At what level do these game elements become irrelevant?

The following chart shows the character level when certain game elements (encumbrance, overland travel, light sources, keys, death, food, nonmagic equipment, camping) can be ignored by most D&D parties. I’ve charted 1e AD&D, 3.5, and 4e, because I don’t have 2e, and because 2e is usually pretty similar to 1e.

(Click to enlarge)

Note on encumbrance: I don’t know when 1e parties typically get Bags of Holding, but it’s probably before level 9. 3e parties, on the other hand, may not all buy Handy Haversacks at level 3, although they can afford to.

Note on overland travel: Would you trust the unreliable 1e Teleport for your overland travel, or wait for Teleport Without Error? How about the more forgiving 3e Teleport? I decided that 3e Teleport’s mild risks were more acceptable than those of 1e Teleport, which always carried at least 1% chance of instant death.

Note on light sources: Torches and Light spells are always available at level 1: the level given is the level at which no one in the party need hold a torch or lantern.

Note on keys: 1e Knock can open locks at level 3; the level given for each edition, though, is the level at which the party can deal with an arbitrarily large number of locks in one day.

Finally: Yes, I know that the real level that everything becomes irrelevant is “when the DM says it does.” If your DM doesn’t track encumbrance, it’s never relevant. If your DM wants your 20th level characters to be too poor to buy plate armor, that can happen. This chart is intended to mark the level at which the game designers think a subsystem is no longer the focus of the game.

Let me know if I missed any reliable ways to ignore a subsystem earlier than the level I specified: and help me fill in 2e information.

11 Responses to “At what level do these game elements become irrelevant?”

  1. Pfooti says:

    In 3e, with Rope Trick, you can obviate the need for camping by level 4. It’s a level 2 spell, and if you get a low-level extend spell metamagic rod, you can make the created room last 8 hours. Bonus: it’s all invisible and stuff. Downside: you can’t bring your haversacks in, since it’s one of those spaces where bags of holding don’t work.

    Also in 3e, but also 4e: a Tenser’s Floating Disk is almost always an awesome plan for stripping dungeons bare. They hold a lot, last a long time, and follow you around. Bring a tarp, and throw all those banded mails on it, for selling back in town.

    There’s also an item in the (3e) Magic Item Compendium that’s not super-cheap, but well within the means of a party that pools gold to buy stuff, which creates a Heroes’ Feast for the party. I mention this because Heroes’ Feast makes people immune to poison for 12 hours, and that’s a really big deal at mid-level play.

  2. Yomar says:

    This chart is intended to mark the level at which the game designers think a subsystem is no longer the focus of the game.

    I don’t know if that’s true in all cases. Sleep is a 1st level spell, but that doesn’t mean combat encounters are irrelevant at level 1.

  3. admin says:

    Pfooti: Right, Rope Trick. I’ll look at that.

    Yomar: I’d say that Sleep doesn’t invalidate combat for the same reason that Knock doesn’t invalidate locks: it can’t be done repeatedly in one day.

  4. Rick says:

    It’s worth noting that in 1e, that 1500 gp that players have accumulated at level 2 is going toward the cost of leveling up. Level-up costs are the primary means of draining treasure from an adventuring party in 1e, eventually replaced by stronghold construction. Though many DM’s ignore the cost, I think that’s dangerous unless replaced by another coin sink.

  5. Philo Pharynx says:

    In 4e D&D, a 12th level magic item can emininate camping. The Exodus Knife opens up an extradimensional space for 8 hours. People on the inside can see out, but those on the outside can’t see anything. People on the outside can’t affect the inside.

  6. Brian says:

    Love the chart and it does illustrate a point about the various iterations. I would like to point out that if a subsystem is made irrelevant by a magic item, the party must first acquire that magic item. A in the case for the all checks made by skills do have penalties applied to them, this being the option of the DM. Spells on the other hand can be adjusted. We moved teleport with out error to level 9. Also once aquired the party must retain ownership of the item. Many of the ones you have listed are not just useful to the party or individual PCs.

    In the end commonality of items and spell, the ability to survive long enough are all dependent on how the game is played by every group.

  7. Continual Flame is not a 2nd level spell in D&D 3e?

  8. Simon says:

    Re Keys:

    AD&D’s Lock Pick – an 18 dex elf has 102% chance of opening the lock at 12th level

    4e’s Knock Ritual – it takes 10 min to cast, costs a healing surge, and it’s not automatic

  9. Adam says:

    One thing about this chart: the level progressions between editions don’t match each other. In 1e, I personally never knew of a PC who reached higher than 15th level (unless it was some kind of Monty Haul campaign), and that was after several years; but 4e characters are expected to march eventually up to 30th. Factoring for this kind of level inflation would cut the height of the 4e lines by half. 3e would go down, too, but by a lesser amount.

  10. LS says:

    This is a positively fascinating infographic. Thanks for sharing this perspective, Paul!

  11. Daniel says:

    Late in the game here, but really great chart!

    Re: Death – Resurrection spell is an often overlooked way of negating the harmful effects of death. It is readily available by about 3rd level in 3.5 (costs 1,000 gp which most 3rd level parties can scrounge together.)

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