but the first couple of levels – which if we go by a 3 game session per level rule of thumb, could be quite a long time – are spent worrying that a couple of goblin arrows will kill Hurkar the Strong, never mind imagining that Hurkar the Strong will hack his way through the goblin horde before doing heroic battle with the evil wizard, the bandit king, the Ogre chief… whatever. The low-level adventures that I run are either very short, practically single encounters with a few trailing threads to be explored, or exercises in rest and resupply. Neither of these capture the structure of heroic fiction.
The heroes stagger back to town, again.
Do people start their D&D characters at higher levels? Do they make judicious use of the DM screen to slide the characters though peripheral encounters to ensure that the session generates the sense of adventure and exploration? Or do they run combat-light adventures – the sort found in WFRP, which seems contrary to the spirit of D&D – that reward player characters for ‘sustainable’ adventuring?