Delver Design: Adventurer Progression

One of the key features of D&D is it’s use of character levels. In this post, I’d like to look at how adventures and what they do changes as they reach higher levels.

Personal Ability

I’ll start by sketching out how a characters own skills and powers build up from generic citizen through full fledged hero and into immortality.

  • Recruit: No notable skills or training beyond what an average citizen might have.
  • Novice: Just enough training to cover the basic functions and tasks of a class.
  • Veteran: Fully developed member of one’s class.
  • Elite: Among the best in the region at what they do.
  • Paragon: At or near the peak of normal human ability. Action Hero level of ability
  • Legendary: Beyond the bound of what humans should be able to pull off, without straining natural laws too much. Wuxia, tall tale, or urban myth level of ability.
  • Mythic: Able to perform superhuman feats on a regular basis. Demigod, mythic hero, or superhero level of ability.
  • Cosmic: Capable of world altering feats. Capable of contenting with deity level forces on a more or less even footing.

Earlier editions tend to start you off closer to the novice end of the scale, while 4E seems to favor starting off closer to veteran level. Starting off as recruits is rare. In fact, “Dungeon Crawler Classics” is the only D&D inspired game I’m aware of that starts you off at that point.


In addition to their own personal abilities growing, adventures often gain things that tie them to the game world. Two good examples of this are strongholds and character kits.


In earlier editions of D&D, characters would gain a strong hold on reaching certain levels. In effect, high level adventurers become rulers, teachers, and/or prominent members of an organization. Opting out was also possible, if the characters didn’t want to be tied down.

3E would pretty much drop this entirely, save for the Leadership feat. 4E didn’t even start with that, though limited stronghold rules have since been added.

Character Kits

Kits were special packages that changed how a character operated. Examples include peasant hero, pugilist, noble, outlaw, sharp shooter, and so on. Each character could only have 1 and some were restricted to certain classes or backgrounds. Though they had definite mechanical effects, many also helped tie the character to a certain background or otherwise helped define the character.

In 3E, this role was taken on by prestige classes. While the mechanical benefits were more prominent here, some of the requirements do seem to try encouraging a certain connection to the game world and the groups that inhabit it.

In 4E, this would expand from Paragon Paths into backgrounds and themes. The last two act a lot like classic kit in that add a relatively small mechanical impact while providing good hooks for deciding the character’s identity and past.

Progression Suggestions

The following is a quick overview of how the character’s connections to the game world might develop over time.

  • Recruit: Social ties are largely limited to friends and family. Kits might be present, but mechanical impact should be minimal.
  • Novice: Professional ties based on class come into play, though these are often limited to those who trained them or trained with them. Kits might flavor this development, but the effects are still pretty minor.
  • Veteran: The character is known locally and has influence within a small group. Actually being the leader of a unit is possible, though it’s more likely their words simply carry a lot of weight. Their kit is fully developed by this point and dabbling in a second one is a possibility.
  • Elite: The character is known on a regional level and has a fair amount of sway on the local level. At this point actually leading a small organization or a subset of a larger one is a real possibility. Additional kits may be taken to help represent standing with an organization, though the mechanical impact of each should be limited.
  • Paragon: The character is recognized on a national level and may even be known in other countries. They have some sway through much of their home lands and may lead a sizable organization. Multiple kits may be mastered at this point.
  • Legendary: World wide renown and access to similarly world spanning organizations kit in around here. Advanced kits may be possible to help represent the character’s legendary status.
  • Mythic: Both reputation and organizations my span across multiple worlds. A new kit might be added to represent their ascent to mythic status and how they attained it.
  • Cosmic: Reputation and influence are largely capped out by this point. Any kits added at this point would most likely present divine areas of influence.


Lastly, I’d like to look at the kind of adventures a party might go on and how the scope of those quests changes with increasing levels.

  • Local adventures center around a single area, such as a community, town, or dungeon. From recruit to veteran levels, this is the most common adventure scope.
  • Regional adventures impact a large area of the campaign world, such as a nation or province. This is a common scope for veteran through paragon levels.
  • World Spanning adventures take place in a variety of different areas and may even involve an otherworldly location. Travel options tend to be limited at low levels, but pick up around elite and paragon levels.
  • Plane Hopping adventures make heavy use of traveling between worlds. Such adventures are rare before paragon and often involve a gate or other adventure specific hook. More character controlled access to planar travel usually kicks in around legendary levels.
  • Cosmic adventures deal with the entities and forces that shape the game world. Such adventures are rare before legendary levels, becoming more common at mythic levels. By cosmic levels, this will be the most common adventure scope.

Wrap Up

It look like there are 4 rough stages of play.

  • Recruit through Veteran deal with small groups of trouble shooters trying to make their way in the world.
  • Elite through Paragon deals with movers and shakers, character who are the best in their fields with significant connections and political influence.
  • Legendary and Mythic deal with potentially world changes events and larger than life actions.
  • Cosmic is a world shaping end game where immense power is only offset by similarly potent beings.

Note that there’s a potential cross over point between each stage. Players may very well decide they want to stay within a given level range. This can mean both capping the maximum level and different possible end games. For example, leaving behind a legacy might be ranked above developing personal immortality.

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 11:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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