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Has there ever been an official (A)D&D product in which character levels (as per the rules governing the game) were recognized and utilized to some degree in-game, within the game world, by the actors of the game world? If so, which product, for which edition of the game?

See, I think that intelligent beings should, with time, connect all the dots, and recognize that certain abilities possessed by certain people form well-defined classes and can be mapped to distinct tiers of advancement. (As far as I can remember, Terry Pratchett had wizards on the Discworld who recognized numbered "circles" of advancement. :)) In fact, I find it somewhat puzzling when long-lived, and thoroughly learned beings of high IQ and WIS fail to see and to use the big picture.

Note, please, that I do realize this is an obvious twist on a question I myself asked years ago. Note also, however, that this Q here has quite a different focus, and is not limited to a single edition. Apparently, the broader issue keeps nagging me. :)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: Answers go in answer posts, including ones founded on challenges to the premise of the question. Previous answers in comments have been removed. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 19 '16 at 13:24
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Yes, the name/class/level relationship was originally an in-game term depicting a level of power and social status. Some in-game effects of this were the limitations on level advancement for AD&D(1e) Monks and Druids (details below), or prohibitions against Assassins (Blackmoor) having followers. Originally, the Name Level threshold opened up new options:

  • (Men and Magic, p. 6) Top-level fighters (Lords and above) who build castles are considered "Barons" a tax rate of 10 Gold Pieces/inhabitant of the barony/game year.
  • (Men and Magic p.6)Wizards and above may manufacture for their own use (or for sale) such items as potions, scrolls, and just about anything else magical.
  • (Men and Magic p. 8) When Clerics reach the top level (Patriarch) they may opt to build their own stronghold, and when doing so receive help from "above". Thus, if they spend 100,000 Gold Pieces in castle construction, they may build a fortress of double that cost. Finally, "faithful" men will come to such a castle, being fanatically loyal, and they will serve at no cost. There will be from 10-60 heavy cavalry, 10-60 horsed crossbowmen ("Turcopole"-type), and 30-180 heavy foot. Clerics with castles of their own will have control of a territory similar to the "Barony" of fighters, and they will receive "tithes" equal to 20 Gold Pieces/ Inhabitant/year.

  1. The original game was conceived as a campaign game. The players had (as a general objective) the establishment of a stronghold, fief, church, temple, tower, what-have-you from which their Name Level character would establish a permanent town / fortress / colony / barony / whatever and then raise armies who might conquer or defend territory using Chainmail rules, or the later Swords and Spells rules.

    • We used the campaign approach and army building by point value for sand table battles in college. The PC's who wanted to participate in the battle were assigned point values by the referee. We did this for both Chainmail sand table fights and Swords and Spells battles on a large carpeted area.
  2. The names from OD&D and AD&D(1e) grew from the Chainmail (Fantasy Supplement) methodology where the name for a fighting man figure or a spell caster figure (later a character in OD&D) was a clue to both its power1, and its point value/cost when building an army for a miniatures battle.

    (Chainmail, 3d editions, various pages)
    Light Foot: Morale Rating — 4 Point Value— 1
    Light Horse: Morale Rating — 6 Point Value— 3
    Heavy Horse: Morale Rating — 9 Point Value — 5
    Dwarves: Morale Rating — 5 Point Value — 2
    Orcs: Morale Rating — 5 Point Value — 2
    Heroes: Morale Rating — 20 Point Value — 20
    Super Heroes: Morale Rating — 40 Point Value — 50
    Wizard: Morale Rating — 50 Point Value — 100
    Sorcerer: Morale Rating — 40 Point Value — 90

    On page 30, the fighting man progression is a bottom up approach when comparing a single figure to the Hero or Superhero:

    HEROES ... have the fighting ability of four figures {see 4 HD/4th level below}
    SUPER HEROES: ... act as Hero-types in all cases, except they are about twice as powerful (See 8th lvl/8HD below)

    • Note: in both OD&D1 (and AD&D 1e per a note found on the official DM screen and IIRC in errata in a Dragon issue) a Fighting Man fighting against opponents of 1 HD or less got one attack per experience level per round. Swordsman (3d level Ftr) versus 2 goblins got three attacks per round.

    On page 32-33, the spell caster naming convention began as a top down approach:

    WIZARDS (including Sorcerers at -1, Warlocks at -2, Magicians at -3, Seers at -4). From bottom to top, as later seen in D&D, you'd get Seer / Magician / Warlock / Sorcerer / Wizard as power level increased.

  3. The titles ported into OD&D with more intervals, and more thesaurus diving as power/level ramped up:

    • For example, the Fighting Man Class in OD&D, for levels 1-9.

      • Veteran (Lvl 1 / 1 HD)
      • Warrior
      • Swordsman
      • Hero* (Lvl 4 / 4 HD) (This was a distinct level of power in Chainmail where one hero equaled 4 regular fighting men / so, 4 HD).
      • Swashbuckler
      • Myrmidon (Lvl 6)
      • Champion
      • Superhero* (Lvl 8 / 8 HD) (A distinct level of power from Chainmail, ref Hero above).
      • Lord (Name level. At this point you got to build your stronghold, levy taxes, etc. Above this level, all were Lords of varying degree and power in the campaign).

      If you got a Horn of Valhalla
      Silver—summons 2-8 Berserk Warriors
      Bronze—summons 2-8 Berserk Swordsmen
      Iron —summons 2-8 Berserk Heroes

  4. Thieves had a similar naming convention: Apprentice / Footpad / Robber / Burglar / Cutpurse / Sharper / Pilferer / Master Pilferer / Thief (Name level (9) / Master Thief. If you ran into a Master Thief, you knew by name that he was high level.

  5. Magic Users: Medium / Seer / Conjurer / Theurgist / Thaumaturgist / Magician / Enchanter / Warlock / Sorcerer / Necromancer / Wizard (Name Level 11)

    • The random encounter tables in Greyhawk had entries for a Footpad on table 1; for Warrior, Theurgist, Robber or Burglars on table 2; and for Swashbucklers, Magicians, Cutpurses and Sharpers on table 3 and so on. You'd use that name as a clue to how tough these NPC/monsters were. (Our DM in high school used "monster" names that way during random encounters in the dungeon).

    • There was a mechanical limitation on Assassins (Blackmooor) such that until Guildmaster (14th level; Name Level was Assassin(9)) the PC could have no followers. Other classes typically attracted followers at Name level.

      Assassins may have no followers until they attain the rank of Guildmaster. They may have no more hirelings than their charisma score indicates for the number of followers another character type may have. As Guildmaster they may have up to 50 "followers" (members of the Guild), but such followers must be hired at 1st level and worked up.

  6. In AD&D (1e) that model was continued:

    • Runner, Strider, Scout, Courser Tracker Guide Pathfinder, Ranger. You didn't get spell casting ability until you were a proper Ranger at 8th level.
    • Druids begin as "Aspirant," progressed to "Ovate" and become "Initiates of the Xth circle" where X = level-2 until reaching "Druid" at level 12.
      • A mechanical effect based on name level (PHB p. 21) was that there could only be 9 Druids in a campaign. A PC would have to defeat a Druid to displace him/her and earn all 12th level benefits.
    • Monks also had an in game limitation regarding certain named levels. (PHB. p. 32)

      There can be only a limited number of monks above 7th level (Superior Master). There are three 8th level (Master of Dragons) and but one of each higher level. When a player character monk gains sufficient experience points to qualify him or her for 8th level, the commensurate abilities are attained only temporarily. The monk must find and defeat in single combat, hand-to-hand, without weapons or magic items, one of the 8th level monks - the White, the Green, or the Red. The same must be done at the ninth and higher levels. The loser of these combats loses enough experience points to place him or her at the lowest number possible to attain the level just beneath the new level.

  7. By the time 2e was published that tradition was gone.

    • the linkage to the medieval miniatures campaign had receded,
    • E.G.G. was out of TSR (he was quite the Thesaurus diver ...)
    • the game had grown into something pretty wonderful, albeit different from its roots as a campaign game

While the campaign was no longer an assumed element it was still an option. This answer can't address 3.0 or 3.5 as I didn't play either long enough to get to campaign level ... if one was even of interest to the GM.


1 From Strategic Review Number 2, page 3

Combat Example: 10 ORCS surprise a lone Hero wandering lost in the dungeons ...

  • Round 2: Initiative goes to the Hero.
  • Score required to hit Orcs -- 11 (4th level fighter vs. AC 6).
    Assume the following dice score by the Hero.
    Note that he is allowed one attack for each of his combat levels as the ratio of one Orc vs. the Hero is 1:4, so this is treated as normal (non-fantastic) melee, as is any combat where the score of one side is a base 1 hit die or less.
    Hero: 19; 01; 16; 09. Two out of four blows struck.
    There are 8 orcs which can be possibly hit. An 8-sided die is rolled to determine which have been struck. Assume a 3 and an 8 are rolled. Orcs 3 and 8 are diced for to determine their hit points, and they have 3 and 4 points respectively. Orc 3 takes 6 damage points and is killed. Orc 8 takes 1 damage point and is able to fight.
  • All 7 surviving/non-stunned Orcs are now able to attack.
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The closest would be OD&D and AD&D 1st edition and level titles. Particularly at 9th to 12th level at what was called "Name level" where the game gave explicit support for making the character a leader of his profession. The various level titles are evocative of various positions in the profession that the class represent, and are generally arranged in a logical order. For example a Cleric would level to being a village priest (3rd) before being a bishop (6th).

In addition, historically, there were two broad way of viewing leveled characters. One was that a leveled character was special, a person destined to be a great hero (or villain) in every sense of the word. The second was that level was an indication of a character's experience. People starting out in life would be at 1st level and over time as they lived their life slowly rise in levels.

D&D 3.X adopts the later point of view and gives explicit support for computing the exact number of people with different classes and different levels, with the highest levels being the least common. So while level is not directly referenced in-game, it is implied by the fact that it is used as a measure of life experience in 3.X and Pathfinder.

My personal style is to use level as an indication of experience. My rule of thumb is that 1st and 2nd level are for characters that are considered novices or starting out in their profession. 3rd is where they are considered a full fledged professional, 6th level marks the first time the character is expected to a leader within his profession, and 9th level is when the character can expect to be a leader on his own authority.

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