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Alternatives to level adjustment?


I've started planning a Planescape campaign, and while I'm at it I'm looking over a lot of rules and stuff. (I expect I'll be posting more about this later.... :heh: )

And one thing that bothers me, in particular in a Planescape campaign, are the rules for handling powerful races, i.e. the Level Adjustment rules.

For one thing they are rather coarse - there can be a huge difference in power between different LA+1 races, but I think I can fix that by tweaking the races.

But they are also very prohibitive, at least at lower levels. (And I aim for slower/alternative advancement/development, intending to stay well below tenth level for a long time.)
And I want it to be fairly easy to play, say, a tiefling, bariaur or gith****.

(We have seen level adjusted characters die thanks to hit dice lag. I'd rather avoid that - unnecessary deaths are bad for the plot.)

I know about the Unearthed Arcana rules for buying off LA, and racial classes, but I'm not too fond of either. Both works best at higher levels. :\

I consider powering up the standard races, but it seems tough to get them up to LA+2 without losing something. Giving them a leg up while downgrading the worst offenders seems best to me, but how?

So, what else is there out there? House rules, 3rd party rules, other WotC rules, wild ideas.... give me all you have! ;)

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First Post
Someone on these boards recently suggested giving all LA critters a level of Commoner per LA. I thought that was a novel approach, but perhaps also one with some potential.

In the end though, there has to be a sacrifice, compromise, whatever you want to call it. More power must come with a price.


Forcing the more powerful races to take NPC class levels clearly has some merit. They get a hit die, and some skill points, but not at all as much as a PC class. Hmm, good.


There will never be a simple and elegant solution for dealing with unbalanced races. One number will simply never ever cut it, nor is there any one simple fix.

LA represents too many different things. You give LA for abilities above and beyond the core races, but those abilities fall into three very different catagories. Abilities which are quite powerful at low levels, but which eventually become less important or even trivial at higher levels. Abilities which scale evenly across levels so that they are just as valuable at low levels as at high levels, and abilities which become increasingly powerful as the character gains levels. Since the races are not built uniformly, and since it would be very difficult to build all races having the same mixture of abilities from each of the three classes, no one number is going to accurately balance the race against +0 LA races - to say nothing about how gross of an effect +1 LA (one level can be quite huge in D&D).


I'm not looking for a simple and elegant solution ;) (Even if that would be nice.)

I'm looking for alternatives. Perhaps I'll end up tweaking every race (the players want to use) a little bit - downgrading this, cutting that, handing out extra skill bonuses, etc.

Penalising the first level gith**** because he'll get plane shift at 9/11th level, if he ever gets there, is wrong, the way I see things.

But I'd like to see what else people have thought about - I know I am not alone in disliking LA/ECL!

This is just off the top of my head but why not have the Level Adjustment come into effect when he aquires the abilities that are making him take the Level Adjustment to begin with.

You mention the Gith**** getting a LA because he gets plane shift between 9-11th level. I dont have my books near to check, but if thats the case, what im proposing would make his LA kick in at 9-11th level, whenever he gets it.

As for races with unbalanced ability scores it's a little more complicated since they get them right off the bat. Of course maybe Savage species is the book for you. Has much more information about this kind of stuff.

I've been toying around with the idea of making LA into a point buy deduction, starting at -7 for an +1 LA, and increasing geometrically. So for a 28 point buy game...

+0 = 28 pt.
+1 = 21 pt.
+2 = 14 pt.
+3 = 0 pt.

For marginal cases a few points could be added or subtracted.


First Post
In my games, I allow level adjustments to be "bought off" with other penalties. From my house rules:

Reducing Level Adjustments: at character creation, you can lower a race or template’s level adjustment by taking penalties to the character. Picking three times from the following list lowers the level adjustment by 1. You may pick the same one multiple times, unless a restriction is mentioned.

1. Start with 2 fewer points for ability scores (we use point buy for ability scores)
2. Start with 1 less feat (can’t lose a feat that’s restricted in it’s choice, like Fighter feats for Fighters, or Metamagic feats for wizards)
3, Take a Flaw (these count towards your maximum number of Flaws allowed, so can only be taken twice)
4. Get 1 less action point per session (PCs normally get 2 APs per session, so this can be taken a maximum of twice)
5. Penalized special abilities (one of the race or template’s abilities is reduced. Examples include –2 natural armor class, Save DC is 2 worse on special abilities, halved damage reduction, -3 spell resistance, An “at will” ability only usable 2/day, one usable 2-3/day usable 1/day)

So, a character could start with a +1 LA race, with no reduction in hit dice/levels, by starting with 6 less points for ability scores, or by getting no action points and taking a flaw, or any other "3 penalties".

I'm A Banana

Someone on these boards recently suggested giving all LA critters a level of Commoner per LA. I thought that was a novel approach, but perhaps also one with some potential.

Levels of NPC classes is pretty much what I've been doing since '02 IMC. It's worked pretty okay, but my players generally still hate to loose levels, so more often than not I'll be simply making an LA+0 version, and they'll play that.


I've toyed with docking LA-adjusted races action points or something similar until they even out with standard PCs. This idea has its origins in the old WFRP< which balanced elves against other races this way. It worked, too. I played an elf who soon dropped to 0 Fate and hung back in situations where other characters could jump in.


First Post
Start with a negative XP total, usually 1.5 x the amount required for the level of the LA adjustment, so an LA +1 creature starts on -1500xp, so by the time he gets to level 2, everyone else is near level 3, but due to the way Xp works (if you do give each character seperate xp for their level, rather averaging it to average level) he will eventually near-enough catch up. By the time you get high enough levels that the little abilities that are somewhat unbalancing at low level are now useless the penalty should be near non-existant.

Alternatively, if that doesn't work for you, I've used the NPC class thing before and it seems fine... So for a number of levels = to your LA value you're NPC class only (or as a further alternative 1/2 classes - which are my extrapolation from the old apprentice rules in 3.0 for playing multiclassed level 1 PCs).


First Post
IMC, we just say each Level Adjustment costs a feat, and doesn't affect level at all. So a LA+1 race doesn't get a free feat at first level, but is still 1st level. LA+2 races don't get the free feat at 3rd, etc.

That way, a LA+1 Fighter-1 is still a Fighter-1 in every way, shape and form. His funky race costs him a feat slot. That's all.

(It also means Humans are LA-1, because they gain a free feat at first level. That's cool too!)

We find this encourages players to use the non-standard races more - they're getting rewarded rather than penalized for selecting cool stuff. Or course, they still have the social stigma to deal with..............


First Post
A simple solution is to require that every one plays a LA + X race and simply ignore the LA.
It never made sense to me that in, for example, a Drow Underdark Campaign, you would actually enforce the ECL rules. If everyone is starting out on a level field, then base assumptions work fine.

My big problem with LA is LA is not equal. Beyond the statistical variance of a Hobgoblin compared to an Air Gensai compared to a Goliath, the monster type plays a huge factor.

Outsider HD or Dragon HD are better than many PC class levels. Humanoid and Monstrous Humanoid are more often than not worse than PC class levels.


Lots of good ideas here!

For my planescape campaign I've been toying with giving standard (non-LA) races an extra racial feat - something appropriate and not negotiable - just to give myself a little more room for redesigning the more powerful races.

If possible I want everyone to have about the same number of hit dice (as I said, we've had a couple of deaths due to that), and negative levels is just another name for less HD in my eyes.

Just taking away feats is a bit tricky. For some races it would balance the LA, for other not. And removing feats is boring - feats are fun!


Mod Squad
Staff member
There's also the thought of not using LA, but instead using a racial class, as seen in Savage Species. Even if it is only one level, that at least unifies the mechanic.


satori01 said:
A simple solution is to require that every one plays a LA + X race and simply ignore the LA.

Indeed. But in this case I want all (well, most) races to be viable, so that isn't doing it this time.
But were I to run a drow campaign, then yes, absolutely! In particular drows as I would want them to be a little meaner than humans.

Essentially I'm now toying with increasing the standard races to LA+0.5 or so. (For tha half-orcs that is a great step, as I see them as almost LA-0.5.)

My big problem with LA is LA is not equal.
Yeah, a lot of tweaking is necessary, in particular with the monsters who have racial HD.
Racial HD are not equal - you need a lot of commoner levels to balance out a couple of ooutsider HD.

The link Ryan_Singer gave discusses things like that in some depth.

Umbran said:
There's also the thought of not using LA, but instead using a racial class, as seen in Savage Species. Even if it is only one level, that at least unifies the mechanic.
The racial classes are fairly good, insofar as they spread out the abilities, but often they have LA baked into it.
But combining racial classes with NPC levels could be a way to go.

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