Zero Level Characters (Prototype) | New Rules for Fifth Edition

One big thing I see a lot of people talk about on Reddit, Instagram, and everywhere else RPGers lurk is how they want better stories on how characters meet. There’s also this idea of “0-level characters”, basically a Fifth Edition character before it gets all of its cool powers.

As part of BroadSword magazine’s adventure series, I wanted to create a “0-level character”… sort of a “pre-adventurer” if you will. The idea I had is that a character has 4 pre-levels before they reach 1st level. Each of those pre-levels works like Monster Challenge Ratings: CR 0, CR 1/8, CR 1/4, and CR 1/2. Then, presto, you’re level 1.

As a character gains levels, they work their way up to the proficiency bonuses, get their skills, etc.–everything that takes them from being a lowly commoner to the brave warrior/rogue/cleric/wizard they are destined to become.

Experience Points

There would need to be experience for it, too, almost a bit like “negative experience”, or at the very least experience that is erased once you reach “level 1.”

The math to figure out how much experience is needed is pretty simple.

At 1st level, characters need to get 300 experience. That’s roughly 6 combats with monsters of Challenge Rating 1. The math more or less follows

A monster with challenge rating 0 gives 10 experience or 2.5 experience per character in a party of four. Therefore, a character probably needs 15 experience to go from level 0 to level 1/8.

Incorporating this dynamic into the other levels, we can see that characters need about 35-40 experience to reach level 1/4, 75 to reach 1/2, and 150 to hit level 1. At that point, they become a full-blown adventurer.

Optional. To make the accounting easier, you may consider using milestone leveling in place of experience.

Proficiency Bonus

Proficiency bonuses would stay the same, just like the do for monsters. So characters would start with +2 and wouldn’t see a rise in proficiency until they hit 5th level.


Depending on the classpath a character takes, they’ll earn features as they go. For example, a fighter character probably earns its Fighting Style early on, but then picks up Second Wind when it hits 1st level.

Hit Points

A character’s hit points stay flat through its “0-levels”. It won’t gain another hit die until it hits level 2.


Spellcasters learn spells as they rise through their zero-levels which culminates with a 1st-level spell at level 1.


Similar to spells, characters with a lot of proficiencies learn those proficiencies as they climb through the levels. A martial character might learn simple weapons at first level, then pick up martial later. A rogue will learn many of its skills early on and pick up a fifth skill when it hits 1st level.

Putting it all together…

Now that I’ve got the basics mapped out, it’s just a matter of putting it all together in a cohesive set of rules.

Since Wizards are the focus of Evadimus’ School for Gifted Spellcasters, that’s where I’ll start. The “pre-Wizard” will be called an Apprentice.

The Apprentice

XP Level Prof. Bonus Features Cantrips Known
1st Level Spell Slots
0 0 +1 Spellcasting 1
10 1/8 +1 1 1
35 1/4 +1 Ranged Weapon Training 2 1
75 1/2 +1 Bonus Proficiency 2 2
150 1 +1 Wizardry 3 2

Class Features

As an apprentice, you gain the following class features.

Hit Points

Hit Dice: 1d6

Hit Points at 0 Level: 6 + your Constitution modifier

Hit Points at Higher Levels: an apprentice does not gain additional hit points until it becomes a wizard and achieves 2nd level in that class


Armor: None

Weapons: daggers, quarterstaffs

Tools: None

Saving Throws: Intelligence

Skills: Choose one from Arcana, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, and Religion


You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:

  • (a) a quarterstaff or (b) a dagger
  • (a) a component pouch or (b) an arcane focus
  • (a) a scholar’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack
  • A spellbook


The apprentice’s spellcasting feature is the same as the one described in the PHB, with the following changes:

  • You only know one cantrip of your choice from the wizard spell list. You learn an additional cantrip at level-1/4 and when you become a 1st-level wizard.
  • Before becoming a 1st-level wizard, the Apprentice table shows you how many spell slots you have to cast your spells of 1st level.
  • Until you become a 1st-level wizard, you can only prepare a number of wizard spells from your spellbook equal to your Intelligence modifier.
  • At 0-level, you have a spellbook but it does not contain any spells. At apprentice level-1/4, you learn one 1st-level wizard spell of your choice, and then another 1st-level wizard spell at apprentice level-1/8. You learn two more 1st-level spells at level-1/2 and then another two when you become a 1st-level wizard.

Ranged Weapon Training

At level-1/4, you gain proficiency with darts, slings, and light crossbows.

Bonus Proficiency

At level-1/2, you become proficient in one of the following skills of your choice: Arcana, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, or Religion.


At level 1, you become a wizard. As a wizard, you gain the following benefits:

  • You gain proficiency with Wisdom saving throws.
  • You gain the Arcane Recovery feature (as described in the PHB).
  • Your experience points reset to 0.


Encounter Difficulty

In addition to the actual rules for creating the characters themselves, GMs will need rules to help balance their encounters. Here is the supplemental Encounter Difficulty XP per Character table.

Encounter Difficulty XP per Character (Supplement)

Level Easy Medium Hard Deadly
0 0 5 10 15
1/8 5 10 15 20
1/4 10 15 20 30
1/2 15 25 40 50

Additionally, here is a supplement for the Adventuring Day XP.

Adventuring Day XP (Supplement)

Adjusted XP per Day per Character
0 10
1/8 35
1/4 75
1/2 150



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13 thoughts on “Zero Level Characters (Prototype) | New Rules for Fifth Edition

  1. Seems like it might make more “thematic sense” for a “level 0” character’s “class” to be their background. And perhaps expand on the backgrounds a tad bit to flesh out these “classes”. I like the idea though.

  2. I like this idea, though i wouod say the spell casting needs to change a little. Zero level should be spell slot 1 and cantrip 0, then 1/8 level should be 1 spell slot and 1 cantrip.

    Reason: a cantrip is a spell that can be cast at will, without using a spell slot and without being prepared in advance. As a zero level you haven’t practiced anything ot even know anything well enough to be defined as a cantrip.

    Just my thoughts.

  3. Early levels already suck. I can’t see this being fun except for the most dedicated roleplayers, but good effort.

  4. I would actually buy a supplement that develops 0-level characters that start the same but spin off in whatever class or group of classes (martial/arcane/divine) and then by the end of their 0-level adventures choose the class – earning it through adventure rather than starting with it.

    1. I kept in the XP just in case people like XP, but it probably works better with milestones.

  5. late reply…..
    what if you let them have the cantrip, but can only cast it 1x per day while at level 0, and increase as they get closer to level 1. thus it simulates their practice of magic and build up to the point where they can cast it at will at level 1.

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