I've been running an Open Table game this summer and it's going pretty well. I normally favor milestone leveling or other forms of keeping all PCs at the same level so I don't have to deal with level disparities. However, that assumes a pretty steady group with occasional absences. Since this game involves constantly adding new people, with no particular expectation of coming to every session, I had a few unusual requirements:
- New players (who are mainly new to DND as well as this campaign) start at level 1 and progress through the levels so they can gradually adjust to new abilities and not get overwhelmed.
- On the other hand, low-level characters being exceptionally fragile in DND5e, they should advance relatively rapidly toward the level of PCs who started earlier/attend more often so that everyone in the group is of a similar power level.
- People who miss a few sessions don't come back to find their characters suddenly different from how they remember them, or need to rapidly level up before they can start playing again.
The obvious solution, it seemed to me at the time, was to just to follow RAW, award XP during play (only for those present), and use the given XP charts for character advancement - I award it a little differently, but the exponential growth in both XP-per-encounter and XP-to-next-level makes it fairly easy to "catch up."
This worked well when the top players were level 3-4 and I mainly wanted to get people to Level 3 quickly so they'd be full-fledged members of their class and not go down in one hit. However, for the fall I'm expecting more new players, as well as some continuing ones, some of whom are well into level 5, and I see some issues emerging:
- Advancing at the same pace we have been (one level every 2-3 sessions for those in the lead) will be far too fast for goal 1 to work well - in the time the senior characters go from 5 to 6, newbies will go from 1 to 5, requiring them to get used to more than one new level in a single session. I'd like them to have more time than that.
- At the same time, with CR5+ challenges, it will be really tough to keep the lower-level players alive (goal 2) if things turn violent.
Both of these challenges seem likely get more severe as the level gap between new or infrequent players and more established players increases - and since they're somewhat at odds, simply increasing the amount of XP I give out will exacerbate 1, while decreasing it would exacerbate 2. Has anyone managed DND-ish games with big gaps between PC levels, and if so, how did you do it and how did it work out? (I don't really use XP as a reward, only for advancement, so I'm open to totally different systems of character progression if there's one that can achieve the 3 goals I outlined.)