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[Any old school D&D] An explanation and fix for the 1st level slog

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
We all know how XP progresses, in old school D&D. I'll use the B/X fighter as an example:

1: 0
2: 2,000
3: 4,000
4: 8,000
5: 16,000
6: 32,000
7: 64,000
8: 125,000
9+: +125,000/level

Characters start with 0 XP, it costs a fixed amount to reach 2nd level, and that amount doubles every level until name level. At that point the multiplication stops, and it costs the same amount for each new level.

There is some rounding in the various class tables (64K to 125K, in this example), but it's insignificant. And there are deliberate attempts to slow down or speed up classes at certain levels, like the AD&D magic-user gaining 5 levels at the cost of 3 starting at 7th level (MUs actually reach 11th level before thieves). Or the thief (either Basic or Advanced) having to pay an extra half a level worth of XP after name level, before leveling off (meaning post-name level thieves advance more slowly than expected).

But it's still a strong tendency. However, the progression is not as smooth as it looks, because the XP on the class tables is the total, cumulative XP needed to reach a given level. It's not the XP needed to reach the next level, which is what we're really interested in. Here's the XP a B/X fighter needs to reach the next level:

1: 0
2: +2,000
3: +2,000
4: +4,000
5: +8,000
6: +16,000
7: +32,000
8: +64,000
9+: +125,000/level

Notice the break in the pattern? Yes, the cost to go from 2nd to 3rd level should be double the the cost to go from 1st to 2nd level. But it's not. It's exactly the same.

Which is part of the reason why 1st level can feel like such a slog. Not only is the jump in power between 1st and 2nd level the greatest in the game, but the amount of XP needed to reach 2nd level is twice as much as expected.

Blame that pesky 0. Because of the way doubling works, the XP cost for each new level is supposed to be equal to the XP cost of all the previous levels. For example, a fighter who just reached 6th level has 32,000 XP, which means they need another 32,000 to advance to 7th level. In other words, half the XP cost to reach a new level has already been paid. Except for the XP cost to reach 2nd level, because the XP cost to reach 1st level isn't half that total. It's 0.

Now, it's perfectly fine to like the current method. But if (like me) you think it's a problem, there's a trivial fix:

Don't start characters with 0 XP. Instead, start all characters with 1/2 the XP they need to reach 2nd level.

Here's the B/X fighter, revised:

1: 1,000
2: 2,000
3: 4,000
4: 8,000
5: 16,000
6: 32,000
7: 64,000
8: 125,000
9+: +125,000/level

Exactly the same as the original progression, except now a 1st level fighter starts with 1,000 instead of 0 XP. But when we take that revised progression and calculate how much it costs the fighter to reach the next level, the progression has become smooth:

1: 0
2: +1,000
3: +2,000
4: +4,000
5: +8,000
6: +16,000
7: +32,000
8: +64,000
9+: +125,000/level

First level will always be unique, because the power differential between a character at 1st level and the same character at 2nd level is greater than the power differential between any subsequent levels. But this removes the artificial doubling of the time PCs spend with just 1 hit die.
 

Klorox

Registered User
Validated User
Interesting idea, but with different XP tables for different classes, there is an expected difference in power. For example, it takes just as much XP for a Thief to reach level 3 as it does for a Magic User to reach level 2. In basic D&D, you'd be giving an Elf 2000 XP, which is enough for a 2nd level Fighter.

The best solution I've ever seen? Have all players start with the same amount of XP. My favorite games (in AD&D) would start with 2500 or 3000 XP. This would allow most characters to reach level 2, Bards and Thieves (Clerics with 3000) level 3, and multiclassed characters would still be level 1/1 (unless they were part Thief, and the Theif would be 2, but the other class still 1). I found this balanced out multiclassed characters a little bit as well. There's no denying that a Fighter/Mage or a Fighter/Mage/Thief was EXTREMELY powerful in AD&D. I'd go as far to say unbalancingly powerful. But, give those players a minor disadvantage (I'm only level 1, damn) in their first game was enough of a deterrent.
 

Barbatruc

Registered User
Validated User
Which is part of the reason why 1st level can feel like such a slog. Not only is the jump in power between 1st and 2nd level the greatest in the game, but the amount of XP needed to reach 2nd level is twice as much as expected.
To be perfectly honest, I've always thought of this as speeding up 3rd level by making it taking half as as much xp as expected. If fact this is so ingrained for me that I though the pattern break you wanted me to notice was the name-level move away from powers of 2!

But accepting the pespective shift, this seems like a fine solution.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
Interesting idea, but with different XP tables for different classes, there is an expected difference in power. For example, it takes just as much XP for a Thief to reach level 3 as it does for a Magic User to reach level 2. In basic D&D, you'd be giving an Elf 2000 XP, which is enough for a 2nd level Fighter.
Yes, the elf would start with 2,000 XP... and need another 2,000 XP to reach 2nd level. Twice that of the fighter, who starts with 1,000 XP and needs 1,000 more XP to hit 2nd.

It scales correctly. The only place it gets a little weird is multiclassing in AD&D, but that goes away after the character hits 2nd level.

To be perfectly honest, I've always thought of this as speeding up 3rd level by making it taking half as as much xp as expected. If fact this is so ingrained for me that I though the pattern break you wanted me to notice was the name-level move away from powers of 2!
Honestly, that gets really complex. IME at least, the levels seem to come faster and faster as a character approaches name level, slows down just before name level, and then gradually speeds up again in the teens. But I don't know how much of that is based on the progression itself, how much is based on each level adding less and less until character power plateaus a bit around 9th or 10th level (switching to a linear progression seems to be a compensation/acknowledgement of this trend), and how much is based on the DM tweaking XP (gold) rewards based on how much XP the party needs to level. There's a huge fudge factor involved. And there seems to be a significant difference between BD&D and AD&D -- a post-name level fighter needs 250,000 for each new level in AD&D, which always felt like a lot. The 120,000 needed by a comparable B/X fighter feels like a lot less.
 
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Barbatruc

Registered User
Validated User
Honestly, that gets really complex. IME at least, the levels seem to come faster and faster as a character approaches name level, slows down just before name level, and then gradually speeds up again in the teens. But I don't know how much of that is based on the progression itself, how much is based on each level adding less and less until character power plateauing a bit around 9th or 10th level, and how much is based on the DM tweaking XP (gold) rewards based on how much XP the party needs to level. There's a huge fudge factor involved. And there seems to be a significant difference between BD&D and AD&D -- a post-name level fighter needs 250,000 for each new level in AD&D, which always felt like a lot. The 120,000 needed by a comparable B/X fighter feels like a lot less.
Yes, "speeding up" is not the most felicitous term. I mainly intended to point out that you and I gave the same data opposite interpretations.

I should have added: when I saw 5e's dash-to-3rd-level xp table I was all like, "hey, I recognize that!"
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
Yes, "speeding up" is not the most felicitous term. I mainly intended to point out that you and I gave the same data opposite interpretations.

I should have added: when I saw 5e's dash-to-3rd-level xp table I was all like, "hey, I recognize that!"
I have the 5E starter set around here somewhere, but I don't think I've cracked the plastic. What's the progression look like?

Edit: Okay, the plastic's gone. Here're the first 5 levels;
1: 0
2: 300
3: 900
4: 2,700
5: 6,500

So 300, then triple, then triple, then about x2.4.
 
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Klorox

Registered User
Validated User
Yes, the elf would start with 2,000 XP... and need another 2,000 XP to reach 2nd level. Twice that of the fighter, who starts with 1,000 XP and needs 1,000 more XP to hit 2nd.
I understand. I just can see a Thief player, who would normally advance to level 3 before the Elf gets to level 2, feeling slighted.

Part of the balancing factor of these older games was the fact that the weaker classes advanced faster.

That's why I think a starting XP of a certain fixed number is better than starting XP being half of level 2. JMO
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
^ I suspect it has a lot to do with how XP is handed out in 5E (which I know nothing about). Or just in comparison to previous editions. It's a complex set of interactions -- reaching 2nd level (in old school D&D) means your hit points double (on average). But reaching 3rd level only increases your hit points by 50%. So why does XP keep doubling?

I understand. I just can see a Thief player, who would normally advance to level 3 before the Elf gets to level 2, feeling slighted.

Part of the balancing factor of these older games was the fact that the weaker classes advanced faster.

That's why I think a starting XP of a certain fixed number is better than starting XP being half of level 2. JMO
Ah! I think I see what you're saying, but I don't think it works out the way you expect (or I didn't communicate the idea very well). Here are the B/X tables for the elf and the thief for 2nd through 5th level, except I've subtracted the XP my method gives each class at 1st level (600 for the thief and 2,000 for the elf). So the total next to each level is the amount of XP each class needs to earn (above the starting amount) to reach the listed level.

Elf
2: 2,000
3: 6,000
4: 14,000
5: 30,000

Thief
2: 600
3: 1,800
4: 4,200
5: 9,000

So after the whole party earns 1,800 XP, the thief has reached 3rd level but the elf is still stuck at 1st level. Just like in B/X. (Though their XP totals, including the starting XP I've giving them, are 3,800 and 2,400).
 
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Barbatruc

Registered User
Validated User
It's a complex set of interactions -- reaching 2nd level (in old school D&D) means your hit points double (on average). But reaching 3rd level only increases your hit points by 50%. So why does XP keep doubling?
I doubt there's a very good reason for that other than campaign pacing in Gary Gygax's basement (and Dave Arneson's?). But among other things, it means that when your freshly-minted 7th-level fighter gets obliterated, your replacement 1st-level fighter gets to 7th-level by the time the party's other fighter gets to 8th. Or if you decide to maintain two characters, playing one at a time, and they gain experience at the same rate, then other things being equal they'll stay no more than one level behind the party average. Both of these features seem to me to desirable in the sort of open-table game with mutable party composition that Gygax and Arneson assumed people would be running.

If you're running a game where 7th-level characters don't generally get obliterated, and new characters aren't required to start at 1st level, and party make-up is stable with characters of uniform levels, then it makes less sense.
 
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