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13.33 encounters later…

Written by Expy - Published on December 15, 2007

Awarding Experience points

Let me start by saying that I do not follow the encounter level guidelines to award experience points in my D&D games. The guidelines suggest that about 13 encounters (both combat, and otherwise) should allow a character to level up.

Leveling up once a year

Since my D&D buddies and I only get together once every 2 or 3 months, leveling after 13 encounters would probably mean the PCs would gain 1 level per year! That is no fun at all!

Real-life-based leveling

Let’s suppose that your players know the system you’re playing really well. If that’s the case, you could use a leveling schedule roughly based on a real life timeline, not in-game events. There’s no such thing as leveling too fast if everyone has fun and is able to keep track of their character abilities.

If you play once a week, the PCs could level up once a month or so. If you play only twice a year wouldn’t it be nice to the players to let them level up after each game? It would still take 10 years to reach level 20!

Bonus: levelling up is fun for the players and requires no prep time for the DM!

What do you think?

Am I crazy or does this make sense?

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Written by Expy

Meet Expy The Red Dragon

Expy is the mascot for DungeonMastering.com and the real mastermind behind Expy Games. He likes to hoard treasure, terrorize neighbors, burn down villages, and tell white dragon jokes..

No matter how fearful the legends claim dragons are, they always end up being defeated in 5 rounds by adventuring parties they encounter. That’s what dragons are – experience points for the heroes in your Dungeons & Dragon party. And this mascot is no different, hence the name Expy.

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12 Responses to “13.33 encounters later…”
  1. Fox says:

    I run games quite a bit. yeah leveling is fun. I find that as long as the players are haveing they generally level about once a game session on average. My campaigns are usually rather unique. The obvious way is almost never the right way. The “through the front door” route will work only if your ingenious about it. The demon doesn’t always want to kill you, after all you just hacked down half his army. He wants to have you on his team. Not always a bad choice. Gain power until you can actually kill the demon or truly convert. Either way its all fun.

  2. GJ says:

    This is more or less what my old gaming group did for… oh, the last 3-4 Rolemaster campaigns under different GMs. We played once a week, and each week got you about 1/10 of the way to the next level. Since RM is a largely a skill-based system, we basically ignored XP and just went with straight skill (development) point awards: 5 points per week or thereabouts, with bonuses for good role playing, achieving objectives, and the like.

    Overall, it works really well. Awarding dev points each week meant that the characters could improve incrementally instead of in big-band fashion. There were always interesting trade offs… save those dev points to buy a more expensive skill after a couple of sessions, or spend them on improving or picking up another skill that might be more valuable in the near future?

    Not sure how you would do this kind of incremental leveling with D&D, though. You could probably split a level into 8 incremental levels:

    Increment 1 – gain 1/4 skill points
    Increment 2 – update saving throws
    Increment 3 – gain 1/4 skill points
    Increment 4 – update attack bonuses
    Increment 5 – gain 1/4 skill points
    Increment 6 – gain next level’s feat
    Increment 7 – gain 1/4 skill points
    Increment 8 – gain anything else

    You can fiddle with this by handing out incremental levels instead of XP. Want to progress slowly? Give one incremental level every session. Want to progress more quickly? Bump it up to 2 incremental levels per session or more.

    The really nice thing about this, though, is once the players get used to it, then the game can really change. Remove the goal of “gain XP” from the game, and it makes role playing a whole lot easier. We found that combat stayed an important part of the game – gotta skrag those bad guys, after all – but it didn’t have the same sort of focus that it did when XP was king.

  3. In our D&D campaigns, during the lower levels, we usually level every session, but XP isn’t always based on that you just defeated… our DM will also include XP for roleplaying and plot advancement.

    We’re currently in an advance-level campaign, hovering around the 19th level mark. Advancement has been slower, especially as we’re in the investigative portion of the story, so we haven’t really figured out everything we need to know yet. There is still XP for roleplaying, plot advancement and successful encounters, but we’re averaging a new level every 2-3 sessions.

  4. dave peyton says:

    Thirteen encounters = one level, hence thirteen chips = one level. I’m trying out this thing where I give out a poker chip for cool stuff like roleplaying, stumping me, hell, even meta stuff like bringing some grub or snacks. Once you get thirteen chips, it’s levellin’ time.

    Chips can also be traded in for 1000 XP each toward making magic items, and all XP requirements on one use items are removed.

    I’ve always just either arbitrarily done XP in the past, or had an insane laundry list of little bonuses a PC could possibly attain so hopefully the 13 chip method will be a happy medium!

  5. Robert says:

    I don’t hand out xp at all. I learned this from the previous DM.

    We level-up based on real time. When we are playing every week we level up every month. I actually think that works in fairly closely with the 13.3333333 encounters, but that is just coincidence. We also just all level up together, I don’t care is someone missed a session or two, I’m sure that they’d prefer to have been gaming – isn’t that all that counts.

    The players have said that whilst they enjoy levelling, it is time consuming and they don’t have the time to do it too often. And four sessions gives you a really good feel for where your character is at, so you have more idea of what you really want as you take the next level.

    Sticking to the prescribed 13.3333 encounters sounds like too much more hard work. I’d rather work on making better encounters, then working out 13.333 worth before announcing you can level up.

  6. Alex says:

    This semester, I DMed a campaign for about four players, two of whom had played for years (I’ve only played for a total of one year), and another is very rules-savvy and tactically minded. I completely ignored the EL calculations after the first couple of sessions, and just tried to throw nearly impossible fights at the players. By doing that, I made sure that the players didn’t get bored by repetitive combat, they leveled quickly, and the fights were complex and fascinating. We’d typically get through 1-2 encounters per session, but most of the encounters helped tell the story; there was no rolling on the random encounter table.

  7. Gygax the Younger says:

    I think its best to keep the characters the same level for a few sessions, if you play 3-4 hours session two – three times a month. That way the players feel like they are working for something and not having it handed to them. However, I do think its ok to buzz right through levels 1-5 or 6 pretty quickly at a rate of a level a session, or just start the game at around level 6.

    Low level are fun because its pretty basic and you may not be all larded up with magical gear, but the real sweet spot of the game is level 7-15. I suggest making it take longer to level up during those 8 levels.

    The players really start getting some good gold, some good class features/spells and good gear. Plus a large portion of the fun iconic monsters fit in this time frame.

    Of course this is just my opinion. I agree with the article and think that you can level as fast or as slowly as you want. It really depends on your DM, how often you can play and what the players expect.

  8. ScottM says:

    Real time is the way to go. Some D&D variants explicitly endorse it (like True20’s “level up when the GM says so”). In our last campaign, we got a set XP based on level times a fixed multiplier [easy session 100, medium 200, hard 300].

    I’m taking it one step further in our new campaign: level once per 2-3 sessions, at the GM’s whim. (Basically, True20 style.) It’ll be every two sessions near the beginning, every three when they hit the sweep spot.

  9. Yergi says:

    This is actually how I do it. We play once a week, and so I set it up to where the party levels once a month. I find that four sessions per level gives them enough time to appreciate their current level without tiring of it, and keeps the anticipation of a new level at a healthy amount.

  10. Khorboth says:

    I have thrown XP completely out the window. I have my PC’s level up when they have accomplished something significant or have suffered something significant. This is working out well in my Rolemaster game. In the Dragonlance Chronicles, I actually went through the module and penned in when levels happened so that I could control advancement to 20. This worked out extremely well.

    Overall, I have found that calculating XP takes a bunch of time and is ultimately meaningless. PC’s either stay in a tight pack where they level at most one session apart or they start to become unbalanced. XP rewards are also a large source of metagaming.

    I don’t like using real time because this would lead to inappropriate leveling. I’ve spent several sessions in pure intra-group roleplaying, and I can’t justify giving a level for this. It’s satisfying gaming, but won’t help a sword skill.

  11. Dave says:

    Yeah I level my characters up just fast enough so that they still are having fun. I like my players to grind levels so that they level up fast, because leveling is a great feeling.

    Like Yax said, you can never level too fast or too slow, as long as the DM stays at the same pace. If it’s cool with the players, might as well level fast!


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