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We have five players in our campaign right now. I joined later than the rest of the group by about 1 month, starting a 1st level character when they were already 3rd level. We are still on the starter campaign levels 1-5. One player just got to 5th level, three players are almost 5th level, and I just reached 4th level.

So I am thousands behind in XP. I asked the DM "Shouldn't we all be the same level?" He says I will catch up, but I don't see how I will. Shouldn't we all be the same level?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @Michael Please put answers into the answers. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 4 '16 at 19:17
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No. There is no rule requiring that all characters in the group be the same level.

Additionally, it's not uncommon in organized official Adventurer's League play to be at a table where each character in the group is a different level within the intended tier of play for that adventure.

The gap in character advancement should narrow naturally over the course of the campaign as a consequence of the fact that each individual point of experience becomes less valuable as character levels increase. This assumes however that you don't miss any sessions in the future due to real-life incidents (which happens from time to time) thereby falling even further behind. If the gap does not narrow, due to extraordinary circumstances perhaps, that could present difficulty for your DM in designing and balancing encounters so that they will challenge the rest of the group without wiping the floor with you. The qualitative differences between 4th and 5th level are significant. This is when spellcasters begin gaining access to 3rd level spells, and when martial characters begin to get additional attacks.

When you express your skepticism to your DM, instead of framing it as a problem you are facing, approach the issue from the DM's perspective. What about the situation makes his job harder? Humans have a tendency to be more cooperative when you make the act of cooperating inherently in their best interests. The Adventurer's League Player's Guide offers characters in your situation a solution in the form of a downtime option that your DM can employ if he chooses called "Catching Up" which will allow you to reach 5th level and be on par with the rest of the group.

Downtime: Catching Up

Sometimes the rest of your party levels up a bit before you do. Instead of watching them go on higher-level adventures while leaving you at home, you can catch up. When you’re catching up, your character is assumed to be going on a small side adventure, such as guarding a caravan or patrolling the wilderness.

Catching up is a special downtime activity only available at 4th level and 10th level, to get your character to the next tier of play. At 4th level, you can spend 20 downtime days to level up to the start of 5th level. At 10th level, you can spend 100 downtime days to level up to the start of 11th level. You still pay lifestyle expenses when you spend downtime catching up.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is good, but could be improved by pointing out that the gap will narrow as long as the party keeps playing together: the structure of the advancement table guarantees that. OP's going to hit 5 before the party's "leaders" hit 6. (But you're keen to point out the qualitative differences between some level-pairings.) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 4 '16 at 14:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie It's entirely possible that the OP might miss a session or two over the life of the campaign and not receive XP, thereby maintaining the XP gap. I have since edited my answer to reflect both this and nitsua60's feedback. \$\endgroup\$ – Dyndrilliac Jun 4 '16 at 18:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ This makes much more sense. :) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 4 '16 at 19:17
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The Dungeon Master's Guide[1] has two recommendations for DMs when a new player joins an in-progress campaign. The first is to have the new player create a character at the same level as that of the lowest-level existing character. The second is to have a player who is brand new to D&D create a 1st-level character.
(See also: At what level should you start players joining an ongoing game? in which a player who's completely new to D&D (3.5e) is joining a group that are 9th level.)

However, both of those are recommendations, not rules, and they are given because it's easier for the DM when everyone is at about the same level. But there's definitely no requirement for level parity, and in fact, the disparity can potentially be used to create some interesting dynamics that might never be seen in a perfectly-balanced party.

Don't worry about the fact that your PC is a lower level than the other players'. Part of the DM's job is to make sure everyone is able to enjoy the campaign. If he finds himself having trouble building interesting encounters that are compatible with a 2-level variance among the PCs, then it's up to him to solve that problem, perhaps by creating a few custom-tailored microchallenges for you so that you can earn a bit of extra xp to catch up.

The only exception is when the level gap is very large (more than 4 levels), at which point any challenge is either too easy for the highest-level characters, too deadly for the lowest-level characters, or both.


[1] Dungeon Master's Guide, pg. 236

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Its best to be on the same level because its more fun to play when you have the things happening at the same time, instead of your friends having some suprise first than you.

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