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

Quartz

Hero
When I was playing 3E the low teen levels was when it all came together. Of course, multi-classing was rampant and 2-3 classes plus a prestige class was the norm. Rock on the Ftr 2 / Kt 2 / Paladin 4 / Divine Crusader, the Ftr 4 / Mk (you'd be surprised how many Monk abilities work in armour), and the Wiz 3 / Sor 1 / Ultimate Magus,

Something else: I think it's not so much the levels of the PCs that matter but the levels of the spells they cast. A 3E Ftr 12 (or even 20) isn't that much different from a 3E E6 Ftr 6 with a few extra feats, but a 3E Wiz 12 is very different from the 3E E6 Wiz 6 plus feats.
 

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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Something else: I think it's not so much the levels of the PCs that matter but the levels of the spells they cast. A 3E Ftr 12 (or even 20) isn't that much different from a 3E E6 Ftr 6 with a few extra feats, but a 3E Wiz 12 is very different from the 3E E6 Wiz 6 plus feats.
For the fighter at 20, that's a lot of extra hit points and BAB though compared to the he E6 fighter isn't it? (Are there usually limits.on how.ofyen you can take tough was or improves to hit in E6).
 

Mezuka

Adventurer
My games usually start at level 3 and end at level 9 or 10. I haven't tallied or awarded XPs since the middle of 2e. I tell the players when their characters level up. PCs level up after they accomplished a major goal, like finishing a long quest.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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?
I usually have the PCs encounter their low level plots. If a earthshattering BBEG is going to summon Cthulhu when the PCs are 16th-20th level, he's going to need various things for the rituals. A 1st level group might encounter some thefts of specific gems or other objects and perhaps try to thwart that, perhaps never realizing at that point that the thefts were minor minions of the BBEG sent to acquire them.

Not everything will be related to the BBEG, but it's nice when later on the PCs can put pieces together and be like, "Oh, now it all makes sense!!" The clues will mount as the party gains levels and they may realize who is responsible well before they can do anything about it directly.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I usually have the PCs encounter their low level plots. If a earthshattering BBEG is going to summon Cthulhu when the PCs are 16th-20th level, he's going to need various things for the rituals. A 1st level group might encounter some thefts of specific gems or other objects and perhaps try to thwart that, perhaps never realizing at that point that the thefts were minor minions of the BBEG sent to acquire them.

Not everything will be related to the BBEG, but it's nice when later on the PCs can put pieces together and be like, "Oh, now it all makes sense!!" The clues will mount as the party gains levels and they may realize who is responsible well before they can do anything about it directly.
It's cool if-when you can pull something like this off but IME it's inevitable - as in hard-code guaranteed! - that the players/PCs will left-turn somewhere along the line to focus on something completely unrelated and all that careful clue-dropping will go by the boards.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
It's cool if-when you can pull something like this off but IME it's inevitable - as in hard-code guaranteed! - that the players/PCs will left-turn somewhere along the line to focus on something completely unrelated and all that careful clue-dropping will go by the boards.

There have been times I've thrown out clues to the BBEG like candy and they would just sniff and hold their nose. So I'd throw out clues for a different BBEG, only to get the same response. Then I ad-hoc say something about purple orcs and suddenly everybody's looking at me like a kitten that just saw a bug on the floor and it's all they care about. :mad:
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
There have been times I've thrown out clues to the BBEG like candy and they would just sniff and hold their nose. So I'd throw out clues for a different BBEG, only to get the same response. Then I ad-hoc say something about purple orcs and suddenly everybody's looking at me like a kitten that just saw a bug on the floor and it's all they care about. :mad:

Thinking of the years long running campaign worlds... I guess my question is, do all of the 20th level BBEGs have plans that are just in time with the PCs hitting 20th level (or after that), or are there good 20th level NPCs dealing with the ones that weren't conveniently timed for the PCs?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Thinking of the years long running campaign worlds... I guess my question is, do all of the 20th level BBEGs have plans that are just in time with the PCs hitting 20th level (or after that), or are there good 20th level NPCs dealing with the ones that weren't conveniently timed for the PCs?

Other campaigns have dealt with other threats and retired PCs that are now NPCs may still be active depending on where we left off and what the player decided their "retirement" looked like. A couple of PCs from a previous campaign have become occasional sponsors of the PCs in the current campaign, others are busy running kingdoms or put away the sword for good.

But yes, a couple of old PCs are running around trying to put out fires. On the other hand, it's a big world and I frequently jump the timeline ahead 20-30 years between campaigns, especially if someone wants to play the kid of a retired adventurer.
 

There have been times I've thrown out clues to the BBEG like candy and they would just sniff and hold their nose. So I'd throw out clues for a different BBEG, only to get the same response. Then I ad-hoc say something about purple orcs and suddenly everybody's looking at me like a kitten that just saw a bug on the floor and it's all they care about. :mad:
Then your players are less suspicious than mine.
They are always looking for some BBEG pulling the strings. They even create their own BBEG without me being able to convince them that there was nothing there. And the more I insist, the more they are convinced that there is one. Since they want one, I give them one... It seems I can't have a campaign with unrelated adventures. They all must be with some kind of master mind villain... And the funny thing is, they themselves choose who and what will be the villain.

An easy trick is often to let a strong enemy say as it falls: "My master shall put you down!" Or "Where I have failed, others will succeed. You only delayed... (expiring breath)" And I garantee you that they will search and spend gold like crazy to find what it was all about. The old tropes still work. I assure you. Even after 40 years, they work.
 

guachi

Adventurer
I dare spewing my controversial opinion that an increased importance of leveling up comes from the campaign itself being unrewarding. When gaining levels and ability becomes the center of playing the game, it's a substitute for lackluster events and stakes.

This. And it became clear to me in my favorite D&D campaign (had a great DM) and from games that don't have levels, like when I GMed d6 Star Wars many years ago.

I thought I was a bad SW GM but they players were having so much fun fighting imperials that I'd get repeatedly asked to run games for my friends. I guess when every adventure was stick it to the Empire it was just naturally fun for the players.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
This. And it became clear to me in my favorite D&D campaign (had a great DM) and from games that don't have levels, like when I GMed d6 Star Wars many years ago.

I thought I was a bad SW GM but they players were having so much fun fighting imperials that I'd get repeatedly asked to run games for my friends. I guess when every adventure was stick it to the Empire it was just naturally fun for the players.
This reminds me of an experiment I did once for a game which ran about two years:

I kept track of the XP instead of having the players do it. I told them when they had enough XP to level I would tell them, otherwise don't worry about it. The result was pretty good--no one worried about when they would gain a level and were happy when I said, "Hey, you two, level up your characters."

Nowadays, you could substitute session-based or milestone leveling instead.
 

Having played 5E through level 20, the spells that tend to mess up worldbuilding come online at around level 13. These are spells like raise dead and planeshift. I think it's easy enough to simply greatly restrict the number of NPCs who reach that level. I mean, it's pretty rare IRL for players to have characters who reach those levels -- and they're the heroes! No reason it shouldn't be even more rare for NPCs.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Thinking of the years long running campaign worlds... I guess my question is, do all of the 20th level BBEGs have plans that are just in time with the PCs hitting 20th level (or after that), or are there good 20th level NPCs dealing with the ones that weren't conveniently timed for the PCs?
There's always other adventurers out there; and there's usually not all that many BBEGs operating at any given time in a region, if for no other reason than they'd just compete for the same resources and get in each other's way.

That, and when it comes to individual foes they're usually more like MediumBEGs that decent-but-not-stupendous-level parties can deal with; the really "Big" enemies are much more numerous e.g. an entire culture of Outsiders (the Githi) that's trying to invade, or half a species (Elves!) unknwingly held under the sway of a corrupted deity and in fact working for Mind Flayers without realizing it.

Between those threats there's more than enough work to keep loads of adventurers in good employment! :)
 

S'mon

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?

Very important. I definitely want the prospect of levelling up.

Re world design & power demographics, this definitely repays a lot of thought. Is a level 1 PC a 14 year old apprentice or a 25 year old veteran? Is level 17 a powerful hero, or a legendary demigod? Different answers give the setting very different feels.

In my Faerun Adventures game I settled on typical experienced, competent NPCs being 3rd-4th level, but very few (NPC) people being able to reach 5th level, and 9th+ is extremely rare. This makes 3rd level magic rare, so eg military tactics rarely worry about massed Fireballs.

In my Primeval Thule setting, while spellcasters are rare, the default power level is much higher - as indicated by the Thule monster & NPC stat blocks, eg a Thulean manticore is CR 9, cyclops CR 10. Legionaries (good quality professional soldiers) are CR 2 with 52 hp; the elite Pride of Nergal soldiers have nearly 100 hp! High level PCs & NPCs are not uncommon, and I can cheerfully throw a ton of Kobold Press monsters at the badass heroes.
 

S'mon

Legend
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).

In my 1360 DR Faerun Adventures game set in Damara, the existence of the Epic-Tier Heroes of Bloodstone NPCs is a major part of the setting. The level 4-7 PCs often hear stories of what the Heroes are up to, eg they were recently on Krynn defeating Takhisis :D - they are dealing with national & planar level issues, they are not available to come clear some goblins from the local dungeon.
 

S'mon

Legend
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?

Roll20 SoV seems like a terrible spell to use on a castle. The castle should protect vs all the listed effects. It's brilliant for disrupting enemy battlefield formations out in the open, though. Of course there are not many BBEGs with access to a level 9 Druid-only spell!

IMCs typically goodies and baddies have similar amounts of magic resources. I dislike the kind of campaigns where the goodies are helpless except for the PCs. Maybe one side is a bit more powerful. In my Damara 1360 DR campaign the high-end NPC Goodies are noticeably more powerful than any local NPC Baddies. In my Primeval Thule game the Baddies are more powerful, to the extent that clear Goodies are pretty rare, but they tend to work against each other, eg the PCs serve Dredan Taroth the Grand Vizier of Quodeth and are allied with the Black Circle of Thran to assassinate the Red Prophet of the Kal-Keori; they also oppose the Hyperborean Princes of the Pale Hand and currently the Deep Ones of the Gamadiri Bar. All those factions are Evil. The PCs are also opposed to Lawful Neutral Lomar, and have just rescued a princess of Neutral Evil Marg.
 

Quartz

Hero
For the fighter at 20, that's a lot of extra hit points and BAB though compared to the he E6 fighter isn't it? (Are there usually limits.on how.ofyen you can take tough was or improves to hit in E6).

Yes, but you're still just hitting whatever it is and taking damage; the wizard has far more flexibility.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Yes, but you're still just hitting whatever it is and taking damage; the wizard has far more flexibility.
Good point. It still feels like its a lot different in a super-hero game to play Wonderman, Colossus, the Thing or the Hulk than it does to play USAgent or Red Guardian even though they're both only hitting things and taking damage.
 

Quartz

Hero
Thinking of the years long running campaign worlds... I guess my question is, do all of the 20th level BBEGs have plans that are just in time with the PCs hitting 20th level (or after that), or are there good 20th level NPCs dealing with the ones that weren't conveniently timed for the PCs?

That's what's called a plot hook. You can have the low-level PCs encounter more powerful adventuring parties early on. Maybe the more powerful parties hire the PCs to do something. Maybe the PCs seek out the powerful adventurers for a Raise Dead / Resurrection / Legend Lore / other powerful magic. Then later the PCs can find the remains of the powerful group or get summoned to rescue them. It also works in reverse: if the PCs have been captured then the players can roleplay the rescuing party. Or if the PCs all get killed, then the other adventurers can take over.

There was one Story Hour (the one with Aravis) that did this very well, with the high-level PCs (who were trapped in the Underdark) receiving visions of how the high-level NPCs were contributing. E.g. taking down a dragon enemy.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I don't need to progress necessarily, but I do want my characters to have a certain level of complexity. I'd be much happier with a fixed 12th level game than a fixed 3rd level game.
 

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