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If a class or race has an ECL but no LA value, does that mean that the ECL is the LA, or that it just has a LA of 0 and your character is just that much more powerful with no drawbacks?

For example, I think the Paragon template does not have a LA. It only says under ECL that the character is effectively 15 levels higher.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

ECL, or equivalent character level, is a value you can calculate for a PC, not for a race or class. It's the sum of all the creature's hit dice (be them racial or class) and the level adjustment score.

Let's make an example: a Drow elf warrior 1 has no racial HD, 1 class HD and a LA of 2. His ECL is 3. For completeness I'm also reminding this value is different from the creature's Challenge Rating (CR) if encountered as an hostile NPC.

If a creature has a LA of "-", that's the author's way of telling you it's not a playable race. It can only be used as a NPC. This holds true for templates.

The paragon template has no ECL and no LA, it has a CR increase instead. This is used to calculate the challenge rating of a paragon creature NPC.

Since this was only an example, should you come across a template that has no LA but has an ECL (and this would be really strange, I think it could happen in some example PCs), LA=ECL-HD is the solution.

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I actually did not know that anything with a Lv.Adj. was not meant for player use. I know that my DM had allowed players to use things that do have Lv. Adj. in there character creation. –  Jackskel21 May 14 '13 at 21:25
    
Anything without a LA is not meant for player use. A Drow elf has a LA af 2, it is supposed to be as powerful as a character with 2 more HD. An Earth Elemental has a LA of -, it can't be used by players, unless the DM decides a LA and overrides the monster's statblock. –  Zachiel May 14 '13 at 21:34
    
So it is all actually about the DM's discression? –  Jackskel21 May 14 '13 at 21:37
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While everything in D&D 3.5 is DM discretion, by the rules any creature with LA is buildable as a PC (most DM will have a limited selection of races for their campaign or a maximum LA limit for character creation) and creatures with LA "-" (which is different from LA 0) are banned. Since it's D&D, any willing DM can create new player races from scratch or from monster races. Since this is not a forum but a Q&A site I invite you to come to the chat if you want to further discuss things that are outside of the scope of the question. –  Zachiel May 14 '13 at 21:50
    
I might just take you up on that thank you for your input. –  Jackskel21 May 15 '13 at 5:35

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