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I'm in the process of writing a short sci-fi campaign which is based on D&D 5e, in which the player classes, weapons, and skills are effectively just sci-fi reskins of their magical counterparts. I'm avoiding guns through lore, and players will instead have body modifications that constitute skills and weapons. In order to keep things simple, the players will select from a small pool of pre-made characters and apply some personal flair.

The campaign will be fairly short, so something I'd like to do is give the players the full range of experiences in terms of being squishy, then gearing up, then jumping into some serious (CR20+) world-ending battles. The campaign will be played by some seasoned players, so I'm not really too worried about character complexity spikes, but I also don't want to get to one of my "level up" points and have the players doing 8 levels worth of decisions in one go. Instead, what I'd like to do is have the character stats and skills roughly figured out ahead of time, so they can reach the level-up point and carry on without too much of a stall in gameplay. The problem is that I'm not really sure what the best way to go about this is.

Are there any tools out there that can help me figure out the correct stat ranges and skills progressions for various classes? Are there any tricks to doing this kind of pre-levelled setup in a game?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there a reason you don't just pre-make the characters at each level point that you want them? (ie is it important to you that the players make their limited choices like ASI vs feat(s) or is there another reason?) \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Oct 29 '19 at 13:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso I do want to pre-make the characters at specific levels, but I'd like to give them some input in the process (e.g. rolling a bunch of dice to decide the band of some key stats) rather than just saying "hey here's a levelled version of your char". \$\endgroup\$ – Polynomial Oct 29 '19 at 14:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ So you want to start with the 1st level party and then jump to 9th level, am I correct? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Oct 29 '19 at 14:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ How about have the players preplan the levels instead of the you? That way the characters are still what the player envisions \$\endgroup\$ – Eternallord66 Oct 29 '19 at 15:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor Something along those lines, yes. There's an in-universe reason that they jump a large number of levels at once, although I can't give too many details as I know one of my players reads this site. \$\endgroup\$ – Polynomial Oct 30 '19 at 18:06
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Per AlienAtSystem's answer, I've decided to tell you about my experience with trying to streamline leveling.

Background

I was asked by a local gaming convention to set up a non-AL group game as part of their "Intro to Tabletop Roleplaying" experience. I went way overboard, writing up a 4-hour mini-campaign inspired by Nightmare Keep that I called "The Heart of Wolover." The entire adventure took place inside a dungeon/animated corpse, with rooms themed around body parts, and the goal was to give each of the five parties experience with the major aspects of D&D in the course of a single session- role-playing, obviously, and NPC interaction, group and individual combat, puzzle solving and trap disarming, and climaxing with the surviving parties ganging up on a hydra variant "Heart Wyrm" in the four-chambered, still beating heart.

  • A word of advice- never do this. The project took nearly 80 hours to put together, all for a single afternoon session. I am certainly never doing it again.

Anyway, the important bit is that I wanted the parties to gain their first couple of levels rapidly, so the players could see and appreciate the difference between their characters at 1st level and those same characters at 5th. My previous experience with leveling parties indicated to me that, under normal circumstances, the players would have spent most of the session leveling up, especially since they were new to the game. I therefore needed a way to make leveling as fast as possible for a large group of people.

My Solution

I used a stack of pre-written leveling notes. A rogue, for example, would receive a note when they hit level 2 that read something like,

Congrats, you've hit level 2! You gain the following:

  • 5 hit points (plus your Con modifier)!

  • You can now use a bonus action on your turn to either Dash (move your speed), Disengage (avoid attacks of opportunity) or Dodge (gain advantage on Dexterity saves and give attacks against you disadvantage)!

Leveling up this way meant that the vast majority of the legwork was pre-done for the players, and with the notes handy, they didn't need to write down new class features. They still had to track hit point gain, but I used the average recommended by the PHB instead of having them roll. For a level gain that featured archetype selection, my little note included a line like, "plus, PICK ONE of the following features..."

For spellcasters, rather than give them a full list of spells to pick from, I assumed they would always pick the highest-level spells they could, so for example the wizard instructions for levels 3 and 4 read, "Pick two new spells to learn! You can choose from the following:" followed by the 2nd level spell list.

How did it go?

So. Much. Paperwork. Did I mention I'm never doing this again?

The bright side is that average leveling time was somewhere around five minutes apiece.

  • Wizards took longest to level, and if I did try this exact setup again, I'd have a table of spells to consult that looks a bit like the spell lists from d20pfsrd.com, which helpfully includes a one-line description of each spell.

    Writing out notes for the different archetypes took the longest, although I only had to worry about one set of archetype features per class- if you're looking to advance to 20th quickly, you'll have to worry about that more. I had no complaints from the players, who were either new to the game or new to 5th edition, and only mild grumbling from the half-dozen DM's I wrangled for the session about the extra paper they had to track and hand out.

The biggest source of complaints was myself; while in-game leveling was easy, it meant a lot of extra work for me in particular. It also meant that I had, roughly, 50 notes to hand out, with a copier on standby. With a smaller group of people and advance knowledge of what classes and archetypes they'd be, the amount of extra work would be cut drastically, but there would still be a lot extra work.

In summary

Pre-written leveling notes made leveling up faster and easier for the party. For the DM? Not so much. But you might find it's worth it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I just did a format thing, mostly. Thanks for sharing this experience. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 30 '19 at 18:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast And thank you for the formatting assist. \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog Oct 30 '19 at 18:30
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One possible solution would be, if the characters are pre-made, to also pre-define and pre-roll all advancements. Then, for each level-up occasion, either have notes on the character sheet what changes, or have new character sheets you hand out with the changed stats (if you're playing with electronic aid, that last one obviously gets simpler and less wasteful).

This way, you have zero delay from having level-up choices, and not much more interruption in the adventure flow than it takes to hand out and read through a character sheet and ask a few questions about the new capabilities (if any).

The big downside is of course that it takes all decision out of the level-up. For the players, there is no enjoyment to be found there except bigger numbers. This is probably fine for a one-shot, if all players are informed of this ahead of time (so they don't make wrong assumptions), but of course not viable for anything longer.

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I am currently using a character sheet in a campaign from these Class Character Sheets on DMsGuild.

Leveling up has been incredibly quick with this, as it shows all the class features you get on the side, delineated by level. The Fighter column which I've shown below is prefilled with all Fighter features, and you can add any subclass features yourself.

Of course, something like this requires that your players plan their subclasses ahead of time, rather than going with whatever choice is suitable for the character in the moment.

enter image description here

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