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We spent 13 sessions, which usually run about 4 hours, just to get from our starting level of 4 to level 5. Our campaign is heavier on role play and problem solving (we’re trying to solve a mystery surrounding a kidnapped noble) and we all seem to enjoy the conversations and interpersonal connections of our characters. But this role play has led us to spending more time conversing during sessions, and less time fighting. Our DM uses XP for leveling instead of milestones, which would be fine if they actually gave us things to fight in order to gain the XP to level up. We have had only a couple enemy encounters that rewarded us with any significant XP boosts, and only a few more total combat encounters. I feel like combat will become more frequent going forward, but that we as players are being prevented from leveling up our characters because we aren’t being given the chance to earn XP. For reference, after a boss fight we ended up just 50 short out of 6500 from hitting level 5, and our DM refused to let us do anything that would reward us the XP needed just to get there. I don’t want to spend another 3 months (at one session a week) just to get to level 6. Is this normal or should the DM be rewarding us with XP more often/for things besides combat?

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    \$\begingroup\$ For reference, I am not a new player, I have been in multiple campaigns with a different DM, and this is our current DM’s first time. They are fantastic at world building and immersion, and I am enjoying the campaign. However, I just feel like things are becoming slow and repetitive, and that my fellow players are itching for new character abilities as much as I am. Would love thoughts on how to quicken the pace of XP or leveling. \$\endgroup\$
    – Taylor
    Commented May 10 at 7:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ What game system is this? D&D 5e (which has 5th levle at 6500 xp)? Something else? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 10 at 7:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think 'normal' is a particularly useful concept - you obviously enjoy levelling up for its own sake, so I'd suggest thinking of your problem in terms of 'I would like the GM to more heavily emphasise this aspect of the game,' rather than 'Is the GM running the game properly?' \$\endgroup\$
    – aantia
    Commented May 10 at 8:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this DM only award XP for combat victories? Do they ever award XP for anything else? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 10 at 11:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not to belittle the point but have you guys had a Session 0 and a conversation about expectations? If you're only getting XP from combat and you're only allowed to talk... just me but I'd be starting fights lol. I think this might be a differing expectations between DM and group. \$\endgroup\$
    – WernerCD
    Commented May 10 at 19:19

6 Answers 6

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Answering for

By the rules

What your DM does is fully within the rules. The rules on awarding experience points (p. 260, DMG) give the DM a lot of leeway on how they award experience, and when they progress levels, all the way to getting rid of XP entirely, and awarding level advancement per session instead of for defeating monsters or overcoming traps and puzzles. They even can decide to advance levels only at certain points in the story.

When they award XP for defeating monsters, those are normally awarded

When adventurers defeat one or more monsters-typically by killing, routing, or capturing them

So if there are no encounters that lead to killing, routing or capturing monsters, then you get no XP for that. It also is entirely up to them if they award XP for non-combat challenges

You decide whether to award experience to characters for overcoming challenges outside combat. If the adventurers complete a tense negotiation with a baron, forge a trade agreement with a clan of surly dwarves, or successfully navigate the Chasm of Doom, you might decide that they deserve an XP reward.

So if the DM decides that you do not deserve an award for the negotiations, tough luck.

What is "normal"?

This of course will differ from table to table. In my own experience, when you play more combat heavy dungeon adventures, you get to a new level every 3-5 sessions of 4 hours or so. For example, playing through Lost Mine of Phandelver from level 1 to 5 took us about 64 hours, which would translate to about 4 sessions of 4 hours per level gained.

It is not exactly even across levels. As you can see in this answer, it takes fewer days in game (and assuming this translates, sessions) for the first 2 levels, when the players are most vulnerable - only about 1 day of game time. Then it slows down from level 3 to 10 to take more than 2 days in game time. This makes sense I think, as this keeps players longer in the "sweet spot", where the game tends to be the most fun and balanced (that is subjective of course, some people may prefer the very deadly beginner levels, or very high-level play), and that is where 75% of all actual play happens. It then gets faster again at the high levels, for which there are not that many published adventures.

The social side

All that being said, there often is a tension between a DM wanting slow advancement, and players wanting faster advancement. Players tend to enjoy getting new toys to play with and getting more powerful. On the other hand, the DM may have reasons to delay advancement as much as they reasonably can

  • Certain kinds of adventures are much harder to run when players get to higher levels and have access to more powerful abilities and spells. Especially detective adventures are often better suited to lower levels, before the players get access to the more powerful divination spells, like speak with dead, divination, commune and so on.

  • In the early levels, mundane tools like rope, pack animals, dogs and so on still matter and the play experience is closer to a "real" adventure you could have in a world without magic. Later on, increasing access to magical or special abilities obviates this. Horses and dogs die to single hits from more powerful monsters and become less practical. Bags of holding do away with the need for them. Levitation, flight and short range teleport take care of overcoming walls. Etc. The game changes in how it plays. The DM might prefer the more mundane kind of game that forces you to find mundane solutions rather than just use spells (while you may not care for it).

  • If you have more combat, progression through levels can actually be quite fast. According to the DMG-recommended XP awards, it just would take you about 33 days in-game to go all the way from level 1 to 20. That means less than 2 days at each level. Spellcasters get 2 new spells each level, typically having only one slot for them at the top end, and that can mean you may only get to use each one only once or twice (if at all) before moving on to the next one already. It can feel a bit rushed, and can mean you actually do not really get a lot of time to experience play at that level.

From your question however, it feels like here the players certainly would like to have a somewhat faster progression than what you are experiencing. I recommend to have a discussion about this outside of the game itself with your DM, so they can understand your perspective better. It does not necessarily mean they need to fulfil your wishes, as sometimes, the best part about reward is the expectation of getting it and monty-haul rewards may be fun short-term but less so long term; still, this feels they might be a tad too conservative, and if it is really detracting form all your enjoyment of the game, they should seriously consider speeding it up a bit.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The linked answer on in game days to level up seems odd to me. Sure, it's a straightforward combination of two official tables, but adding in the side note on real life time it leads to 5-10 game sessions per in game day and 10-30 combats per in game day which seems excessive. (maybe I misunderstood something?) \$\endgroup\$
    – JollyJoker
    Commented May 10 at 17:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your advice, I’ll probably talk with my DM later today. I know they’re completely within their rights as a DM and the RAW to award XP the way that they are, I would just like some more chances to get it, even at the risk of failing more. Wish us luck! \$\endgroup\$
    – Taylor
    Commented May 10 at 17:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JollyJoker Your instinct is right, you will not need 5-10 sessions per in-game day typcially, for two reasons: (1) At about 2 in-game days per level up, and about 4 sessions per level up, you play about 2 sessions per game day fully filled with combat encounters, not 5-10. (2) In practice 3 encounters per day is more realistic than the 5 the DMG assumes, and there also will be days of rest without any, so in practice, it takes many more in-game days to get to level 20. Only if you played as the encounter math suggests, it would be so fast. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 10 at 17:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ TIL the term "Monty Haul"! \$\endgroup\$
    – scubbo
    Commented May 11 at 14:00
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There is no strictly "right" or "wrong" way to level.

While the rules provide extensive guidelines about how much experience certain things can be worth, even going strictly by the DMG the DM has vast discretion about how and when to award experience, particularly for non-combat situations. One DM may prefer to give out experience very freely and have advancement happen fast. Another may give it out very slowly and have advancement happen very slowly, or anything in between.

Also, a lot of tables disregard experience points entirely and use plot based or milestone levelling. Personally, I prefer this form if only because it reduces bookkeeping.

None of these are right or wrong. They each have advantages and disadvantages and which a particular DM or table prefers depends on personal taste and either DM fiat or consensus at the table.

Without trying to go into too much detail, one reason some DMs will want to vary the speed is that there are different tiers of play. A game for level 15 PCs looks very, very different than a game for level 4 PCs. Which you prefer is a matter of taste, though there is a rough consensus that it gets difficult for most DMs to run a meaningful and enjoyable campaign much past level 15.

This is less true for 5e than it was in certain earlier editions, but it is still true. The whole idea behind E6 (which is mostly associated with 3.5e) was to provide a way to roughly cap the power level to help with this issue.

I prefer much faster than you describe, but there are good reasons some tables might prefer much slower advancement.

What you prefer depends entirely on your personal taste. When I am the DM, I tend to have the PCs advance very fast. Roughly once a session for the early levels and roughly once every couple of sessions later. But then, I don't have a lot of time to play and I prefer to DM for high level characters. (It helps that my current players are not heavy optimizers and don't mind that I use extensive house-rules that are often ad-hoc. I might have a very different approach if I were DMing for a group of optimizers that wanted to follow RAW when possible). When I am a player, I want to level up even faster, though I'll follow the lead of whoever is the DM.

To my tastes, what you describe is agonizingly slow for levelling. I see why you would be frustrated.

But I also see why a DM might prefer it. He may not want you to have easy access to powers that instantly solve planned plot points. He may not know how to DM for high level characters and so wants to linger in the early play tiers. He may not want to deal with the fact that high level combat is often slower and more complicated. He may just prefer a grittier game. These things are not to my taste, and it sounds like they may not be to yours, but they are perfectly valid. In fact, I would dare say they are more common and that my preference for very fast advancement is the outlier.

Your next steps

At the risk of giving an obvious answer, I would talk to your table about your preferences. Some might prefer to talk to the DM one-on-one, but I think it may be best to bring it up to the table as a whole. The conversations might prove very different depending on whether you are the only one that wants faster advancement or the DM is the only one that wants slower advancement and all the players want faster advancement.

I emphasize that it should be brought up respectfully, brought up as a conversation, and I recommend bringing it up as a discussion about preferences rather than framing it as a problem. While RPGs should be fun for everyone including the DM, they do involve a certain amount of work, and in general the DM shoulders a lot more of the work than the players. That is worth a certain amount of respect. Besides, a confrontational approach is rarely productive.

In a conversation like that, you might persuade the DM to advance levels slightly faster. Or you might realize why the DM is moving slowly. You may decide that you and the DM simply have incompatible play styles and it may be time to find a different table. Any of these is reasonable resolution.

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As far as I know there has never been any rules on how many sessions are required to go up a level in any version of DnD.

I have know referees to use the following methods in the past

  • only xps from encounters that have 'CR' etc listed in the adventure
  • roleplaying social encounters are give a xps value as well as the combat ones as the referee sees fit
  • you have to 'spend' your gold to buy xps
  • if an adventure is say given an expected character level range they will spit the adventure into those levels and then allow you to level up at those points in the adventure
  • you only gain a level at the end of a full adventure, and normally only one
  • when the players have complained enough, the will give out a new level to stop the player continuing to complain
  • you need to have played x session to get to the next x'th level ie 4 sessions to get to 4th after 3rd.

I have been running a long running 3.5 campaign and trying to give out xps as per the standard rules. Here is a chart of the sessions (normally about 3.5 hr) per character levels for our campaign.

Sessions per Character Level

Here is a chart of the characters vs session with the top line the needed xp for that level and the lower is kind of the CR (marked as xp) that most of there encounters are.

enter image description here

Realistically the method the referee is using should be something the referee is willing to tell you. As DnD is kind of keyed off the groups level, as long as the referee is not 'over egging' the encounters it shouldn't matter which system they are using.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 very nice quantiative data from your experience. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 10 at 18:00
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I do agree with you that the experience progression you describe is slower than the average (the last time I checked the mean rate of level advancement in DnD 5e was "a new level every 8 or 9 sessions"), so, IMVHO, a discussion with the DM is needed here.

Things to consider before the discussion.

Before discussing the matter with the DM, it may be useful to remember that the game implies that the DM is the main responsible for the fun at the table, and, if the players have quite different creative agendas (as defined by the GNS model and also briefly in this post ), it may be complicated for him to optimize the best mix for the group.
Since the beginning, this responsibility/"burden on a single person" was both a blessing and a curse of D&D and the other old-style role-play games.
If both the players and the DM enjoy more combats over investigations and/or personal developments, then D&D is usually ok, otherwise remember that there are other RPG systems that may be a "better tool for the job"
i.e.: don't be afraid of trying new things

D&D is a great system, but there are plenty of systems that could be even funner to play.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Funnier" didn't fit in your last sentence. Most of the edit was for format/presentation. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 10 at 14:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ The 5e DMG (page 261 in my copy) recommends a new level every 2 or 3 sessions, though some polls I've seen suggest 3 or 4 is more realistic. "8 or 9" seems a lot slower than average. \$\endgroup\$
    – user56480
    Commented May 10 at 19:13
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I am assumming you are playing some kind of D&D-esque game.

We spent 13 sessions, which usually run about 4 hours, just to get from our starting level of 4 to level 5.

That is indeed a bit slow for normal D&D, given the published adventures of basically all editions leveled characters faster.

I don’t want to spend another 3 months (at one session a week) just to get to level 6.

Is this normal or should the DM be rewarding us with XP more often/for things besides combat?

Well, should they is not an easy question. The other answer already have great points on what is normal and that basically, this is really a question of what you want. There is no rule about it.

One problem with D&D games always was (and still is) that character advancement is hilariously strong. A dude with a bow is a deadly opponent on level one, and by level 10, the character is probably not afraid to take on 20-30 of them. Other systems handle that differently, they progress steadily, but not in such huge leaps.

You said your DM is very good at world building. But world building only works when the characters are low level. Because after that, the mountain chain of eternal doom, inhabited by primitive pygmies and their Llama allies who believe in their laughing goat god, that would be three two four sessions of interesting adventure at low level... is a mildly interesting accessory sentence, while the mage says "oh, that sounds like a nuisance, I cast XZY spell to transport us to our next destination". Hours and hours of preparation and interesting stories down the drain.

Preparation is also hard when your players have such powers at their fingertips. Who knows if the next session is about pigmies or about city intrigue or about a different random plane because of a fumbled roll on the teleport table? The less options the PCs have, the better prepared the DM can be to make that options into something properly preplanned amazing, instead of an impromptu random session.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to level fast, but the downside is that you are leveling yourself out of some great adventures with this character. Because there won't be any more murder mysteries or intrigue at court adventures, when everyone can scry and determine truth/lie by simply saying "I cast...".

So instead of thinking "I don't level fast enough", maybe think about "I can enjoy this amazing world some more, I don't want to leave it just yet".

There is whole game systems, where you will level your character, but you will never progress in power as much as a D&D character will. They are fun, too. You don't have to level your character to have fun.

That said, you should talk to your DM. If I am correct and they do this on purpose because they don't want your characters to be too powerful for their really well thought out world and adventures, they can maybe take a page from the other systems and make you feel progress without leveling.

For example, if you get no reward for a quest, you feel bad and cheated. If you get a flaming demon killer sword +15, you are probably on your way out of that advanture and game world, because you are becoming too strong for many cool stories. So what about other rewards? If you saved the princess and you want to feel progress and reward, maybe the king can grant you an amazing beach house, instead of a magic item. Maybe the poor tailor doesn't have anything that helps you against undead, but they can tailor you a really fancy suit. Maybe you will be gifted a slightly faster horse. Or a really pretty parrot? Maybe they erect a statue of you on that horse. Maybe you get a club membership for that really exclusive book club. My point is, character progress does not have to be levels. It feels good to know your character is a little better off today than the day before. That you have achieved something. Sometimes DMs forget that there is more than just "powerleveling reward" and "no reward". How amazing would it be if your party inherited their own inn? And it would in no way hinder their next court intrigue advanture, because it was fun, a good story, something changed for the positive, but it didn't ruin the next adventure.

So there is no answer to your question other than talk to your DM and the other players to align what you want from playing. There is nothing wrong having fun levelling up. There is nothing wrong starting new characters once in a while because they become too powerful for the adventures you want to play (or the DM has in mind). Just make sure you find the balance you all like.

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For that type of campaign gaining levels slowly, or not at all, works better. Others have noted that higher-level magic can break intrigue-based stuff, but it's also about not out-leveling the recurring NPC's.

A traditional D&D-style work-up-to-the-evil-boss campaign has the party always on the move, by themselves (or maybe with a DMPC which levels up with them), always fighting tougher bandits. They could even stay in one city but always be going deeper into the bad part and then the underground -- the town is basically a dungeon. But a real in-town campaign has the group making contacts, learning which guards to trust, having a beef with a minor gang, and so on. Become well-liked enough to go down Murder Av. without being bothered doesn't mean much when in the time it took you also out-leveled them. Likewise gaining the trust of a small squad of 4th-level guards feels a little pointless, and cruel, when you and the boss are going to be 10th level.

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