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D&D 5E Relative Difficulties of Advancing in 5e

Asisreo

Archdevil's Advocate
This is "solution in search of a problem" thinking. D&D isn't a game that you "win" by getting to level 20. If WotC wants a campaign that goes to level 20, they should write one that has a compelling reason to go that high. Pulling the lever in the skinner box isn't what makes a TTRPG fun. If you can't write campaigns that make it fun to spend a year at levels 1 through 5, you're not going to be much fun if you zip through 20 levels in a year, either.
Well, I think its almost entirely separate skills to create campaigns in the different tiers.

For levels 1-4, you almost have to design the game for babies because its so easy to unintentionally kill off a player through a bad dice roll even when you make it as fair and even as possible.

Yet from levels 17-20, a DM has to pull out all the stops. Wards are just as much a must as locks were at tier 1. Unpredictable environments and weird creatures are a mainstay. You can't plop down a cyclops on a bridge and call it a challenge anymore.
 

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jgsugden

Legend
The XP chart in 5e makes no sense whatsoever.
It makes a lot of sense. It just isn't intended to be linear.

If you take the "DEADLY ENCOUNTER" experience for a given level (for 1 PC), and divide it into the amount of experience you need for the next level, you get "deadlies / level".

To get to 2nd and 3rd, you need 3 deadlies / level (per PC).
4th is 4.5 deadlies, 5th is 7.6, then 6 to 10 is ~6.66 (with some small variation).
11 jumps up to 7.5, and it drops down to 4 to 4.5 per level from there on out.

In my experience, PCs can handle about 2.5 Deadlies per level in a 4 to 6 hour session. PCs do not just face deadly encounters, but generally speaking, easier ones go faster so the rate holds.

This means that PCs advance at around this pace:

1 or 2 sessions to 2nd level (for a 4 to 6 hour session).
1 or 2 session to 3.
2 session to 4.
3 sessions each for 5 to 10.
4 sessions for 11.
2 sessions per level from there on.
That rate allows PCs to go all the way through 20 levels in less than a year, if they're facing challenges at a pretty steady rate.

If your sessions are 3 hours, double the number of sessions.

And you want to know a secret that shows that this is intentional by the designers? Using these number of sessions per level, if you follow the guidance on treasure hoards per level, it splits up evenly to 1 treasure hoard per session (if you give no treasure hoard when they're 1st level adventurers).

7 hoards for levels 1 to 4 (which you'll get to in about 8 session)
18 hoards for levels 5 to 10 (which take 18 sessions)
12 hoards for 11 to 16 (which takes 12 sessions)
8 hoards for 17 to 20 (which takes 4 sessions).
 

Not entirely sure what this means.

Levels are essentially arbitrary but there is a bit of steady progression married to it.

But are you asking for the extinction of level 6+ spells? Or are you looking for the game to be compressed into this 10 level system?
I would just prefer less levels with a cap at 10 maybe 15. I don't necessarily want level 9 spells to go away, or higher level powers disappear, just would like to see things condensed down so the players reach a higher power level earlier/faster.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Character power in 5e is roughly proportional to level +1. Well, 1-4 is more like level+0.5.

Level 1-2: +67%
Level 2-3: +40%
Level 3-4: +29%
Level 4-5: +33%

it then slows down from level 5 to 11, 20% down to 11%. But you still gain a 2 fold power increase over those 6 levels; average of 12%.

Going from level 11 to level 20... is roughly the same 2 fold power increase, over 9 levels. If you boost advancement over these levels by 50%, you end up with about the same average power increase per session that you earned from 5 to 11.
 

This is one of those ideas that would make total sense if they were designing the game from scratch. Hell, back in the days of 3E people came up with a variation, E6, which edited out everything but the first six levels, and I've thought of doing something similar with 5E.

But there is tradition to reckon with here. Getting rid of levels 11+ would provoke only slightly less fury from the fans than getting rid of the six ability scores. (Which would also make sense if designing the game from scratch. Wretched mechanic, ability scores.) And 4E demonstrated the dangers of narking off the existing fanbase.
I think you are 100% correct and people would flip their wig if they did something like this, and the risk would outweigh the reward for WotC. I'm sure it will never happen, but then again the transition from 2E to 3E was a big departure from what had come before so I believe its possible to progress the game while still preserving its integrity and legacy. That's if it were done correctly.
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I've played in and run campaigns up to level 20. I plan on running my current campaign up to 20.

I think it works reasonably well although of course combat slows down a little bit at higher levels, but it still holds together and doesn't slow down anywhere near as much as 4E did.

I have fun playing all levels, it's just a matter of personal preference. As far as how quickly PCs level I don't use XP anyway. 🤷‍♂️
 

Asisreo

Archdevil's Advocate
I would just prefer less levels with a cap at 10 maybe 15. I don't necessarily want level 9 spells to go away, or higher level powers disappear, just would like to see things condensed down so the players reach a higher power level earlier/faster.
That could probably be done just by increasing exp rewards attached to CR.

But honestly, I still think the problem is how stingy DMs are anyways. Its why I don't really like milestone leveling. The DM will hold you at level 7 until they realized that level 8 exists in the game and still waits until the next plot point.

If DMs just recorded the exp and had more full adventure days, I feel like leveling up can go much faster.

I mean, it usually doesn't take me more than 2 sessions to level up until level 5 where it takes only 3 sessions. Each session is roughly 2 hours (I do downtime stuff outside of sessions). Generally, my group gets to level 20 in a year or a year and a half.
 

Well, I think its almost entirely separate skills to create campaigns in the different tiers.

For levels 1-4, you almost have to design the game for babies because its so easy to unintentionally kill off a player through a bad dice roll even when you make it as fair and even as possible.

Yet from levels 17-20, a DM has to pull out all the stops. Wards are just as much a must as locks were at tier 1. Unpredictable environments and weird creatures are a mainstay. You can't plop down a cyclops on a bridge and call it a challenge anymore.

That's kind of my point. The issue is that if going from 15th to 16th level is boring, it's not the XP chart or the character widgets. It's the adventure itself.
 

That could probably be done just by increasing exp rewards attached to CR.

But honestly, I still think the problem is how stingy DMs are anyways. Its why I don't really like milestone leveling. The DM will hold you at level 7 until they realized that level 8 exists in the game and still waits until the next plot point.

Why is this a problem? Leveling up too fast means you're done with a tier of monsters before the DM has really gotten going. One of my biggest beefs with 5e is how fast you level up. One day, you leave home and wet your blade on a kobold for the first time. A year later, you are the mightiest warrior in all of history.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
If DMs just recorded the exp and had more full adventure days, I feel like leveling up can go much faster.
It does in my experience. My group runs with XP and it's fast. I'm in a West Marches game separate from my regular group and that's all XP and it's also fast. It's all in how many opportunities are available and how motivated the players are to Get Stuff Done.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
If they recognize that the game bogs down after a certain point why not just design that part out of the game? Here's an idea, just get rid of levels 11-20 or make them fun and worth playing. I'd be all for a restructuring of the level and advancement system in future editions of the game. One where there are fewer levels but more options per level, and a balanced progression would be fine with me. As it is now in 5E isn't just about every other level one where you get nothing?
They actually did seriously consider having the game only go to 10th level. But, since part of 5e’s job was to win back players who felt the game had lost touch with its roots, they ultimately decided that having only 10 levels would be too risky.
 

That could probably be done just by increasing exp rewards attached to CR.

But honestly, I still think the problem is how stingy DMs are anyways. Its why I don't really like milestone leveling. The DM will hold you at level 7 until they realized that level 8 exists in the game and still waits until the next plot point.

If DMs just recorded the exp and had more full adventure days, I feel like leveling up can go much faster.

I mean, it usually doesn't take me more than 2 sessions to level up until level 5 where it takes only 3 sessions. Each session is roughly 2 hours (I do downtime stuff outside of sessions). Generally, my group gets to level 20 in a year or a year and a half.
I stopped using xp early into 5E. I just kind of level players every couple sessions give or take, if they are playing their characters reasonably well. In all honesty I've kind of been stuck in a pre-3E mindset when it comes to creating adventures and encounters, Once the ECL/CR system came into play, I never had much success with it, so I just threw stuff at them that I thought would be a good challenge, Sometimes it works, other times it doesnt. But this is probably why I dont have as good of a handle on the class advancement/level system as others in regards to how its balanced and designed.
 

The XP chart in 5e makes no sense whatsoever.

I disagree. I think the XP chart is pretty well done because the designers understand the reality of the game.

The designers know level 1 and level 2 suck. They're there so that multiclass dipping is pretty unappealing, so you're supposed to get through them both in about three sessions.

Levels 3 through 10 or so are the sweet spot, where 90% of the game is actually played. The table expands these levels.

Levels 11, 12 & 13 are where the game starts to break down. The game still functions, but it's pushing into the endgame. Encounters can be difficult or time consuming here... or else over really quickly. It's increasingly like rocket tag.

Levels 14 and higher are trash levels. It's tolerable at first, but it eventually gets pretty unpleasant to DM and play. Level 20 has capstones to distract you from how godawful most of the non-spellcaster levels are at these levels, usually even compared to level 1-5 for those classes. Magic is way too good at these levels, but the desire to have those spells still in the game means they still exist. Encounters are difficult to run at this level, and and adventures are often difficult to plan. These levels are short to rush the PCs to the end of the campaign and save the DM's sanity.

With the exception 4e -- which plays tricks to plateau progression at about level 7-8 across all 30 levels of play -- essentially every edition of the game fits this mold. 5e is just the first one that doesn't make the XP table do silly things and pad out the levels that people don't actually want to play.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
It makes a lot of sense. It just isn't intended to be linear.

If you take the "DEADLY ENCOUNTER" experience for a given level (for 1 PC), and divide it into the amount of experience you need for the next level, you get "deadlies / level".

To get to 2nd and 3rd, you need 3 deadlies / level (per PC).
4th is 4.5 deadlies, 5th is 7.6, then 6 to 10 is ~6.66 (with some small variation).
11 jumps up to 7.5, and it drops down to 4 to 4.5 per level from there on out.

In my experience, PCs can handle about 2.5 Deadlies per level in a 4 to 6 hour session. PCs do not just face deadly encounters, but generally speaking, easier ones go faster so the rate holds.

This means that PCs advance at around this pace:

1 or 2 sessions to 2nd level (for a 4 to 6 hour session).
1 or 2 session to 3.
2 session to 4.
3 sessions each for 5 to 10.
4 sessions for 11.
2 sessions per level from there on.
That rate allows PCs to go all the way through 20 levels in less than a year, if they're facing challenges at a pretty steady rate.

If your sessions are 3 hours, double the number of sessions.

And you want to know a secret that shows that this is intentional by the designers? Using these number of sessions per level, if you follow the guidance on treasure hoards per level, it splits up evenly to 1 treasure hoard per session (if you give no treasure hoard when they're 1st level adventurers).

7 hoards for levels 1 to 4 (which you'll get to in about 8 session)
18 hoards for levels 5 to 10 (which take 18 sessions)
12 hoards for 11 to 16 (which takes 12 sessions)
8 hoards for 17 to 20 (which takes 4 sessions).
Also, if you follow the 6-8 medium or hard encounters per day, you get the same result.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
By D&D's surveys, most campaigns last 6 mos. to a year, ending between 9th-12th level.

Don't mind me just collecting evidence of how much of an outlier my playstyle is. My campaigns (all edition) last 3 to 6 years and highest level we've ever reached was 12th.
 

They actually did seriously consider having the game only go to 10th level. But, since part of 5e’s job was to win back players who felt the game had lost touch with its roots, they ultimately decided that having only 10 levels would be too risky.
I kept track of the playtest early on but our group broke up for awhile in between when it started and 5E was finally released so I didnt pay much attention after while. Was that in the playtest or just mentioned after all was said and done, IDR hearing that?
 

Don't mind me just collecting evidence of how much of an outlier my playstyle is. My campaigns (all edition) last 3 to 6 years and highest level we've ever reached was 12th.

The time you take to get to the end of the campaign isn't that important. It's the highest level reached that WotC cares about. Your games do match everyone else on progression; you just take longer to get there.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I kept track of the playtest early on but our group broke up for awhile in between when it started and 5E was finally released so I didnt pay much attention after while. Was that in the playtest or just mentioned after all was said and done, IDR hearing that?
Unfortunately I don’t remember the source, and a lot of that stuff is hard to find anymore. But I know I heard either Mike Mearls or Jeremy Crawford say something to that effect, and I’m pretty sure it was in an interview shortly after the open playtest wrapped. Might have been a live Q&A at a convention? But I’m really not sure.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
During my session 0 I ask people how quickly they want to advance, and I check in every few levels. Then we just level up accordingly. Personally? I really enjoy playing low levels, and have fun DMing at all levels.

I also have months (game time) between sessions and explain that in part people are training for the next time things go to heck in a handbasket.
 

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