Raise your hand if you’ve ever created a level 1 PC, entered a dungeon, killed a bunch of monsters, gained a bunch of levels while still inside the dungeon and then realized that only a few weeks of actual in-game time passed when you emerge. I know I’m not the only one reading this that has his hand up.
Time in D&D is an aspect of the game I find is overlooked way too often. Tracking time in your game may not be that big a deal, but the longer you continue playing that same PC the more important time becomes.
So just how long does it take to go from level 1 to level 2? In 4e D&D it takes about 10-13 encounters or about four gaming sessions. But what I really want to know is how much time passes in-game between levels?
I think it’s safe to say that for most campaigns, the PCs are likely to take some time off between adventures. But that’s not always the case. The last two campaigns that I’veparticipated in (one as a player and one as a DM) both involve some pretty controlled timelines. If the PCs didn’t accomplish their goals by a set deadline then bad things happened. This motivated everyone to complete the quest as quickly as possible.
In the case of my last campaign the PCs began at level 1 and reached level 11 after only about 1 year of in-game time. So that naive 19-year-old adventurer (and all of his travelling companions) who weren’t anything special when we started became the richest and most powerful heroes in the land before reaching their 21st birthdays. That just doesn’t seem right to me.
As I thought more about this issue, I remembered that in Advanced D&D PCs didn’t just level when they hit the requisite XP. They had to spend time (in-game) and money before they could level. Here’s what I found in the Dungeon Masters Guide (written by Gary Gygax himself).
Experience points are merely an indicator of the character’s progress towards greater proficiency in his chosen profession. Upward progress is never automatic. The gaining of sufficient experience points is necessary to indicate that a character is eligible to gain a level or experience, but the actual award is a matter for the DM.
The character must spend [weeks] in study and/or training before he can actually gain the benefits of the new level.
All training/study is recorded in game time. The period must be uninterrupted and continuous. He cannot engage in adventuring, travel, magic research of any nature, atonement, etc.
Once a character has points which are equal to or greater than the minimum number necessary to move upward in experience level, no further experience points can be gained until the character actually gains the new level.
So what this boils down to is that if a PC enters a dungeon as a level 1 PC, regardless of how much XP he actually earns during the dungeon crawl, he cannot advance to level 2 until he’s spent weeks in training. That is, according to the old school rules.
Now I’m the first to admit that a lot has changed between editions. Just because this is how things worked in the early editions of D&D doesn’t mean that they’re going to work for the current edition. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the old rules were off-base. Perhaps this is one of those times were we should look to the old rules and use them as a guide.
There is nothing in the current 4e D&D rules that says PC must spend time training between levels, but you may want to introduce this into your campaign. There will be times when it’s just not possible for the PCs to take any significant down time between adventures, but I think campaigns that use the “beat the clock” approach are more of a rarity. By introducing mandatory down time in your campaign the players are more likely to develop flavour for their PCs. How did the PCs spend their gold and their time between adventures? Is there an adventure hook that the DM can generate from these activities?
The next time you’re the DM consider how much time passes during the next major campaign story arc. Make sure that you give the PCs ample down time between levels to represent in-game the time required to learn and practice their new powers and feats. You don’t have to actually role play this part of the character development, but spending a minute or two to acknowledge that it happened gives the players a chance to think about what their PC did to get the benefits that accompany leveling up.
How do you track time’s progression in your campaign. Are PCs required to have a certain amount of down time before they can advance to the next level? If not, do you think it’s a good idea to start using this kind of rule? What’s the shortest amount of in-game time that’s passed for your PC between levels?