How long should it take to level in D&D?

How long should it take to level in D&D

When it has been a while players start to ask how long should it take to level in D&D? This is a question that plagues players minds after they have been the same level for a while, and dungeon masters who feel like things are taking too long.

How long should it take to level in D&D? That depends completely on your group, your progress, and everyone’s experience in D&D.

I know that I just said that leveling depends on quite a few factors, but let’s look at what speed we are supposed to level at.

Supposed leveling speed

We have asked the question ‘how long should it take to level in D&D?’ and found an answer in the dungeon master’s guide.

In order to find the answer, we have to go full nerd on this book.

Milestones are a little bit subjective so we will talk about them later. Instead, we will use exp.

Using adventuring day exp we can figure out how often the designers intended us to level.

Levels 1-3 are done in 1 adventuring day since you get enough exp per day to gain a level up. After that things start to get harder.

Levels 4-5 are done in 2 adventuring days.

Levels 6-10 are done in 2.5-3 adventuring days.

Levels 11-20 are done in 2 or less adventuring days. This is weird… but that is how the exp per day works out. 1-3 are easy, 4-5 are moderately difficult, 6-10 are the longest, and 11-20 get shorter and shorter. I don’t understand why but this is what the dmg suggests.

Now, we all know that as you level it should be harder to level up. That is why there is another somewhat universal metric and that is the adventurer’s league. They are sponsored by Wizards of the Coast who owns D&D so let’s take a look at what they are doing.

Simplifying things, levels 1-4 you gain a level every 4 hours of play and levels 5+ you gain a level every 8 hours of play. This is of course unless you are doing slow leveling. If you are leveling slowly double how long it would take you to reach the next level.

Both of these answers seem a little off.

If you compare it to your home session players take much longer to level.

A great example of this is Critical Roll. It took the group 4 around 3.5 hour sessions to get from level 2-3. That is about 14 hours of game time. This kept growing so that levels 6-7 took 11 sessions in order to level. That is 38.5 hours to get from level 6-7. Even if they level slowly that is way slower than what any regulated source states.

What is happening and why is a loved D&D show so far off from the industry regulated norm?

Why leveling varies

No D&D game is the same. No group is the same. That is why we have disparages in leveling speed.

The stark contrast from the DMG and Adventurer’s League to Critical Roll might be because the Critical Roll group is much larger than the average D&D group.

A bigger group will take much longer to level and every person in the group adds time to the game. The problem with this is that 3 more people than an average 4 person group should not take more than triple the time to level that other groups do.

Others may state that Critical Roll is a show that is big on theatrics. The cast has stated multiple times that this is their own game and is exactly like it was at home (pressure and play wise). They are not changing anything for streaming purposes and it looks like that is true. This is a home game like most games out there.

So why is there such a difference?

Home games are not very efficient.

We are not trying to push through a module and do our downtime/shopping outside of game. We are not a group of people who have come together to do a job. Most home games involve individuals who are banded together because they are friends and can even be at the end of their adventures or long before considered a family.

Families have shopping sessions, sessions devoted to roleplay, planning in-game, jokes, and many other inefficient tendencies. These are okay. Players in a home game will spend time wasted on stupid things because they are fun. Players will not be completely efficient, and dungeon masters will not follow an industry formula for home games.

This is where dungeon masters also vary. Some players can play for years in order to get to level 20 and some groups achieve level 20 from less than a year of play.

Some groups have longer sessions that are less productive and are less experienced than the veterans out there.

There are many reasons why there isn’t a universal answer to how long should it take to level in D&D.

With this in mind, there are some things to consider.


There are 4 leveling tiers to keep in mind. Each tier should get harder to level, but it doesn’t have to.

  • Tier 1- Levels 1-4
  • Tier 2- Levels 5-10
  • Tier 3- Levels 11-16
  • Tier 4- Levels 17-20

Tier 1 is where you are just local heroes or bumpkins. Tier 2 is where you start to really make a name for yourselves and become heroes of a big city or have made a small name for yourselves in the nation you are in. Tier 3 is where you are 1 of the best groups or individuals in a kingdom. And Tier 4 is where you are 1 of the best groups or individuals in the whole freakin world!

These tier sets have been used outside of Adventurers League, but they do seem to fit. You can have a person who is level 9 and has not made a name for themselves in a city because of how the world is set up, but that is up to your dungeon master.

These tiers are guides on what your group should be doing as they level, and as they cross into another tier it might be more difficult to level.

Some people even take years in order to gain a level in tier 4. This carries over from 2nd edition where you had a difficult time getting past level 10.

I would suggest for it not to get harder after tier 2.

The reason why I don’t think it should get harder after tier 2 is because we already do not follow a formula in most games. It takes long enough to level and players level when it is time. This can be because they finished a quest, killed a lot, or have just earned it.

The easiest way to control leveling is with milestone leveling, but if you want you can use exp to level. To learn about these two systems and which is right for you, check out this article on milestone vs exp leveling.

With all these numbers and basic math in mind, let’s take a look at some variable that might make your group level faster or slower.

The dungeon master

Some dungeon masters level faster than others. Some dungeon masters express in session 0 that they want to level the party fairly fast. This changes from dungeon master to dungeon master but fast generally isn’t as fast as what the book or Adventurer’s League suggests.

This is once again because players can spend more time doing other things, but the dungeon master might facilitate this.

The dungeon master might make the world a brutal place where no real heroes have emerged and the players are not expected to get to high levels.

The dungeon master might forget to plan on where the party should level and makes them wait for an extra 3 sessions since leveling might not be that important to the dungeon master.

Each dungeon master is human and may have faults or just act differently. Dungeon masters might also put too much emphasis on something that party doesn’t want.

If a party doesn’t want to engage in combat but the dungeon master primarily rewards the best exp for killing creatures then the party will not level very quickly.

I did the opposite when I was younger and gave exp based on the leveling system of 3.5. There the monsters were worth the most exp and hardcore players could gain 2 high levels in 2 hours. Levels like 13-15.

The dungeon master is not the only reason why leveling might take a bit long. Players could be a huge factor and extend how long it should take to level in D&D.

The players

The players are able to speed up the leveling process or slow it down. I just mentioned how the players in my 3.5 game were able to gain 2 high levels in 2 hours. Players can also do the opposite.

Players can spend a lot of time looking at shops, not following the plot, pulling pranks or any host of non-exp related activities. There might even be a festival in town and the players want to enjoy the festival instead of level up.

This doesn’t mean that the players are bad. They just want to have fun in different ways than hardcore level grinding.

Players have a huge impact on how long it should take to level in D&D and this can make 2 suggested sessions turn into 5 sessions.

Are players always attentive or distracted? How often does someone look up from their phone and ask the dreaded question ‘what’s going on?’

Players can have a positive and negative impact on leveling speed, but there are a few other factors why leveling may take longer.

Session times

How often do you play?

If you play once a week or bi-monthly it makes leveling take longer. Or at least, it makes leveling seem to take longer.

Are your sessions 3 hours? How much of that is spent with players being late, conversing about our lives, and ending early so that we don’t stay too late?

Session times can be a huge factor on How long should it take to level in D&D. If your session is short, infrequent, or inefficient then leveling might take longer than expected.

This is why you need to combine all the factors.


You know how long it should take to level now. A few measly sessions. But no one takes only a few measly sessions to level.

Players and dungeon masters for home games do not have leveling as their primary goal in the game. Players want to have fun with the adventure and live as a family.

Due to these reasons, it doesn’t honestly matter how long it takes to level.

Every group levels at different speeds and you should not feel bad if you are not able to be held up to the standards of the DMG or other sources. Play the game that you want to play and enjoy D&D for what it is. How long it takes to level in D&D shouldn’t be a major focus.

If you are however taking more than 15 sessions to level you might want to have a talk with your dungeon master.

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