I’m talking about your character’s level. : )

James at Grognardia posted an article yesterday called “High Levels“, that prompted me to talk about leveling.

In OD&D, each class had its own experience table (which carried over through multiple editions). None of these classes had a maximum level limit but some of the experience tables ended as early as 10th level. Later supplements extended these tables. There wasn’t much uniformity; some tables listed experience through about 14th level while others went to 22nd. New classes were added (notably assassin, monk, and druid) that did have maximum upper levels (ranging from 13th to 16th level). Taking into account all the supplements, OD&D appears to have been designed (with few exceptions) to accommodate characters up to around 15th level.

Later editions include rules for further advancement, but these rules are typically presented as an addendum in order to avoid a hard level cap. Every edition (excluding Mentzer’s Immortals – the “I” in BECMI), prior to 4e, seems to assume that character progression will top out around 15th level (with some exceptions as high as 20th).

Personal Experience

In practice, this is how things have worked out in groups I’ve been in. We’ve always enjoyed starting new characters at 1st level (sometimes as high as 4th to fit in with an existing group). I get the most enjoyment out of the game when party members are between 6th and 8th level. My friends appear to feel the same way. By 10th or 12th level, characters are usually retired or simply not played anymore.

High Level Play

On various forums, I frequently see people discussing characters that are much higher (20+) and often hear people brag about how quickly they got that high (sometimes in a matter of months of one night a week gaming). In 4e, all classes share unified experience tables that take characters to 30th level. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people claim to have made it to level 30 in less than a year’s time.

Why the Disparity?

I think the differences arise primarily from the players’ attitudes toward levels and leveling. Group A see their characters as ordinary people (perhaps slightly above average) who have taken up the challenge of the adventuring life. Their goal is in the adventure and leveling is more-or-less just an incidental benefit. In their eyes, they are simply ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Group B, on the other hand, see power (in the form of levels) as the be-all, end-all of their existence. In their mind, characters start out as heroes and are predestined to become gods. Anything that doesn’t move them along towards that goal is a distraction that should be avoided.

I don’t mean this to sound derogatory. There is nothing wrong with either approach. I am firmly within the group A mindset, but only because I prefer that level of play. Group B seems to me to be a bit over the top, save the world every week, superhero type of game. Many people really enjoy that, and find the group A play style to be too tame and slow-moving. As always, what works for your group is the best way to play, but I believe it is these differences in approach that account for the disparity in levels and in the rate of leveling.

Starting Level

As I said earlier, our group starts new characters somewhere between 1st and 4th level. We enjoy the “zero to hero” accomplishment. Many group B players abhor these low levels and choose to start out a level 10 or higher. This certainly shortens the leveling time and makes it easier to reach “maximum” level that much more quickly.

Monty Haul Campaigns

This isn’t nearly as prevalent as it once was. Newer players may not even be familiar with the term. But, in the olden days, it referred to campaigns where the DM gave out extraordinary amounts of treasure. Not only did this provide the characters with better gear (making them stronger and able to take down more powerful adversaries), but in early editions characters received experience for treasure. That means that extraordinary amounts of treasure equated to extraordinary amounts of experience, allowing characters to level much more quickly.

Doing Away With Experience

In 4e (and to a lesser extent 3.x and PF), it has become popular to do away with experience entirely. Instead, characters gain a level after x number of encounters or whenever the DM decides that it is appropriate to the story. Instead of gaining 10% – 20% of the experience needed to gain a level in an evening, it now becomes entirely possible to gain an entire level (or more) in the same space of time.

That’s not to say that this method is becoming the norm, but it does explain how some groups attain very high levels surprisingly quickly.

Closing Words

If your goal is to play a game where a group of high level characters face demon lords and demi-gods, and fight to save the world, then skipping the lower levels is almost a requirement.

If you prefer to save the village from invading orcs, or uncover the mysteries of the temple in the swamp, such high levels are unnecessary (and perhaps even out of character).