I'm in my starting area, now what?
FFXI follows a pretty standard game design, common to most MMOs. As you progress further from town "into" the zone, the monsters will slowly get harder and harder. So, the monsters outside your city gate will be relatively easy, while monsters on the border of the next area will be much harder.
Before going into combat with anything, remember to "check" the monster. FFXI does not display monster level, but instead gives you a sentence that compares your level to the monster's level. The option to check can be found in the action menu, the one that is brought up when you select a monster.
If the check tells you an even match, the monster is your level. Tough means the monster is one to four levels above you, while very tough is four to seven levels above you and incredibly tough is six or more levels above you. A decent challenge monster is one to two levels below you, while a easy prey monster is three to six levels below you and a too weak to be worthwhile monster is seven or more levels below you.
What you want to do is take on monsters at an even match or decent challenge at levels 1-4, and then stick with decent challenge monsters past level 4. This sounds odd, as decent challenges don't reward as well, but you can kill them faster with less effort -- usually letting you gain exp and coffers faster, especially with your ring on.
What's an experience chain?
If you kill a monster your level or higher and then proceed to kill another monster your level or higher, you might notice that the words "Exp Chain #XX!" will appear on your screen. Experience chains multiply the experience you get, so killing monsters your level or higher quickly in a row is very beneficial.
To take full advantage of experience chains at low level, make sure to have your food bonus on (you can get a food bonus from the field manuals with tabs, or buy food at the auction house) and especially make sure to have regen on from the field manual. This way during and after fights, you will constantly be gaining health back without sitting to rest. If you're a magic using class, like white or black mage, make sure to put refresh on as well, so you can continue to cast in battle.
As you get closer to 10, this becomes progressively harder to do. After level 4, you will lose experience after dying, so be careful with this method.
Okay, I'm level 10, now what?
Now you get to experience grouping. If you're from San d'Oria, go south through La Theine Plateau and get to Valkurm Dunes. If you're from Bastok, go north through Konschtat Highlands into, you guessed it, Valkurm Dunes. If you're from Windurst, you have a bit of a trek now. Go from Tahrongi Canyon to Buburimu Peninsula. From there, get to the port town of Mhaura and take the boat to Selbina when it comes in. From Selbina, step outside the town and you'll be in Valkurm Dunes.
Valkurm Dunes is the unofficial leveling spot for everyone who's at level 10. There, you'll be able to easily find a group and get swinging. Valkurm Dunes is also where you can get the subjob quest and where you'll be spending your time until level 20, but that's a story for another time.
This Thursday, we're going to talk about grouping, the community etiquette, and some tricks for playing FFXI easier on your PC or game console. Until then, safe adventures in Vana'diel!