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

volanin

Adventurer
In my experience (and I have also read this on other GMs books and blogs), most campaigns start to lose momentum after 20-30 sessions.

Nowadays, I plan my campaigns to have about 20 sessions, and they always reach about 25 sessions because players get sidetracked.

At the rate of 1 level every 2-3 sessions (an adventure's length), most players complete the campaign at 10th-11th level, feeling very satisfied.

Bringing the game to 20th level in D&D is really hard for me as a DM, as me and my players start to get fatigued with the campaign.

I still haven't tried to accelerate the progression rate yet (to about 1 level per session), in order to accomodate 20 levels in 20 sessions... but I don't see it working well at all!
 

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Anoth

Adventurer
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

In all seriousness I agree with that. If you are going to play low level. Screw that killing rats BS. Make the villain a memorable goblin lord. Give just as badass a plot as you would at 20th level. Don’t start the pc’s off as simpering vultures trying to take the left overs of big guns. Make them have ruthless adversaries and epic adventures. I hate how the word epic has come to mean high level. It’s actually a type of story or frame of mind.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
In my experience (and I have also read this on other GMs books and blogs), most campaigns start to lose momentum after 20-30 sessions.

Nowadays, I plan my campaigns to have about 20 sessions, and they always reach about 25 sessions because players get sidetracked.

At the rate of 1 level every 2-3 sessions (an adventure's length), most players complete the campaign at 10th-11th level, feeling very satisfied.

Bringing the game to 20th level in D&D is really hard for me as a DM, as me and my players start to get fatigued with the campaign.

I still haven't tried to accelerate the progression rate yet (to about 1 level per session), in order to accomodate 20 levels in 20 sessions... but I don't see it working well at all!


I am always interested in this perspective because it is so at odds with my own style. My current (non-D&D) campaign just passed its 7th birthday playing 20+ sessions a year (fortnightly with the very occasional miss).

My last D&D campaign ran 6+ years at the same pace and the highest PC reached 19th level when I called it.
 

volanin

Adventurer
I am always interested in this perspective because it is so at odds with my own style. My current (non-D&D) campaign just passed its 7th birthday playing 20+ sessions a year (fortnightly with the very occasional miss).

My last D&D campaign ran 6+ years at the same pace and the highest PC reached 19th level when I called it.

Amazing. Really. This blows my mind as I can't see myself ever having such a long campaign! =)
 

Li Shenron

Legend
It is very interesting, especially when compared to the number of people around this forum that have completed multiple APs, which typically go up to 10-15. I think it is more evidence on how outside the norm the forum posters are. We are just a rare breed!

Don't forget the dark side of the explanation: we're on a social network protected by anonymity, people tend to "exaggerate" about their own achievements.

Then the game starts to become harder to handle when casters get to cast 6th level spells.
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."

I never dared to DM a very high level game because of this. The only time I ever was in a high level campaign (3e) I was a player, and our PCs were spread around levels 15-17 IIRC. There weren't much problems BUT that's maybe because I was playing the arcane caster (Sorcerer) and I focused on blasting rather than gamechanging spells. We had a druid focused on healing, and everyone else was a martial character...
 
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Tiggerunner

Explorer
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:

As a social scientist and an epistemologist/philosopher of science, I'll raise you.

I'd like to point out this data is not a random sample of D&D players, but rather is biased by the sorts of players D&D Beyond is marketed towards. It's entirely possible that D&D Beyond is less likely to be used by veteran DMs and longtime grognards, and consequently, there's a false generalization that because most new/young DMs and their parties don't go beyond level 10, that ALL DMs and their parties don't. I'd hate to see WoTC not make products for people who would like higher level campaigns just because it doesn't appeal to recruitment of new players.

As a DM for over half a decade, I can attest that my campaigns typically start at level 1 and end at level 10. I actually would like to start a campaign at level 10 and end at level 20 for a change of pace, but I can't find any good resources for lessons learned at running high level campaigns.

I welcome advice, to include campaign recommendations for a DM that wants to explore high level play for the first time.
 

As a social scientist and an epistemologist/philosopher of science, I'll raise you.

I'd like to point out this data is not a random sample of D&D players, but rather is biased by the sorts of players D&D Beyond is marketed towards. It's entirely possible that D&D Beyond is less likely to be used by veteran DMs and longtime grognards, and consequently, there's a false generalization that because most new/young DMs and their parties don't go beyond level 10, that ALL DMs and their parties don't. I'd hate to see WoTC not make products for people who would like higher level campaigns just because it doesn't appeal to recruitment of new players.
{snip}

Yes to this. One campaign I'm running at the local game cafe has gone for over 3 years, meeting once every two weeks or so. I am aware of only one player (of the 16 who have played at least 3 sessions) who actively uses D&D Beyond for his character. The current party of 7 now spans levels 13 to 16. I have roughly mapped out an end-game that occurs when most/all of the party are at level 20. Likely will happen as we approach the 4 year anniversary. Maybe our group is an outlier... but maybe not.

Anyway, I guess my question is: what is the estimated proportion of D&D 5e players that utilize D&D Beyond for their character(s)? Any data out there that someone can cite?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I'd like to point out this data is not a random sample of D&D players, but rather is biased by the sorts of players D&D Beyond is marketed towards. It's entirely possible that D&D Beyond is less likely to be used by veteran DMs and longtime grognards, and consequently, there's a false generalization that because most new/young DMs and their parties don't go beyond level 10, that ALL DMs and their parties don't.

Well, IIRC, there is previous market research that suggested that a typical campaign lifespan was 18 months or less, which would put a cap on the levels achieved. That informed the XP reward system for 3e and 4e, (again, IIRC) so that dedicated weekly play was apt to go thorugh 20 levels in 18 months - one level every 3 to 5 sessions, on average.

I'd hate to see WoTC not make products for people who would like higher level campaigns just because it doesn't appeal to recruitment of new players.

It isn't just about recruitment. It is about what folks are going to spend on.

As a DM for over half a decade, I can attest that my campaigns typically start at level 1 and end at level 10.

Sure. Fine anecdote. I have one group that's been showing up to play campaigns that last for 3 to 5 years. But, everything other than that group is lucky to last a year.
 

In my experience (and I have also read this on other GMs books and blogs), most campaigns start to lose momentum after 20-30 sessions.

Nowadays, I plan my campaigns to have about 20 sessions, and they always reach about 25 sessions because players get sidetracked.

The game is simply too complicated.

I'm starting to run some newbies through the Essentials Set, and it is actually mind-boggling to write down all those little racial traits, skills, background features, character traits, etc. --- all at first level!

I'm working a new iteration called Sixth Era, where you start off with literally one power (racial trait, class feature, proficiency, or spell) at first level. You gain one power at the end of each session. And so, after 20 sessions, you literally have 20th level character.

It's not dumbed down though, as every D&D (and Pathfinder) power from every edition is available. It's just that you only have twenty of them to keep track, even after 20 sessions! (And you can freely multiclass / multirace). It's fun.
 

cmad1977

Hero
As a social scientist and an epistemologist/philosopher of science, I'll raise you.

I'd like to point out this data is not a random sample of D&D players, but rather is biased by the sorts of players D&D Beyond is marketed towards. It's entirely possible that D&D Beyond is less likely to be used by veteran DMs and longtime grognards, and consequently, there's a false generalization that because most new/young DMs and their parties don't go beyond level 10, that ALL DMs and their parties don't. I'd hate to see WoTC not make products for people who would like higher level campaigns just because it doesn't appeal to recruitment of new players.

As a DM for over half a decade, I can attest that my campaigns typically start at level 1 and end at level 10. I actually would like to start a campaign at level 10 and end at level 20 for a change of pace, but I can't find any good resources for lessons learned at running high level campaigns.

I welcome advice, to include campaign recommendations for a DM that wants to explore high level play for the first time.

For higher level play, if you think you’ve put together an encounter that’s too hard for your heroes, you haven’t. Add something extra. More bad guys, environmental hazards, whatever.
In short if you think your session is going to be ‘too metal’, add more metal. At about level 12-13 the stakes the heroes are facing need to be much higher than saving a Kingdom.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
-I think that a lot of the reason for the 8-12 falloff is because that's where the system starts breaking down as too many things come online for damage/mitigation/escape/recovery/etc to combine into the sort of mid-late teens 3.5 power curve of insanity where the only things capable of threatening a party are increasingly far into the spectrum of tuckers kobolds and vorlon planet killer ends of the scale unless you run helms deep type epic slogfests.
Sure the falloff begins in the 5-7 range, but that's the level range where all of those problems are still building & the campaign can be going through wrapup. @dave2008 there are plenty of modules that are "designed" for level 11-15, but good god you don't need a party that high to complete them with ease.
 
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dave2008

Legend
-I think that a lot of the reason for the 8-12 falloff is because that's where the system starts breaking down as too many things come online for damage/mitigation/escape/recovery/etc to combine into the sort of mid-late teens 3.5 power curve of insanity where the only things capable of threatening a party are increasingly far into the spectrum of tuckers kobolds and vorlon planet killer ends of the scale unless you run helms deep type epic slogfests.
Sure the falloff begins in the 5-7 range, but that's the level range where all of those problems are stukl building & the campaign can be going through wrapup. @dave2008 there are plenty of modules that are "designed" for level 11-15, but good god you don't need a party that high to complete them with ease.
I don't know about published adventures (we don't use them), but my group is level 13 and we don't have the issues you are talking about. If I bother to check my encounters against the guidelines it tracks well with my group. But I have a good feel for my group and the system at this point so I don't really use the encounter guidelines.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I don't know about published adventures (we don't use them), but my group is level 13 and we don't have the issues you are talking about. If I bother to check my encounters against the guidelines it tracks well with my group. But I have a good feel for my group and the system at this point so I don't really use the encounter guidelines.
Oh don'tge me wrong... It's still doable in that range & depends on group dynamic/mix, but the system itself starts breaking down & that breakdown accelerates worse over time.
 


Oofta

Legend
As a social scientist and an epistemologist/philosopher of science, I'll raise you.

I'd like to point out this data is not a random sample of D&D players, but rather is biased by the sorts of players D&D Beyond is marketed towards. It's entirely possible that D&D Beyond is less likely to be used by veteran DMs and longtime grognards, and consequently, there's a false generalization that because most new/young DMs and their parties don't go beyond level 10, that ALL DMs and their parties don't. I'd hate to see WoTC not make products for people who would like higher level campaigns just because it doesn't appeal to recruitment of new players.

As a DM for over half a decade, I can attest that my campaigns typically start at level 1 and end at level 10. I actually would like to start a campaign at level 10 and end at level 20 for a change of pace, but I can't find any good resources for lessons learned at running high level campaigns.

I welcome advice, to include campaign recommendations for a DM that wants to explore high level play for the first time.

Let's see, I ran a game and played in a game that went to 20th. I'm hopeful that my current campaign to get to 20th now that I'm running a home campaign again (had to take a hiatus for 1.5 years because of moving).

At higher levels, I use a lot of custom monsters and encounters. Terrain and hazards become more important, the plot has always been be pretty earth shaking. Stopping a lich from ascending to godhood, stopping a sleeping god from being awoken while fighting the armies of a false emperor are some examples.

I do put some limitations in just for my own sanity. Planar travel is more difficult for thematic reasons and gives me an excuse to ban things like plane shift and banishment; there has to be a portal to travel between planes. I ban teleportation for similar reasons, bopping around the world using teleportation circle just isn't my style. YMMV.

Keep an eye on resources and magical items. The PCs having cool toys is part of the fun but it can be a bit overwhelming. I limit what people have access to although they can also give me a wish list so I can think about the impact.

Be flexible with PCs. Some people are just going to get tired of running the same character, I let people retrain if it's a minor tweak or let people bring in new PCs at the same level as everyone else. I've always wanted to take my PCs from 1-20, but not everyone will.

Think about how the powers that be in your region and world are going to respond to PCs that are nearly superhero level of power. Are they going to welcome them? Fear them? Try to gain their favor?

I tweak monsters, especially epic monsters. My rule of thumb is to have 1 legendary action and save less than the number of party members instead of the standard 3.

I hand wave or work with the group to develop a narrative for overcoming lower level encounters the vast majority of time.

Other than that, I think this should be a separate thread, and it still follows general advice of relationships, flexibility and making a compelling story.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
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.
This doesn’t surprise me. In my experience, campaigns tend to start out at either 1st or 3rd level. Often groups plan to play to 11th or 20th level, or otherwise plan to play through a predetermined amount of content, but the number of campaigns that actually accomplish that goal before petering out due to scheduling problems, DM and/or player fatigue, or other complications, or ending in a TPK, is much smaller. And that’s before taking into account 1-shots and short campaigns that never even intend to go past 5th level. So I would expect the majority of characters to be 1st-5th level, and for there to be a spike from 3rd-5th relative to 1st-2nd. Which is exactly what we see here.

This, by the way, is a big part of why I don’t think Subclasses and Feats constitute much in the way of character customizability. Most characters don’t last long enough to see more than one Feat and one subclass feature.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
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?
Probably all of the above.
 

Chaderick

Explorer
It really feels like it's the duration of the campaigns that impacts the highest level reached. That might seem a little too obvious, but, my experiences back up the assertion:

1. High school campaign with 1e/2e leveling - Ran 10 years and ended with characters averaging level 20.
2. College campaign with 1e/2e leveling - Ran 3 years and ended with characters averaging level 10.
3. Post-College campaign with 1e/2e leveling till level 20, then 3e post level 20 - Ran 15 years and ended with characters averaging level 28.
4. Current campaign with 3e leveling - Running 3 years with characters averaging level 8.

These systems took longer to get through the lower levels if XP was tabulated, but accounting for changes in the XP system for 4e and 5e, it's very likely to get to level 10 in a much shorter campaign...and it would take years longer to get to level 20.

Note 1: No, we weren't in high school for 10 years. :)
Note 2: Our rules system is a conglomeration of all editions available at the time the campaign was played. So, the current campaign incorporates the rules we like from 0e to 5e. I mention this to clarify that the leveling system used does not correlate to the rules system, entirely.
 


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