One of the (surprisingly few) things that I don’t like about 4e D&D is the speed of advancement. Those class levels fly by and it seems like every session ends with the players levelling up and gaining yet more cool stuff. I’m sure that’s not really the case, but as GM it feels like I’m continually playing catch-up with my monsters, encounters and challenges.
This is, I’ll confess, a very one-sided concern. Players in the main like gaining levels at the speed of light, while we GMs hunker down below our screens and just grumble to ourselves. It doesn’t help that I’m a proud card carrying Old School gamer where the speed of advancement was positively glacial.
Here’s the difference between Classic D&D and 4e D&D in the form of a one act play.
GM: When did you advance to 3rd level?
Classic D&D Player: 1982
4e D&D Player: Tuesday
GM: ….. and 4th level?
Classic D&D Player: 1984. That was a good year
4e D&D Player: Thursday. That was a good day
See what I mean? (Mind exaggeration for comic effect. Fade to black. Applause)
The problem with this problem (is having a problem with a problem a double negative? I dunno) is that I like the Three Tier structure. It hearkens back to Classic (pre-AD&D) D&D’s Basic/Expert/Companion/Master/Immortal design where each step up the adventuring career ladder brings fresh challenges and opportunities. As your 4e heroes rise from the Heroic to the Paragon and on to the Epic they increase in renown, battlefields get more bizarre and their villains get taller.
It’s not quite as well defined as in the good old days – it’s a crime that 4e D&D doesn’t have decent Domain Owning and Castle Building Rules for Paragon Tier and upward – but it is a welcome nod to Classic D&D, and this ‘wulf approves.
I’ve tinkered with the speed of character advancement for some time. For our epic End Day campaign I both embraced it and threw it out the window by letting the PCs automatically advance after every session and ignoring XP altogether. This gave me a fixed 30 scenarios to work with and a clear path to follow. I’ve tried slowing it down too using several different methods:
- Reducing the number of XP I award. GMs, if you want to be lynched by your players, try suggesting this. It’s fun! Players do not like being told “yeah, just 250XP for this encounter. I know it says 500XP at the top, but there’s a global XP shortage and I’m trying to do my bit for the environment.”. At best you’ll get a reputation for being stingy with your XP, and at worst you’ll be tarred & feathered and dumped in a container lorry destined for Paris. Trust me. I know.
- Doubling the values in the XP advancement table. This is another sure-fire way of risking a lynching (see 1, above). The XP Table exists on the Players’ side of the table, and as such is perceived as being Closed for Tampering by the GM. The other problem is that doubling the values on a non-linear table is nothing more than a short fix for a few levels. After that the gaps widen so as to seem (from the Player’s point of view) all but unattainable. It could take them months to level up. Perish the thought. The alternative is to hand-craft your own XP through careful negotiation with your Players. It you want to try this, go right ahead. This LazyGM is still plucking feathers from his ass.
- Reducing the number of Encounters per session. This is my preferred solution. We prefer our games to be more role-playing intensive than combat focussed so one (or at most two) Encounters per session is plenty for us. This lets us concentrate on the story and use the combat as strategically placed punctuation marks. It also has the added advantage that we can spend time over each Encounter rather than try to find ways to speed them up in order to hit some imaginary target number of Encounters per session.
While limiting the number of Encounters works (mostly) for us, I still felt I was missing something. There had to be a way to slow down advancement without short-changing the Players or reducing the body count.
Then it occurred to me.
The 30 levels are a lie.
The PC’s career in 4e D&D doesn’t span Thirty levels at all. They span 15 levels, with rewards every half-level as mini-buffs. The advancement table looks something like this:
|Level||XP||Ability Scores||Powers & Features||Feats Known|
|half||as starting char gen||1|
|1||1000||gain 1 utility||2|
|1.5||2250||gain 1 encounter|
|2||3750||+1 to two||3|
|2.5||5500||gain 1 daily|
|3||7500||gain 1 utility||4|
|3.5||10000||gain 1 encounter|
|4||13000||+1 to two||5|
In other words, divide their level by two. This means there’s five levels per Tier (plus five half-levels). Players add their level to any applicable dice roll (rather than level/2 – we’ve already done that step) and starting characters nominally start at level 0.5 – they’ve gained some experience and are on the way to attaining Level 1 (ie, the old Level 2). Following so far?
The only downside is that the GM needs to double the level back up to build Encounters. Those 2nd level PCs are really 4th level, remember.
In terms of advancement, the characters still progress and improve at the same pace, but the gap between “full” levels has widened. To go from 2nd to 3rd level, for example, now requires another 3,750 XP. Using the old method it needed only 1,250XP.
Isn’t perception a wonderful thing?
While we’re talking about perception, and as an aside……
When folks say that 4e D&D is just like World of Warcraft I adjust my monocle, point at them with my walking cane and utter “My dear fellow, I think you’ll find that World of Warcraft is like D&D!”. I plan to write a blogpost about this, but then I think “Ah, what’s the point.”. It’s a sad truth that people who are Wrong can rarely be convinced otherwise, yet people who are Right can often be persuaded to change their mind. This inevitably leads (through the incontrovertible power of Mathematics) to mean that more people are Wrong than Right.
Ok, that’s me done. Hope y’all had a great Christmas!