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I am the Dungeon Master in a new campaign. Since I made the players start new characters, they were wondering if there was a fast way to gain experience. The players wanted the game to still be legit, but they also wanted the game to get more interesting quickly. Some of them are not experienced players and I am afraid that what I throw at them might kill them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you clarify? The DM decides how much XP the players get, so if you want them to have experience, you can just say "You all gain 100.000xp", but I don't think that's what you want to know? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jan 31 '18 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik I understand this question as OP thinking of levelling in tabletop RPGs in the same way you think about levelling in video game RPGs. I actually think it might benefit from a decent answer about how tabletop RPGs work in general (players creating a compelling story and the like), rather than focus on how experience points work. I might be interpreting too loosely, though. Question for OP: what is your experience with playing/watching tabletop RPGs? \$\endgroup\$ – DonFusili Jan 31 '18 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm assuming that having an 80s action movie training montage that gives them a boatload of XP isn't an option? (Joke aside, that is probably what I'd do, and I'd just make it a variation of the "starting at a higher level" rules, but as this is by no stretch of the definition an answer, it's going in comments.) \$\endgroup\$ – Ave Roma May 19 '18 at 2:29
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Levels are just a tool for enjoying the game

No one will come barging to your RPG table to check if the levels are "legit" in any way - the only thing that matters with the leveling pace is that you and your players have fun with it. This means you can and should adjust the leveling pace to match what your players want - if they feel they're growing in power too slowly, give them more levels, and if they feel they're growing in power too fast to appreciate what they're getting, slow down.

In accordance to this, remember that it is a perfectly valid option to start the game with a higher level character. If what you really want is a high-power campaign from levels 10 to 20, there's little point in spending twice the time just to build up the characters from level 1 to 10 in action.

Consider story- or session-based leveling

I personally use story-based leveling* instead of the more traditional mode of awarding XP for overcoming challenges and combat encounters. You can find brief descriptions of these options in Dungeon Master's Guide, on page 261. In this mode, the GM grants the party levels whenever they complete quests or subquests, at the desired pace. This greatly reduces the need for bookkeeping, and removes the incentive to seek encounters and challenges just for the XP.

However, the primary reason why I think you would benefit from story-based leveling is that it is easy to pace to match the desires of the people around the table. You can eyeball leveling quite easily - if you feel the party has earned a level, you can give them one, and if you're not sure, you can ask the players what they think. Another advantage is that you can plan quests to be level appropriate further in the future, since you can control when the characters level with much more ease.

Session based advancement is similar, except it awards levels on a per-session basis: "one level every two/three/four sessions" are fairly common schemes. You can also mix and match, for example awarding a level every two sessions with lots of action and tight spots, and every three sessions if the players have been less active or the sessions have been shorter.

Remember to let your players voice their concerns regarding leveling pace too, and try to match what they're expecting.

* while often referred to as "milestone leveling", milestones are actually a separate model between traditional XP and story-based leveling, also found on Dungeon Master's Guide Page 261.

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As I believe there is multiple ways to acheive faster leveling, I decided to write out a list that shows them with short explainations.

  1. Milestones - Simply add milestones to your campaign. These can be used to quickly add experience for the party after completion.
  2. Session Leveling - Some campaigns simply use an "appropriate level" design, where characters level automatically at the end of each session. This means your characters will always be on par for the story you are telling.
  3. Combat - Cherry pick combat for your party. Just because the CR is high for a monster does not mean it is hard to kill. For instance, a ranged party with reasonable speed could easily kite a Shambling Mound which is a CR5 with 2,700 experience.
  4. Role-playing/Actions - There is leeway in D&D to reward experience for basically anything. You might consider rewarding experience for disarming/surviving a trap, or a clever role-playing session that had beneficial effects for the party.
  5. Add Modifiers - Sometimes when awarding experience I will take into account various modifiers which made the event easier or harder. For instance, rewarding additional experience for a particularly difficult fight or action (though this is more of a house rule situation).
  6. DM - As always, you are the DM for your campaign and you can basically do anything you want to. If you feel allowing the players to level faster will make everyone enjoy the campaign more then you can always talk with your players and find your own solution.

As an aside, its worth mentioning that if the players want the campaign to be more interesting early, you can always facilitate that without the need of power leveling them. Make an effort to make the campaign interesting at all levels by adding unique/fun content available anytime.

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I think that, especially for new players, starting at 1st level and having a few sessions with simpler and more fragile characters is important to learning how to play wisely and to not having too many complicated options right away. Even with experienced players, I like to start at 1st when possible; it helps develop the characters better, especially if they have a few close scrapes or defining encounters while they are fresh.

In 5e, the first few levels go quickly anyway, a session or two each for the first couple, not much more for the next couple. It isn't until around 5th or 6th that it takes multiple adventures to get a level up.

One thing that can help, especially at low levels (and also is good for avoiding creating parties full of wantonly murderous characters) is that I do award partial experience for handling the encounter, not just for killing it. A party that looks before leaping, that investigates the danger and the opponents and the situation first, even that simply recognizes the danger of a too-powerful monster and runs away, gets some experience for that. A party that resolves the threat of the monster by sneaking around it, or negotiating with it, or some other creative solution, gets some experience for that. This helps weaker characters and parties advance, helps foster creative and intelligent gameplay, and cuts down on gratuitous sociopathy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Some DMs would award identical experience for killing a monster, otherwise defeating it, sneaking past it, negotiating with it, or most other creative interactions with it. (Probably not so much for just avoiding going anywhere near it entirely.) Somebody recently commented on another question something like "You don't get experience from killing. You get experience from encounters." \$\endgroup\$ – aschepler Feb 1 '18 at 2:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yep. Remember that if you give more experience for a combat win than a diplomatic solution, you're incentivizing your player characters to kill rather than talk. Consider what sort of behavior you want to encourage/discourage, and allot XP accordingly. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 1 '18 at 4:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Shouldn't you logically be giving more XP for diplomatic encounter solutions, as the PCs are missing out on treasure they would be getting by killing it instead? \$\endgroup\$ – Ave Roma May 19 '18 at 2:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AveRoma: In fact, the official WotC published adventures sometimes do exactly that. Usually the amounts of XP are the same regardless of how they pass the encounter, but sometimes you get more for accomplishing some additional goal that might only be possible through diplomacy \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 19 '18 at 4:56
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You can do whatever you want! You are the DM so you can start them at level 2,4,8,10! Whatever you want, it’s not even cheating! If you want to earn XP without starting with it then put them in a Arena. It’s one of the fastest ways to earn XP! I find Kobolds and/or Goblins! Kobolds would be better though because they are less likly to kill, kill, kill! I love playing with my cousins and my sister and I even added two cat-like creatures called Tabaxi.they are at level 7 even though they just got introduced into the game

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Lester welcome to RPG.se. Thanks for taking the tour. You could improve your answer by mentioning the Starting at higher levels section from DMG for the first part and explaining your experience in this "arena-like" setting, as I don't think this is an official guideline from the books. The final part is off - I'm glad you like playing, but I don't see how any of this is relevant to the question. Our format is about questions and answers, so try to only put information relevant to the question and answer here. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint May 19 '18 at 4:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HellSaint I read that as a larger number. must have been tired. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 19 '18 at 13:19

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