Can someone explain exactly what a 0-level character can do?
Can they attempt to cast a spell or pick a lock?
When I DM the funnel, I let folks do or attempt anything that their character background can suggest, for example...
>Gongfarmer, Gambler, & Ostler are allowed to make lock pick and other thief-type checks on the grounds that their professions occasionally allow situations where such skills are needed or can be practiced.
>Acolytes are always allowed to cast a blessing; it probably won't have much if any strength, but I figure in the eyes of their Gods, there is no difference between a 10th lvl and 0-lvl mortal...
>A wizards apprentice or alchemist doesn't start with any spells (same for Elves) but they certainly can attempt to use any scrolls they might find. Chances are they'll end up splattered, but they are welcome to try.
>A 0-lvl alchemist is perfectly capable of applying a little chemistry knowledge to a situation; if they have the time and can find or steal the ingredients they can make anything from black powder bombs to flasks of acid, etc.
>Halfling Gypsy... could have any number of abilities depending on how you define the word 'Gypsy'.
The reasoning behind this approach is that somewhere back in history someone had to figure out how to do everything from making fire to casting spells... and they didn't have the benefit of anyone to teach them how: they just experimented a lot. The casualty figures were probably horrific, but eventually someone figured out how to make fire, or cast a spell... then they could start teaching others.
Metaphorically speaking, there is no difference between rolling up four sets of ability scores, crossing out the three weakest and using the best set; and running a Funnel session. In both cases the peon's with the best stats are most likely going to win out, but the Funnel session is more entertaining as well as a chance to familiarize yourself with the new system. When I'm running a funnel session, it is the one time where I let the dice be brutal and I don't hesitate to kill off the little phleebs, but all that stops once the survivors claw their way to 1st level. I think this is beneficial for the game, because it means the players lose a bit of their fear about having a character die. Over the years, I noticed that some players don't handle it very well, and this could give them a chance to learn how to cope. It also lets the DM get the message across that there are consequences for ill thought out actions, which enhances later play sessions when the survivors start adding levels.