Let's Not Save The World...Again
  • Let's Not Save The World...Again



    It used to take a lot less to make us feel heroic. Guns and ships and criminals used to be good enough, as in the stories of Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and even James Bond as written by Ian Fleming, not as he's known from movies. In pulps, it was enough to defeat a gang or an unusual villain. The "science fiction" adventure of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne is surprisingly tame by contemporary standards. Now we want everything in movies to be flashy and completely unrealistic, approaching the ridiculous, as in most comic book movies and other action movies (Indiana Jones IV, anyone?).
    Jaded: "tired, bored, or lacking enthusiasm, typically after having had too much of something;"
    "feeling or showing a lack of interest and excitement caused by having done or experienced too much of something"

    We see it in video games: "save the world (or galaxy)" is a pretty common, almost mundane, motivation. It's not enough any more to rescue the kidnapped person or prevent a dastardly deed.

    "Saving the world" creates a cheap sense of grandeur. It's the Age of Inflation, everything has to be "stunning" or "awesome," everybody is "saving the world." I call that jaded.

    I played in a campaign where, invariably, we faced such waves of monsters that few of us (sometimes only my character) were left standing. The GM evidently manipulated numbers so that this would happen. But it became almost tedious rather than exciting.

    We lose impact when it's always "save the world", or always any particular outcome/objective. Pacing is vital both in games and on the screen, and good pacing requires alternate tension and relaxation. If every story is “epic”, epic becomes normal, not extraordinary. If we always save the world, that becomes mundane. Games (like life) benefit from variation in tension/relaxation. The contrast makes them both more intense and more enjoyable. Good pacing would mean alternating the Save the World objectives with others at a lesser scale. (For an under-3-minutes explanation of pacing see https://youtu.be/QAPkcr4b0EE.)

    What can a GM do? Set expectations from the campaign beginning. Choose players (and adventures) wisely. Make "Great Objectives" the purpose of an entire campaign, not of each adventure. The threat of death, or of losing all their stuff, should be enough to thrill adventurers without resort to saving the world.

    In my campaigns, stretching back more than 40 years, we've never saved the world; an entire campaign might be about saving a city or country, but that didn't happen in every adventure (nor any particular adventure, really). Saving the world calls for really experienced (high-level) characters, and few get that high.

    If it isn't enough to risk death, regardless of objective, then there may not be much you can do about jaded players. Or maybe there's no risk of death in your campaign? That could lead to boredom: no extreme lows.

    References:
    Extra Credits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LScL4CWe5E
    Gamasutra: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/featur...mes_arent_.php

    contributed by Lewis Pulispher
    Comments 92 Comments
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Celebrim View Post
      I'm currently running the first 'save the world' type plot I've ever run (although its more 'the world would suck until some other heroes saved it' than 'the world would end').My primary negative discovery about this sort of plot is that it puts the campaign on rails completely. If the fate of the world is at stake, the then PC's have a huge pressure on them to not attend to anything else. That means that all personal and party goals other than the main plot have to be continually side lined as less important. Fantasy authors tend to deal with this lack of low melodrama, by having lots of intraparty personal conflict - unrequited love, personality conflicts, defects of character, backstory as an abused character. But this doesn't necessarily work that well in an RPG situation, as only a small portion of players/tables have any interest in that sort of thespian centered play.
      This is a very good point and it articulates it very clearly, particularly the very real difference between a novel and an RPG. Once the world needs saving (in some sense) it really puts everything else in a down position. I always feel weird in a computer RPG dropping off the main plot, though I've come to realize that time in a CRPG is really more event-driven and dramatic. I like the point about authors, because that's exactly what they do and you're 100% right that many players just aren't into all the intraparty conflict or psychodrama. I don't mind some but a lot of players just don't want any. Many have more than enough of that in their real life and don't want more in their recreation. Others just aren't very good at it and it's demanding on the DM.

      In fairness, I didn't send out a survey to all players at the start of the game and they did indicate that they wanted an 'Adventure Path' type story, but even so, I'm finding I miss the digressions and side quests that come with a game with less intense and less long term primary goals.
      I agree, the digressions are often the really fun part. It's like the X-Files, where the mytharc episodes were fine and all that but the standalone episodes were often the best.
    1. Bravesteel's Avatar
      Bravesteel -
      The Dark Eye is a great example of a RPG and world where heroes do heroic things, but not everything is on a world-shattering scale.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Yeah, I can totally see that. A world saving campaign is likely going to be far more focused than a low stakes game. There isn't a whole lot of point to going off and saving your long lost brother when demons are going to destroy the world first.

      I suppose, that's really where the play style thing is going to really rear its head. If you like a looser campaign where personal PC goals drives the game forward, then the stronger central focus of a "save the world" campaign likely isn't going to make you very happy.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      Yeah, I can totally see that. A world saving campaign is likely going to be far more focused than a low stakes game. There isn't a whole lot of point to going off and saving your long lost brother when demons are going to destroy the world first. I suppose, that's really where the play style thing is going to really rear its head. If you like a looser campaign where personal PC goals drives the game forward, then the stronger central focus of a "save the world" campaign likely isn't going to make you very happy.
      The real trick is if the DM can work those personal stories into the big epic stuff. It's tricky and the players have to be responsible for the story, too, which oftentimes they don't seem to be.
    1. Aenghus's Avatar
      Aenghus -
      I like "Save the world" plots, but the PC don't have to know that's what they are doing for ages in the game itself. It is true once they are locked into a high priority mode it tends to push out everything else, so I avoid doing that for much of my campaigns, and create a series of linked objectives of escalating priority they can discover and address one by one, with gaps between episodes for holidays and personal plotlines, rather than a single overriding problem from the very start. At some point its time to kick off the main quest line, at which point its reasonable to expect the party to focus on saving the world to the exclusion of other activities.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Now, I'll admit that I haven't bought the WotC AP modules. But, I have played in a couple. It's my understanding that a lot of the modules aren't really "save the world" plot modules. For example, in Princes of the Apocalypse, a good chunk of the adventure takes place at the pretty local level. One of the modules, for example, you infiltrate a castle run by the cultists (and a bunch of humanoids) and try to wrestle control of that castle away from the humanoids and save the lizardfolk that are being enslaved by the cultists. At least, that's how we played it out.

      And, again, from my limited understanding, in Out of the Abyss, a large chunk of the AP is spent simply trying to get out of the Underdark. Again, it's very local and focused on the group, rather than the larger picture stuff of saving the world. As I understand it, it's pretty old school where you are focused on survival and exploration, rather than plotsy story stuff. Again, I fully admit to my own ignorance of the specifics, but, as I understand it, that's largely the focus of the first half of the campaign.

      So, it's not like every scenario is "Save the World" stuff. A lot of it is pretty local loosely tied to the over arching campaign. I'd say that multiple play styles really are being serviced, at least in part.

      IOW, I do disagree with the premise that we're seeing all one thing - Save the World plots. We aren't. Not really. The initial two or three scenarios (or more) of every AP seems to be pretty focused on the small scale stuff, right down to just, "Save yourself".

      Now, as far as speed of advancement goes. Well, that's just a recognition of the reality of gamers. There is so much competition for free time that the idea that a campaign should be expected to last three, four, five years, is just unrealistic. While I realize that some groups manage this, I'm fairly confident in saying that most don't. And, if campaigns, and quite possibly groups as well, don't last more than 2 years, what's the point of having a game that takes more than that in order to play the whole game. This is an issue that was brought up in 3e and the response is pretty much the same. If groups only last 1-2 years, and it takes 3+ years to hit high or very high levels, then either speed up advancement or chop the game. There's just no point in having all that material when so few people actually use it.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      I'm only relating my experiences, perception, and that it's necessarily a small sample size. So NO, I don't think it's how everybody played the game, and I also indicated that.

      My message isn't "how it is in the day" so much as a simple observation that the focus of the game, by both design and presentation, has changed.
      I know this is a discussion forum, not a debating club, and so I'm not out just to score cheap points.

      But the passage I've quoted genuinely puzzles me. Are you telling us about how you played (and still play?), and explaining how that is a viable alternative to "save the world"? Or are you making claims about "how it was in the day" and thus how "the focus of the game" has changed?

      It's that second set of claims that I (and, as I understand his posts, @Hussar) disagree with - because the game has never really been solely focused on KotB-style dungeon-crawling. In the late 70s there was enough "story"-style play going on that it made sense for White Dwarf to publish essays discussing the mertis of different approaches. While the section on successful adventures in the AD&D PHB is concerned mostly with dungeon crawling, the classes presented include paladins, druid and monks - all clearly best suited for stuff other than dungeon-crawling. The AD&D MM contains world-threatening as well as prosaic monsters (like the demon princes). And the AD&D DMG contains (limited) resources to support more story-focused or even epic "save the world"-style play (eg the artefacts and relics; the rules for divine intervention, which, to me at least, seem to have an Elric-ish inspiration lurking in the background).

      And then there is the foreword to Moldvay Basic that I've already mentioned, which clearly intimates an approach to play quite different from classis dungeon or hex crawling.

      The first set of claims - that it is possible to play a successful but non-save-the-world game - I take to be non-controversial.

      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      the rules have altered the way the game is presented.



      D&D has never been designed for one specific play style. Well, perhaps Gary felt it was. But the reality is that it has always been more than one particular style. But over the years, certain play styles have been promoted more than others simply by the rules
      What rules in 5e promote a "save the world"-type focus over a more prosaic focus.

      (I know what rules do that in 4e - namely, the rules around epic tier - but those rules aren't present in 5e.)

      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      I think they are playing up the epic style of play, which to some degree is at the expense of other styles.
      How is it "at the expense of other styles"? What burden on anyone else's game arises from the fact that WotC publishes APs?
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      I know this is a discussion forum, not a debating club, and so I'm not out just to score cheap points.

      But the passage I've quoted genuinely puzzles me. Are you telling us about how you played (and still play?), and explaining how that is a viable alternative to "save the world"? Or are you making claims about "how it was in the day" and thus how "the focus of the game" has changed?

      It's that second set of claims that I (and, as I understand his posts, @Hussar) disagree with - because the game has never really been solely focused on KotB-style dungeon-crawling. In the late 70s there was enough "story"-style play going on that it made sense for White Dwarf to publish essays discussing the mertis of different approaches. While the section on successful adventures in the AD&D PHB is concerned mostly with dungeon crawling, the classes presented include paladins, druid and monks - all clearly best suited for stuff other than dungeon-crawling. The AD&D MM contains world-threatening as well as prosaic monsters (like the demon princes). And the AD&D DMG contains (limited) resources to support more story-focused or even epic "save the world"-style play (eg the artefacts and relics; the rules for divine intervention, which, to me at least, seem to have an Elric-ish inspiration lurking in the background).

      And then there is the foreword to Moldvay Basic that I've already mentioned, which clearly intimates an approach to play quite different from classis dungeon or hex crawling.

      The first set of claims - that it is possible to play a successful but non-save-the-world game - I take to be non-controversial.

      What rules in 5e promote a "save the world"-type focus over a more prosaic focus.

      (I know what rules do that in 4e - namely, the rules around epic tier - but those rules aren't present in 5e.)

      How is it "at the expense of other styles"? What burden on anyone else's game arises from the fact that WotC publishes APs?
      When I'm talking about the presentation of the game, I'm talking not only about what is written in the pages, but what is published as a whole, or what is not published, as well as what is presented as "official" or "semi-official."

      So OD&D, for example, promoted a style where the DM created the world and the dungeons. That was the "apparently intended" style of play, because at the time TSR didn't promote an approach where you simply pick up the books, buy and adventure and play. Within that structure there were all sorts of play styles, but the "official" approach was that you made it up yourself.

      For a new player, who says, "I've heard about this D&D thing, and want to give it a try" and decides to see what's available typically won't have a frame of reference as to what a TTRPG is. They might have played video game RPGs, but that's a bit different.

      "So, OK, I need the Basic Set, or the PHB and maybe the DMG, etc. But how do I put it all together? Oh, I can buy a published adventure."

      So they do. They like it, have fun, and buy another. Maybe a third. At that point they're ready to try their hand at writing their own.

      Despite the fact that the DMG and PHB describe other play styles, they've been exposed by the publisher of the actual game to a single play style - "save the world." By not providing alternatives, they are promoting that play style by default.

      I'm not saying that's good or bad, it's just the impression it gives (at least to me). AD&D up until 1987 "promoted" build your own campaign. Even the World of Greyhawk was little more than a framework to get the DM started. Adventures might mention where they were in Greyhawk, which just pointed you toward that product, which gave you the framework to design your world. As I pointed out, B2 (and B1, and others), gave you specific instructions on how to flesh out the adventure, and Jean Wells and others have noted that one of the early design approaches they used was to include undefined parts of the area or dungeon for the DM to flesh out.

      2e "promoted" a very different approach, especially as time went on. First, that D&D could be just about anything, although within the sword & sorcery base. Spelljammer, Dark Sun, Planescape, along with variations on the more traditional settings. But the big point was now that the DM didn't have to create anything - we have it for you. Whatever style you like, we have a setting, and adventures for those settings.

      When I look at 5e, in the rulebooks and the published adventures, I see a more super heroic approach than a heroic approach. Level advancement, and gaining new abilities as you do, is the name of the game now. The expectation is that you'll advance in level every few sessions.

      For example, in the AD&D DMG when it is talking about acquisition of spells, you are an apprentice to "a master of unthinkably high level (at least 6th!)" and I'm pretty sure it was Ed Greenwood that indicated that NPC levels were suitably inflated in the first Forgotten Realms campaign setting so as to be much higher than the expected PCs so they were always a challenge, and couldn't be just killed. I think that eventually backfired on them, though.

      In 5e, 3rd level is really the new 1st level (when you select an archetype, although some classes do earlier). APs are designed to take you from 1st to 15th level in one grand adventure (although that trend was started in 3e if I recall). Contrast that to the AD&D adventures, where they eventually published T1-4, A1-4 (adjusting the levels upward to fit the new structure) and GDQ1-7 in a manner that you could run it as a single campaign with the same characters. That's 12+ adventures (depending on how you count T1-4) in three different adventure paths to do the same thing.

      And no, it's not about "how it was in the day." It's just a commentary on how the overall presentation of the game by the publisher promotes a particular way to play the game. Yes, people will play it many different ways (one of the strengths of D&D, or RPGs in general). But new people picking up the game for the first time are steered or at least nudged toward a particular style of play. That does mean that "how it was in the day" is probably different, generally, than today.

      You're a fan of Story Now games. They are more specific in their focus than D&D ever has been. It would be difficult to play a Story Now game with a strict sandbox/hexcrawl/dungeon crawl approach with no story input from the GM. In fact, it's really against the design goal of those games.

      Like all designers, those that designed D&D had their intentions as well. Their concept of what D&D is, and how to play it. It's not nearly as focus as some newer games, but it's still there. Dave Arneson had a different opinion than Gary Gygax, but they still had their concepts. As I've said, Gary didn't see any point in publishing adventures initially. That's not how he intended for the game to be played. But the players of the game thought differently, and the game changed because of it. But that doesn't change how the game was presented at the time.

      The potential impact is primarily on new players coming to the game. Since it's a social game, that impact can be lessened (although I see it all the time when I meet people who learn to play via the 5e rules without much or any guidance or input from other gamers). Like any gamer, I like to find other like-minded players to play with. It doesn't mean I'm not willing to change, or expand my horizons (although I'm admittedly much less interested in that now than I was 30 years ago). It was far easier to find like-minded players in the early '80s than it is now. I can find more players, they are everywhere. And that's awesome. But they often have different priorities and play styles in mind. They seem to be everywhere online, but not local to me, and I'm not interested in running an online game. I prefer a face-to-face game.

      When I teach new players to play, then I usually find that I also have like-minded players. Because they've learned it from me and my style. But that's me promoting it, not WotC. Most of the players I've taught continue to play, and a good percentage of them eventually gravitate to being a DM because they aren't finding other like-minded DMs.

      A stronger impact is when I try to play with folks that first learned D&D with 4e. For many of those players, my style is just plain incompatible since I don't use a grid, and everything is theater of the mind. Again, this is a direct impact of the way the rules were written and presented. I also find that it's like pulling teeth to get them to tell me what their character is actually doing, rather than ask, "can I make a check?" My play style is foreign to them, even though we're both playing the same game.

      Overall, though, I'm only commenting on this in relation to the OP. The OP was saying that it doesn't always have to be "save the world." Something I agree with. But I think that part of the reason DMs seem to write more "save the world" adventures, is because that's what they are used to playing.

      You could say it's a chicken/egg thing. WotC is publishing "save the world" adventures because that's what sells, but since they don't publish anything else (for the most part so far), then they can't really know if other things sell or not. And the "save the world" approach started long before 5e. But it was not a common approach up through AD&D until probably Dragonlance. Even the GDQ series wasn't really a threat against the world, or at least it wasn't presented as that type of campaign. When you started G1, there was no indication that you might eventually fight a demigod 7 adventures later. And that's assuming you cared to follow the storyline to each subsequent adventure (or that the DM cared to). And if what you have to go by is the published materials, then is certainly seems like 5e is a "save the world" type of game.
    1. Aenghus's Avatar
      Aenghus -
      I think that typical fantasy art of adventurers battling hideous monsters was more dynamic, more marketable than, let's say, pictures of adventurers looting a room of treasure, and such artwork became more common even in editions with alternate play styles, some of which were more of the "avoid the monsters, grab the loot" type. Over the editions monster battling became more and more an expected adventurer activity IMO, with more campaigns that corresponded to the inspirational artwork and adventure modules they inspired.

      And "Save the world" is a strong motivation for fighting dangerous monsters as the stakes are so high.

      As regards play styles as they evolve in various games groups, I think they are very complex things with multiple reasons contributing to the whole. For instance, I'm bad at theatre of the mind, and prefer visual representations of complex situations, such as miniatures and a grid. As a player I would constantly lose track of the situation in theatre of the mind play, and beyond a certain level of complexity found it a frustrating and unsatisfying style of play that reduced my enjoyment of the game. Some matters of taste have ramifications beyond mere enjoyment and can help or hinder the entire play experience for some individuals.

      Over time people with incompatible tastes will find this out and probably not stick together very long, while people with similar or compatible tastes are more likely to create stable games groups.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      AD&D up until 1987 "promoted" build your own campaign.
      WoGH had maps, history, gods (if you followed along in Dragon magazine), demographics, etc.

      Dragonglance had not only all of the above, it also had an epic "save the world" plot.

      These both predate 1987 quite a bit.

      I'm not saying that everyone used them - I've never owned or played a DL module, for instance - but they weren't obscure little-used options either.

      When I look at 5e, in the rulebooks and the published adventures, I see a more super heroic approach than a heroic approach. Level advancement, and gaining new abilities as you do, is the name of the game now. The expectation is that you'll advance in level every few sessions.

      For example, in the AD&D DMG when it is talking about acquisition of spells, you are an apprentice to "a master of unthinkably high level (at least 6th!)"
      That reference in the DMG is clearly tongue-in-cheek, as the exclamation mark indicates. Here is the full quote (DMG p 39):

      Inform those players who have opted for the magic-user profession that they have just completed a course of apprenticeship with a master who was of unthinkably high level (at least 6th!).

      The "unthinkability" is in the mind of the new player of a 1st level MU - not in the mind of the referee, nor an experienced player.

      Page 111 of the DMG contemplates campaigns where "the average experience level of the campaign is 5th, 6th, 7th, or even 8th", and talks about integration of new PCs into such a campaign.

      Page 58 of the DMG gives advice on what to do if "your players wish to spend most of their time visiting other planes (and this could come to pass after a year or more of play)". Clearly those are going to be reasonably high level PCs.

      And here are some other quotes from the AD&D books that refer to levels and levelling:

      DMG p 12:

      It has been called to my attention that new players will sometimes become bored and discouraged with the struggle to advance in level of experience, for they do not have any actual comprehension of what it is like to be a powerful character of high level. . . . [I]f some problem such as this exists, it has been further suggested that allowing relatively new players to participate in a modular campaign game (assuring new players of characters of higher level) would often whet their appetites for continued play at lower level, for they can then grasp what it will be like should they actually succeed in attaining proficiency on their own by working up their original characters and gaining high levels of experience. This reasoning seems sound, and provided there is a separation of the two campaigns,
      and the one isn’t begun until new players have had some number of expeditions as 1st level characters, it is not destructive to the game as a whole.

      PHB p 7:

      As a role player, you become Falstaff the fighter. . . . [A]s time goes by . . . you will acquire gold, magic items, and great renown as you become Falstaff the Invincible! . . .

      [E]ach character begins at the bottom of his or her chosen class (or profession). By successfully meeting the challenges posed, they gain experience and move upwards in power, just as actual playing experience really increases playing skill.

      In other words, level advancement was a central part of the game as presented in the AD&D rulebooks. What has changed, as I see it, is not the centrality of level advancement but the means to it. In earlier versions of D&D, XP were earned through skilled play - mostly in extracting treasure from the dungeon - and so it was possible to play the game but earn little or no XP if one played "badly" ie if one was not a good dungeon-crawler.

      Changes in the bases on which XP are earned, and in ways that the PCs (and thereby the players) are framed into the challenges posed by the game, have meant that XP in modern D&D tend not to be "earned" in the same way but, rather, become more like a pacing device. This is why "story"-based level progression makes sense in contemporary D&D in a way that it just wouldn't in Gygaxian D&D.
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      WoGH had maps, history, gods (if you followed along in Dragon magazine), demographics, etc.

      Dragonglance had not only all of the above, it also had an epic "save the world" plot.

      These both predate 1987 quite a bit.

      I'm not saying that everyone used them - I've never owned or played a DL module, for instance - but they weren't obscure little-used options either.

      That reference in the DMG is clearly tongue-in-cheek, as the exclamation mark indicates. Here is the full quote (DMG p 39):

      Inform those players who have opted for the magic-user profession that they have just completed a course of apprenticeship with a master who was of unthinkably high level (at least 6th!).

      The "unthinkability" is in the mind of the new player of a 1st level MU - not in the mind of the referee, nor an experienced player.

      Page 111 of the DMG contemplates campaigns where "the average experience level of the campaign is 5th, 6th, 7th, or even 8th", and talks about integration of new PCs into such a campaign.

      Page 58 of the DMG gives advice on what to do if "your players wish to spend most of their time visiting other planes (and this could come to pass after a year or more of play)". Clearly those are going to be reasonably high level PCs.

      And here are some other quotes from the AD&D books that refer to levels and levelling:

      DMG p 12:

      It has been called to my attention that new players will sometimes become bored and discouraged with the struggle to advance in level of experience, for they do not have any actual comprehension of what it is like to be a powerful character of high level. . . . [I]f some problem such as this exists, it has been further suggested that allowing relatively new players to participate in a modular campaign game (assuring new players of characters of higher level) would often whet their appetites for continued play at lower level, for they can then grasp what it will be like should they actually succeed in attaining proficiency on their own by working up their original characters and gaining high levels of experience. This reasoning seems sound, and provided there is a separation of the two campaigns,
      and the one isn’t begun until new players have had some number of expeditions as 1st level characters, it is not destructive to the game as a whole.

      PHB p 7:

      As a role player, you become Falstaff the fighter. . . . [A]s time goes by . . . you will acquire gold, magic items, and great renown as you become Falstaff the Invincible! . . .

      [E]ach character begins at the bottom of his or her chosen class (or profession). By successfully meeting the challenges posed, they gain experience and move upwards in power, just as actual playing experience really increases playing skill.

      In other words, level advancement was a central part of the game as presented in the AD&D rulebooks. What has changed, as I see it, is not the centrality of level advancement but the means to it. In earlier versions of D&D, XP were earned through skilled play - mostly in extracting treasure from the dungeon - and so it was possible to play the game but earn little or no XP if one played "badly" ie if one was not a good dungeon-crawler.

      Changes in the bases on which XP are earned, and in ways that the PCs (and thereby the players) are framed into the challenges posed by the game, have meant that XP in modern D&D tend not to be "earned" in the same way but, rather, become more like a pacing device. This is why "story"-based level progression makes sense in contemporary D&D in a way that it just wouldn't in Gygaxian D&D.
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      WoGH had maps, history, gods (if you followed along in Dragon magazine), demographics, etc.

      Dragonglance had not only all of the above, it also had an epic "save the world" plot.

      These both predate 1987 quite a bit.

      I'm not saying that everyone used them - I've never owned or played a DL module, for instance - but they weren't obscure little-used options either.

      That reference in the DMG is clearly tongue-in-cheek, as the exclamation mark indicates. Here is the full quote (DMG p 39):

      Inform those players who have opted for the magic-user profession that they have just completed a course of apprenticeship with a master who was of unthinkably high level (at least 6th!).

      The "unthinkability" is in the mind of the new player of a 1st level MU - not in the mind of the referee, nor an experienced player.

      Page 111 of the DMG contemplates campaigns where "the average experience level of the campaign is 5th, 6th, 7th, or even 8th", and talks about integration of new PCs into such a campaign.

      Page 58 of the DMG gives advice on what to do if "your players wish to spend most of their time visiting other planes (and this could come to pass after a year or more of play)". Clearly those are going to be reasonably high level PCs.

      And here are some other quotes from the AD&D books that refer to levels and levelling:

      DMG p 12:

      It has been called to my attention that new players will sometimes become bored and discouraged with the struggle to advance in level of experience, for they do not have any actual comprehension of what it is like to be a powerful character of high level. . . . [I]f some problem such as this exists, it has been further suggested that allowing relatively new players to participate in a modular campaign game (assuring new players of characters of higher level) would often whet their appetites for continued play at lower level, for they can then grasp what it will be like should they actually succeed in attaining proficiency on their own by working up their original characters and gaining high levels of experience. This reasoning seems sound, and provided there is a separation of the two campaigns,
      and the one isn’t begun until new players have had some number of expeditions as 1st level characters, it is not destructive to the game as a whole.

      PHB p 7:

      As a role player, you become Falstaff the fighter. . . . [A]s time goes by . . . you will acquire gold, magic items, and great renown as you become Falstaff the Invincible! . . .

      [E]ach character begins at the bottom of his or her chosen class (or profession). By successfully meeting the challenges posed, they gain experience and move upwards in power, just as actual playing experience really increases playing skill.

      In other words, level advancement was a central part of the game as presented in the AD&D rulebooks. What has changed, as I see it, is not the centrality of level advancement but the means to it. In earlier versions of D&D, XP were earned through skilled play - mostly in extracting treasure from the dungeon - and so it was possible to play the game but earn little or no XP if one played "badly" ie if one was not a good dungeon-crawler.

      Changes in the bases on which XP are earned, and in ways that the PCs (and thereby the players) are framed into the challenges posed by the game, have meant that XP in modern D&D tend not to be "earned" in the same way but, rather, become more like a pacing device. This is why "story"-based level progression makes sense in contemporary D&D in a way that it just wouldn't in Gygaxian D&D.
      I forgot Dragonlance predated the Realms. The original WoG was designed specifically to be a rough framework for the DM to flesh out, but yes, it was expanded upon in Dragon magazine.

      Yes, level advancement was an integral part of the game, but it was much slower (especially if you didn't award XP for treasure), and you didn't gain as much when you did go up levels. Furthermore, you even stopped gaining hit points (other than Constitution bonuses) after about 10th level.

      I was kind of interested, and posted this in another thread, but comparing level advancement and the number of ogres it takes to get there:

      20th level in 5e is 355,000 XP, and assuming a party of 4, amounts to 3,156 ogres. In 1e to gain the same amount of XP was 6,762 ogres and you would be:

      8th level monk
      9th level cleric, fighter, paladin
      10th level ranger, magic user, illusionist, assassin (25,000 XP short of an 11th level magic user)
      11th level thief
      12th level druid

      The tables in 1e didn't go to 20th level. I can't remember if they provided updated tables before or after 2e. But it was quite different. Do the math using the tables in the 5e DMG. If you have the recommended number of daily encounters, with the recommended XP per day earned, then you're talking about reaching 20th level in less than 35 days.

      Adventuring Day XP (pg 84) - a character is expected to earn:

      At 1st level - 300 XP - so you're 2nd level after adventuring day #1.

      Let's look higher up the list - If you're 10th level, you should be earning 9000 XP per adventuring day. You start 10th level at 64,000 XP, and need 21,000 XP to get to 11th. That's less than 3 days then.

      Compare that to AD&D.

      The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (not including the wilderness encounters getting to the dungeon), has treasure with a monetary value of roughly 250,000 gp. We'll ignore the fact that getting it out all out of the dungeon would be nearly impossible. The monster XP is about 150,000. So a total potential XP of 400,000 if you get all the treasure and kill all the monsters. Now there's a note that says you can allow them to gain a level without training if they are playing well. Otherwise, you couldn't gain a level until you returned to town to train. And you weren't allowed to jump levels, so if you gained too many XP, you'd still usually gain at most only 1 level after an entire adventure. There are 40 rooms in this one.

      Anyway, the adventure was designed for 6-8 characters of 6-8th level. It provides 6 pregens. So divide the 400,000 by 6, or 66,667 XP each. Here's a few of them:

      6th level dwarven fighter start: 35,001-70,000 XP; 7th level: 70,001-125,000 XP - gained 1 level
      7th level human cleric start: 55,001-110,000 XP; 8th level: 110,001-225,000 - gained 1 level
      8th level human fighter start: 125,001-250,000; 9th level: 250,001-500,000 - gained 1 level.

      In one entire adventure, you gained 1 level. That's it. There were 56 magic items in the dungeon, btw. Including one each of the manuals/tomes so it granted each character a +1 ASI.

      So what about their 'APs' - if you were playing GDQ1-7, that's seven separate adventures, then you'd gain seven levels over the course of them. Or about half of what you get in a modern AP.

      I also remembered why I switched to a more story based XP approach very early one. To start, you pretty much only gained one level per adventure. We didn't even do that most of the time. I don't think I ever realized that anyway. But what a pain calculating the XP for every monster in the adventure. They didn't do that. So you'd have: 20 stirges: XP 36 + 2/hp. So not only did you have to look them up (they weren't in the adventure), but you had to calculate based on hp.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      But, let's not forget the different power curve here. 10th level in AD&D is equal to about 15th or so in 5e. The game more or less tops out at 10th level in AD&D for the most part. You're Name Level, for one, you're expected to be running a kingdom at this point (or some sort of fief anyway), and virtually nothing in the Monster Manual outside of unique monsters could come close to challenging you.

      And, as you say, you ejected money for XP. Fair enough, but, that WAS part of the game in 1e. As you said, we have to talk about what was published, not what we personally played. If you go with XP for gold, suddenly you advance pretty quickly. It takes about a year of play to hit name level if you play with xp for gold. It takes about a year of play to hit very high levels in 5e.

      It's not really any different.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      level advancement was an integral part of the game, but it was much slower (especially if you didn't award XP for treasure), and you didn't gain as much when you did go up levels. Furthermore, you even stopped gaining hit points (other than Constitution bonuses) after about 10th level.



      20th level in 5e is 355,000 XP, and assuming a party of 4, amounts to 3,156 ogres. In 1e to gain the same amount of XP was 6,762 ogres



      The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (not including the wilderness encounters getting to the dungeon), has treasure with a monetary value of roughly 250,000 gp. We'll ignore the fact that getting it out all out of the dungeon would be nearly impossible. The monster XP is about 150,000. So a total potential XP of 400,000 if you get all the treasure and kill all the monsters. Now there's a note that says you can allow them to gain a level without training if they are playing well. Otherwise, you couldn't gain a level until you returned to town to train. And you weren't allowed to jump levels, so if you gained too many XP, you'd still usually gain at most only 1 level after an entire adventure. There are 40 rooms in this one.

      Anyway, the adventure was designed for 6-8 characters of 6-8th level. It provides 6 pregens. So divide the 400,000 by 6, or 66,667 XP each. Here's a few of them:

      6th level dwarven fighter start: 35,001-70,000 XP; 7th level: 70,001-125,000 XP - gained 1 level
      7th level human cleric start: 55,001-110,000 XP; 8th level: 110,001-225,000 - gained 1 level
      8th level human fighter start: 125,001-250,000; 9th level: 250,001-500,000 - gained 1 level.

      In one entire adventure, you gained 1 level. That's it. There were 56 magic items in the dungeon, btw. Including one each of the manuals/tomes so it granted each character a +1 ASI.

      So what about their 'APs' - if you were playing GDQ1-7, that's seven separate adventures, then you'd gain seven levels over the course of them. Or about half of what you get in a modern AP.
      Whether level gain in AD&D gives benefits other than hp depends on class eg MUs and clerics get new spell levels fairly regularly.

      On the relativities between AD&D and 5e levels, I defer to @Hussar's remarks above this one.

      But the point remains: AD&D focused on level gain as much as 5e does. And also that playing AD&D without XP-for-treasure is a very significant departure from the game as published. (Hence looking at XP-per-dead-ogre makes no sense for AD&D, because AD&D experience is awarded primarily for treasure gained.)I
    1. S'mon -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      And, as you say, you ejected money for XP. Fair enough, but, that WAS part of the game in 1e. As you said, we have to talk about what was published, not what we personally played. If you go with XP for gold, suddenly you advance pretty quickly. It takes about a year of play to hit name level if you play with xp for gold. It takes about a year of play to hit very high levels in 5e.

      It's not really any different.
      I basically agree. 5e has significantly faster advancement levels 1-3 and 11+, but in 5-10 plays very similar to 1e in the 3-8 range I think. And in terms of raw power, 20th level 5e feels like about 12-14 in 1e. Time to reach similar power level can be quite similar, depending on treasure etc.
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      Whether level gain in AD&D gives benefits other than hp depends on class eg MUs and clerics get new spell levels fairly regularly.

      On the relativities between AD&D and 5e levels, I defer to @Hussar's remarks above this one.

      But the point remains: AD&D focused on level gain as much as 5e does. And also that playing AD&D without XP-for-treasure is a very significant departure from the game as published. (Hence looking at XP-per-dead-ogre makes no sense for AD&D, because AD&D experience is awarded primarily for treasure gained.)I
      That Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth included the XP for treasure. Actually, it was very generous with the XP for treasure. You still only gained enough to go up one level in the adventure. In addition, AD&D had rules to actually limit you to 1 level per adventure. Where the rules for 5e indicate that you should be gaining a new level every 1 to 3 adventuring days (6-8 encounters, so say, 24 encounters on the outside). Sure, there may be smaller encounters between them, but at the very least I'd say 5e advancement is twice as fast as 1e, at least. Perhaps not as much as I thought, but that's because of how we played the game.
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      But, let's not forget the different power curve here. 10th level in AD&D is equal to about 15th or so in 5e. The game more or less tops out at 10th level in AD&D for the most part. You're Name Level, for one, you're expected to be running a kingdom at this point (or some sort of fief anyway), and virtually nothing in the Monster Manual outside of unique monsters could come close to challenging you.

      And, as you say, you ejected money for XP. Fair enough, but, that WAS part of the game in 1e. As you said, we have to talk about what was published, not what we personally played. If you go with XP for gold, suddenly you advance pretty quickly. It takes about a year of play to hit name level if you play with xp for gold. It takes about a year of play to hit very high levels in 5e.

      It's not really any different.
      The example I gave with The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth included the XP for treasure, and it still resulted in a gain of only 1 level. Which was a hard limit for a single adventure anyway.

      AD&D 2e eliminated the XP for treasure and bumped up the XP for the monsters (to about half what 5e has, when looking through it). In addition, 5e XP requirements per level are a lot lower.

      I don't agree about the power curve. Fighters had a lower to-hit number, but a 10th level fighter in 5e has a lot more abilities and potential attacks per round. A magic-user in AD&D had one more 2nd level spell, 1 less 4th level spell at 10th level. Again, with more special abilities in 5e. Overall 10th level seems to be roughly the same for both editions.

      But monsters have about twice the amount of XP in 5e (although that varies quite a bit), and you need 64,000 XP to reach 10th level in 5e, and roughly 250,000 to reach 10th level in 1e/2e. In the Lost Caverns... example, monsters were about 1/3 of the XP. So even if we triple the XP for monsters in 2e (making them worth more than 5e) the much higher XP requirements still indicate a much slower level of advancement.

      Add in the limitations - only 1 level per adventure, and in AD&D you didn't level up until you returned home to "train." 2e advancement got a lot more complicated (only experience for encounters of the appropriate level, RP XP, survival XP, story XP), but it was still limited to 1 level whenever you awarded XP, and the recommendation was to award XP at the end of the adventure.

      However, they explained the complexity as intentional, to allow each group to determine how slowly or quickly advancement works in their campaign. Overall, I can (and will) change whatever I'd like. But like so many of the optional rules presented in the 5e DMG, they could have presented a slower advancement option, with XP requirements equal to double or triple the standard. You can't mess with the XP values (although you could halve the amount awarded) since the system uses the XP value as an encounter building tool for difficulty.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
      5e has significantly faster advancement levels 1-3 and 11+, but in 5-10 plays very similar to 1e in the 3-8 range I think. And in terms of raw power, 20th level 5e feels like about 12-14 in 1e. Time to reach similar power level can be quite similar, depending on treasure etc.
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      AD&D had rules to actually limit you to 1 level per adventure. Where the rules for 5e indicate that you should be gaining a new level every 1 to 3 adventuring days (6-8 encounters, so say, 24 encounters on the outside). Sure, there may be smaller encounters between them, but at the very least I'd say 5e advancement is twice as fast as 1e, at least. Perhaps not as much as I thought, but that's because of how we played the game.
      I think the rules about "one level per adventure" are a bit of a red herring, because "adventure" there means something like "expedition into the dungeon". The purpose of that rule is to limit massive level gain from making a single huge lucky haul on a given expedition; it's not there to stop players getting the full benefit of the XP from cleaning out the Lost Caverns or the Steading or some similar dungeon.

      But if the end game (eg ancient red dragons, demon lords, etc) is around about 10th level rather than around about 20th level, then levelling at about half the rate takes you to the end game in about the same time. Based on S'mon's experience, it seems that 5e powers up a little bit more quickly at the end (in AD&D the time to get from 10th to 14th or 15th might be comparable to the time taken to get from 1st to 10th) but then in AD&D only casters notice any real development going from 10th to 14th anyway!
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      I think the rules about "one level per adventure" are a bit of a red herring, because "adventure" there means something like "expedition into the dungeon". The purpose of that rule is to limit massive level gain from making a single huge lucky haul on a given expedition; it's not there to stop players getting the full benefit of the XP from cleaning out the Lost Caverns or the Steading or some similar dungeon.

      But if the end game (eg ancient red dragons, demon lords, etc) is around about 10th level rather than around about 20th level, then levelling at about half the rate takes you to the end game in about the same time. Based on S'mon's experience, it seems that 5e powers up a little bit more quickly at the end (in AD&D the time to get from 10th to 14th or 15th might be comparable to the time taken to get from 1st to 10th) but then in AD&D only casters notice any real development going from 10th to 14th anyway!
      When I say 1 level per adventure, it's because I'm looking at the XP value for an actual adventure, which confirms the rules.

      The RAW for 5e give a specific number of XP expected for a character at a specific level for an adventuring day. An adventuring day is defined as 3-6 encounters. No matter what level you are in 5e, if you follow their numbers, you will advance a level in no more than 3 adventuring days, or 18 encounters (that doesn't mean you won't have non-combat encounters, but due to the choice of words the expectation is that it will happen in the course of a "day").

      I added up all of the XP and treasure for Lost Caverns... and it totaled about 66,000 XP per character. Any character of 6th level or higher will gain 1 level. That's it. They won't have enough to get a second level. Even if they get every XP and every gp of treasure in the dungeon. In addition to that, you could potentially gain 32 magic items in that dungeon.

      That is very, very different. It's not a red herring. It's math.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      I was going to mention the XP per expedition point but I was ninja'd by Pemerton.

      But, ok, fair enough, we'll go with @Ilbranteloth rate of advancement.

      You realize that if we stick with that, then it's 10 adventures to Name Level in AD&D. That's it. Considering adventure modules back then were about 25 pages long and didn't take that long to play through, I'm a little baffled why you think it's so slow.

      Let's stick with AD&D modules. My path goes:

      N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God - more than enough xp to bump a level
      L1 Secret of Bone Hill - now we're 3rd.
      N2 The Forest Oracle - just to experience the worst module ever written.
      A1-A4 The Slavers series (not the compilation, just the actual modules) takes us from 4-7th level
      G1-G3 Against the giants takes us to 10th level. There's over a MILLION xp in gold in those three modules not even counting selling any magic items.

      For a 4-5 hour/week group, that's easily completable in a year of play.

      So, why is this so unbelievable that 1 year of play hits name level in AD&D? I'm frankly baffled why people seem to think this is impossible to achieve. To me, this is pretty much par for the course. We repeated this trajectory multiple times across multiple groups, so, I know it's certainly possible. And well within the rules.

      I think people internalize their own house rules to the extent that they think that this is the primary way of playing and forget what the actual rules say. Yes, 2e got rid of xp for gold. True. But, they added in individual xp awards, which amounted to a fair chunk of xp, and then bumped the kill xp awards considerably without actually changing most of the creatures. Sure, your 2e monster is worth less xp than your 3e monster, but, you're killing two or three times as many at a time since the 2e monsters were about 1/3 as powerful - far lower attack bonuses, dealt about half the damage of their 3e counterparts and had half as many HP.
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      I was going to mention the XP per expedition point but I was ninja'd by Pemerton.

      But, ok, fair enough, we'll go with @Ilbranteloth rate of advancement.

      You realize that if we stick with that, then it's 10 adventures to Name Level in AD&D. That's it. Considering adventure modules back then were about 25 pages long and didn't take that long to play through, I'm a little baffled why you think it's so slow.

      Let's stick with AD&D modules. My path goes:

      N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God - more than enough xp to bump a level
      L1 Secret of Bone Hill - now we're 3rd.
      N2 The Forest Oracle - just to experience the worst module ever written.
      A1-A4 The Slavers series (not the compilation, just the actual modules) takes us from 4-7th level
      G1-G3 Against the giants takes us to 10th level. There's over a MILLION xp in gold in those three modules not even counting selling any magic items.

      For a 4-5 hour/week group, that's easily completable in a year of play.

      So, why is this so unbelievable that 1 year of play hits name level in AD&D? I'm frankly baffled why people seem to think this is impossible to achieve. To me, this is pretty much par for the course. We repeated this trajectory multiple times across multiple groups, so, I know it's certainly possible. And well within the rules.

      I think people internalize their own house rules to the extent that they think that this is the primary way of playing and forget what the actual rules say. Yes, 2e got rid of xp for gold. True. But, they added in individual xp awards, which amounted to a fair chunk of xp, and then bumped the kill xp awards considerably without actually changing most of the creatures. Sure, your 2e monster is worth less xp than your 3e monster, but, you're killing two or three times as many at a time since the 2e monsters were about 1/3 as powerful - far lower attack bonuses, dealt about half the damage of their 3e counterparts and had half as many HP.
      I get that I sometimes mix up my house rules. But Lost Caverns... is 42 encounters. In 5e that's approximately five levels (if you're calling 8 encounters an adventuring day). In 1e it's one. Sure, a few of those encounters aren't up to the party level. OK, cut it in half. It's still two to three levels in 5e, and one in 1e. Although in the 5e adventuring day, you have a mix of encounter challenge levels anyway.

      I'm not saying it's good or bad. That's subjective. I don't like it. But the math is the math.

      The number of pages in the modules isn't really the thing. It just means they used fewer words.

      Why don't we look at TftYP? There are older adventures that are very faithfully updated. I'm working on a comparison of 1e vs 5e Tomb of Horrors and it's extremly faithful to the original, although doesn't play nearly as well. Interestingly, it's much less deadly (although I'm finding the original isn't quite as deadly as people think), until Acererak. The 5e version of a demilich is much tougher.

      Anyway, by the time you reach Against the Giants (assuming you just play the adventures through) you're expected to be 11th level. Five adventures, 11 levels. Using the original dungeons with the same monsters. That's twice as fast.
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