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A year between levels

February 4th, 2013 by paul

Last week I suggested that in-game time match real time. If your D&D campaign lasts a real year, your characters grow one year older. You could also try the opposite approach: Leveling up always takes a year.

This is good for the type of game where earning a level is a real achievement. As part of the leveling-up process, the players describe how they spent their year. Have them describe exactly how they got their level-up perks: where did they learn their feats and spells? Did the PCs travel the world, or work as guards? The Pendragon RPG incorporates this idea into its "winter phase", and you could certainly use some Pendragon-inspired charts to find out what happened to your family, friends and lands over the course of the year. This would also be a good time to roll on the investments and business charts from Lamentations of the Flame Princess or the ACKS domain charts. In general, the intersession can be a celebration of the role of logistics in D&D.

The DM can advance the gameworld's story between levels. At this pace, this type of campaign is much more likely to experience wars, royal succession, and other big events. Furthermore, characters can build castles, found guilds, start families, and otherwise impose their wills upon the world. In a high-speed game, where you go from level 1 to 20 in a month, you don't have time for such things.

In such a game, your character actually ages significantly. Over the course of 20 levels, a 20-year old youth becomes a 40-year-old veteran. Racial age categories are not meaningless fluff. If you decide to start the game as an aged human wizard, magical aging and elixirs of youth might actually be relevant for once.

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5 Responses to “A year between levels”

  1. LS says:

    How would this work with multiple players leveling at different times?

  2. paul paul says:

    You’re right, this works better with 4e “everyone levels together” or all-editions “DM hand-waves experience” than it does with 1e “my fighter has a 10% XP bonus and your elf cleric/wizard doesn’t.”

  3. LS says:

    Not a style of XP I enjoy; which is too bad, because I really like this idea.

    Perhaps a year passes each time the currently highest level character levels up? Or the character with the slowest XP bonus? That’s a little more fiddly, because it means everyone’s fate is tied to a single character (even though that character may change). Not to mention the potential for character death to cause multiple years to pass within a few sessions.

  4. Tavis says:

    Playing with kids has been interesting because they tend to make their PCs only about four years older than they are, and have a very visceral feel for how much difference a few years in age makes. One group of boys who wanted to make powerful magic items in ACKS found the idea of spending what would up to be six years doing it was OK even though it took their characters outside the age range they (and the characters in the YA fiction they enjoy) are familiar with. A girl who was aged by an OD&D ghost (Strategic Review #3) was delighted that not only did her PC become a teen but also got styling white hair!

  5. The best thing to do is may be divorce passage of time from leveling, but still keep each adventure spread out so the PCs aren’t going from Dungeon A to Dungeon B to Dungeon C all in the course of a mere few weeks.

    One option is to have each “adventure” take place each year / season / month. I think Houses of the Blooded does something similar. And, of course, Pendragon as you already mentioned.

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