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I have been concerned for a while about how to treat experience totals in D&D 3.5 when a character gains or loses Level Adjustments (LA). Gaining/losing LA in play is too punitive and is inconsistent with the rules for starting with LA.

Under a strict reading, the rules work like this: A starting first-level character with the drow template has LA +2 and gains levels at the rate of a third-level character. This is implemented by starting with 3000 XP and needing 6000 total to advance to second level. Compare with a character who starts as a human, is immediately bitten by a radioactive elf, and gains the Drow race[1]. He gains LA +2, and needs 6000 total XP to reach second level (ECL 4). Not only has Drow-man been slapped with a major penalty, he has to earn 3000 experience before he is back to the starting point for first level. If he had previously gained some XP, it is also completely undefined how many XP he can spend on e.g. item creation.

I solve this by adjusting current XP when LA changes: subtract the experience to reach the character’s former ECL, then add the experience to reach the character’s new ECL. So for Drow-man, I would subtract the xp to reach ECL 1 (zero XP) and add the xp to reach ECL 3 (3000 XP). This makes it so you just need to gain the XP to level at a slower rate, instead of being penalized for not leveling slowly before.

I’ve used this approach before in play to deal with PCs contracting lycanthropy, and it worked fine. However, I am concerned that there may be some balance issue or exploit that I have not considered.

So: is there any way that this change is worse than RAW?


[1] Of course it doesn’t usually work that way for Drow. But it does for lycanthropes, and I want to avoid discussing gaining hit-dice while introducing this.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I am like 90% sure that you're wrong about how LA works for your were-drow character; IIRC there's a book that explains how LA works when you're lower level than it would normally allow, and it gives you negative levels that you buy off by "leveling" at the normal XP amounts for gaining a level. I can't remember which one, though, or I'd turn it into an Answer. I think it might have been a Forgotten Realms book? \$\endgroup\$ – nick012000 Oct 31 '19 at 5:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nick012000 you’re thinking of FRCS, the hardback core FR book from 3.0. That’s the one which introduced LA, and it still has the best explanation. It’s not really applicable for gaining LA through play though, \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Nov 4 '19 at 14:29
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It’s an improvement, no question. Your hypothetical were-drow still needs 3,000 XP more in order to level-up to ECL 4th, whereas his unbitten companions need just 1,000 XP to reach ECL 2nd, and he still gains less XP (as a higher-ECL character) than his allies in encounters, so the LA is definitely still affecting him strongly. That’s still quite a distinction.

The only things this overlooks—or, perhaps more accurately, makes no attempt to address—are all the myriad problems with the ECL system in the first place. This brings the were-drow in line with the natural drow, but the natural drow themselves have a lot of difficulties, and cause a lot of difficulties for the DM. All of the problems described in this answer about LA and XP still apply. So while this is an improvement, “better” should not be confused with “good.”

Personally, I don’t use LA or XP at all: when necessary, more powerful racial or template options are scaled back so they can be used as “LA +0,” XP costs are eliminated, and characters are always the same level. They level-up when it seems appropriate to me based on their achievements and how long it’s been. I see absolutely no benefit to trying to bring numbers into things, and can say unequivocally that this approach has been vastly superior for me than the official one.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ All I would add to this is that I have never played a game in any system using experience (except dungeon world), and never have I missed it nor heard anyone else complain. It's not a mechanic that adds any amount of enjoyment to the game as far as I can tell. To each their own, but I don't know who actually prefers XP as a system. Regarding dungeon world, experience is rewarded for, among other things, failure. This makes it inherently self balancing and gives it a purpose. \$\endgroup\$ – Turksarama Oct 31 '19 at 2:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Turksarama For what it’s worth, the idea is that players like to be rewarded, and XP provides more frequent rewards than leveling up while also being more narratively appropriate in some situations than tangible rewards (e.g. loot) would be. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 31 '19 at 2:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can see that, but I think there are usually better ways to reward players. XP makes it feel more like playing a boardgame than an RPG to me. That said, a boardgame feel is precisely what some people are going for, so whatever works, works. \$\endgroup\$ – Turksarama Oct 31 '19 at 2:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe there was also an official variant rule that would allow you to "level up" in your chose race, slowly gaining their benefits until you reached the LA. That might be a good choice for something like a newly-turned werewolf slowly coming into their full power. \$\endgroup\$ – D.Spetz Oct 31 '19 at 12:41
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It lets you gain arbitrarily many levels with a little work

There aren't really any issues with the gaining a bad template part of your houserule. The problems happen when you lose the template. PHBII says:

Level Adjustment: If your character’s original race had a higher level adjustment than her new race does, you can replace any lost level adjustment “points” with the same number of new class levels of your choice. If the new race has a higher level adjustment than the original race did, you must remove class levels until the character’s effective character level is the same as it was before the rebuilding occurred. You can choose the levels lost from all those that the character has, regardless of the order in which they were gained.

Which, while talking about race changes specifically, is also referenced by that book as how to add or remove templates.

So Drow-man, after his transformation, can drink a Potion of Undrowification or what have you and then, when he turns back into a human, he gets 2 class levels. If he's still got that radioactive elf around and has a supplier for the potions, he can easily convert each reversion of the drow template/race/thingy into 2 extra class levels without any adventuring or anything.

Moving away from hypotheticals, there are a fair number of ways to get rid of templates that incur level adjustment, because a number of them are inflicted as Bad Things on the PCs. For example, there's Lycanthropy, which you've already mentioned and which has racial HD that make things more complicated, but there's also Vampirism, which gives you 8 level adjustment and can be removed with Resurrection. That lets anyone with ~11,000 gp buy 8 additional class levels, which is presumably a problem for you.

This isn't a reason not to use your rule, though; just remove the right amount of XP when a creature loses a template and it will work out fine (or, at least, better than LA normally works out).

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    \$\begingroup\$ @fectin I think the dark wanderer is referring to the extra XP gained upon gaining the LA, to bring the character up to their new ECL’s usual minimum (plus whatever they had towards their next level). RAW, that doesn’t happen. Personally, I kind of took it as implicit that the reverse process would be changed to reverse that gain, but since the question was literally “have I left anything out?” and this was left out, it’s a fair point. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 30 '19 at 18:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fectin sort of, but you don't have the XP for those levels, normally. This way you have the levels and the XP, and you aren't relying on a DM not levelling you down when your XP falls below the level threshold (e.g. as per evergy drain, negative levels, and level loss). Also, even with a favorable ruling the RAW version loses all the levels if hit by an energy drain effect, or otherwise subjected to anything that specifically invokes that section of the rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Oct 30 '19 at 19:01

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