“Zero to Hero” is a common genre fiction and gaming trope. It’s shorthand for the Hero’s Journey, the plot beats that every epic fantasy story is required by law to hit. Dungeons & Dragons hits this trope especially hard, with many gamemasters and players threatening a full-scale revolt if level 1 isn’t full of weak and frail characters.
There’s folks who clamor for a level-0, where player characters are even weaker. The hell is up with that?
Sometimes this comes from players, who like the Zero to Hero path, who want to feel like they’ve earned their skills and powers. Which is ridiculous on the face of it. You put yourself through the misery of incompetence and failure so you can write “+better at killing” on a piece of paper?
Look; the level title (remember those?) for the Fighter nee Fighting-Man in Original Dungeons & Dragons is Veteran. The player characters are by default larger than life. The whole idea that we need to force people to sit around playing characters less robust than the usual Central Casting Nerd is ludicrous.
And it’s something that really affects only the “mundane” characters. Sure, your wizard can only cast a cantrip and a spell. On the other hand, they can cast a cantrip and a spell. That’s still light-years beyond any commoner!
When it comes from the Dungeon Master, though…lady, lady, better run! Any time that a dungeon master wants to have players start with weaker than normal characters, there’s a 80% chance they are a sadist, a dice-rolling sociopath whose enjoyment in the game (and in life) comes from inflicting suffering on others. What happens when the players finally crawl out from the pit of zerodom, and embark on the journey to kinda-sorta being heroes? The DM will find a reason to kill the game, and start a new campaign, right back at zero.
But what about the other 20% of DMs out there, you ask? Well, 19 of those 20 remaining have no idea why they want to start players at lower than rock bottom. They just think it sounded cool. That remaining 1 might have an interesting idea that will lead to rich and fulfilling weeks of gaming.
But I wouldn’t count on it.