Saturday, December 14, 2013

Do you bootstrap new PCs?

Erik Tenkar was reflecting on PC death, and also referencing my favorite two-katana wielding character, Groo.*

In the comments and on some unrelated Google+ threads I was perusing recently, there was talk about the short lifespan of characters in OSR games.

I was thinking - don't people still bootstap up new PCs?

By which I mean, don't you use higher-level types to ensure low-level guys live and win gold and get levels faster than you did?

It's the Greyhawkian Dream. You work hard so your kids, er, low-level friends, don't have to.

Back when I played in elementary school, we didn't do this. When we got older, preventing bootstrapping was something we actually had to rule on, otherwise folks would escort low-level types to get them up levels. And when I played video games like Wizardry, the goal was to get one or two guys up to level 3+ and then use them to backstop lower level guys, and then repeat the cycle until you had a solid core of guys with the money to resurrect any slain.

This is something you can easily do in a tabletop fantasy game. Send your 5th level fighter with a bunch of 1st level guys, ensure they win, give them all the gold (you don't need it), and don't fret the miniscule XP you all get once it's divided by 5 for your high-level guy bashing low-level foes. They level quickly, and avoid the lethal entry point. Seems like a very logical way to avoid the lethality of low-level play and maximize the benefits of higher-level friends, and to avoid the sometimes slow slog of early leveling up.

In fact, once I hit level 4+ in Erik's S&W B-Team game, remind me of this - I'll be happy to throw you extra gold, etc. to ensure you level faster.

This kind of thing is probably easier in a re-stocking megadungeon, where you can just escort them to level 1 or 2, bash the big guys and let them kill and loot the easier stuff, heal them up and send them back into the fray, and otherwise act like a parent standing on the curb while they trick-or-treat in the dungeon.

Is this behavior common these days, or rare?

My games these days are GURPS, and you don't need to do this - or benefit much from doing so. But you still will see players giving out gear to new PCs. They'll tell new guys to take sword skill but skimp on a sword because they can just loot him or buy him a better one, or skimp on armor enchantments because someone else can trivially get that done for you, or not worry about consumables like food or healing potions because they have that covered.

It just seems like, although there is risk in being low-level, the real risk is being low-level without high-level friends. Once you have them, I'd expect a lot more bootstrapping . . .

* True story, I once met Sergio Aragones, and my sister got him to sign a copy of Groo to me. Nice guy.


  1. In most of my GURPS games, a new PC starts at 25 points less than the lowest character, but never lower than the campaign starting point. So this has never been a huge issue. The group I play with has always been good about making sure loot was given to who needed it most or could use it best.

    This a a great example of mentoring type relationships that you would expect in the high stress world of Dungeon Delving. Helping new guys that show promise will only help you in the long run. Learning from someone with experience is never a bad idea. Giving equipment to someone with talent but no gold helps both people.

    1. In my previous games, you'd start off halfway between the campaign base and the lowest-point active PC. Made for a leg up but not too much off one.

      In my DF game, it's 250, period. All new guys start out at the bottom. This is exactly how we played D&D back in the day - new characters are level 1. Period.

      But it makes total sense to have the better guys aid the starting guys, and if you combine that with my current group's insistence on giving the best gear they have to the guy best able to use it, being a "new guy" isn't necessarily that bad. It's better to be a new guy in an experienced group than a new guy outside of one.

      I'm just curious in a mixed-level game if it's widely considered acceptable to deliberately throw stuff to low-level guys to get them up faster. I suppose it partly depends on if you see 1st level as a funnel, a meatgrinder, a testing ground, or something of that sort, see it as the most fun part, or see it as an obstacle to the fun of mid-to-higher level play. The first two approaches would probably denigrate bootstrapping, the third would wholeheartedly endorse and practice it.

  2. I absolutely refute the notion that a low level character cannot have "fun", and that the fun only begins when the PC reaches some higher level. This just indicates the poverty of imagination of most DM's (I was certainly guilty of this when I was young), substituting creativity with treasure, and magic items. Giving the players a thrill through leveling up, and cool gear, as opposed to creating clever, and engaging npc's, challenges, and conflict. A PC has access to his own creativity regardless of level. He has the same ability to manipulate. lie, haggle, coerce, plan, investigate, double cross, seduce, steal, exhort, etc. at any time during the course of play. It just takes more work from all involved, and I think we can be all found guilty of taking a nap on this quest most of the time.

    1. Just throwing a note down here: Jay also posted this reply on Google+, and we've been having a lively discussion there about it on the OSR community:
      The community is here and the thread is here.

    2. Comparative advantage.

      A 'level one' character can still pull the lever that activates the trap, carry that important item, reload that gun at the key moment etc. Its also probably MORE of a comparative advantage to have them do it than your 'level 30' badass who is hacking and slashing.

  3. Bootstrapping with better gear makes internal sense in a world with delving (as much as anything else does). If I'm a successful party and I want to recruit qualified replacements of course I'm going to invest in them by giving them some extra junk we aren't using anymore.

    1. True. In the past my players have urged people to make guys who could use powerful stuff they had but couldn't fully utilize.

  4. This feels way, way too "mechanical" to me, I'd never have that in a game I run. The way you described it feels like the "twinking" phenomena in the MMORPG market.
    I usually run low fantasy, dark, gritty settings where magic items and the like are very rare and not sold on the market and I also usually strip any "magic item creation" completely to keep the setting realistic in that context.
    At best, gold would pay for better armor (ie: full plate) and some potions, but that's pretty much it. I also don't give XP per kill but per challenge. Therefore, having something made easier by 3rd party, would lower the challenge and then would just yield very little XP.

    If you run a pure "room, monster, treasure" game like you do, then I suppose it could fit, but when you run something more complicated and keep PCs agenda very open, I don't see it work nor be of any interest.
    To each his own fun though :)

    1. It doesn't have to be mechanical, and it works fine in games with an open agenda. My first group ran D&D this way. Any new PC got treated as a new recruit to the company. On their first day, we'd take them into the treasury below our keep, outfit them with a selection of any unused gear we had on hand, then go out of our way to watch their backs on a couple of milk run jobs to watch them in action and get them some field hours. Making sure the new guys are properly equipped and trained isn't twinking - it's just good sense. They are the ones who will be watching your back next time you do something horribly stupid.

      If the new players outnumbered the veterans, we'd have the highest-level guy turn the dial himself down a bit and play strategic reserve. That character's job was to ration out his mojo and only turn loose to bail the party out when it got in over its head. You get farther that way than if the champion immediately charges off and no one else can keep up to guard his flanks.

      That guy's not a twink - he's a trail guide or a bodyguard. His job isn't to kill all the monsters or accomplish the mission by himself - it's to make sure all those other idiots come back alive.

    2. Reminds me of the CRPG Phantasie III, where the easy way to get started was to send a party of first-level wizards and clerics down into the nastiest dungeon and get them killed. A fraction of them would be resurrected as undead with huge power levels, and they'd still be under your control. They were fragile and no use as fighters or thieves, but they did a great job of keeping those other guys alive...

    3. In my previous game - another GURPS one, not class-and-level - it was standard practice to equip up the PCs with better gear. And the games before that, too.

      Greg Gillespie commented that this kind of thing isn't common, but I think it might be. Unless you're the sort that treats hirelings and lower-level PCs as cannon fodder until they prove themselves (and maybe not even then), it's well worth doing your best to train them up a bit, help them improve as much as you can, and equip them better so they can help you more.

  5. I wonder about for the appropriate game having the weapons/armaments room for PCs. ALL sharable equipment goes into the room and the available PCs load up at the start of the adventure.

    It would be especially appropriate where there is some sort of adventurers guild or superhero club.

    The Knight's signature sword and custom armour wouldnt go in (nor would something like Green Lantern's ring, but spare weapons, a staff of healing, that strange device that turns things into x along with all spare potions would be stored there.

    At the start of each adventure the curator lets PCs check items out, and they ideally return or replace them at the end.

    1. This would be especially appropriate for any kind of military-based game. You keep a weapon's locker and pass out gear as needed for the mission and for capabilities.

      It just makes sense to, say, give a new fighter the best weapon you can for a trip, or give a nice power item to your new spellcaster, or buy some fine lockpicks for the thief you brought along because you need locks picked. Even if it's just a permaloan approach, it's a good way to maximize your success.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...