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

Oofta

Legend
In my campaigns, there are often months, if not years between levels after level 2 or so. I explain it as downtime training, random minor adventures that don't impact the overall story line and so on.

On the other hand even though I plan on going all the way to 20th in my current campaign, I generally prefer lower levels both as a DM and a player. I like, for lack of a better term, smaller worlds and smaller influence. The stories I spin, the connections I build at lower levels always feel far more personal. At a certain point you almost need something earth shaking to justify what you have to throw at PCs. This generally involves travel to other planes, invasions, some kind of catastrophe.

The more I get away from that friendly neighborhood adventurer theme, the less connected I feel to the world I built. Heck, some of my favorite campaigns (played and DMed) had the PCs starting out as kids with little or no offensive capability where the big bad monster was a single giant rat and most big fights involved snowballs.

But I also get enjoyment out of seeing growth and drool over all the cool things I'll get to do someday. 🤷‍♂️

I'm thinking about suggesting a campaign that ends at level 10 for our next campaign but also much slower advancement and going back to the "start as kids" idea. That or start out at a much higher level so that the community I build around the group doesn't fall by the wayside. We'll see.
 

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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.
Honestly progress is important to a tabletop RPG; levelling is one of the D&D specific things that I don't have in many other RPGs, don't miss in them, but is very much a D&D specific thing. Take levelling out and it's probably a better game but not D&D - depending how much you value that in specific.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Honestly progress is important to a tabletop RPG; levelling is one of the D&D specific things that I don't have in many other RPGs, don't miss in them, but is very much a D&D specific thing. Take levelling out and it's probably a better game but not D&D - depending how much you value that in specific.

I guess that's my question - how does the depend work for you? If it had the same races, classes to start, spell lists, combat, and monsters... would just replacing leveling with piecemeal advancement make it feel non-D&D to you?

I'm also wondering if it feels less different for groups that do lots of multi-classing (where it sometimes feels like they're just trying to buy specific powers).
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Part of it for me is trying to picture what that 20th level BBEG is doing while the PCs head that way in level.

He's not doing anything special about them, they are not even on his radar. They might show up in the radar of his low level accomplices, and then foil them, and therefore appear in the radar of higher level accomplices, and so on, until, when they show up on the BBEG's radar, they are already a bit too high to be stopped easily. This is the standard paradigm and it works well.

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).

Noone in the usual D&D universes is omniscient, that would make things way too complicated to manage, and also certainly not as interesting.
 

I guess that's my question - how does the depend work for you? If it had the same races, classes to start, spell lists, combat, and monsters... would just replacing leveling with piecemeal advancement make it feel non-D&D to you?
The races are pretty generic; the classic Tolkien Plus Gnomes have been used in video games since the 70s and are in loads of tabletop games. And the four "core" classes are very much generic to the point that not having them (or just not being class based) makes it not feel D&D but not having them doesn't feel D&D. And about the only D&D specific monsters I remember are beholders and mind flayers - and I can't remember the last time I played involving a mind flayer.

As for the spells, it's been thirteen and a half years since the single key feature of D&D casting (the fire and forget nature of spells) has been part of D&D so that's gone.

Basically there are two things that to me make D&D at this point. And that's levels and consequence free videogamey hit points.
I'm also wondering if it feels less different for groups that do lots of multi-classing (where it sometimes feels like they're just trying to buy specific powers).
Possibly
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
He's not doing anything special about them, they are not even on his radar. They might show up in the radar of his low level accomplices, and then foil them, and therefore appear in the radar of higher level accomplices, and so on, until, when they show up on the BBEG's radar, they are already a bit too high to be stopped easily. This is the standard paradigm and it works well.

I don't think I phrased my question like I wanted to. It wasn't what the BBEG is doing about the PCs, its what is the BBEG doing in general. So, I'll try agin.

So, it seems common to have some BBEGs scattered around as the characters reach different tiers (ones that might not even be on the PCs radar at a lower level, and where the PCs might be way below the BBEG's noticing for a long time). So, somewhere out there in the world is a 20th level bad NPC. What is that NPC doing to warp the world while the PCs are moving on? (Say Saruman and Wormtongue going after Rohan, but with a lot more spell slots including things like teleportation). Is there going to be any free thinking king/leader who doesn't have a pretty high level NPC wizard or cleric at their side? Is it worth that king/leader investing in a castle without lots of enchantments or army without a couple of mid-to-high level wizards if the BBEG can just teleport in and drop storm of vengeance? What do all the enchantments to save the king from the BBEG do to anything the players might want to do in the castle? Does each 20th level BBEG have a 20th level good NPC keeping them in check, but without the ability to go take him out (and hence the need for the part)? What does a good 20th level NPC mean for day to day life of the kingdom, or do they have to not use their spell slots for fear the BBEG will show up?

Noone in the usual D&D universes is omniscient, that would make things way too complicated to manage, and also certainly not as interesting.
At first glance, it seems even better about not having the easy to use omniscience (or at least really good scrying/detection) in 5e than in some of the previous editions.
 


haakon1

Adventurer
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.
For the world itself, I do not scale it to the PC’s levels.

Town guards are always going to be 1st level (or 0 level for editions with that), regular wolves will always be regular wolves, and giants and dragons are in the world and scary tough from the beginning, not just once you’ve leveled up.

If you go trying to fight Smaug at second level, I will warn you, but Smaug is there all along, and if you insists on fighting him at low level, the results won’t be nerfed.

If you randomly encounter wolves at 9th level, you’ll see how far you’ve come.

I think this approach makes leveling mean more, and makes for a more interesting world. The fact that it’s completely different from most video game design is, imho, a plus.

FYI, I also typically don’t play beyond about 10th-12th level, as I like more Tolkienesque than DC universe feel to D&D. If the only stuff for you to do is planar fight demigods to save the world stuff, it becomes uninteresting to me to DM.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
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?
Because leveling in D&D is the current method for improvement, it is essential unless you replace it with a different method. There are games as you mention were improvement is based on purchasing better abilities via XP or karma or whatever, others have you roll for improvement if you accomplish something significant, etc.

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).
In most ways, probably it would. You are exchanging a locked in level system for a more dynamic purchase system. I toyed with the idea, were every 1000 XP was used to purchase feats, increase proficiency bonus, HD, higher spell levels, etc.

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.
Sure. Like others have said your improvement is generally horizontal or vertical. You are imaging vertical to a point, and then mostly horizontal when you plateau.

I've developed an L12 variant, based on the E6 idea, but stopping at level 12 and 6th level spells. It is, for many, the peak of heroic before you are really getting into super heroic.

My group has also been developing and playtesting a mod for 5E for over a year now which mirrors many of the things you're discussing. If you want to get links to the shared WIP material, p.m. me and I can send them to you. Some of the ideas there might give you ideas of your own.
 

There's an alternate rule for Pathfinder 2e where you're proficiency bonus doesn't go up with level (it still goes up with training), and with that in place vertical growth is cut by a third but the rather extensive horizontal growth is maintained - the difference between a 1st level fighter and a 10th level fighter is less about mods (still about a 5 point difference but that's within the 'can hit each other' range) - the main difference is the high level fighter having five extra class feats for better maneuvers and more combat options.

So it's definitely doable. If I wanted to push that narrative in 5e, I'd look more at flattening hit point growth. In base 5e a 1st-level fighter can hit an ancient dragon, but they need to do so 200+ times to kill it. If you can find an easy formula for tightening that, the gap between journeyman and grand master shrinks a lot.

As for levels themselves - it might push it into "not DnD" territory for me but if it's still fun who cares?
 

Because leveling in D&D is the current method for improvement, it is essential unless you replace it with a different method. There are games as you mention were improvement is based on purchasing better abilities via XP or karma or whatever, others have you roll for improvement if you accomplish something significant, etc.

I've developed an L12 variant, based on the E6 idea, but stopping at level 12 and 6th level spells. It is, for many, the peak of heroic before you are really getting into super heroic.
Although my game runs off of an AD&D foundation, I've adopted a 12 level scheme myself. While I used to run, and enjoy, high level D&D I find that I don't play enough to get to those levels anymore. Having a scheme of 12 levels plus bennies has become more useful for me.

As to leveling in general, I feel that it is necessary for a D&D game, particularly in a class based system. If there wasn't any leveling, or one or two levels at most, I would be surprised if it wasn't a planned short campaign. Maybe 5-6 sessions. Otherwise I would expect there to be relatively quick levelling at first, slowing down at 5th, crawling at 9th.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
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?
As others have said, it's not the levels per se that are important, rather it's the feeling of progress. I like E6 even in 5E. (I cannot wait for 6E so we can have 6EE6 or E66E.)

I don't need levels, but I need to be able to have progress be explicit. I prefer diegetic over non-diegetic everything but especially rewards and advancement. So gaining a reputation in the fantasy world or finding an ancient artifact or finding a scroll with a new spell on it rather than collecting enough meta-currency (XP) to reach a certain meta-threshold (XP to level) then suddenly being handed a pile of non-diegetic rewards. Which is why I do XP for gold spent on in-world stuff that doesn't go on your character sheet. I also require training time and other in-fiction levers to be pulled before characters advance. Going out and grinding XP to level and dinging whilst in the wilds and automatically gaining abilities, spells, etc is the antithesis of what I want from a game.
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).
Yes, it would. Because despite what some other people's preferences are, my preferences aren't centered on using the RAW, the whole RAW, and nothing but the RAW. It's still D&D if you start at zero level and never advance. It's still D&D if you start at 2nd and advance to 6th and stop there. Though I would feel increasingly ill-at-ease if there's literally no progress made in any in-fiction fashion after that. Building castles and keeps, finding new magic items and spells, etc. I'd still want that stuff because that's part of the fun. But levels as written? Nah.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In my campaigns, there are often months, if not years between levels after level 2 or so.
Months/years in-game or months/years at-table?
I explain it as downtime training, random minor adventures that don't impact the overall story line and so on.

On the other hand even though I plan on going all the way to 20th in my current campaign, I generally prefer lower levels both as a DM and a player. I like, for lack of a better term, smaller worlds and smaller influence. The stories I spin, the connections I build at lower levels always feel far more personal. At a certain point you almost need something earth shaking to justify what you have to throw at PCs. This generally involves travel to other planes, invasions, some kind of catastrophe.

The more I get away from that friendly neighborhood adventurer theme, the less connected I feel to the world I built. Heck, some of my favorite campaigns (played and DMed) had the PCs starting out as kids with little or no offensive capability where the big bad monster was a single giant rat and most big fights involved snowballs.

But I also get enjoyment out of seeing growth and drool over all the cool things I'll get to do someday. 🤷‍♂️
I second all this.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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.
For me the important part is the feel of advancement. Whether it's incrementally increasing attributes, powers, etc. or levelling and getting them in clumps doesn't matter to me. No advancement or slow advancement doesn't cut it for me.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I think the question to ask yourself before asking the question in the thread title is "How important is levelling to your players?".

By this I mean there's a large cohort of players out there who see levelling-up as the main motivator to keep playing the game, and they want those levels to come fast and often and mean something when they do. If you've got some of these then a system that reduces both the impact and frequency of levelling probably isn't going to go over very well.

There's also a large cohort of players who, like me, largely see levelling-up as merely a pleasant side-effect of continued play; and though we'd miss it if it wasn't there it's not all that important in the grand scheme of things. Level-bumping once or twice a year is enough. If your players are of this mindset then your ideas might have found fertile ground.

Most players probably fall somewhere between the two groups noted above.
 


Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I think the question to ask yourself before asking the question in the thread title is "How important is levelling to your players?".

By this I mean there's a large cohort of players out there who see levelling-up as the main motivator to keep playing the game, and they want those levels to come fast and often and mean something when they do. If you've got some of these then a system that reduces both the impact and frequency of levelling probably isn't going to go over very well.

There's also a large cohort of players who, like me, largely see levelling-up as merely a pleasant side-effect of continued play; and though we'd miss it if it wasn't there it's not all that important in the grand scheme of things. Level-bumping once or twice a year is enough. If your players are of this mindset then your ideas might have found fertile ground.

Most players probably fall somewhere between the two groups noted above.

This feels like a bit like a different side of the session 0/game selling thing from the available choice of races thing. In that one they'll know right away if the racial resyrictions weren't their cup of tea, with this they won't know if slower and fine grained (as opposed to faster and in chunks) annoys them til they've been at it awhile.
 


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