What level do 3.5e Dark Sun characters start?

I was checking Athas.org’s official Dark Sun rulebook, and I noticed a detail was missing.

What level do player characters start in 3.5 edition?

I started my PCs off at level 1, in line with 3.5 standard (core, not DS standard I mean).

I did run them through some solo adventures to let them get a feel for their characters and get some exp before they joined together as a party around lvl 4. That seemed to work well.

By the time they made it to Athas proper (they started in RL Kalidnay) and sold into slavery in Tyr they were lvl 5 and perfect for DS1 Freedom


I follow the Ad&d 2nd edition model in my pathfinder system games. The PC’s start at 3rd.


For me it depends on the “level” of the players.

Playing 2nd edition 20+ years as a player I always liked the idea of starting out at level 3. Because of all the abilities you get to start play with. But everyone in our group was pretty knowledgeable about the game so creating characters at level 3 wasn’t much of an issue.

Most people I play with nowadays (Pathfinder) are still relatively new to the game and already struggle with knowing their character’s abilities and some of the game rules. So if we play in Dark Sun I try to keep it simpler and start with level 1. Trying to start them out at 3 would take up all the time in trying to get them to figure out how to pick level 2 and 3 abilities, unless I did them myself. However, If I had more “experienced, higher level” players I would probably start out at level 3.

As a DM I have always felt there is a bit of in-game explaining needed for the need to start at 3. Is this just for PCs or do you do the same do NPCs?

What about age? If adventuring, human characters are aged 15-20 starting out at level 3. Does that also mean for NPCs that you have age 12-15 level 2 and maybe aged 10-12 level 1. (Scaled for other races, obviously) Is anything below age 10 is just normal human. I recall Twile a child street urchin in the supplement Veiled Alliance” he was statted as a level 1 thief.

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For reference, here is the text from the original 2nd Edition Dark Sun boxed set. Rules book pg 21

Newly Created Characters
In Dark Sun, characters do not begin adventuring as novices to the world around them. Rather, they start with a fair degree of experience.

Starting Level
In Dark Sun, all single-classed player characters start the campaign at 3rd level. A player character thus begins his adventuring career with the minimum number of experience points to attain 3rd level. He gets the THAC0 and saving throws of a 3rd level character, plus any class or race benefits that apply. This rule reflects the fact that daily life on Athas is much harsher than it is in other AD&D® realms, forcing characters to mature more quickly if they are to survive.


Thank you all.

I thought it was a really odd omission from our latest version of the Dark Sun 3.5e rules. Maybe it needs to be at least mentioned in there…

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It’s worth clarifying in the 3.5 Core Rules - I was thumbing through the PDF looking for the definitive word on 1st or 3rd. In the end I went with 1st, but did the handholding to get them up to 3rd-4th before kicking off the campaign proper, so it worked out in the end.


Yeah. That sounds a lot like you might as well simply started at 3rd level and been done with it.

IDK, starting PCs at 1st in a slave arena or something and them getting out by 3rd lvl as ‘real’ adventurers sounds pretty worthwhile, especially if they’re new to the edition or setting.

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Okay. Like a “fledgeling characters” campaign for Dark Sun. Cool.

Again, all of this is worth adding to the Dark Sun rulebook.


I think what drives starting level would be if the party includes races with a level adjustment.

If there’s a kreen or half-giant those characters would start off at 1st level in class, a mul 2nd level and the other races would have 3 class levels.

Thats what seems fair and balanced IMO.

That sounds a lot like the extra levels all the overpowered races get in 3.x. But yeah, that’s a valid detail which should be included.

That’s exactly what I’m referring to, the race’s level adjustment (LA).

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There are ways around that, if you’re willing to think outside the box.

I ran a 1st level adventure for a party w/ a Half-Giant. He started as 1st lvl HG commoner, and then when everyone else leveled, he got to be a 1st lvl HG Psi-Warrior instead.

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There’s always a creative way to bring balance to it. That said, even with starting off as a 1st-level commoner or the base creature, a half-giant would be the equivalent of a level 2 character where the other races are level 1.

Yeah, its only a 1 level difference, but the PCs aren’t technically starting at the same level. Most players won’t have an issue with that, but there are some that will.

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I have done “racial” levels for thri-kreen.

Thri-kreen racial levels

I think it was a Monte Cook book that originally explained this.

Looks like there is also a psionic version of the thri-kreen with class levels broken out in the Complete Psionic book.

You could just start every PC with 10 bonus HP for being Athasian. Then you don’t have to touch levels.

However methinks it’s not just about taking hits starting out but also cool stuff/abilities you can do.

i. e. Level 1 human cleric vs level 1 thri-kreen cleric.

Though I do think giving humans a poisonous bite attack that can paralyze helps level the playing field a little. :upside_down_face:

I do think the 3rd level dictum originally would have come from limitations in 2nd ed. Compared to 3.5 it’s ability to scale was extremely weak. We have far more tools for that kind of thing now. Templates for monsters, level adjustments for players, etc.

So I have for funsies, made adventure writes up for some1st level PC adventures. I have found that not only can it be done, but the results are still fun and engaging. As I personally like low to mid level, as opposed to high level, content I am naturally prejudiced in this regard.

There is a good counter argument in this regard. 3rd level characters can more fully round out their character concepts. Get the levels they need to feel like their character is starting out on the right RP foot.


I’ve played 3e for a while and a rule both my players and I enjoy is having our long term campaigns start at level 2 rather than 1. The reason for this is the jump between 1 and 2 is downright huge. Your health nearly doubles, your spells increase almost as significantly, there’s more wiggle room for essential feats, base attack jumps up, I could go on.

This means players aren’t quite as at the mercy of dying from one bad roll. Mind you, if I’m going more OSR I start my players at level 1, but I usually play 2e for those types of games.

Now I haven’t played Dark Sun 3e, but if the setting is as violent and hostile as it gets in 2e I would at least advise not starting at level 1 unless you want some PC deaths to hammer home to your players what setting this is.

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