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. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      But, you're presuming that level=level across editions. That's simply not true. The power curve is completely different. Gaining levels in 1e is a huge power bump. The level curve is darn near logarithmic because the monsters don't scale.

      Think about it, outside of unique monsters, AD&D monsters top out at about 10 HD (outside of dinosaurs and a few others) and an AC of about -2. And that's for the toughest monsters in the game. (Again, excepting unique monsters) The overwhelming majority of monsters have positive AC's.

      The trick is, AD&D PC's don't really max out. AC's go down to -10 and it's fairly easy to achieve negative AC's. There's no difference particularly, between the HP of a 1-10 AD&D PC and a 5e PC. The 5e PC might have a bit more, but, not hugely more. And saving throws for AD&D PC's continuously improve.

      And then you start adding magic items into the mix. 1e was pretty free with magic items. Most treasure types gave a chance at multiple magic items.

      IOW, so what if my 5e PC gains levels faster? A 10th level AD&D PC is equivalent to a 15th level 5e PC relative to their prospective systems. There's a REASON that Against the Giants goes from being a 8th level adventure to a 11th level adventure. THAT'S your power curve difference.

      And, at the end of the day, the AD&D player hits 8th level in about the same amount of time as the 5e player hits 11th. It's simply a more granular system. You cannot compare one to the other directly without accounting for what level means IN that system.

      Think about it, the giants in Steading of the Fire Giant look like this:

      Quote Originally Posted by Encounter Room 11 Long Hall View Post
      Chief Nosnra & wife: H.P.: 65, 41 (he fights as a frost giant, she as a male hill giant)
      Sub-chief: H.P.: 49
      Cloud giant: H.P.: 63
      3 Stone giants: HP: 58, 48, 43
      22 Hillgiants: H.P.:44,3x40,39,5x38,5x37, 3 x 36, 33, 30, 2 x 27
      8 Ogres: 3 x 36, 33, 30, 2 x 27
      Cave bear: (beneath chief's table) H.P.: 43
      Two good fireballs and that fight is over. That's an 8th level party facing this. And they aren't expected to lose this fight.

      Now, I don't have the stats for that fight in the 5e version. But, considering a base hill giant in 5e has 102 HP, I'm going to guess that the 5e version is meant for a little higher level. Good grief, the base hill giant in 5e has almost THREE TIMES as many HP. Oh, and attack twice per round instead of once. For 3d6+5 damage vs 2d8. Hrm, the monster has three times as many HP, deals twice as much damage per hit and between bounded accuracy and a +8 attack bonus, probably hits twice as often.

      And you wonder why the 5e version is three levels higher?
    1. S'mon -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      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.
      No, it has a rule you cannot level up more than once per XP award - although you can
      gain XP 1 short of the amount needed to level twice! This is simply to prevent degenerate
      situations where PCs go up 3+ levels from a single big treasure score. IME it only ever matters at low level, where selling a single magic item might be worth several levels, and at very high level where you might see stuff like the "million gp gem".

      In 1e you get that XP then you must train to level up, any
      additional XP gained before completing training that would take you over the limit are lost. This does mean that a module where no training is available, like Tamoachan, would limit you to 1 XP short of 2 levels of XP
      if you followed the rule.

      Confusion arises because older D&D texts like Moldvay use the word "adventure" to mean "play
      session", with the idea you get XP at the end of the session. What you are thinking of was called a "module" and there was never any intention that playing through Temple of Elemental Evil et al could only get you 1 level.
    1. S'mon -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      at the very least I'd say 5e advancement is twice as fast as 1e,
      5e PCs probably do gain levels about twice as fast as 1e, on average (more than twice 1-3 and 11-13, but similar ca 5-8). But 5e level gains give the PCs much less compared to the opposition, I recently calculated that the Barbarian-18 IMC could only take out
      45 pirates (based off the 3d8 hd CR 0.5 MM Scout, so about the same as a Ftr-2) before going
      down. When I've run similar calculation for a 1e Fighter-20 I typically get numbers around 120. And
      Barb is the toughest PC class.
    1. S'mon -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      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.
      Gygax actually said (online, years later) he expected a year of skilled play to get a PC to Name
      level (normally 9th), and Robilar did do this in his home game. 3e & 5e can get you to 18th-20th at
      the same play rate, but while 3e high level casters are godlike, your 5e PC will be less powerful in most circumstances than a magic-laden
      1e PC. (Classic D&D is a bit different, it lacks several items like Bracers of Defence that create
      uber PCs, and many spells are more limited too).
    1. S'mon -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      Now, I don't have the stats for that fight in the 5e version.
      It's heavily toned down (BTW I disagree that 1e PCs were expected to win it in a straight up fight - I ran it in Classic ca 10th-12th level PCs and they fled the giant horde).

      Chief Nosnra as a frost giant, AC 17 from splint armor.
      • Nosnra's wife, Grutha, is a hill giant.
      The chief's cave bear.
      • The subchief, a hill giant that fights as a stone giant.
      A cloud giant ambassador
      A stone giant visitor
      Seven hill giants, including the sergeant from area 25
      (who has AC 16 from chain mail and 115 hit points),
      six hill giant servants (use the ogre statistics), and
      eight ogres
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
      It's heavily toned down (BTW I disagree that 1e PCs were expected to win it in a straight up fight - I ran it in Classic ca 10th-12th level PCs and they fled the giant horde).

      Chief Nosnra as a frost giant, AC 17 from splint armor.
      • Nosnra's wife, Grutha, is a hill giant.
      The chief's cave bear.
      • The subchief, a hill giant that fights as a stone giant.
      A cloud giant ambassador
      A stone giant visitor
      Seven hill giants, including the sergeant from area 25
      (who has AC 16 from chain mail and 115 hit points),
      six hill giant servants (use the ogre statistics), and
      eight ogres
      Funnily enough, when we played this, our 8th level 1e party obliterated the encounter. As I recall, it was 1 fireball plus one wand of fireballs (or something to that effect) and it was largely all over but the shouting. Everything that wasn't flat out dead was down to one hit deaths from the fighters with bows.

      But, my point being, the power curve in 1e is different from 5e. You can't just say, "well you gain levels twice as fast" and leave it at that. This is an argument that's been going on since 3e was released and people swore up and down that 3e was Candyland D&D and too easy.

      You'd think after, what, almost twenty years now, this argument would be dead and buried.

      ------

      But, rolling this back to the OP and the idea that now all we do is Save the World adventures. I'd point something out. The AP's in 5e aren't all Save the World adventures. That's generally reserved for the final scenario or two. IOW, the high level stuff.

      Compare to high level modules in 1e. In 1e, by 10th level (or so), I'm expected to be able to travel to the Abyss and slay a god (Lolth). Defeat Dragonarmies (Dragonlance modules top out at about 13th). By 9th level I can defeat a Demi-lich. By 10th level, we're facing Tharizdun - a god so evil that his alignment is simply, Evil (WG 4 1982 Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun). T1-4 ends with your name level PC's battling it out with the Princes of Elemental Evil.

      So, what's the big change here? High level adventures feature epic bad guys. Yuppers. Been that way since pretty much day 1 of the game. So, why is this suddenly a bad thing?
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      But, you're presuming that level=level across editions. That's simply not true. The power curve is completely different. Gaining levels in 1e is a huge power bump. The level curve is darn near logarithmic because the monsters don't scale.

      Think about it, outside of unique monsters, AD&D monsters top out at about 10 HD (outside of dinosaurs and a few others) and an AC of about -2. And that's for the toughest monsters in the game. (Again, excepting unique monsters) The overwhelming majority of monsters have positive AC's.

      The trick is, AD&D PC's don't really max out. AC's go down to -10 and it's fairly easy to achieve negative AC's. There's no difference particularly, between the HP of a 1-10 AD&D PC and a 5e PC. The 5e PC might have a bit more, but, not hugely more. And saving throws for AD&D PC's continuously improve.

      And then you start adding magic items into the mix. 1e was pretty free with magic items. Most treasure types gave a chance at multiple magic items.

      IOW, so what if my 5e PC gains levels faster? A 10th level AD&D PC is equivalent to a 15th level 5e PC relative to their prospective systems. There's a REASON that Against the Giants goes from being a 8th level adventure to a 11th level adventure. THAT'S your power curve difference.

      And, at the end of the day, the AD&D player hits 8th level in about the same amount of time as the 5e player hits 11th. It's simply a more granular system. You cannot compare one to the other directly without accounting for what level means IN that system.

      Think about it, the giants in Steading of the Fire Giant look like this:

      Two good fireballs and that fight is over. That's an 8th level party facing this. And they aren't expected to lose this fight.

      Now, I don't have the stats for that fight in the 5e version. But, considering a base hill giant in 5e has 102 HP, I'm going to guess that the 5e version is meant for a little higher level. Good grief, the base hill giant in 5e has almost THREE TIMES as many HP. Oh, and attack twice per round instead of once. For 3d6+5 damage vs 2d8. Hrm, the monster has three times as many HP, deals twice as much damage per hit and between bounded accuracy and a +8 attack bonus, probably hits twice as often.

      And you wonder why the 5e version is three levels higher?
      I'm not saying that you might not have to be a higher level to handle certain monsters now.

      But it's not really a question of balance in levels. For me it's simply that if you follow RAW you'll go from 1st to 20th level in less than 35 adventuring days. Which is 2-8 encounters per adventuring day and potentially 2-8 encounters each in-world day. So in 35 in-world days, you go from nobody to the most powerful person in the world. It's quite possible to raise a level every single game session, and generally speaking no more than every 3 game sessions at the most. Looking through the 1e adventures, recognizing that not every room is an "encounter":

      Hidden Shrine: 53
      White Plume: 27
      Hill Giant: 58
      Frost Giant: 50
      Fire Giant: 62
      Tomb: 33

      That's all I'm talking about, it takes less adventuring to gain a level. Based on 5e adventuring days, those adventures alone are theoretically worth 35 levels of advancement. I'm sure it's less than that, but it's still more than 6.

      Since 5e is designed to level out at 20th level, you're reducing the amount of play with those particular characters with the rapid advancement. Even if advancement is only twice as fast, that means you'll be playing 10 "adventures" with those characters instead of the 20 you'd have played before.
    1. Von Ether's Avatar
      Von Ether -
      I'm getting flashbacks to when 3.0 came out and people where compared how quickly peasants would reach 20th level and thus revolt and take over the world within a few years compared to a decade in older editions.

      I've had DMs, in several different editions, push the encounters to the very limits where were barely standing with single digit HP and then reap huge XP and rewards as RAW and then be at the end of our leveling at the end of a year.

      Pendragon had a wonderful solution to this. You could only adventure during the summer months. The winters being so hard as to be suicide for those who want to adventure.

      There was a spot on your character sheet for next of kin to will your belongings to because you'd often die of old age before you hit high "levels" in the game.
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by Von Ether View Post
      I'm getting flashbacks to when 3.0 came out and people where compared how quickly peasants would reach 20th level and thus revolt and take over the world within a few years compared to a decade in older editions.

      I've had DMs, in several different editions, push the encounters to the very limits where were barely standing with single digit HP and then reap huge XP and rewards as RAW and then be at the end of our leveling at the end of a year.

      Pendragon had a wonderful solution to this. You could only adventure during the summer months. The winters being so hard as to be suicide for those who want to adventure.

      There was a spot on your character sheet for next of kin to will your belongings to because you'd often die of old age before you hit high "levels" in the game.
      Pendragon had some cool ideas. I'll have to look at that again. It's been a long (long) time. I think one of the old AD&D character sheets had a place for a will too. I forgot about that.

      I actually prefer slower leveling than even AD&D RAW, but that came naturally since we didn't award XP for treasure. The two issues I have with the speed of leveling is the in-world issue (like the peasants as you mention), and also because there's always been a "sweet spot" when things work really, really well in the game.

      I'm not entirely sure where that sweet spot is in 5e, but the spells and their levels haven't changed much, and that's a big part of the sweet spot for us - so levels 3-8 are where we tend to hang around for a long time. A cleric at 9th level has raise dead, and a magic-user had teleport (in 1e). Teleportation circle is better. The next threshold for us was 11th level, when you start getting 6th level spells. Disintegrate being the main one for wizards. But I don't recall any characters getting to 11th level.
    1. S'mon -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      It's quite possible to raise a level every single game session, and generally speaking no more than every 3 game sessions at the most.
      Only ever seen "1 level per session"

      1. Playing 3e/Pathfinder Adventure Path where they pretty much power level the PCs, or else
      2. 5e at 1st & 2nd level

      I guess if you were playing 8-12 hour sessions, maybe.

      In my Sunday 5e game highest level PC (and the only PC to play up from 1st) is 14th level after 51 sessions, with 4 hours or so actual play time in a typical session. Discounting the very start she had around 12 level-ups in 48 sessions, or 1 per 4 sessions. I've seen the same sort of rates in my other 5e games. Same rate in my 4e games, and really in my Classic D&D games too - I aim for the recommended 1 in 5, but in practice there are the occasional big sessions with the big XP & treasure hauls.

      In practice, about 1.5 years of weekly play to go 1-20 looks typical, about 75 typical 4-hour sessions.
    1. S'mon -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      Since 5e is designed to level out at 20th level, you're reducing the amount of play with those particular characters with the rapid advancement.
      But 1e is only designed to be workable up to about 12th. 5e to 20th or 1e to 12th both take about 1.5 years of weekly play (1 year with a very intense campaign, maybe). At that point you have exhausted the standard content. You can continue with 5e using Epic Boons, and 1e you can still level up (if you're Human or Thief!), but the games are not really designed to handle those levels.
    1. hawkeyefan's Avatar
      hawkeyefan -
      I've found that the speed of level progression, in any edition, really is up to the individual group. There's always been enough flexibility and DM judgment involved in the XP system, that any group can make it work however they want. I don't know if you can really ever accurately compare XP across editions and gaming groups.

      For example, my group pretty much abandoned the XP system in favor of a more milestone approach way before D&D started recommending milestone leveling. Probably in the 2E days. We just found it tedious to track and award, and we had adopted a more story-oriented approach at that point, so deciding when the PCs leveled allowed a level of control that fit the story expectations.

      I think that 5E as designed has a much quicker progression overall, but I've slowed it down quite a bit. For instance, we played through the entirety of Curse of Strahd and my PCs only leveled once, from level 6 to 7. This suits the long term plans for my campaign, for which I have quite a bit planned, and I don't want the PCs to get too high level too quickly.
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