Convention Play: When making a party for a one-off convention-style game, the normal level limits are not good balancing factors. Human characters should be created at +1 level. Wizards are required to have a minimum Intelligence of 10+highest spell level.
I'm thankful that my last convention game threw a high-intensity spotlight on this problem – it was the most troublesome issue I confronted, and I've been grappling with it for weeks, looking for the best solution. (I was working on a 2,000-word essay to explain it, but then I thought better to scrap that.)
Here's the issue: I'm happy to accept the OD&D doctrine that low-level powers can be balanced by high-level limitations, and vice-versa. This system creates “opportunity costs”, where early decisions have continuing repercussions over a lengthy period of time. In 3E, this was thrown out as anathema, and a demand was made that all races/classes be made equal at every possible level.
While not explained in the 3E texts, I now understand why this was done. While the level-limitations (and exponential wizards) are reasonable in a long-running home game, they are useless in a one-off convention game. For example: In my last low-level OD&D convention game, I think all of the wizards chose to be elves (gaining armor & weapon usage at no cost). Meanwhile, in my last high-level AD&D convention game, all of the characters chose to be humans, except for one dwarven thief (thereby sidestepping all level limits).
So now the dilemma is this: Do we re-write the race/class balancing mechanics so they work for any convention game, at any level? (This being the choice made in 3E; fulfilling, perhaps, a failed goal of AD&D). Or do we reserve the extra balancing rules to an appendix, for the special case of convention gaming? Obviously, after much soul-searching, I chose the latter.
Generation Order: Players should take a PC card and fill in the abilities, race, class, alignment, and money/ equipment. Then, the DM takes the card and calculates modifiers, move, AC, attacks, specials, and directs the roll for hit points. Finally, add the character to the DM's summary roster.
This here is just an observation of the most efficient way to administer the from-scratch character creation process. I'm using my pre-printed index cards for PC records. I let the DM do all the secondary calculations, both so that (a) no new player is required to know the number-crunching rules prior to play, and (b) we accomplish a character audit at the same time. Hit points require the Constitution modifier before rolling. I also keep a summary roster with: Player Name, Character Name, Race/Class, Move, AC, and Hit Points (the most important aspect being the reminder to address each player by their character name).
Magic Items: Characters should be checked for magic items at 10% per level. Checks are made by class: Fighters (2 weapons, armor, shield, potion); thieves (2 weapons, armor, ring, potion), or wizards (2 potions, dagger, scroll, ring). Items are +1 or a basic type, chosen by player; for a +2 item, roll again at 1%/level (+10%/level over 10th); for a +3 item roll yet again at 1%/level (no further bonus).
Up until recently, I was using the AD&D DMG Appendix P for higher-level party generation, in particular the assessment for magic items. Unfortunately, I found it very burdensome to mentally track all the different choices and percentages-per-level involved. Instead I thought it would easier to just batch everything up to a straight 10%/level for everything, in a few broad categories (much like the MM tables for “Men”; for NPCs, I would likewise roll at 5%/level). Once again, no table lookups required; we should be able to do this entirely from rote memory.