D&D 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.
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
In most games I see players start to get to around level 5 or 6 and they begin flicking through books and thinking about multiclassing. They get to the point where the character is basically established and they start looking for ways to grow or branch out, to learn new tricks and take their character in a slightly different direction.

It's the 6 level itch. :eek:

Yes, this is very much a problem with one of the the design principles of D&D, which strongly enforces niche protection. It's exacerbated by the zero-to-hero mentality. One thing that can help is to be fairly generous with rebuilding or character swaps.
 

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Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
In different sessions? How much time do you have to play RPGs, that you can play multiple characters in the same campaign and have either of them get any where in reasonable time?

Because it's more work than people are willing to go to, or groups aren't willing to run two different campaigns concurrently, or people can only find one group to join, or...

You act as though gaming and free time are infinitely-deep wells from which one may draw.

Seriously, it's not that hard if one can break through the wall of motivated skepticism that seems to get thrown up whenever something even slightly off the worn track gets suggested.

The DM says "Hey, the next three sessions will be with B team characters" or plan adventures in a four session arc and allow swaps, with only one. A player who doesn't want to swap doesn't have to. For advancement, just assume that when the characters are off-screen they're doing "something relevant" that justifies their advancement, if that matters. This can be blue-booked between sessions or provided with some kind of brief, few sentence narrative about how an off-screen character did something important. "While the rest of the group was driving off the horde of Xandu the Terrible, Yoshi was scouting the Badlands of P'Krunk. He had some really close escapes but managed to bring back the key to the gate. Meanwhile Mystical Q was busy doing some really intricate spell research and potion brewing using the large cache of alchemical supplies that were captured...." Blue-booking can help keep players engaged between gaps in real life, too.
 

It just hit me it seems data is a bit flawed.

Yeah noone is playing high level because it takes years to get there. I mean the game is coming up on its 6th year anniversary in 2020?

It took that long to get to 19th/20th level at that point back in our 3.5 days. I only played one character by that point in the same time period.
 


Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
It just hit me it seems data is a bit flawed.

It probably is.

Yeah noone is playing high level because it takes years to get there. I mean the game is coming up on its 6th year anniversary in 2020?
That assumes one starts at level 1 and goes up. Someone else upthread pointed out that a good way to run a higher level game is to explicitly start there. Say, choose the tier of play and start at the bottom of each tier. Supers games tend to work this way because the GM chooses the point total or general build level.

Trying to crawl all the way through every level is a recipe for DM and/or player fatigue.
 

Anoth

Adventurer
It probably is.


That assumes one starts at level 1 and goes up. Someone else upthread pointed out that a good way to run a higher level game is to explicitly start there. Say, choose the tier of play and start at the bottom of each tier. Supers games tend to work this way because the GM chooses the point total or general build level.

Trying to crawl all the way through every level is a recipe for DM and/or player fatigue.
That is the joy of the game for me
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
That is the joy of the game for me

(Referencing crawling through all the levels.)

Don't get me wrong, I like a long campaign, too. I'm still running something I started in 1999, which ran off and on until 2007, then restarted in 2013 with more substantial biweekly sessions from 2016 on. The PCs started at level 4 in Saltmarsh and they're now level 11 in some really bizarre planar weirdness. (This game is still a heavily modified 2E.) I was in all honestly on the verge of giving up D&D in 2013, which was the utter doldrums of the tail end of 4E for me.

As much as it does have a certain appeal, a lot of times I find folks have moved on from a character or the game, or some folks have left the game, etc. The other thing that can happen is that the burden of a really long, intricate adventure path can start to feel like a grind.

In my own very long-lived game there's some big themes but there isn't a overall, guiding story. The PCs choose different directions, events happen to them, and so on, and the vast majority of their rewards are story rewards. There are some adversaries they fear but are unlikely to truly ever be able to defeat, but they've foiled plans locally, which is satisfying.

I have no idea if this would work for anyone else, but it did for me and I'd definitely be interested in hearing how other people have managed to keep a game going for a long time.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Seriously, it's not that hard if one can break through the wall of motivated skepticism that seems to get thrown up whenever something even slightly off the worn track gets suggested.

This isn't about "hard". It is about TIME, that most limiting resource.

I get one session every two weeks with my main group, for about 3 hours a shot. If I start swapping between teams, neither team is going to get very far. If players start swapping characters around, we lose continuity, and those characters will stall in development (character development, if not mechanical development, because they don't experience much story).
 

Anoth

Adventurer
This isn't about "hard". It is about TIME, that most limiting resource.

I get one session every two weeks with my main group, for about 3 hours a shot. If I start swapping between teams, neither team is going to get very far. If players start swapping characters around, we lose continuity, and those characters will stall in development (character development, if not mechanical development, because they don't experience much story).
What works for one group may not work for another.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
What works for one group may not work for another.

Sure. Not saying it cannot work for someone. I'm saying the "it isn't hard if you break through your skepticism" is nonsense. I will double-down on it, and suggest that time is likely the major issue with reaching upper level play at all - which is the issue at hand for the thread. Splitting your time between two different characters will only slow down the exploration of upper level play.
 

Anoth

Adventurer
Sure. Not saying it cannot work for someone. I'm saying the "it isn't hard if you break through your skepticism" is nonsense. I will double-down on it, and suggest that time is likely the major issue with reaching upper level play at all - which is the issue at hand for the thread. Splitting your time between two different characters will only slow down the exploration of upper level play.
I agree. Some of these guys play several times a week. And that is good for them. Those that play less than once a week this would not be a good Method.
 

One thing that helps is to have players skip several years (and levels) in downtime. It can help make the campaign feel more alive. Players don't go from zero to hero in a matter of months and they don't spend their whole life joined at the hip as fellow adventurers.

It also give you a chance to do a whole getting the band back together again sequence and a chance to reset and reframe the campaign and avoid fatigue.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Because it's more work than people are willing to go to, or groups aren't willing to run two different campaigns concurrently, or people can only find one group to join, or...
I said nothing about running two campaigns concurrently; I was referring to running one campaign for a longer time, and changing out the characters partway through. Nor did I refer to multiple groups.

What I was referring to is changing characters within the same campaign rather than starting a whole new campaign. It'd look like this, as an example:

Mary starts DMing a campaign at level 1; Joe rolls up Grouser, a Fighter.
Mary's campaign starts with a hard AP but as it goes along she introduces external story elements
A year later the AP is finished. Grouser's now 10th level.
Mary now has the players roll up new characters at, say, 8th level and starts a second AP based on the external story elements she introduced during the first one; Joe comes back with Andwen, a Bard.
A year later that second AP is done; Andwen's now 15th level.
Mary now gives Joe (and each of her other players) a choice: keep going with Andwen, update and bring back Grouser at 15th, or roll up a new third character. He decides to roll up new, so in comes Kedrick the Rogue.
Mary finds a way to tie the two previous APs into a third, shorter one based on how the previous two ended, and runs the group, including Kedrick, up to 20th over the next six months.

Mary's now run a 2.5-year 1-20 campaign during which each player has been able to run out two or three characters.

You act as though gaming and free time are infinitely-deep wells from which one may draw.
Those wells are exactly as deep as one chooses to make them.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I think that also a lot of people might be thinking various builds. Also lots of one shots go with level 3 to 5. So I have a lot of 1 shot characters that I created. Might need to delete them.

Yeah, when I'm joining a game or making a replacement character, I often create several possible characters to feel them out. Last two campaigns were four and seven (!) characters I made, all at above 1st level. But only one from each of those was destined to be played. If that's a common thing, there might be a lot of clutter around common starting levels like 3 and 5, but could be others as well.
 

pogre

Legend
Does not surprise me there are few higher level campaigns by a significant margin. It is too bad for me, because I am an outlier. My players enjoy high level adventures and really letting their characters be uber-powerful for a few sessions.

I think there is a significant amount of players who would like to keep playing a character into the higher levels, but group dynamics and DM burnout on one campaign make that impossible. (I have absolutely no real data to back up that assertion.) IMC, I have had a couple of the newer players - with me less than three years - who have commented they really enjoy the longevity of our campaigns and experienced many new spells, abilities, etc. for the first time.

I think it is important factor that we play once a week without fail for four to five hours (50 out of 52 weeks in the last year).

Given the understandable lack of support for high level play (the $ is not there), I run my campaign like this:
- We have one group of PCs who have made it to 20+ and they continue to be an important part of the campaign world. I run an adventure for that group of PCs about once every 6 to 8 weeks.
- We have a second, newer group of PCs who are in the same world who are crossing into second tier play that we play weekly.

It's been pretty neat as I slip in news from merchants and caravans about the exploits of the high level group into the lower level campaign.

My players would be fine playing the high level campaign a bit more often, but the truth is it just takes me longer to prepare those high level adventures. And, as I lamented above, there is an understandable dearth of support.
 

Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
The problem with only needing 900 XP to get to level 3... And then there being no real character growth choices starting at level 4 because everything in every class is already chosen for you...
Unless your DM allows multi-classing and allows players to choose Feats... Then there's a little choice.

Why keep going into the higher levels when you honestly have no choices to make when your class is already dictated to you?

The best parts of this edition stop before level 10.
 

Anoth

Adventurer
The problem with only needing 900 XP to get to level 3... And then there being no real character growth choices starting at level 4 because everything in every class is already chosen for you...
Unless your DM allows multi-classing and allows players to choose Feats... Then there's a little choice.

Why keep going into the higher levels when you honestly have no choices to make when your class is already dictated to you?

The best parts of this edition stop before level 10.
I just can’t begin to say how much i look forward to the abilities gained after 6th level and higher. This is unfathomable to me. Do you even know how the abilities play or are at higher levels?
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I just can’t begin to say how much i look forward to the abilities gained after 6th level and higher. This is unfathomable to me. Do you even know how the abilities play or are at higher levels?
I can see both sides of this. Stacie is correct in that there just aren't many options. You get what you get and move on. However, what you do get is fun, and the game is fun in other ways at high levels.
 

That assumes one starts at level 1 and goes up. Someone else upthread pointed out that a good way to run a higher level game is to explicitly start there. Say, choose the tier of play and start at the bottom of each tier. Supers games tend to work this way because the GM chooses the point total or general build level.

Trying to crawl all the way through every level is a recipe for DM and/or player fatigue.

Meh. I disagree with the way to play a high level game is to start there. The ability to affect the lands and people as you grow in power doesnt cause fatigue.

But to each thier own
 

CM

Adventurer
I wonder if D&D Beyond's limited support for house rules is limiting the presence of epic-level characters. I suspect DMs and players who like to run such games may be more likely to insist on house rules.

My own experience:

One of my current campaigns (Neverwinter) started early in 4e and is now 12th-level in 5e. But that campaign has two sets of characters and has taken six months off here and there for another DM to run his game. The other campaign has two sets of characters at 16th and 18th, each group completing different portions of the Tiamat campaign. I think that's the first time these players have gotten to experience epic level stuff. They've gotten to meet one god so far and earn his aid (Bahamut). The final showdown in that campaign is going to be far more ridiculous than the book details, and is going to pull in future versions of the characters from the first campaign as a crossover event.
 

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