Welcome back. Recently, I’ve been speaking with my coworkers and organizing a D&D game for them. The two have zero experience in D&D and the RPG hobby as a whole. So, I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about the different RPG player levels. Why levels? Well, our hobby loves making levels for everything so we might assign levels to the players too.
It only seems fair.
Once you get past absolute, fresh meat newbies there are four RPG player levels. The levels are neophyte, beginner, intermediate, and veteran. The RPG player levels are both a measure of time in the hobby and how that person behaves in the hobby.
At every level we are going to look at the player’s gaming supplies, table skills, role playing, and character knowledge. We’ll also discuss the player’s knowledge of game mechanics and how they prepare for a gaming session. Finally, we’ll look at their road to game mastering, and their RPG media consumption habits.
We’re looking at these RPG player levels to see how you can support them as a fellow player. Because we want them to continue being part of the hobby and desire to become a higher level of player.
Neophyte RPG Player Level
Neophytes are people who have one/two sessions of D&D under their belt. It’s not their first time at the table and they liked it well enough to show up again. But, they also don’t have a big commitment with RPGs yet. They’re still testing the waters. A Neophyte has probably only played with the one group of people they are currently playing with. Unless, their introduction to D&D is through organized play.
I first discovered D&D through a box adventure set when I was a kid. I’m not sure if I bought it or someone bought it for me. I wasn’t able to get anyone to play it with me then. So I ended up actually falling into D&D through organized play.
I don’t expect new RPG player levels to come prepared with gaming supplies. They’re still trying it out, they don’t need to start amassing RPG accoutrements. In fact, it’s a pretty good idea to hold onto their character sheets for them at this point. But, some people do want to keep their sheet and look it over, so offer to hold their sheets rather than demand.
After a few sessions of play a neophyte should be able to identify the dice types. In my own experience I’ve seen a lot of new players struggle to differentiate the dice. And thinking back to my first experiences I don’t recall difficulty discerning the dice. Then I thought more about my experiences with new players and what was different.
I realized my first set of dice that came with the D&D box set, were multi-colored. Each die size was a different color so they were easy to identify. D&D and Pathfinder don’t do that with their products anymore. In fact, it’s actually not easy to buy a set of dice that are all different colors. To better identify dice, teach neophyte gamers to arrange their dice in order by size. Also, it may be worth it to loan them a dice set of all different colors. It’s easier for new gamers to tell the d10 and d8 apart when one is blue and the other red.
By the end of their second session a neophyte should be comfortable reading standard dice notation (2d6+2). It’s a critical part of playing the game and it’s easy to pick up. Plus, it will save the table a lot of time if you don’t have to explain 2d6 on a loop while playing.
Neophyte Table Skills
Because this RPG player level is still new to the game, make sure neophyte gamers are asking questions. They should be asking questions about everything they don’t understand. Foster that behavior.
They should be curious about the game mechanics, the world, and how other players make decisions. At this point, what a neophyte should know to be successful at the table is the party roles and their character’s responsibility to fill the role. That could mean being the face, the healer, the scout, the defender, when to use area of effects, how to buff allies and debuff enemies, the lorekeeper, etc. They should also know the party’s player character names. Some players can memorize names fast. Others should make a note on their character sheet of who is playing what character. I like to write character names, race, and class on the top of my notes. I align the note to where the player’s table position so I always know who is playing who.
Neophyte Role Playing
Depending on their background and personality some people take to role playing with ease. Others do not, regardless of their RPG player levels. For a neophyte who has only played a sessions or two, don’t expect an improvisation and acting master. For now they only need to be able to distinguish the difference between in-character table talk and out-of-character table talk.
Some players use very defined character voices, mannerisms, or physical signs to show IC/OOC talk, especially those of higher RPG player levels with more exposure and experience. If a player is struggling to recognize the shift between IC/OOC conversation give them some tips. Have them listen for character names versus player names or watch for demeanor shift.
Neophyte Character Knowledge
Players at the neophyte RPG player levels should be able to identify the parts of a character and their position on a character sheet (abilities, race, class, archetype, background, proficiencies, gear, spells, money, etc). They should be able to find game information on their character sheet with minimal aid.
Neophyte Game Mechanics
After a couple sessions, neophytes should be comfortable with the game system’s core mechanic. Neophytes should also have a good grasp of the most common game elements. Depending on the rules system you’re using they should understand AC/DC/TNs and the difference between basic rolls like attack, ability check, and saving throw. That also includes the game’s common mechanics like criticals, advantage/disadvantage, or exploding dice.
Neophyte Session Prep
At this RPG player level, most neophytes are not going to own a resource like a rule book or paid digital app. They are still in the trial phase of RPGs. So their session prep options are limited. Be content if a neophyte shows up on time, with their character sheet, a basic understanding of the game, and remembers what happened in the last session.
With basic knowledge of the game and character sheet, a neophyte RPG level player should be able to build an entry-level character with a borrowed rule book and some friendly oversight.
Neophyte Game Masters
You shouldn’t expect RPG player levels like neophyte to jump into the GM seat right off the bat. This only happens if no one in the group is familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, or whatever tabletop RPG the group has decided to play.
In an experience group, the neophyte should be observing the Dungeon Master/Game Master/Storyteller/etc. and understand their part in facilitating the game. They should understand the three roles (Creator, Interpreter, and Referee) the DM/GM fulfills and learn about the work between sessions. It’s important that players of low RPG player levels realize the amount of work game masters put in to make the game enjoyable for the players. It helps them appreciate the game, game master, and hobby more.
Neophyte RPG Media
Anyone who wants to take D&D or any other RPG on as a long-term hobby should consume some amount of media around the hobby. As a hobby heavily focused on reading books and the personal experience of playing. It can be helpful to consume RPG media to get wider exposure of the hobby and how other people take part in it.
Some neophytes come to the hobby through media, such a Critical Role, which can give them a slanted understanding of the game thanks to the “Matt Mercer Effect”. Others have no exposure to RPGs before sitting down at the table for their first session. Encourage neophytes to download the quick start rules for the game system you’re using, if available. You might also point them to a popular introduction or how to play video on YouTube.
What you don’t want to do for RPG player levels like newbies and neophytes is give them a rule book to read. That’s a great way to scare them off the hobby.
Beginner RPG Player Level
Crossing the threshold between neophyte and beginner RPG player levels usually happens after a few months in the hobby. It’s when the person has played enough to know they like RPGs and want to continue playing RPGs. The beginner picks up the hobby and decides it’s going to be a part of their life.
Players at the beginner RPG player level should start investing in personal gaming supplies. The beginner should have all the essentials to play a tabletop RPG session. They should have at least one set of dice for the RPG they play most often and own a digital/hard copy of the system’s core rule book or players handbook. Other essentials include pencil and paper for notes, spell notes/cards for their character, and personal refreshments.
Nobody wants to wants to play with a person who won’t buy their own dice, always needs to borrow a book, or is always mooching snacks and drinks. No matter what RPG player level they seem to be.
Each beginner is a little different depending on their discretionary income and personality. Some fall hard and fast. They buy lots of gaming supplies, often more than they will need for a while. Others will wait to buy a copy of the players handbook or core rules until they are 100% sure they are making a long term commitment to the hobby.
Beginner Table Skills
A beginner has played long enough to learn about the different player types. The beginner understands that people have fun interacting with different aspects of the game. They should start supporting their fellow players fun, allowing everyone to have an enjoyable experience at the table.
Beginners are also aware that it’s a cooperative game. They should understand the implicit social contract of don’t be a dick, or an edge lord, or make antisocial, loner characters. As a player you understand it is your responsibility (not the GM) to find a way to get your PC involved in the game.
The last table skill a person at the beginner RPG player level should be starting is to take notes. They should get invested in the game and take notes about the people, places, clues, and plot so they can keep track of what’s going on. The beginner should no longer have to ask the dungeon master about the dark god’s name every session.
Beginner Role Playing
Beginners should be paying attention at the table, even when they’re not involved in the action. A beginner should now be comfortable taking part in in-character role playing. No one expects you to win an Oscar, but as a beginner you should be putting yourself and your character’s personality into the game.
Beginners should also work to not hog the spotlight. Instead, they should listen to other players at the table and look for opportunities to support their fun with role playing. Such as turning a survival check failure into a fun IC role play moment where the characters try to make sense of the map and gain their bearings.
Beginner Character Knowledge
There are two character knowledge moments that mark a transition between neophyte and beginner RPG player levels. The first, a beginner is able to build a character on their own. They should have the resources and experience to build a character without aid. Still, those first characters should be reviewed by a veteran player or GM for accuracy.
This also tends to be the area where optimization takes hold on building characters. Beginners and other early RPG player levels start to search online for the types of builds, feat chains, and spell selections they should take to fulfill the power fantasy.
The second moment is having a character die. Full, unable to be resurrected, permadeath. For many new players this can be a tipping point in their enjoyment of the hobby. If a player can’t deal with the reality of a character dying, RPGs may not be the right hobby for them. While character death is more rare in contemporary tabletop RPGs, it does happen. The defining moment of a player being OK with their character’s death, shows they’re experienced and mature enough to become a better caliber RPG gamer.
Beginner Game Mechanics
By now, beginners should be familiar with the common hobby terminology and the details of their individual character. They should be able to understand hobby language like “crunchy,” “metagame,” “AoE,” “theater of the mind,” etc.
Also, players at the beginner RPG player level needs to be intimate with the character details. They should know the specifics of the spells they cast, how many dice to roll for sneak attack, and how to use their feats.
As beginners commit to the hobby it’s the right time to start exploring another RPG. Many RPG player levels that enter the hobby through D&D venture to Pathfinder or World of Darkness as their second RPG. Exposure to more RPGs helps beginners gain a broader understanding of the hobby and RPG design philosophy.
Beginner Session Prep
Beginners should be prepared for their game sessions. A beginner should review their character sheet and supplies between sessions. That means leveling up the character if that’s something your group doesn’t do together. It also includes looking over your notes and character sheet, and cleaning them up if need be. It’s a good idea to transfer your character to a fresh character sheet every few sessions to help keep things organized and legible.
You should also make sure your supplies are game ready. Don’t be the person who shows up at session, but forgot their dice or character sheet.
Beginner Game Masters
Through time as a player the beginner RPG player level is familiar with the structure of a session and an adventure. As a more experienced player it’s likely the beginner has been player in a one-shot adventure. At this point, they should have enough understanding of the game and seen enough GMing to consider stepping behind the screen. This is one of the best RPG player levels for you to get introduced to running games. Encourage the beginners you know to run a one-shot adventure.
The beginner should take the opportunity and run a few short adventures to get a handle on the role of game master. They should also request feedback from the table on how to improve their gamemastery. It’s critical a beginner DM not commit to a large campaign or published adventure module. They should instead focus on running short, 1-3 session length adventures to hone their skill. This gives fledgling GMs the opportunity to quickly build experience by repetition.The idea being that the earlier, faster, and more frequent a young game master fails the quicker they will learn.
A mistake many beginner game masters make is diving straight into homebrew adventures. While it’s important to foster the homebrew spirit in beginners, for inexperienced game masters it makes an already complex task more complex. Instead, steer them towards some well-designed short adventures and one-shots.
One Page Dungeon Contest is a good place to start.
Beginner RPG Media
Plus owning a copy of the core rule book/player handbook for their current system the beginner should continue increasing their media. Many RPG player level beginners will pick up complementary books for their prime system, like “Xanathar’s Guide to Everything” for D&D 5e. The beginner may also pick up the core rule book for another system they’d like to play/run.
Beginners should look for a different genre to broaden their exposure. For those entering the hobby through Dungeons & Dragons, consider Call of Cthulhu, Savage Worlds, or Starfinder.
Beginners should expand their video habits to include how to run games and reviews. Especially reviews of different RPG systems and published adventures. This can help beginners better understand their taste in RPGs as well as see what types of gaming appeals to other people. Seth Skorkowsky has a great YouTube channel that’s not D20 focused.
Intermediate RPG Player Level
An intermediate RPG level player has been playing longer than a beginner. Often an intermediate player has moved on from the group that introduced them to the game. Actually, they may no longer be playing the same game.
Intermediate players have often been playing long enough to experience an edition change. Or, swapped to a different game than the one that brought them into the hobby. The intermediate RPG player level’s taste has matured. They have played a lot of sessions and are often looking for a group that will provide them quality play, whatever that is in their mind.
At the intermediate RPG player level, RPG enthusiasts have their own gaming supplies. Most intermediates have a dedicated bag, or other container with their gaming supplies. And the gaming supplies therein are handpicked per the player’s taste.
Indeed, intermediates own custom supplies to make their game experience more enjoyable. They may have dice towers, custom dice bags, metal dice. Some take a liking to my personal favorite, the storage clipboard.
An intermediate will also brings refreshments and snacks to share with the group. Their attitude transitions from improving their table experience to improving everyone’s table experience.
Intermediate Table Skills
The intermediate no longer holds a negative emotional response to a character dying. They have played enough to know a PC death brings them one step closer to making their next favorite PC. Likewise, the intermediate has learned to enjoy when the plan goes wrong, even failing an adventure. Anything not going according to expectation reminds them why they love the hobby.
Like beginner RPG player levels, the intermediate supports their fellow players with role play. But, the intermediate takes it a step further. The intermediate shares the spotlight and pulls other players into their character’s important role playing scenes to share the fun. They work to avoid scenes on comprising their character and the GM. The intermediate works to involve other players in the action.
Sometimes beginners want to show off their hobby knowledge and can be gatekeepers against those interested in the hobby. RPG player levels transitioning to intermediates have grown out of this behavior and become the new player’s big sibling. They understand the hobby only succeeds by continuing to bring people into the fun. And an intermediate wants new players to understand the game and have fun. They want to showcase why it’s so special to them.
Intermediate Role Playing
The intermediate is comfortable doing in-character role play for their characters. They develop a specific accent or other mannerism to play the character. But more than play the character the intermediate tries to inhabit the role. They strive to make decisions and take actions based on the PC’s motivation, understanding, and experiences.
Intermediates often want more out of their game than the standard beer and pretzels game. They are less interested in gaining levels, power, or “winning” the game. They often want to explore more mature issues, tackle interesting subjects, and engage with the game beyond killing monsters and taking loot.
Intermediate Character Knowledge
The intermediate does more than create a character with a personality. An intermediate works with the GM to anchor their PC in the game world. They work to connect to the world through people, places, and events in the character’s backstory.
The intermediate RPG player has moved beyond optimization and power fantasy. They have probably played every class in the system and now looks to build sub-optimal characters. The intermediate will make a competent, but sub-optimal character to pursue a goal beyond power gaming.
Intermediate Game Mechanics
Because of the breadth and depth of experience the intermediate has with the game, they have a Dungeon Master/Game Master comprehension of the rules system. They hold mastery over 80% of the game rules and understand them with a confidence to make suggestions and adjudications.
The intermediate often has this level of understanding in a handful of RPG systems through research and direct experience.
Intermediate Session Prep
As intermediates, players look for ways to make table time count. They seek ways to do the time-consuming, boring parts of the game between sessions so it doesn’t take up valuable table time. Intermediates will do character level ups, decide a course of action, even in-game shopping between sessions. They also ask the GM questions about the world and the adventure between sessions.
Sometimes intermediates will try to schedule solitary tasks as solo sessions with the GM. Especially to work out a personal scene that doesn’t need the rest of the party, like crafting a magic item or doing a ritual.
Intermediate Game Masters
As a game master, the intermediate is experienced in the game master chair. They’ve run plenty of one-shots, standalone adventures, even short campaigns. Hopefully the intermediate has even been able to finish a campaign.
Intermediate game masters are comfortable behind the screen and have experience running published and home brew material. They have likely built a few small, custom campaign settings for their games. They’ve also run a variety of adventure types and often, game systems. They have an understanding of what they are good at as a game master and where they need to improve. And, they make sure to gather feedback from players about what they liked, didn’t like, and what else they would like to see in future games. The intermediate understands to craft adventures to highlight their players’ fun.
Intermediate RPG Media
As they grow in the hobby the intermediate continues to grow their collection of RPG materials. Besides books and PDFs, many gamers make their first foray into digital tools at this point. They may use something like Hero Forge to create custom miniatures, or buy digital tools like D&D Beyond or Hero Lab.
They will also have a handful of RPG influencers/content creators they follow online for advice, ideas, and entertainment.
Veteran RPG Player Level
Veteran players have been around the block. They come with a collection of stories and experiences they love to share. And you can see when they do share how much they love the hobby. They have played a lot of different games with a lot of different people. To the veteran, RPGs are a lifetime hobby and they likely would rather spend their time playing D&D than any other type of entertainment. RPG player levels like veteran may also attend gaming conventions to see what’s upcoming in the industry and play games with new people.
The RPG veteran has been playing for some time. Over the years they have amassed a menagerie of RPG supplies. For many gaming groups this person’s home is where you play. Veterans often go through phases of expanding and reducing their collection. Depending on the veteran they may come to a game with a rolling cart of gear, or barely any gear at all. In fact, many veterans have a specific road bag for playing RPGs outside the home. Then they have another section of supplies for playing at home.
In addition to their personal treasure trove, veteran gamers tend to bring cheap supplies to be loaned out or given away to other players. They may also travel with an extra card, board, or dice game to help kill time when waiting for players to arrive. My personal favorite is FLUXX.
Veterans are always on the lookout for new game supplies and accessories. But, they also make a point of gifting the same to other players. What RPG enthusiast doesn’t enjoy a new notebook, set of wet/dry erase markers, or a brand new set of polyhedral dice for their collection.
Veteran Table Skills
The veteran encapsulates all the best parts of the intermediate RPG player levels and adds a new dimension. They become an assistant to the game master. A veteran looks for ways to help the game master. They do things like work to make adventure hooks stick. The veteran understands (often from being a game master themselves) that facilitating the adventure is the players responsibility as well. So the veteran seeks out ways to make that happen.
A veteran player speaks aloud to the whole table (GM included) about their thoughts, suspicions so the GM can hear the feedback and make adjustments. They commentate their turns so everyone knows what they’re doing and uses their character’s free actions to speak and react to what’s happening in the game.
The veteran completes the RPG player levels circle of roleplaying. In a return to innocence the veteran no longer makes decisions or takes actions by referring to the character sheet. Like a complete newbie the veteran makes decisions based only off of the character and what feels like an appropriate reaction, regardless of the character’s probability of success. When a veteran’s wizard gets angry they throw a punch, despite their 1d6 hit points and the likelihood they’re going to get beat up.
The veteran no longer announces or asks if they can make a perception check. They simply tell the game master what they want to do, how, and why. They have learned GMs will often give information away for free, no roll required, just simply by interacting naturally with the world and its creatures. I’m always interested to see how much information I can coax out of a GM before they force me to make a roll.
Some veterans gain a new appreciation for the old-school editions and attempt to inject their emphasis on clever play, mitigating risk, and combat avoidance into contemporary games that expect PC parties to kick down doors and slay monsters all day every day.
And the veteran’s attitude on player character death stands in full contrast to the newbie. The veteran becomes upset when GMs handwave player character death, knowing that it robs the game of its tension. They would rather their character die in an unheroic fashion than play in a game where death (and thus danger) isn’t a factor.
Veteran Character Knowledge
The veteran is a master of the metagame. They do not use it just to make the game easier, but to make the game better. When they know more about the specific scenario or monster, they will step back and let other players experiencing it for the first time take the lead.
Veterans also make sure to ask questions of the DM to affirm what the character do and do not know about things that happen in the game. The veteran will ask questions like these, “do I know what this is? What does my character know about goblins? Would we know that trolls are vulnerable to fire, maybe through folklore?”
Veteran players often remake their entire character from the ground up whenever they level. It’s tedious, but ensures the veteran is accounting for everything in regards to their character. Because of this the veteran always has a firm understanding of their character’s abilities and it keeps their overall knowledge of the game fresh.
Veteran Game Mechanics
For veteran RPG player levels, RPGs are one of their most ardent hobbies. Many breathe, eat, and sleep them.
Because of their experience and passion for the game, they rarely need to open a book at the table. Veterans hold a mastery of the rules and more importantly understand the design intentions behind them. They can often easily pick up and play multiple game systems. Indeed, it’s normal for them to be able to run multiple game systems without needing a refresher course on the rules.
Veteran Session Prep
In addition to pursuing their own character goals with the GM, they are often speaking with the GM before, after, and in-between games on how they can help facilitate the adventure/story.
Having a veteran at the table helps a GM immensely, especially inexperienced Dungeon Masters. In many cases a GM can use the veteran player as a resource by asking about a specific rule or mechanic the veteran is likely to know or know how to look up quickly. The veteran can also be trusted with tasks like drawing maps, tracking initiative, or even moving and acting monsters. This helps the GM stay focused on making the game great for the whole table.
And because veterans are pro-level players when it comes to metagame management, GMs often confide in them or run ideas by them before letting things loose at the table. Such as helping the GM world build. The veteran also shares books or other resources with players to help them build their characters.
Veteran Game Masters
The veteran RPG player has run multiple campaigns, often in different rules systems. This includes large, published adventure paths and 100% homebrew campaigns. They are very comfortable behind the screen and well practiced in the art of session prep.
Some veterans are cursed as forever GMs, victims of their own success. While others grow to enjoy game mastering more than playing a character and are always looking for an opportunity to get behind the screen to create a campaign for their friends.
The veteran GM also truly enjoys prep work. They love the design of creating encounters, the possibilities for branching narratives, and in drawing out player character backstories. If they have the time, many veteran GMs will noodle with the world building and session prep for hours on end simply due to the joy it brings them.
Many veteran GMs run three types of systems for the tables. They run a popular RPG like Dungeons & Dragons, or Pathfinder. They often run one versatile, multi-genre system like Savage Worlds, GURPs, or FATE. And then they usually have a personal favorite that’s more niche that they can throw out to mix things up. Examples include Traveller, OSR-clones, and Kids on Bikes.
Veteran RPG Media
The RPG veteran has a strong library of RPG material including rulebooks, option books, published adventures, and system-neutral GM resources.
The veteran is continuously absorbing RPG content and looking for ways to integrate it practically at the table. At this point, the veteran may begin creating content for others. They may blog, join the RPG discussion on Reddit, or create resources for people to view and download online. The veteran has absorbed enough from the RPG hobby that they are able to provide insight and ideas back into it.
What’s most important to veterans is they don’t become complacent in the hobby. They continue to look for ways to improve themselves as a player, their games, and elevate the table experience for everyone.
RPG Player Levels & More
So what level of D&D player are you? I personally feel like I fall in the border of intermediate and veteran. While I have a decade plus of constant D&D and other RPG experience, I feel like I still have a lot to learn and need to GM for more groups of players before I feel confident calling myself a veteran. Where do you think you fall and why? Let me know! You can follow me on Twitter. You can also support the blog through ko-fi, or by picking up one of my Pay-What-You-Want titles on DriveThruRPG. I suggest the GM Quick Reference. It’s a great table resource for Fifth Edition Dungeon Masters.
Next time I believe we’ll be returning to the world building process posts with Biomes! See how to add some realistic flora and fauna zones to your homebrew map. Before then, make sure to catch up on Worldbuilding Process: Map Making with Plate Tectonics.