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How levels define D&D

Glyfair

First Post
I have been reading a lot of discussion lately about certain problems people have in their D&D, things they want to change to make it fit their preferences with style, and even some discussions about what D&D is "about." Thinking about my experience in other RPGs (which is pretty extensive since I mostly left D&D in the early 80s not to return until 3E was announced), I realized that one of the most important concepts to define the D&D experience is levels.

In RPGs that aren't tied to a D&D level mechanic I find that advancing has less of a steep rise in power than you find in D&D. In pretty much all versions of D&D an 18th level character has little to worry about from a 3rd level character (perhaps the occasional failed saving throw from an attack unprepared for that brings instant death), and an 18th level party has nothing to fear from a 3rd level party if you follow the assumptions given (no 3rd level characters carrying the Wand of Orcus). The has a huge affect on the feel of the game.

One of my favorite game supplements for any game is Lands of Mystery for Justice, Inc.. Aaron Allston has a section that talks about mixing and matching different character power levels in a party. In a typical pulp adventure (especially in a Lost Worlds style game) a couple of characters stand out from the rest in overall ability. The rest have their areas they excel in, but they tend to be somewhat limited. He suggests that a couple of players play the "full power" characters (the strong jawed hero being the main example) and those who don't take a couple of supporting characters so they don't get the same sense of being left out.

That can work fine in a Hero System game because their doesn't tend to be too much difference in raw power between a 150 pt. character and a 75 pt. character. The 150 pt. character has just a bit more power and resilience, but a lot more versatility. In D&D this doesn't work. A low level character is truly window dressing in any D&D game coming even close to the typical game. If nothing else, the area of effect attacks like fireballs will having them dropping like flies. Even running 10 lower level characters won't make up for the difference in power level.

Take a look at a combat between a 3E 20th level wizard with his staff and a 1st level fighter with a full complement of weapons. The "weak , scholarly" wizard will probably have little trouble with the fighter. That's without even touching his real power, his awesome, world changing spells.

For those who immerse themselves in the world that level system defines how the world works. The high level character, even a 3E commoner, can ignore things that low level characters can't. In a non-war scenario (which tend to use other rules anyway) low level characters can't do much but hold the horses when adventuring in dangerous areas with even mid-level characters, unless it is dying. Many think the leaders of countries need to be high level characters, because otherwise they will fall to the first high level jackanape that decides they need to die.

Take a look at all of the things that people say that define the D&D experience as D&D and all of them really pale before the level mechanic and how it has been handled in all editions of D&D (some d20 stuff does play around with this, but nothing that is marketed as D&D).

D&D is "kill things & take their stuff"? I've seen plenty of D&D games where that isn't the assumption and they work.

The Vancian magic system is D&D? There have been plenty of alternate magic systems in D&D, and none of them really create anything more than a feeling of playing in a different sort of D&D.

The ease of coming back from the dead? I've seen games that have eliminated or tweaked this and they still feel and play mostly like D&D.

Change the level system? Now you are venturing into a game that feels very different.

Agree? Disagree? Comments?
 

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Dice4Hire

First Post
Well, there are games based on D20 that basically eliminate levels. E6 comes immediately to mind.

E6 seems to work well for D&D, though I have never tried it in a full-out camapign.

LEvels are the way D&D has always handled advancement. TOerh game do it differently, and I think both systems work well.

Maybe the way to reduce levels in 4E is to eliminate the BAB, and slow down hit point advancement. With some magic item tweaking, the game would be a lot less powerful at higher levels.

Actually, some higher powers would have to be tweaked for sure, especially high [W] powers.
 

howandwhy99

First Post
I'll agree. Levels have long been regarded as successful for their ability to build anticipation and desire in players. A form of delayed gratification versus instant payoff.

Levels could be trimmed back and the power curve notched down a bit. I know they did the latter in 4E, but upped the former to 30. Still, a game of Heroic Tier only could be fun with a mixed level group without too much change. I'd actually go back to the All new PCs start at 1st level as long as an algorithmic XP table was included. And as long as we're tossing absolute class level for all PCs we can toss absolute treasure parcels too. I could see it working, but the players would have to be on board.
 

pawsplay

First Post
That can work fine in a Hero System game because their doesn't tend to be too much difference in raw power between a 150 pt. character and a 75 pt. character. The 150 pt. character has just a bit more power and resilience, but a lot more versatility.
I do not agree. This is only true if the characters are the same "level," i.e suggested campaign limits, AKA "power levels." Otherwise you could literally have a STR 20 guy with 4d6 punch, and and a 150 point character who is identical but has STR 95 and does 18d6 damage. Also keeping in mind that the average person has PD 2 or so, the first guy averages about 2 BODY per hit and the second guy about 16, or eight times the lethality.

Also, 1 or 2 character points per session means someone could easily go from a STR 8 to STR 25 over the course of a few months of gaming. If you played once a week, in two years you could gain enough experience to give Batman a STR of about 170, allowing him to do 34d6 damage and causing people he punches to go flying about 24 hexes, or around 50 yards.
 

Glyfair

First Post
I do not agree. This is only true if the characters are the same "level," i.e suggested campaign limits, AKA "power levels." Otherwise you could literally have a STR 20 guy with 4d6 punch, and and a 150 point character who is identical but has STR 95 and does 18d6 damage. Also keeping in mind that the average person has PD 2 or so, the first guy averages about 2 BODY per hit and the second guy about 16, or eight times the lethality.

Also, 1 or 2 character points per session means someone could easily go from a STR 8 to STR 25 over the course of a few months of gaming. If you played once a week, in two years you could gain enough experience to give Batman a STR of about 170, allowing him to do 34d6 damage and causing people he punches to go flying about 24 hexes, or around 50 yards.
True, but there are two issues here. First, as you mentioned the game has, over time, gone very far towards having campaign limits. That caps the amount of damage you do. Today you really don't see the superheroic game with characters whose max damage is 8d6 (normal) in the same group as characters whose damage is 40d6 (normal).

Secondly, this was a "heroic" level game in the Hero System - Justice Inc.. Given the differing rules for such games (especially those that don't have a strong "magic element"), the power levels tend to be very close. If you keep putting experience into Str you only get half the benefit once you exceed 20.

Most other games tend to have a much slower power gain over time. Off the top of my head, Runequest wasn't really very fast (except maybe if you reached Rune Lord level...which usually took forever). James Bond went a bit faster than other games (since increased skill levels led to increased number of hero points gained), but didn't even come close to D&D.
 

Glyfair

First Post
Maybe the way to reduce levels in 4E is to eliminate the BAB, and slow down hit point advancement. With some magic item tweaking, the game would be a lot less powerful at higher levels.
I am not necessarily suggesting changing the game to limit the effect. It's not good or bad overall. However, it's something that really has to be considered when looking at the system, especially with how it affects the world.

If you don't like the level system of advancement, you probably should avoid D&D.
I'll agree. Levels have long been regarded as successful for their ability to build anticipation and desire in players. A form of delayed gratification versus instant payoff.
Yet another effect that levels have on D&D. In fact, the "goodies when you gain a level" certainly affects the style of play at a lot of tables.

I haven't really seen the same chase for "experience" (whatever it was called) in most other RPGs I have played. The need for advancement is there, but usually it takes a back door to the other parts of the game.
 

Dausuul

Legend
I haven't really seen the same chase for "experience" (whatever it was called) in most other RPGs I have played. The need for advancement is there, but usually it takes a back door to the other parts of the game.
Actually, I find that the "chase for experience" is a direct result of the XP-for-kills mechanic, which is peculiar to D&D and its immediate relatives. Most other games have advancement schemes which don't reward specific actions by the PCs, so chasing XP is simply not an option.

I dispense with XP-for-kills when I run D&D - the PCs level up when I say they do, usually about once per month of real time - and my players don't engage in "chasing" behavior. They get in fights in order to achieve specific goals (or because the more psychotically aggressive PCs are bored), not because they want to level up.
 

mmadsen

First Post
Take a look at a combat between a 3E 20th level wizard with his staff and a 1st level fighter with a full complement of weapons. The "weak , scholarly" wizard will probably have little trouble with the fighter. That's without even touching his real power, his awesome, world changing spells.
Many of your points about "levels" are quite specific not just to D&D, but to certain narrow elements of D&D's level progression.

First and foremost, that 20th-level wizard is going to beat the 1st-level fighter in hand-to-combat because of his hit points. If we remove that one element of the level progression, we paint a very different picture.

The 20th-level wizard still has a higher BAB than a 1st-level fighter, but it's not unthinkable that, say, Gandalf could cuff a young knight or squire upside the head with his staff. For an adventuring wizard, it seems reasonable.

Aside from the hit dice, I believe the real problem in this example is that a 1st-level fighter is presented as a knight who has been training from childhood, but he only has a +1 BAB to show for it. Without hit dice getting in the way, it would make more sense for a trained-from-birth warrior to "start" at, say, 4th level.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Agree? Disagree? Comments?
In my experience, this really isn't an issue of levels. A number of superhero systems I know, for example, are not level-based, but are able to model characters of vastly different power levels. White Wolf games (my greatest experience is with oWoD) are point-based, and also have vast power level differences between characters early in their careers and later on.

Levels are a very useful tool for constructing characters over a wide power range. Point-buy systems can break if characters are free to really concentrate their advancement in a single area, where levels force some spread of the effects of advancement.

Correlation does not imply causation - levels don't cause there to be major differences in power. It seems to me they are instead a result of wanting to have such a breadth of powers in the game.
 

FireLance

Legend
Actually, I find that the "chase for experience" is a direct result of the XP-for-kills mechanic, which is peculiar to D&D and its immediate relatives. Most other games have advancement schemes which don't reward specific actions by the PCs, so chasing XP is simply not an option.

I dispense with XP-for-kills when I run D&D - the PCs level up when I say they do, usually about once per month of real time - and my players don't engage in "chasing" behavior. They get in fights in order to achieve specific goals (or because the more psychotically aggressive PCs are bored), not because they want to level up.
In my view, this is an indirect reason for many of the complaints about WotC adventures. The objective of allowing the PCs to gain one or two levels by the end of the adventure combined with the need (according to the rules) to fight X encounters in order to gain the necessary experience usually means that adventures are padded up with more fights and encounters than they actually need.

It makes me wonder whether objective experience rules are fine in a sandbox campaign (being an essential element of the trade-off between risk and reward), but unnecessary (or even detrimental) to a more scripted game.
 

Dausuul

Legend
In my view, this is an indirect reason for many of the complaints about WotC adventures. The objective of allowing the PCs to gain one or two levels by the end of the adventure combined with the need (according to the rules) to fight X encounters in order to gain the necessary experience usually means that adventures are padded up with more fights and encounters than they actually need.

It makes me wonder whether objective experience rules are fine in a sandbox campaign (being an essential element of the trade-off between risk and reward), but unnecessary (or even detrimental) to a more scripted game.
What I find myself wondering is why WotC doesn't simply give XP for noncombat encounters.
 

pawsplay

First Post
whose damage is 40d6 (normal).

Secondly, this was a "heroic" level game in the Hero System - Justice Inc.. Given the differing rules for such games (especially those that don't have a strong "magic element"), the power levels tend to be very close. If you keep putting experience into Str you only get half the benefit once you exceed 20.
I was trying to make the example simple. Because we are comparing it to D&D, you can make it an example about a wizard's Fire Blast spell and the numbers are almost identical.
 

FireLance

Legend
What I find myself wondering is why WotC doesn't simply give XP for noncombat encounters.
XP is awarded for skill challenges, which are technically noncombat encounters, but the same principle applies. Padding up an adventure with skill challenges for the sake of increasing the XP count is just as bad as adding additional combat encounters.
 

Jhaelen

First Post
XP is awarded for skill challenges, which are technically noncombat encounters, but the same principle applies. Padding up an adventure with skill challenges for the sake of increasing the XP count is just as bad as adding additional combat encounters.
Well, there are also Quest XP. Since there's no limit to the number of quests you can design for an adventure that's the way to make sure the party levels up.

Or you just do what I decided to do: Don't care about xp and let the party level up when it makes sense (to me).
 

ardoughter

Adventurer
Supporter
I think that saying that removing leveling from D&D makes a game not D&D. I remember playing a gritty grimdark campaign where one retired characters when they reached 4th level and we though it was D&D at the time.

Now it played in someways similar to Warhammer but in most respects it was very dissimular.

Is E6 and its variants not D&D, I think that the position is too stong. I think that both cases are D&D but a subset of a larger whole. I do agree that highlevel characters being untouchable by lower level characters is a fairly distinctive aspect of D&D and one not shared by many non-D&D systems that do not resemble D&D in their base mechanics.
 

FireLance

Legend
Or you just do what I decided to do: Don't care about xp and let the party level up when it makes sense (to me).
That's what I do in my home game. I was just commenting on the problem it causes for published modules, adventure paths in particular.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
I agree that the level track, the massive difference in power between first level and high level PCs, is a very distinctive feature of D&D.

That said, I think character classes are an even more important feature and shape the player experience more strongly. Perhaps because one has to play the game over a long period of time to experience the full level track and one only has to play a single session with multiple PCs to experience the difference between character classes.
 

TheNovaLord

First Post
leave D&D as it is, no matter the version

play something else that does what you want it to do

There are ssssssssoooooooo maaaaaaannnnnnyyyyyyy rpgs out there, dont mess them , try something different and more suitable
 

Dice4Hire

First Post
There are ssssssssoooooooo maaaaaaannnnnnyyyyyyy rpgs out there, dont mess them , try something different and more suitable
This is very true. I wonder how many other systems some of he edition-war people have tried?

Maybe next week, instead of posting here, try out a new game?
 
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Smeelbo

First Post
Besides magic, which dominates a D&D campaign more and more as level rises, I've found the real issue is really hit points.

In contrast, Traveller T20 generates parties with characters ranging from 4th to 12th level, and it works quite well. In T20, a plasma blast to the chest kills you dead no matter, and there are far more skills than any one character could master, so adding a 5th level to a group that averages 8th really can improve the group. Also, In T20, BAB rises much more slowly.

In my experience, T20 is the best, most playable version of Traveller, and quite possibly the best D20 stand alone game.

Smeelbo
 

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