Level Up (A5E) How to reach 20th Level in 45 days — An analysis of "adventuring day" per character level

Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
I miss the days in 4e where you could curate an entire dungeon with the rote mathematical guidelines that no matter the character level, X encounters yielded 1 character level. So I've very often wondered about how a similar system would work for 5e/A5e, and the fact that we now can design adventuring days based on Encounter Points goes a VERY long way. Indeed, as you will find later in this thread I did synthesize a Campaign Calendar that is A5e's equivalent of 4e encounter design! But the road was arduous, and discovering how many adventuring days there are per character level l made me reassess some of my fundamental assumptions of character math in 5e/A5e.

My Approach
To create a baseline analysis. These are the terms and assumptions I used.
  • Given: Encounter Points by character level per day
  • Assumption: XP Per Encounter = XP of a medium encounter for 4 characters with the XP divided equally.
    • There is not a clear pattern on how this number grows, so I had to input the figures by hand
    • Clearly different assumptions about party and encounter composition might yield different results, but I thought this would be a good normative baseline. [Edit] A cursory glance reveals that a diet of only easy, hard, or deadly encounters all have XP per encounter point yields that vary wildly from a pure medium diet. (Higher difficulty, better XP yield ratio.) My suggestion would be to balance the ratio better by spending an equal number of encounter points on easy encounters as spent on hard and deadly. [/edit]
  • XP to Next Level = XP threshold for next level - XP threshold for the current level.
  • XP per Day = Encounter Points * XP Per Encounter
  • Adventuring Days to Next Level = XP to Next Level / XP per Day

LevelEncounter Points per DayXP Per Encounter (Medium @ 4, ÷4)XP to Next LevelXP per DayAdventuring Days to Next Level
1st150300506
2nd11756001753.5
3rd22751,8005503.25
4th24503,8009004.25
5th47507,50030002.5
6th49759,00039002.3
7th4125011,00050002.2
8th4180014,00072002
9th4210016,00084002
10th4250021,000100002.1
11th6325015,000195000.75
12th6375020,000225000.9
13th6450020,000270000.75
14th6500025,000300000.8
15th6625030,000375000.8
16th6825030,000495000.6
17th81025040,000820000.5
18th81550040,0001240000.33
19th81875050,0001500000.33
20th8n/an/an/an/a

What do we see here?
Looking at this chart, and assuming that my assumptions are reasonable and that the math looks similar for other party compositions, it looks like there is not a simple "one-size fits all" solution to top-down adventure design based on character level progression. The adventuring day per level of some levels is quite high, and others is quite low. In fact, adventuring days per level generally decreases at higher level, whereas I fully expected that figure to increase. If a player character finds themselves embroiled in medium challenges every day and spend all their Encounter Points, then (after rounding up adventuring days due to the long rest phenomenon)... PCs can reach 20th level after merely 44 full adventuring days.

So where does this leave us?
Discovering the length of an adventuring career (44 full adventuring days) leaves us with some ramifications on how to design campaigns

On the one hand, these findings validate an emergent, OSR approach to campaign design. The short adventuring career length means we don't have to worry all too much about top-down design. Adventuring days per level do not exhibit the exponential curve I expected to see, meaning that relying solely on the emergent encounter design and XP calculation will still produce organic campaigns of sensible duration. That said, whether players will even be able to achieve a full adventuring day depends on the tone and genre of the campaign. If the players can't make it to the City of Brass to beat up efreet after efreet, they may not be able "get those gains." There are so many elder dragons on the planet, and there is (probably) only one terrasque. So an adventuring day of 1 or less looks like an easy goal to meet, but it may not be realistic or appropriate for the campaign.

That said, there are those of us planners who do prefer to have some "top-down perspective" and norms. I like having these guidelines because it helps me to know how long a given story arch of the campaign should be. (I hate it when a side-quest spirals out into an entire mini-campaign… I'm looking at you, wererats!) The 44 adventuring day career means we can actually make an Encounter Point budget for how long we want a story arch to last. Sparing you a second math mini-essay, here's what that looks like:

Campaign Calendar

LevelEncounter Points this levelExpected Adventuring Days
1st66+
2nd44+
3rd74+
4th85+
5th103+
6th103+
7th93+
8th82+
9th82+
10th93+
11th51+
12th61+
13th51+
14th51+
15th51+
16th41+
17th41+
18th31+
19th31+
Note: Easy encounters yield less XP per Encounter Point. Hard and Deadly encounters yeild more XP per Encounter Point. My advice is to spend an equal number of Encounter points on Easy encounters as spent on Hard and Deadly encounters.

Now, both the "emergent" and "top-down" approaches are to say nothing about downtime (edit: or travel time, thanks @Steampunkette ). Moving 44 adventuring days to a work week (two rest days after 5 adventuring days) already puts us at 26.4 work weeks, or just under 7 months. Add extended vacations at brothels, seasons leading a faction, and years ruling a kingdom… [edit]And of course the traveling times between all this. [/edit] Now we begin to see an adventuring timeline that makes more narrative sense.



In conclusion, I hope you all found this analysis helpful! That is, I hope it is thought-provoking and provides utility and context as you design your campaigns. As always PEACH and let me know what you think! (And, especially since there is arithmetic involved here, please let me know if I glitched or otherwise missed something!) And, most especially, if you find the findings or approach here controversial, don't hesitate to say so!
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Don't forget travel time -without- encounters. Moving from Neverwinter to Tentowns is of course gonna wind up having some encounters along the way, but you're not gonna fight each and every day, either.
 

Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
Don't forget travel time -without- encounters. Moving from Neverwinter to Tentowns is of course gonna wind up having some encounters along the way, but you're not gonna fight each and every day, either.
Thanks, good catch! I added some notes to reflect this insight! :)
 


lichmaster

Adventurer
This is a very interesting post. I've been a staunch supporter of the milestone advancement approach for decades, which bypasses the problem altoghether, but I understand that for some XP is a necessary aspect of the game.

What if we use the insight of this post in the most constructive way possible, instead of prescriptive?
Here's a proposal:
  • The encounter budget per day, being tied quite strongly to the party's level and survival capability, is stongly baked in the design assumptions of the game, so I wouldn't change it.
  • I also wouldn't touch the number of XP per encounter, with the math implied by the books. This way we can use mosters and encounter building guidelines out of the box.
  • Differently from other editions, XP are just a tracker for advancement, they are not used for anything else (while in 3e for instance XP were also a currency for creating some magic items, etc). This means that changing the standard XP/level progression does not affect any other aspect of the game
What we can do now is to tailor the XP/level progression so that we can adapt the campaign pace to our needs.
If we want to set a pace, we can simply say: I want a given rate of advancement, say no more than 1 level every X days, assuming every day is "busy" and we spend the full encounter/day budget.
Since at this level we can have Y encounters per day, we need a total of X*Y encounters to level up
Since each encounter is worth on average Z XP, the XP for the next level is simply X*Y*Z

This way we have full control of the advancement rate, and we can go on designing our adventure/campaign with the pace we have in mind, without having to worry about the weird results arising from the fully constrained system implied by the rules as written.

Of course this is just a simple framework, but it's very flexible. The only thing it requires is that the table agrees that the xp/level progression is not what implied in the core books, but it set by the DM to give what she/he thinks is the best experience
 

Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
@lichmaster I think this is a sensible response to the tables I presented. (I would personally describe my analysis as "descriptive" as opposed to "prescriptive," but your point is well taken.)

I personally find some of the results of my analysis pretty unsatisfactory, the sense that a single hard or deadly encounter is enough to level up the party. That reality actually just deepens the 5-minute workday problem. It means the best option for character growth is always to unload all your resources all at once. No reason to pace yourself. It also makes facing a dungeon of appropriate challenges basically pointless at high level. These are not the kind of high-level, epic-tier narratives I'm trying to craft.
 
Last edited:

Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
That said, the appropriate challenges named in the A5e books are not the ones expected by 05e. Combine inconsistent O5e monster math with a "we liked how these numbers looked" XP system, and it makes sense you'd end up with something like this. So part of the problem we might be seeing with the 5-minute work day is actually just the ramifications of A5e being a little bit more honest about the underlying maths, and it makes sense that the XP threshold system might not hold up.

After all, if we could have changed XP thresholds we would have---but it was one of our "unconditionals" of backward compatibility.
 

Ondath

Adventurer
Adventuring days per level do not exhibit the exponential curve I expected to see, meaning that relying solely on the emergent encounter design and XP calculation will still produce organic campaigns of sensible duration.
I remember reading a few years ago a blog post that analysed 5e's encounters per level calculations and reached a similar conclusion, and I believe this is intentional: The designers realised that the game's "sweet spot" (where you fight the most iconic monsters with a selection of abilities that is diverse but not mind-bogglingly large) was around levels 5-10, so the exp curve slows down considerably once you get there to keep you in that sweet spot for as long as possible in a campaign. Levels 11+ onwards are similarly very quick so that you can breeze through the mechanically complicated parts and get to reality-bending powers fairly quickly.

I've personally been using this in my adventure design and it's been largely successful. While I understand those who don't want to bother with exp, I think good exp mechanics are really important to give the players a sense of progression and feeling like their actions are directly causing them to grow in power. In the game I'm DMing, the players eagerly wait the exp totals of the night and start getting excited when a new level is just around the corner. You just couldn't get that visceral "me likey that number go up" reaction without an exp system. Granted, I don't give exp for monsters but for overcoming quest-related obstacles (be they social, exploration or combat) and completing objectives so I did modify the system considerably, but I really wish 5e's poor execution didn't cause everyone to abandon a good system altogether.
 

Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
I believe this is intentional: The designers realised that the game's "sweet spot" (where you fight the most iconic monsters with a selection of abilities that is diverse but not mind-bogglingly large) was around levels 5-10, so the exp curve slows down considerably once you get there to keep you in that sweet spot for as long as possible in a campaign. Levels 11+ onwards are similarly very quick so that you can breeze through the mechanically complicated parts and get to reality-bending powers fairly quickly.
This is insightful, thank you!

While I understand those who don't want to bother with exp, I think good exp mechanics are really important to give the players a sense of progression and feeling like their actions are directly causing them to grow in power.
That's a good point, and I agree that it's a weak point of the "milestone" system. In 4e I relied on XP because I was using quests as a way of helping keep players on track, Purple Cards to help the players get creative, and I was having problems with attendance / unequal contributions to the campaign, so XP differences were a natural way of demonstrating both character effort and player effort.

In my view, the Campaign Calendar method I outline is not a full-on milestone system. (Although it could be a good starting point for one.) For me, it allows you to set the pacing of encounters and storylines, which then allows you to acctually tally XP based on players' real accomplishments.
 

lichmaster

Adventurer
@lichmaster I think this is a sensible response to the tables I presented. (I would personally describe my analysis as "descriptive" as opposed to "prescriptive," but your point is well taken.)
I hope my observation didn't pass as offensive or derogative in any way. Since you didn't change any existing rule and reverse engineered the number of adventuring days, it didn't leave any degrees of freedom, that's why I called it prescriptive. In my proposal I had to create those degrees of freedom by removing some constraints.
I personally find some of the results of my analysis pretty unsatisfactory, the sense that a single hard or deadly encounter is enough to level up the party. That reality actually just deepens the 5-minute workday problem. It means the best option for character growth is always to unload all your resources all at once. No reason to pace yourself. It also makes facing a dungeon of appropriate challenges basically pointless at high level. These are not the kind of high-level, epic-tier narratives I'm trying to craft.
RAW, there's really nothing you can do to obviate those problems. If anything, more than being unsatisfied with the results of your analysis, you pointed out some "necessary" outcomes. I agree with you that those outcomes are really not desirable.

That said, the appropriate challenges named in the A5e books are not the ones expected by 05e. Combine inconsistent O5e monster math with a "we liked how these numbers looked" XP system, and it makes sense you'd end up with something like this. So part of the problem we might be seeing with the 5-minute work day is actually just the ramifications of A5e being a little bit more honest about the underlying maths, and it makes sense that the XP threshold system might not hold up.
The 5 minute work day IMO is not just a result of the XP tables. It's more the outcome of the "once per long rest" mechanics, especially since some classes almost completely "recharge" over a short rest while others are completely drained and need a full long rest.
This is not a great design choice IMO, as it creates totally different pacing needs for some classes. One can try to negate the 5 minute work day as hard as possible, with encounters or other forms of time pressures, but over time it starts feeling innatural and one cannot help but wonder why the game was designed this way.
After all, if we could have changed XP thresholds we would have---but it was one of our "unconditionals" of backward compatibility.
I understand that for compatibility issues those tables had to be identical. a5e had it's unfair share of critiques about it not being "really" compatible with 5e, so one can only imagine the outcry if those tables were changed.
However, my proposal is entirely unofficial ;)
What it does, is to take the pacing benefits of a milestone system while still allowing the DM to grant those XP

I've personally been using this in my adventure design and it's been largely successful. While I understand those who don't want to bother with exp, I think good exp mechanics are really important to give the players a sense of progression and feeling like their actions are directly causing them to grow in power. In the game I'm DMing, the players eagerly wait the exp totals of the night and start getting excited when a new level is just around the corner. You just couldn't get that visceral "me likey that number go up" reaction without an exp system. Granted, I don't give exp for monsters but for overcoming quest-related obstacles (be they social, exploration or combat) and completing objectives so I did modify the system considerably, but I really wish 5e's poor execution didn't cause everyone to abandon a good system altogether.
That's a good point. The other side of the coin is that some players might look for easy fights to pick, just to gain those last XP.
However, no one said that with milestones one is forbidden to grant XP. Simply put, one can give XP so that the pacing coincides with the milestones. Granting XP for monsters killed is probably the least desirable option, IMO.

In my view, the Campaign Calendar method I outline is not a full-on milestone system. (Although it could be a good starting point for one.) For me, it allows you to set the pacing of encounters and storylines, which then allows you to acctually tally XP based on players' real accomplishments.
I agree. It's a good system. I just proposed something "heretic" that makes this task much easier: once the XP for next level is computed with the chosen assumptions, one is free to create the right mix of easy/medium/hard/deadly encounters as prefered, knowing that some will allow the party to advance much faster.
Also, if one wants to create an epic narrative where PCs level up over the course of a week instead of a single hell of a day, it's really the only option.
 
Last edited:


Another consideration here that's way out on the fuzzy edges: how much table time does an adventuring day translate into at each level?

Because that's actually an extremely meaningful distinction at the table. Even if the characters are only spending a day of time to get past [whatever], if it takes the players five or six sessions to get through, it will feel longer no matter how much the game world signposts that it isn't. Engaging with mechanics takes actual real player time, and even if you have an extraordinarily disciplined PC group that knows their abilities well, that's still true. A level 12 party is just going to have a lot more to engage with and keep track of than a level 3 one. And this also goes for their foes who will be more complex and/or more numerous (likely both).

So there's this weird meta-layer to this where there is player time vs. character/world time. I suspect these progressions were designed with player time in mind, though that's pure supposition on my part.
 

Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
Another consideration here that's way out on the fuzzy edges: how much table time does an adventuring day translate into at each level?
Yes, I think that's an incredibly good point! And I don't think it's fuzzy at all, I think it's immediately relevant. Because just like I wanted to make a campaign calendar, folks may also be interested in how long it would take in real life time to cover certain story arcs.

Raise your hand if you've ever continued a campaign which was supposed to have been a holiday one-shot!

But yeah, besides time at table, there's also pedagogical and storytelling concerns as well. If you level up after every single fight, you don't actually have time to learn your character. And if you level up after every single fight... I feel like that actually fundamentally undermines "three pillars of play" structure.
 

Yes, I think that's an incredibly good point! And I don't think it's fuzzy at all, I think it's immediately relevant. Because just like I wanted to make a campaign calendar, folks may also be interested in how long it would take in real life time to cover certain story arcs.

Raise your hand if you've ever continued a campaign which was supposed to have been a holiday one-shot!

But yeah, besides time at table, there's also pedagogical and storytelling concerns as well. If you level up after every single fight, you don't actually have time to learn your character. And if you level up after every single fight... I feel like that actually fundamentally undermines "three pillars of play" structure.
Certainly. While there are ways to explain that kind of breakneck power acquisition, I suspect they will come with a set of storytelling tropes not unlike those of the TV series 24 or the Jason Statham movie Crank, and that's an extremely specific kind of play.
 

Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
Certainly. While there are ways to explain that kind of breakneck power acquisition, I suspect they will come with a set of storytelling tropes not unlike those of the TV series 24 or the Jason Statham movie Crank, and that's an extremely specific kind of play.
Agree, and good call-outs! I was thinking Gurren Lagann myself!
 


Xethreau

Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
Campaign Calendar

LevelEncounter Points this levelExpected Adventuring Days
1st66+
2nd44+
3rd74+
4th85+
5th103+
6th103+
7th93+
8th82+
9th82+
10th93+
11th51+
12th61+
13th51+
14th51+
15th51+
16th41+
17th41+
18th31+
19th31+
Note: Easy encounters yield less XP per Encounter Point. Hard and Deadly encounters yeild more XP per Encounter Point. My advice is to spend an equal number of Encounter points on Easy encounters as spent on Hard and Deadly encounters.

For anybody who doesn't know:
In D&D 3.5, the number of standard encounters per level was 13.3. Every single level.
In D&D 4e, the number of standard encounters per level was 10. Every single level.
 

Stalker0

Legend
For anybody who doesn't know:
In D&D 3.5, the number of standard encounters per level was 13.3. Every single level.
In D&D 4e, the number of standard encounters per level was 10. Every single level.
Which suggests that the number of encounters per level in A5e is SIGNFICANTLY lower, often taking just 5-8 encounters to gain a level.

If you look at the sweet spot levels of 3-11, the average encounter per levelup is right around 8 (7.93)

LevelMedium Encounters to Level
1st
6​
2nd
3.428571​
3rd
6.545455​
4th
8.444444​
5th
10​
6th
9.230769​
7th
8.8​
8th
7.777778​
9th
7.619048​
10th
8.4​
11th
4.615385​
12th
5.333333​
13th
4.444444​
14th
5​
15th
4.8​
16th
3.636364​
17th
3.902439​
18th
2.580645​
19th
2.666667​
 
Last edited:



An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top