[RPG] Is leveling up mandatory


In D&D 3.5e, being behind in levels compared to the party grants the relevant characters more experience per encounter. Intuitively, this is because the encounter is relatively harder for them and it works as a catch-up mechanism.

Now, as experience can be spent on other things than gaining levels, the question was raised in my group whether gaining a level is mandatory when the relevant experience thresholds are reached. The implicit idea being that by delaying gaining levels, characters can get a much bigger power boost at once when they actually need it.

One player in particular worked out the math insofar that he could jump from level 12 to 17 while the rest of the party sits at 15.

The arguments make sense, but I am not entirely sure how to handle this idea. Staying behind in level deliberately seems detrimental to the experience of not just the player but also the rest of the group – who will be dragging along effectively dead weight for a while after which said dead weight will outshine all of them.

  1. Is this a legal interpretation of experience and level rules?
  2. Am I wrong in assuming that allowing this would be a bad thing?
  3. How can I encourage players NOT to do this, even if it is by all accounts legal? I still want to allow item crafting and 'expensive' spellcasting.

Best Answer

You can't refuse to level up...

From the Players Handbook, "Experience and levels" p 58:

Advancing a Level: When your character’s XP total reaches at least the minimum XP needed for a new character level (see Table 3–2), he or she “goes up a level.”

(emphasis mine) That's not something that you can choose to do or not. As soon as you reach the requirements, you're considered to be of the new level you reached. It's the same thing as aging. You can't decide to remain at 12 years old for six years, then immediately become 18 years old.

Mechanically, that would probably break the game. The players would face encounters increasingly difficult, gaining increasingly more XP. He would potentially gain even more levels than what he expects. That seems pretty unfair to the others players, as they would have to carry him during the time he saves his points.

Furthermore, does he expect to show in front of the BBEG (lv 17, to accommodate the 15-th party level) and then snap his fingers to magically upgrade to level 17 and fight him on equal ground? That doesn't seems fair either, for the players and you.

... unless some very specific circumstances.

The very first entry about creation of magic items and XP cost is located in the Players Handbook, page 88:

XP Cost: Power and energy that the spellcaster would normally have is expended when making a magic item. The XP cost equals 1/25 the cost of the item in gold pieces (see the Dungeon Master’s Guide for item costs). A character cannot spend so much XP on an item that he or she loses a level. However, upon gaining enough XP to attain a new level, he or she can immediately expend XP on creating an item rather than keeping the XP to advance a level

So, you can delay your progression, but not choose to stop it, and under specifics circumstances (e.g: being able to craft magic items, and deciding, when you hit the requirements, to craft an item instead). It does not allow you to voluntarily lose a level by spending too much XP, nor does it not allow you to save it. You gain it, you spend it on either, but you don't have a magical pouch of XP somewhere. An "option" to lose a level, is for a wizard to get his familiar killed. The traumatism cause a XP loss, that can be halved on a saving throw (so not the loss is not done voluntarily). You can not "traumatize" yourself by crafting magicals items, as RAW.


As pointed by Fectin, the section "Experience and levels - Advancing a level" mention a case where you can't access a level:

A character can advance only one level at a time. If, (...) a character’s XP reward from a single adventure would be enough to advance two or more levels at once, he or she instead advances one level and gains just enough XP to be 1 XP short of the next level. Any excess experience points are not retained.

From what I understand, even in this case, you don't save XP, you merely get a level and the experience needed to get to the following minus one. So you level up. And the additionnal experience is lost. So you're twice as disappointed. No delay, no savings.