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I'm preparing a multilevel dungeon intended to move players from level 1 to 5 (one character level per dungeon level). I was wondering if anyone has formulas or rules of thumb to figure out how long a dungeon level should be. Specifically, how much should I put in a dungeon to move characters from 1 to 2?

This question has useful tips on pacing-How can I plan, prepare, and enforce an episodic structure? And I was going to use the Tales from the yawning portal as a guide.

Is there a standard number of encounters to prepare per character level, knowing this will vary by level and by how the DM is running their game?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Alternate solution: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/34919/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 7 '17 at 13:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ What are the concerns that put this on hold? Seems answerable to me. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 7 '17 at 19:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just echoing @mxyzplk - can one of the VtC-ers explain what makes this too broad to answer? "[H]ow much should I put in a dungeon to move characters from 1 to 2?" seems pretty specific to me, and also seems like something lots of new DMs struggle with. \$\endgroup\$ – tardigrade Jul 8 '17 at 20:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree (obviously I guess). Tardigrade's answer was very helpful, should be allowed \$\endgroup\$ – PSR Jul 9 '17 at 1:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk The last sentence read as a survey to me, obscuring the first paragraph: "But I wanted to see if anyone had a number of encounters they prepare per character level" \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jul 9 '17 at 4:14
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It depends on dungeon structure - unless you enforce a completely linear structure then you don't know how many of your planned encounters the party will defeat before finding a way to the next level. And it also depends on what encounter difficulties you want (easy versus deadly) and what other sources of XP you have, if any (awards for social encounters, milestone XP awards, etc). There are ways to conceal a linear structure ("you need to find the green key to unlock the green door to reach the stairs, but it's guarded by a dragon who wants you to recover the treasure from the bottom of the well, which is guarded by a water weird", etc) if you're sure that's what you want.

So assuming you're happy to enforce a linear structure this is fairly simple to calculate using the XP per level tables and the XP per encounter recommendations. The Old Guy Gaming blog did a breakdown of this (6 'typical' encounters to get to level 2, 5.33 more to get to level 3, 10.29 to get to level 4...) and so did the Angry DM. I'd recommend the second as it explores encounter heterogeneity in more detail.

Personally, if you really want to tie dungeon level to player level I'd focus on making individual encounters interesting and use milestone XP for either finding the stairs or overcoming particular factions (slaying the lizard king, helping the kobolds defeat the goblin boss, etc). Or you can make the players aware that things will get more dangerous as you get deeper, and they'll work out their own balance between risk and reward.

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