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.

Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 2.16.41 PM.png


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

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
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.
Statistically significant or not, I'd say that it is at least a factor with a nonzero impact. Ime the longer/higher a game goes. The more likely it is to use additional rules.. I use a different economy with different weights/carry capacity but have to fight the prices/weights ddb lists for certain players and on more than one occasion have had a player report that their item or race is now using the official released version rather than the ones we had been using and I was balancing against. Sure it could have been player error, but those kind of things don't leave me with warm fuzzy happy thoughts as a gm.
 

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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?
Advancement is faster in 5e, something that's been a trend in the WotC era.

Theoretically, based on the encounter guidelines and exp tables, it takes about 150 hard encounters to go from 1st to 20th. Even at only one encounter/session (unlikely given 5e's 'fast combat' design), at weekly sessions, that's just 3 years of play. It could easily be half that.

That's significantly faster than 4e (which also had 30 levels to cover), which was faster than 3e, which was /much/ faster than AD&D.
 

oriaxx77

Explorer
Me and my friends have been playing our campaign for 3.5 years now. The party is lvl 16. There is no DM burn out. I am from Hungary and no one uses online gaming platforms here (at least no one I am familiar with). But the countries are much smaller here so no problem with the distances to get together.
 

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.

View attachment 117061

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.

I am honestly saddened to see this reported in such a facile way.

Let's keep this really simple:

Characters CREATED on Beyond are not the same as characters PLAYED in games.

Anyone who is failing to account for that and making claims on that basis, as this article does, is doing themselves and others a real disservice.

I know from experience of using Beyond that for every real character who is actually played, there are probably five or more who are created. Some are alternate versions of the real character. Some are created out of interest or as backups. Some are created with the intention of being played but never are. And the vast majority of these are low level, virtually all third to fifth level, for what I hope are obvious reasons.

It seems senseless to correctly point out that the level 20 bump is due to this, but to not realize that lower levels are massively inflated by it also.
 
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jasper

Rotten DM
Gee, I guess the fight for my table seats when I run a tier 4 game; are just people in my head. One, pcs get abandon on the road side after a few levels. Two, some people don't stick around for the campaign to get to tier 4.
Question to those under 18 (or can remember that far back). How many pcs did you create vs. how many did you play for more than 3 sessions.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I am honestly saddened to see this reported in such a facile way.

Let's keep this really simple:

Characters CREATED on Beyond are not the same as characters PLAYED in games.

Anyone who is failing to account for that and making claims on that basis, as this article does, is doing themselves and others a real disservice.

@Ruin Explorer , you seem to have missed a couple important posts, back around page 5 of the thread.

They did check that the characters were being played, not just created. Watching for things like short and long rests being used, characters leveling over time, and such - like below:

We have previously shared that there is no foolproof way to guarantee that any of these characters are being actively played, but take reasonable steps to filter the data the best that we can. For instance, we look at characters that have leveled up on different days and have adjusted hit points in the past and taken short or long rests, etc.

And we have far more than 30 million characters. The 30 million number is filtered down to what we reasonably call "active."
 
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@Ruin Explorer , you seem to have missed a couple important posts, back around page 5 of the thread.

They did check that the characters were being played, not just created. Watching for things like short and long rests being used, characters leveling over time, and such - like below:

Thanks Umbran, I did miss that! However, I would want to see the actual precise methodology before I believed that they'd done an even okay job there, because it would imply the level 20 test build theory was wrong and is very hard to square with the peak in characters at L3-L5, which are precisely the levels of the vast majority of created but unplayed characters that I've seen (because you don't get your subclass until that level in most cases).

If they have done good job, then that implies to me that a lot of people are starting at 3 or higher and maybe that people are playing L20 games a bit (something I have seen here and on reddit occasionally).
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Thanks Umbran, I did miss that! However, I would want to see the actual precise methodology before I believed that they'd done an even okay job there, because it would imply the level 20 test build theory was wrong and is very hard to square with the peak in characters at L3-L5, which are precisely the levels of the vast majority of created but unplayed characters that I've seen (because you don't get your subclass until that level in most cases).

If they have done good job, then that implies to me that a lot of people are starting at 3 or higher and maybe that people are playing L20 games a bit (something I have seen here and on reddit occasionally).
They've mentioned it a few times in the streams & I couldn't think of any obvious improvements on it. iirc something like characters that were made by people who have all content unlocked that have been updated at at least some interval of time was used for the multiclassing breakdowns
 

jgsugden

Legend
@Ruin Explorer , you seem to have missed a couple important posts in the thread.

They did check that the characters were being played, not just created. Watching for things like short and long rests being used, characters leveling over time, and such.
They tried to check for such things.

They may have dismissed characters that are being played, and they may be including a lot of lower level characters where functionalities are being tested out, but PCs are not played.

It also makes sense that a lot of the campaigns that began before D&D beyond was used may never have been migrated onto the system. If you're used to pen and paper, moving over a laundry list of items, notes, etc... may not be worthwhile for some folks. Those same players may also have D&D beyond characters for other campaigns of lower levels.

Also, I'm not clear on some of their determinations... if a PC is played in a one shot and then goes dormant (never to be played again, but still in the system), how long before they stop counting it in their polls?

All in all - we can be pretty sure that most D&D characters being played are low level. However, we should not be so sure that the 'almost no high level' metrics can be trusted to be accurate numbers, or that all of the PCs they report as active are actually active.

Personally, given the Sage Advice questions on high level abilities that seem to be more practical than academic, I'd say there are a decent number of folks playing higher level games. I just don't trust this data to be accurate for detailed analysis.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
Just wanted to chime in with a bit of anecdotal evidence that I think fits nicely with the data.

I have a DDB Dungeon Master account that I'm currently using to run 3 different WoTC adventures with three mostly different sets of players (most of who are new to the game). I also just completed running a 4 year home brew campaign that went all the way to level 20. In that 4 year campaign, I ran a few other WoTC adventures whenever I was stuck creatively on the main campaign or just wanted to take a break and play.

The point is, out of about 30 characters that I have had connected to a DDB DM campaign for over the years, only 3 ever made it past level 13 (and most fizzled out prior to that), because the WoTC adventures pretty much all stop there. Only my home brew campaign went higher.

I'll be starting my next home brew campaign this spring, and expect it to go to level 20 over three or four years, depending on the number of breaks we take along the way, and will probably have another 30 characters created for WoTC adventures that never make it past 13.

Most of the people I play with are pretty casual players, they don't go on boards, don't build test characters on DDB or with paper and pen, and most play a campaign or two and then go on to other things. Even my core home brew group doesn't spend much time away from the game thinking about it.

That, I'd wager, is the 'typical' D&D experience that this data is reflecting.
 

Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
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 think the game is a fine game and I can see how a lot of people like it.

I just prefer actual game choices and after level 3... Besides Feats and Multiclassing IF the DM allows them...

What are your actual game choices for when you level up? Basically if you want your character to do Anything, it's up to the DM to allow it or not.

It's just how this game is designed. That's all.

Not saying it's a bad design. It's just a preference.
 

Anoth

Adventurer
I think the game is a fine game and I can see how a lot of people like it.

I just prefer actual game choices and after level 3... Besides Feats and Multiclassing IF the DM allows them...

What are your actual game choices for when you level up? Basically if you want your character to do Anything, it's up to the DM to allow it or not.

It's just how this game is designed. That's all.

Not saying it's a bad design. It's just a preference.
To be honest. I could care less about that. I am more interested in the cool stories and adventures at higher levels. I am more interested in the plots and twists and character development. 6th level for me is just the beginning of character development. I am hoping my characters will see things that will transform their characters view of the world and their role and responsibility in societies and communities, and possibly the cosmos if it’s that type of game. I want my characters to be more than a stat block. I want them to have epic accomplishments and meaningful relationships.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
Most of those 20th level characters on DDB are probably ones created for YouTube builders like Tulok and Treantmonk ;)

Either way, this is just more reinforcing data for them to not work as hard at providing support to the topmost tier of the game, which is a bummer.
 



tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Sooo. Any good third party adventures for the upper levels
I tried making one that goes past ten, but the system breaks down pretty quick as you continue & turns the plot into irrelevance between not very epic slogfest combat & had to redesign it after testing. 5e really needs a big mechanical overhaul to put back in some of the complexities 3.5 had & tone down the rocket powered rollerskates 5e adds to other areas.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
For us, DM fatigue usually sets in about 7th to 10th level; the even funnier thing is that this hasn’t changed in groups I’ve been in even since AD&D days!

All those changes, and the sweet spot and feel are pretty much the same.

4E worked the hardest to address this, and we did get to level 20. But there the problem became too much of the same feel, but with ever changing powers and growing numbers.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I think the game is a fine game and I can see how a lot of people like it.

I just prefer actual game choices and after level 3... Besides Feats and Multiclassing IF the DM allows them...

What are your actual game choices for when you level up? Basically if you want your character to do Anything, it's up to the DM to allow it or not.
And by 'game choices', do you mean mechanical representations of the character's development and-or choices in how to mechanically develop it?

If yes, that would seem to indicate your focus is very much on the character's "build" and mechanics as it goes along.

Have you ever played in a game where level-up is very rare, i.e. maybe once or twice per real-world year, playing weekly? If not, I can vouch that it certainly leads to a different focus: mechanics take a back seat to personality, characterization, and interactions with the other PCs and the game world as a whole.

Might not be your thing, and fair enough; but for some of us it is - and the game design sort of has to be able to cater to both as best it can.
 

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.
There is tons of character growth in D&D. The mistake is thinking character growth can only be expressed by mechanics options.

The myriad things your character will do in game over so many levels is where the real character growth lives. The things that happen in your game that brings real life to your characters and to the world. Picking feats isn’t real character growth... it’s just video game character building.

In my experience, excessive mechanical options get in the way. They force optimization and picking cool powers in order to be effective.

I’m pretty close to giving up on 5e because it only rewards mechanical optimization. Players pick options for all the powers they grant and the mechanical doo-dads they provide.
 

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