Running a DND campaign from levels 1-20 is no easy feat. And there are good reasons it is so hard.
Why do most DND campaigns end well before level 20?
Most DND campaigns end well before level 20 because the characters become overpowered, the players get bored with the characters, the DND game becomes too easy, players leave the DND group, and the campaign story reaches a natural conclusion.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about why most DND campaigns end well before level 20.
5 Reasons Most D&D Campaigns End Well Before Level 20
Campaigns wrap up before level 20 for at least five good reasons.
Over the years, the campaigns I’ve played have almost always ended between levels 10-20.
Some of the reasons focus on the characters, while others have more to do with the players or the natural busyness of life.
Let’s look at the most common reasons.
1) The Characters Get Overpowered
DND characters can become quite overpowered as they get further into the campaign.
Many players enjoy seeing their characters become so powerful that they are almost god-like. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes with leveling up – at least, to a point.
This can happen for a variety of reasons.
For example, receiving powerful magic items or acquiring unique abilities. It may simply be due to the character’s natural talent or prodigiously high stats.
Whatever the cause, an overpowered character can easily disrupt the game balance.
Sometimes a single player outpaces all of the others, making it impossible for the rest of the DND group to compete. Eventually, the other players seem pointless.
After all, if your 15th-level necromancer travels with an unstoppable legion of zombie bodyguards, what need is there for anyone else?
That’s a bit of an exaggeration but you catch my drift.
Why do most DND campaigns end well before level 20?
The disruption of the group dynamics coupled with the waning satisfaction of achieving higher and higher levels in DND creates impossible-to-ignore inertia.
2) The Players Get Bored
It’s no secret that Dungeons and Dragons can be a long and winding adventure.
Players often spend months, even years, playing the same character in the same setting in the campaign. Sooner or later, even the most dedicated player is likely to get bored.
That’s because, as much fun as it is to explore new realms and vanquish evil monsters, there’s only so much of it that can be done before the sense of novelty wears off.
When that happens, players start to lose interest, and campaigns come to an end prematurely.
3) The D&D Game Gets Too Easy
Anytime a D&D game is not challenging for more than a session at a time, characters get restless.
D&D campaigns often end before level 20 because the game gets too easy.
Maybe they’ve been easy since the beginning.
Easy is boring and boring is easy. It’s just not fun for anyone. Once characters reach a certain point, there is nothing that can really challenge them anymore.
They can easily dispatch their foes and complete any task without much effort. This lack of challenge can actually be quite unsatisfying for players.
After all, part of the fun of D&D is overcoming tough obstacles and defeating powerful enemies.
Without these challenges, the game can feel quite dull and unsatisfying.
4) The Campaign Story Reaches a Conclusion
D&D campaigns usually end before level 20 because the story of the campaign naturally comes to a conclusion.
All stories eventually end.
There is nothing wrong with reaching the conclusion. It’s incredibly difficult to sustain a single storyline for 20-player levels.
That can take years.
I’ve been playing D&D for over 30 years, and I’ve rarely seen a campaign last longer than level 16.
Once the players reach a certain point, they start to get antsy and want to move on to something new.
The Dungeon Master (DM) might try to stretch things out but, eventually, even the most dedicated group will run out of steam. So don’t worry if your campaign doesn’t make it to level 20.
It’s not necessarily a sign of poor planning or poor execution.
It’s just the way things are.
5) Players Leave the D&D Group
As any Dungeon Master knows, one of the hardest things about running a campaign is keeping everyone invested for the long haul.
Players can be quickly pulled away by real-life commitments like jobs, school, or relationships.
And even when everyone is able to make it to the table, personality conflicts and power struggles can quickly derail the game.
It’s important to remember that this is all perfectly normal.
Players will come and go over the course of a campaign, and that’s okay. The important thing is to try and create an environment that is welcoming to new players and that encourages everyone to have a good time.
If you’re finding that players are regularly dropping out or that the game isn’t fun anymore, it might be time to take a break and reassess what you want from your campaign.
Life happens, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to keep your game going strong.
What Level Do Most Campaigns End?
Most DND campaigns end by level 10.
This is often because of all the reasons listed above: boredom, unbalanced games, time conflicts, storylines ending, and hostile players that run other group members away.
By level 10, most of these campaign-enders are in full swing.
Players show their true colors, characters flex some of their best feats, and groups dissolve because no one can make it anymore.
This is not always a bad result.
Growing up, I went through several different characters over the years. When one campaign ended, my friend group started a new one with a new DM, a new setting, and a new cast of characters.
Check out this video about why most campaigns end at level 10:
Here’s How To Make a Campaign Last Until Level 20
If you want to extend the life of your DND campaign, I’ve got your back (or your Dwarven BattleMage’s back, at least).
There’s a surprising amount of ways to make your campaign last until the last drop.
Here are my best tips.
How To Extend a DND Campaign With Overpowered Characters
There are a few things you can do to extend the life of your DND campaign with powerful characters.
The best approach is prevention and pre-planning.
First, slow down the pace of level advancement. This will give the characters a chance to grow into their abilities and make them less likely to steamroll through opponents.
Second, limit magical items.
This will help keep the characters from becoming too dependent on powerful artifacts and give them a reason to explore the world for new treasures.
Finally, scale up the complexity of in-game puzzles, combat scenarios, and big bad guys (BBG).
This will challenge the characters and keep them from becoming bored with the game.
Throwing a few low-level goblins at your 10th-level party is not going to make them blink. You’ll need much bigger threats, such as a troop of DND Guards or a dragon.
How To Make a DND Campaign Last When Players Get Bored
The key to avoiding this problem is to keep things fresh.
First, try to mix up the gameplay as much as possible. If your players are getting bored with fighting orcs every week, mix things up by throwing in some puzzle-solving or role-playing challenges.
One interesting trick is to use the DND condition of unconsciousness.
When one or more player becomes unconscious, you ramp up the interest and anxiety quickly.
This will help to keep them on their toes and prevent them from getting too comfortable with their characters.
Second, consider adding new player characters to the mix.
This can be an effective way to inject some new life into an aging campaign. Not only will the new blood help to shake things up, but it can also provide your existing players with a fresh perspective on the game.
Finally, don’t be afraid to change up the setting from time to time.
Maybe your group has been adventuring in a typical medieval fantasy world for the past few months, but introducing them to a new setting can help to reignite their interest.
Simply sending your characters through underwater caverns or a series of undead battlefields can work.
Steampunk, dystopian, or even post-apocalyptic worlds can all offer a fresh take on the game.
Of course, you’ll need to make sure that your players are on board with the change before you make any drastic changes.
In summary, introduce new characters, encounters, and settings periodically, and try to mix up the gameplay so that it doesn’t become too repetitive.
With a little effort, you can keep your players engaged for the long haul.
How To Make a Campaign Last When The Game Gets Too Easy
If you’re looking for a campaign that will really test your players’ mettle, you’re probably better off starting at a lower level.
Make sure exciting things happen in every session.
Think outside the box and always ask yourself, “How can I make this encounter more interesting?”
Here are some ideas:
- Limit the characters (the most powerful player is out of commission)
- What if you changed the setting of the encounter to a raging river?
- What if you shrink the characters for this session and run a mini-adventure?
- What if the characters turn invisible?
- What if the characters must pass through a civil war between warring elven warriors?
How To Make a DND Campaign Story Longer
When it comes to Dungeons and Dragons, one of the most important aspects is the story.
After all, what’s the point of going on amazing adventures if there’s no story to tell afterward? That’s why, when it comes to stretching out the storyline of a campaign, I believe that the best way is to make the middle of the campaign longer.
The beginning is how the campaign starts. The conclusion is how it ends.
The middle is the longest already and the easiest place to add new layers to the story. You can add side missions, added social encounters, and more exploration.
With a little bit of effort, you can easily turn an average-sized campaign into an epic saga that your friends will be talking about for years to come.
How To Keep a DND Group Together For 20 Levels
You can keep a DND group together for 20 levels.
It’s difficult but not impossible. And, even if a few players leave a DND group, that doesn’t mean the entire campaign has to stop.
Here are my best tips for keeping your group together as long as possible:
- Schedule the DND sessions at the most convenient time for most people.
- Ask for a campaign-long commitment (with allowable caveats) before the game even starts. Some people call this “session 0”.
- Play with younger players (teenagers or college students) who are likely to stay around for a few years.
- Establish group expectations early (Everyone gets to talk, stay respectful, etc).
- Remove toxic players as fast as possible.
- Create an exciting, fun, and positive experience at every session.
- Bring snacks and drinks to your DND game.
- Build friendships with players outside of the DND game.
- Run shorter campaigns and one-shots with the same group of characters.
- Switch DM’s every few sessions to keep storylines fresh.
- Use milestone advancement instead of XP to get characters to higher levels.
- Use maps, miniatures, and other props. You can get free (or paid) dungeon maps, battle maps, forest maps, town maps, and more.
How Long Should a Full Level 1 to Level 20 Campaign Last?
How long a 1-20 level campaign will take depends on many factors. A good rule of thumb is that the campaign will take up to 2 years of weekly sessions.
Each session will last at least an hour and probably closer to 2 hours.
For characters to level up, it can take approximately 90 sessions, which gets you close to the two-year mark.
If your group levels up by experience, you can probably shorten that timeframe a bit.
Maybe 1 and 1/2 years.
When you think about it, that’s more than enough time to explore all the nuances of characters, settings, and story arcs in a single campaign.
Can D&D Characters Go Past Level 20?
Yes, DND characters can go past level 20.
Players can continue to advance in Epic Boons and ability scores, for example.
The way I think about Epic Boons is that they are more powerful Feats. Epic Boons are only available to characters who reach 20+ levels.
Here are a few Epic Boons:
- Boon of High Magic
- Boon of Dimensional Travel
- Boon of TrueSight
- Boon of Immortality
- Boon of Combat Prowess
- Boon of Luck
- Boon of Speed
- Boon of Spell Mastery
Basically, Epic Boons make characters into DND superheroes.
Therefore, I recommend that you:
- Divvy out Epic Boons sparingly (but do it to show continued progress)
- Design adventures for high-level characters to utilize their Epic Boons
- Only give players Epic Boons after they achieve something grand in the campaign, like finishing an epic quest
You can find out more about Epic Boons in the Dungeon’s Master Guide.
Final Thoughts: Why Do Most DND Campaigns End Well Before Level 20?
There’s nothing wrong with DND campaigns ending before level 20.
Most of the fun I’ve had with DND happens in the first 10 levels anyway.
If you do want to try out high-level gameplay, why not run a level 20 one-shot where the players start at the twentieth level?
Those games can be exceptionally fun.
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