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My recent campaign has been run in arcs of 4 to 6 month, between which we usually change system and rebuild the characters due to using a Work-In-Progress custom system. My players and I have been curious about using D&D a few times, but the leveling curve is bugging me.

My problem is that I do not expect the players to gain more than 3 levels during the course of an arc. Most classes gain a single major feature per level that may not be interesting for the player. Most numerical features increase every 2 or 4 levels. Same for spell-casters unlocking a new spell level. This is especially a problem because in our current system, level-ups give a lot of options and possibly very useful features, closer to the effect of a new archetype or a feat.

For this reason, I would like to let players take 2 character levels instead of 1 during a level-up, so as to make sure that their features upgrade and that they get at least a new one that interests them. If they like all of it, all the better. Over the course of an arc, instead of going from level 3 to level 6 (gaining a feat, a damage upgrade at 5 and a usually non-combat feature before the finale), they would go from level 3 to level 9, unlocking the usually much more impactful features of level 9 and/or 10.

Are there any unintended negative consequences to this?

For the record, we use Milestone leveling for simplicity. The players can expect at most three major level-ups during this time, those usually gave to completely new abilities or huge power spikes. The gameplay itself is usually light in combat, although a D&D game would probably have more.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I thought of the as "showing my research". Do you think I should highlight the fact that they are beyond the question? Or just remove them. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Mar 29 at 13:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Then I have a question in order to understand your problem: what's the difference between gaining 2 levels at a time 3 times (leveling at the same rate as you usually do but doubling the actual advancements) and gaining 1 level at a time 6 times (just leveling as normal but at a faster rate than you usually do)? \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 29 at 13:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bloodcinder more bookkeeping and charasheet editing mostly. And the "problem" (in my experience with the system) that each level up is just another small increment. Part of the reason I level the characters 3 times in our current system is that leveling is a big deal. Closer to the jump of a feat or the Lvl3 archetype than to lvl5 for a fighter (Which is just Extra attack and profiency going to +3 IIRC). \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Mar 29 at 13:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would mention this context in your question. Otherwise, my gut reaction to answer your question would be "just level twice as fast," but that doesn't solve your problem due to the restriction you've just explained to me. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 29 at 13:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ To be clear, you've not actually played D&D? You're curious about using it, but you haven't used it, and you think the growth rate will be unsatisfying, but without having actually experienced it yet? (Not meant to sound snarky. I'm making sure this is accurate.) \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 29 at 17:59
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You have to be wary of the spikes in character Complexity

I'm going to use the Rogue as an example because this class represents the most obvious manifestations of how this kind of rapid leveling could be an issue; but in general, this is an issue that affects most classes and most levels of play.

Consider the first level. A level 1 rogue has the following features they need to contend with:

  • Sneak Attack—Extra damage when they have advantage or able to benefit from Flanking
  • Expertise—An especially high bonus to certain skills, meaning they will excel at certain kinds of ability checks
  • Thieves' Cant—A "secret language" that can have interesting RP consequences.

Those are quite a few features, but it's balanced out by the fact that they'll be spending some time at level 1, only dealing with those features. They'll have time to work out how each feature works and how to best make use of them.

When they hit level 2, they're only gaining one additional ability, but it's a pretty significant ability:

  • Cunning Action—simply gaining a few uses for a character's Bonus Action can completely change their combat style all at once. Being able to Disengage as a Bonus Action completely changes a character's relationship to the layout of the combat encounter, with respect to creature positions, geography, etc.. It's a lot.

Then, at Level 3, comes the archetype features. Every single archetype gains at least 2 new features. Even for archetypes like the Thief, where one of their features just improves upon the Cunning Action feature, the other feature is also giving some movement bonuses (or removing movement penalties).

If they're an Arcane Trickster, then they're getting

  • Mage Hand Legerdemain—an extension to their Bonus Action abilities
  • Spellcasting—and this is everything
    • 3 new cantrips, one of which is Mage Hand
    • 2 Spell Slots
    • 3 new Spells (2 Illusion/Enchantment, 1 any school)

Now let's see what this feature gain looks like if we include level 2:

  • Cunning Action—simply gaining a few uses for a character's Bonus Action can completely change their combat style all at once. Being able to Disengage as a Bonus Action completely changes a character's relationship to the layout of the combat encounter, with respect to creature positions, geography, etc.. It's a lot.
  • Mage Hand Legerdomain—an extension to your Bonus Action abilities
  • Spellcasting—and this is everything
    • 3 new cantrips, one of which is Mage Hand
    • 2 Spell Slots
    • 3 new Spells (2 Illusion/Enchantment, 1 any school)

Do you see the problem? There's a lot that a character is gaining in terms of features just going from levels 1 to 3. As a consequence, it's quite easy for one or more of those features to fall through the cracks and forgotten.

Now let's just take this same character and jump them to level 9, without doing the step-by-step, and just see how many new features are showing up:

  • 3 new spells (2 Illusion/Enchantment, 1 Any School)
    • and the ability to replace up to all 6 of their spells with something else entirely, adhering to those school restrictions
  • 2 Ability Score increases or Feats (are the feats adding new features?)
  • Uncanny Dodge—this dramatically changes their relationship to especially strong melee creatures
  • Evasion—this changes their relationship to powerful spellcasters
  • More Expertise—more skills they can use to trivialize certain kinds of ability checks
  • Magical Ambush—creates a very powerful use for their Cunning Action/Bonus Action Hide ability

This is a lot to keep track of! Each of these features have significant impacts on how this character would play on a moment-to-moment basis, and if these are things that the player can't keep track of, it'll dramatically reduce their power level.

This is less of an issue in normal play because you normally advance through these levels over the course of months or even over a year or two. There's a lot of time to work out how each feature improves upon the character they're playing. But compressed into the weekend or two between sessions, it could be too much.

Experienced Players can probably handle these changes—Probably

It should go without saying that if you trust that your players are either experienced enough or smart enough to be able to take these kinds of complexity gains in stride without struggling to keep track of their new features, then you have a lot less to worry about. I know there are lots of players—especially people who are used to playing Rogues—who would scoff at the list I've posted above and say "what, that's all I need to deal with?"

So I'm not here to tell you this is a bad idea, or that your campaign is going to suffer if you choose to do this. All I'm going to tell you is that if you plan to do this, it is very important that your players understand what you're signing them up for, and are prepared to deal with it. If they are, then I imagine this is a good way to quickly get players to a Tier of play that tends to be somewhat underrepresented in 5th edition.

Just be mindful that even experienced players might be playing a class they haven't touched before, and that they could get overwhelmed by having too many new features to keep track of.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've decided to accept this answer because it is ultimately the one that made me rethink my gameplay assumptions. Because I can't throw players into Lvl8+ characters, my first games with 5e will be around the levels where characters change most(3-6), reducing the need for multiple level. From there I will have more info to decide on a future leveling curve. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Mar 31 at 0:48
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You know your players

As long as you are scaling the encounters to match their ramp up of levels, this sounds like a fun way to get players to feel like heroes faster. If this is going to have them enjoy the game more, go for it.

The only downside I can think of is gaining a feature AND an ability score increase is a large power jump, but if the encounters are equally hard, it's fine. Taking fighters for example, they get their first ASI at level 4 and a landmark feature of having an Extra Attack at level 5. So going from Level 1, to 3, to 5, could be a really big jump for the party so its worth being extra cognizant of that.

Another issue could be that they may not become intimately aware of all their skills or interactions that could take time to develop a feel for, but if they are experienced at TTRPG's I don't think that's an issue at all.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why do you think your second paragraph is a downside? You've already addressed that they need to keep encounters on pace and your final paragraph is spot on :) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 29 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, I think i wanted to highlight that specifically an ASI and a landmark feature (like Extra Attack, so going from levels 3 to 5) is going to be a really large swing in power "overnight". If they have fighters and rogues, the entire party gets a huge jump. Worth highlighting twice I think I will add that context \$\endgroup\$ – Stickyz Mar 29 at 13:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Totally up to you :) But it does seem like your common theme is also "make sure you keep your encounters on pace" which really deserves a highlight. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 29 at 13:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @3C273 I think those levels are specifically designed to be the largest spikes, but 8-9 for spell caster is probably a large jump too, since you get 5th level spells and an ASI. Really any time you can add an ASI AND get a large feature its going to be a large power jump. There are probably some class/subclass examples too where things go really quickly. \$\endgroup\$ – Stickyz Mar 29 at 13:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @3C273 You can think about an ASI as a 33% increase in approximate power in many cases (as your primary ability modifier goes from 3 to 4). It is quite important. The level 8 ASi (or level 6 for fighters) is less vital as a 25% increase, but still very powerful. Thse are rough estimates, but they demonstrate the issue a bit more than a +1 feels. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Mar 29 at 14:27
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In my experience, handing someone a high-level D&D character in any modern edition (since 3e at least) is a recipe for frustration.

Expecting someone who hasn't played a lot to create a high-level D&D character is also a recipe for frustration.

As you play D&D you, the player, gain expertise both with your specific character, and with the mechanics of D&D. The level based design of D&D is intended to have complexity of your character increase as you get better at both D&D and playing that specific character.

In 5e specifically, at each level a character 0 to 2 features. How these change how the character plays is meant to be learned over the course of a level (or two), at which point the character gains a new feature and the player has new things to learn.

By doubling up level increases you to steepen this learning curve a bit.

That is about the only downside.

Now, 5e D&D's power curve is a bit more linear than 3e/4e's power curve. So if you want each of the increases to feel equally large, may I suggest:

3/5/8/12

For a 12 con d8 HD character your HP will follow:

21/33/51/75

So 57%/55%/47% increase in HP in each of those bumps.

You get 1 "baseline" ASI per milestone this way, and have access to the level 11 at-will attack boost for most characters.

Another really important difference is that you unlock the level 11 at-will attack boosts; Fighter 3rd attack, Paladin auto-smite, various Cantrip upgrades, etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll read it more in-dept later. But that is the kind of post I was hoping for. All of us played dnd in the past (save for 1 perwon I think) and the players usually have quite a few games between levels, but there is the possibility of too much too fast. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Mar 29 at 15:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ After reading, I find your suggested leveling curve extremely interesting for the mood I was aiming for. Thanks for taking the time to think these up. Enjoy the +1. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Mar 31 at 0:50
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We have quite a few questions on this site (for example, this one) where someone has gotten confused by trying to gain multiple levels at once. The levelling rules just don't work that way. So if you want to do this, you need to be very clear with your players that, although they're gaining multiple levels, they still need to level their character one level at a time. Otherwise they're going to make mistakes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While I don't think this would be too much of a problem with my players (none of whom I expect to be the kind of player to go for tricky leveling up tricks or to mind me making a ruling), it is a very interesting warning and a very good point. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Mar 31 at 0:53
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Hard To Keep Gear Levels Right

Other answers have hit the big issues, but have you considered what this does to selection of magic equipment? If you're halving the time it takes to get to a certain level, you need to double the rate of non-disposable magic items being obtained just to be where they "should" be at that level. If you don't increase this equipment gain, you will find the characters even more reliant on their natural abilities which, due to their rapid level gain, they may not have the out-of-game knowledge to use effectively.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I"m not sure I understand this. Magical Items, including availability and access, is entirely up to the DM (and isn't even a required thing to have.) But in general, there is no baseline 'should' for magic items. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 29 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ II think he's refering moreso to consumables. If I were using them as a heal/damage ressource, it would be a concern. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Mar 29 at 17:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @3C273 "nondiposable" doesn't suggest consummables (those would be disposable, yes?) But i'm still unclear as to why you think consummables would be a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 29 at 17:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch true that. I think this answer is based on the old D&D mindset. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Mar 29 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Consumables should be fine because they are still going through the same number of encounters (presumably). D&D5 makes gear matter way less than previous editions, but it still matters. How important things like a Magic Weapon spell are is going to be impacted. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael W. Mar 29 at 21:36

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