Dungeons and Dragons: A Great Experience

Dungeons and Dragons: A Great Experience

One of the parts of Dungeons and Dragons that people really love is leveling up their characters. You get more cool things that you can do almost every level or new spells you can use or even improved stats so that you can hit harder. To level up, you need to gain experience, but how/when do you gain experience or level up?

In the Players Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide, there is one primary way that the game is built for you getting experience, and that’s through combat encounters (and encounters of other types), but in combat, each monster has a certain number of experience points that they give you to divide between the party. This is the standard way, then comparing your total experience to that of the level chart, when you hit a certain amount of experience you go up a level.

While this is the classic method, I’m not a huge fan of it. First, it adds to me doing more math as the Dungeon Master when building an encounter and as players then when dividing up and adding in experience. Now, it doesn’t have to be difficult math, but if someone misses a session, does their character still get experience for it? If they don’t, that causes even more of a mess because now characters will not in sync level wise and since the game tends to be more combat focused when you are using encounter/combat based experience, that means that a character might be lagging behind with that. On the other hand, this is the classic way to do it, and for video game players, it’s how almost all RPG’s work there, so it is something that they might enjoy.

Image Source: D&D Beyong

My preferred method of leveling up and experience is to actually not track experience and go with something called, event or milestone leveling. When you hit a certain point in your characters story or in the over-arching story, you get to level up. The advantages of this come from leveling up in those moments where the story becomes more epic, you become more epic with it. You also don’t need to track everything and keep count of kills and what was killed, instead it levels you at proper thematic points. The downside is that if there is a point in the game where you are grinding through a dungeon and things aren’t changing, there might not be that character milestone or story event launches you to the next level. Instead you are stuck at a lower level for a while, while you’re waiting to go up and take off into a new ability for your character. That’s something, as a Dungeon Master, when using this method, that you need to be aware of, not to let the levels sit too long and instead focus on creating those epic moments every few sessions.

But, a friend, introduced me to an interesting idea from a video he’d watched on Professor Dungeon Master Youtube Channel. This concept is that you get a few points that you are tracking for experience, if things go really well in a session, you get 3 XP or maybe 4 XP. If things go awry, you get 1 XP, if it’s just okay 2 XP. And when you hit 10 XP, you “level up”. But, instead of just getting the level up, you need to do something in game or in downtime between sessions to get your character leveled up. This could be a little mini quest, such as a paladin destroying a cults temple and building up one to their god, Professor Dungeon Master’s example, or it could be something that is more tied into the main quests of the campaign. So you’re tracking experience, but at a limited level. And then to actually gain that level, you need that epic quest/story moment for your character so that they have a reason to gain new skills.

Image Source: D&D Beyond

Now, I think that is an interesting option that I’m going to want to try at some point in time. What’s interesting about it to me is that it gives the players something to track in terms of experience points, they can see how close they are getting to leveling up at the end of a session, but they and I don’t need to do a lot of math and figuring for the game. It’s just adding together single digit numbers until you hit 10, and then you start again. I also like, and this is something that’s bugged me with Dungeons and Dragons leveling, is that you could, theoretically, just because of a random encounter on a travel somewhere level up, and now the Wizard knows more spells, the fighter is better with their sword, and the Druid can change into more animals. So, while it can delay leveling a little bit, I like how a character needs to complete some sort of quest or mission for that character or the story overall. So we’ve talked about a Paladin, but a Druid planting a small grove and getting that started in an area, that could give you a level up, a fighter going and defeating some low life thug on their own to stop them from going after other people, that’s something that would work as well. But I think it gives a chance for players and the DM to be more creative in storytelling, and you can decide how much you want to spend in game on this, but you could also go between sessions as well for leveling up.

If you’re playing, do you have a preferred method? I don’t think that any of them are bad, I just don’t want to do the math, so I haven’t done the more combat focused gaining for experience. Would you try out another method other than your preferred one? Let me know in the comments below.

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