How often should PCs level up?

How often should PCs typically level up in your preferred version of D&D?



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Janx

Hero
I think everybody hit good points. As Celebrim noted, maybe it should take longer to get to the next level, than it did for the last level.

I think the best answer should consider the pacing the GM wants to have, the time between sessions, duration of play, and elapsed in-game time.

A group that only plays 6 hours once a month should probably level up faster than a group that plays once a week for 6 hours. That's not intuitive. The reason for it is that the bigger the real-time gap in getting to play will increase the perception of lack of progress, and leveling up is the most obvious sign of progress in the game.

That's not to say that if Gygax suggested you can reach level 10 in a year, that if your group only plays twice a year (ex. holiday gatherings), you should gain 5 levels right then and there. But you should probably consider making sure the PCs level up once a year or per session in that extreme case.

The weekly players should slow the pace down. Getting to level 4 in a months' real time might be a tad bit fast, considering where you'll be in a year's time at that pace.

At the monthly rate or slower, I think there's a stronger case for advancing a level every session (or 2 sessions), just to reinforce the signal that progress is being made. It will help keep those interested in the numbers to see there's a payoff. You can imagine that after a year's worth of playing at 5 games per level, only being Level 2 is a bit pokey to a good many players. Whereas to the once a week crowd, that's a level every other month or so. You've got to keep the real-time clock in mind as it affects player perception.

I'd also raise the point that in-game, you need to run the clock as well. If you played D&D like the TV show 24, where each session followed onto the last with no natural break, with a fast leveling, a PC could go from peon to level 20 in a week's worth of in-game time. That's nuts, in my opinion.

So a GM should make sure some natural time elapses between sessions, days, weeks, even months as seasons change, wounds need to heal, etc. Set some basic guideline that maybe a week should go by in-game before the PCs should level up. Not a hard rule, more of a guideline that where possible, you should allow for time to go by in a non-intrusive or harmful way. At the simplest, unlike 24, don't make every moment be critical to not be wasted so that players aren't trying to rush to the next thing they have to do before time runs out.

Lastly, my first item on the list of criteria was GM's preference for pacing. Which means pick what you want, but I feel it should be more nuanced than that. I wouldn't be happy if the GM just decided "now you level up", or handed out "500 XP" because he know's that's half of what I need to Level 2. Personally, I look at the pacing I'd like to have, say 2-3 games per level. I then look at how much XP that would be. I then look at the mechanics of how I determine XP (say 300 times CR divided by number of players). I look at the amount of encounters I have and I see if that would align with the goal. If not, I adjust the formula I use for calculating XP. Probably a bit of work, but on the other hand, if the PCs lose all the encounters, the math gets them less XP which means the slower than expected rate is their fault. They get my expected XP schedule because they succeeded on earning the XP doing things I give XP for. That might also mean getting more than I expected for XP because they did more things worth XP.

I don't know that every GM wants to do all that forward and backward math, but I like having a system, and knowing if that system will meet the pace I'd like to have. That's better than desiring 2-3 levels per session, and getting 1 level per session because I didn't understand how the system works in practice.


If I had to make a list of guidelines I'd use:
never level up more than once per session (or 8 hour period if it's a marathon weekend session).
Require at least a week in-game time to elapse between level ups
Level up at least once per year, if not 3 months if you are infrequently playing
don't level up faster than once per month

I might consider a metric of # sessions per level = next level divided 2, rounded up.

So it only takes one session to get to level 2, 2 sessions for level 3 and 4. It will take 10 sessions to get to level 20 (from level 19).

Still to fast for some, but you can see where the idea could be tweaked to reach a desired preference and reflect Celebrim's idea that higher levels take longer.
 

S'mon

Legend
At the monthly rate or slower, I think there's a stronger case for advancing a level every session (or 2 sessions), just to reinforce the signal that progress is being made. It will help keep those interested in the numbers to see there's a payoff. You can imagine that after a year's worth of playing at 5 games per level, only being Level 2 is a bit pokey to a good many players. Whereas to the once a week crowd, that's a level every other month or so. You've got to keep the real-time clock in mind as it affects player perception.

Yes, I recently played in a 5e campaign with up to 3 months between sessions (nominally monthly) and levelling up about every 3 sessions there felt rather too slow, where it would have been fine with fortnightly play.
 

Psikerlord#

Explorer
I think everybody hit good points. As Celebrim noted, maybe it should take longer to get to the next level, than it did for the last level.

I think the best answer should consider the pacing the GM wants to have, the time between sessions, duration of play, and elapsed in-game time.

A group that only plays 6 hours once a month should probably level up faster than a group that plays once a week for 6 hours. That's not intuitive. The reason for it is that the bigger the real-time gap in getting to play will increase the perception of lack of progress, and leveling up is the most obvious sign of progress in the game.

That's not to say that if Gygax suggested you can reach level 10 in a year, that if your group only plays twice a year (ex. holiday gatherings), you should gain 5 levels right then and there. But you should probably consider making sure the PCs level up once a year or per session in that extreme case.

The weekly players should slow the pace down. Getting to level 4 in a months' real time might be a tad bit fast, considering where you'll be in a year's time at that pace.

At the monthly rate or slower, I think there's a stronger case for advancing a level every session (or 2 sessions), just to reinforce the signal that progress is being made. It will help keep those interested in the numbers to see there's a payoff. You can imagine that after a year's worth of playing at 5 games per level, only being Level 2 is a bit pokey to a good many players. Whereas to the once a week crowd, that's a level every other month or so. You've got to keep the real-time clock in mind as it affects player perception.

I'd also raise the point that in-game, you need to run the clock as well. If you played D&D like the TV show 24, where each session followed onto the last with no natural break, with a fast leveling, a PC could go from peon to level 20 in a week's worth of in-game time. That's nuts, in my opinion.

So a GM should make sure some natural time elapses between sessions, days, weeks, even months as seasons change, wounds need to heal, etc. Set some basic guideline that maybe a week should go by in-game before the PCs should level up. Not a hard rule, more of a guideline that where possible, you should allow for time to go by in a non-intrusive or harmful way. At the simplest, unlike 24, don't make every moment be critical to not be wasted so that players aren't trying to rush to the next thing they have to do before time runs out.

Lastly, my first item on the list of criteria was GM's preference for pacing. Which means pick what you want, but I feel it should be more nuanced than that. I wouldn't be happy if the GM just decided "now you level up", or handed out "500 XP" because he know's that's half of what I need to Level 2. Personally, I look at the pacing I'd like to have, say 2-3 games per level. I then look at how much XP that would be. I then look at the mechanics of how I determine XP (say 300 times CR divided by number of players). I look at the amount of encounters I have and I see if that would align with the goal. If not, I adjust the formula I use for calculating XP. Probably a bit of work, but on the other hand, if the PCs lose all the encounters, the math gets them less XP which means the slower than expected rate is their fault. They get my expected XP schedule because they succeeded on earning the XP doing things I give XP for. That might also mean getting more than I expected for XP because they did more things worth XP.

I don't know that every GM wants to do all that forward and backward math, but I like having a system, and knowing if that system will meet the pace I'd like to have. That's better than desiring 2-3 levels per session, and getting 1 level per session because I didn't understand how the system works in practice.


If I had to make a list of guidelines I'd use:
never level up more than once per session (or 8 hour period if it's a marathon weekend session).
Require at least a week in-game time to elapse between level ups
Level up at least once per year, if not 3 months if you are infrequently playing
don't level up faster than once per month

I might consider a metric of # sessions per level = next level divided 2, rounded up.

So it only takes one session to get to level 2, 2 sessions for level 3 and 4. It will take 10 sessions to get to level 20 (from level 19).

Still to fast for some, but you can see where the idea could be tweaked to reach a desired preference and reflect Celebrim's idea that higher levels take longer.

For me personally it depends on real life time, not so much game time. Frequency of play sessions matters most to me - I want to see progress being made.

When we played once every month or six weeks, for 6 - 10 hours at a time, we leveled about once a session or every second session, and that felt about right. Now that we mostly play weekly (online for 2 hours), we still level about every four to six sessions (so, again, about a month or six weeks in real time). So that seems to me the time frame that suits us.

If I was leveling only every 3 or 4 months or more, it would be way too slow for me.

Having said all that - I REALLY like the incremental advancement rules from 13th Age - we use those in our current games every 2 sessions or so (being quick 2 hr sessions). This very much helps keep that feeling of progress front and centre.
 

S'mon

Legend
Update

My weekly Classic D&D Karameikos game is around 5 sessions to level, but I've pretty much gone over to arbitrary XP at this stage (PCs are 9th-14th level) so unsurprising.

My fortnightly 4e Loudwater game ended recently with the PCs at level 29 after 103 sessions, most of the campaign having been 4 sessions/level.

My 5e Runelords/Shattered Star game the PCs are level 7 after 25 sessions, highest PC nearly 8th. Using the rules as written it seems to be 5 sessions/level 5-10 but I'm a bit concerned the XP rules will take it to 3/level from 11th and that might be too quick.

My 5e online Wilderlands game, highest PC is 16th after 81 sessions, a session being about half a tabletop session.

I'm happy enough with all these rates, the one I wasn't happy with was Pathfinder Crimson Throne and seeing PCs level every couple sessions.
 

S

Sunseeker

Guest
I have typically found that once a month is a good rate, this speaking from an average of 3 sessions a month, average 6 hours per session. I usually use a milestone system, because I have typically strong groups who I have to run higher-XP challenges for, which tends to increase the rate of leveling to almost once per 2 sessions and that is way too fast for me.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Why isn't "adventure completion" one of the options?
I can't say that there's a good answer to this. For me, it depends on the sessions: a session packed with combat and exploring is going to contribute much more to leveling up than one spent building political alliances, crafting weapons, and managing settlements.
Ouch. That hurts.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Can't answer because the poll doesn't include the correct answer, namely, "There is no "should" for leveling up."

When you have the XP, you level up. If you an do that in 2 sessions? Kudos! If it takes you five months of games? That's all good too.

There is no and absolutely should be NO expectations of levels after "X" sessions or "hours of game time" or any other ridiculous, meaningless, completely arbitrary count/number when a player becomes "due" a level.

Get the XP. Level up.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
I require PCs to not only acquire enough XP, but also to complete the required training in order to gain levels. This takes one or two weeks of game-time in my campaigns.
 

joshinminn

Explorer
The DM ruining the 5e campaign I'm playing in has a unique way of having us level. If you attend and survive a session, you get 1 XP. Once your total XP equals your current level number (i.e., 2 XP at level two, 3 XP at level three), you level up. We play twice a month. So the first few levels went pretty quickly, but nope that we're around five and six, it takes a few months. Might get tedious soon, but it's working pretty well now.

Sent from my SM-G935V using Tapatalk
 

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