Review of Running Epic Tier D&D Games by Michael Shea




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    Review of Running Epic Tier D&D Games by Michael Shea

    If you are a DM, and you run a D&D campaign for a long enough period of time, there are three possible outcomes to all your hard work and effort: 1) Your Players will decide they want to try new and different characters, and will want to restart the campaign; 2) Changes in the “real lives” of one or more Players (or possibly the DM) will derail the campaign temporarily, forcing a restart - or even permanently, until a new D&D group forms up; or 3) A new edition of D&D is released that more than half the gaming group is keen to try, and there is an inevitable restart.

    In most cases, these “restarts” always seem to happen to me sometime in the early to middle teen levels.

    And from my experiences to date, those three scenarios pretty much cover every possible situation that has caused a campaign of mine to “restart” in the past three or so decades of running (or playing in) various D&D groups. And personally, I think Reason #2 is sufficiently broad enough to cover things like: graduating from high school and everyone heading off to various colleges; graduating from college and everyone heading off to start their new careers; non-gaming girlfriends and boyfriends (or even spouses) not understanding why you “waste” valuable time on a kid’s game; and the occasional row between gamers ending in the angry throwing of insults, dice, salty snacks, or - in a few sad cases - fists, thereby ending the campaign with everyone storming off in a fit of “nerd-rage”.

    But under the aegis of D&D 4th Edition - which seems to have a considerably stronger and more steady level advancement compared to previous editions - it is now possible for a Dungeon Master to find the characters in his campaign not only reaching the high “teens” in level, but actually tipping over into the rarified and heady realm of the 20’s – the domain of the EPIC TIER!

    So what is a Dungeon Master to do with a campaign that has suddenly surpassed all his previous campaigns not only in level but in raw power, with characters that possess the potential to challenge deities on their home turf? How does a DM learn to cope with characters wielding such awesome power in a new version of D&D that is just barely approaching its 3rd Anniversary?

    But not to fear, fellow DMs! For the creator of the Sly Flourish.com, Mike Shea, has managed to blaze a trail all the way out into the Epic Tier, and not only come back to tell the tale, but with plenty of tips and sage advice, now in his new book, Running Epic Tier D&D Games!

    Running Epic Tier D&D Games


    • Author: Michael E. Shea
    • Artwork: Jared von Hindman (front and back covers)
    • Publisher: Sly Flourish
    • Year: 2011
    • Media: PDF (51 pages)
    • Price: $3.99 for PDF/Epub/Kindle ($7.99 paperback from Lulu.com)


    Running Epic Tier D&D Games is a collection of tips, tricks, and advice from Sly Flourish.com blogger Michael Shea on how to create, maintain, and effectively run an Epic Tier campaign for D&D 4th Edition characters. The book includes advice on all steps of setting up an Epic Tier campaign from designing encounters to dealing with the awesome abilities of Level 21 and over characters, and even includes ideas on creating Epic one-shot games.

    Production Quality

    The production quality of Running Epic Tier D&D Games is average to good, with a simple text layout which makes it easy to print, or read from a PC, laptop, or portable reader. The PDF version comes bundled with three different file formats – large print PDF, small print PDF, and .epub format to make it easily accessible no matter how you choose to peruse this collection of DM tips.

    The cover artwork by Jared von Hindman is always a chuckle-worthy treat to behold, and the depiction of a pack of Epic Tier characters triumphant over a dead Orcus, complete with great big X’s over the demon lord’s eyes, is utterly fitting for the content of a book like this one.

    The Tips

    Regretfully, when reviewing a book like Running Epic Tier D&D Games, a reviewer has a rather unenviable task of not giving away the content of the book while explaining what actually is the contents of the book! After all, if one reveals too many of the books secrets for running an Epic Tier campaign, you would hardly want to go out and buy it even if it is a really good book…

    And from the get-go, I have to tell you, if you are a DM you should want to go out and buy this book, because there is some really, REALLY good advice in here!

    Running Epic Tier D&D Games opens with a simple three line quote that screams to be on a tee-shirt someday:
    Be kind to them at Heroic
    Be even-handed at Paragon
    Be a bastard at Epic
    Now on face value, this quote would seem to suggest that over the course of play, the author is recommending that a Dungeon Master should metamorphose from a gentle and even-handed game master to a ruthless killer DM by the time the characters reach by the Epic Tier at Level 21! But really, Running Epic Tier D&D Games suggests that becoming a “bastard” DM is really evolving into one capable of a certain “ruthlessness in the spirit of fun” in order to present an exciting and diverse challenge to potent player-characters – and remember that Epic Tier characters can typically dish out upwards of 200-300 points of damage each, in a single round!

    The author does an excellent job of first explaining, in cold hard facts, just what sorts of challenges the powers and defenses of Epic Tier characters are going to present to any Dungeon Master sitting with only a flimsy cardboard screen as protection against the demigods arrayed around the gaming table. And for every awesome power or potent defense, the author offers a counter, describing several ways to tweak monsters and encounters in order to allow the characters to feel the rush of nigh omnipotence, and still be challenged at the same time – no easy feat given the level of play involved here!

    And along with the tips, the author also presents a scenario suggestion, drawing on monsters found in the Monster Manuals, with ideas on how simple changes to their powers can make them a potent and serious threat to Level 21 and up characters. There are also some great ideas on how to use skill challenges to increase threat and challenge without necessarily increasing the number of monsters. And environmental effects seem to play an ever increasing role in providing challenge in Epic Tier encounters, and there are plenty of great examples how to use hazards and terrain effects to build suspense and threat without bogging down the pace of game play.

    In addition to tips on making challenging encounters for Epic Tier play, there is also some great advice for speeding up combats, and on how to make both DMs and players to run their monsters and characters more efficiently, despite having considerably more powers to choose from. In fact, some of these tips would work even at Heroic and Paragon Tiers to make fights faster, but it is clear that with the awesome number of powers whizzing about an Epic battlefield, greater care and organization is needed to ensure the fight does not drag on all night!

    Running Epic Tier D&D Games also takes a look at ways to wrap up an Epic Tier campaign, and several ways it might end – or possibly not end at all. And there is a great suggestion on how to organize and run a short, one-shot, Epic Tier adventure for your players which gives them a taste of things to come, but also gives a DM experience on what might be in store for them in the upper reaches of a 4E D&D game.

    Overall Grade: A-

    Conclusions

    Although this book presents its contents in a fairly no-frills format, I would have to consider Running Epic Tier D&D Games a must-have for any serious D&D 4E Dungeon Master to read and refer to as they advance their campaigns from Heroic to Paragon and into the Epic Tier.

    The author’s writing style is fresh and enthusiastic about the material presented, and his exuberance for the topic at hand is practically contagious, and will make you want to run out and try your hand at an Epic Tier game by the time you’ve read the last page!

    Even though its main focus is Epic Tier play, there are still plenty of tips which are readly applicable to lower Tiers of D&D campaigning. And at such a modest price, there is no excuse not to have a copy of Running Epic Tier D&D Games on your virtual bookshelf of sagely DM tomes.

    So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

    Editor’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.

    Grade Card
    • Presentation: A-
    • - Design: B+
    • - Illustrations: A
    • Content: A-
    • - Crunch: A-
    • - Fluff: A-
    • Value: A
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    I may have to pick this up. Thanks for the review.
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    Hi there!

    I bought this last week and I thought it was very good indeed. Cannot fault the content one iota.

    My only problem with the pdf was the layout. The main font is absolutely humongous...then again I suppose you could say it was meant to be an 'epic' font.

    But seriously, the font is far too big. Not a problem for a pdf of course, where you can scale the size of the text at will. But coupled with massive guttering you are getting maybe 150 words per page (compared to say a typical RPG book where an average page might have 750 words). Throw in large areas of whitespace and if you wanted to print out the pdf you would burn about 30-40 pages more than you should have to.

    I'd have like to have seen a smaller font (maybe half the size), a 2 column layout, with maybe a 2/3rd to 1/3rd split between them. With the second column used for the examples.

    But other than the font/layout, this is a flawless work and a must for anyone seeking to run an Epic tier campaign.

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    On PDF Design

    Figuring out exactly what font size to use for different platforms is always tricky. I wanted the larger PDF to still be readable on tablet devices so I chose a larger font for that version. I might take a look at doing a more traditional two-column version with a smaller font like other RPG products to see how it comes out.

    It's always tricky to figure out the best format for a PDF. Since PDFs don't scale very well depending on what screen you might be looking at it on, you don't have the flexibility that you have with a format like ePub.

    Thanks for your feedback and thanks to Neuroglyph for the review!

    Mike Shea
    Slyflourish.com: Building the Better 4e Dungeon Master.
    twitter.com/slyflourish: 4e DM tips daily!

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    This product is pure gold.
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    Hi Mike!

    Quote Originally Posted by mshea
    Figuring out exactly what font size to use for different platforms is always tricky. I wanted the larger PDF to still be readable on tablet devices so I chose a larger font for that version. I might take a look at doing a more traditional two-column version with a smaller font like other RPG products to see how it comes out.
    I thought that was the point of you doing two versions, that one would be for tablets and the other would be the standard pdf (and thus print version). I actually wanted to print this out but the font was so big it just put me off. Remember that when viewing a pdf, you can make the text any size you want with a click, so theres no reason not to make it 9 or 10 point for the main text.

    It's always tricky to figure out the best format for a PDF. Since PDFs don't scale very well depending on what screen you might be looking at it on, you don't have the flexibility that you have with a format like ePub.
    I have always found pdfs easily scalable, you just click on the viewing size and away you go.

    Thanks for your feedback and thanks to Neuroglyph for the review!
    Mike its a fantastic product, I'll review it on my website soon (give me a week or two) and give it a glowing review there...though I may have to dock you a point for layout.

    Also, just wanted to say your website is great too...I dread to think what you have spent on Dwarven Forge though mate.

    I recently did a revision of Orcus on my website (link below this) and at the time I didn't know you had already reworked him on yours, otherwise I'd just have shepherded people to your website...although I like what I did with the Orcusword.

    Anyway, all the best and keep up the good work.

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