D&D General How important is leveling to the play experience (lvls 2-8)?

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
If I'm working on a detailed campaign world, one of the things I struggle with is how it all fits together reasonably in a world that goes from the 1st level zeros to the 20th level super heroes. So I really like the e6 idea (in 3.5, say, you advance to 6th level as usual and then only get feats after that - gradually moving up the equivalent of a couple of levels in power as you plateau). This gives a world where the standard "medieval" feel still makes vague sense and fits with some of the inspirational fiction that starts after the main character has some experience and where the main point isn't them advancing in prowess.

And so, I spend an inordinate amount of time wondering about how to craft the ideal e6 (and then the project is put on pause, and then 5e comes out and...)

Anyway, I reread Gamma World 1e the other night for the first time in several decades and had forgotten its advancent doesn't really have levels. You just rolled a die to get randomly accrued bonuses one at a time as you got the xp that would level you in DnD. [Edit: the big idea for me here is the one at a time,.and not the random]. And then I remember how the advancement in WoD 2e went, where you can use the xp to improve individual attributes, abilities, and powers that you chose.

And so finally I get to the question:

If you're doing a "Journeyman to Hero" campaign (as opposed to "Zero to Superhero"), how important is the actual leveling to the feel of playing D&D?

Would it still feel like DnD to you if you started at 2nd or 3rd level (whatever it takes to have the archetype and not be totally squishy) and made everything after that buying new improvements? Say, gradually moving you up to say 6th level plateauing, where what's available to buy with xp depends on your initial class and what you've bought before (like feat chains).

If you really like the starting at 0, imagine the rules for that have slightly slower advancement than now to get you to the 2/3 journeyman stage and then what I sketch above kicks in.
 
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Anecdotally, from my experience, most players need levelling. It is a reward for surviving, even when there has been very little cause for concern. Secondly, it is also how the player wants their character to grow versus randomization. You may have a table that is open to this idea, but again, from my experience, those players are limited.

But good luck trying it. Curious to see how it turns out.
 

Dausuul

Legend
New mechanical options are important to me, but raw power is not. I would certainly be up for an E6-style 5E game. (Though in another thread on the subject I was mostly persuaded that 7 is the place to stop.)
 


Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Anecdotally, from my experience, most players need levelling. It is a reward for surviving, even when there has been very little cause for concern. Secondly, it is also how the player wants their character to grow versus randomization. You may have a table that is open to this idea, but again, from my experience, those players are limited.

But good luck trying it. Curious to see how it turns out.

I think the randomization would feel bad to me too. I'm thinking more.like the feel we had in our VtM 2e game where you picked.what you wanted to apply the XP too, but the effective advancement was slower than what you get in D&D.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
THe first thing, I think is that it really depends on which version of the game you are playing. For me, 4e has the most restricted evolution from level 1 to level 30, whereas AD&D has the lowest start and 3e the highest finish. 5e is somewhere in the middle, but a level 20 5e character is not a superhero. He has powerful abilities, but he is far from invincible and there are certainly foes who will challenge him. For me, the only difficulty comes in when you want to imagine his foes. Yes, in that paradigm, it has to be something on the level of the ruler of a plane or at least a powerful being, certainly not evil joe from around the corner. Now, it does not mean that the BBEG needs to confront the characters from level 1, there will be a whole pyramid of foes.

Now, if you have trouble with this concept, I understand your perspective, but I'm not even sure it's the case. Anyhow, the thing is that just progressing by random percentages would certainly feel very boring to me.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Leveling is a part of D&D... but I think it is also one of the least realistic parts of it. Because the more you level and the more power you acquire, the greater the unrealistic disparity between supposedly the same kinds of people. One "commoner" gets killed by an arrow to the chest... a 10-level "fighter" can take 20 arrows to the chest and walk away without any issue (until you start having to "reword" all the rules by suggesting things like "nicks and scratches", "loss of energy", "failed luck" and all the other euphemisms we use to try and justify hit points in any sort of consistent manner.)

That's why so many other games forgo the leveling process and instead XP is spent just incrementally increasing skills or abilities one point at a time session after session. It still shows characters improving, but there isn't these grand leaps in logic-less extravagant ability that D&D levels can bring. Especially between the leveled haves and have-nots.

Which is why I've always thought about the idea of using E6 to try and "solve" these issues in the D&D space... but inevitably I always comes back to "Why am I bothering to try and jerry-rig D&D into something its not, when there are plenty of other RPGs out there that actually do what E6 is trying to get across?" And at that point I just accept that D&D is what it is, and let it be. Yeah, I might come up with the occasional house rule for certain things just to play the game a little differently... but any grand mechanical changes? I design them on my off-time thinking they might be this new breakthrough in how I run my game, but then once I'm finished I realize that D&D just doesn't lend itself to it. If I want grand mechanical changes? Just play a different RPG.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Leveling is a part of D&D... but I think it is also one of the least realistic parts of it. Because the more you level and the more power you acquire, the greater the unrealistic disparity between supposedly the same kinds of people. One "commoner" gets killed by an arrow to the chest... a 10-level "fighter" can take 20 arrows to the chest and walk away without any issue (until you start having to "reword" all the rules by suggesting things like "nicks and scratches", "loss of energy", "failed luck" and all the other euphemisms we use to try and justify hit points in any sort of consistent manner.)

And yet, they happen all the time in the genre, whether movies, books, tv shows. And no one complains, and people find them awesome.

That's why so many other games forgo the leveling process and instead XP is spent just incrementally increasing skills or abilities one point at a time session after session. It still shows characters improving, but there isn't these grand leaps in logic-less extravagant ability that D&D levels can bring. Especially between the leveled haves and have-nots.

And this is why these more gritty games do not model what's happening in the fantasy genre, in particular the high fantasy one. After that, it's merely a matter of taste.

Which is why I've always thought about the idea of using E6 to try and "solve" these issues in the D&D space... but inevitably I always comes back to "Why am I bothering to try and jerry-rig D&D into something its not, when there are plenty of other RPGs out there that actually do what E6 is trying to get across?" And at that point I just accept that D&D is what it is, and let it be. Yeah, I might come up with the occasional house rule for certain things just to play the game a little differently... but any grand mechanical changes? I design them on my off-time thinking they might be this new breakthrough in how I run my game, but then once I'm finished I realize that D&D just doesn't lend itself to it. If I want grand mechanical changes? Just play a different RPG.

My perspective as well. When I want gritty and dangerous, I play Runequest for example.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Would it still feel like DnD to you if you started at 2nd or 3rd level (whatever it takes to have the archetype and not be totally squishy) and made everything after that buying new improvements? Say, gradually moving you up to say 6th level plateauing, where what's available to buy with xp depends on your initial class and what you've bought before (like feat chains).
Sure, I don't see why it shouldn't feel like DnD.

I think it's quite important to generally have some advancement opportunities ahead, whether in form of levels or something else, otherwise the risk for the players is getting a feeling that the game is almost over. I guess most people would rather always have an open end just in case, even if eventually the game stops anyway. That's why most editions had a sort of open-ended epic levels system, even if they are largely unutilized, the fact that they exist delivers at least the feeling that there is always a future for a character.

Speed of advancement is another matter. IMXP levelling up too fast makes players a lot more concerned with character management than playing the adventure. It also creates a lot more pressure to the DM to pace adventures in a specific way. I prefer a level advancement with decreasing speed: earning the first levels quickly hooks players into the game, but making each next level harder to earn than the previous gives overall a feeling that you must in fact get better as a player.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Starting with goals of the design: what job do you want randomisation to do? Is it to prevent minimaxing? To challenge players with unpredictable combinations? To build tension around level-ups? To say something about the game world? To say something about the characters.

It would take a bit if design work, but were you going this route you might draw from designs of boardgames like Mage Knight. Each class has a pool (cards maybe). Draw N from pool and return N-1 to float. In later levels, take from float or draw N more from pool. Etc.

BUT You stated a goal as - make the world fit together. How does randomisation achieve your goal? Is the real issue character power? If it is character power, what are the dimensions of power that most matter? Is it number of feature? Hit Dice? Proficiency Bonus? Ability Scores?
 


Egon Spengler

"We eat gods for breakfast!"
Levels are pretty important. In my experience, you can remove a lot of surprising elements from the game — the d20, the ability scores, character classes, demihumans, magic, hokey medievalism — and D&D will still feel like D&D. Levels are not one of those things.

Though I do think you need at least six of 'em. (Tried four once. Four didn't cut it.)
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Starting with goals of the design: what job do you want randomisation to do? Is it to prevent minimaxing? To challenge players with unpredictable combinations? To build tension around level-ups? To say something about the game world? To say something about the characters.

It would take a bit if design work, but were you going this route you might draw from designs of boardgames like Mage Knight. Each class has a pool (cards maybe). Draw N from pool and return N-1 to float. In later levels, take from float or draw N more from pool. Etc.

BUT You stated a goal as - make the world fit together. How does randomisation achieve your goal? Is the real issue character power? If it is character power, what are the dimensions of power that most matter? Is it number of feature? Hit Dice? Proficiency Bonus? Ability Scores?

Sorry I made.you type all that about the randomization. I edited the original post to try to make it clear that it's a slower and more granular skill/ability/power buying with xp (instead of big chunky levels), and not the randomness that I'm pondering. It just so happened.that GW used randomness. The randomness feels like it would be frustrating sometimes, but I have no recollection of it from the early 1980s when I last played it.

Edit: Although others might really like the randomization (see a post a few down from here).
 
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aco175

Legend
I thought that 5e was designed to keep PCs in the 'sweet spot' of levels 3-9.

Some things to think about when discussing with your players. Spells. If you are going to 6th level and you only have access to 3td level spells. Maybe 4th level spells, or 5th, come into play as you 'advance' like you point out. Some players may not like that idea, especially if the fighter gets more stuff than their PC. There is also some players, maybe most players, that like to advance more often that you are saying. You reference gradually gaining more stuff to be roughly gaining a few more levels of power by the end of the campaign. Does this just beg the question of ending campaigns at 10th level? This leaves room for bad guys to have more power and be overcome.

I would rather just double to XP needed to advance over never having a chance to become a hero. I think there is something to higher level play, even though my games to not get past 13-14th level before the players want to start another campaign.

Maybe something with halving the hit points you receive as you advance. You also then need to look as spell damage or weapon/feat damage for martials to see if high level damage would be ok with low HP.

I'm interested in seeing others ideas on this.
 


D&D is pretty much ingrained in the levelling experience. This system is quite rewarding but I will admit that in the evolution of D&D it is less and less so.
Up to 2nd edition, players would get powerful abilities but that power would be restrained through hit point gained after a certain point (usually, but not always, 9th level). This was promoting powerful offensive characters but still vulnerable to a streak of bad play, luck and decision. The heroic portion of the game was at its best in 1ed where a single high level character of any class could take on a powerful dragon and win. It became almost impossible for a fighter to do it in 2nd edition but it was possible for a caster.

3ed became the edition where levelling was both at its best and its worst. The capacity of a high level casters led to the CODZILLA and left the purely martial characters in the dust. Yet, levelling brought a lot of custumizability that made martial characters happy.

4ed followed the same pattern as third but it failed in making people happy with it. It was not a bad edition levelling wise but the pattern was too similar from one class to the other.

5ed level is great, but at high level, the gain in HP becomes a hindrance where monsters barely strike harder and must be literally bloated with HP to compete with players (and they fail at that unless some tweaking of the rules are made) and thus, most campaigns will end around level 14 which is the point where combat becomes a chore instead of a fun thing. Yet, levelling still brings a lot of joy when it happens.

The amount of skills/powers/attributes gained during levelling in D&D is hard to reproduce in a skill increasing system such as Vampire the Masquerade (or other similar systems). The gains that a typical character gains in D&D is quite substantial compared to many other RPGs. In other RPGs you get better at something in which you spend your "xp or whatever" while in D&D you get better at every single choice you made at character's creation! The first approach promotes stronger character at the beginning but slower advancement. The second promotes weaker characters at creation, but a greater power curve as you level.

If anything can be an indicator of what is preferred by the majority of players, just check which RPG, MMORPG, and computer RPG are the most popular...
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Sorry I made.you type all that about the randomization. I edited the original post to try to make it clear that it's a slower and more granular skill/ability/power buying with xp (instead of big chunky levels), and not the randomness that I'm pondering. It just so happened.that GW used randomness. The randomness feels like it would be frustrating sometimes, but I have no recollection of it from the early 1980s when I last played it.

Edit: Although others might really like the randomization (see a post a few down from here).
I made five six [see edit] changes for my campaign
  1. Ability Scores cap at 18
  2. Hit Dice cap at 6th
  3. Proficiency Bonus caps at 6th, except for uses of features between rests
  4. Spell levels cap at 3rd (fireballs etc, but no polymorph etc) - higher level spell slots are used to cast spells half their level, counting cast at their level for counter and dispel
  5. Short rests are 1 day, Long are 3. There is a 10 minute "Breather" to spend HD. You recover 1HD per sleep. Long rests don't restore HP.
Maybe you can use, modify, (or simply ignore!) these sorts of ideas? I can explain the design thinking behind any you feel interested in.

[One other change! 6. Deck-based ability score generation.]
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
THe first thing, I think is that it really depends on which version of the game you are playing. For me, 4e has the most restricted evolution from level 1 to level 30, whereas AD&D has the lowest start and 3e the highest finish. 5e is somewhere in the middle, but a level 20 5e character is not a superhero. He has powerful abilities, but he is far from invincible and there are certainly foes who will challenge him. For me, the only difficulty comes in when you want to imagine his foes. Yes, in that paradigm, it has to be something on the level of the ruler of a plane or at least a powerful being, certainly not evil joe from around the corner. Now, it does not mean that the BBEG needs to confront the characters from level 1, there will be a whole pyramid of foes.
Part of it for me is trying to picture what that 20th level BBEG is doing while the PCs head that way in level. If they're a spell caster, what can one do with teleportation and dominate person and all of the scrying spells... The concentration and attunement rules in 5e feel like they do a lot to help this. If the powerful bad NPCs and monsters are around without powerful good guys, then I wonder about why there are castles and armies. If there are powerful good guys, then I wonder about why they're sitting around waiting for the PCs. (I guess this is something the comic books deal with. If there is a silver-age Superman around, then your street level heroes are redundant. If it's a less omniscient superfast Thor at the top of the food chain, then there is a lot more for the street levle heroes).

Which is why I've always thought about the idea of using E6 to try and "solve" these issues in the D&D space... but inevitably I always comes back to "Why am I bothering to try and jerry-rig D&D into something its not, when there are plenty of other RPGs out there that actually do what E6 is trying to get across?" And at that point I just accept that D&D is what it is, and let it be. Yeah, I might come up with the occasional house rule for certain things just to play the game a little differently... but any grand mechanical changes? I design them on my off-time thinking they might be this new breakthrough in how I run my game, but then once I'm finished I realize that D&D just doesn't lend itself to it. If I want grand mechanical changes? Just play a different RPG.

No good answer here. I have a whole list of changes I can picture in a game -- and I should probably make a list and try that RPG. Part of it is familiarity with how everything works I guess and the comfort of knowing the spells and monsters and what dice to roll.

And yet, they happen all the time in the genre, whether movies, books, tv shows. And no one complains, and people find them awesome.
And this is why these more gritty games do not model what's happening in the fantasy genre, in particular the high fantasy one. After that, it's merely a matter of taste.
I sometimes think I want grittier. But then I picture the extra dice rolls and the things that wouldn't happen in D&D games I've loved if it was grittier... and I'm not sure... So I'm trying to think about what I can keep in D&D that deals with my world building power-range angst.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I made five six [see edit] changes for my campaign
  1. Ability Scores cap at 18
  2. Hit Dice cap at 6th
  3. Proficiency Bonus caps at 6th, except for uses of features between rests
  4. Spell levels cap at 3rd (fireballs etc, but no polymorph etc) - higher level spell slots are used to cast spells half their level, counting cast at their level for counter and dispel
  5. Short rests are 1 day, Long are 3. There is a 10 minute "Breather" to spend HD. You recover 1HD per sleep. Long rests don't restore HP.
Maybe you can use, modify, (or simply ignore!) these sorts of ideas? I can explain the design thinking behind any you feel interested in.

[One other change! 6. Deck-based ability score generation.]

I like it, and it feels like it catches a lot of the e6 feel. I'm still mentally stuck a bit in 3.5 (in spite of currently running two 5e games). There the trick is what to do with the feats as they advanced past that... and how to deal with multiclassing to go with the feats... and the fact that they still really advanced quickly compared to the rest of the world... Thinking in terms of 5e, what is the advancement like when they go past 6th level? (Do the attacks keep getting deadlier, while the hp stay the same?).
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I like it, and it feels like it catches a lot of the e6 feel. I'm still mentally stuck a bit in 3.5 (in spite of currently running two 5e games). There the trick is what to do with the feats as they advanced past that... and how to deal with multiclassing to go with the feats... and the fact that they still really advanced quickly compared to the rest of the world... Thinking in terms of 5e, what is the advancement like when they go past 6th level? (Do the attacks keep getting deadlier, while the hp stay the same?).
Roughly, characters jump in power as they complete each tier. Fighters for example go 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x attacks. Additionally, they scale continuously in power due to ASIs, PB and HD.

Features and feats on the whole give breadth. Some high level features are weaker than those lower down. There are some high level features and many spells that bring superheroic and world-warping effects into game. Those mainly start in Tier 3.
 

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