The Character Funnel

The Character Funnel

The Character Funnel

Is this the best D&D intro for newbies?

It was KantCon 2014

I had not played D&D since 3rd edition, and the 5th edition Starter Set had just been released. Being a former player and DM, the allure of a shiny new edition brought with it a rush of nostalgia and an eagerness to play. Thankfully, KantCon was the same weekend as the release, so I saw this as a perfect opportunity to familiarize myself with the new rules and the “simplified” experience that was promised. My wife and I got a Saturday pass and we went to check out the convention. We are both longtime board game collectors and players, so even if 5th edition turned out to be a bust we figured we’d still have a good time. Luckily for us, there was a table being run by an older gentleman who said he was running a Character Funnel in 5th edition. I was a little bewildered, I had never heard of a “Character Funnel” before and wasn’t sure if this was going to be an experience I would enjoy as a veteran or that my wife would enjoy having never played D&D before. I could not have been more wrong. With a simple introduction to the adventure and selecting 5-10 pre-made villagers, we were off and playing, learning the basics of 5th edition on the fly, and having an incredible amount of fun!

Surely you did not come here to read my reminiscence of an event from almost a decade ago. But, the fact that this one hour long session of D&D has impacted me this much should speak for itself.

What is a Character Funnel?

A character funnel is a one-shot adventure and is named such for having the players choose or generate multiple level 0 characters to play. This is great for new players who don’t understand the ins-and-outs of character creation or class selection, and how that impacts their play. By removing all the finer detail work in character creation, the player is left with what is called a “Level 0” character. These characters are not hardened adventurers, nor are they gifted “rookie” dungeoneers or soldiers. This is to say that they do not yet have a character class. They are villagers, swept up in a terrible event. As such, they do not have the usual ability score modifiers you may start out with in a level 1 starting of a campaign. At best these characters will have a +0 modifier to their ability scores; the modifiers could dip heavily into the negatives This also makes it easy for the DM to explain basic combat rules for new players as there are not any complex interactions with class abilities or spells to muddy the waters. By having a limited ruleset and quick character creation, the players and the DM are able to focus on what matters most in D&D: having FUN! Some character funnel scenarios introduce wrinkles into the character creation, such as the character being a pacifist, or the only weapon they start with is a handful of butter in their pocket!

The goal of a character funnel is to survive without losing all your characters. Depending on the size of the village there could be 100 characters for the players to pick from. It is especially fun with low stakes characters to get them into situations you would normally never do in a campaign of D&D. This ensures a stress free environment where character death is not the end of the session, but an expected outcome of the situation. Character Funnels are not without their consequences though. There is a reason that you make so many pre-generated level 0 characters, it is because the players will suffer heavy losses. Before using one, be sure to talk with your players about this so it won’t be such a surprise.

There are multiple ways to introduce a character funnel scenario. For example, a village is attacked by marauding ne'er do wells, and the citizens rally to push back the invasion. One player chooses a character that happens to be the local blacksmith, but they can’t find their hammer in the confusion so they are using a handbell that they made as their weapon. This may prove ineffective against low level bandits but it makes for interesting gameplay as the player finally lands an attack and the ring of their bell hails the sound of victory, or rallies more bandits to join the fight.

Since my first experience with a character funnel, I have run several for newer players and returning players alike. It is my opinion that a character funnel makes for a great Session 0. By the end of the one-shot, your characters all have a shared experience. They are not forced to all meld their backstories into a chance meeting or founding of a mercenary group. Instead, they were neighbors, friends, rivals, or married when the event of your character funnel occurred. I have used it to start the Tyranny of Dragons campaign with all the characters starting in a character funnel during the Greenest attack in Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Most recently, I have used a character funnel to kick off a campaign of all Monk class players when their monastery is attacked by otherworldly creatures of the abyss. The application of a character funnel can be as simple or complex as you wish.

Where Do I Start?

There are tons of resources for character funnels on sites like Drive Thru RPG. Some come complete with an adventure to run alongside the character creation tables. There are resources online for quick character generation. One such resource comes from HanClinto, who created a text generator to roll four Level 0 characters at a time. I encourage you to explore searching for “Character Funnel” on any RPG website that sells self published materials. A lot of these resources are free, though I would recommend tossing a coin to these creators for providing you with the opportunity to have a great time. You could end up reigniting a love for the game for a returning player, or introduce the joy of D&D to a new group who have been too intimidated to try. However you play, I am confident that you will enjoy the experience and have fun stories to share with your friends!

The Character Funnel has worked well for me for years, but have you ever tried it before? Has your experience differed from mine? Are you excited to give it a try? Your answers are always welcome in the comments below, or on our socials (clicking HERE)!

Cam Anderson (@CamSonOfAnder) is a long-time player and DM of multiple TTRPGs and their various editions. He has always had a passion for sharing this wonderful hobby with friends and loved ones, but decided it was past time to take this enthusiasm to the wider world.