I'm a DM trying to deal with monster player characters and I don't really understand level adjustment and ECL. I'm trying to understand how Racial Hit Die affect ECL, particularly in reference to the quote below which I found here.

"Effective Character Level, or ECL, is equal to your Racial Hit Dice, plus your Class Levels, plus your Level Adjustment."

Is this just because that's how a monster's level is shown in the Monster Manual? Would I need this to adjust my players monster characters?


2 Answers 2


Yes, that's how a monster's level (for the purposes of player characters) is listed.

Racial Hit Dice

Think of racial hit die as character levels. They both grant base attack bonus, HP, saves, and feats. Racial HD don't grant class features, though - instead, the monster has special attacks and special qualities based on its race.

Level adjustment

A lot of monsters are really strong, but have relatively few class levels. For example, a rakshasa has 7 racial hit dice, but it much more powerful than a 7th level character - in addition to sorcerer casting it also has spell resistance, damage reduction, shape-changing, etc. Level adjustment is an estimate of how much these "extra" abilities are worth, in terms of levels. So a rakshasa player character would be considered 14th level. It is not possible to play a 13th level rakshasa without introducing some changes to the game.

Class levels

After you add up Racial Hit Dice and Level Adjustment, the character proceeds as normal. A rakshasa with 1 level of sorcerer is level 15 - 7 RHD, 7 LA, 1 class level.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Some warning about how poorly this system works and how deleterious LA and (to a somewhat lesser extent) RHD are would improve this answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 12, 2017 at 22:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question did not ask for an assessment of whether or not listed LA values were balanced. \$\endgroup\$
    – SPavel
    Feb 13, 2017 at 1:01
  • Class levels are the levels you take in any class, prestige or not (e.g. Cleric, Arcane Archer, etc.). They grant you hit die, skill points, class skills, save throws and hit points.
  • Racial Hit Die are levels you gain in a "racial class". These levels give you whatever that specific monster type gets per level (e.g. Dragon, Monstrous Humanoid, etc.). These levels grant you hit die, skill points, save throws and hit points, but usually no class skills.
  • Level Adjustment is an added handicap on specially powerful species. These level adjustments give you absolutely nothing, but they add to your final effective level.
  • Effective Character Level is the sum of the previous three. It is used to set combat difficulties, experience gain, level gain, etc. In essence this is your real 'Level'; any time someone asks you what level your character is, this is what you should say.

So if you have 3 monster hit die, 2 level adjustment and 5 levels in classes (Cleric for example), then your Effective Character Level would be 10. You would need enough XP to get to level 11 in order to gain a new level, and if someone kills you, she would gain xp for killing a level 10 character.

However, in that example you would have 8 hit die, because that 2 Level adjustments don't grant you hit die, and so they grant you no hit points. 8 would be the number to look at to know your maximum skill points in a single skill, and would be the number to look at to see how a spell affects you if it has different effects depending on how many hit die you have.


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