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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

feels like a bit of a chicken and egg thing.
That's what an information cascade looks like.
Nope. Just a chicken situation.
Eggs, sheep, chickens, whatever.

It's true that there's not as much high level play.

It's true there's not as much support* for high level play.

It seems obvious they're related, but you can't point to one as being 'at fault' for the situation.






* most editions have had severe balance problems at high levels, and/or fewer choices at high level, and/or lacked DM resources for high levels, and/or had modules/adventures concentrated at lower levels, etc...
 

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Meh. Levels 1 thru 5 dont take that much time investment. Getting past 10th takes alot more time and investment. Back in my last campaign played it took 5 to 6 years playing 2 to 3 times a month to get to 19th level. I could have played many many characters from 1st to 5th in the same time period
 

ChaosOS

Legend
I believe this data. My personal experience is attention spans for characters burn out at the two year mark, and my group at least prefers to restart at low levels than do a full roster swap but continue at higher levels.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
"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"

I can't speak for the rest of it, but you can add custom skill(s) which does what you need.

Give DDB a few years ... the rest of the stuff you discuss is complex and only necessary for a small portion of people. Before I figured this out I just hand wrote a couple of notes.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Eggs, sheep, chickens, whatever.

It's true that there's not as much high level play.

It's true there's not as much support* for high level play.

It seems obvious they're related, but you can't point to one as being 'at fault' for the situation.

Well, let us look at the WotC survey data from 20 years ago for a little insight...

Look at the chart below, which looks as some of the gaming behavior (Session length, number of players in the group, and average sessions between restarts) of people who have been gaming for various lengths of time.

Code:
            Typical     4 or More     Average Sessions
            Session     Gamers In     before Restart
            5+ Hours    Group         (New Characters)
Total       28%         62%           15.4
<=1 Year    10%         48%           8.8
>1-5 Years  14%         60%           12.9
(*)>5 Years 42%         71%           19.6

The relevant bit here is the average number of sessions before restarting with new characters. For all groups, the number of sessions was under 20.

This was a survey of folks playing 1e and 2e. It took way more than 20 sessions to reach high level play. Speaking broadly - unless you were gaining something close to one level per session, your campaign wouldn't get to high enough level to use high level support if it existed. If something about the game were causing folks to reset their campaigns, it was an effect before you reached high level.
 

Tiggerunner

Explorer
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.)

I'm well aware the data is selectively provided as part of a corporate information strategy to manage the community and justify decisions to the consumers. Which is one of the reasons it's fun to overanalyze. Especially when someone with insider information pops in to rebut by citing NDA-protected analysis in the same breath.

My point from the beginning has been that there is a niche, but profitable group of intermediate players who would like to start campaigns at level 10 (or 15) and finish at level 20 just to see what it's like, but there isn't an official, hardcover, printed campaign that does that, so the only people who play those levels are dedicated players finishing OOTA, Tyranny of Dragons, TOA, etc; those playing higher teired AL, or those in their garage doing homebrew. Most of the people who use DDB are probably newer players who probably started at an LGS or the Starter Set/Essentials Kit at level 1, so the data set is not representative of the entire player base.

Now, if there is some additional analysis that WoTC did that says players don't like high level games and would not buy campaigns geared toward them, then I'd love to see the data on that, because my players won't shut up about how cool it would be to play high level characters instead of starting over at level 1 every time we start a new campaign. The DDB data isn't making the argument to me because it's skewed.

Does it make intuitive sense that most players are low level and play in low level games? Absolutely.

Would more players play in high level games if it had more support with products?

I think so, and it's money on the table. Paizos used to do that sort of thing with their Adventure Paths, so it's not unheard of.
 

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.

One player at our table indicated he has created over 150 characters on DDB. He has shared several with us through links - and those were all 9-13th level. Except for his current character and one other, none of them have seen the light of play.

So, it’s hard to say how many active characters (or players) the 30M characters really represents, I suppose. Maybe there’s data to show how the characters are updated over time? How does one know if a DDB character is being used in a campaign or just something built for the fun of it?

On another point, said player with many a never-played PC on DDB is often the least knowledgeable about his character’s abilities and spells of the players at our table. Anecdotal evidence to support DDB is (mainly) for the casual character building player as others here have suggested... current company excepted, of course. I doubt any of us posting here on ENWorld who use DDB are “casual” players.
 
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Quickleaf

Legend
One player at our table indicated he has created over 150 characters on DDB. He has shared several with us through links - and those were all 9-13th level. Except for his current character and one other, none of them have seen the light of play.

So, it’s hard to say how many active characters the 30M characters really represents, I suppose. Maybe there’s data to show how the characters are updated over time? How does one know if a DDB character is being used in a campaign or just something built for the fun of it?

On another point, said player with many a never-played PC on DDB is often the least knowledgeable about his character’s abilities and spells of the players at our table. Anecdotal evidence to support DDB is (mainly) for the casual character building player as others here have suggested... current company excepted, of course. I doubt any of us posting here on ENWorld who use DDB are “casual” players.

I think that's exactly the sort of question that should be posed of the DDB team when they put out public data like this.

Whenever I see data without answering entirely reasonable questions about the data, that is one of my early warning signs that the data's presentation is being manipulated for a non-scientific goal. Not saying that's the case here – but as @Lanefan points out it certainly has happened in the gaming community before.
 

Ogre Mage

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

I was heartened to see that because I despise 1st level characters and am constantly pushing my group to start at 4th or 5th level. We have done that a few times but 3rd level usually winds up being the compromise position.


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?

My group did a 3-shot session of 20th level characters to see what it was like. To date it is the only time I have played a 20th level character. It was fun but starting at 20th level we had trouble keeping track of character abilities and the DM had some encounter balance issues. I was glad for the experience but I don't think a long-term campaign starting at 20th level would have worked well. I would consider another 3-5 session mini-campaign of 20th level PCs, however.
 

BadEye

Chief Development Officer at Demiplane
I'm well aware the data is selectively provided as part of a corporate information strategy to manage the community and justify decisions to the consumers. Which is one of the reasons it's fun to overanalyze. Especially when someone with insider information pops in to rebut by citing NDA-protected analysis in the same breath.

My point from the beginning has been that there is a niche, but profitable group of intermediate players who would like to start campaigns at level 10 (or 15) and finish at level 20 just to see what it's like, but there isn't an official, hardcover, printed campaign that does that, so the only people who play those levels are dedicated players finishing OOTA, Tyranny of Dragons, TOA, etc; those playing higher teired AL, or those in their garage doing homebrew. Most of the people who use DDB are probably newer players who probably started at an LGS or the Starter Set/Essentials Kit at level 1, so the data set is not representative of the entire player base.

Now, if there is some additional analysis that WoTC did that says players don't like high level games and would not buy campaigns geared toward them, then I'd love to see the data on that, because my players won't shut up about how cool it would be to play high level characters instead of starting over at level 1 every time we start a new campaign. The DDB data isn't making the argument to me because it's skewed.

Does it make intuitive sense that most players are low level and play in low level games? Absolutely.

Would more players play in high level games if it had more support with products?

I think so, and it's money on the table. Paizos used to do that sort of thing with their Adventure Paths, so it's not unheard of.
I understand your point, but your point is still based on assumptions and personal anecdotal evidence.

You say "profitable group," but there is no way that you actually know that it is such.

You say "most of the players who use DDB are probably newer," but you have no way of actually knowing that is true either. I can tell you that of the millions of accounts and [###K] of subscribers, the Essentials Kit is nowhere close to the main driver of that engagement.

And finally, you say you think there would be more high level play if there was more support for it. I naturally agree, but you mention there is "money on the table," but the amount and scale of how much is the actual important bit.

I've got to bow out for now, but I genuinely do appreciate the civil discourse on all fronts.

Thanks everyone!
 

EthanSental

Adventurer
I think that's exactly the sort of question that should be posed of the DDB team when they put out public data like this.

Whenever I see data without answering entirely reasonable questions about the data, that is one of my early warning signs that the data's presentation is being manipulated for a non-scientific goal. Not saying that's the case here – but as @Lanefan points out it certainly has happened in the gaming community before.

Adam answered this earlier, they include characters that have short and long rests being used, exp added, etc. cuts down on the issue Dave mentioned as I don’t think that 150 would count.
 

BadEye

Chief Development Officer at Demiplane
I think that's exactly the sort of question that should be posed of the DDB team when they put out public data like this.

Whenever I see data without answering entirely reasonable questions about the data, that is one of my early warning signs that the data's presentation is being manipulated for a non-scientific goal. Not saying that's the case here – but as @Lanefan points out it certainly has happened in the gaming community before.
I have actually personally answered those questions about this data many times on the development update streams from which this data was plucked. 😊

When it ends up reposted on great news sites like this I have less control over the explanation of the parameters. Hence my efforts in this thread to clarify some of the misconceptions.

Thanks!
 

Tiggerunner

Explorer
I understand your point, but your point is still based on assumptions and personal anecdotal evidence.

You say "profitable group," but there is no way that you actually know that it is such.

You say "most of the players who use DDB are probably newer," but you have no way of actually knowing that is true either. I can tell you that of the millions of accounts and [###K] of subscribers, the Essentials Kit is nowhere close to the main driver of that engagement.

And finally, you say you think there would be more high level play if there was more support for it. I naturally agree, but you mention there is "money on the table," but the amount and scale of how much is the actual important bit.

I've got to bow out for now, but I genuinely do appreciate the civil discourse on all fronts.

Thanks everyone!

 

ChuckieGoLucky

Villager
I feel the issue is that DnD is a game where higher tiers are about alignment, the cosmos, the planes and other stuff that breaks down all the "homebrew" that ignore the fact DnD is more than just a ruleset. Games are not near as dangerous and surprising anymore and lot of players have so much drama action and glory in their backstories they get bored of them easily. So many DMs run their own thing that never gets above the save the town much less save the world. All that homebrew gets exhausting and replaces the content waiting in higher levels, which WoTC is fine with cause community, or something..

So many people start at 3rd level that you have to tell people of you are actually starting st level. This is why there are more third than first levels.

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!
The
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
My point from the beginning has been that there is a niche, but profitable group of intermediate players...

Sorry, but if you don't know how many of them there are, you can't really say if serving them would be profitable.

or those in their garage doing homebrew.

Given how strong the homebrewing tradition is among RPG players, describing it as "in the garage" seems... undeservedly dismissive.

Most of the people who use DDB are probably newer players who probably started at an LGS or the Starter Set/Essentials Kit at level 1

Upon what do you base that assertion? I mean, you may be correct. With the PHB selling in the top 30 books, that makes us wonder who is buying them all... if they are mostly new players... well, the more new players there are, the less the old players are relevant to the business equation, I'm afraid.

so the data set is not representative of the entire player base.

I will agree that the D&D Beyond data is not reliably representative - it is a self-selected population.

However, "Your data is not representative" is not equivalent to, "therefore, my assertions are correct." You need representative data as much as they do to make assertions.

Now, if there is some additional analysis that WoTC did that says players don't like high level games and would not buy campaigns geared toward them, then I'd love to see the data on that

We all would. But you do realize that they do not owe us that data, yes?

I think so, and it's money on the table. Paizos used to do that sort of thing with their Adventure Paths, so it's not unheard of.

Paizo "used to do that sort of thing"? As in, they no longer do? Interesting.

If Paizo were still doing it, you'd be supporting your argument that there's significant money on the table. By apparently reminding us that they don't do this... that suggests that it wasn't great business for Paizo, doesn't it? This does not seem to support your argument very well.
 

Well, let us look at the WotC survey data from 20 years ago for a little insight...

This was a survey of folks playing 1e and 2e. It... If something about the game were causing folks to reset their campaigns, it was an effect before you reached high level.
20 years ago, AD&D had, itself, a history of over 20 years, common wisdom about the playable 'sweet spot,' had had plenty of time to become entrenched.

And, yeah, that did kick in before what we'd call high level, today.

And, I mean, you have cautioned us, yourself, about reading too much into stats. Just a mean average is not that much to go on.

I mean an obvious inference of the less-than-1-yr averaging fewer sessions between restarts would be TPKs bringing that average down. But it's not the only possible explanation.
 
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CptMcquacken

Villager
Well, I think a very very good explanation for these statistics is a simple one. Since DnDBeyond has revolutionized the way we D&D, we just haven’t made it that far in our campaigns. I’m sure there are groups that may play twice a week for 4-6 hours a session. But, my group tries to play once a week and our average session is about 2 hours depending on who “has to work” the next day etc. We have been playing for almost a year and we’re level 7. Playing storm King’s thunder mind you, where there are a billion options and directions we can take it. There’s so much content in Storm Kings thunder our DM has talked about morphing it into a full blown level 20 campaign. The short reason for these statistics is that “In terms of the nature of D&D character development DnDB is just too young to see those kinds of numbers and they will always be low on the level spectrum if they are being successful as a business” because once the O.G. players are nearing level 20 and those stats go from hundreds of high level players to thousands, the number of new dnd players should go from tens of thousands to millions. Right now though, it’s the wrong time to look at these kinds of statistics given the slow moving progression and nature of the game.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
We?

As in, you're a DDB developer? Cool!

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.
Well, yes it does; because gathering data from people playing those highly-customized games isn't easy, given as they're by default much less likely to use official online support from where much of such data is gleaned.

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.
Oddly enough, this might be a case where some polling here on ENWorld might be of use. This is overall a pretty hardcore crew, from what I can tell, and thus much more likely than the broader community to be willing (and able) to kitbash their preferred edition into what they actually want it to be.

I wonder how different the results would be from a do-you-homebrew poll taken here vs whatever data it is that you have that we can't see.
 

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