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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

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.
More like saying people who buy LOTS of LEGO skip the store and order online. But such is the nature of speculation, because we literally don't know.
 

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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
To be fair, they've done other surveys since on more limited aspects of the game - we see a notice for one every few months on these boards, for example - but I'm not sure they've ever done another one as broad-reaching as that 1999 one was trying to be.

Thing is, a repeat now of that 1999 survey would generate results caused in no small part directly by - you guessed it - that 1999 survey!
They've absolutely solicited a lot of feedback for class and game design, just not sure how much is about level people would like to play. Which is different from levels they actually do play or have played in the past.

On a related note, I often wonder how many people never run homebrew games and rely solely on officially published mods. I never use published mods, so 20 is generally my ultimate goal. But if I wasn't comfortable doing that there aren't many options.
 

We can have a certain skepticism about the data without throwing it out completely. For example, we can probably say that the overall trends are linformative. It seems unlikely that data which indicates a pattern this strong is skewed to the extent that we should just ignore it.

At the same time, we should be careful of being too confident about what it tells us.
"Less than 15% of campaigns go beyond level 10" is probably a level of confidence that is unwarranted.
 

Higher level play hasn't been done very well since the BECMI days.

Eh, that's assuming you like BECMI's ideas about high level play. IIRC, it assumed that the PCs would get fiefdoms, raise armies, and basically start playing Diplomacy + Chainmail Legacy. Gary and his table were fine with the end of the game being a tabletop war game because that's how they started out.

Today, I think a lot of players don't want to stop being adventurers spelunking dungeons. They'd respond, "Hey, I started playing Diablo and now I have to switch to playing Warcraft in the middle? Why?!"
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
They've absolutely solicited a lot of feedback for class and game design, just not sure how much is about level people would like to play. Which is different from levels they actually do play or have played in the past.

On a related note, I often wonder how many people never run homebrew games and rely solely on officially published mods. I never use published mods, so 20 is generally my ultimate goal. But if I wasn't comfortable doing that there aren't many options.
Taking this a step further, there's three main aspects that can be homebrew or canned or a combination:

adventures (individual or in paths)
settings
rules

It'd be interesting to know, on a scale much more broad than we'll ever get just by polling ENWorld, what proportion of games/tables homebrew each of these; and for those that do, what the end-result ratio is between homebrew and canned.

Breaking it down by edition currently being played by that game would be even cooler! (as in, do 5e-ers homebrew more or less than 4e-ers or 3e-ers or 2e-ers, etc.)
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Taking this a step further, there's three main aspects that can be homebrew or canned or a combination:

adventures (individual or in paths)
settings
rules

It'd be interesting to know, on a scale much more broad than we'll ever get just by polling ENWorld, what proportion of games/tables homebrew each of these; and for those that do, what the end-result ratio is between homebrew and canned.

Breaking it down by edition currently being played by that game would be even cooler! (as in, do 5e-ers homebrew more or less than 4e-ers or 3e-ers or 2e-ers, etc.)
When I win the lottery and can afford to throw a $100k at market research and analysis I'll give you a call. Just have to buy a ticket first! :unsure:
 


Kyvin

Explorer
Personally, I would like to see WotC publish more high level material beyond Mad Mage.

I prefer to use the published modules and then modify them to meet my needs. I have run PotA and SKT, each of those went to level 11. Another person took over and DMed Tomb of Annihilation for our group, again to level 11. I will now be DMing Ghosts of Saltmarsh with heavy modifications and plan to take that to level 12. Each campaign took about 2 years: we meet about twice a month. None of us use D&D Beyond.

We would like to take these characters to a higher level but we are all working adults and more options besides just Mad Mage would be nice!
 

Quickleaf

Legend
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?

According to an April 2019 Washington Post article, there are 40 million D&D players worldwide. I don't know how many are playing 5e, though a safe bet would be the majority are playing 5e.

I haven't seen any public data from D&D Beyond about number of users/subscribers, but in the December 19, 2019 D&D Beyond Dev Update – where that image @Morrus posted about campaign level spread in the OP comes from – Adam Bradford mentions that their recent data accounts for 30 million characters on D&D Beyond. EDIT: Around the 10:00 mark.
 
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BadEye

Chief Development Officer at Demiplane
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).
Not specifically picking out your post, but a 30 million character sample size is pretty significant, considering there are roughly 40 million D&D players globally at this point. It would be far more representative, for example, than a survey with less than a few thousand responses.

The very established at this point in the life cycle of the entire Dungeons & Dragons franchise fact is that most groups do not engage in high-level play regularly. You will see that in our data on D&D Beyond as well as any other research conducted formally.

As a fellow fan, it's hard to think this fact doesn't impact decisions about the game.
 

BadEye

Chief Development Officer at Demiplane
This is a valid point, and leads me to a thought: if DDB only supports the base rules as written and doesn't do variants or houserules then speculative extension kind of suggests that it'll end up defaulting to a user base of more casual players and-or players playing under more casual DMs.
Saying DDB "only supports the base rules as written" is not an accurate statement. The biggest gap at the moment is the gigantic UA content drop for variant class features that was recently released. We will be shoring up that gap in January.

Furthermore, this entire line of thinking makes assumptions that folks that want to play highly-customized games are a larger percentage of the population of total D&D players than any data suggests. Unfortunately that is not data that I am able to share, but I will mention it here. And by the way, yes, it absolutely could be the case due to a chicken-and-egg situation. That doesn't make it any less true as things stand now.
 

Tiggerunner

Explorer
Not specifically picking out your post, but a 30 million character sample size is pretty significant, considering there are roughly 40 million D&D players globally at this point. It would be far more representative, for example, than a survey with less than a few thousand responses.

Mathematically, a random sample of a few thousand is better than a non-random, bias sample of a few million. A larger -N of a biased sample just leads to a more pronounced bias. Additionally, WoTC's choice to count characters instead of players is, well, interesting. It keeps any of us from comparing apples to apples without assumptions about the average number of characters per player.
 

Not specifically picking out your post, but a 30 million character sample size is pretty significant, considering there are roughly 40 million D&D players globally at this point. It would be far more representative, for example, than a survey with less than a few thousand responses.

The very established at this point in the life cycle of the entire Dungeons & Dragons franchise fact is that most groups do not engage in high-level play regularly. You will see that in our data on D&D Beyond as well as any other research conducted formally.

As a fellow fan, it's hard to think this fact doesn't impact decisions about the game.
See my most recent post. I'm not questioning the overall trends. But I think there are questions that can be asked about the degree of confidence in the specific numbers.

What does it mean where it says in the graph that these are 'campaigns'? Is there some way of tracking that these are characters that are actually being played in active campaigns, rather than just experimental builds?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It was buried deep within the survey write-up, if memory serves.

No. It was right at the beginning of the survey write up.

From the copy google found for me ( RPGnet News )

"Section 1: The Segmentation Study
...
A two phase approach was used to determine information about trading card
games (TCGs), role playing games (RPGs) and miniatures wargames (MWG) in the
general US population between the ages of 12 and 35. For the rest of this
document, this group is referred to as “the marketplace” or “the market”, or
“the consumers”.

This age bracket was arbitrarily chosen on the basis of internal analysis
regarding the probable target customers for the company’s products. We know
for certain that there are lots of gamers older than 35, especially for
games like Dungeons & Dragons; however, we wanted to keep the study to a
manageable size and profile. Perhaps in a few years a more detailed study
will be done of the entire population."


Yes, this excludes anyone who was born before 1964. Today, those gamers are over 56 years old.
 

BadEye

Chief Development Officer at Demiplane
Mathematically, a random sample of a few thousand is better than a non-random, bias sample of a few million. A larger -N of a biased sample just leads to a more pronounced bias. Additionally, WoTC's choice to count characters instead of players is, well, interesting. It keeps any of us from comparing apples to apples without assumptions about the average number of characters per player.
That is all data that we have readily available but have not shared. The intent of sharing high-level summary data in our development updates is just that - to provide a 30,000 foot view. We don't have the time or resources, or even a real reason that would benefit the community more than us putting our focus into other areas, to deep dive into all of this.

I'm glad that our summary data provokes this kind of interesting discussion, but it definitely is not provided to appease data scientists. (Although our internal data scientists do plenty of their own research that would be far less exciting/accessible for the community.)
 

BadEye

Chief Development Officer at Demiplane
See my most recent post. I'm not questioning the overall trends. But I think there are questions that can be asked about the degree of confidence in the specific numbers.

What does it mean where it says in the graph that these are 'campaigns'? Is there some way of tracking that these are characters that are actually being played in active campaigns, rather than just experimental builds?
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."
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
What does it mean where it says in the graph that these are 'campaigns'? Is there some way of tracking that these are characters that are actually being played in active campaigns, rather than just experimental builds?

D&D Beyond has a concept of a "campaign" - it is an object you can create, and you can invite people to assign characters to your campaign. If they are assigned, they become visible to those in the campaign, and so on.

As to whether they are being actively played... well, I don't know why you'd create a campaign in D&D beyond, and have various people put their characters in it, except for purposes of play. They should have have information that could be used to identify campaigns that are being used. Various kinds of activity - character hit points getting tracked, long and short rests being used, spells being cast, leveling up, and so on - could all be used as indicators. I don't know if they did use that information for this, however.

Edit: Whoops! Didn't see Badeye there. Glad to see my guesses weren't too shabby.
 

Saying DDB "only supports the base rules as written" is not an accurate statement. The biggest gap at the moment is the gigantic UA content drop for variant class features that was recently released. We will be shoring up that gap in January.

Furthermore, this entire line of thinking makes assumptions that folks that want to play highly-customized games are a larger percentage of the population of total D&D players than any data suggests. Unfortunately that is not data that I am able to share, but I will mention it here. And by the way, yes, it absolutely could be the case due to a chicken-and-egg situation. That doesn't make it any less true as things stand now.
No it's much worse than that, ddb has never added support for WotC's own variant rules...
  • "Variant: Skills with different abilities" is detailed on PHB175. "let me setup a thing & struggle with it so I can tell you the results of my barbarian's strength(intimidate) roll"
  • "Hero Points", dmg264. oh boy "I don't have a box for that on my sheet and it's a lot of work to track through other means [so we are just going to use but never actually expend them until you the gm takes them away]"
  • ""New ability scores: Honor and Sanity", dmg264-265 "Hold on.. um... I just gotta find where I recorded it here"
  • Near as I can tell, tracking of downtime(phb87 dmg127) on the sheet suffers the same problem as hero points
God forbid I want to use the variant UA stuff or supplemental rules extensions like anything on homebrewery, this & other forums, darker dungeons, or anything I create myself. Ddb launched in 2017 & here we are counting the days till 2020 with it still not supporting stuff published in the phb/dmg
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
God forbid I want to use the variant UA stuff or supplemental rules extensions like anything on homebrewery, this & other forums, darker dungeons, or anything I create myself. Ddb launched in 2017 & here we are counting the days till 2020 with it still not supporting stuff published in the phb/dmg

Mod Note:

I don't think turning this thread into a laundry list of faults in D&D Beyond is going to be constructive. The folks at WotC have official channels for feedback. Let us not inundate someone in the know with such, as it is apt to disincentivize them from giving us information on the topic at hand.

Thanks, all.
 

BadEye

Chief Development Officer at Demiplane
No it's much worse than that, ddb has never added support for WotC's own variant rules...
  • "Variant: Skills with different abilities" is detailed on PHB175. "let me setup a thing & struggle with it so I can tell you the results of my barbarian's strength(intimidate) roll"
  • "Hero Points", dmg264. oh boy "I don't have a box for that on my sheet and it's a lot of work to track through other means [so we are just going to use but never actually expend them until you the gm takes them away]"
  • ""New ability scores: Honor and Sanity", dmg264-265 "Hold on.. um... I just gotta find where I recorded it here"
  • Near as I can tell, tracking of downtime(phb87 dmg127) on the sheet suffers the same problem as hero points
God forbid I want to use the variant UA stuff or supplemental rules extensions like anything on homebrewery, this & other forums, darker dungeons, or anything I create myself. Ddb launched in 2017 & here we are counting the days till 2020 with it still not supporting stuff published in the phb/dmg
You're actually missing my real point - the amount of the player base that uses those variants that are available in the DMG is incredibly small.

Since we have hundreds of things on our roadmap, those variant rules used by such a small percentage of players do not take priority over other features that would be more widely used and impactful.

Of course I would love for us to support everything that players need (and we won't stop working until we get there), but the reasons behind our prioritization still stand.
 

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