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While characters generally gain in power as they gain levels, not all levels are created equal. Sometimes you get a major new ability that makes the game easy. Or you might end up just gaining some small stat increase or a few Hit Points for that level. But hey, at least it's something, right?

But wait a minute! Those added hit points don't even add up to surviving one more hit from my enemies.

If these level ups result in you becoming less effective after a certain point, you have a Parabolic Power Curve, the inversion of Unstable Equilibrium, where doing badly leaves you further behind. That's not to say that this is always a bad trope, especially if one can exploit it by beating the game while avoiding level-ups.

Also a big factor in causing Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards. In rare instances this creates an Unwinnable situation.

A related issue may be that, although your characters' stats are indeed increasing with each level, the monsters' stats and abilities are increasing faster, ultimately making you weaker by comparison.

See also Diminishing Returns for Balance, Dynamic Difficulty, Level Scaling, Rubber-Band A.I., Anti-Grinding.

For actual empty game levels/rooms, see Empty Room Psych.

Video Game Examples:

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    Action RPG 
  • The Borderlands series usually had the first few levels being empty outside of increased health and melee damage, at least until you got your Action Skill and can finally start putting points into skills to properly build your character. Beforehand, your character can't do much of anything special outside of shooting, running, and throwing grenades. Later games eventually eased this restriction bit by bit, until the third game did away with it entirely, giving you your Action Skill at level 2 so you can immediately use their trademark abilities soon as you level up.
  • In Diablo (1997), all you gain from a level-up is a Level-Up Fill-Up and 5 stat points. Your actual damage and survivability are almost entirely based on items and spell levels; the best items can be worn at about 100 Strength (out of 255), stat points can be purchased and spells can be boosted by Enchanted Shrines. Not to mention that most utility spells stop improving at spell level 7, despite having a spell level cap of 15. Mana Shield stops improving at level 1 and the only reason to take it any higher is to prevent it from being lowered to 0.
  • Casters in Diablo II. You can learn any spell between level 1 and 30 (out of 99). You can max it 20 levels later. You don't need more than one spell to kill every monster in the game, unless you have the expansion, in which case you need one spell and a way to cheese past immunes. Items that increase spell power are few and far between, and until patch 1.10, most of the best items are actually fairly low level (without the expansion, every single unique can drop before level 30). Assuming you max a level 24 or 30 spell, you hit a hard cap about halfway through the middle difficulty level and all you get from level-ups after that is a few piddly points of health or perhaps 1 more spell level from a new item. Meanwhile the monsters do continue to get stronger. A later patch did make it so that putting skill points into other spells of the same type (fire/blizzard/lightning) also provides bonuses to the other spells in the school. So the used spell could still continue to be raised once at cap by augmenting them with other spells.
  • While the levels never become truly empty, the level progression toward the end of the level cap in Diablo III increases your power much more slowly than in the beginning, culminating after you hit 70 and start unlocking "Paragon Levels", which give comparatively tiny bonuses that apply to all characters on your account. At this point, Equipment-Based Progression becomes the more efficient way of growing more powerful and the game becomes even more focused on Loot Grinding than before.
  • Done intentionally in Lunar for Ramus. While Ramus first few levels up's are outstanding, even better then the main charcter's, he will eventually start to gain less and less from a level, eventually he will only gain HP, causing him to degrade from a front line character to back line as he no longer has the defense to take hits. Level him enough and he will drop to gaining nothing. This is intentional to show that while a great childhood friend he lacks the raw natural talent to keep up with the likes of our main cast. He leaves the party around the time the empty levels have degraded him to the point he barely counts as an asset to the team any more.
  • Dragon Sinker has a combat system where using a move costs a percentage of your current HP or MP. Meaning that no matter how far you level up, moves drain you just as quickly as ever. In the case of health, levels still aren't useless, because more health still means you can take more hits; however, having more magic points just means that you'll need more expensive items if you want to recharge (and you have slightly more resistance to magic-draining enemies, but those are relatively uncommon).
  • Leveling in Trials of Mana gives you a negligible HP boost and a stat point of your choice which does make a difference, however, there's a cap to each stat (depending on the character's class, and including the ultimate classes), meaning that if you're overleveled your new levels go towards improving not very useful stats, and eventually doesn't improve any stat at all, only getting you the aforementioned negligible HP boost.
  • Leveling the Tech skill in Megatagmension Blanc Plus Neptune VS Zombies only gets you a new combo every other level.
  • Your squad mates in Mass Effect: Andromeda max out their skills at level 53. You max out your stats (and equipment) at level 80. The actual level cap is 132, and the game implements Level Scaling.
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of War has a skill system where you can only really spend two points on an ability at a time - one to unlock it, and one on a selection of mutually exclusive upgrades, some of which are of severely limited usefulness. Once you've unlocked all the skills and all the upgrades you want - which you can do as early as level thirty if you do the sidequests - your power is based entirely around the equipment and orcs you acquire, and each level becomes just the arbitrary ceiling of your orcs' power.
  • The first Dragon Ball Z The Legacy Of Goku is infamous for having this problem combined with horrible level-scaling: enemies already deal ridiculous amounts of damage from the start of the game (such that wolves in the very first area can kill you in about three hits), but then that damage scales up with every level, enough so that the actual bonus to your hit points is almost negligible, with you only pulling out far ahead enough to reduce the number of hits enemies kill you in once you're near the level cap.
  • Genshin Impact: The stat increases from leveling up are typically very low, with the lion's share of stats being given by weapons, artifacts, and ascensions, which is especially egregious when later levels demand large numbers of Hero's Wits and hundreds of thousands of Mora for single-digit increases in ATK. Because of this, leveling a character from 80 to 90 is regarded as a waste of resources, except for characters that scale off HP or DEF (since those aren't expected to be made up for by a weapon, they aren't nearly as low as ATK) or characters who use elemental reactions like Swirl, Overloaded, or Electro-Charged as their main source of damage (since the damage those deal scales by level).

    Collectible Card Game 
  • In KanColle, leveling up only boosts your girls' antisubmarine warfare, evasion and accuracy stats. It does nothing for HP or the other stats, which can only be raised by modernisation and remodelling. Given that the entire game is one big Luck-Based Mission, it's possible for a team of level 90-somethings to struggle with a map that a much lower-level team manage to beat.

    Driving Game 
  • Need for Speed Underground features a particularly bizarre method of Rubberband AI that results from the way upgrades work: as you improve your vehicle's performance, opponents will get faster and more responsive, meaning that you'll never really be overpowered, because other cars will match your tuning and performance. This makes the upgrades empty levels, as you'll be just as capable of winning races with no upgrades (perhaps even better, considering the lower speeds you'll be driving at) than with the best upgrades.

    First Person Shooter 
  • PAYDAY 2 uses an "Infamy" system that functions like the prestige system in other shooters. What differentiates it is that each Infamy level allows you to unlock an "Infamous" skill. On the second through fifth Infamy levels, these grant tangible uses by lowering skill investment costs on two skill trees of the player's choice (although the Fugitive tree is always one of the two, and the bonuses to that tree don't stack with future Infamy levels) as well as give a modest increase to exp gained. All the rest (the first and the 20 later-added levels of infamy) only grant a unique mask and some exp, or just a flat exp boost. Since you have to be at level 100 to go infamous, this means that every other infamy level past 5 is essentially there only to make farming more infamy levels easier.
    • Before a massive overhaul of the skill system with the 100th update, the skill trees had this sort of issue, too. Early skills ostensibly had an advantage over later skills in that they didn't cost as much to unlock, but that was typically where the advantage ended - at best a skill would be a Magikarp Power that required it to be aced before it would really be of any use, but it was far more likely for a skill to just be complete garbage that you'd only take because you need to progress along that part of the tree to unlock the actually useful skills. Worse as well is that before the overhaul, gaining/upgrading skills also had an in-game monetary cost on top of the skill point requirement - even if you'd removed a skill and were reusing the points elsewhere - which discouraged experimentation and encouraged copying a template. After the overhaul this has mostly been fixed - the money requirement for gaining/upgrading a skill was removed, and many of the old early skills that actually had any use have been made inherent abilities, with replacement skills for the beginning of the skill trees actually being worth using on their own.
  • Ghost Recon has a form of this with its minor RPG Elements. Every soldier has four stats, one of which can be upgraded if the soldier in question participates in and survives a mission. The Leadership stat, when sufficiently leveled, gives every soldier in the squadron a bonus point in every other stat. The problem here is that you need three points in Leadership to get the bonus. Moreover, each stat maxes out at 8 points, meaning you can only get the bonus twice from a single soldier before any further points put into Leadership will be completely wasted. Not to mention as well that only the soldier with the highest Leadership will actually apply that bonus to the rest of the squad. Even the developers realized this, with some particular late-game specialists in the expansions having straight 7s or 8s across all their stats... except for Leadership, which they only get 6 in.

    Idle Game 
  • Lit (2021): Some of the light levels are next to useless. Sure, that red light level doubles color energy production, but the "Wave Theory" upgrade multiplies it by 5 for each unspent light and the "Quantum theory" upgrade boosts the effects of all other red light ones for it. Or those green light levels that add a free level to the "Newton" buyable, which is useful as it helps keep a consistent profit from batteries longer while idling, but may feel next to useless when its effect is above 3x or have them be charged artificially with cyan level 4 and 5. That said, upgrades can massively change what can be seen as an empty level, but cyan level 7 and 9 give you literally no effect without it.

  • Zig-zagged in City of Heroes (and, by extension, City of Villains). Every level-up, characters gain either a choice of a new power, or additional slots to enhance their existing powers. At low levels, gaining new slots feels empty, because low-level enhancements are so weak as to make virtually no difference in strength. Around mid-level, however, this switches, and the additional slots become much more important. This is because the player now has access to much stronger enhancements, and the game difficulty is balanced around access to these enhancements; new powers are frequently too weak or inefficient to be of much use until enhancements can be placed in them.
    • Another, more meta example arises from a quirk of the enhancement system. The strength of enhancements changes based on their level relative to the character, so a level 25 enhancement is stronger when used by a level 22 or 23 character than by a level 26 character, for example. In-game stores sell enhancements only at levels that are multiples of 5, so the level-up prior to the one where a character can buy a higher level of enhancement can feel empty, since there's little point in buying enhancements that will be obsolete in one level. Using crafted enhancements, however, can bypass this issue, since they use different rules than store-bought enhancements and don't have this particular pitfall.
  • EverQuest suffers from this as when you gain levels, you have to fight tougher monsters to gain experience. However, something called Alternate Advancement (AA) points can make a big difference in your power, and you can earn them at the lower levels. So gaining levels actually can make it harder to earn AA points. It is also the case that as players get more powerful, they also get more specialized, so that the steel armored warrior has a much greater defense proportionately at higher levels than the leather wearing druid. Since the monsters have to hit harder to be a challenge to the warrior, they now can kill the druid in just a few hits.
  • Extremely common in Korean-styled MMORPGs, where leveling just gets you a couple stat points and a skill point, making the character only marginally better at most levels. Usually it's every 10 levels or so, when the next equipment set becomes available, that the characters actually make a significant advancement in strength. What this means is, as the enemies you are fighting start giving less experience, and you're forced to move on to stronger enemies, your character isn't meaningfully stronger until those key levels and the fights get harder.
    • Trickster Online, a Korean MMORPG, has "hell levels." For each class they are slightly different. The toughest class to play is the Lion who uses firearms, because his hell levels start at level 1. The lion's gun damage is determined by the accuracy stat, while melee damage is given by the strength stat. Every character starts off weaponless, making the Lion's high accuracy useless and his low strength a huge liability. Until level 20 he is denied quality weapons, cannot use a shield, and cannot move while attacking. You're like a Glass Cannon, except just glass and no cannon.
  • In Nexus War, leveling up means penalties to recovering from death.
  • RuneScape has a fair bit of this in Player Versus Player combat, mainly only on Bounty Worlds. Leveling any combat skill raises your combat level, and since what level range of other players can attack you is a range from your own combat level, keeping your combat level as low as possible while maximizing your combat capability (by training certain combat skills more than others, in approximate order Str>Atk>Magic>Prayer>Ranged>Hits>Def) allows you to have an advantage over other players at the same combat level who have not focused on keeping their combat level low. Unfortunately for many would-be "Pro PKers", a vast majority of all active PKers between combat levels 20-110 (PKing unavailable below level 20, and at level 110-126 the only way to get combat levels at all is to max out those stats which increase combat level without boosting combat effectiveness all that much) have their stats set up in such a way to maximize Power-in-combat to Combat-level ratio. There is even a disclaimer in the website's FAQs stating that it is impossible to undo level-ups; once you have them, you're stuck with them for good. In addition, in the non-PvP portions of the game, new armour and weapons become usable at specific levels in specific skills, for example, the differences between level 80 attack (Chaotic Rapier) and level 79 attack (Still using Abyssal Whip) or level 70 attack (Can use Abyssal Whip) and level 69 attack (still using that oldschool Dragon weaponry) are far greater (in terms of how much it boosts your ability in combat) than any other single attack level-up.
    • This was a major criticism when they decided to expand the Slayer skill to level 120, as only a few monsters were added at that interval, which meant that most of the (much harder to grind) levels gained from 100-120 didn't actually unlock anything. This was remedied later after they added more and more monsters that unlock in those levels and now there are very few levels that don't unlock anything yet, which leaves room for further updates.
      • This is still a problem in Old School's Slayer skill: the strongest slayer monster is unlocked at 95 slayer, meaning that if you take Slayer to 99, over a third of your Slayer experience was earned building only to a single unlock.
    • The most important reward from levelling the Dungeoneering skill is unlocking new Daemonheim floors to explore, you unlock a new floor every 2 levels from level 3 to 119, which means you get a new unlock every odd number, unfortunately although some levels in between unlock miscellaneous rewards, most even levels don't have anything to fill them, leaving you needing to level up twice constantly before being able to move forward with the skill.
    • In Old School, the Attack skill stops unlocking weapons after level 82, so if you're going to train one melee skill to 99 after 82 attack, the experience is best placed in Strength, which has a greater increase in DPS per level than attack.
  • World of Warcraft
    • Prior to several overhauls of character progression in the Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria expansions, the talent trees normally just slightly improved a single skill with only a handful of new skills actually available. New skills from trainers had the same issue: Typically you'd just get a new rank to a spell, such as Shadowbolt 5 becoming Shadowbolt 6, which just let it keep up with what you were already doing. The newer system did away with spell ranks by having them scale based on stats and streamlined talents to always be a new spell or a new type of specialization.
    • The crushing blow mechanic did mean there was a tangible benefit (if you knew about it) to each level, as each one would make it more feasible for players to challenge enemies that were 4 levels and up above their level by reducing the odds of a crushing blow against them or bring them within the 3-levels-higher-or-less bracket that prevented them from having a chance of doing a crushing blow against you.
    • However, as more levels were added to the game and older, unused and useless skills were removed quicker than new ones were added, this trope became more and more of an issue until it reached a point in the Battle for Azeroth expansion where early on you'd get only get something actually new every two to three levels, which slowly spaced out until you hit the final new skill at level 80, at which point you got no new non talent skills until reaching the level cap forty levels later. Which, thanks to increasing exp costs per level, would take much longer than the forty levels prior as well. You'd still get about a few new talents in that time, but only in about fifteen level increments. This was a major factor in the upcoming level squish, setting the new level cap all the way back down to 60 so every level would feel meaningful again... in theory. In practice, in Shadowlands, you'd have all skills and talents available by level 50, so you have an entire expansion worth of empty levels.
  • In Digimon Masters Online, one will notice that by around Digimons' level 70 up to 90, these levels don't increase the Digimon's stats anymore at all. There is only a visible slight increase in the Critical Hit Rate per level from this point on. This is easily notable in high level grinding where the Digimon's relative strength is dictated almost purely by its offensive power (making Digimon meant to be tanks almost useless due to a sizable number of factors). However, Evasion and Critical are affected by the level gap between the Digimon and its target; generally, if your target is of a lower level then criticals happen more often, where as the reverse is also true (higher level target = much less criticals). The damage dealt by a critical is also increased with higher critical rate (e.g. a 1400 base damage strike with 60% critical hit rate's critical hit is less powerful than a 1400 base damage strike with 80% critical hit rate's critical hit.)
  • In Lineage 2, save for the first few levels, the stat increase from levels themselves doesn't make much of a gameplay difference (outside requiring you to fight tougher monsters), what does make a difference is getting new skills (which include significant stat increases), which comes with levels, however, not every level gets you skills. For levels 40-70 you get skills (depending on class) every 4-3 levels, and from then on every 3-2 levels. The levels in-between are empty.
  • Overworld and event enemies in Tower of Fantasy scale to match the player's level. However, the player's level has a very minor effect on their combat performance, and is mostly used as a limiter to the extent of weapon and gear upgrades the player can obtain, which are far more influential. This becomes a problem when the game offers experience multipliers to help boost players that are far behind the level cap, but the enemies' growth outpaces the players' equipment upgrade progression; it's not unusual for casual players boosted by the giant experience bonus to feel that they're weaker for leveling up.

    Platform Game 
  • In Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, the Chao Karate has a feature like this where the amount of damage the enemy does and how much you do to them seems to be rooted in the swim stat. To elaborate: if your chao has all (just for the sake of simplicity, B-rank skills) level 84 skills except for swim and stamina, which are level 70 and you get your ass kicked in chao karate, you'd think that leveling up your swim (doubles as the defense stat) would make you more resistant to damage, right? Wrong! While leveling up swim increases your defense to the point where every single hit doesn't do extreme damage, it also for some reason makes the enemies themselves more resistant to damage, faster, more likely to dodge, and even hit harder (at a certain point, increasing defense will reach an equilibrium with their attack (power) stat resulting in a minimum level of damage). However, the fact that they also grow generally tougher too after you stop reaping the benefits of higher defense means that you are actually making this stronger. Now take that chao of yours and give him a level 91 defense state and keep everything else the same. Suddenly, even though you used to be faster than the guy who beat you and he never evaded, he's dodging every other hit and beating you to the punch.
    • To cut it short: keep your swim a bit below your other stats (except for fatigue, which really doesn't ever need to go any higher than level 60) and focus on increasing your power and run stats, as these will let you hit harder and more frequently.
  • When playing An Untitled Story on the higher difficulties, the amount of damage you take in later areas accelerates faster than the maximum health you have, even if you collect every health power-up possible. So, while you might take six hits to kill at the beginning, eventually, you'll go down in one or two. Since the difficulty settings also subtly tweak the platforming sections, this can be a sore point for players who still want the more challenging platforming of the higher difficulties without virtually being a One Hitpoint Wonder in later sections.
  • The Tasen and Komato stats Iji has don't do anything unless they're at levels three, six or ten, so you're only putting points into them to build them up to those levels. This is even more noticeable on Ultimortal difficulty, as you can only increase your health and it maxes out after nine levels, rendering any levels afterwards useless.

    Puzzle Game 
  • Due to how the stat system works in Puzzle Quest, every other level is empty, because you don't have enough points to raise anything important until two levels have passed.
  • Gems of War: Nothing happens when moving between Class Champion Levels unless they're hitting the specific levels of 1, 5, 10, 20, 40, 70, and 100 to unlock new talents.

    Real Time Strategy 
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2 features squads that level up and can collect ever more powerful gear, but rather than facing more powerful types of enemies, you simply face the same old enemies leveled to match you. You fight level 1 slugga boyz at level 1, then level 15 slugga boyz at level 15. At first glance, there is no apparent point to leveling up, as doing so merely results in smallish stat boosts with every skill point, but every 10 skill points would provide a powerful new ability that could change how each of the squads played. This, combined with new unlockable wargear options that were exponentially more powerful than the initial loadouts (thunderhammers, orbital bombardments, and Terminator armour were the most egregious examples), caused massive spikes in the power of the player's squads every couple missions with little noticeable gain in between.
  • Early in Blue Byte's IOS and PC game Battlestations Harbinger, when you gain levels you get a new ship added to what you can pilot and add to your support fleet until you reach the maximum of Level 21. However the best ships in the game at the time are found around Level 12 and 13: the Armada capital ship and the Valiant heavy cruiser carrier. The ship you can choose at Level 14 is still pretty decent despite being excessively slow and having fewer main gun hardpoints, it does have a lot of fighter bays . At Level 15 the next ship is much worse, it gains a significant boost in speed (which in this game, isn't very important) but it loses a carrier slot and it has no point defense coverage on the flanks and rear. In a game where the Mighty Glacier dominates, being a quick ship isn't all that (weapons are often hit-scan or otherwise to fast too dodge even for the quickest ship, while fighter squadrons will outpace any ship. That's why point-defense, fighter squadrons, strong shields/armour and a lot of main guns is more important). The final ship you get at Level 21, has 3 carrier slots for the most amount of fighters at the time, good armour, decent point-defense and it's very quick, but it only has a single main gun slot. Things have changed somewhat once the game was renamed Battlevoid Harbinger, as two new powerful ships have been added and some late game ships were improved, though there's still a lot of empty levels.

  • In Desktop Dungeons, Dracul has a boon that increases your level with none of its benefits in exchange for some Piety. Because level differences determine how much XP you gain per kill and Level-Up Fill-Up is an integral part of the game, taking it too early can outright kill your run.
  • NetHack monster difficulty is the average of experience level and dungeon level. If you are playing a class that gains little combat ability with experience levels, gaining a level can be a step backwards, especially if the new monster difficulty introduces some particular early-game terror.
  • In the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, the stat gains you get from leveling become so small at times that you're much better off hunting for stat boosting items instead. Exactly when this happens varies from species to species, with some having it occur at the higher levels, others at the lower levels, while still others don't really follow any sort of pattern at all.
    • Quite literally the case with Shedinja in Red/Blue Rescue Team. There are plenty of level ups in which Shedinja does not increase a single stat, as its HP will never increase. It is generally recommended to level Nincada to level 100 before choosing to evolve.
    • In Explorers, Mr. Mime and Stunky line get no stat increase at all at Lv. 3.

    Role Playing Game 
  • Hyperdimension Neptunia has this only when you try and increase your level with DLC past the cap of 99. You only get one point per stat and with no increase to HP or AP. The only upshot is that Item Points still increase by two, so you can at least use your item skills a bit more.
  • Breath of Fire
    • In the the first game when you level up a character to past Level 60, sometimes you will see see "Character reaches level yy!" and... that's it. Not even a single hit point. Not much reward after the ridiculous grind (especially since the game divides XP gained by how many group members total you have, up to 8) to get to those high levels. This is most likely to happen to Gobi, who ceases to gain points in anything other than HP after a certain level.
    • Breath of Fire II does the same at the same point too. As such, leveling up past Level 60 is a waste. The sole exception to this is the secret character Bleu/Deis who gains more stats past Level 60 and can max all her stats if leveled up to 99.
  • In EarthBound (1994), any level-up that's not a multiple of 4 can be very wimpy. You might get as little as only a single point increase to your max HP.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In Morrowind, the leveling system is such that for every 10 increases of your major/minor skills, you'll gain a level. However, attribute increases are tied to all skills that use that attribute. The result is that if you train the wrong combination of skills or choose the wrong attributes to increase upon leveling up, you can end up with a character with a high level but weak attributes. The most efficient (but time-consuming) builds end up carefully leveling up very specific combinations of skills to get three x5 attribute multipliers (the highest possible) per level.
    • Oblivion:
      • Oblivion has the most extreme version of this issue in the series (and gaming in general), making it very easy to end up on the wrong side of the Level Scaling curve. Enemies scale based purely on your level, but your actual strength in combat involves many factors besides just level (health gain per level, attributes, equipment, and skills). As such, leveling up with too many non-combat skills is likely to result in an insignificant bonus to your abilities, but all enemies still increase in strength. Even if you've been careful in your leveling, your damage caps at a certain point while enemy health does not, meaning high-level fights become increasingly drawn-out with even standard foes becoming damage sponges without providing much challenge. While being a full blown min-maxing Munchkin is only necessary if you want to max out every single attribute, you're best served incorporating elements of it in order to avoid falling on the wrong side of the curve.
      • Alternatively, it's possible to gain a significant Low-Level Advantage by leveling up skills but never sleeping. Though this severely limits your ability to make use of NPC trainers, as you can only use them five times per level, your skills will still increase naturally through use and by finding skill books. This ultimately leads to the world being saved from a horde of feeble monsters by a strangely competent insomniac.
      • Unfortunately, even if you level up effectively, some friendly NPCs do not (and/or have low-level equipment even at the highest levels), making Escort Missions with non-essential NPCs very difficult as your allies get torn apart in seconds by enemies scaled to your level. This is particularly blatant in a quest where you protect (what's left of) the city of Kvatch. If you do this quest early on, as the game expects you to, the City Guards fighting alongside you are apparently being terrorized by the goblin-like Scamps, who don't do much besides fling slow-moving, weak fireballs. Postpone it until you're level 20 or so and the guards' reaction will finally look appropriate, now that they are facing humanoid crocodiles, magma golems, and demonic sorcerers.
    • Skyrim has a much improved system (borrowing elements from its Bethesda Fallout sister series) after the struggles of its predecessor, doing away with attributes completely while having you increase your Health, Magicka, or Stamina by 10 each level. In addition, you can pick one new perk per level to increase your effectiveness within a particular skill. However, empty leveling is still possible if you invest perks primarily in non-combat skills (naturally, as it logically doesn't help that you can pick any lock or sell ice to a Frost Atronach when a bandit is trying to plant his axe in your skull). Since the game scales enemies with you, gaining too much experience without having the build to back it up can be hazardous, as you will be encountering more powerful foes without actually being all that much stronger to handle them. The matter of dragons makes things even more complicated, as some archetypes that otherwise do just fine really struggle dealing with them. A melee assassin who had slashed hundreds of throats can suddenly discover that all his training becomes useless against a dragon due to their freakish perception and their flight making it really hard to land a sneak attack.
  • The Fallout series:
    • Fallout 3, if you have Broken Steel. It's particularly egregious because the new monsters it introduces would be Demonic Spiders to even a character who reached level 50, and the cap is 30.
      • Fallout 3's system was actually implemented as a direct response to Oblivion. Oblivion started with a basic NPC and added levels and improved gear as the player leveled. By level 20 or so, this created a bizarre world where every random bandit wears a suit of top-shelf armor and has an artifact-level enchanted weapon. Fallout instead uses a list of pre-built enemies with a short list of random equipment. These enemies rotate in and then out as the player levels. For example, a level 8 character will start encountering Super Mutant Brutes in addition the garden variety Super Mutants. By level 15, there will be almost no regular Super Mutants to be found, having given over almost entirely to Brutes and tougher-still Masters (as above, this system was later used again in Skyrim). Similarly, standard Mirelurks are mostly replaced by Mirelurk Hunters at high levels. The Demonic Spiders of Broken Steel start appearing among their lower-level brethren around Level 15, and can almost completely supplant them in some areas, e.g. the Super Mutant Overlords in Vault 87 and Feral Ghoul Reavers in Franklin Metro.
      • Despite the devs' efforts, Fallout 3 is still one of the most literal examples of the trope because, much like the problem with Oblivion's level scaling, your attributes and skills only provide a minimal boost to effectiveness in combat outside the combat skill you are currently using (which you can max out at the very beginning of the game). Gaining levels causes enemy variants with higher health and generally better weapons to appear. Your actual combat effectiveness is based on what weapons and armor you currently have equipped, so while late-game weapons do technically require a high investment in their related skill for you to use them at most effectively (generally an investment in the skill in question to get full damage on top of a minimum Strength requirement to even hold it steady), the level scaling is not actually related to the aspect of the game that defines how good you perform in combat. This is somewhat of a moot point, however, as the effectiveness of late game weapons is so ridiculous that even mid-tier pistols would liquefy Behemoths, Overlords, and Hellfire Troopers with ease.
      • This is a recurring issue among Fallout 3's DLC, as well. The devs apparently expected players to have already finished the main game and play through the DLC areas and quests with their high-level endgame characters, rather than making new characters to see the new content while re-exploring the wasteland - but the way they found to balance the enemies against high-level players was by simply giving them flat damage resistance against the player's weapons and guaranteed damage that ignores the player's armor. This leads to ridiculous situations where, for instance, Point Lookout's backwater tribals using pistol-caliber rifles or double-barrel shotguns and wearing no armor - often not even a shirt - are the equivalent of a Super Mutant Brute or Master wielding a missile launcher back in the Capital Wasteland at both resisting dozens of your bullets and near-instantly pasting you with theirs. It's most apparent in Mothership Zeta, where the aliens with Deflector Shields increase their Damage Resistance even further as you level up, as well as increasing in frequency. By the level cap at 30, they can be Nigh-Invulnerable, possibly creating an unwinnable situation.
    • Fallout 4 is just like Fallout 3 in this regard, because even the lowly raiders will match you as you level up. The game has no level cap and they removed the skill system in favor of merging it with perks, so the main difference between a level 1 player and a level 50 (or 100) player is their gear and the number of perks they have. But, since perks can do everything from boosting your rifle damage and unlocking upgrades, to letting you teleport twenty feet to hit someone with a sledgehammer from across the room or hack a Sentry Bot to self-destruct, you can become very powerful at high levels. Every time you have to spend a perk point leveling up a stat just to unlock a perk you actually want can feel like an empty level, so it doesn't completely avert this trope.
  • Tellah of Final Fantasy IV actually has his physical stats decrease as he gains levels to simulate the effects of old age. Fusoya is a more straight example, since his stats don't change after a level up.
    • Most characters have a chance of not increasing any stats, or even decreasing them, when they level up after they reach level 70 (which is about 10-15 levels more than you really need to beat the final boss anyway). Oddly, the one with the best post-70 level-ups is Edward.
    • Final Fantasy III has an interesting inversion in that the Onion Knight class has pretty much empty level ups until they reach level 92, whereupon they have almost game-breakingly powerful levels. They go from being all but useless at 90 to by far the most powerful at 99.
    • If you want real ultimate power in Final Fantasy VI, put off gaining levels until you start getting a selection of Espers. The only thing you get for gaining levels before this is a pile of hit points and a tiny bit of Mana. The damage algorithm does take levels into account, but you're still not increasing your base stats without Espers. This also means equipment selections are more important than usual.
    • Final Fantasy VIII is undoubtedly the king of this trope; the game becomes much easier once you disable random encounters and just abuse the crap out of GF-junctioning by playing the card game for items to transmute into spells. You can also increase up to four of your stats by one point each by junctioning the proper GFs and abilities. These points are in addition to those the character would otherwise have gotten. This is all possible because bosses scale with the player.
    • Final Fantasy IX is similar, although not quite as bad because your characters' base stats do increase somewhat when they level. However, their base stats increase more when wearing gear that increases that base stat. Therefore, to get the highest stats possible, you need to keep your characters at level one until you get gear with high stat bonuses.note 
    • Final Fantasy X zig-zags this one. The game had several empty spots on its "spheregrid" leveling system, and several abilities required you to follow a sidepath and then waste time moving back to where you left off. Fortunately, you could retrace 4 previously crossed spaces for the cost of moving to a single new one, and later in the game, you got both the ability to teleport around the spheregrid and the ability to fill in the empty spaces with new bonuses. Heck, in the "post-game," you could rip out weaker stat bonuses and replace them entirely with stronger ones!
    • Final Fantasy Tactics can also fall into this trope if you Level Grind excessively without advancing the plot. Monsters get a lot of power just from leveling up, while human characters (especially physical-based classes) only get some power from leveling up and get more power from improving their gear. Since the enemies in random battles are tied to the average level of your party (while story battles have pre-set levels for the enemies), and many random battles contain monsters. Unless you go through the pains of nicking off gears off the humans from random encounters (their equipment are appropriately upgraded for their levels), those monsters can become a real pain very quickly.
    • Final Fantasy Legend III doesn't technically have any empty levels for Humans and Mutants, but stats cap at 99, so eventually they'll be grinding for little benefit except a bit more HP and MP. For any other race, levels only affect which specific species they'll transform into, which caps out at level 31, and every level after that is entirely empty.
    • Final Fantasy XVI: Every level you gain increases Clive's HP by 50, and his other stats by 2 or 3 points each. At the start of the game, this is a somewhat decent increase. However, by the time you reach the midgame, these gains become less impactful, and by the endgame they're completely negligible.
  • Forspoken: Leveling up only gives you Mana, which is the game's equivalent of Skill Points. However, Spells cost so much Mana to unlock that a single level is basically useless and you'll end up getting more Mana from the thousands of Mana Pools scattered all over the Open World, which each reward one Mana apiece.
  • In the browser RPG Heroes Of Ardania, levels mean almost nothing to most classes except HP. If a player "plays as they should", their rise in levels and their rise in power should mostly be around the same (power will go faster for a player that really knows what they're doing). But if a player just gains empty xp without doing quests or getting good items, in certain areas the number of monsters will rise depending on level and the player won't be strong enough. Of course, that is the player's own damn fault, and level only matters in a few instances anyway.
  • Knights of the Old Republic suffered from this to an extent. The max level one can get is 20. However, the protagonist does not become a Jedi until a few hours in to the game; party members also join at whatever level the protagonist is at that time. Thus it's of more benefit to not level the protagonist until they become a Jedi so that the more useful (i.e. Jedi-related) abilities can be leveled up more. The exception is a handful of builds that benefit from having more sneak attack from Smuggler levels. Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords attempted to fix both issues in some form. The first was properly fixed by having your character start as a Jedi and having their numerical level, but not stats, reset when taking on a prestige class.note  The second was attempted by having companions start at level 1, with retroactive experience given to bring them up to the same level as your current party; however, this just resulted in the same issue as for the player character from the first game, as with enough influence the player can turn most companions into Jedi, and as such a player would want to level them up as little as possible before that point lest they waste any of their companions' potential.note 
  • Hits Shin Megami Tensei quite a bit. While not very noticeable early on in the game, levels eventually become less and less useful as the game goes on... for brawlers. This is not helped by the fact that most of the time stats cap out at 40, and you need 2 points of Speed or Vitality for 1 point of defense, while your amour will give at least 200 points by itself.
  • Happens in The Last Remnant. Your battle rank goes up according to how many fights you have fought. The more battles you fight, the harder the encounters become. The more upgrades a character gets, the longer it takes them to level up that stat again. So if you thought you could ignore recruitment and just turn Rush into a One-Man Army through fighting monster after monster in the Ruins of Robelia Castle, you're in for a nasty shock.
    • Balanced in the PC version. While BR still scales HP/stats/art levels, it's not as detrimental to the player anymore, allowing stat gains later on for newer recruits. Additionally, characters all have their own individual (albeit invisible) battle rank in addition to the party's, allowing them to gain stats at their own pace to a certain extent.
  • Muramasa: The Demon Blade zig-zags this. Bosses, bonus dungeons and the Sword of Plot Advancement do require you to level up. However, the bosses are the "normal" level up rate, the bonus dungeons are sporadic, and the swords start with the rarer need to level up and then force you to level up faster to get them. The biggest example of Empty Levels, though, is that the enemies level up with you, so that you are always challenged, and generally more so if you were trying to gain levels at even a slightly faster rate.
  • Due to a bug, Phantasy Star IV characters actually lose stats and abilities when they hit level 99.
  • Utilized in Risen; leveling requires a Double Unlock where you have to expend "level points" to increase your strength, speed, special skills, etc. Otherwise, all you get is a HP increase and the ability to use leveled loot.
  • The SaGa series has a variation: characters don't gain levels in the traditional sense, instead powering up based on the player's actions. However, these stat gains don't always scale well with how the enemies grow stronger, resulting in Nintendo Hard difficulties. The worst of the lot by far is Unlimited Saga: around the middle of the game, finishing a map is likely to give you worse rewards than any of the stats you've already gained, and you can't skip an "upgrade", meaning you have to have a dump slot on the Grid that drags your stats down.
  • Long before Oblivion ever hit the scene, Ultima III (at least the NES port) was dick-slapping players with this trope. At the beginning of the game, all the overworld enemies can be mass-exterminated with spells that cost nothing to cast. On the other hand, leveling up makes all the enemies tougher (quickly phasing out the ones that can be easily exterminated)... without increasing your base stats. As a result, it's best to play as much of the game as possible without gaining any levels!
  • The Throne of Bhaal expansion for Baldur's Gate 2 raises the XP cap all the way to 8 million (allowing for level caps somewhere around level 40 for non-multi or dual classed characters.) There's not much point in leveling up that far, though, as by around level 30 all leveling up does is give you a little more HP and an extra high-level ability to choose from (and if you're a mage, you'll have probably already gotten all the possible high-level spells and extra spell slots you can possibly get before then, and thus won't even get that option.)
    • The big winners are dual- and multi-class characters as the cap is applied to all experience ever earned by the character over his or her lifetime, not to the experience for each individual class. This means that a high-level fighter who dual classes to mage will have a reasonable opportunity to have their mage level exceed their fighter levels (allowing them to use their fighter abilities again). This may have been the purpose of the high cap.
  • In Soulblazer, leveling up increases your HP, Attack, Defence, and Luck scores. Attack, Defence, and Luck max out at level 24, by which point you'll probably be at or near the end of the game. All you get from this point on is 2HP per level. To make things worse, experience requirements increase almost exponentially, so leveling quickly becomes a torturous grind. You might get two or three levels for some extra HP against the Final Boss, but anything else is just for bragging rights. If, however, you continue to spend hours grinding, at level 47, you max out your health at 100HP, and the final 3 levels you can gain give you absolutely nothing; they just bring your level count to a nice round 50. Level 47 is reached at 59 million EXP, points, while you won't hit level 50 until 100 million. Those three useless levels take a full 2/5 of your EXP. For comparison, level 24 only needs 420 thousand.
  • Rune Factory levels tend to not give you too much along the line of stats, especially late game. Thankfully, the equipment you can make more than makes up for this.
  • Tales of Zestiria gets this as one of its bigger complaints. Levels are practically pointless because majority of the improvements come from equipment and their attached skills, as well as fusing equipment to higher levels. Even HP isn't helped by levels, as acquiring Anomalous Orbs automatically increase the whole party's maximum HP by default. And the game doesn't do a well enough job on explaining the equipment, its skills, and stacking.
  • Despite being the protagonist, Kyuu of Rakenzarn Tales has pretty pitiful stat growth, with only decent HP and RP increases and only a tiny bit to his others. This is, however, both justified in that Kyuu is not a natural fighter and thus wouldn't gain as much from combat as the others and exploited in that it encourages the player to get Kyuu to go and train with others in order to gain the moves he needs to survive.
  • Downplayed in Demon's Souls, Bloodborne, and the Dark Souls trilogy. Levels do become less useful in the late game, as they become much more expensive and there are certain caps of effectiveness. By then, strength and playstyle are more dependent on your weapon of choice and getting good at the game. However, they never become completely useless due to needing certain stats high enough for certain gear and the Absurdly High Level Cap.
  • Neverwinter Nights was a direct translation of D&D 3.0 and has most of the same problems you'll see under the Tabletop Games section, but it adds several new ones too by removing some abilities that are hard to translate and rendering others pointless through design elements. There are a few elements that are noted by most players as being bad even if they're not completely empty:
    • Weapon Master gets all its class abilities by level 7, making levels 8, 9, and 10 empty levels. If you take this up to epic levels this includes levels 11 and 12 too, which makes it the longest unbroken chain of completely empty levels in the game.
    • Shadowdancer is a downplayed example, as they get their best class feature at the very first class level. They continue to gain minor tricks and abilities past that, but most of them are either obtained through equipment the player likely already has, obtainable through other classes a Shadowdancer likely already takes, or just plain useless, which makes them feel empty even if they're not.
    • In a more general sense the game was not designed for epic level progression, with a significant number of epic levels being empty and most of the power increases coming from feats. Further, because epic-level progression gives exactly the same stat increases (except HP) regardless of what class you take it is easy to gain an epic level and receive absolutely nothing. While this is true to the tabletop game, the tabletop game has other systems in place to make sure a player can keep gaining abilities even if they're not directly tied to level, something the video game can't do.
  • Resonance of Fate is a curious case, with the emptiest levels being the first ones. Levelling a character increases their HP, weapon proficiency, and most importantly their weight limit. Almost all a charatcer's power comes from the weapon and attachments that use up that limit, but for the first few chapters, it's hard to find enough attachments to fill that limit. Combined with how Player Character damage is handled, crossing that 1000HP mark is a detriment to your survival with no power increase to show for it. Beyond a certain point, gun customization opens right up and every new level is a tangible chance to squeeze more performance from your characters again.
  • Sakura Dungeon: With the sole exception of The Hero Ceri, nobody gets stat gains upon gaining levels, requiring you to use seeds that raise stats, which can cost a lot of mana shards, and some plot-related events in the case of Yomi, Sylvi, and Maeve. Its only purpose is for Capture spell mechanics: you can only capture a monster if the caster is of equal or higher level.
  • The maximum level cap in OMORI is 50, but unless you've been grinding in Dino's Dig the game expects you to be around level 30-35 by the time you finish up Two Days Left. Your party members stop learning new skills at level 30 and Omori learns his last skill at level 35, and everything after that is just extra Heart/Juice and stat boosts. This is because if you're on the Main Route, Headspace basically becomes irrelevant once the player defeats Humphrey and enters Black Space. In fact, your party's levels have zero impact on the game's ending.


    Shoot Em Up 
  • In Battle Garegga, the Dynamic Difficulty increases the further you go without dying, the more you shoot, and the more you power up, etc. If your rank is too high, the later levels may become unwinnable.
  • The arcade shooter Twin Eagle can suffer from this, due to its piss-cheap and unbalanced Dynamic Difficulty system. For example, if you make it to the high-speed sequence fully powered up, there's a great chance you will encounter the Demonic Spider red jets, which will often deliver unavoidable death with their missiles and rapid-fire bullets, making these sequences a Luck-Based Mission. The game has Unstable Equilibrium too, which means you lose all your powerups if you die, meaning you are screwed in the later levels. Those goddamned mini-choppers appear a lot more often and shoot more rapidly on the higher dynamic difficulties, also often causing unavoidable deaths.

    Survival Horror 
  • While the levels in Dead Island do increase your total health and give you points to spend customizing your abilities, zombies level with you. Your damage is mostly dependent on your weapons, meaning your expensively upgraded weapons fall a little more behind the zombies each time you level up and you need to find, upgrade, and modify new weapons.
    • The problem is even worse at higher levels since by level 30 or so the player has probably picked all the best combat abilities and only has weaker ones left to choose from. A level 40 character who has spend six ability points on increasing their number of inventory slots (no help in combat) and increasing their resistance to explosion damage (very situational) is barely any better off than a level 34 character without those perks, plus their level 34 weapons aren't so powerful any more.

    Third-Person Shooter 
  • Warframe is guilty of this for... well, pretty much everything, at least on paper. Instead of getting direct stat bonuses when leveling up, your equipment gains points that can be used to customize it with mods, which provide the actual stat boosts. Sooner or later, you'll hit a new level only to find that you can't fit any more mods on. While weapons play the trope completely straight, Warframes and Archwings don't suffer quite so much, gaining small increases to health, shields, or energy every level, as well as unlocking and ranking up powers at specific levels.

    Turn Based Strategy 
  • The Fire Emblem games have this happen sometimes, due to the random level-up system. One playthrough may have every one of your party members with level five stats at equivalent level 40; the next may see you with an entire party of Game Breakers with maxed-out stats at level 25. Some exceptions include Fire Emblem Gaiden, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Fire Emblem Fates, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses, where level up are guaranteed to raise a stat, unless they are already maxed at that stat.
    • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn has a bonus experience system to mitigate this; at the end of each chapter you are given "bonus experience" that you can then expend on units in between maps, and if a unit levels up from bonus experience, their level up will always raise exactly three stats (or whatever is left that isn't capped if there's less than three stats to raise). Besides ensuring more stable growth, it can be exploited to raise a unit's weaker stats once they cap stats they have higher growths in, especially useful for a unit that tends to cap some stats fast while having a lackluster growth in a vital stat. With normal level ups, Radiant Dawn also always forces at least one stat to raise up during leveling, to prevent instances of a unit leveling up with no stat growths at all.
    • Fire Emblem: Three Houses like most Fire Emblem games, Three Houses has a skill system that requires a character to practice wielding low level weapons before they can wield high level ones. Unlike most Fire Emblem games, Three Houses takes place in a school, and characters can learn weapon/riding/armor skills (which are now also needed to unlock more powerful classes) through lessons. To prevent characters from leveling up too fast, the game has added intermediate skill ranks, i.e; you go from C to C+ instead of B, which don't unlock new weapons, and usually don't contribute to unlocking abilities or classes. There are also full ranks that don't give any effects, e.g; a C in heavy armor won't unlock a new class, and the game sometimes requires you to learn skills that you don't need just to unlock a better class, e.g; you can't unlock the best Axe class without being good at punching, even though they are not the same skillset.
  • Berwick Saga has extremely low growth rates compared to Fire Emblem. This was done for the sake of tighter balance in the later stages of the game, as characters won't change too much outside of promotion; many characters join with base stats that are good enough to get by in the endgame. It also curbs the random element by preventing stats from going too far above or below the average amount for that level.
  • Shining Force had the same potential problem with its randomized stats, and some characters were more susceptible to it than others. Hans, in particular, had to frequently worry about gaining nothing upon going up a level.
  • In Civilization V, Archery is an empty technology for the Mayans, who can build archery units right at the start of the game. The only reason to learn it is to unlock technologies for which it is a prerequisite, starting with The Wheel. This was fixed a bit in the Wonders of the Ancient World pack, which added the Temple of Artemis Wonder (it's not a popular choice for Maya players, though).
  • Inverted with the reincarnation system in Disgaea. Reincarnated characters will start over from level 1, but their base stats will increase depending on their original level, effectively allowing you to "store" levels beyond the already Absurdly High Level Cap of 9999.

    Wide Open Sandbox 
  • The last rank in Grand Theft Auto Online that will unlock a mission is Rank 81, and the last rank to really give your character a tangible benefit in gameplay, such as a health increase, is Rank 100. Rank 120 unlocks the Minigun (which is rarely particularly useful, and you can pick it up for free playing Survival jobs anyway, at least for a while). After that, the ranks are as dry as a desert until Rank 200, and all that does is max out your health regeneration speed, which you may not even notice. Only Ranks 500 and 750 will change anything else at all; namely, your rank color to silver and gold, respectively. Every rank beyond that is purely for bragging rights, and they don't cap out until 8000. No, that extra zero is not a typo.

Tabletop Game Examples:

    Card Games 
  • With the introduction of Levelers in Magic: The Gathering, your creature could in theory gain levels ad infinitum, but will only gain abilities at certain thresholds. These usually have a small gap (usually 1 or 2, and rarely 3) for the first effect, and large gaps (sometimes reaching 12 or more) for the second ability. Everything else in-between does nothing but chew up your mana for the turn, and since these creatures are very rarely immune to creature removal and it's blatantly obvious to your opponent when you'll get the final level-up that matters, they can save their removal until you've wasted as much mana as possible.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons is the Trope Maker. You do get something every level, but some levels will only offer an increase in HP and nothing else. Other levels might increase the bonuses for proficiency and saving throws as well, but without any increase to ability scores or new tools to play with for your class.
    • While early-edition clerics and magic users could gain new spells with every few levels, melee classes were mainly stuck with the standard increase in attack bonus, saving throws and hit points that everyone got upon leveling up. Also literally an empty level is Rogue 20 (the Level Cap) in edition 3.5 — unlike almost every other level or class in the game, you get nothing for it. The standard bonuses to health, accuracy, and defenses are given to all classes, so Rogue 19/Anything 1 is better than Rogue 20.
    • Fighter 5 only increases attack bonus, hit points, and the minimum possible number of skill points, with no class features and no increase in saving throws.
    • Sorcerer Level 2 was an arguable example. Other than the standard increase (and being a Squishy Wizard, it was barely noticeable), your gain in spells known consisted of one new zero-level spell. Paladin gets Lay on Hands and Divine Grace, wizard gets two new first-level spells like Mage Armor or Protection from Evil, sorcerer can... make a small light now. There's a reason that delayed casting was a Scrappy Mechanic for sorcerer players.
    • Probably the funniest example of this was the Pale Master prestige class. As a whole, it's a rather quirky and powerful necromancy class themed around a Touch of Death that turns the victims into zombies, but for some reason, its first level is an empty level. Hell, the class even advances your arcane spellcasting for every level... except for that first level.
    • There are two Character Class column articles online called "Dead Levels" that try to fix dead levels of core classes with "minor special abilities" that you can add if there's no existing class feature present.
    • Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition has a standard level progression for all classes, PC and monster attacks and defenses scaling pretty evenly. However, since characters generally need to spend a few feat slots to keep up with the 'expected' progression, leading to the much maligned 'feat tax' abilities, levels where you don't gain a new combat power feel like empty levels for every class. The effect gets worse at high level, because while paragon paths add new and (usually) awesome powers, most epic destinies aren't all that noticeable in gameplay until the final level.
    • This trope is rarer in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, but still present. Every level gets an extra hit die and a new spell slot for casters, but increasing stats or gaining feats only happens once every four levels. Typically, a class gets some of its better core features at levels 6, 10, and 14, with the remaining levels either sparsely giving out new abilities or just increasing maximum HP without doing anything else.
      • While most clerics get a d8 added to their Divine Strike damage at level 14, the Arcana, Light, and Knowledge domains get only the ability to instantly kill two very specific low-level undead with their Turn Undead ability and nothing else. Meanwhile, for paladins, 1st level is empty, as paladins only get Lay on Hands (allowing them to heal up to 5 HP worth of damage or cure Status Effects) and the so-useless-it's-practically-cosmetic Divine Sense, which just lets you detect if there are any fiends, celestials, or undead within 60 feet of you that don't have total cover a few times per day. Most paladins will probably go all the way to level 20 without ever using it.
      • Level 15 for Monk is pretty much this. All they get is 1 ki point and "Timeless Body" which halts the aging process, ensuring that you never take aging penalties (though you can still die of old age) and no longer need food or drink. The latter is largely a non-issue by level 15 as there are multiple spells and abilities that can produce foodstuffs in the unlikely event that the PCs need to scrounge for it. As for the latter, almost no D&D campaign lasts enough in-game years for aging penalties to become a factor, meaning this feature will almost never see any use. To make matters worse, every other class gets a better feature at this level, even if it's just an 8th level spell slot. For all intents and purposes, all a 15th level Monk gets is an extra ki point and some more HP.
  • Pathfinder took a look at 3rd Edition and carefully designed the revised base classes so that all of them get something new (either a class feature or a new range of spells) at each level. The aforementioned fighter is a good example. It used to be that every odd level (except for first) was a dead level but the added armor training and weapon training abilities gave fighters a small bump in power. It was also made less boring by various archetypes (specialized sub-classes) that give it more flavor, such as gladiator, crossbowman, roughrider, corsair, etc.
    • Sadly, the proliferation of extra abilities didn't necessarily make the classes significantly more powerful - just load them with more description text and things to keep track of. It should be noted that an online supplement for 3.5 already suggested minor abilities be added in any "dead level" of a class, but restricted dead level abilities to very weak ones that would not affect game balance. Pathfinder was less timid, adding abilities that were more useful and powerful, but despite claims made by the designers, if anything, the Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards gap actually grew rather than shrank in Pathfinder, since almost every class received boosts, while many melee-oriented feats were nerfed or split.
  • For most classes in Rifts, nearly all levels after the first are effectively empty, except for certain abilities that may gain potency or additional uses at set levels. This is due to most classes gaining most or all of their features right off the bat. In fact, in some ways it's even emptier than normal, since the Mega-Damage rules make the Hit Points you gain every level completely useless.

    War Games 
  • In Blood Bowl, some players start with very good stats and only get better the more levels and skills they get. Others start out with pretty much everything they need to fulfill their role, and gaining too many levels can actually be detrimental to you because it increases your team's team value without increasing its effectiveness. Practically every lineman or player with 'stunty' falls into this category; a level or two can be handy for some specialisation, but beyond that the cost increases aren't worth it.

Other Examples:

  • Chrysalis (RinoZ): For the surface races, levelling up improves stats, albeit quite slowly for weak classes. However, for monsters, it merely grants skill points, used to purchase and upgrade skills. Which is very useful at lower levels, but as a monster advances, the number of opportunities to meaningfully spend those skill points diminishes; skill upgrades and fusions become further apart as skills advance, and diversifying into brand new skills can easily lead to Master of None territory. The only real driving force to gain levels is the fact that they're required in order to evolve.

    Web Original 
  • In Neopets, damage in the Battledome is determined by chosen weapons' power in "icons" multiplied by what's known by the community as "strength/defence boosts". Instead of the raw stat going into the calculation, instead the stat numbers have given thresholds that change the amounts: <8 (0.5 PI), 8-12 (0.75 PI), 13-19 (1), 20-34 (1.25), 35-54 (1.5), 55-84 (2), 85-124 (2.5), 125-199 (3), 200-249 (4.5), 250-299 (5.5), 300-349 (6.5), 350-399 (7.5), 400-449 (8.5), 450-499 (9.75), 500-549 (11), 550-599 (12), 600-649 (13), 650-699 (14), 700-749 (15), and 750+ (16). Any past that will not have any additional benefit; a pet with a strength stat of one million will not do any more damage than a pet with a strength of 750.

Alternative Title(s): Dead Level