5E Avoiding High Level Play - Player or DM Preference?

Ogre Mage

Explorer
I'd say stopping the game before Tier 4 has been about 2/3 DM preference and 1/3 player preference. DMs have trouble providing balanced encounters for PCs at that level and dislike managing all the game-breaking things PCs can do in Tier 4.

But I certainly have encountered players who disliked Tier 4. In past versions of D&D, managing high level PCs practically required a spreadsheet, lol. It's too much for some people. This seems to be less of a problem in 5E, but I have had very little experience with Tier 4 play. As others have mentioned, some people just don't like playing high fantasy superheroes.

I personally have a strong preference for Tier 2 (5-10) as PC abilities at that stage have grown significant and diverse enough to keep me engaged, yet it is not hard for a DM to pull out forces which are scary to us if he or she chooses. I also enjoy Tier 3 (11-15) play. I hate Tier 1 (1-4) play because too many campaign I played in died there and never got to my preferred stage.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Invariably, in my experience, it's due to the DM running out of steam. It isn't a deliberate effort to avoid high level play; they just don't have the oomph to carry on all the way to 20. Either they bring the campaign to a planned end or it just peters out.
 

TarionzCousin

Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
In my experience most groups that do high level play are composed of people who most enjoy the storytelling element of the game and from the very beginning were motivated mainly by role-playing rather than dungeoneering and were even at low levels trying to shape political developments in their local areas. And the kind of DM who'd be attracted to that kind of campaign would be exactly the type who'd be well-suited to handle high-level play.
This is what I came here to say. 👍
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Logistics and groups falling apart after after a few sessions.

Only way we made it to high level was back in the day all of us were friends. Players left but one at a time and replaced one at a time.

Everyone needs to be fanatic as well.

Thrown together groups tend to fall apart. Inexperienced DMs, or casual players.

D&D for lyfe type players. I've had players last 17, 14, 10 years. Picked up a newb only 9 years.

Failing that you need a core group to build around. Started a new campaign with 3 new players but that's probably the first time ever.

Players getting married or having kids is often a sign you will need a new player soon.
 
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Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
When I run, I start campaigns in Tier 1. I don't advance quickly. After a few years of running, I burn out and want to take a break. That is a hard limit on any particular campaign if it hasn't wrapped up organically by then.

So I guess the issue is that I don't like too fast a rate of advancement, not an issue with high level play.
 

Flamestrike

Explorer
I find it tends to be DM 'Burnout'. Immediately following the PCs using a combination of high level abilities the DM hadnt forseen due to rarely Dming past a certain level and lacking experience.

Players advance to a level past 7th or so, and gain access to new abilities that thwart the DM's plan in ways he hadnt forseen (due to previously rage-quitting a campaign when a similar thing happened) and he then proceeds to rage-quit citing burn out.

It usually goes with the DM still creating adventures with the abilities of low level PCs in mind. A classic example is a tower with multiple levels, each level with an encounter, and special keys that must be won to advance to the next level, that the PCs have to storm to get the the BBEG, designed for mid level PCs.

The adventure starts, and the PCs disintegrate the tower, teleport to the final room, cast earthquake or rock to mud and topple it or one of a dozen other things wrecking the adventure in around 5 minutes.

I've seen it a billion times; the DM then has to resort to a lot of fiat 'that doesnt work' or 'nope' or 'anti-magic' or similar shennanigans to thwart it.

Shit escalates, and a DM rage quit happens not long afterwards.

Of course, by quitting campaigns when this stuff happens, the DM misses the experience of dealinig with high level abilities. And the reason he screwed up in his adventure design in the first place by not accounting for those abilities, is because he has no experience with them.

We've all done it as DM's. Been caught out by a newly acquired spell or ability that we hadnt factored in. Sometimes that's OK; new abilities are to be rewarded (and they themselves are rewards for defeating previous challenges); you congratulate the player and improvise. But sometimes they can derail a session, adventure or even entire campaign in major ways.

My advice to every DM is to stick with it. Keep going with the campaign. Learn what high level PCs can do. It's only after you've run a few such campaigns to high level, that you become familiar with those tricks, spells, abilities and shenanigans and can factor them into your adventure design organically.

Every DM knows how to DM low level PCs. Very few know how to DM high level PCs.
 

Nebulous

Adventurer
I'd say stopping the game before Tier 4 has been about 2/3 DM preference and 1/3 player preference. DMs have trouble providing balanced encounters for PCs at that level and dislike managing all the game-breaking things PCs can do in Tier 4.

But I certainly have encountered players who disliked Tier 4. In past versions of D&D, managing high level PCs practically required a spreadsheet, lol. It's too much for some people. This seems to be less of a problem in 5E, but I have had very little experience with Tier 4 play. As others have mentioned, some people just don't like playing high fantasy superheroes.

I personally have a strong preference for Tier 2 (5-10) as PC abilities at that stage have grown significant and diverse enough to keep me engaged, yet it is not hard for a DM to pull out forces which are scary to us if he or she chooses. I also enjoy Tier 3 (11-15) play. I hate Tier 1 (1-4) play because too many campaign I played in died there and never got to my preferred stage.
1st to 9th- as DM- are my favorite levels. Yes, even 1st, I LOVE seeing players roleplay more and think outside the box to actually solve problems when they can't rely on magic, healing and hit points to support them.

But even toward the end of Tier 2, 9th and 10th level, I find it getting harder to build balanced encounters. It takes me more and more time behind the scenes to do that, and I don't like spending my time like that. At lower levels I can throw an encounter together in my head and it just works. By 12th level, I remember telling myself more than once, "God, I hate this game."
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
Is it player preference or dungeon master preference that is ending campaigns/adventure paths before high levels?

My sense is that players really want to continue playing high level PCs, but the campaigns tend to fizzle on the DM's part. However, that is a very local observation and I'm interested in your perspective. Do players really prefer to end campaigns as their PCs near or hit 4th tier? Is the so-called 'sweet spot' of the game, 3rd-8th level (or 10th), the sweet spot for DMs and Players?
I've DMed several campaigns up to very high levels.

In BECMI, we made it into Immortals for about six months, but that game took most of high school, nearly all four years. We played some AD&D during then as well when we felt like a break.

In AD&D 1E/2E, we got up into the high teens in one game (17-19th) and over 20th in another (IIRC 24th was the highest level character).

Other 1E/2E games got to 12-15 pretty regularly.

It is actually pretty rare for my games to stop before Tier 3 (in 5E terms), and hitting Tier 4 would not be uncommon.
 

Nebulous

Adventurer
We've all done it as DM's. Been caught out by a newly acquired spell or ability that we hadnt factored in. Sometimes that's OK; new abilities are to be rewarded (and they themselves are rewards for defeating previous challenges); you congratulate the player and improvise. But sometimes they can derail a session, adventure or even entire campaign in major ways.

My advice to every DM is to stick with it. Keep going with the campaign. Learn what high level PCs can do. It's only after you've run a few such campaigns to high level, that you become familiar with those tricks, spells, abilities and shenanigans and can factor them into your adventure design organically.

Every DM knows how to DM low level PCs. Very few know how to DM high level PCs.
Yep, newly acquired class abilities and spells pop up out of the blue, really powerful stuff sometimes that you don't see coming. It can be annoying, but the players sure do love the stuff. And I've done high level, I just don't like it. My players don't like either, it removes itself from the traditional low to mid fantasy mold and skyrockets to a supers game.

I remember some years back though, there was a guy on here who was running a 20th level 4th edition campaign - a game I hated - but his story hour thread was SO utterly enthralling, exciting and deep, I was amazed how someone could actually pull that off with 4e. His talent was beyond mine, no doubt.
 

S'mon

Legend
I have kinda more had the opposite issue in that 5e is designed to go 1-20 and fairly fast, and (unlike 3e IME) plays smoothly 1 to 20. But then you are at 20 and there is not a lot of support; I am running an E20 game with the DMG Epic Boons system and it works well, but is not as satisfying as levelling up I think. And monsters - well how many times can I reskin a Kraken? :D

Also, as others have said, 5-10 remains the sweet spot in terms of the traditional adventuring experience. So I am thinking if maybe I should be looking more to an old school BX-style ethos of playing 1-10 as the adventurer levels and looking at 11-14 as 'Endgame', for politics, war and territory development. In contrast to 5e's RAW XP system this will require much slower advancement after 10th, and discouraging the notion that PCs will reach 20th.

I'm also wondering about the possibility of E10 play and having PCs stay in the 'hero not superhero' zone indefinitely. Maybe for a grittier campaign.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I have kinda more had the opposite issue in that 5e is designed to go 1-20 and fairly fast, and (unlike 3e IME) plays smoothly 1 to 20. But then you are at 20 and there is not a lot of support; I am running an E20 game with the DMG Epic Boons system and it works well, but is not as satisfying as levelling up I think. And monsters - well how many times can I reskin a Kraken? :D

Also, as others have said, 5-10 remains the sweet spot in terms of the traditional adventuring experience. So I am thinking if maybe I should be looking more to an old school BX-style ethos of playing 1-10 as the adventurer levels and looking at 11-14 as 'Endgame', for politics, war and territory development. In contrast to 5e's RAW XP system this will require much slower advancement after 10th, and discouraging the notion that PCs will reach 20th.

I'm also wondering about the possibility of E10 play and having PCs stay in the 'hero not superhero' zone indefinitely. Maybe for a grittier campaign.
I did epic in 4E and after a while the story just got weird. For me you can only ratchet up the threat level so far before you're no longer playing a standard D&D campaign. Sure for a while you're fighting demons and what not but what's next?
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
But high-level play requires a much deeper campaign setting in which players can participate in political intrigue that alters the course of the campaign world. Most DMs aren't going to be too interested in that and many who are quickly discover they're simply out of their depth trying to track the motivations, aspirations, etc of hundreds of influential NPCs and the Game of Thrones type maneuverings high level play requires.
I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case. It really depends on the players. Mine, for example. find the political stuff to be very boring and much prefer exploration and mystery. And guess what? That stuff still works really well at high levels. They’re having a blast on the new unexpected course our campaign has taken and that’s because they don’t know what’s coming next.

So I’d say, alternatively, one has to keep up the element of surprise (something I was failing at before admittedly) but now that I’m freed from an adventure path remix, I can work at surprising both my players and myself. Fun! :D
 

S'mon

Legend
I did epic in 4E and after a while the story just got weird. For me you can only ratchet up the threat level so far before you're no longer playing a standard D&D campaign. Sure for a while you're fighting demons and what not but what's next?
I ran 4e from 1 to 29, killing Orcus in the final battle. 4e was designed to have Orcus/Demogorgon/Lolth as campaign end boss at level 30. My main feeling was the Epic Tier was terribly slow, with battles edging over 3 hours at the end. Not really an issue in 5e; even running text chat online I can resolve a big E20 fight in a couple hours.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I ran 4e from 1 to 29, killing Orcus in the final battle. 4e was designed to have Orcus/Demogorgon/Lolth as campaign end boss at level 30. My main feeling was the Epic Tier was terribly slow, with battles edging over 3 hours at the end. Not really an issue in 5e; even running text chat online I can resolve a big E20 fight in a couple hours.
Speed of play was an issue at high level in 4E for us as well, it got in the way of telling a story. I find that 5E plays better at levels up to 20 (the highest I've played), although after a while we did just go to average damage for everything. Even made a charts for the guy that was bad at math to help him speed up his fighter.

Maybe it's more that I can only think of a handful of campaign threads for epic. Killing Orcus is great, but what's next? Kill Asmodeus? Start making up Arch Fey to fight?

Which may be part of the lack of high level play. If people know they're going to retire their PCs at some point, when does it make the most sense to do that. Which is going to vary by group.
 

Flamestrike

Explorer
Yep, newly acquired class abilities and spells pop up out of the blue, really powerful stuff sometimes that you don't see coming. It can be annoying, but the players sure do love the stuff. And I've done high level, I just don't like it. My players don't like either, it removes itself from the traditional low to mid fantasy mold and skyrockets to a supers game.

I remember some years back though, there was a guy on here who was running a 20th level 4th edition campaign - a game I hated - but his story hour thread was SO utterly enthralling, exciting and deep, I was amazed how someone could actually pull that off with 4e. His talent was beyond mine, no doubt.
My AoW 5E campaign went to 20th (+ several epic boons) over 4 years of weekly play. There were multiple artifacts and legendary items in play at the end.

The party could all fly (Warlock on a broom, Druid [in earth elemental form] via a magic item, Swashbuckler via paired magic swords, Cleric/ Paladin via winged boots etc) shoot bolts of energy or whatever, teleport to the planes, true Resurrection, telepathically talk to each other, and be general bad asses.

They werent door kicking bar hopping mercenaries anymore, they were literally the Avengers.

It was actually awesome.

Zero to Hero is why players play the game. Let them I say. Those are the campaigns that those players will be talking about for the rest of their lives. And that's kind of why you DM!

You've just gotta hang in there as DM to gain the experience to know what you're doing. The first few times it will be a train wreck. But dont quit in frustration; gain experience doing it and it's bloody epic when you learn how to do it right.
 

Vael

Adventurer
It'd also be helpful if there were more high level adventures. Outside of Tyranny of Dragons, which was underwhelming, are there any higher level 5e modules? How high do all the printed books go?
 

pogre

Adventurer
I have kinda more had the opposite issue in that 5e is designed to go 1-20 and fairly fast, and (unlike 3e IME) plays smoothly 1 to 20. But then you are at 20 and there is not a lot of support; I am running an E20 game with the DMG Epic Boons system and it works well, but is not as satisfying as levelling up I think. And monsters - well how many times can I reskin a Kraken? :D
That's where my campaign is heading as well. I want to keep the campaign going until the players are ready to retire their characters.

I have purchased "Epic Characters" by Marching Modron Press to extend PC levels to 30. It reads OK, but we will see how it is in play. I also purchased "Finders Keepers" by Janek Sielicki and although I will make a few changes I think it is one of the better high level adventures I have read. Again, we will see how it plays.

Has your E20 game used any published adventures you have liked or taken parts from? Have you seen any resources or used any resources for epic level monsters that you would recommend?
 

S'mon

Legend
Has your E20 game used any published adventures you have liked or taken parts from? Have you seen any resources or used any resources for epic level monsters that you would recommend?
I'm currently running Shattered Star - Dead Heart of Xin converted from Pathfinder, see Varisia: Curse of the Crimson Throne, Runelords of the Shattered Star

I convert a lot of the Pathfinder monsters myself, as well as using Tome of Beasts and Sandy Peterson's 5e Cthulu Mythos book, which has some ridiculously deadly stuff like the Flying Polyps, never mind actual Great Old Ones! Primeval Thule 5e also has some good stats for Mythos critters. But the main thing for me is converting over the PF stat block to 5e, with a few tricks like 5e AC and other DCs = (0.5 x PF AC/DC) + 5, and halving stats over 20. It's generally much quicker to convert a PF stat block to 5e than to read & understand it fully, since I ignore most PF Feats and other heavy crunch elements. I cap DCs at 30, keeping most to around 25, and I cap to-hit bonuses at +20 with most kept to around +15, or for monsters whatever derives from Proficiency Bonus + Attack Bonus. I tend to increase hp +50%, but anything from keeping as-is to +100% can work depending on the monster. Damage is generally increased +50%, except for spell damage.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
When I convert Pathfinder I look at the CR and sub in the 5E equivalent or a similar monster with similar CR.

Ad hoc any skill checks.

Currently mining the Mummy's Mask.

They also good for lifting maps, plots, NPC names etc.
 

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