When it comes to D&D and OSR games, it seems like a lot of referees like to put level limits on the PCs in their campaigns. Many rulebooks might provide for theoretically infinite character leveling, but beyond a certain point the game may begin to change in ways undesirable to the referee or other players. It could be an issue of challenge, of game balance, of changing mood, of world-building, or whatever. And of course, some games already have level limits by default.
Okay, hold that thought.
One aspect of old-school D&D/OSR game design which took a while to grow on me was the deliberate lack of a unified experience table for all classes. It still hasn't entirely grown on me, in all honesty, but I've come to appreciate it as a method of creating class balance, even if it isn't my preferred method. Cavegirl talks about this in more depth, and with more eloquence, over at her blog HERE and HERE, using LotFP as her example. This, in turn, was based on an excellent project at Breeyark! using Original and Basic D&D.
Sure, Class A might not be as tough/well-rounded/capable as Class B when they're both at, say, Level 3. But they don't level up at the same rate, so in all likelihood, they won't be at Level 3 at the same time. Given the same amount of experience points, Class A might be at Level 4 or 5 when Class B is at Level 3, so it doesn't entirely make sense to compare them at the "same level." One of the advantages of Class A is that it levels up faster, so one could argue that, insofar as the different classes are "competing" to be attractive options for players, Classes A and B should be compared at the same experience point total, not the same experience level.*
Returning to that thought from earlier, doesn't it make more sense to put an Experience Point Limit on one's campaign, rather than a Level Limit? That way, the rate of advancement for each class continues to matter into the endgame, and "weaker" classes with faster advancement rates are not disproportionately weakened when the limit is reached.
Let's look at Lamentations of the Flame Princess, for example. Here are six possible XP limits that I find rather sensible, and the corresponding level limit for each class in Rules & Magic.
Cleric 9, Fighter 9, Magic-User 9, Specialist 10, Dwarf 9, Elf 8, Halfling 9
(This is the minimum needed to get all but the Elf to "name level," although that doesn't really exist in LotFP.)
Cleric 11, Fighter 10, Magic-User 10, Specialist 12, Dwarf 10, Elf 9, Halfling 10
(This is my second-favorite choice. I don't personally prefer to set the limit any lower than this.)
Cleric 14, Fighter 13, Magic-User 12, Specialist 15, Dwarf 12, Elf 11, Halfling 13
(This is my #1 pick right now. I guess you could call this my "comfort zone.")
Cleric 16, Fighter 15, Magic-User 14, Specialist 18, Dwarf 14, Elf 12, Halfling 15
(In LotFP, this is the closest I could get to both the limits in the Dave Cook D&D Expert Set and the minimum XP needed for a level 14 Magic-User in the Rules Cyclopedia.)
Cleric 17, Fighter 16, Magic-User 15, Specialist 19, Dwarf 15, Elf 13, Halfling 16
(This is the minimum needed for the Magic-User to get an eighth-level spell slot, and for the Elf to get 6 points in Search.)
Cleric 18, Fighter 17, Magic-User 16, Specialist 20, Dwarf 16, Elf 13, Halfling 17
(This is my third-favorite choice. As far as I'm concerned, if you put the limit any higher than this in LotFP, you might as well have no limit at all.)
In LotFP, I would say this gives a bit of extra edge to the cleric and specialist, and helps the magic-user get out from under the elf's shadow. It also helps each class gain access to many of their major milestone features (better saving throws, new spell levels, skill increases) even when they come at different levels, without discarding level limits altogether. If you're not going to have a unified experience table, you might as well get the most from that choice, right?
What do you think? Any disadvantages to this method I've overlooked? Or any other advantages to point out, for that matter?
*This is also relevant if you're joining a campaign in progress and creating a character above first level to match the party's experience. Or if you're creating a group of pre-gens that are intended to be roughly equivalent in power or ability. After all, old D&D modules seems to be teeming with examples of "balanced" parties in which the characters are all at different levels. Instead of going by the average level of a party, it might be fairer to look at the average number of experience points.