5E Nobody Is Playing High Level Characters

According to stats from D&D Beyond, above 5th level characters start to drop off sharply, and above 10th level, the figures are very low. The exception is level 20, which looks like it's probably people creating experimental 20th-level builds.

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Some of them say 0%; this isn't strictly accurate, but levels 16-19 are used by an insignificant number of players. Interestingly, there are more 3rd-5th level characters than there are 1st-2nd level.

D&D Beyond has said before that under 10% of games make it past 10th level, but these figures show the break point as being bit lower than that. DDB used over 30 million characters to compile these stats.
 
Russ Morrissey

Comments

JeffB

Legend
You might want to roll the two threads together Russ since there is already some discussion going on about this article.
 

Inchoroi

Explorer
My last campaign went all the way to 20, and they spent a long time 15+, about six months. They spent the majority of that time avoiding at all costs the rest of the campaign and just tooling around getting into trouble. They upset a city-state and caused a military intervention, and left a dictator in charge of the city since, even though they're level 19 at the time, they can't fight 15,000 well-trained soldiers. They decided then that, once they finish saving the world, they're going to start their own nation and go to war with the dictator.
 

RSIxidor

Explorer
Really fascinated by that level 20 spike. I wonder if that's people just building level 20 versions of their characters for planning, or people playing campaigns starting at level 20 just to see what it's like, or maybe bringing their characters in an older campaign onto D&DB that are already 20, or something else altogether?
 

dave2008

Legend
Really fascinated by that level 20 spike. I wonder if that's people just building level 20 versions of their characters for planning, or people playing campaigns starting at level 20 just to see what it's like, or maybe bringing their characters in an older campaign onto D&DB that are already 20, or something else altogether?
I don't use DnD Beyond, but my group typically does one or two level 20 adventures (or level 30 in 4e) just to see what it is like.
 

TheSword

Explorer
There are lots of reasons high level play doesn’t see action: Character fatigue; a poor fun to work ratio; the difficulty of challenging characters; slowed down combat.

Paizo phasing out highest levels from the APs is the strongest evidence I’ve seen that people aren’t interested in it (aside from this data). I guarantee if people wanted them Paizo would make them.

Sweet spot for me is levels 5-11. After that it all starts to get a bit yawn. It helps that there’s nothing stopping players having a keep, lands and armies at any level the dm or player chooses.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I wonder how much has to do with AL and each season having tweaked rules, options and settings.

I can only say that every campaign I've played in and run went all the way to 20 or died* early on. That's a whopping 12 PCs that made it that far. Since my experience is universal, it must mean the numbers are wrong. ;)

*in one case my PC literally died at level 1 because they were an elf.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Interestingly, there are more 3rd-5th level characters than there are 1st-2nd level.
That makes perfect sense - it takes very little time in play to get through levels 1 and 2. So, people will plow right through those levels, and them pile up in levels 3-5.

D&D Beyond has said before that under 10% of games make it past 10th level, but these figures show the break point as being bit lower than that.
Um... no, they don't! My apologies, but this is a science-literacy point that is highly relevant in today's life, outside of gaming. So... I'm gonna lecture:

This is a common thing with charts like this - you have a rounding error to deal with: You have four columns listed as "0%". Those columns do not add up to 0%. Or to "negligible". By common rounding procedures, each of those columns could be up to just below half a percent each, and so together could add up to nearly 2%, which is not negligible.

This is true for every column actually - that 6% at 8th level might be like 6.45%. You can even see this in the chart - look at 9th and 10th levels - both listed at 4%, but clearly visually different heights!

When you are in the single-digits, the tenths place can matter if you are summing columns, so you can't do that off the chart - you need the data to sum over columns in this data set to have confidence in the results. You can make significant errors if you go off the column labels. Don't do it!
 
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Laurefindel

Adventurer
According to stats from D&D Beyond, above 5th level characters start to drop off sharply, and above 10th level (...) Interestingly, there are more 3rd-5th level characters than there are 1st-2nd level.
While I admit this is anecdotal, my experience both as a player and a DM reflect this graph perfectly.

Level 1-2 are typically played very quickly, that is, when they are not skipped entirely. Many of my games and games I played started at lvl 3. At this point all classes get their subclasses, multi-class characters work from the get-go, etc. allowing for a mechanically mature concept from the start.

Then the game starts to become harder to handle when casters get to cast 6th level spells. By that time, PC get a lot of hp too, so keeping up with a “balanced” amount of encounter per adventuring day becomes more tedious given the threat that pc need to face, several times a day, for many days in a row.

I know, lazy DMing and gritty realism and all, but I’m not surprised that many games stop around 10-11th level.

Amusingly, the few “let’s play a 20th level one-shot” reflects the 2% spike at 20th level.
 
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I think most campaigns are still going to end around level 10, but not for the same reasons as prior editions. In many earlier editions, the game started to become unmanageable for the DM, with too many high level spells and abilities able to circumvent the plot. A good DM might figure out countermeasures, but sometimes the players have something unexpected up their sleeve. This can be really frustrating for the DM, often causing them to give up. In 5E it's a bit easier for the DM to keep things on course, but it is harder than the "sweet spot."

Another thing to consider, at least in my opinion, is that most campaigns should have a story, not just be a series of adventure. Once that story is complete, no matter what level it is, the campaign should end; pushing on beyond that makes things feel awkward. I've seen great campaigns end at level 5, and I've seen campaigns pointlessly push on to level 15 or more.
 

Laurefindel

Adventurer
Another thing to consider, at least in my opinion, is that most campaigns should have a story, not just be a series of adventure. Once that story is complete, no matter what level it is, the campaign should end; pushing on beyond that makes things feel awkward. I've seen great campaigns end at level 5, and I've seen campaigns pointlessly push on to level 15 or more.
Good point. Pacing a campaign over 20 level without “cheating” is an art. As for the “cheating” of fast tracking high-levels, it would account for the sudden drop in the graph.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
We're on game session 26 with most PCs being 7th or 8th (one new guy trailing along at third). We've got combat down to an art, but the amount of NPCs you have to throw at the party keeps ramping up, and it is very tough to find decent scenarios past level seven. Looking forward to level 11+, I'm convertying old adventures, because there isn't much at that level in 5e.

I wish they would increase the gaps between class levels and spell levels. The game has countless interesting races below the 2 hit die belt, but the plays will likely only face one or two before they have moved past them in firepower.

In my next fantasy campaign I am going to be re-working the monster stats.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
That’s one thing that bothers me about d&d. I could care less about playing under 10th level anymore. Would much rather play from 10-20 and beyond. Sure I play a lot of low level because that’s what people are playing. But I want the high level experience.
You see, I'm on the opposite direction on this: I would rather the game only focused on 10th level, with level 11-20 be in a later supplement. Start all archetypes at 1st level and dont make level 1-3 unimportant training wheels levels. Give stat bumps ASI at level 4 and 8, but also give class features at those levels.

Anyway, just to say that tastes in D&D vary a lot indeed :p
 

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