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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Racial Level Caps - Hard, Soft or Not At All?

We're had some pretty good discussions about experience points in D&D and it's offspring the last few days, so I figured why not keep a good them going ;)

Level caps for demi-humans is pretty common in the earlier editions of D&D. Halflings capping at 4th level is always the thing that comes to mind for me as well as the work around of giving thieves unlimited  advancement in AD&D.

In truth, level caps haven't been an issue in my gaming, mostly because few of my campaigns, as a player of a DM have ever reached the level where they would come into play.

From my perspective, I'd rather give a racial XP penalty (depending on the strength of the races default abilities) than hit them with a hard cap. It comes closer to accomplishing the balance that level caps supposedly are there for than the caps themselves.

So, where do  you stand? Hard caps, soft caps or no caps at all?

26 comments:

  1. No caps, but only humans get an XP bonus for high attributes.

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  2. Soft caps work best for me most of the time it leavess room for players to explore options but retain some relevance in racial and classs selection.
    Hard limits can have a place in a campaign however if thesetting has absolutes and classes and races reflect tighter roles and not simply options.

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  3. None. I never had a use for caps. I guess I could not find a good reason why this race can only get to this level and this race to this level. Since none of the reasons I've heard made sense, I toss out the caps. Unlimited for everyone!

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    1. Ditto. Play the character you want to play. I can attest to not using this rule for 30 years and never yet having a party dominated by demi-humans......players generally play the character they want to play regardless of advantages or disadvantges.

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    2. I'm the opposite. When I got into D&D, the level cap for everyone was 20, and it seemed pretty intuitive to me that one can only get so powerful (even if that happened to be ridiculously high). Having a different cap for different races or classes wasn't much of a stretch from there. The idea that Bilbo can never be as great a fighter as Conan sounds right. Dwarves probably don't have much magical potential, so they either can't become spellcasters or won't make it very far

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  4. My general inclination is demihumans with more talents require proportionately more XP to advance each level. This because as a balancing mechanism level caps suck. Most games I've played never get high enough for caps to kick in, and in the rare instance they do, it's sort of anticlimactic (retire or trudge on without the sweet, slow drip of level benefits).

    No class/race combinations restricted (cause even if I think a combination is against the grain, maybe there's a player who'll come up with an idea to make it work).

    That said, the simulationist in me was sorely tempted to institute a couple level caps in a setting recently, under the mindset that race X using spell Y seemed kinda ridiculous.

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  5. My general inclination is demihumans with more talents require proportionately more XP to advance each level. This because as a balancing mechanism level caps suck. Most games I've played never get high enough for caps to kick in, and in the rare instance they do, it's sort of anticlimactic (retire or trudge on without the sweet, slow drip of level benefits).

    No class/race combinations restricted (cause even if I think a combination is against the grain, maybe there's a player who'll come up with an idea to make it work).

    That said, the simulationist in me was sorely tempted to institute a couple level caps in a setting recently, under the mindset that race X using spell Y seemed kinda ridiculous.

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  6. I like the idea of level caps and have always use them in my campaign. I've no issue with changing rules but so many of the issues gamers don't like about the rules never bothered me. This is one of them.

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  7. Hated them in 1e, never understood the rational. After years in d20, where every character seemed to have pointy ears, I have more sympathy towards them. I like the way class is capped in ACKS. The difference is the ACKS capping mechanism part of class design and balancing and applies to every class, not just demi-humans.

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  8. Hated them in 1e, never understood the rational. After years in d20, where every character seemed to have pointy ears, I have more sympathy towards them. I like the way class is capped in ACKS. The difference is the ACKS capping mechanism part of class design and balancing and applies to every class, not just demi-humans.

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  9. No level limits, but humans get an XP bonus or some other advantage.

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  10. I look to 3.5e for racial bonuses, and since each race gets an ability boost and penalty (aside from humans who get a bonus feat instead) they are pretty balanced, so level caps have no interest (or use) for me. Not that I'm overly concerned about "balance" between the players, mind you, but I don't feel like saying "Halflings simply don't have the capacity to get any better than level X." A much better level limiting mechanic is character death. Seems much more logical to me.

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  11. No level caps for Heroic Age. Class restrictions for nonhumans, but no level restrictions.

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  12. This assumes there ARE elves and what not.

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  13. No caps.

    I have never been in a group where the racial abilities made any difference in what my players decided to be. We never worried about balance and just played the kind of characters we wanted to run. The occasional min-maxer would play with us for a while but it never got in the way.

    I've had a mostly charmed gaming life that way.

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  14. I started out my campaign with level caps in place, but the closer the dwarf fighter in the party got to 6th level, the less convinced I became of their merits. By now, these characters have been through a lot together and the idea that one of them would suddenly stop advancing is problematic on more than one level. The idea of "retirement" seems ridiculous -- it really feels like this crew is really just warming up. At the same time, it seems important that XP awards remain a strong incentive for everyone involved. My solution was to create a "Dwarf Lord" class that starts at 7th level to which dwarf fighters can graduate. The prime requisite changes from strength to charisma and they lag behind human fighters in level advancement, but they are compensated somewhat by attracting a small number of dwarf followers each time they advance. I'm happy, my player with a dwarf fighter is happy, my player with a human fighter is happy -- everyone at the table is happy. Hard caps are anti-fun.

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  15. Not at all.

    Thought I give humans a 10% bonus to all exp.

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  16. I always felt that there was an easy tweak that kept the caps in place and kept the feel of the implied human dominant setting; swap the multi-classing and dual classing rules. Let humans multi-class - sure they can hit 20/20/20/20 Fighter/Mage/Thief/Cleric but that's more xp than a human can acquire in several, much less one, lifetime - and then have demihuman's dual-class. Once they hit a level cap they swapped over and started a new career; they'd accumulate classes over lifetimes, sometimes over multiple adventuring parties. A dedicated human hero could advance to legendary status in a way the other races couldn't but demihumans could be draw on experiences from multiple lifetimes if the managed to live that long.

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  17. We always left them in place in AD&D, though it hardly ever mattered because we rarely reached such high levels. I think if you drop them, you might need to adjust the save bonuses for shorties because you'll have dwarves who only fail their poison and magic saves on a 1 when the rest of the party is closer to 10s and 11s for saves. Apartfrom EGG's distaste for demihumans, the limits might be there because of multiclassing?
    I'd rather have seen HUMANS be the race that can multiclass and demihumans restricted to a single class.
    I will also take this opportunity to point out how screwed over half-orcs are under 1e and 2e in this department: UA gave every race except half-orcs a legitimate shot at exceeding level limits with good stats, and when 2e removed assassins but left the level limit for half-orc thieves, they became one of the worst choices for the assassin kit, rather than the best nonhuman assassins as they were in 1e. Grrr.

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  18. It has never come up. I've thought about level limits for NPCs bit not PCs.

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  19. Don't think we've ever hit high enough levels that caps on subhumans became an issue (in games with subhuman races). Personally I find the lower levels more fun anyway.

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  20. Level caps (whether hard or soft) are bad rule, no question about that. They simply don't do what they're supposed to do.

    Level caps are supposed to encourage players to play humans instead of demi-humans, so that there are many more humans in play than non-humans, in accordance with the genre expectations of human-centric pulp fantasy. But it's no incentive at all at low levels, and it's cruel and unusual punishment at high levels.

    If your goal is simulationist, as it was for Gygax -- a way of explaining why short-lived humans, not long-lived elves, dominate the campaign world and command the most powerful magic -- then at least you have an excuse; but it's a sorry, "post hoc ergo propter hoc" sort of excuse, and one that's more damaging to gameplay than it is helpful to world-building.

    I've found, in my time, that tweaks and finagles and carrots and sticks are just plain ineffectual. If you want a certain outcome, brute force it and you'll be happy. I did that with the way my players roll their ability scores, I did that with the way they roll their hit points at each level, and I've done it with the proportion of demi-human player characters run at my table.

    (In my current campaign, I let each player start by rolling 1d6. On a roll of 1-4, the player's character must be human; on a roll of 5-6, the player can either choose to play a human or roll for a random demi-human. On top of that, I've all but eliminated demi-humans' clearly defined mechanical advantages, like infravision and secret-door-detection; and instead I've made, say, an elf's unnatural agility and perceptiveness, or a dwarf's inexhaustible stamina and comfort with underground environments, entirely situational and arbitrarily subject to circumstance and the judgement of the referee. My current party roster consists of five human player characters and one demi-human, a halfling cleric, whose sole special ability is the fact that his small size allows him to squeeze into small nooks and tunnels, and who can be pretty stealthy in situations were a light step and a small profile are advantageous.)

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  21. easier just to give subhumans some defects and weaknesses either mechanically or in the setting.

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    1. Not just easier, but better. For people who stick to low/mid level play, demihumans are strictly superior to humans. At high levels, players either ignore level caps or avoid demihumans altogether. Nobody plays a 6th level dwarf fighter in a 12th level party. I can't see how level caps are anything but a hopelessly flawed mechanism.

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  22. Level cap never came up for me -- we would usually get distracted and move on to a different adventure idea before it became an issue. But I remember always wondering why they were there... as a 10 year old exploring the game, it just seemed counter intuitive.(though I didn't know that term yet) Given how based on classics of fantasy literature the game is, it really didn't make sense.... after all, how could a non human race create some of the most powerful artifacts if they couldn't reach an appropriate level to cast the spells needed?
    Looking back now, it seems obvious that it was an arbitrary mechanic to attempt to counter the racial perks. But the reality was that all too often, the racial benefits didn't always have an impact on the game... Sure it was harder to hide secret doors from elves, and maybe a dwarf couldn't always be hurt as easily by magic, but that just meant that villains needed to get better at planning their defenses.
    When I first read about the level caps, I made the decision that we would deal with advancement by increasing the amount of experience needed to gain the next level. The amount of increase would be dependent upon the relative life span of the race. So halflings would need an extra 20% but elves would need at least double. Experience bonuses would still apply, but it would slow down the process.

    Reading through these comments, I really like the idea of swapping the dual class/multiclass options... It fits the feel of a long lived race to want to change careers after a while... Though, I have never been a fan of the idea that you can never go back to advance a class once you have given it up... again it seems counter intuitive that you can't go back and build on past skills.
    Multiclass for humans is a much better fit for the jack of all trades image that the more recent editions of the game have been presenting as well.

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