D&D General Mixed Level Party

Mort

Legend
Supporter
I've seen several threads on other sites lately about how one PC is stronger than another, and it is ruining the game for the other players. It got me thinking how we used to run mixed level parties. Sometimes a character would die, and they would start back at level 1, even if the others were level 5. So, my questions to all of you are:
  1. Have you ever run a mixed level campaign? If so, how did the players like it?

Yes, but not since 2e. The players liked the campaign, but I suspect that was because I designed it in such a way that everyone could contribute. It was, frankly, enough work that 3e onwards I preferred to keep the levels equal.

  1. Have you ever run a mixed level short adventure? Did the players like it?
Yes, when I ran some Adventure's League. While the players liked it, It was VERY clear that the higher level characters (ESPECIALLY in the lower tier 1-4 stuff) either had a much easier time or were doing more of the heavy lifting. Especially the spell casters (there is a massive difference in a lvl 4 caster and a level 1 caster).

  1. Have you ever run a same level campaign, but the power balance so consistent with a three or four level difference? If so, how did the players respond?
Not 100% sure what this means?

Is it when some characters have significantly better stuff than others?

If that's it, I don't think so.

  1. Lastly, if you have run any of these things - how did you, as DM, like it? Why?

Not a big fan of significantly different power levels as DM as it meant I had that much more work to do to ensure everyone had somewhere to contribute and ways to have fun. I had noticed from PLAYING in campaigns with huge level differences that those at the lower end tended to have a lot less fun and didn't stay long.
 

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James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
I never really saw a good reason for letting a party be mixed-levels for very long. To be sure, there are reasons it can happen, but it messes with my encounter design. I stopped using level drain entirely as a mechanic in 1993 and I don't miss it. Losing levels for having the nerve to be brought back to life was similarly obnoxious to me; you died, your friends had to find the means to bring you back, you didn't get to play during this time, do you really need more penalties?

I've seen plenty of instances over the years of a character dying and the player going "don't bother bringing me back, I'll just make a new guy" largely because of the hassle.

I use milestone leveling, so characters all level up at the same pace. Some might say "well doesn't that reward people for not showing up to game?". To which I'm like, most of the time people miss games not because they want to, but because they gotta adult.

The reward for playing D&D is playing D&D, and there are other advantages to actually being able to participate than "gaining levels".

Now if you're playing AD&D, there's no way around this; not all classes progress at the same rate, some people get lucky and have +10% xp boosts, and you never know when someone is going to get a magic book or playing cards that can randomly award them with 50,000 xp and a beneficial magic item, lol.
 

aco175

Legend
I wonder if some of the old stuff from 1e/2e days contribute to this. I used to have just one or two PCs that we played and they travelled to other DMs games and such. It was hard to advance to a good level, so you tried to keep them alive and tried to keep them going. Newer games has a new PC every campaign and every DM so there is less portability. XP may have changed as well with the newer editions. I know I just use event based leveling instead of awarding XP nowadays. I'm thinking there is other things that make having a mixed party of levels difficult in the modern game. I think once 3e started to try and balance the classes.
 

Not 100% sure what this means?
Yeah, I just meant when you have characters of the same level, but there is a huge disparity between their abilities. It might be because one player didn't know how to build their character, a few magic items stockpiled to one PC, or one player purposefully chose to be weaker and another min/maxed.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
I’ve DM and played in mixed level parties. Long story short; some players live with it more easily than others. I know I lean more toward the « others » as a player.

Mixed level party (or any amount of power discrepancy) works as long as all players can contribute equally and focus is equally distributed. If combat is the main metric of focus and contribution, then it’s not gonna work. But in a game where intrigue, exploration, investigation etc weighs more, it can work. In certain cases it can even work better than a more homogeneous party because the new challenges bring new opportunities, or allow different narratives.

In combat, the more powerful character usually get locked with the most powerful opponents, allowing more mobility for the weaker characters.
 

Shiroiken

Legend
Until 4E, mutliple levels of play was pretty much assumed. In OD&D, BCEMI, and AD&D different classes were balanced around different XP charts for leveling, so it was very common to have a rogue 2-3 levels higher than the magic-user/mage. In 3E there were lots of level draining effects, plus XP costs for magic item creation, so level would often vary by up to 2 (more than 2 and a character had fallen too far behind). 4E was the first one that truly balanced it out, but even then you had the possibility of different levels because of XP lost by missing a session.

5E has really tried to move away from it, but I've ran games with multiple levels. The key area are levels 5 and 11, because the power boost is pretty significant, making those under the bar obviously weaker comparatively. While some groups can work with it, a single lv 5 character will completely outshine a party of level 3 PCs. Having a split of levels 4/5 or 10/11 is much more manageable.
 

Oofta

Legend
In my home game, everyone is always the same level, even new PCs. It's just easier.

I have run (and played in) groups with mixed levels in public games. But even then, PCs are within 3 levels of each other since you balance by tier.
 

I've seen several threads on other sites lately about how one PC is stronger than another, and it is ruining the game for the other players. It got me thinking how we used to run mixed level parties. Sometimes a character would die, and they would start back at level 1, even if the others were level 5. So, my questions to all of you are:
  1. Have you ever run a mixed level campaign? If so, how did the players like it?
  2. Have you ever run a mixed level short adventure? Did the players like it?
  3. Have you ever run a same level campaign, but the power balance so consistent with a three or four level difference? If so, how did the players respond?
  4. Lastly, if you have run any of these things - how did you, as DM, like it? Why?
Thanks.
1. No. I've always seen several potential negatives in this, and no positives.

2. This is common in Adventurer's League games where the characters aren't part of a set party, and are a fairly random jumbling as long as they're all the same tier. (Although there is a heavy bias towards the top of the tier.)
Occasions where the party don't like the adventure overall are reasonably rare (everyone is there because they like playing D&D), however I don't believe that they specifically like having a character level difference in the party. (The thankfully occasional powertripper aside.)

3. Sort of. - A fairly sandbox campaign at tier 3. The houserules in place were not sufficient to keep the power and spotlight time shared evenly among the group. The players were not happy about it because some of them were deliberately not doing things that their characters were capable of and felt that they were limiting themselves, or just felt overshadowed. Fortunately there was no-one in the group who would have enjoyed being significantly more powerful than others and so not avoided overshadowing them.

4. I do not like it as a DM. In Adventurer's League it is just one of those things that you have to accept, but running a tier 1 adventure with a 1st level Paladin and then 2 druids, a wizard and a cleric all at level 4 is hard, takes effort away from making the adventure generally more fun for the participants, and I find it generally unpleasant.
Similarly for the sandbox campaign. Also did not like having a wide power discrepancy within the party.
 

GreyLord

Legend
I've seen several threads on other sites lately about how one PC is stronger than another, and it is ruining the game for the other players. It got me thinking how we used to run mixed level parties. Sometimes a character would die, and they would start back at level 1, even if the others were level 5. So, my questions to all of you are:
  1. Have you ever run a mixed level campaign? If so, how did the players like it?
  2. Have you ever run a mixed level short adventure? Did the players like it?
  3. Have you ever run a same level campaign, but the power balance so consistent with a three or four level difference? If so, how did the players respond?
  4. Lastly, if you have run any of these things - how did you, as DM, like it? Why?
Thanks.

1. yes
2. yes
3. no
4. It was okay. It depends on what your game is based on whether you will have it be a good game or not. If it is based primarily like a 3e game and later where combat is the focus of XP, there may be those that are not having fun because what challenges a higher level character will wipe out a lower level character, and what will be challenging for a lower level character may be a cakewalk for a higher level character.

3e and beyond can be a pain for multi-level PC games where levels are vastly different.

TSR D&D can be very different in this regards and shows WHY I consider it a different game with a different focus in many instances.

Rather than being based on combats giving XP, if it is all about the roleplaying interactions, puzzles, and other obstacles not so easily done by combat (and it's even easier if the XP is based on treasure found or milestones or storybased rewards as found in TSR D&D), even if there is combat mixed in, I find it works out very well in many instances.
 
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cbwjm

Seb-wejem
I don't think I've ran mixed level campaigns since 2e when the xp charts will so different. Since 3e, I've just ran it so that each PC is the same level, even new PCs coming in are at the same level. I generally don't even bother with asking the players to track their own xp, I just keep track of the party xp which determines everyone's level.
 

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