Character Advancement and Player Satisfaction

This week’s question is all the more appropriate after the bitching and whining I did last week about 4th edition:

I am a huge fan of 3.5e D&D. Do you have any house rules that you use to increase the power of your lower-level campaigners? Or perhaps a variant of the XP chart for characters to level faster? After playing Pathfinder for a year and coming back to 3.5e, I just felt like the players barely got any kind of rewards for leveling up. I try to supplement that for my players through cool loot and story points, but these are not usually things they have a choice of… I recently awarded a free feat to each of my players, and now I am afraid I might unbalance the game.

I enjoyed 3rd edition, as well as 3.5, but have since moved on to my own homebrew system, which has its roots in both editions (with some WEG d6 influence as well).  I’ve made many small and major changes over the years, and I haven’t stopped changing things yet (much to the annoyance of some of my players).  Creating an RPG system requires a huge amount of tweaking, and a huge amount of playtesting to figure out what needs to be tweaked, but when all is said and done, you end up playing the game you REALLY want to play.

If you have players that are open to this sort of experimentation, I would wholly recommend taking advantage of it.  From a DMs perspective it’s a very rewarding experience, and player’s will appreciate it as well if you give them a voice in the process.

One of the things I never liked about D&D was the level system.  The WEG Star Wars d6 system I grew up on had none of this.  You went on an adventure and were immediately rewarded with points to spend on skills.  I used this system for a long while, but I have since come back to the XP/level system.  I felt like the immediate gratification was TOO immediate, and some amount of build-up was necessary to make the players really appreciate their efforts.  It made them feel more accomplished, and it also seems more realistic that a considerable amount of time should elapse before a skill level increases.

I decided to go middle-of-the-road with my system, and completely revamped the XP system.  Instead of 100’s and 1000’s of XP, players only get 1, 2 or 3 and potentially up to 30 or 40 XP.  I scaled the numbers down to make it easy for me to calculate.  I use Challenge Ratings and Difficulty Check numbers to determine XP as follows:

Combat XP is equal to a monsters Challenge Rating x 2 (or just the CR for slower advancement), times the number of monsters.

Skill roll XP is awarded according to the following chart:

DC 12:   1
DC 16:   2
DC 20:   3
DC 24:   5
DC 28:   8
DC 32:   13
DC 36:   21
DC 40:   34

(I actually based this progression on the Fibonacci Sequence, because I’m that big of a nerd.)

All Combat experience is divided between players, rounded evenly (0 XP is possible).  So for example, 8 Orcs would grant 8 XP (CR 1/2 x 2 = 1 x 8 Orcs = 8 XP), divided among 4 PCs = 2 XP each.  Just using their CR without the x 2 multiplier, would grant 1 XP instead.

I have to give some forewarning here that I have no idea what this system will do after level 5 yet, but I do known that it has pretty much doubled the rate of character advancement in my campagins.  We hit level 2 in 2 game sessions (about 6 hours of play), and level 3 by the end of the 4th session.  Level 4 took a bit longer ( about 3 sessions), and the same with level 5.  So that’s about 30 hours of game play to level 5.  

What this amounts to is that players gained an average of 10 or 12 XP per 3 hours of play.  Of course, this will begin changing soon as they battle more difficult foes and take on more difficult Skill challenges.  It’s also important to keep in mind that my particular players are heavier on the roleplaying side of things, so if you have a lot of combat in a single session, your players will level even faster than what I’ve outlined.

Another thing that this XP progression will do (I think), is speed up the advancement considerably earlier on, and then slow it down as they go up in levels (I’m guessing to about more typical level advancement of 4 – 6 sessions/level somewhere around level 12). 

The level advancement chart I use is as follows:

Level 1            0
Level 2            20
Level 3            40 (+20 XP)
Level 4            70 (30)
Level 5            100 (30)
Level 6            140 (40)
Level 7            190 (50)
Level 8            250 (60)
Level 9            330 (80)
Level 10          430 (100)
Level 11          570 (140)
Level 12          750 (180)
Level 13          990 (240)
Level 14          1290 (300)
Level 15          1670 (380)
Level 16          2130 (460)
Level 17          2690 (560)
Level 18          3350 (660)
Level 19          4130 (780)
Level 20          5030 (900)

Alternately, if you don’t want to mess with the advancement system, I would certainly encourage you to give out additional awards for leveling.  I don’t see anything wrong with handing out free Feats, but you’re correct that this can mess up game balance.  It will probably mean some experimenting with combat.  You may end up throwing enemies at them that they defeat too easily, and that’s okay as long as your players are patient.  Next time, just up the encounter difficulty.

Another thing I have done in my rule system is abandoned Classes and Class progression completely in favor of highly personalized character advancement at each level.  I’ve found that this makes the rewards at every level seem even better because the players are picking and choosing exactly what they want to advance.  I won’t share that here, as this post is already becoming lengthy.  But if anyone would like to see it, I’d be happy to share it at a later time.

I hope this was helpful, and good luck!  Never be afriad to tear down the system, and make your own rules.

Anarchy in D&D!

– The Dungeon Master

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If you wish to submit a question to the Dungeon Master, please e-mail them to, or you can Tweet me a question @AskthedDM. And make sure to review the disclaimer.

You can also see me in action in One Die Short.

This entry was posted in DM Advice, Dungeons & Dragons, General Roleplaying, Player Advice and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Character Advancement and Player Satisfaction

  1. Pingback: XP, Leveling and Homebrew Systems | Ask the Dungeon Master

  2. obiwannabe says:


    Seriously, really clever XP mechanic.

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