Disclaimer: The DM has never DM'd before, and 2 out of the 3 PC's have never played D&D before. I am the 1 PC who has played before (2 previous groups).

I've just started a new 4E group using Maptools, VOIP, and the D&D Insider tools. Functionally, everything seems to be set up to minimize friction due to communication problems and has been very nice to use.

However, we've played 2 sessions in about 5 weeks for a total of about 7 hours of playtime. 2 of those hours have been burned up due to character creation assistance, leaving us with 5 effective hours of playtime.

We've been in 2 fights so far, for an average of an encounter every 2.5 hours. Each PC started at level 1 and has gained 290 XP, leaving a pace of approximately 58 XP per hour. This leaves us just over 17 hours to get to level 2, and exponentially more for each level.

Keeping in mind that our pace is almost guaranteed to increase due to familiarity with core rules and the other players, doesn't this seem absurdly slow to anyone else? For example, assuming an increased XP/hour pace of 100 XP per hour, it will take us roughly 195 hours or 8 days of play to get to level 10.

We have tentatively planned for 3 hours per session, twice per month, which gives us 6 hours of playtime per month. This means it would take over 2.5 years to get to level 10.

How is this not abysmally slow? Maybe I'm pampered by video games and what-not, but at that point, we would have just reached Paragon Paths, where we are supposed to be finally "powerful". I have to wait 2.5 years to get to that?

Somebody, tell me what we're doing wrong or that I should just give up now.

tl,dr: My 4E group feels very slow. What should I expect from a normal campaign, and what should I expect (in hours) to get from level 1-30?

Update: Wow, for my first post, this got some great answers! I want to thank everyone for the amazing thoughts and suggestions posted.

Since it's been solidified that, yes, this is in many circumstances the normal pace for the game, it seems I may definitely have to scale back my expectations. I love the fact that skill/social challenges give a higher ratio of xp, but I have doubts that my DM is experienced enough to want to try more of them. I don't really want to move from 4E because it feels streamlined, but perhaps it just isn't meant to be fast-paced. However, I recently read an article suggesting it may be worth considering a global increase of 10%-30% on xp to speed things up. I think that may have some merit to it, if the rest of the group will agree.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If you want to speed up your sessions take a peek around the site, there are some great suggestions. One of the ones I can suggest wholeheartedly is to invest in a DDI membership, character creation/rules look ups become a snap. Plus players have their power cards on a sheet in front of them instead of needing to look them up. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Dec 14 '11 at 16:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/7405/… \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Dec 14 '11 at 16:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ It took my PC 16 years (sic!) to get to level 10 (AD&D 2). Thus you are advancing incredibly FAST! \$\endgroup\$ – Stephen Dec 14 '11 at 19:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Others have done an excellent job addressing the expected rate of advancement, but I think that it should be noted that due to earned XP per encounter scaling by level, XP/hour is not a good metric. \$\endgroup\$ – Simon Withers Dec 15 '11 at 0:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth, a fast pace of advancement within a campaign can lead to two problems: 1) it makes it hard for the DM to plan ahead, since characters may be way beyond a planned challenge by the time they get to it, and 2) it can create cognitive dissonance, because serious NPC threats you met "yesterday" become way beneath you. It's a bit weird to go from from fighting rats to fighting demigods in under a month of in-game time. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Dec 15 '11 at 12:15

4e is modeled on approximately 10 encounters/level. So if you are playing 2 encounters/session then you will level approximately once every 2.5 months.

The experience point numbers in the game are built so that characters complete eight to ten encounters for every level they gain. In practice, that’s six to eight encounters, one major quest, and one minor quest per character in the party. (DMG 121)

That means that yes it will take you a bit over 2 years to get to L10 playing twice a month and probably longer to reach higher levels as paragon and epic encounters may take longer (higher XP budgets, PC damage doesn't scale as well with monster health at epic etc)

This has been borne out in my experience. My group meets weekly for about 4 hours. We usually get through two combat encounters in a session (or 1 combat and a social encounter or similar). We have been playing for a bit over a year and are nearly at L10.

Theoretically if this math continues (I don't think it scales quite the same way) and you can continue to finish 2 encounters in a session it will take aproximately 150 sessions to get to L30. at 26 sessions/year it will take a bit over 5 and a half years to level all the way to epic.


Here is a breakdown of time taken to Level from 1-30 assuming 2 encounter/session 26 sessions/year at 6, 8, and 10 encounter/level:

  • 10 encounter/level -> 300 encounters -> 150 sessions -> 5.76 years
  • 8 encounters/level -> 240 encounters -> 120 sessions -> 4.61 years
  • 6 encounters/level -> 180 encounter -> 90 sessions -> 3.46 years

This gives you an idea at least of potential different rates at which you can level depending on how challenging your adventuring becomes.

  • \$\begingroup\$ 10 encounters per level? Where'd you get that number? Wow. Mine is more like 4 or 5. How many people do you play with? My sessions are 2-3 hours and encounters take about 1hr. We have three players, and they leveled from 1 to 5 in about 15 sessions (keep in mind that not all XP is granted from combat. Skill challenges pay well vs. time. All of the actual play numbers I've heard for 1-30 are 2-3 years. \$\endgroup\$ – F. Randall Farmer Dec 14 '11 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ its 10 same level encounters/level. L1 encounter for 5 PCs is 500 XP or 100/PC which means 10 L1 encounters will get you leveled up. Obviously you will face encounters that are above your current level so you will level faster, but in turn those encounters will likely take longer (more monster HP etc). \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Dec 14 '11 at 16:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ yeah 10e/lvl is the base to start from and then you tweak levels up from there to give the PCs more exp. I generally plan my encounters for 2-3 levels above my crew of PCs, but I have some very experienced players who I know can handle it. The encounters actually don't take that much longer. Plus higher level minions are an easy way to bump up encounters closer to your PCs level. \$\endgroup\$ – Iain Anderson Dec 14 '11 at 16:48

It may seem slow now, but you can't necessarily take the numbers from two battles and extrapolate them that far out.

A couple things to consider:

  • Skill Challenges and/or social encounters give a much higher experience-per-hour rate than combat encounters.
  • You don't always have to fight! Just last night our group used a ritual to create a good disguise, succeeded on a few skill rolls and bluffed our way past the Ziggurat guards. We "defeated" the encounter in 20 minutes and received 2400 exp each (L16).

With all of that said, it has taken our group 2.5 years to reach level 16 from level 1. We meet weekly for about 3 hours and typically get through 1 combat encounter per night since we have 8 people at the table. So your estimates aren't completely unreasonable.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that this is very important to note. 4e emphasizes not just getting XP from combat, but from plenty of other sources as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Cam Dec 14 '11 at 17:49

This is the complaint I've seen from a house mate of mine with more experience at 4E, even with experienced players. They're solution was to give monsters 1/3 HP and make monsters to 3x damage. That, he said made everything much faster and bearable. Your mileage may vary however.

One of the things I'm going to do if I run/play again is make 'power' cards for all the powers I have so I can access them quickly, I'll know what I can and can't do. Last time I played I spent half the time searching the PhB for powers I have and what they do, slowing everything down.


When my group tried to play 4e we had the same problem. It took us three game sessions of 5 to 7 hours each just to get through the first small dungeon! Things did speed up later once players were more comfortable with how the combat system worked and also were not looking up their powers constantly. However, I still thought the combat was too slow for my tastes, even when it was running smoothly.

I would suggest trying some of the recommendations others have made, such as altered monster stats and adding in some more non-combat challenges. But if time and implementing suggested ideas does not work and you still feel combat is too slow, it might be worth switching to another game system. With my group the fastest combats occurred during the GURPS based game we tried. There is a lite version of the system available free as a PDF if you want to check it out. Also, I'm sure if you ask, you might be able to get other good suggestions for systems that will appeal to your speedy combat preferences.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd heard of GURPS, but felt comfortable with 4E. Maybe GURPS deserves a second look...great suggestion! \$\endgroup\$ – llaughlin Dec 15 '11 at 0:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Gurps can be a little intimidating at first, but the 4e books are wonderfully organized, well written, and let you can make some very diverse characters. The only time consuming part I found was character creation (expect to do math). GURPS does have an official character creation program that makes character generation (and leveling) 10x easier. \$\endgroup\$ – Deidre Iannelli Dec 15 '11 at 1:21

I don't know if this applies to you, but it really annoys me when people play D&D for levels. If you want 'Level 30' written on your character sheet, just do it right now. Poof, you get +20 to every roll! But now all the DC's are increased by 20. All the monsters are bigger, the poisons stronger, and the traps harder to disarm. Sure, you can sneeze and blow a goblin 20 feet, but no matter how cool that seems initially, it gets boring pretty quickly and you'll be desperate for something that's actually a challenge.

It seems like you really want to advance more quickly to go on more difficult adventures, and there's much easier ways to do this than sitting around bored because you're obeying the rules for a game based on fun. Maybe the gods send you on a divine mission where they give you heavenly aide because of its great importance, maybe you all have a strange dream or premonition of the future while at an oracle, maybe you just woke up, find yourself immensely more powerful, wiser, and stronger, but have no idea how you got their and need to go on an adventure to find out! +20 levels in 60 seconds! You get to go on the adventure you want, have all the fun of nailing a DC 45 strength check, and get an added story to boot!

In short, D&D is for fun IMHO, and if leveling up is really fun/important to you, just find a way to do it instead of following the rules because the book said so and there's dire consequences if you don't. Increase all experience gains by 100%, go to sleep in front of a magical stone where adventurers of the past share their power and experience with you (+2 levels instantly), start at level 10 from the beginning, etc. Just don't waste your time doing something you don't want to because the rules said you should.

If you change the rulebook to increase the fun, you're not cheating, you're helping the rulebook do exactly what is was designed to: help take you on awesome adventures that you'll never forget. :D

  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't fully apply to me, but I agree with your assessment. My main concern was the feeling of accomplishment being so sparse during the campaign that it would become very boring with little to look forward to each session. \$\endgroup\$ – llaughlin Dec 15 '11 at 14:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @llaughlin You can get a sense of accomplishment in other ways than just levels if the players enjoy it. Powerful magical items, important people owing you favors, a new pet, a renowned reputation, and the knowledge of having overcome a daunting task can work as well if you're just looking for some sort of improvement. And heck, why should new spells/skills/feats/powers have to wait for a level? The DM could just give everyone +1 to the skill of their choice as a sort of 'mini level' after a significant escapade. :D \$\endgroup\$ – Gordon Gustafson Dec 16 '11 at 0:51

Not all campaigns are made for bringing level 1 characters to level 30

So, the theoretical time needed to level up all the way might be irrelevant to your campaign. I did take part in a 30-level campaign because I wanted to be able to say that I had done one, and if your party thinks it's a cool thing to do, you can aim for it, but it's not necessary.

XP gained after each combat grow proportionally to the XP needed to reach next level

So, say you need 1000 XP to reach level 2 and you get 100 XP per encounter, but you need 2000 extra XP to reach level 3? (I have taken the numbers from a different edition of the game because they are easier to work with.)
Well, you will get 200 XP per encounter now.

Combat is the slowest source of XP

Sometimes you will get XP for completing missions, sometimes you will get XP for avoiding combat.

The journey is the reward

I know it's cool to unlock some new powers, but don't get sad if you level up rarely. Your character is fighting for some cause, and every thing you do is progressing through the story. Levelling up is incidental, and the enemies will most probably also level up at the same time.

End combat earlier

There's a point is some encounters where the peril has become minor. As a DM I still play it out because I lever the Healing Surge economy in order to drive my players to make sound choices of what to fight and how. Some DMs just make enemies flee when the party doesn't risk losing anymore, but you're not the DM: use Intimidate to shorten encounters instead.


You've played 2 sessions with what sounds like 1 combat per session. As someone else noted, it is 10 encounters to go up a level. So you'd expect to go up a level every 20 weeks if you play every other week at that rate.

Normally, a 4 hour session can usually be made to have 3 encounter generating events — 2 combats and a skill challenge. 3 of those 4 hour sessions = a level per 12 hours.

So, how to adjust this? Two ways: Have 2 experience generating events per session. Maybe even 3.

Handwave xp altogether and just have everyone gain a level after 12 hours of play or 4 of your 3 hour sessions. This is also less work for the DM to keep track of and will speed things along.

I'd so totally do #2 in a game such as the one you're in. So much easier and keeps things moving. You gain a level every 8 weeks at that rate, which might still feel slow, but not quite as slow as currently.

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