L&L: The Challenges of High Level Play - Page 2
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  1. #11
    Enchanter (Lvl 12)

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    I think a lot of the posters so far on this thread are focusing too much on the issues that specific editions had with High-Level campaigns, rather than the issues that all high-level design has in common. I think Monte was going for that latter.

    Although, I'm slightly fearful that he's getting that wrong, too. I don't mind the game getting slightly more complicated as levels increase, but I certainly don't want a return to the delicate snowflake model of 3e+. Ideally, I'd like to make up 14th level PC OR a 1st level PC in about 15 minutes. I understand that as levels go up, there will be more powers/spells in effect and that play will probably have to get more complicated, but let's not add to that by making characters with too many fiddly bits to be accounted for easily.

    Also, ideally (with a possible exception for spell lists and notes) I'd like characters (of any level) to fit on one side of one piece of notebook paper. (I suppose if we get martial powers, I'll give them leeway, as well.) Those spells and powers also need to work as simply as possible. Preferably, most of them should be "short-handable" in one line. (Perhaps if you can't shorthand the power that way, it should be a ritual?)

    Of course, I'm talking about the "basic game". I would assume each module will add complexity to the character sheet. That's exactly what they're for, adding rules to fit your game. However, leave that up to the individual player/DM as appropriate. Let's start with the "sloppy-simple" and let groups work their way up. That way, each group's play can be as complicated as they need or want it, without being more complicated than necessary for them.
    Last edited by Ratskinner; Monday, 20th February, 2012 at 01:55 PM. Reason: edition war aversion

  2. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by delericho View Post
    For the first time, I don't just get a feeling of "Meh" from Legends & Lore - Monte is absolutely and fundamentally wrong, IMO. From the top....

    Actually, I've never heard this said about 1st or 2nd Edition, and barely ever about 4e.

    There are a couple of reasons for this:

    In 1st and 2nd Edition, the maths of the game fundamentally changes at 'name' level - most characters stop gaining many hit points, non-spellcasters have more or less topped out in power, and monster ACs have maxed out at -10. It's only the spellcasters who continue to see big boosts in power, and while this leads to a "spellcasters rule!" mentality, they're rare enough that I haven't seen this translate into "the game breaks". (Although, maybe it should have.)
    At least in my experience, in 1e, at higher levels fighters types were remarkably effective even compared to wizards.

    They were far more gear dependent, but a fighter with good armor and a weapon could do a lot of damage. And with a girdle of giant strength, they were downright nasty.

    Most higher level stuff had magic resistance, which often meant MUs had a 50/50 chance of even harming something.

    Thieves, not so much. They were probably the worst at high level.

  3. #13
    Defender (Lvl 8)

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    For the first time in a while I'm actually okay with this article. It has a little whiff of that dodgy "Well, if you don't like this aspect of the game that's just because it wasn't designed for you." garbage but not much. Overall the point is true (though I more and more get the impression that Monte Cook has never so much as played a single session of 4e since he nicely nailed the levels at which other editions fall apart but missed that 4e falls apart as soon as the players meet epic tier monsters).

    But what does this poll even mean? I was able to answer it well enough but I'm not sure what anyone could take from it to make meaningful design choices.

  4. #14
    I've got no issue with a lower bound of complexity--something like low-level BECMI--as some people will enjoy it, and it does serve as a good base for game options. But as others have said, any increase should be gradual and top out well shy of very complex. Then if you want to layer optional complexity on top of that, that's fine too.

    The upper bound is a simple test: If you make a game more complex than Hero System or GURPS, you'd better darn well be delivering something special in the flavor, feel, etc. Because those games alreadly, consciously, trade increased complexity up front for almost steady complexity thereafter--including smoother play. That is, the learning curve is steep, but then once you get over it, the systems run easily.

  5. #15
    I don't like how Monte conflates the different problems that high level play causes at high levels. It's true that the game changes in each edition, but in different ways.

    In 1e-3e, the balance between the characters changes dramatically, with spellcasters becoming more powerful than the other PCs. 3e also suffers from a mind-boggling number of modifiers at high level, some very slow combats and a number of scenario breaking spell combinations (scry-buff-teleport being highest among them). I had great fun with high level 3e, but everyone playing noticed the flaws.

    With 4e, the problems are pretty different. Scenario breaking powers and disparities between the classes aren't so much of a problem, but characters become increasingly complicated and unwieldy. Already slow combat becomes tedious. On top of that, 4e eliminated much of the "difference" between low and high level play. Sure, the characters are more powerful, but they are just adventurers and most of the paragon and epic level adventurers are just dungeon crawls with more elaborate set dressing. 4e changes at high level, but not enough and not in an interesting way.


  6. #16
    I think this one's trying to get at an important issue, but doesn't really nail it.

    If you think "quadratic wizards vs. linear fighters" is a "problem" that needs to be "fixed", or that there was ever something fundamentally wrong with high-level play, you probably shouldn't be playing D&D.

    OTOH, if you enjoy making character sheets for high-level 3.X casters, you have way too much free time on your hands, and there are some legitimate balance issues with high-level characters.

    At least he's got it right by positing that high-level play should be a meaningfully different experience than low-level play.

  7. #17
    what's up with the last week poll results?
    how are we suppose to know what those numbers mean? 0.o?

  8. #18
    Greater Elemental (Lvl 23)

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    I have encountered two concerns with high-level play:

    1. Because players mostly stay in the lower end of the level range, most player feedback is based on low-level play and designers focus most of their attention on improving that part of the game. The high levels remain largely unpolished and untested. As well, the desire to give out more and better options as PCs advance causes rules bloat. So you end up with a single combat round taking an hour to resolve, horrendous class imbalances, "rocket tag," et cetera. This can be fixed by more testing and design focus on the high levels. 4E made some progress here, though not enough IMO.

    2. While I think most people agree that high-level play should be different, there's a question of how it should be different. There are two models here, which I'll call the BD&D model and the 3E model.

    The BD&D model holds that the activities of the PCs should change as they advance, from dungeon crawling to wilderness adventuring to domain rulership to seeking immortality. A high-level PC in the BD&D model spends much less time as a footloose adventurer without responsibilities, and much more leading armies and conducting diplomacy and intrigues.

    The 3E model holds that PCs remain engaged in dungeon crawling from beginning to end, but the nature of the dungeons and the experience of the crawl changes dramatically. A high-level PC in the 3E model will be going on quests and battling monsters just like always, but the quests will be on distant planes where the very nature of reality is different, and the battles will look less like medieval skirmishes and more like superheroes duking it out.

    AD&D stood in between the BD&D and 3E models--there was a clear implication that high-level AD&D PCs would establish strongholds and rule domains, but there was far less support than in BD&D. Since 3E's release, the BD&D model has pretty much ceased to exist. Neither 3E nor 4E lent any support to it to speak of. I would really like to see the BD&D model revived in 5E, and the 3E model toned down.
    Last edited by Dausuul; Monday, 20th February, 2012 at 06:38 PM.

  9. #19
    ADnD 2nd edition did not break down due to some facts:

    AC was no function of level. So while you most probably had better AC at level 10 than at level 1, AC varied from +4 to -4 on level 10... (or something about that) so some monsters had AC worse than some monsters of level 2 or 3.

    A fighter┤s attack bonus (or rather thaco) was the best by far. And usually increased faster than monster AC. So he got ahead and did not only stay on par as in 4e.

    Monster and fighter magic saves increased and target numbers did not increase with caster┤s ability to cast spells.

    Some monsters had magic resistance 80% and more, so effectively you could not kill a dragon with magic if you were not lucky (and did not have those rare spells that lower resistance)

    Fighter weapon speed factors got lower, Wizards spell speed factors were usually a function of the spell level. Which usually means, that a fighter in front of you prevented you from casting any spell.

    And by all those facts i listed, the gameplay experience chanced drastically. And made fighters not meaningless.

  10. #20
    Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)

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    Hey all!

    Interesting topic raised by Monte but I think he is complicating what really just needs a simple resolution.

    An epic tier needs:
    - To support different options (like mass combat, running a country, becoming immortal, etc.)
    - To have its own enemies that 'make sense' for that tier.

    I explained all this in far greater detail six months ago.

    Article: The Ten Commandments of Epic Eternity Publishing

    Quote Originally Posted by Monte Cook
    In every single edition, when you start talking about high-level play, someone invariably says that the game breaks down after about 12th level. (Sometimes they say 10th, sometimes 8th, sometimes 15th, and so onŚthe point is the same.) This "truism" of D&D is so ingrained that it doesn't matter what edition you are talking about. So, despite the fact that high-level 4th Edition play is quite different than high-level 1st Edition play, the general commentary about how high-level play breaks down remains the same.
    3rd Edition aguably does mathmatically break down at a certain point. 4th Edition doesn't break down, although the dynamic changes (the PCs approximately double in power at the epic tier while the monsters stagnate). Once a DM understands this change they can accomodate for it.

    As a fan of high-level play across the editions, I've never agreed fully with the idea that the game breaks down. I think, however, there's some validity to it, but only if you look at it a certain way. What people are recognizing is that, at a certain level, play changes. As I see it, there are three such break points in the gameŚlow level, mid level, and high level. Fourth Edition does a nice job of recognizing these changes, I think, and the changes don't focus on how the characters become more powerful and how the challenges they face grow more difficult. Instead, the very game changes. The three tiers of the game, along with the commensurate change in character power, influence, and potential foes, makes a lot of sense.
    Actually I disagree that player influence and the potential foes make a lot of sense at the epic tier.

    Firstly, player influence hasn't really been part of the system since BECMI. Running a stronghold, running a country, leading an army, becoming immortal. All of those things have been systematically stripped from the last few editions of the game. What remains is dungeon crawling. Therefore the tiers just mean the same thing with higher math for the epic tier.

    Secondly, the majority of the potential foes you fight in the epic tier are the same darn foes you fought the previous two tiers. But the worst thing about the epic tier is that far too many monsters were shoehorned into higher tiers to 'pad it out'. What this does is completely undermine any identity for that tier.

    A game where characters run around in a dungeon and hit things with swords is arguably a completely different game than one in which they teleport from place to place and disintegrate vast hordes of enemies with artifacts. In fact, they should be different games. I think that players who appreciate the different levels of play want them to be different.
    You have just described two dungeon crawl scenaros for different tiers.

    Different levels of play need to have distinct options of play. Epic tier groups may still want to do some 'dungeon crawling' but the game also needs to accomodate mass combat, running a country, becoming a deity etc.

    (The people who say that the game breaks down at such-and-such a level are self-defining themselves as people who don't care for that style of high-level play, which is fine, of course!)
    Its fine, except when those self-same people are WotC Designers responsible for epic tier material.

    Some players like low-level, gritty, "where am I going to get two more silver pieces to afford to eat today" kinds of games. Others want to fight basilisks and save the whole town from an invasion of troglodytes. And still others want to create their own plane of existence and lay waste to planets. (And plenty want to do two or all three of these things.) Recognizing these different desires and needs allows game designers to tailor gameplay to suit them.
    The latter hasn't been recognised by the official rules for about 30 years.

    This means that, perhaps, certain activities, conditions, and effects could and should be level-based. Perhaps teleportation of any kind should be a mid- or high-level effect. Energy drain or ability damaging effects could be medium. Planar travel should be high-level. And so on.
    Seems straightforward.

    What I am really getting at here is that the level of the game affects the complexity both of the story and the mechanics. (That's not to say that a low-level story can't be deep and meaningful, but it probably doesn't involve multiple levels of reality or the nature of deities.) The level drives expectations, and I think that it behooves a designer to meet those expectations.
    If the higher tiers deliver a different playing experience then gamers won't mind a bit more complexity. Its when the game is fundamentally the same dungeon crawl at Level 30 as it was at Level 1 that people are disillusioned by the same thing with more math.

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