How often should PCs level up?

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


Exactly, but that's what makes counting hours or sessions pointless. There is no "typical" for my groups. Never has been. Same groups that's slow now may barge through the next adventure in 2 sessions instead of 4.

And before you say it all evens out - yes, most likely it does. The time in which they gain levels can certainly be averaged. But the poll doesn't ask for average. Nor does it take into account that while in an individual group things most likely average out, every group is different.

I am currently running 11 groups (yes, as I am stuck in the house most of the time I run a lot of online games and a table group). If I go by the poll, I could click all the options and then some because they are all at a different pace.

I generally run 3-4 groups (2-3 table & 1 online) in various systems and they do have different levelling rates, but 5 sessions/level seemed most typical.
If you read my comments below the poll you'll see I was asking for an average over the campaign, not a mandated amount for each individual level.
I think it's ok not to have a discernible typical levelling rate; back in the day my 1e games didn't - individual xp, I recall PCs who would solo a big monster and go up 2 levels (I hadn't noticed the 'only 1 level' rule...)

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First Post
In my game I let the players tell me when they level. We're around 30 sessions in (only 2 hours per session tho) and they're 5th level. I doubt they'll want to level before we get 4 or 5 more sessions.


well in old school, it could take millions of XP to reach some levels, so you might go several sessions without leveling.

If by old school, you mean 1e AD&D, the pace of leveling is entirely a function of what percentage of a character's XP is expected to be treasure. A good way to look at it is to compare the following methods:

a) A wilderness campaign which is built directly from the tools 1e Monster Manual, using the '% in lair', number encountered, and treasure types to set the amount of treasure.
b) A dungeon campaign which is built directly for the tools in the appendix of the 1e Dungeon Master's guide to randomly generate a dungeon, using the random treasures described in those tools to place treasure.
c) An adventure path campaign which is built directly from published modules like the G series.

In the case of the strict treasure type campaign, about 2/3rds of the XP will come from treasure and about 1/3rd from killing monsters. Pace of leveling will be glacially slow by modern standards, and will tend to decrease over time as hauls of treasure large enough to make a big dent in your XP needs get rarer and rarer. By 10th level, pace of leveling will be years of weekly game play per level. Magic items are extremely rare and make you cheer when you find one.

In the case of the random dungeon delving campaign, more than 4/5ths of the XP will come from treasure and less than 1/5th from killing monsters. Pace of leveling will still be fairly slow by modern standards, but not as slow as in the first campaign, nor will the slow down as you gain levels be anywhere as large since finding high level foes and rich treasure hordes is just as matter of efficiently getting down to the lower levels of the dungeon. Getting magic items will still be somewhat hard.

In the case of playing published modules, more than 9/10ths of the XP will come from treasure and less than 1/10th from killing monsters. In effect, the monsters in this campaign are all several times richer than the ones in the treasure type campaign. Pace of leveling will be extremely rapid and comparable to modern adventure paths. Magic items will be super abundant, so abundant that the players may consider selling them to gain additional XP.

Then, at lowest levels, the monsters were worth about 1/150th-175th what you needed to level, so the earliest levels were really slow too.

This sentence is actually the reason I'm responding, because it seems a bizarre misunderstanding of old school. Sure, a goblin might be only 13-20XP, and a party of 6 might need nearly 12000 XP level up. But this in no fashion implies that 1st level parties had to kill 600 goblins to level up. Since a tribe of goblins on average had treasure worth 2 times the XP of the tribe itself, that drops it to 200 goblins for a party to level up. Which means that even lowly goblins supplied about 1/30th of the XP you needed to level in even the strictest by the book campaign. But as I said above, if you played with published modules or dungeon delves, that pace increased tremendously. In a dungeon oriented campaign, goblins would be holding treasure worth 4 times their worth in XP, meaning goblins supplied perhaps 1/15th of the XP you needed to level. By the time you get to something like a published module, those goblins held treasure worth 10 times their own worth, which means each goblin was perhaps 1/9th of the XP you needed to level.

We ran something like 1-2 encounters every 4 hours. At level 1, 1-2 bad guys per party member, is really only like 14-30 xp per person, so in an 8 hour Mt Dew session, you have what? 56-120 xp? How is that going to level you when you need 1200-3000? Like if your bad guys are orcs, and they are worth 15xp a piece, and you have 4 party members, needing 1250, 2000, 1500, and 2500 xp, how many orcs do you have to kill? 484 orcs. That's a pretty effective Lord of the Rings scene- probably several scenes. But if you are level 12, you need 250,000+ a piece right? so that's like 20 dragons per player character PER LEVEL.

Err... treasure.... the single biggest source of XP in 1e no matter how your DM ran the game? (Also, if those orcs have javelins or other ranged weapons, they are worth more XP.) Also, again, orcs on average have treasure worth several times their XP, not counting any XP that you can get for hauling a wagon load of discount/slightly used weapons and armor back to the haven. I assure you, no 1e AD&D party ever had to kill a 100+ orcs each to reach 2nd level. For one thing, they'd never have survived.

As for what a level means, I agree with you that post 1e, the meaning and value of being high level took a nose dive. A 15th level character in 1e AD&D who'd earned it, was a major global mover and shaker. The same character in 2e was a mid-level manager in a world were all the good things were owned by NPCs, and most the important things were done by NPCs. The same character in later editions was a gerbil on the leveling treadmill, still doing the exact same things at higher level that he did at lower level, fighting foes that were just scaled of versions of their lower level foes.

ADDENDUM: Based on your mention of things like Dark Sun and Planescape, it seems likely your idea of "Old School" is my idea of New School, and you were playing 2e AD&D.

In that case, if you are playing strictly by the book, substitute character, session, roleplay, problem solving, and story awards for treasure, with the exception of the thief class which still earns XP from treasure. In this case, how fast you level is entirely a function of how much XP the DM is choosing to award for things other than killing the monsters. XP is largely a matter of fulfilling the DM's story goals, and playing your role. Pace of leveling is story oriented.
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Victoria Rules
Short answer: (by the standards set in the posts in this thread) very, very infrequently.

Given regular weekly play and no odd effects (e.g. sudden level gain or level loss), I'd consider myself to be doing extremely well if my character bumped three times in a real-world year.

Then again, when the game system tends to wobble itself to bits around 12th level and you want the campaign to go on for many years, slow level-bumping is essential.

Lan-"I think this poll, and this discussion, have been done several times before - check the archives"-efan


Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
I read on this forum (but I can't source who said that, it might be in the several threads about who is playing high-level characters) that the designing team intended the 1-20 journey to spread around 18 real-life monthes, as it was the average length of a campaign according to their market research. I don't know if it's true, but then the intended answer would be once every month, or once every 4 sessions assuming weekly schedule (which could fit the "adventuring day" recommanded XP. However, given the fact that very few people seem to actually have high level characters in the DNDbeyond database, it seems that people actually level up less often than intended or play less often than intended.

In my games, I've dropped monster XP and level up the group wholesale after a significant goal as been achieved and the character can have some downtime.


Pathfinder 2e still assumes about four sessions per level. I find this takes way too long at lower levels (and not long enough at higher ones) for my taste. I like the accomplishment-based XP system it uses, but I’ve tweaked the XP from a static 1,000 XP per level to something based on the next level (spend 200 XP × next level to gain a new level).

Edit: I should add that I use group consensus to determine accomplishments. The players nominate things they think are accomplishments, then we go down the list and determine collectively whether they are minor, moderate, or major accomplishments. I don’t actually get a vote, so it removes GM fiat from accomplishments as written in PF2.


For games with levels like D&D, how frequently do you think PCs should advance, given typical play? How do you use the XP system to facilitate that, if at all (group XP, individual XP, level by GM fiat)?

(eg Gygax recommended that a year of weekly 1e AD&D play should get a successful PC from 1st to 9th), a bit quicker with 4e. But this is about half the default rate recommended by the GM guidance in 3e/PF, 4e and 5e, which all seem to recommend 2-3 sessions to level and 20 levels in about a year of weekly play. What do you find? What works best for you?

I eschewed XP years ago and just use milestones. I don't have any set agenda for leveling up. I prefer low level games, so it goes slower than default. I think I had my party at 3rd level for 7 sessions. They'll get to the Lost Mine around 5th. A year of play to reach 9th, that sounds about right to me, and about when I would want to stop the game as I don't like D&D much more beyond that.


I'm going to go with the probably unpopular idea that leveling should be super fast at first and then taper off to almost never. Higher leveled characters are encouraged to make a mark on the game world itself (the domain-building phase) after spending their early career developing their powers. That way the game changes focus and it doesn't turn into a stale grasping for dopamine-dings with leveling the way MMORPGs do.


I know this is dated, but the question is still relevant no matter. According to the Rules Cyclopedia, the late Aaron said "on average" leveling should occur once every five adventures, not sessions. Unless we are talking about different things, a session is a break in time during a campaign right? So three hours into the adventure, you break to play next week for another couple of hours or to complete the adventure for a total of two sessions, right?

Aaron goes on to say that leveling up once every two games, should happen especially when players get bored/frustrated from how slow they are progressing.
Admittedly, finding GM's and players to play solid adventures are almost uncommon, so I think most players would like to see their character move up faster, since they don't always know if there will be a game next week, month, never or with a new GM and new players?

I would go with one level every two adventures.


Depends on what edition you are playing.

When I initially answered the poll (years ago) it was based upon how often I levelled up in the primary game systems of D&D that were my preference (OD&D, BX, BECMI, 1e, and 2e).

If it is 1e or even 2e, I'd probably say it could be a very slow rate, at probably 10+ sessions generally. Perhaps even more so.

If you are playing 3e, that game levelled very quickly, and I'd say 1 or 2 sessions per level.

If you are playing 4e, that was the changing per level. At first it could be 1 session per level, but by the time you get to 6th or 7th level with all the time to battle and other complications I'd say it could be 3 or 4 sessions. By 14th level and higher it could be as much as 5 or 6 session. It seemed the higher level you got, actions (such as combat) could take a lot longer to resolve.

If you are playing 5e, once again, it depends on the level. At 1-3 level it can be 1 session per level, to 3 levels per 1 session.

After that for the next few levels up to around level 6 it could be 1 or 2 sessions per level.

Beyond that, it goes up to 3-5 sessions at least.

I feel it varies depending on which edition you are playing.


I know this is dated, but the question is still relevant no matter. According to the Rules Cyclopedia, the late Aaron said "on average" leveling should occur once every five adventures, not sessions. Unless we are talking about different things, a session is a break in time during a campaign right?
Moldvay Mentzer & Allston used 'adventure' to mean 'session' - the idea being you'd complete a delve into a dungeon in 1 session.


Depends on what edition you are playing.
I'd say it primarily depends on the adventure.

If you're playing a level 1-5 adventure and the GM doesn't really have any plans for further content, it makes sense to level up quickly if the players burn through the content quickly (ignoring sideplots, not introducing any ideas of their own, etc) and level up slowly if the players smolder through the content slowly (not getting the clues, getting sidetracked every step of the way, etc)

The GM might have a looser campaign in mind but where the overall threat is suitable for perhaps tier II heroes (but where certain level 6 or 7 spells might short-circuit the challenge). In this case, the group might enjoy faster leveling at first, while accepting the fact that levelling might slow to a crawl at the end if the GM would otherwise "overshoot" the target end game.

What it all boils down to is that older editions has always tried to create the illusion of XP as something objective and pseudo-scientific, which is just that: a falsehood, an illusion.

In truth, you are always going to be the level the GM needs you to be. Counting XP and juggling encounter budgets etc is just a smokescreen that has fooled many a gamer (and GM!) into forgetting that the only truth is that you will be the level the GM needs you to be.

So it depends on the adventure. Or rather, it needs to and it would be silly (and needlessly laborious!) to change the story around the levelling pace instead of the other way 'round.

PS. I'm GMing an official Adventure Path, and for the first time in my D&D history I feel confident I will take my players all the way up to 20. I'm just a low- to mid-level plot creator, and can't maintain interest when the fantasy morphs into superheroics. But with a prewritten scenario I can.


i find it's a strange thing to mess with. If the DM is awarding levels every so many sessions you end up with games where you have 3 sessions of RP solve nothing and level, or have a session and kill one of the BBEG and all his henchmen and don't.

I prefer just awarding XP per encounter and letting them level when it happens. I'm going to set up encounters for them that are the appropriate difficulty anyway. I think it just feels more rewarding when you get your XP at the end of every game. But I've played at tables where levels were just awarded whenever and it worked ok.


I usually do about 3 sessions between levels, because that works with our 2-3 weeks between game and 18-24 month campaign lifetime to get us into end levels that we like.

I long ago stopped rewarding individual XP and these days don't do party XP. Advancement is by fiat, with some variance depending on my judgment on how well they played. This saves bookkeeping and more importantly does not incentivize players to showboat or hog game time for bonus XP. What they do in game as an individual is for their fun and the fun of the group not a chase of some, in the end, arbitrary reward points. Additionally, it makes it easier for new players or players retiring a character for something else, either due to death or a desire to try a different PC.

We're playing our first 2E campaign and we agreed it would be a shorter one so we can learn the system. Because of that we have an end goal for the game of May-June this year (about 15 months from game start). I just agreed with my players that we will move the leveling rate to every 2 sessions so we can try out level 5 and 6 spells and such.

We're enjoying the system a great deal so far. Things like the new action system make the game much more fluid again and the creature design, with everything having some interesting quirk, provides a great deal of variety. Not seeing any of the "only one action makes sense each round" certain youtubers have complained about but I suspect that comes down a lot to encounter design (and this is based my own scenarios, not an AP). Perhaps its also because we aren't at level 10+ yet either.

TL;DR: I think refs should set advancement rate based on the needs of their campaign and players, which is usually a function of games per month and desired end level. Refs should feel free to ignore XP rules if they find them fiddly or counterproductive.


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.
Because why should we encourage role-playing in a role-playing game?


If the heroes faff about chasing windmills or hesitating all the time so they aren't progressing - then they don't level.

If they resolve things, and generally get a move on, they do.

If the next dungeon (or whatever) is listed as intended for level 7, then the heroes level up to 7 when they reach it. If that takes three sessions, then they level after three sessions. If it only takes one session, they level after one session. If it takes seven sessions, they level after seven sessions.

tl;dr: the concept of fixing the level pace to "every X sessions" is silly.

The secret is: you're gonna be the level the GM needs you to be. Spending time to rewire monsters and encounters because the heroes leveled up "unexpectedly" fast or slow makes no sense - that's just meaningless busywork.

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