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

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
The highest level campaign I have been in was Tiamat, my character made L9 at the end of HotDQ, then I became the DM and we reached L12 before IRL called me away and the campaign ended. I was not having trouble challenging the PCs - one week their L10 selves were driven to need a Rest by 6 Lizardmen using water as cover! - but I was doing about 8 hours of "homework" a week.
 

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tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
The highest level campaign I have been in was Tiamat, my character made L9 at the end of HotDQ, then I became the DM and we reached L12 before IRL called me away and the campaign ended. I was not having trouble challenging the PCs - one week their L10 selves were driven to need a Rest by 6 Lizardmen using water as cover! - but I was doing about 8 hours of "homework" a week.
That sounds a lot like you were spending 2-4x more time preparing for games than running them assuming fairly normal 2-4hr sessions.
 

Interestingly, there are more 3rd-5th level characters than there are 1st-2nd level

Indeed. Lately our local meta has been talking about skipping levels one and two permanently. Get right to the meat of your subclass. After 6 years or so, not so many need an on ramp anymore.

And if WotC wants people to take tiers seriously, then tables who want to start off with competent heroes are looking at 5th level, which is only 2 levels away from 3.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Amazing. Really. This blows my mind as I can't see myself ever having such a long campaign! =)
It's all about your and your players' mindset when you start out: if you all go in with the expectation that the campaign will last for the rest of your life it'll go a lot longer than if your collective expectation is that it'll last a mere year or less.

And as DM there's numerous things you can do to prolong the campaign, here's a few ideas:

  • slow down the level advancement rate! Make it so it takes at least couple of adventures to level up each time, and make it clear (if necessary) that level-up isn't the focus of this campaign. Oh, and start at 1st level...or even 0th!
  • have multiple long-term stories ready to go, such that once they play through one they can ease into the next; or even have those stories overlap. Corollary: also have some standalone adventures handy as a change of pace, as any story can get boring. Sceond corollary: avoid published adventure paths as the level-advance they demand is far too fast (that said, APs are good places to mine individual adventure ideas from; you just have to strip out all the written backstory)
  • strongly encourage character turnover and cycling, and-or have multiple parties within the same campaign who can meet and interact now and then; this both slows down the advance rate overall and gives players a chance to play different characters as time goes on.
  • expect, and be ready and able to handle, some player turnover as the game goes along. Eventually one or more players will leave for whatever reason; always have an idea as to who you might want to invite in as replacements. Also, sometimes a player who leaves now might want to return a few years hence so unless you don't want that player in the game, don't burn any bridges. :)

All that said, it's very possible 5e isn't the best system for this sort of thing. If you find yourself fighting it too much, take a long look instead at (pre-splat!) 2e or at a 1e-2e hybrid.
 


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?

In general, it's assumed a weekly game will wrap up in 2 years if it's played to 20th level. Meeting every two weeks is about the same, though you and your crew looks like they will make it to the finish line.

But this speaks to data gathering. How many long term games are weekly vs bimonthly or once a month?
 

MegabaseBill

Villager
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 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.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
Yes, and as I have to keep pointing out every time this comes up, the primary example of that research - to wit, Dancey's marketing survey during the run-up to 3e - was rendered mostly bogus by its exclusion of a significantly large group of respondents in order to give them the results they wanted.

Simply put, all responses from anyone who self-identified as being over a certain age (35) were thrown out. The survey was done in 1999.

What this exclusion did was effectively shut down the opinions and experiences of almost anyone who had been playing since the 1970s and a large proportion of those who started in the early 1980s* - i.e., the cohort that was the likeliest to have run (and at the time still be running) long campaigns.

* - FWIW this included my entire gaming group/community at the time; many of us filled out the survey, ultimately to no point due to our all being a year or six too old.

And so, starting with 3e the game was designed for short campaigns, short campaigns then became the norm as that's what the game was designed for, and the whole thing fed on itself.

EDITED to confirm dates and info.
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Yes, and as I have to keep pointing out every time this comes up, the primary example of that research - to wit, Dancey's marketing survey during the run-up to 3e - was rendered mostly bogus by its exclusion of a significantly large group of respondents in order to give them the results they wanted.

Simply put, all responses from anyone who self-identified as being over a certain age (35, if memory serves) were thrown out. The survey was done in, I think, 1997 or 1998 - maybe 1999?
Wait, what? I’d not heard this. When or how was this revealed? I’ve spoken to Ryan a few times over the years about that survey, but I’ve never heard that. That’s news!
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Wait, what? I’d not heard this. When or how was this revealed? I’ve spoken to Ryan a few times over the years about that survey, but I’ve never heard that. That’s news!
It was buried deep within the survey write-up, if memory serves. It was certainly known at the time.

Do you still have a link to that write-up in here somewhere?
 

Anoth

Adventurer
It doesn’t. At all.
Boy. This is probably the easiest edition ever to play high level characters for DM’s that never bothered to learn how to transition to writing high level adventures for earlier editions. Mainly because the style of writing does not have to change too much because there are not as many spells above 5th level as in prior editions. There are some changes to take into account. But it’s really pretty simple.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
@Morrus

Found it. This page is someone's dissection of the survey, but includes some of the actual survey write-up. Scroll down until you hit Section 1: The Segmentation Study and you'll see it there.

 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
@Morrus

Found it. This page is someone's dissection of the survey, but includes some of the actual survey write-up. Scroll down until you hit Section 1: The Segmentation Study and you'll see it there.

Thanks! I’ve somehow spent 20 years not seeing that!
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I found that people who play a high level games usually don't like D&D Beyond.

This is incredibly anecdotal, but I started to notice that D&D Beyond is more popular with players who make many characters than with players who stick with 1-2 characters.
That’s just begging the question. One of DDB’s main functions is characters. If you make more characters, you use the character tool. If you don’t make many characters, you use less. It’s like saying the LEGO store is more popular with those who build a lot of Lego.
 

There really needs to be a way to seperate out whether:

1) people don't play high level games because the games don't get that far.
2) people don't play high level games because they don't like high level game-play.

Of course both are probably true to an extent, but it would be interesting to know to what extent.
 


1) people don't play high level games because the games don't get that far.
2) people don't play high level games because they don't like high level game-play.
...or, I suppose...
3) people don't play high level games because they don't like being part of the fiction they represent?

1) Acknowledges the challenges of getting and keeping a group together in spite of real life.

2) Acknowledges that the game works better at some levels - the sweet spot of conventional wisdom - and less well at high levels, in particular

3) Supposes that the ideas/themes/scope/etc of fiction modeled by higher levels fundamentally lack appeal.
 

I found that people who play a high level games usually don't like D&D Beyond.

This is incredibly anecdotal, but I started to notice that D&D Beyond is more popular with players who make many characters than with players who stick with 1-2 characters.
Well that makes sense. It's not hard to make a 5E charactter. I've forgotten my character sheet a few times to sessions and just remade the character from scratch in a few minutes while everyone else was getting ready. So there's not all that big an advantage to having Dndbeyond unless you do it a lot.

I imagine that D&D Beyond is going to be skewed towards people who are likely to enjoy making characters (and if so you're probably going to be wanting to change the character you are playing fairly regularly). It's also probably skewed towards optimisers.

But all the same I'm pretty sure, that Mearls has said (while saying that we can't really trust DndBeyond's data as representative) that their own internal research shows the same thing in this case.
 
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That’s just begging the question. One of DDB’s main functions is characters. If you make more characters, you use the character tool. If you don’t make many characters, you use less. It’s like saying the LEGO store is more popular with those who build a lot of Lego.
I believe that it was in one of the Happy Fun Hour videos that Mearls talks about how some aspects of DndBeyond are different to their own internal data. For example, he says that there are a lot more Warlocks on Dndbeyond than their own data indicates are usually played. He speculates that this is because there a lot of decisions to be made when creating warlocks and therefore people just like making warlock characters (they are also a favourite component of many optimised builds, although he doesn't explicitly point this out).
 

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