I'm planning out a campaign to run with some friends. None of us have played D&D before so this means a few questions are presenting themselves. The campaign itself is set in a custom world but will utilise the D&D 4E monsters and mechanics to make things simpler. The basic synopsis is that the players will make their way to the top of a large mountain to fight a dragon, having lots of adventures on the way. I'm worried however that a dragon may be too powerful for my adventurers, and was wondering what I can do to counter this, if anything. My first idea is ensuring the trip up the mountain levels them up enough to fight the dragon, but I don't know how long that means the trip must be or for that matter, what it will entail.

To fight a dragon, what level should the PCs be, how long will it take them to get there and what do I need them to do for them to make it?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have a specific dragon in mind? There are dragons of different levels and difficulties in D&D 4e. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2014 at 12:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ My only real sticking point with the dragon is that it breaths fire, but a quick glance at the DM's guide tells me that I can just have whatever dragon I pick do that anyway so I guess I don't - whatever is appropriate will do \$\endgroup\$
    – Nuclear Pi
    Jun 19, 2014 at 12:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @NuclearPi your PCs can literally start facing dragons at L1 and there be dragons at every level through 30. Find one you like (that's within a level or so of your PCs) and drop it on them :) \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Jun 19, 2014 at 16:30
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ When characters level up is pretty flexible. There is a system outlined in the rules, but it (like all the rules, to an extent) is just a guideline. I've played some games where XP isn't tracked at all, and the DM simply tells players when to level up based on when it is campaign-appropriate. Sometimes you level up after several sessions, sometimes it's every other, or even every session. Do what allows you to have the most fun. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2014 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this is worthy of an answer, especially since there are some good ones here, but you don't have to start a campaign at lvl 1. If you want them to fight an epic dragon after a short bit, start at a higher level. \$\endgroup\$
    – DCShannon
    Jun 19, 2014 at 19:40

2 Answers 2


In DnD 4e, characters tend to level every 8-10 or so encounters. Depending on the exact Encounter Level of each fight (or noncombat encounter (eg Trap). Faster if the encounters are above their Character level, slower if below, Also faster if they are getting XP for completing a story/dungeon/quest, and if you have any house rules like XP for good roleplaying.

I personally find calculating Encounter Level, and XP per encounter to be boring and pointless, and I just tell the party to level up when I feel it is appropriate. Generally I like to do it every 4-6 encounters (which corresponds to every other session or so), but that is perhaps a little more rapid than most like. This is a house rule.

A Dragon (or any enemy) can be as tough as you make it to be. Even if you don't want to modify its stats yourself, there are a large variety of dragons in the monster manuals.

In the core monster manual , there is a Young Black Dragon, which is "Adventurers First Dragon". It is a Encounter Level 4 Monster on page 75. I'm sure since I last looks there are lots more dragons in the new monster manuals.

Encounter Level

Formerly known as Challenge Rating (or CR), this is your guide to how what level the party should be at when they attempt it. Or conversely, what level the party should be at before you throw it at them. Mostly the book just say Level, but I'm going to call it encounter level here to distinguish it from the level of any character involved.

  • a Level 4 encounter is balanced to be a solid fight for a party of 4ish characters of level 4, containing a Defender (eg Fighter), a Striker (Eg Rogue), a Controller (Eg Wizard) and a Leader (Eg Warlord).
  • A Level 7 encounter would be a very tough fight for a party of Level 4 characters, but they should be able to get though, though they will have to use a lot of there daily powers.
  • A Level 10 encounter will be a truly gruelling fight (for a lvl 4 party), that they should probably flee if they want to live .
  • A Level 2 encounter is going to be be pretty easy (for a lvl 4 party), odds are no-one in the party will get hurt noticeably.
  • A Level 1 encounter will be a push over (for a lvl 4 party), don't expect everyone in the party to even get to act. Eg the Controller might AOE all the enemies to death. Still might be worth throwing a CR party lvl -3 encounter sometimes eg a Single Goblin Scout spots you, if he gets away the war horde will know you are here.

In the monster manual or in a adventure module, each monster, or group of monsters has a Encounter Level listed for it (see below). Eg there is a Encounter Level for a gang of goblins with a goblin boss. This is listed with the Role, for PC's the Black dragon is a Solo Lurker. Solo means it is a valid encounter all on its own, Instead in this spot it might say Leader indicating it buffs others, or nothing, indicating it is designed to be part of a Encounter Group. A solo monster is extra tough to take into account that it gets to make less actions -- it has one turn to act, while the party has one turn each to kill it. (No Solo monsters will get destroyed almost instantly if the party can encircle them and all just beat down on them)

Lurker describes its its Roll -- like Leader or Controller, more details on the in the DMG.

There is a formula to guide you in calculating your own Encounter Level it is on page 56 of the DMG (As I said I don't bother, but it is probably worth it when your starting out and can't judge the difficulty by eyeballing it and fudging/modifying stats on the fly). If you just combine monsters into a encounter group, you can just add up the XP. Most of this stuff is convered in detail around page 56 of the DMG

A Single Monster from the Monster Manual:

ScreenCap from book

A Encounter Group:

Encounter group screen cap

Thanks @kviiri and @Tobold for the corrections (see comments).

  • \$\begingroup\$ (Someone please comment if I have got this all wrong, it has been many years since played DnD and I might be getting my editions muddled up) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2014 at 11:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your answer is good and upvote-worthy, and works in 4e, but I don't think DnD 4e explicitly uses challenge ratings anywhere. The Dungeon Master's Guide instead has encounter total XP for each level from one to thirty (modified by party size). When creating the encounter, the total experience the GM can "spend" on monsters is determined as follows: one should pick the value of the party's level or one level higher for a standard encounter, or a few levels lower for an easy encounter, or a few levels higher for a hard encounter. \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Jun 19, 2014 at 11:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah yes, (/me opens books). It is just called Level. Will edit, thanks \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2014 at 11:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ The numbers are still a bit off. A level 6 encounter would be more challenging than a standard fight, but the "recommended" value for a hard fight is up to 4 levels above the party's level (see DMG1, page 56). \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Jun 19, 2014 at 12:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think 4-6 encounters to level is slightly underestimated. Compare that with Joshua's answer, which shows that a standard encounter gives 10% of the xp needed to level. So even if you add quest xp and (inoffical) bonuses for role-playing you end up closer to 8 encounters per level. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tobold
    Jun 20, 2014 at 4:40

Difficulty of the encounters (by how much XP each encounter is worth) determines how fast your PCs level

Simply put, Take the total XP of an encounter, divide it by the number of PCs, and you are left with the amount of XP each party member will receive for defeating all the monsters in an encounter. If you are planning a straight-up murderfest then thats all there is too it. Calculate the XP required to raise each character to the same level as the dragon (I assume a solo monster) and make sure there is a enough XP in the encounters leading up to the dragon to ensure PCs level. If your players fight more monsters at once/monsters worth more XP then they will simply level faster. A word of caution though, PCs should only fight monsters a level below, the same level, or 1 level above from them. Any wider difference in levels will result in fights that are either too easy (monster level too low, monsters missing the PCs all the time) or too hard (monster level too high, monsters hitting the PCs all the time and the PCs missing the monsters a lot).

The table below has a nice example of exactly level appropriate XP budgets (remember you can always increase them to make it tougher/have the PCs level up faster).

XP Budget Chart

You can give XP for things other than combat encounters

There is no rule in 4e that states players only receive XP for killing monsters, PCs can also gain XP for solving puzzles and completing quests/objectives as well as disarming traps. This is quite a common feature in official 4e modules/adventures published in Dragon magazine and one I've used heavily in home campaigns.

Level PCs when story appropriate or after X number of encounters

PCs level up when they need to or after achieving an objective. Alternatively you can just level the party every couple of sessions. I would suggest at least 4 sessions between leveling because I've seen first hand how PCs leveling too rapidly can result in players forgetting a lot of their newer powers and features and combat slowing to a crawl as everyone takes long turns to evaluate all of their options.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Not only you can give XP for non-combat encounters, the DMG explicitly encourages it as long as there is the appropriate risk of failure. \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Jun 19, 2014 at 12:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .