Tell Me About Your Experiences With High Level 5E
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  1. #1
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    Tell Me About Your Experiences With High Level 5E

    Have you played D&D 5E at high levels (say, 15+)? If so, tell me about it: about balance, about fun, about pitfalls, and about the good and the bad. While I love low level D&D, I realize I have not played high level D&D since a 3.5 fight went 8 hours without resolving about 8 years ago or so.

    Thanks!
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  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Reynard View Post
    Have you played D&D 5E at high levels (say, 15+)? If so, tell me about it: about balance, about fun, about pitfalls, and about the good and the bad. While I love low level D&D, I realize I have not played high level D&D since a 3.5 fight went 8 hours without resolving about 8 years ago or so.

    Thanks!
    Yes, I've played (GM'd) 5e up to 20th level in my Wilderlands campaign, and to 18th in my Runelords of the Shattered Star Pathfinder conversion - http://smonscurseofthecrimsonthrone.blogspot.com/

    I think it works really well, much much better than 3e/PF. 4e works well at 18-20 too (not so much at 26+), but 5e is a lot looser and less concerned with balance. We had epic duels, like Barbarian-19 Hakeem vs the enhanced super-Titan Kainos Warbringer... ...Hakeem earned his epithet 'Godslayer' that day.
    It also works well for group battles, eg the Lich Borritt Crowfinger and a small army of CR 6 Ghost Knights vs the PCs, or Mokmurian and his cohorts from 'Rise of the Runelords'.

    Generally, if a battle is going to challenge the epic Tier PCs, it will be "above and beyond Super Epic Deadly" - eg Hakeem bbn-19 beat Kainos, who had to be at least CR 25 I reckon, with twice the attacks and 5 points of AC better than a regular CR 22 MM Titan. That was a bit of a fluke, but later on Hakeem bbn-20 absolutely kerb-stomped CR 21 ancient black dragon Matriarx, it was a massacre. As long as the GM doesn't expect the 5e encounter building rules to work, and just goes with what feels right, it should be fine IME.
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  3. #3
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    The main campaign Iíve been running since the play test is now at 18th level, and so far so good! A few observations.

    CR is designed to be on the safe side for players. About 150% of Level seems to be about right at all tiers including Tier IV.

    When calculating encounter difficulty, remember to NOT use the multiplier effect for creatures less than half the CR of the party.

    Iíve found a deadly encounter tends to run 70-80 minutes and a Deadly+ (all daily encounter XP in a single fight) goes about 2 hours.

    Attunement is the most brilliant rule ever at high levels.

    Since entering Tier IV, my players enemies work actively against them and protects themselves. No matter what the players are doing there is a threat from those forces. They also know they are not ready to take those forces on directly yet.

    I also try to threaten things the players care about, rather than just their own characters, as often as possible.

    With that, I make sure the world sees them as big dang heroes when they act heroically.

    So far, my players have reported loving Tier IV, and I have slowed down the plot to allow more sessions to happen.
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  4. #4
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    Played a handful of sessions at level 20.

    Combat at was fast and could still be deadly with the right enemies and a tactical DM. Concentration and limited high level slots prevented spellcasting from being too broken and made you pick and choose your buffs, but a few key spells were still game changing. And the more limited powers and class features really kept your hand size small and manageable; you never get overwhelmed.
    Anything that blocked line of sight could shut down a lot of healing, making downed characters die easily.

    Save DCs are a pinch point. DCs increase across the board, so unless youíre proficient you have less and less chance of making a save. But you have more resources to bounce back or counter a bad save.
    Read my webcomic & blog at:
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  5. #5
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    @OB1ís experience is matching mine, weíve just entered tier IV PCs at level 16 and bringing a challenge is tricky but doable. Theyíve easily smacked down one NPC I expected to be more of a challenge, but that was my mistake. The players seem to be having fun and also want to make it last.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Reynard View Post
    Have you played D&D 5E at high levels (say, 15+)? If so, tell me about it: about balance, about fun, about pitfalls, and about the good and the bad. While I love low level D&D, I realize I have not played high level D&D since a 3.5 fight went 8 hours without resolving about 8 years ago or so.

    Thanks!
    Basically, you're on your own.

    WotC hasn't cared so little about high-level balance since... Actually I don't know if they have ever been so open about resigning high-level play.

    Prepare to have to make you own monsters; official ones are decidedly weak-sauce. And NPCs that bend and break the restrictions placed on player characters.

    Basically expect to do the job yourself. 5th edition doesn't really try above, say, level 12-14.
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  7. #7
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    I've played in and DMed campaigns that went to 20, it works just fine. You have to adjust the threat level to be appropriate to the group and depending on your style you may want to tweak monsters to increase their level maybe or look at the monstrous compendium from Kobold Press.

    I enjoy redesigning or reskinning monsters, so I never had a problem creating a challenge. I will say that I also use alternate rules (short rest is overnight, long rest is several days) so I was able to drain the party a bit more. If you don't do that high level casters can have a field day ... so be sure to send monsters in waves.

    Other than that, all the typical advice for setting up encounters still apply. Don't be afraid to throw a ton of monsters, even multiple legendary creatures for critical fights. It takes a little more prep, but in my experience works better than previous editions.
    - Oofta

    Standard Disclaimer: there is no one true way, if you and your group are having fun you're doing it right.
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  8. #8
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    Worth noting that unlike 3e & 4e, large numbers of weaker creatures can challenge high level 5e PCs.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
    Worth noting that unlike 3e & 4e, large numbers of weaker creatures can challenge high level 5e PCs.
    A main trick is to not have them all bunch up into fireball formation (or meteor storm formation I suppose). Make them come from multiple angles, use hit-and-run tactics, set up traps, etc.
    - Oofta

    Standard Disclaimer: there is no one true way, if you and your group are having fun you're doing it right.
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  10. #10
    I think 5e is the first edition of D&D where high level play is still fun to run. The system is so lean that combat still moved fast. I ran an encounter where five level 17 characters were fighting a Balor, 2 Mariliths, and several Glazebrus (or whatever they were called, haha.) There were a lot of moving parts, but it still just took a normal amount of time. I LOVE that the system doesn't slow down and become unworkable- I love telling "High level" stories, but previous editions made them a drag to run.

    That said, the amount of planning needed OUTSIDE the table was much higher. High CR creatures aren't really a match for the characters, I ended up doing a lot of homebrew to pump creatures up. (It was interesting to note that creatures that provoked saving throws remained challenging at all levels- PC saving throws still stay fairly low in the high levels.)

    Amusingly, I found that if you throw enough creatures at high level PCs to drain resources, they'll gain so much XP they may skip a level or 2, we go into milestone play rather than XP once we hit the top tier. The game doesn't seem to realize how much punishment PCs can take and dish out.

    For sure my favorite edition for high level running, though, once we're actually at the table.
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