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Is there a way to learn someone's level in-game in DnD3.x? (...or possibly Pathfinder?)

Wait, I know, levels are an abstraction and a game mechanism, and should not come into play in-game. Yet, there are tell-tale signs: abilities that you gain only at a certain... level, and then there are the spells, your resilience, etc.

Should I want to run a game in which levels are somewhat more explicit (for example, a world inspired by Terry Pratchett's Discworld, where wizards do have and know of levels (of spells and spellcasting ability, at least, afaik)), what ways would the official systems provide, if any, to determine someone's level in-game? Are there any methods to discern such information, as a character (be it a player character or an NPC), within the world? '"He's a wizard of the seventeenth level," the prince said. "I wouldn't mess with him, if I were you."'

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You may want to look for things that let you know someone's hit dice, as this usually corresponds to level. –  Garan Aug 4 '13 at 16:04
    
@Garan: I'm not really looking for ways to guess levels as a player. :) I'm interested in ways actual characters can find out levels in-game (and say stuff like "Well, good sir, I understand you are of the eleventh level of the wizardly profession. Might I disturb you with some questions?" And so on.) –  OpaCitiZen Aug 4 '13 at 16:53
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Hmmm... It sounds like you are looking more for something within your world, rather than a rules based thing. Maybe you could implement some form of official magic ranking system, in which people need to achieve some form of goal to advance in? This really doesn't sound like something you'd need the rules for, specifically. –  Garan Aug 4 '13 at 19:27
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As an aside, taking a world model from Harry Potter and the Natural 20 seems like it would work well. The protagonist's home "world" subscribes to this principle: ancient wizards long ago discovered the rules and printed manuals with them. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Aug 4 '13 at 22:06
    
arcane sight is pretty close to able to provide this for analysis by a magic user of other magic users. Plus it's in the core rulebook. –  deltree Aug 5 '13 at 3:58
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7 Answers

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Complete Adventurer (a 3.5 supplement) defines an expanded use for the Sense Motive skill - Assess Opponent.

In short, it allows you to learn the relative strength of you and your opponent, in terms of your level and the opponent's Challenge Rating (which for most common humanoids is equal to their level). The results are well-defined, and range from "A pushover" to "A dire threat".

The rules text is on page 102 of Complete Adventurer.

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As you mentioned - this is a "meta" concept, and in the game, the characters would have no idea what experiences, or levels mean.

However - as you explained, certain organizations or groups need the concept of levels, this is also evident in the real world:

  • The Military has ranks, which are sometimes based on skill, but most certainly the higher the rank the more "abilities" one has, also, there are badges, for certain training, such as flight wings for those who are pilots, or special badges for those who have completed parachute training.

  • Religion has many concepts like this, priests - cardinals, bishops....

  • Sports keeps score and track of different players, and some are in "higher levels" than others.

  • Universities give you degrees, and when someone tells you they have a degree in something, you can generally know what that means, and depending on the degree, what "level" they are at. Also - it is common in the real world to add titles to people like "doctor".

  • Criminals often do this by tattooing things on their skin. Most common among Russian mafias and Mexican gangs.


In your game, you could have a similar concepts, titles, ranks, badges, stations, positions in their organizations:

  • Wizardry and Magic is a great example of this. Wizards who can cast spells of a certain level would probably be split into ranks or "tiers" depending on how powerful their spell casting is.

    • "That Wizard can cast 3rd tier spells, I know because of the chain around his neck signifying his status."
    • "The Red Robed Wizards of Caskadac, they are an elite group who all have complete mastery of fire, watch out for them!"
  • Warriors, Fighters, and Soldiers can easily be "ranked" by their kill count, of the number of battles they have been in, maybe even taking tokens or wearing badges to denote this.

    • "See that guy? See that symbol on his chest? That means he fought in the Goblin Wars!"
    • "The Kashai Swordsmen cut a scar into their arm for each person they kill - that guy has 14 scars on his arm, you shouldn't mess with him!"

As you can see, this concept of "badges" to denote skill is present. and can be easily introduced into your game.

Ultimately, it is up to you and your players to decide how to do this. But I would suggest that using the word "level" would confuse people


Take an example from The Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones): Maesters Chains (quoted the wiki):

The collar The collar signifies that maesters do not serve themselves, but are instead servants of all of Westeros. The collar consists of several links of different types of metal. These chains are formed from every metal known to man, but almost no maester will ever wear them all. Maesters do not remove the chain ever, not even when sleeping. According to semi-canon sources, it is possible to earn multiple links of the same metal.

These metals include:

  • Black iron (Ravenry)
  • Brass
  • Bronze (Astronomy)
  • Copper (History)
  • Electrum
  • Yellow Gold (Economics)
  • Iron (Warcraft)
  • Lead
  • Pale steel (Smithing)
  • Pewter
  • Platinum
  • Red gold
  • Silver (Medicine and healing)
  • Steel
  • Tin
  • Valyrian steel (Magic and the occult) - Only one in one hundred holds a link of Valyrian steel; the study of magic is looked down upon by most Maesters.
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This answer is amazing, too bad it already had a 'rule' for doing that. +1. Another thing I did was to have a Gather Information about that character - high leveled people means experienced people means stories about them sung by bards and the like. –  Lucas Famelli Aug 6 '13 at 12:16
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Spell level is an ingame concept that can be used to estimate a caster's level. Spellcraft can be used to determine a spell as it is cast, and if you know the spell level, that gives you a minimum character level.

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Not -that- reliable when Ur-Priests cast level 9 spells at level 14, and Wizards with a feat cast level 2 spells at level 1. –  Zachiel Aug 5 '13 at 9:53
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Although obviously HD and level aren't identical, for most humanoids HD is a strong indicator of level, so determining a creature's HD comes close. Included below are some such methods in addition to those to determine level proper.

Mundane

The Knowledge (local) Skill

A Knowledge (local) skill check can be used to identify humanoid monsters; monsters isn't a game term, so it's up to the DM if the game means creatures instead. If the DM takes monsters to mean creatures then a Knowledge (local) skill check determines a humanoid's HD with a margin of error of 0 to -4.

Example: Lidda makes a Knowledge (local) skill check to identify a humanoid lurking in an alley. Her check result is 17. The DM says she remembers 1 bit of useful information about that creature. This tells Lidda that the humanoid has either 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 HD. If the humanoid had 1 or 2 HD the DM would've had her remember 2 bits of useful information, while if the humanoid had more than 7 HD the DM wouldn't have had her remember any bits.

What information bits are obtained by this use of the Knowledge (local) skill--that is, whether Lidda receives information about that kind of humanoid lurking in the alley, or if she receives information about that specific humanoid lurking in the alley--is purely the DM's call and beyond this answer's scope, as is how this information is narratively obtained.

Improved Uncanny Dodge

A gang of increasingly high-level rogues can determine the level of a creature who possesses improved uncanny dodge by attempting to flank that creature. The rogues who succeed are 4 levels higher than the classes that grant the creature improved uncanny dodge. Druids and high-level rangers can give themselves improved uncanny dodge by having all 4 of Dragon Magic's primal spells on themselves at once; a cleric, wizard, or sorcerer can do the same with the 4th-level spell watchful ancestors (MoE 103-4). Determining the levels of bards, monks, fighters, and paladins this way would be, I think, impossible.

Researching

The soul bind spell reads: "While creatures have no concept of level or Hit Dice as such, the value of the gem needed to trap an individual can be researched" (PH 281), and that value is 1,000 gp per HD of the creature. The DM then makes researching this as simple or as difficult as the campaign demands.

Simple Example: Lidda wants to know how many HD that humanoid in the alley has. She goes to the local bar, makes a Gather Information check (DC 15) to find out about a specific item--in this case, a black sapphire expensive enough to bind the soul of the humanoid she just saw in the alley. If successful, she'll get that information.

Difficult Example: Lidda wants to know how many HD that humanoid in the alley has. She follows him back to his apartment, learns his name, finds out he's a member of the thieves' guild, breaks into the guild, decodes the membership list, looks at that thief's most recent jobs, and determines that he has a specific number of HD.

This assumes the DM doesn't say, "Magic spells require magical research," thus requiring legend lore, contact other plane, and and the like. This also assumes the DM isn't a jerk and just always says, "A black sapphire worth 1,000,000 gp will bind the creature's soul."

Magical

Spells, while none reveal exact level, can be useful in getting close.

A creature's type, race, subrace, and all subtypes are determined with the 3rd-level Clr spell know bloodline (LE 32); this lets the player know if the creature may have a LA. Race is tricky, though, and it's debatable what templates this reveals.

Creatures with auras (PH 32) are identifiable via the alignment-specific detect spells, but this method breaks down after the creature's level 11 or higher.

The 1st-level Sor/Wiz spell arcane sensitivity (ShS 44) reveals if a create can cast arcane spells and the highest level arcane spell the creature can cast.

The obscure 4th-level Sor/Wiz and Clr spell identify with flame (Dragon #308 23) has as one of its options revealing if creatures within the area possess levels in a specific character class.

A daze spell determines if a humanoid has 5 or more HD, and color spray provides more precise low-level indicators. At higher levels holy word and the like determines HD relative to the caster. A host of other spells have effectiveness based on the target's HD; some aren't even lethal.

The most precise method is the 1st-level Rgr spell detect favored enemy (SC 64), the third round of which gets their favored enemies' exact HD.

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While there's no method to determine the level, divinating a certain level range is.

In addition to Ernir's answer, the Know Greatest Enemy spell, from Spell Compendium, allows you to determine the power of a creature, based on Challenge Rating. While CR isn't the level, there's a wide range of creatures that have a 1:1 relationship between the two (e.g. all humanoids with a character class). Since his method relies on relative ratings and this uses an absolute scale, crossing the two could provide more precise informations.

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Steal that person's diary and look for notes on sudden improvements of skills. Every self dramatization note means another level. Especially if he/she is a wizard or any book dependant mage. The newly gained mage powers are accessible in the next day most of the time.

"My powers are increased yet again! Im going to adventure ....." --> level up.

But this would get DM mad >:c

If you have a chance to get that person in dungeon, hit until he/she passes out. This must be below-zero HP right? Then you wait until he/she get conscious. Then do it again. Then repeat. Then repeat until you get enough data(of wake-up times vs average weapon/magic damage), then you will get an idea of how many hit-points he/she gets per day or per hour (its based on level ). Statistically, you can prove minimum %5 of hits are critical too!

If you are a powerful spell caster, you may have a chance to wish to get his/hers all memories(exp?). Then you should know level of experience better.

Again, if you are really powerful on divination, turn your target into undead after making him/her pass out(not dead) and when he/she wakes up, turn-undead. Fail or success? Note all test results. If it is %50 fail, level will be near to yours (dont use your charisma for that. ----> cover your head with a paper-bag)

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I think this is a brilliant idea - but as it stands it seems like a troll post - you should add some more information and explain some reasoning behind it. Maybe in a world where everyone keeps a diary? Or maybe in a city where the guards keep copious notes on everyone and crime is rampant, so people are encourages to write down where and when they are - leading to most people keeping a diary or a log of some kind? –  Inbar Rose Aug 4 '13 at 13:46
    
@Inbar Just added more :) –  huseyin tugrul buyukisik Aug 4 '13 at 13:48
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Cute, but the "hp by trial and error" idea assumes knowledge of the equally-meta concept of hit points, so it's just moving the goalpost. (Unfortunately humor doesn't come across well in this format if that's what you're trying for.) –  BESW Aug 4 '13 at 13:49
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For some reason I find this funny. :) Not the answer I'm looking for, definitely, but funny. –  OpaCitiZen Aug 4 '13 at 13:58
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Not an answer, I would go so far as to say. –  mxyzplk Aug 4 '13 at 14:08
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The answer to this question depends on the answer to another question: "To what extent do the game's rules describe reality in the setting?" Unfortunately, the answer is different for every group, game, and campaign.

In some campaigns I've been in, spell levels were a thing that existed in the world; A wizard could refer to "a spell of the sixth level of complexity" and be understood by other professionals in his field. In another campaign, spell levels were not a recognised element of the setting; If it ever came up that a mage couldn't prepare a second lightning bolt because they only had one third-level spell slot, the in-character explanation was that "the astrological correspondences for preparing that spell are too fleeting."

Similarly, some campaigns make the ability of higher-level characters to absorb greater amounts of damage an in-setting detail ("That blow would have killed a lesser man!") whereas others handwave such differences, or suggest that high HP instead represents a greater ability to avoid blows, divine protection, and to fight through the pain.

Many campaigns even abstract away class. In such a game, there'll be no in-fiction reason why every major character's ability set must match one of eleven arbitrary fantasy archetypes.

In short, whether it's possible to estimate a character's level by the spells they can cast, or by their ability to swing a sword, or resist spells, or the number of punches they can take, or any other metric is entirely dependent on whether that metric is somehow associated with experience level within the setting.

There is no single standard way to decide how much of the game's rules are evident to characters within the game's fiction; It is up to each table (and GM) to decide what they are comfortable with. Whether the level of a particular character can be deduced from observation is just one part of that.

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I'm torn. On the one hand, this is an excellent discussion of the implications of the question. On the other hand, it doesn't seem to answer the question at all! –  BESW Aug 5 '13 at 6:44
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@BESW Yeah, it does kind of amount to "Ask your GM." That's kind of the point, though: The question, as written, asks whether D&D characters can find out certain information, but whether they can or not is so setting-specific as to be unanswerable. It's like asking "How could a PC learn the greatest secret of a god?"; There are no setting-agnostic rules or fiction that can answer the question, so it comes down to individual groups to decide. –  GMJoe Aug 5 '13 at 7:47
    
@BESW Alternatively, you could read my last line as "Based on the above, probably not." –  GMJoe Aug 5 '13 at 7:52
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Except that D&D 3.5 has spells which make HD and level quantifiable (all the detect spells, to start with). The notion of "levels of power" is inherent in the fiction of the game mechanics in every 3.5 setting because they use those spells, so it's not ultimately an exclusively group-specific thing. –  BESW Aug 5 '13 at 7:52
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This is a terrible answer for this particular question, because the question is asked from the DM's perspective. They want to know about existing mechanical support, given that the DM wants to allow it. This answer only discusses the perspective of a player. –  starwed Aug 5 '13 at 17:47
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