Forgive me for not being good at game terminology, but there is one concept that I simply have been unable to fully grasp after reading the core rulebook.

In the book, there are mentions of Character Level, Class Level and Level (just being mentioned as level or "your" level).

Are we talking character level or class level when I'm asked "What's your level?"

Could anyone make a solid explanation that I can remember? The rest of my party are rules- and character-building nuts, and they often get sidetracked with potential combinations when trying to explain even simple things.


4 Answers 4


Your Level, when in a class description is your Class Level; in almost all other places, it's your Character Level.

Character Level is the sum of all your Class levels, plus any racial adjustment if importing D20 races with Level adjustments. (IIRC, Pathfinder doesn't use level adjustments; all they are is a class that can't be raised.)

Class Level is the number of times you've increased that particular class, including the one level you start the game with. It only affects that particular class, normally

Caster Level is the total class levels of all classes using the same type of magic.

Example: A Wizard 3/Fighter 4 has a Wizard Class Level of 3, a fighter Class Level of 4, and a Character Level of 7, and is an Arcane Caster Level 3.

Example: A Wizard 9/Spellsinger 2/Rogue 2 is Wizard Class Level 9, Spellsinger Class Level 2, and Rogue class level 2. Her Arcane Caster Level is 11, because Spellsinger adds to her arcane caster level... she casts as an 11th level wizard, but only has 9th level class features from wizard; her two levels of Spellsinger class levels giver her the 2nd level class features. Her Character Level is 13

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    \$\begingroup\$ Erm, parts of this are wrong. While "Level" on its own does often mean "class level," there are situations where it doesn't - such as the entire spell description section, where it means "caster level." CHaracter level didn't include racial adjustment, but it did include racial hit dice. And caster level is per class - A wizard 5/sorcerer 5 has caster levels of 5 in each class, not a caster level of 10. -1. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented May 28, 2012 at 4:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user867 Prestige classes, especially imports, directly add in some cases. Pathfinder doesn't exist in a vacuum, and I've seen at least one prestige class for pathfinder that does so, tho it was beta era. So, no, not wrong; your perception is overly narrow. \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Commented May 30, 2012 at 4:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ You are quite right, I should have said that caster levels are <em>usually</em> per class. Still, I stand by my claim that you, too, are wrong, as you should have said the same thing. Wizard and Sorcerer caster levels, for example, do not stack. Oh, and to clarify what I said about character level and racial adjustments, Equivilent Character Level (ECL), unlike character level, does include racial level adjustments as well as racial hit dice. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented May 30, 2012 at 7:42

Class level is your level in whatever specific class is being referenced. If you see "[class name] level", that also refers to class level, though that usage isn't very common.

Character level is the sum of all your class levels in each class.

Plain old "level" is, unfortunately, ambiguous. It usually means character level, but if you see it as part of a class ability, there's a good chance it's a typo and should mean class level.

An example: Bob is a Wizard 7 / Cleric 5 / Mystic Theurge 4. His wizard class level is 7, his cleric class level is 5, and his Mystic Theurge class level is 4. His character level is 16, the sum of his class levels.

Caster level is your effective level for casting spells for some class. It's the sum of your class level in every class that adds to the base class in question (some prestige classes will say "+1 level of [class name]" for spells known / per day).

In the example above, Mystic Theurge is a prestige class that gives +1 wizard caster level and +1 cleric caster level for each level of Mystic Theurge (along with spell slots, but that's not relevant to the discussion here). Bob thus has an effective caster level of 11 for wizard spells (7 wizard + 4 Mystic Theurge) and an effective caster level of 9 for cleric spells (5 cleric + 4 Mystic Theurge). (Thanks Gates VP for reminding me about caster level!)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there still the pain of effective character level and effective caster level and effective caster level? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 25, 2012 at 23:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's also that whole caster level thing, your example PC would cast as an 11th level Wizard and a 9th level Cleric. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gates VP
    Commented May 26, 2012 at 6:16

First, I must defer to GITP's Order of the Stick: http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0012.html

Sage covered the bases I wanted to, but I'll throw in my two cents anyway. Often times with these games, it just takes breaking down the sentence just a little bit when they want you to warm up the glossary. Many a time I've had to just kind of sit down and find the words/phrases that were awkwardly used and just kind of hack out what I didn't get on the first take, and make my own notes on the system itself.

Feel free to ask your table (especially your DM) to explain anything that you are having a hard time understanding. As long as they're good folk, they'll be all too willing to help you sort things on the run. Also try talking to someone who knows the game, and maybe have them run a "tutorial" game. Almost every new game I throw at my players, the first session is plotless and I set up a one dimensional situation and walk them through a use of any ability they don't get (especially if I don't quite get it myself and want to see it in action)

  • \$\begingroup\$ That gets an upvote, just for reminding me of that OOTS episode. Very nice. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 21:47

Level, Class Level, Character Level, Caster Level, ECL (Effective Character Level), ECL (Effective Caster Level), ECL (Effective Class Level)

Level – This is a general reference and is entirely dependent upon context for meaning, generally refer back to the most recent specific reference. As an example, if someone is talking about a Fighter and makes a vague reference to level (like, 'each time you level') the context would be Fighter Class level.

Character Level – they is the total of all your class levels, no adjustments. If you have a character that is Druid Level 5/Wizard Level 4/Rogue Level 6, you have a Character level of 15. Character Level is a simple total of levels. Usages for this number would include things like the Druid feat Shape Focus which allows you to use your character total levels when determining your level for shape shifting.

Effective Character Level (ECL) – This is a number used mostly by your GM/DM. It is your Character Level plus all adjustments like Bonus Dice, Racial adjustments, other factors that would affect the difficulty rating of your character. Your GM/DM will use this number averaged with the rest of your party to determine appropriate challenges, dungeon levels and experience gains for encounters.

Class Level – This is the starting level for the class plus each level you have added to that class from experience gains. This is used to determine BAB, SAVES, and specials gained for that class.

Effective Class Level (ECL) – This can get more complicated, because it can work as an across the board effect or as a partial effect for class level benefits. Effects, items, game devices that alter the class level up or down are usually specific as to what they affect. An example would be a spell that boosted your BAB and granted you saves and effectiveness as if you were the appropriate level for the new BAB, this would increase your Effective Class Level accordingly. Effective Class Level normally affects non-casters where Effective Caster Level will apply to casters.

Caster Level – This is Class Level applied to casters. In addition to BAB, SAVES, and Specials, it will include base level Spells Known and Spells available.

Effective Caster Level (ECL) – This can be more complicated than Effective Class Level for non-casters. The same basic rules apply, the biggest difference is determining where and how they apply. Most items that grant a caster ECL unless they specify otherwise apply after determining Spells Known and Spells Available and simply adjust the caster level power at which you cast, changing SR, DC on Saves, the power level of the spell. Other Effective Caster Levels like those granted from a PRC are added before determining Spells Known and available so you can learn higher level spells and cast more spells as if you were at that adjusted caster level. Yet some Effective Caster Level effects will increase the power level and number of spells without granting you the ability to know higher level spells. You have to read the descriptions. One caster can potentially need to deal with multiple ECL effects at the same time. Perhaps the PRC he has grants him a +2 ECL, a feat grants him +1 ECL for spells per day, and a ring grants him +2 ECL for power level, this character gets +2 ECL for level of spells known, +3 ECL for spells available, and a +4 ECL for Power and DC for spells that he casts.

Yes, ECL is used in different places with a different meaning, just like the uses of 'level' you have to read it in context.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please format this up, it's impossible to parse and read currently! \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ You might want to merge your two accounts. You won't be able to get rep for this answer, post comments down here, or easily edit it without merging. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 5:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Level in your example is different from the following explanation. Fighter class level is a noun. 'each time you level' is a verb. Might be good to add both since it's another point of ambiguity :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 21:19

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