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Bloodlines, in all their weird but flavorful glory. For those who don't know, bloodlines are kind of like a racial template that gives you more abilities as you level up. Instead of having a level adjustment, you have to take pseudo-levels (1-3 of them) in the bloodline by certain points in your career. I'd always assumed those increased your ECL (effective character level, important for things like XP) like a regular level, but a guidebook I just read claimed otherwise. Sure enough:

Class levels of "bloodline" do not increase a character's character level the way a normal class level does, but they do provide certain benefits (see below).

So, do bloodlines not increase your ECL?

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Who knows?

Bloodlines are a lengthy, but still sketchy, variant idea from Unearthed Arcana. Like everything else in that book, they don’t have the same level of detail and rigor that you expect from the usual rules. Like everything else in that book, it is a mistake to read very much into the RAW there, even if you generally find value in RAW.

And bloodlines are really messed up. They are not a good system. If you follow discussions of them, it seems like the only reason anyone cares about them is the possibility that maybe they can be abused for freebie bonuses. There are so many other, better ways to establish a flavorful “bloodline” heritage for your character, that there is just no real reason to deal with the massive headache that is bloodlines when all you want is flavor.

So really, my answer to the question is not only “who knows?” but also “who cares?” I mean, it’s a valid question, I don’t doubt that someone will probably take an interest in hashing through Unearthed Arcana’s suggestions and treating them as hard rules, but 1. I still think that’s a mistake, and 2. I don’t think there’s enough value in them to be worth the effort. Even if you get answers to your questions that you find convincing, the bloodlines rules will still be bad and still be something you should avoid including in your games.

Unearthed Arcana is a book of ideas. Not all of them panned out. Bloodlines is one of those.

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Bloodline levels are class levels and therefore contribute to ECL.

Effective Character Level (ECL) is defined in the Dungeon Master's Guide, p.172:

Add a monster's level adjustment to its hit dice and class levels to get the creature's effective character level, or ECL. Effectively, monsters with a level adjustment become multiclass characters when they take class levels.

As per Unearthed Arcana p. 19, bloodlines are not level adjustment:

Because the power gain is gradual over a span of twenty levels, a static level adjustment doesn't truly reflect this difference.

They aren't hit dice:

Class levels of bloodline do not increase a character's character level the way a normal class level does, but they do provide certain benefits (see below). ... A bloodline level grants no increase in base attack bonus or base save bonuses, no hit points or skill points, and no class features.

But they are explicitly described as class levels:

Before a character with a bloodline reaches the indicated character level, he must take one class level of "bloodline". ... If the character does not take a class level of bloodline before reaching the character level indicated on the table, he gains no further bloodline traits and must take a 20% penalty to all future XP gains. ... Levels of bloodline never result in XP penalties for multiclass characters.

They are a variant type of class, and work differently to normal classes, but bloodline levels are specifically defined a class levels.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Doesn't specific overrule general, though? So while generally class-levels count for ECL, wouldn't the line "Class levels of 'bloodline' do not increase a character's character level" make bloodlines an exception? \$\endgroup\$
    – Elliot
    Feb 23, 2019 at 23:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PoeticallyPsychotic The full line is "Class levels of bloodline do not increase a character's character level the way a normal class level does", which I interpret to mean that they still increase your level, just in an abnormal way; they just don't give you class abilities, hit dice, and so on; it's an empty class level that gives you nothing except to serve as a downpayment on your bloodline. There's no other logical way for you take a level of "bloodline" without it actually counting as a level in terms of XP cost, which is the main thing ECL is used for. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 24, 2019 at 1:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @QuadraticWizard that’s an answer. I think it’s also the right answer, so you should paste it in as an answer instead of a comment. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Nov 21, 2019 at 1:39

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