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

S'mon

Legend
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.
Example of converted Pathfinder monster - as here, the CR generally works out 2-3 higher:

5e Monsters - Rune Giant
This giant’s skin is black and pitted, like roughly cast iron, and etched with glowing red runes.

Rune Giant CR 20

LE Gargantuan humanoid (giant)
Init +0; Senses low-light vision; Passive Perception 21

Proficiency +6

Str 30 (+10), Dex 11 (+0), Con 24 (+7), Int 14 (+2), Wis 21 (+5), Cha 18 (+4)

AC 20
hp 405
Good Saves STR +16 CON +13 INT +8 WIS +11
Immune cold, electricity, fire

OFFENSE

Speed 50 ft.
Melee Greatsword (2 attacks) +16 dam 45 slashing (crit 67 slasing on 19–20) and an SML target is Pushed back 10' and knocked prone.
Ranged Javelin +16 dam 31 piercing (crit 46 piercing/19-20) plus 21 lightning damage; range 60'/240' and a SML target is Pushed back 10' and knocked prone.
Space 20 ft.; Reach 20 ft.

Equipment: Greatsword, 2 javelins.

Special Attacks command giants, runes, spark shower
Spell-Like Abilities (Spell Save DC 18; Spell Attack +10)

At will—charm person; suggestion
3/day—mass charm monster; dominate person
1/day— true seeing; air walk

STATISTICS

Skills Athletics +16; Craft +8; Knowledge (history) +8, Knowledge (nobility) +8, Perception +11
Languages Common, Giant, Terran

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Command Giant

Giants have disadvantage on saves vs charm or compulsion effects used by rune giants.

Runes

Whenever a rune giant uses its spark shower or spell-like abilities, it can cause the runes on its body to flash with light. All creatures within 10 feet of the giant must make a DC 18 CON save or be Blinded until the end of their next turn.

Spark Shower

As an action, a rune giant can cause a shower of sparks to erupt out of one of the runes on its body. These sparks function as a 30-ft. cone; 45 fire and 45 electricity damage; DC 18 DEX save half; recharge 5-6.

Legendary Resistance 3/day: The Rune Giant can choose to pass a failed save.

Legendary Action 1/turn, max 3/round: At the end of another creature's turn the Rune Giant may make a Greatsword attack or use Spark Shower (if available).
 

akr71

Explorer
At my table it is both. Coming up with interesting plots and hooks for the players to want to play is tough. As a player, getting involved in the world and nation level politics that level 15+ adventures usually involve is tedious and less fun than "Somebody save our village!"
 

Legatus_Legionis

< BLAH HA Ha ha >
The groups I have been in, have not stayed together long enough to go from Level 1 to Level 20.

Usually, they last from 1st to 13th.

The few times we tried to start a mid-level PC game, it was only because the group wanted to do a certain module and did not want to bother with the lower level ones to get there.

But when we did do the high level ones, only a few players wanted to ROLE PLAY their characters. The rest just wanted to Hack'N'Slash with their greater HP, +weapons/to hit, etc and collected treasure.

At which stage we would end up stop doing modules, and just do random dungeon generation.

So I would say it is equal DM/Players when it comes to high level adventures.

Why waste time getting a high level module/campaign ready if the player just want to hack'n'slash?
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
A campaign should be the length of the DM's story, regardless of level. I've played a campaign that went from level 1-5 and was very satisfied with it. My first 5E campaign went to level 18, because the final enemy was Lolth, not because I wanted to run high level. I expect my current one to end somewhere around level 10-12, but I don't know for sure. One of the most annoying campaigns I played in was one that should have ended around level 8, because we finished the story the DM set forth, but they continued on (fairly aimlessly for a while) and it became like a TV show that "jumped the shark."

I think the average campaign ends not due to game related issues, but because of personal issue. DM burnout is a serious thing (one of my DM's is currently trying to finish his campaign, but I know he's burned out), and causes campaigns to peter out. Players can also get apathetic to a DM's story, especially if there's been high PC turnover (one of my games ended when the players realized that no one in the party was actually part of the events that started the campaign, and thus had no real motivation to complete it). Social issues kill games too, as real life pulls players away from game time, and when players (or even the DM) have personal issues with someone else in the group.
 

pogre

Adventurer
But when we did do the high level ones, only a few players wanted to ROLE PLAY their characters. The rest just wanted to Hack'N'Slash with their greater HP, +weapons/to hit, etc and collected treasure.

At which stage we would end up stop doing modules, and just do random dungeon generation.

So I would say it is equal DM/Players when it comes to high level adventures.

Why waste time getting a high level module/campaign ready if the player just want to hack'n'slash?
That's fair.

On the other hand, my players may just want to hack and slash but do it with some new abilities and tactical possibilities. Combat is definitely the strongest/biggest pillar in our D&D games.

Still, I agree that just throwing combat encounters at a group with a random dungeon would be a drag.
 

pogre

Adventurer
Social issues kill games too, as real life pulls players away from game time, and when players (or even the DM) have personal issues with someone else in the group.
Totally understand this. Players/group chemistry is important to keep a campaign going. People have to like playing with each other to play at high levels!for extended campaigns!

A campaign should be the length of the DM's story, regardless of level.
I hear what you are saying, but I look at it a little differently. I want to provide a campaign where players can explore their character's story. I want the players to dictate when they are done and ready to retire a character.

DM burnout is a serious thing (one of my DM's is currently trying to finish his campaign, but I know he's burned out), and causes campaigns to peter out.
No doubt. That can be even truer IME when there is less prepared material to steal from - like as is the case with current offerings.
 

Raith5

Adventurer
I think very different skillsets are required for low-level and high-level play.
I think this is key. I dont think that D&D has ever really given great direction to DMs in high level play - and I think 5e is no exception. For one thing high level play often involves players dictating the action and changing the campaign world. This requires having DMs who are both able to 'let go' of their world to some degree and also willing to push the encounter mechanics beyond the guidelines.
 

S'mon

Legend
I hear what you are saying, but I look at it a little differently. I want to provide a campaign where players can explore their character's story. I want the players to dictate when they are done and ready to retire a character.
I run both - 'open' player-directed campaigns like my Wilderlands sandbox or my current Primeval Thule game, and GM-directed campaigns with a 'story' like Red Hand of Doom, Princes of the Apocalypse & my Runelords of the Shattered Star mash-up. Both approaches can be great and both have their strengths. The open campaign has no obvious end, but sometimes it just feels 'done - at least for now' when PCs have died, achieved their goals, retired or otherwise come to the end of their personal arc.
For Primeval Thule I told my players the plan was to play weekly for one year level 1-20 then stop, echoing the setting's primary theme of transience - " Mighty cities and sprawling empires rise and fall, weaving a tale of great deeds and epic tragedies that will be lost and forgotten by the peoples who came later. Even the land itself is fated to fall beneath the numbing cloak of endless winter, burying the triumphs and defeats of this vanished age beneath miles of ice. But for this glittering moment in the slow dream of time, Thule lives!"
 

Larnievc

Explorer
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?
The group I run are knocking on 11th level for the first time in ever with wizard, druid, fighter, ranger. We’ve been playing the campaign for about a year and no one has complained about the high levelness.

I would not be so keen to continue is it was 3.5 ed, though.
 

Quartz

Explorer
High level play in 3.x was fine. Liberal use of Disjunction (but not every time) from around 12th level kept magic items in check (and allowed for churn) and the power level down. If the PCs know they will likely be hit with a Disjunction they're not going to bother buffing. Yes, the BBEGs are sensible and put Disjunction into Rings of Spell Storing and give them to lackeys so they don't run the risk of loss of spellcasting. (If memory serves I also redefined the definitions of artefact and relic to reduce the risk further.) Multi-classing helped keep the power level down too. And anyone who's read the Tales of Wyre knows how D&D can come alive at epic levels.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Is it player preference or dungeon master preference that is ending campaigns/adventure paths before high levels?
Or is it system design that discourages interest, I mean 4e had a DMG for heroic tier and paragon tier ... ie 2 and 3 but no 4th. This is not a new pattern.

I do not actually think that is so.

The tiers represent different flavors of play in a transition that is not necessarily natural to everybody especially at the rate of advancement D&D seems to present. I do not think blaming anything is actually necessary assumption.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
I hear what you are saying, but I look at it a little differently. I want to provide a campaign where players can explore their character's story. I want the players to dictate when they are done and ready to retire a character.
Ideally the DM should merge each character's story into the overall campaign as well, so that when the DM's story is complete, there shouldn't be anything left to tell. Sometimes I've had a character retire during a campaign because their story was done, and they weren't invested enough in the DM's story to continue. I wasn't necessarily done with the character, but it made the most sense for them to be done (plus it allowed me to create a new character and explore their story).
 

Ogre Mage

Explorer
I think this is key. I dont think that D&D has ever really given great direction to DMs in high level play - and I think 5e is no exception. For one thing high level play often involves players dictating the action and changing the campaign world. This requires having DMs who are both able to 'let go' of their world to some degree and also willing to push the encounter mechanics beyond the guidelines.
I was watching an episode of Web DM about high level play. They said high level D&D has become this chicken or egg first scenario where WotC's market surveys find that the majority of players prefer around Levels 1-12. As a result, most of the playtesting, focus, etc. is on getting those levels done right. Players complain high level play is unsupported, unfinished, unbalanced, etc. and they avoid it. WotC's customer surveys again come back showing preference for low to mid levels and the cycle continues. The entire episode is about 20 minutes and has some interesting ideas on how to address high level play.

Web DM on high level play in 5E
 
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ad_hoc

Adventurer
I was watching an episode of Web DM about high level play. They said high level D&D has become this chicken or egg first scenario where WotC's market surveys find that the majority of players prefer around Levels 1-12. As a result, most of the playtesting, focus, etc. is on getting those levels done right. Players complain high level play is unsupported, unfinished, unbalanced, etc. and they avoid it. WotC's customer surveys again come back showing preference for low to mid levels and the cycle continues. The entire episode is about 20 minutes and has some interesting ideas on how to address high level play.

Web DM on high level play in 5E
Even if high level play was considered to be done well we would still have the majority of people not interested in it.

It's a genre and relatability thing.
 

S'mon

Legend
It's a genre and relatability thing.
If you don't like the superhero genre then modern high level play won't have much attraction I think. There is also the power imbalance issue - certainly in 3e/PF you can very easily get one player with Dr Strange, another with Iron Man, and a couple more with Hawkeye & Black Widow. 4e & 5e tend to have a lot better PC balance - more Thor & Captain America, not Thor & Hawkeye.
 

Coroc

Explorer
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.
Can you post some of your tricks, how did you keep the challenge up on your superheroes?
 

Coroc

Explorer
Example of converted Pathfinder monster - as here, the CR generally works out 2-3 higher:

5e Monsters - Rune Giant
This giant’s skin is black and pitted, like roughly cast iron, and etched with glowing red runes.

Rune Giant CR 20

LE Gargantuan humanoid (giant)
Init +0; Senses low-light vision; Passive Perception 21

Proficiency +6

Str 30 (+10), Dex 11 (+0), Con 24 (+7), Int 14 (+2), Wis 21 (+5), Cha 18 (+4)

AC 20
hp 405
Good Saves STR +16 CON +13 INT +8 WIS +11
Immune cold, electricity, fire

OFFENSE

Speed 50 ft.
Melee Greatsword (2 attacks) +16 dam 45 slashing (crit 67 slasing on 19–20) and an SML target is Pushed back 10' and knocked prone.
Ranged Javelin +16 dam 31 piercing (crit 46 piercing/19-20) plus 21 lightning damage; range 60'/240' and a SML target is Pushed back 10' and knocked prone.
Space 20 ft.; Reach 20 ft.

Equipment: Greatsword, 2 javelins.

Special Attacks command giants, runes, spark shower
Spell-Like Abilities (Spell Save DC 18; Spell Attack +10)

At will—charm person; suggestion
3/day—mass charm monster; dominate person
1/day— true seeing; air walk

STATISTICS

Skills Athletics +16; Craft +8; Knowledge (history) +8, Knowledge (nobility) +8, Perception +11
Languages Common, Giant, Terran

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Command Giant

Giants have disadvantage on saves vs charm or compulsion effects used by rune giants.

Runes

Whenever a rune giant uses its spark shower or spell-like abilities, it can cause the runes on its body to flash with light. All creatures within 10 feet of the giant must make a DC 18 CON save or be Blinded until the end of their next turn.

Spark Shower

As an action, a rune giant can cause a shower of sparks to erupt out of one of the runes on its body. These sparks function as a 30-ft. cone; 45 fire and 45 electricity damage; DC 18 DEX save half; recharge 5-6.

Legendary Resistance 3/day: The Rune Giant can choose to pass a failed save.

Legendary Action 1/turn, max 3/round: At the end of another creature's turn the Rune Giant may make a Greatsword attack or use Spark Shower (if available).
Well this one kills 1 character per round, no? If the party does lose initiative or does not dish out the 405 damage in the first round it is resurrection time for them after the combat?
 

S'mon

Legend
Well this one kills 1 character per round, no? If the party does lose initiative or does not dish out the 405 damage in the first round it is resurrection time for them after the combat?
If the level 20 PCs are truly pathetic, I guess so!

A typical level 20 party will have either an infinite-rage Barbarian with effectively 600+ hit points, or an AC 30 Fighter or Paladin type, to tank the monster. An infinite-wildshape Druid can also tank in a pinch using eg earth elemental forms.

To kill a PC you need to take them to 0 then inflict 3 failed death saves. At level 20 this is NOT EASY, believe me! I managed it recently when an ancient spellcasting blue dragon with animate objects as a bonus action attacked the druid, who had unwisely approached it not in wildshape. It took her to 0 hp quickly, then its animated treasure hoard battered her to death before anyone could intervene. She did get Revivified after the battle by a Paladin PC though.

IME the Rune Giant I posted could be solo'd by a level 20 Barbarian - I've seen a level 19 Barbarian defeat much worse (Kainos Warbringer, an AC 27 Empyrean with 2 attacks, save or stunned on each hit) in a solo duel.
 

Coroc

Explorer
If the level 20 PCs are truly pathetic, I guess so!

A typical level 20 party will have either an infinite-rage Barbarian with effectively 600+ hit points, or an AC 30 Fighter or Paladin type, to tank the monster. An infinite-wildshape Druid can also tank in a pinch using eg earth elemental forms.

To kill a PC you need to take them to 0 then inflict 3 failed death saves. At level 20 this is NOT EASY, believe me! I managed it recently when an ancient spellcasting blue dragon with animate objects as a bonus action attacked the druid, who had unwisely approached it not in wildshape. It took her to 0 hp quickly, then its animated treasure hoard battered her to death before anyone could intervene. She did get Revivified after the battle by a Paladin PC though.

IME the Rune Giant I posted could be solo'd by a level 20 Barbarian - I've seen a level 19 Barbarian defeat much worse (Kainos Warbringer, an AC 27 Empyrean with 2 attacks, save or stunned on each hit) in a solo duel.
Ok, I get it that this guy is no challenge for a level 20 group. Still for any PC with less than 90 HP this one is deadly. Let us assume he picks the Level 15 party wizard, who got 14 Con and 95 HP.

I know, I know, a quick healer can make the wizard stand up right away out of his death saves in my example.

But massive damage inflicted e.g. a crit. on a PC down on health could still outright kill a PC.
 

S'mon

Legend
Ok, I get it that this guy is no challenge for a level 20 group. Still for any PC with less than 90 HP this one is deadly. Let us assume he picks the Level 15 party wizard, who got 14 Con and 95 HP.

I know, I know, a quick healer can make the wizard stand up right away out of his death saves in my example.

But massive damage inflicted e.g. a crit. on a PC down on health could still outright kill a PC.
Yes if the party Wiz-20 is strolling along when a Rune Giant pops up and whacks him that's bad news for the Wizard. Wizards should avoid such occurrences.

edit: with crit doing 67 damage I don't see how this could kill a level 20 pc outright, even one on 0 hp. They all have over 70 hp - I guess a CON 8 Wizard would have 62 hp. CON 10 82 hp.
 

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