Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Challenge of High Level Campaigns - Surviving to High Levels or Having the Campaign Survive?

I've been thinking of high level play and the thought occurred to me. It's been my experience that few campaigns ever hit the "high level play" mark.

It's probably why lower level adventures seem to sell best on places like RPGNow - more folks are just naturally playing at lower levels.

I'm sure part of it is player attrition and the struggle to keep a group together and gaming regularly to hit those levels. I'm sure part of it is GM (and even player) burnout - playing the same system, setting and characters can get old after a while.

There is also the challenge of balancing adventures to a higher level party. Things get pretty swingy in the higher levels compared to balancing challenges at lower levels. The power of the spells, magic, monsters is much more variable. The extremes of cakewalk and TPK are more common than at lower levels.

Then there is the definition of what actually constitutes "high level play". Is it hitting name level of 9 through 11, or is the 14-18 levels of play?

I have found my campaigns tend to die to a combination of DM / Player apathy after a certain point more than TPKs, but that might be because I'm an OSR system whore and love them all.

This question does not apply to 4e, which we know handles all levels equally well, and you are already designing you 20th level Wizard when you are just a 1st level apprentice ;)


  1. "Then there is the definition of what actually constitutes "high level play". Is it hitting name level of 9 through 11, or is the 14-18 levels of play?"

    For AD&D I always used the White Dwarf magazine approach:

    Low Level was 1-3
    Mid-Level was 4-6
    High-Level was 7-9

    I think this fits pretty well with how AD&D was actually designed; double-digit levels didn't seem intended to be actually played, though it could be done, at least as a solo or two-PC game.

    3e D&D made a half-assed attempt at extending the game to 20th level, but the designers didn't seem to understand the legacy systems such as spell levels and so at high level 3e we got 'god wizards' who could do anything vs hopeless Fighters.

  2. D&D BECMI rules
    -I have played character from 3rd level to 21st level
    -I have DMed characters from 1st level to 22nd level
    -we used a lot dominion rules and war machine for high level play, it was intresting and good
    -gameplay was not so great at high levels (15+). Spells, magic items, and weapon mastery broke the gameplay

    D&D 3.x rules
    -I have DMed characters from 1st to 14-16th level four times
    -PCs were adventurers to the end, no dominions
    -gameplay became very frustrating at high levels (14+)

    D&D 4e rules
    -I have DMed characters from 1st to 30th level
    -we used a little my own mass combat rules at high levels, PCs were generals and heroes of army, but not landowners
    -gameplay was better than in 3.x in higher levels (20+), but not somthing I want to do again. Too complicated.


  3. At high levels the game changes, mobility increases and the resources within PC grasp are substantial. PCs don't have to march in a pack of platemeail bristling with weapons to go down to the local pub. A campaign for 4 5th level adventurers isn't going to long endure 4 12th level adventurers.

    The whole "god like wizards" thing at high level is funny...high level fighters should have lot's of gimmicks that let them survive and prosper unless they have been foolishly leaning on their high-level spell caster buddies for two long.

    Player and Dm skill has to evolve with the rise in levels or the campaign will die.


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