Thursday, February 9, 2012

High Levels

In LBB-only OD&D, it's stated that "There is no theoretical limit to how high a character may progress." However, the game's tables stop at 10th level for clerics and fighting men and go to 16th level for magic-users. Guidelines are provided for "levels above those listed," but those guidelines only cover hit dice, fighting capability, and spells. The number of experience needed for those additional levels isn't stated, assumption being, I suppose that one can intuit an appropriate rate of advance based on the existing tables.  

Supplement I includes expanded tables for both clerics (to 20th level) and magic-users (to 22nd level), in part because of the introduction of new levels of spells for both classes. The thief class is also introduced, but its level progression table ends at 14th level. There is no new chart for fighting men. Interestingly, the next two OD&D supplements, Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardry, introduced new character classes that had explicit level limits: assassins (14th level), druids (13th level), and monks (16th level).

I bring all this up because I've often wondered why it is that we so often hear D&D players complain that the game "breaks down at high levels." That statement may in fact be true but, in all my years of playing D&D, it was rare that a character ever legitimately achieved a level higher than 12 and even then such an accomplishment was rare. The highest level character ever played in any of my pre-WotC D&D campaigns was 16th and he was a noteworthy exception. In my Dwimmermount campaign, after 2+ years of play, the highest level PC was nearly 8th level and, owing to death and attrition, most PCs were a couple of levels lower than that.

One wonders, then, where all these high-level characters have come from. Have I been doing something wrong all these years? More to the point, was D&D written with the expectation that PCs would reach much higher than 10th-12th level? My own feeling is that it wasn't, even if the game leaves open the possibility of such a thing -- but then the game also leaves open the possibility of dragon and balrog PCs, too, so I'm not sure that says much.

57 comments:

  1. Could it be that this complain is not applied to D&D in general, but just 3rd Edition? Its epic level rules are a bit wonky AFAIK...

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  2. People say it about 3rd edition mainly, because it's much easier to reach level 20 than in previous editions of the game. It's also an accurate description of play above about level 12 or so in that system. 3rd also has the most nebulous endgame, with neither the aspirations to divinity of 4e nor the domain building of earlier editions to give fighters armies to lead.

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  3. Agreed that OD&D seems not to have spent much time at all thinking about levels beyond "name level"

    For instance, while supplement 1 explicitly tells you how experience points per level progresses beyond name level for thieves (125k per level above master thief), it doesn't tell you the same information for fighters, clerics, or magic users. In the LBB, it's easy to see that Magic users are supposed to level off at 100,000 xp per level beyond Wizard, but figuring out where and how fighters and clerics are supposed to level off (or if they're supposed to level off at all) is a bit of a puzzle.

    Eventually I decided that clerics are supposed to level off at 100,000 xp per level, same as wizards, and fighters at 120,000 per level. I'm curious as to what have other people done on this score.

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  4. I have never ran a game of OD&D. The closes experience I have is with Mentzer D&D and AD&D. Both of these games seem to run quite well at or beyond 12th level, but the types of challenges need to be drastically different, since spellcasters tend to have very powerful spells. So unless you throw yourself into an arms' race, you will definitely find problems. Since there is no defined system to plan advancement as a function of encounter structure (though the Mentzer Companion provides some guidelines) reaching to levels beyond 12th can literally take years of game time; I luxury I frankly don't have anymore.
    With 3e the system was designed so that, following the encounter guidelines in the DMG, epic level could be reached in one/one and half years of game play, much more manageable. Obviously as John says above, what you do past 10th level is nebulous at best, though I have managed to "steer" my campaigns toward a Birthright-type style which works regardless of editions.

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  5. Long time lurker, New poster here... Love the blog!

    Most of my campaigns in the 80's bogged down around 3rd- 5th level, mostly due to our pre-teen to teen attention spans. The longest-running campaign I played in was the 90's, I played a Paladin for seven straight years, playing roughly every other week, and he topped out at 8th level; That was with good, hard, fun playing! We had a couple players in that group with higher level characters, but still that meant 12-ish level. I've never played anything higher.

    GMB

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  6. AD&D is where I have seen levels far beyond 12. Generally, this is due to the way XP is handed out:
    XP for treasure found (GP value)
    XP for monsters killed (including XP for hit points!)
    XP for magic items found (unlike every other edition)

    AND (here's the kicker) if you SELL a magic item, you earn XP equal to the value of the item's GP value rather than it's XP value for retention.

    Many old school AD&D modules are fairly heavy on magic items...how many +1 or +2 swords do you need to own? Selling these items in a large city (say Greyhawk) can net you huge piles of XP, making leveling up much faster.

    However, I enjoy high level play (at least I did back when I played AD&D)...I enjoyed the castle owning part of the game and the challenges that came with it. I enjoyed planar hopping and adventures that involved all those demons and devils found in the Monster Manual. At a certain point, our games became much more about politics and rivalry and then the XP for unwanted magic items became a real boon...since we weren't spending as much time delving dungeons.

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  7. The highest level character I've ever played was an 8th level cleric. I've never understood this BS either. You don't have to go far on enworld to realize that this is as big a concern to new school power gamers as the discussion of "game balance" (whatever that means).

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    1. I guess that Gygax would be a new school power gamer, then: "It is the opinion of this writer that the most desirable game is one in which the various character types are able to compete with each other as relative equals, for that will maintain freshness in the campaign" (from the Strategic Review #7, in 1976).

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  8. My games generally ended before we got to too high of a level. Interest would peter out, players would drop out, etc. I wonder if the system has something to do with that - people would hit 10-12thed level and then the game would sort of drop off.

    I haven't had that problem with other game systems. It's hard to tell if this is because of our age and campaign approach - I haven't run AD&D as an adult - or because the game itself just made higher level play less rewarding or whatever. Or if my flaws as a GM made it so.

    I do occasionally wonder if the game system effectively worked best at mid levels, "proven" by the number of games that don't last long past them. Idle musing, really, I don't have much to support it besides vague observations.

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  9. I've had one AD&D campaign go to 20+. 5 years at about 14 hours per week on average.

    AD&D high level play is awesome and doesn't break down.

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    1. 5 years at about 14 hours per week on average<

      Omigawd! I've never managed to come anywhere near playing that much (two 7 hour sessions? Three 4 hour sessions? One big 14 hour marathon?)...

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  10. Also, don't forget that there are groups who (blasphemy of blasphemies!) start off "modern" campaigns at level >> 1.

    I've never played in such a group, but I know they exist.

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    1. Last year I had the (dis)pleasure of playing in a 4-month-long 4e game. The DM made the decision to start all the PCs at 8th level - which really threw me for a loop. Not only did I have to digest a complex system - made more complex by having to familiarize myself with all the 'powers' available to my PC - but I felt cheated out of character development.

      When I (rarely) play D&D, I want to have that enjoyment of taking my PC from zero to hero.

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  11. The example in Men & Magic on p. 18 (immediately prior to your "no theoretical limit" quote) shows an 8th level M-U getting over 6,000 points for killing a troll and grabbing its treasure. With only 25,000 needed to get to 9th level, I think that guy is going to level up pretty fast. The second example has a 1st level veteran earning 5,000 experience points, but only gaining 3,999 because you can only go up one level at a time.

    According to the book examples, you probably weren't giving out enough treasure in your campaign.

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  12. In roughly 13 years of play, I had one character reach level 11 (and he was "up-jumped" to some degree). With games I've DM'd, I've only had characters reach 8 or 9. This has always been due to games stopping. Character death has always been fairly rare in our games. It's understood that it only happens when a PC does something tremendously stupid or fate and the dice conspire against a PC and after the DM spits out the damage the player utters that dread phrase, "Oh, I'm way past -10"

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    1. Dude, I can't even count how many times I've uttered those foul words, word-for-word!

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  13. I've mentioned this elsewhere, but things seemed to begin to slide sideways around the era of Deities & Demigods, Unearthed Arcana, and Manual of the Planes... Late 2e. Those tomes promoted levels in the teens and suggested, indeed almost encouraged, one to go to toe-to-toe with Thor or Cthulhu.

    Just suggesting this made it so in the minds of young players, I suspect.

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    1. (Late 1E. Late 2E had its own set of horrible problems. :)

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    2. Yeah, that was when I met the guy whose character was supposedly some kind of ninja/Robin Hood minor Norse god, and who had killed pretty much everything. I don't know what the heck his DM was doing, but apparently he let the guy do pretty much anything without repercussions.

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  14. on my belowed Mentzer DnD, as Antonio says a few comment above, is quite easy to play on high level. I could say that the manual guides you to high level play and on reaching immortality.
    And according to my experience, game doesn't break, as per other DnD games, but scales quite well. As far as I can remember it takes lot of time to reach the higher levels, but you can earn xp also as a ruler of a Barony or bigger. Indeed Mentzer DID made a system for advancement on higher level that resemble the 3rd edition one, with amount of XP to be given on each adventure to schedule a 4-5-6 etc session per level.
    All in all to me it seems a quite well done system, even if I know the owner of this blog doesn't like it so much, isn't it James? :) Maybe it's just that it was my first one :-) (Mentzer DnD was the first DnD game to be translated in italian back in - I think - 1986).

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  15. Like others have mentioned, I've heard that complaint ("D&D breaks down at high levels") mainly about 3e.

    The only complaints I've heard regarding older editions is the fact that Magic-Users quickly become extreme ass-kickers as they climb above Name level - outshining other classes by their sheer capabilities. Which, I guess, could be considered a "break-point".

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    1. One final thought: to answer your "where do these high-level characters have come from" question - although ridiculed, "Monty Haul-ism" was quite prevalent, at least from my experience of gaming in the early to mid 80s.

      Clearly, it's not a "legitimate" method of level gain. But, it's an explanation for why some groups' PCs reached astronomical levels.

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    2. If played properly, AD&D (and Mentzer/Cyclopedia D&D) classes other than the MU are also very powerful at higher levels. Fighters, for instance, have 60-120 troops as fanatical followers, not to mention mercenaries and the like. Anyone who has played one of the D&D miniatures games (Battlesystem or Book of War, notably) knows how well such numbers of troops can overwhelm even a powerful MU.

      Bring back the endgame!

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  16. My only experiences with high-level play were episodic, being characters created at high-level for some high-level game the DM wanted to run, but didn't want to wait x number of (real) years to do so. The fact that the game was purpose-built for high-level play lent it a certain "durability".
    My real question is this: Why *should* the game break down at high levels? I know it's talked about frequently, but I don't understand why it does. In my limited experience with high-level shenanigans, the only thing that really seemed different was the length of combat. Think about it, Creature/player AC gets better and better, offset by creature/player to-hit getting better and better. Creature/player HPs go up and up, BUT physical damage output, at least for players, remains fairly static. Direct-attack magic (like Fireball and Lightning Bolt) damage scales with caster level, but toe-to-toe damage will only improve as a result of magic weaponry adding to damage.
    So, I'm curious, exactly what "breaks down"? Other than dragging out combat.

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    1. Actually, damage output does go upwards. If you are a fighter. Extra attacks suddenly double, triple and quadruple the damage the fighter can do. I don't think the fighter is hard done by at high levels at all (shock, horror!).

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    2. What "breaks down" in 3e, at least, is that monsters can't do much of any importance to the PCs they face in the 2-3 rounds they usually live, while casters can routinely overcome any saving throws, spell resistance, and more active defences of the monsters (and Fighters often can't even close to melee).

      Trying to use stronger monsters to compensate results in the fights flipping to where the PCs are all dead in a couple of rounds. There's no middle ground. PCs and NPCs kill each other even quicker.

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  17. Pat Henry nailed it as far as my own early experiences. Everyone in my middle school just thought Deities and Demigods was another monster book, and the power creep exploded. It wasn't uncommon for kids I played with to just MAKE a 20th level character from scratch.

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    1. this was my experience too. When I was 12-13 I was usually in say 3 DnD games simultaneously - one "serious" one with close friends, which rarely got above 6th level but also very rarely had PC death above 2nd level; a game at a club, which was mostly with older guys who rarely played DnD but when they did it was levels 1-3; and a wild sea of games at school during lunch break which were all insane Monty Hauls where we'd go beat up the gods and grow extra limbs, which tended to play around levels 25-35. Rules were an indiscriminate soup of Moldvay and Mentzer, plus anything that was easy to bolt on from 1e, White Dwarf and anywhere else available. We called it "AD&D"

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  18. One reason why early (OD&D, AD&D) campaigns tended to top out around level 10 is because of the limits placed on demihumans. Everyone who played a dwarf, elf, or halfling wanted the game to reset once they got to the point where they were standing still and only the humans were climbing. That's one way in which the game broke down.

    Certain elements ran off the d20 scale. Saving throws are the most obvious example. The scale topped off at level 20, but when combined with bonuses from the magic items 20th-level characters would have, saves became largely academic.

    Spell duration could get ridiculous when framed in terms of "1 hour + 1 hour/level of the caster." The same sometimes applied to damage.

    That's not to say that AD&D couldn't function at level 20+, but it was a fundamentally different game at that height. It took a talented DM to come up with scenarios that weren't just more of the same -- monsters with higher hit dice and lower AC, that could still be shut down instantly by the godlike power of magic-users. It wasn't so much that the game was broken at that level, as that the game broke campaigns at that level. The High-Level Handbook and Epic Level Handbook were attempts to fix that, but they were only partly successful. If the DM and players are ready to take their campaign into alternate dimensions, deal with (but not necessarily fight) gods and stranger entities, and meddle in the woof and weave of entire worlds, then high-level play is ideal fr them. If people would rather kick in doors and kill monsters, that sort of play is at its best in single-digit levels.

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  19. @steve: I'd say that it's the other way around - we can tell that the game ends around name level partly because the highest demi-human limits are about there (plus "name level" is a hint too, I think).

    UA increased the limits for demi-humans because the game had lasted longer than anyone had expected and campaigns likewise, so that there had been time for players to reach those levels and keep going.

    The game breaks down in the sense that it's not as much fun for most people. A lot of the limitations on the characters have become insignificant by 12th level and it's overcoming limitations that make the challenge.

    Although, this is partly because it is hard to DM at such high levels and the parties advantage of having multiple brains controlling their characters instead of the DM's single one controlling the NPCs really starts to tell.

    In addition, many many campaigns did not track time at all, let alone closely, and so there were no real impediment to the human characters going on forever. They were as ageless as the elves for all intents and purposes.

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  20. I can't speak to OD&D, but for my groups in AD&D, it was really rare to go bast 9th level. I think a lot of it was that we couldn't/wouldn't play that long, but also the level tables and nonhuman level limits seemed to imply that the game didn't really exist beyond "name" level. And, no, we never really played into the ruling endgame. 2e was much the same.

    3e's level tables extended to 20, so it was obvious to players that they were "allowed" to play that far. Then we started using Paizo/WotC's Adventure Paths, those were written to go all the way to level 20, too. My group agrees, though, that levels above 10 in that edition are overburdened with options.

    4e's tables go to level 30, but I mostly ignore the whole thing.

    Having said all of that, my highest-ever character was 64th level, for a gonzo one-shot game in AD&D, circa 1983. Excepting him, 12th was my limit, and one of them started around 6th.

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  21. The highest level character I ever played from start to finish was a 15th level thief. Our DM was pretty generous with XP, which contributed a lot. That's not to say he was an easy DM, surviving an adventure was an accomplishment, we just went for a faster level progression.

    Other than that game, I never had a character get over 8th level. Any high level PCs I played were either specifically created for a high level game, or was an existing character bumped up for such a game.

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  22. One time, back when I was playing 2nd Edition D&D I managed to get a Bard with the Jester Kit up to 15th level. I also had a Wizard make it to 11th level once. Other than that we rarely made it to 7th level before we switched DMs.

    In my group we all shared the GMing and would commonly switch after a few months so another person would get to play. This habit also catered to our system ADD and allowed us to play something different for a while.

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  23. I feel this topic hits on some deep primitive psychological chord with people, similar to "falling damage". Every time I see the topic come up, I seem to recall the majority of responses are along the lines of "it took me so many years to get to X level". My impression (which could be a wrong interpretation) is people want to validate how they are doing it right, and that doing it right requires an enormous amount of time and effort.

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    1. @Random Wizard: there's an in-group out-group thing going on too. Gary wrote so many, many times that it should take a long time to get to n level, that it was pretty much bound to become a mantra and a shibboleth.

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  24. Our gaming group kinda jumps around from level to level. We don't see a need, except in an extended campaign story context, to keep playing the same characters over and over again or to always start out at low level.

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  25. I ran a FR campaign from 1996 until 2009, it started out as 2e and then switched to 3e in about 2001/2002 or so. Only 3 characters (1 player and 2 NPCS) had started in '96 and the other 5 started in 2000. By the end they had managed to achieve 16th level more or less (I think some may have only got 15th).

    Prior to that I had played back in high school a BECMI D&D game that saw PC's reach 36th level over the course of about 2 years or so (we did play a lot; not 14 hours a week but a lot).

    I think a lot of what level of gameplay achieved isactually dependant on what a group wants to get out of a game, whether it is just being part of an exciting story or just amassing wealth and status(of course you can do both as well).

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  26. I never made it past 4th or 5th level in 0e/1e.

    In a dedicated campaign, we hit 18 in 3rd edition. The "breakdown" wasn't THAT bad, but it made combats longer. Multiple attacks for the fighter types, lots of spell options for the casters ...

    My fellow co-DM strongly believed that the edge between TPK and "challenge" was hard to measure at higher levels. I'm not sure I agree with that, or even if that's a bad thing if true.

    As far as enjoyment, I would say the sweet spot in most editions is between levels 3 and 9. Getting to level 3 always feels like a major accomplishment.

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    1. "Me too!"

      I agree that most of the fun in D&D is at levels below 10. You can be proud of a 3rd level fighter. I mean, what are the odds?

      But the time investment for getting past level 5-7 is high.

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    2. When I hear "sweet spot" it makes me cringe as I recall the Wotc lackeys using that term ad nausea before the release of 4e. Personally, I never found it difficult to balance encounters for high level parties: I have my info on the PC's in regards to their abilities and so forth and I am familiar with my groups playing style, I therefore plan accordingly.

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    3. I have to agree with Chris#6, if you know your players and their style it's not hard to give them a challenge or a threat no matter their powers and gear, by the way probably the best opponents for high level characters is a rival party, put one in your game early as competitors for some of the things the players want or are doing and watch the sparks fly :)

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  27. OD&D's scale, let's recall, derived from Chainmail. And in Chainmail, a super-hero was (functionally) a one-man army -- a Gandalf or Conan. The Balrog was likewise scaled to be a super-hero's equal, at 8 HD. Ringwraith (spectres) were slightly less potent (7 HD). Etc. So anything beyond that ("name level") was about as powerful as the original mechanics were crafted to emulate. Over time and new editions and products, power creep has been steady ever since.

    In my own experience of hard-core rules stickler (we insisted on training between levels and weapon vs. armor adjustments, my friends) 1e AD&D gameplay, at our most devoted, we gamed for about 5 hours every week. Three times, it took one real calendar year for characters to go from 1st level to 9th or 10th. Once, we aimed for characters to reach 18th level. That took two full years of such play.

    3e greatly accelerates advancement, since XP awards scale up evenly.

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  28. hi, just been reading this blog last couple of weeks and like it a lot. This issue I think depends very much on a particular group/dm/players style and expectations as with so much about rpgs in general :) I started with Fighting Fantasy books in about 81 and AD&D about 85 and have spent a LOT more time as a DM than player of many different games and the main determinant of level-gain in any D&D system is XP awards. I personally have only ever played a character from 1st level up to the dizzying heights of 7th or 8th lvl because the campaign, group or DM fell apart for varying reasons, few bad. The highest lvl character I've had was 19th lvl mage in a 3ed game that our group started at 12th lvl so we could have a shared campaign with 3 Dms from an 8 strong group where every player had 2 characters who were all part of an adventuring company that had begun to stake a claim as the local lords of a small town on a trade route near a mine. The multiple characters allowed each of the DMs to play in each others games and gave some diversity of style for the players. We tried to keep treasure acquisition moderate and used the costs of constructing our fortress and researching desired spells and wards as a sink for excess cash and a motivator for various adventures. The need to outfit and provide for our followers, source resources for our temple and wizards as well as protect our mine and trade route and prioritise the actions of all our characters and henchmen absorbed a tremendous amount of our characters time, just as it should when one becomes an administrator of a realm. We had initially started the game as an experiment with high level 3ed and it became a wonderful exploration of what those high-powered NPCs in some settings would be doing with their time and resources as well as some fun roleplay with one session extending to almost 6 hours of inter-character debate over our legal and tax systems after my domineering wizard (known as 'The Bloody Wizard',take it how you will) attempted to seize a merchants goods to use in his researches. With all of this we had plenty of justifications for our characters to be seeking highly profitable ventures with one of our last games being an attack on a powerful dragon both for its hoard and its corpse. High level gaming is VERY challenging for any DM (which is why we rotated the 3 we had) because of the range of resources available to players at those levels but can be intensely rewarding if played beyond the hack and slash level but I think the main reason for what seems a paucity of high level games is the simple difficulty in accumulating the XP to get to those levels. I have no real problem with a long-running campaign but many players WILL want reasonable rewards for their characters and it can be frustrating to spend 6 months to get to 3rd lvl without some reasonable story rewards as well. I've played very low magic games where we only saw about 3 or 4 potions and one master-crafted sword (+1 to hit only) by the time we were 3rd lvl but our characters were engaged in the events of the area and we had solid story motivations related to our characters backgrounds and actions. As I said earlier high level play depends on the participants, with good preparation I don't see how the game itself 'breaks down' , the difficulty lies in maintaining a challenge and sense of danger and vulnerability for the characters AND the players. I'll finish here and hope people get something from my first ever online post, good games to all :)

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  29. I have seen high levels in D&D type games only once. This was the first game we played, after getting the Red and Blue D&D boxes, and it was very much power creep, or rather power rush.

    We started playing with only the Red Box as it was the only one in Finnish. Almost everybody GM'ed even though it was my game - I loaned the books to whoever had the turn to GM. We of course ran through a lot of 1-3 level characters, but it didn't really matter as the limit was that third level.

    Then the Blue Box got published in Finnish, and we of course started to progress in levels. There were new monsters and new stuff to spend gp on.

    The characters approached about level ten pretty nicely, not too fast nor too slow. The adventures started getting somewhat stupider as the power level grew but the adventures were basically just dungeon crawls.

    Then I had to go to be hospitalized for a couple of weeks. The game continued during that time, but we didn't play much after I returned, because everybody was maximum level (in the Blue Box) and had gazillions of treasure. One cleric had three castles on an island (the castle building rules were cool) and a flight of dragons guarding it and so on.

    While it was fun drawing up the castles, we didn't know how to turn that into different kind of "adventures" and of course we would've had to wait for the next box because the characters were maximum level, so the game just petered off after a couple of attempts.

    I asked what happened during the two weeks and apparently the adventures the others ran were very easy and designed just to give money and xp to the characters.

    I played some D&D a year or so later and a lot of AD&D with some those people so it wasn't a complete burnout.

    After that, the best AD&D campaign I played in was one we played for three years or so and some of the characters made it even to second level.

    I have played some D&D and AD&D games since, mostly because of nostalgia but they kind of tapered out at the fifth level or so.

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  30. D&D? I recall and I coudl be wrong, xp for gold. In the modules, there was a tremendous amoung of cash, especially in the D&D ones. Now this might not be an issue if you used the rules where characters could only advance one level at a time... 2nd ed was much slower in my opinion but 3rd and 4th kicked it up into high gear with adventure paths and xp from fighting monsters higher than itd even been in previous editions.

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  31. More likely is that all RPGs break down at high levels.

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  32. As Sir S suggests, I believe that any RPG based on escalating power levels does eventually collapse to one extent or another. The real question becomes whether that happens before people reset to beginning characters, and whether they reset because the game broke or for some other reason. The lack of power escalation is one of the things I truly appreciate about Traveller, although I hated it when the game was first published. That idea was so ingrained in RPGs that the notion anyone could step away from it was outrageous. Turned out they were right and I was wrong.

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  33. The thing to do with high-powered games is to change/expand the focus, also, don't let players just rocket up the levels, make them earn it and if you've given them something too much for your game then make it work against the characters wishes in some way.
    When I was young I stupidly let one character get insanely powerful before we stopped that game, he then moved that character to another guys game and even 15 years afterwards he whines about losing his fortress and slaves/soldiers and asks me if he can use that character in one of my games...well if you have both an Imp AND a Quasit as familiars then no amount of Wish spells are going to keep you out of trouble :)

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  34. A couple things to remember:

    1. OD&D was set up so that 4th level was a "hero" and 8th was a "super hero" and it's clear that the rules were designed to keep levels low. That's where monsters are still scary and why demihuman level limits are important but not crippling. Also, the MU charts go to 16 so that the Referee can populate the world with evil wizards to slay, not so that players can get there.

    2. The reason RPG systems tend to "break" is that there is a natural bonus progression and the attack dice have a finite number of sides. As attack bonuses get higher, monsters ACs have to get tougher or the game gets boring. As damage bonuses get higher, monster HP have to get bigger or the game gets boring. Nothing is really broken if you are willing to allow number inflation, but the game becomes too easy if you want to stick to the original intent of the rules.

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  35. It might be that the "love of high levels" rather than the high levels themselves is the root of all evil. In my experience the only way to get to high levels is to cheat in some big ways. (e.g. buy Deities and Demigods)

    But I don't have experience-- as either DM or player-- of "legitimately" reaching higher than maybe level 10.

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  36. In over two decades of regular playing, albeit with rotating DM's and sojourns into games other than 1st ed AD&D, the highest level characters we developed made it up to about 15th level. We didn't find the game breaking down at that point; we were very excited about getting a lot of capabilities that we never really got to try otherwise.

    I'll agree that the scope of the game should shift as characters rise in levels.

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  37. Our really early campaigns were rather high level, but that's because they focused on being high level. For example, characters of level 1 to 5 were generally considered mere apprentices. Level 6, for example, was the first level where a fighting man would be knighted (assuming he was in fact a squire). Characters of 11th level and greater had established domains.

    Having rules which allowed domains (and armies) to generate XP for the character helps (this was a extention of the spend GP in an appropriate manner to gain XP rules we used). We also tended to be rather generous with experience awards for doing interesting stuff. We'd also give half experience rewards for failing but surviving, on the belief that the best way to learn something is not to do it again. Also apprentices often assisted their mentors (and earned extra experience that way; for example a squire adventuring with a knight).

    The overall level of everything in the game was much higher as a result. Almost everybody had a class. Level for general populace was determined by rolling 1d6 (on a "6" add 5 and reroll). Level for "encounters" was based on your level + 2d6 - 7, because an encounter would be something that would be meaningful to you.

    We got rid of a lot of what is now called "grinding," because, frankly, it wasn't as interesting. Neither was being rootless vagabonds. Building domains, controlling armies - that was were the fun was (we were all wargamers).

    And then Gods, Demigods, & Heroes came out and we realised our high level characters out-powered what TSR considered to be the abilities of gods. before then we had absolutely no guidance in this regard. So we retired them (my favourite was a 27th level magic-user by then, who went on to become a lich and become more concerned with affairs on other planes than he was with this one; leaving his Palace Guard of orcs free reign to run his kingdom ["would you buy a used chariot from this orc?"] - which was lots of fun in and of itself).

    But the reason we never noticed was that it was a balanced game. Lower level characters were generally not worth worrying about and generally passed unnoticed. "Adventuring" was something low-level characters did. And the really important thing was that the player characters were therefore not important simply because they were player characters. There was no plot immunity. High level NPCs were not exactly rare.

    When I changed states I gamed with people with a different tradition, much more sword and sorcery (in the vein of Roger Taylor and Karl Edward Wagner). There characters were a lot lower level (the highest about 9th [I think]). The main reason for this was because they remained adventurers throughout their life and you couldn't buy experience (GP didn't get you XP). [Incidentally these games, which were generally run as one-on-one games in a shared world (so the events of the game was still heavily influenced by player actions), generally used Brian Asbury's [?] experience point system, which was much more generous than the standard OD&D and AD&D systems. For example thieves got experience for picking locks and pockets and magic users got experience for casting spells. The median low level of the game was due to the increased chance of character fatality whilst adventuring solo. So it was a lot closer to the standard D&D mentality than the first games I played were.]

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  38. Oh, and there were also that avoided the whole low level thing and started people at high level multi-planar adventurers,* in the tradition of high level epic fantasy, such as the DNA Cowboys, and Heavy Metal. With names like "The Raid on the First National Mana Bank," and characters like "Buck Dharma" (who did). Again, the opposition matched the characters and the nature of the game changed to be one of epic heroic adventure rather than combar archaelogy.

    You decide where you campaign is going to concentrate and set your game there. How you do that is up to you.

    [For example one of my characters in this kind of game started as an 18th level AD&D ranger with a pet sphere of annhilation called "Spot." Was really bad at fetching (or at least giving anything it had swallowed back). Incidentally the first world we adventured in had pools of liquid nitrogen on the surface...]

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  39. And one of my proudest accomplishments was to get a base percentage Runequest (2E) character to Rune Lord level. That took just over three years of reasonably regular Friday night play, but the difficulty wasn't in raising skills to the required level (although that was non-trivial under vanilla 2E rules), but rather establishing the contacts and friendships to be able to do so.

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  40. "Breaks the game" means that the statistics involved in the die rolls become very certain in one outcome over another. Success or failure sits at the very low or very high point on the die roll. The mistake often taken to fix this is to escalate the regular challenge- this is where orcs stop showing up and now its lizard men and gnolls and eventually the characters are forced to fight balors and dragons in large numbers just to keep the game statistically interesting. The real solution is to top out your chances for success or failure so that 50 orcs are still dangerous but there is still a way to kill a dragon. Also spells above 6th level tend to be adventure breakers if a DM is trying to railroad rather than sandbox. Since most TSR/WotC adventures after 1985 have been railroads in their book the spells break the game.

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  41. I agree to an extent with steamtunnel but as reverance pavane has stated so clearly high-level games require a different focus to the lower-level games everyone seems to relish. I still get a rush when I can get a character up to 5th level from 1st but it's nice to play truly epic characters who can barrel through a dozen or more orcs without breathing hard but who have to really think about what to do when faced with a foe who is their equal or greater, eg. I ran a party of 12th to 16th lvl evil characters who were hunting down adventurers for their magical gear to use in equipping their minions but also had to be VERY careful in case some of the high-level good guys began to take notice; consider what they might have to face if a priest gated in a Solar, who then brought in another Solar and then a few Planetar buddies and a company or so of Devas, any combat might have taken 2 sessions before the party went down but the simple fear of having to deal with something like that led to much more prudence by the players and a swing towards elaborate planning and intrigue in the general style of the game.
    Any style of gaming depends on the group and what they want from the game and not every group will enjoy high-powered stuff for very long while others will revel in establishing or seizing a kingdom for themselves and then using or abusing their subjects and resources.
    As a few people have already said high level games can become hackfests to kill dragons and gods ad infinitum but such things rapidly become dull for anyone with a mental age over about 13 so DMs need to reorient their games a little when players start to get to high and even medium levels, after all even spells like fly, continual light and the old standby of fireball require DMs to take into account the changes in a partys tactical options at a fairly average level of the game, if a DM can adapt to that then he/she will simply need some research, experience and advice to begin dealing with teleports, death spells and daily raise dead spells. Play around with environmental restrictions and conditions like vicious hailstorms (reduced visibility, save once a turn or take 1hp dmg, -40% or 50% on hear noise checks), windstorms (-4 to hit with missile attacks and range reduced by half), cramped tunnels (no dex bonuses to AC, movement halved), volcanic craters (no infravision, sulphurous stench and roar of flames increase chance of being surprised), fighting on an oil-slicked floor, basically take the PCs out of their comfort zone every now and then and it'll give you options and ideas for keeping your high-level players on their toes. Give the players some bloodbaths occasionally yes but show them that things don't always go their way and also, remember that high-level parties don't fear death as beginners do so don't hesitate to knock one or two of them off if they do something dumb, that's why there's a cleric there after all :)

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  42. Looooong time lurker; first time poster. LOVE the blog!

    I've been playing since 1977 and have always ended my games at 10th level. It seems that after that the focus of the game needs to change to such an extent that it's no longer enjoyable for me. I prefer to be Conan before he attains the throne.

    To this end I've always reduced XP gained when fighting creatures with less HD than the characters, required upkeep and training costs to be paid out between adventures (the only way GP counts as XP, and even then at a rate of 10:1), magic items gain no XP for the bearer, XP can be lost for deliberately playing out of character (without an in-game rationale for doing so), etc...

    I have nothing against higher level play or those that enjoy it; and so long as the Ref is competent I don't think the games "breaks" so much as it "mutates" into something different than what was originally intended (not necessarily a bad thing). I just don't enjoy it as much.

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