Assume for the moment that you like playing with skills and feats. Why do first level characters get skills and feats? Video games rarely introduce all their mechanics at once; why should tabletop RPGs? Why not start accumulating skills & feats at second level rather than first? There is nothing special about second level of course, other than that it is not first level. This has a number of benefits:
- Character generation is simpler and faster.
- Players will be less likely to take skills or feats that are not useful in the particular campaign.
- Character concept will be clearer once the character has had some play time.
- Getting skills and feats is always a reward rather than an entitlement, and so will be appreciated more.
- Character building becomes less of a self-contained pre-game.
- Basic knowledge required to start playing is decreased.
- Skills & feats become more about character development.
- The principle of definition through play is strengthened.
Some might argue that the same problem applies to magic-user and cleric spells. I would respond that the cleric did not originally gain a spell at first level (a design choice I am coming to increasingly appreciate, for a number of reasons). The design of the magic-user is indeed vulnerable to this critique, but it is only one of several classes, and so is a form of opt-in complexity. Further, there are a number of methods for randomly determining spells known, so though it might take some time, it does not necessarily require any choice.
I bet 50% of characters played never reach second level. Why is the common case (first level) made nearly as complex as the rare case? What percentage of games start at first level? (My guess is the vast majority.) What is the average level a campaign reaches before petering out or being ended? These are interesting empirical questions that have potentially important implications for game design.
In fact, I think this principle can be applied in general. Why not make players earn their rules complexity? This is one of the reasons why a long list of powers for every class (I’m looking at you, Fourth Edition) does not work very well. This character generation rules proliferation is a side-effect of trying to stretch the “sweet spot” of D&D play over all 30 levels (an explicit design goal of 4E).
Or, to put it another way, why not back-load the complexity?
25 December 2011 edit: Jeffro wrote a great post about applying a similar idea to magic users (described below in the comments) by only starting them out with read magic, so that all spells are introduced through play. Go read it, because it’s a great post, and something I’m definitely going to try myself.