"Epic" progression after 6th level





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    "Epic" progression after 6th level

    This is the original thread. Please see the newest thread.

    Here's my house rule for advancement, which makes a game of D&D run in a rules-light, low-magic, and quick-prep kind of way, without actually making major changes to the individual rules. The classes cap out at 6th level, after which characters use experience to purchase feats, and that's all. I have playtested the system extensively with my guys, and I can say that it works as intended.

    The Rule:

    Character progression from level 1 to level 6 is as per D&D. Upon attaining 6th level, characters stop normal advancement and enter "epic" advancement, which is an experience buy system. Under the "epic" advancement, for each 5000 experience a character gains, they gain a new feat.

    The Consequences:

    1. Classic monsters (such as Chimeras and manticores) don't need to be constantly upgraded (HD advancement, monster of legend) to remain a significant threat to accomplished heroes.

    2. Forget meaningless encounters. The players can be involved in a dozen or so major combat scenarios (perhaps more than one encounter each) and have accomplished something legend-worthy. See Lord of the Rings movies, or most fantasy novels.

    3. Even legendary heroes remain mortal; while a 6th level fighter who has taken toughness several times can take on a good mob, he isn't invulnerable. The sorcerer's 6d6 fireballs are phenomenal, but not so powerful that he can destroy a village and not fear retaliation.

    4. Making large swaths of your NPC cast is easy. Make a 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 6th version of a sorcerer, and now you have a whole sorcerous school. Make a version at 6th level and tack on 5 extra feats, and you have its grandmaster. Also, the relative simplicity of low-level NPCs is preserved even as the players become epic.

    5. Reduces the cognitive workload on the DM. It's hard to know every 4th through 9th level spell out there; they're the ones we see the least. But we've all seen the 0th through 3rd level spells many, many times, and mastery over them is relatively simple. Adding to this selection, and balancing a spell to a particular level, is not difficult either.

    6. Player characters never leapfrog over your encounters (by this I mean that they don't go from pushed around by a villain to pushing him around because they detoured through a lucrative side quest).

    7. Major battles require planning, not levelling. To defeat the black dragon Zolanderos, the CR 10 terror of Staunwark Island, the heroes will need help, special resources, and information. I want to further encourage party-directed adventuring, and if the heroes want to take on something 4 to 6 CR above them, then that's what they will require.

    8. Right away, you have a low magic ruleset that everyone knows how to play.

    9. There is a need for a diverse selection of spells and feats to provide for the epic level advancement.
    Last edited by Ry; Wednesday, 27th June, 2007 at 10:25 PM. Reason: Revised version after discussions below

 

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    Interesting ideas, although my one problem would be as a player. Sure it's a lot of work to keep ideas flowing as a DM, but as a player would you really want to play in this game? I wouldn't.

    Eventually with those caps you are going to end up with characters who've easily topped out on the things they want to do and can't go any higher. This reminds me sort of the cap in 2nd edition where once you hit your racial cap in your class you couldn't go any farther. It seemed arbitrary and annoying.

    *shrugs*
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ferrix
    Eventually with those caps you are going to end up with characters who've easily topped out on the things they want to do and can't go any higher. This reminds me sort of the cap in 2nd edition where once you hit your racial cap in your class you couldn't go any farther. It seemed arbitrary and annoying.
    Maybe it's specific to my crew, but I don't think this will be a big issue for them. We've played several systems where the characters have spent a lot of time being knowingly at the height of their abilities, or where character development builds diversity rather than power. One of my players actually said this would be better for roleplaying, because once they'd "proven themselves", there was room for them to build the non-core elements of their characters.

    Also, keep in mind that with 2E racial caps, you are capped while your human friends are continuing to grow. In this system, reaching level 6 puts you among the "epic" company, and while this is a fairly large group (including powerful barons, archmages, etc.), you're not looking at more powerful people who have whizzed past you.

    To address the continuing development problem, I'm hoping to include a very large grab-bag of feats, to allow more and more diversity. While I agree that heroes will not get better and better at the tasks which are at the core of their role, it will encourage them to expand that role. Thus, I disagree that they would be "topped out in the things they want to do."

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    This is one way to accomplish this. Another is to use something more like the d20 Modern system, where the spell casters have to have a bunch of levels in other classes first.

    But, it looks like what you're going for is a more heroic and less over-the-top ruleset, and I think that if your players agree to work with you on it, you've got a good system.

    A lot of campaigns lose steam between 6th and 10th level, so if you can manage to keep things alive and well, more power to you.

    One suggestion: If your players want their characters to be involved in repeated scenarios, over a few years of play, you could either drastically lower the XP values in the XP table in the DMG (say, divide them all by 3), or you could alter the amount of XP required to advance a level. Also, if you really wanted to discourage spell casting, but were willing to give it to those who really wanted to pursue it, you could make the sorcerer's XP table even harder than everyone else's (so, by your system, they'd be finally getting their 3rd level spells at around the time everyone else is cashing in some XP for some juicy new feats).

    Dave

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    I've heard good things about the Conan d20 system for low-magic, high-hero adventures. It seems like when you eliminate magic items & spells as things that the PCs get piles of, their power level will remain more predictable.

    -- N

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ferrix
    Interesting ideas, although my one problem would be as a player. Sure it's a lot of work to keep ideas flowing as a DM, but as a player would you really want to play in this game? I wouldn't.
    Ditto.

    It's really a DM's concern. Me also I have a problem with still maintaining a coherent setting while challenging PCs over 10th level, without mentioning that running several high levels NPCs is boresome, and to design even more. Your system looks like it would solve your DM's problems. But what about players? What do they think about it?
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  • #7
    To be completely honest, I think you could skip this whole system and just slow down XP gain. You claimed you wanted to avoid mind-numbing brainwork, but it looks like all this system does is load-balancing by shifting the burden more onto the players. That's my take, anyway. It makes all feats and skills into Item Creation. I see it placing too much emphasis on "valuable" skills and feats. I wouldn't so much worry about an exploit as a flattening out of which skills and feats people choose. If you're paying through the nose for a feat or skill, are you going to buy Great Cleave or another, lesser feat like Skill Focus? It's hard enough, sometimes, to get players to choose suboptimal feats for roleplaying reasons. Making feats into the equivalent of Item Creation with XP costs will only add to that, in my opinion. Tumble and Spot are just more valuable than Appraise or Craft. There is just no getting around that, and the level cost of all skills will only heighten that distinction. It minimizes prep work, I suppose. But realistically, how long is a campaign going to run with these sorts of rules in place, anyway? I tend to limit which rules books and supplements are allowed in the game, and that minimizes the spells and magic items (many of them poorly designed) that I have to worry about as a DM. I don't tend to worry about players thinking up things I've never thought of. I encourage that sort of thinking. I like it when players come up with creative uses of spells I didn't anticipate. And sometimes, I like it when they cakewalk one of my encounters. It keeps me on my toes.

    Please note, btw, that I'm just looking at the system and thinking about it. What works for you is what works for you.

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    Interesting idea for a low-magic campaign. As a player, I don't think I'd much enjoy it without a truly great dm, but as a dm I find the idea intriguing and elegant.
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    Thanks for all the responses! My replies below:

    Quote Originally Posted by Vrecknidj

    One suggestion: If your players want their characters to be involved in repeated scenarios, over a few years of play, you could either drastically lower the XP values in the XP table in the DMG (say, divide them all by 3), or you could alter the amount of XP required to advance a level. Also, if you really wanted to discourage spell casting, but were willing to give it to those who really wanted to pursue it, you could make the sorcerer's XP table even harder than everyone else's (so, by your system, they'd be finally getting their 3rd level spells at around the time everyone else is cashing in some XP for some juicy new feats).

    Dave
    I don't really want to reduce spellcasters as an option more than this system would already. Consider what I'm taking away: the hope for that 20th level mage who can incinerate large nations if he puts decent planning into it.

    As for lowering the XP speed going from levels 1 to 6, I ran that by my players, and they responded that:
    1. They didn't want to be slowed down.
    and
    2. In my campaign (set on an island kingdom about the size of Corsica) by 6th level, progressing normally, they have accomplished something that will be known across the island. At this point, they're members of the "society of peers" that is made up of 6th-levelers (barons, powerful wizards, the king etc.) on the island. Entering "epic" levels in this milieu seems to fit what they think of as the move from up-and-coming characters to accomplished heroes. They think that's a good speed, fame, and power ratio already, and I'll defer to them on that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nifft
    I've heard good things about the Conan d20 system for low-magic, high-hero adventures. It seems like when you eliminate magic items & spells as things that the PCs get piles of, their power level will remain more predictable.

    -- N
    I'll definitely look into that system (I'll read some reviews after these replies). Just to be clear, though, predictability isn't the only issue. Do characters in Conan still advance to a point where they're pretty invulnerable to the little guys? Also, how's the workload in terms of building NPC wizards and monsters?

    Quote Originally Posted by Turanil
    But what about players? What do they think about it?
    So far, they're very enthusiastic about it. They want more gaming, and they want to continue with the same characters without ending the campaign, or having it trail off. Unfortunately, this has happened _every_ time I've run D&D, whereas I've run 3-year monster gaming epics in 2 other systems.

    But we don't want to ditch D&D. We like it, we feel we can jump into it in a more casual way, and we're nostalgic for it.

    Quote Originally Posted by molonel
    To be completely honest, I think you could skip this whole system and just slow down XP gain.
    See the response to Vrecknidj, above.

    Quote Originally Posted by molonel
    You claimed you wanted to avoid mind-numbing brainwork, but it looks like all this system does is load-balancing by shifting the burden more onto the players. That's my take, anyway. It makes all feats and skills into Item Creation. I see it placing too much emphasis on "valuable" skills and feats. I wouldn't so much worry about an exploit as a flattening out of which skills and feats people choose. If you're paying through the nose for a feat or skill, are you going to buy Great Cleave or another, lesser feat like Skill Focus? It's hard enough, sometimes, to get players to choose suboptimal feats for roleplaying reasons. Making feats into the equivalent of Item Creation with XP costs will only add to that, in my opinion. Tumble and Spot are just more valuable than Appraise or Craft. There is just no getting around that, and the level cost of all skills will only heighten that distinction.
    This is the stuff I don't understand - why are all the feats like Item Creation? I thought the problem with Item Creation was how it hurt wizard characters relative to the rest of the party. I can see how my spell purchase rules do that, but not for the rest of the system. My players seemed to think this would get them to do more role-playing purchases, since they knew they could always get another feat later.

    Now, as a related point, do you think my xp values for feat, skill, and stat purchases are set too high?

    Quote Originally Posted by molonel
    It minimizes prep work, I suppose. But realistically, how long is a campaign going to run with these sorts of rules in place, anyway?
    Again, I think I'm missing something here. Indefinitely?

    Quote Originally Posted by molonel
    I tend to limit which rules books and supplements are allowed in the game, and that minimizes the spells and magic items (many of them poorly designed) that I have to worry about as a DM.
    Hmm... I was already... doing that? We were pretty much down to PHB, DMG, and MM, but the problems were cropping up at higher levels, not because players had access to things I didn't like. Of course, when I put in this new restriction, I'll open up the splatbooks for feats and spells, because I don't want to crush their customizability. But they weren't in before.

    Quote Originally Posted by molonel
    I don't tend to worry about players thinking up things I've never thought of. I encourage that sort of thinking. I like it when players come up with creative uses of spells I didn't anticipate. And sometimes, I like it when they cakewalk one of my encounters. It keeps me on my toes.
    Yeah, this is true of me, as well. But I think we're talking past each other - I don't have any problems with players outsmarting my encounters (If I did, I'd have packed it in a long time ago). But what keeps my games from happening every weekend is the time it takes for me to provide the kind of challenges that keep _them_ on their toes, which increases dramatically in the mid-to-high level range.

    Quote Originally Posted by molonel
    Please note, btw, that I'm just looking at the system and thinking about it. What works for you is what works for you.
    Absolutely - I really want to hear these points.

    Quote Originally Posted by the Jester
    Interesting idea for a low-magic campaign. As a player, I don't think I'd much enjoy it without a truly great dm, but as a dm I find the idea intriguing and elegant.
    Thanks for the feedback. I've DMed for a long time now (well, 8 years) and I'm hoping that the smaller scale of the rules will help get me back to NPC portrayal and atmosphere. I was called a great DM for the long epic games; I'm hoping I can be a great DM for last-minute 3-hour weekend games.

    One other issue came up from a player this weekend: He's making a sorcerer built for melee combat w. reach weapons. The group doesn't seem to think this is a disastrously bad idea, because the spread between a sorc's maximum BAB and a fighter's is only +3. They seem to think that the new system encourages longer builds that make the characters more versatile, but I'm wondering whether this is going to give me a hard time. Any thoughts?

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    One other issue came up from a player this weekend: He's making a sorcerer built for melee combat w. reach weapons. The group doesn't seem to think this is a disastrously bad idea, because the spread between a sorc's maximum BAB and a fighter's is only +3. They seem to think that the new system encourages longer builds that make the characters more versatile, but I'm wondering whether this is going to give me a hard time. Any thoughts?
    No, it won't give you a hard time. The 6th level fighter has 2 attacks per round, fighter feats, twice as much hit-points, and can wear heavy armor. Having a reach weapon won't turn your sorcerer into a killing machine (at least at 6th level).
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