D&D Without Level Advancement?

I have been looking at some of my old classic Traveller campaign notes over the last few days. One of the quirks of classic Traveller was that characters did not improve. They started out with a lot of prior experience and abilities and were played with what they had. If you are used to games where leveling up is the goal, classic Traveller seems strange. As we were used to OD&D, I remember thinking the game wouldn’t be any fun without regular character improvement before we started playing. That turned out not to be true. Traveller was a lot of fun to play, you just focused on different goals, goals like paying the monthly payment on your ship or tracking down that patron who had left you to hang out to dry when the Imperium came sniffing around.

Many people seem to find that they enjoy playing D&D most at (or near) a particular level of power. They don’t really enjoy working up to that level and once they get too far beyond that sweet spot, they find their interest in the character waning. If your fellow players and DM are willing, why not borrow the “no advancement” idea from classic Traveller and just create characters at your group’s sweet spot and play them at that level. They can have goals other than advancement, perhaps moving into or up the noble hierarchy, stopping some great evil, or even just becoming rich and famous from their adventures.

Fixed level characters might also present the players with challenges that they do not normally face. For example, if a powerful monster needs to be stopped and it is too powerful to defeat in combat, players will have to think of some other way to defeat it because they are as strong as they will get, they can’t just wait until their characters gain a few more levels where can easily defeat it.

I know this idea needs some fleshing out, but I wanted to get it down in writing before it completely slipped my mind. It should work with any edition of D&D (or any other advancement oriented game system). Comments are welcome.

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Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. Gates & Glamours RSS Feed

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StuartJames MaliszewskiAnonymousgreen with a gunAaron W. Thorne Recent comment authors
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Stuart
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That's not a bad idea. Since I like low-level D&D I could see how having characters stop advancing between level 3-5 could work as well.

James Maliszewski
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I have had similar thoughts in the past; I’m glad I’m not alone 🙂 I’ll be very curious to see how you develop your idea. Sounds like a great article idea for Fight On!.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Traveler allowed for some minor means of upgrading characters to creep into the game over the years but they were slow and nowhere near as dynamic as level growth in D&D. One of the areas of character development I experienced was players seeking out psychic institutes so their PCs could learn psionic powers/skills. In a fantasy setting this would be seeking out tutors and wizards to learn magics from as an active portion of the campaign and not background noise. Social power by gainign ans using wealth was the best way to "leve-ip" in Traveller and that woudl work well… Read more »

green with a gun
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Traveller… D&D… why not merge the two? Being discussed here

Aaron W. Thorne
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Stuart, sounds like E6 would be right up your alley. It stops level progression in D&D3.5 at level 6, among other things.

Randall
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Green,

Wanderer looks very interesting — I’d probably buy a copy if it ever actually exists. My suggestion is a bit more generic — using any game system without advancement. That was no one has to buy or learn a whole new system. You can just play your favorite, but stay at your group’s “sweet spot” level.

Frank
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The PCs need not be totally static. They will still find new magic items, and perhaps new spells and such. One big advantage of this is that it would make it much easier to create a complete wilderness/city/etc. setting since the PCs power level is a little more static. NPCs can be set at reasonable levels, and you don’t need to worry that your 2nd level guards eventually become a walk over for 20th level PCs. I think it would still be fun to adventure up to the fixed level. One thing you might want to do, depending on the… Read more »

Robert Fisher
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I’ve often advocated doing this. Although, there are enough other games where doing this is more natural. Another thought was to keep leveling up, but rather than rushing through each level, just wait until the group feels they’ve really experienced the level they are at. When I played Traveller in the 1980s, we didn’t use the experience rules at all. So, I know exactly what you mean. But I noticed something interesting when I ran classic Traveller more recently and some of the players did choose to use those rules. Once I realized how much “in game” time gets eaten… Read more »

Capt_Poco
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For our group, leveling up was always the DM’s decision. If he thought we needed a level, he just announced it at the end of the session. If he felt like perhaps we’d rushed through levels or hadn’t “experienced” them enough, he sent some wraiths our way. This method takes care of the hassle of counting experience points, with the same basic result.