How often should PCs level up?

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


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.

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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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