D&D 5E Dungeon Delver's Guide: High Level Play

As campaigns reach mid to high levels, characters come into their own. A vast array of rare and legendary magic items await treasure hunters. Spellcasters gain access to varied and powerful spells. High-level class abilities offer game-breaking powers.

On the other hand, at high levels, game masters find themselves with dwindling resources. There are fewer published adventures, monsters, and traps suitable for challenging high-level players.

While designing Dungeon Delver’s Guide (on Kickstarter now) I wanted to make sure that we offered tools for running higher-level dungeon adventures. Typically, GM resources start to thin out around level 10 or so and become quite sparse by level 20. Dungeons, however, should march steadily down into the earth, becoming more dangerous, terrifying, and unfamiliar as you descend. You can’t become too powerful for dungeon adventures: there’s always a deeper dungeon level to plumb and a bigger challenge to be faced.

What does a high-powered dungeon adventure even look like? In Dungeon Delver’s Guide, We’ve got lots of advice on how to deal with adventure-altering character abilities like teleportation, planar travel, and divination. Besides that, in our random dungeon generator we offer sample encounter groups for every level, ranging from speed bumps to adventure-defining confrontations. Need a minor random encounter for 16th level characters? We’ve got around 50 such encounter groups, along with appropriate minor treasure. Need a level boss to be the capstone of your 20th-level dungeon delve? We’ve got around 25 to choose from, each with a special piece of terrain or other rule to make it unique—plus forty 20th-level treasure hoards to act as rewards. Using the random generator, you could play through a half dozen dungeon-centric campaigns from level 1 to 20, and never repeat a combat encounter, treasure, or room description.

If you’d like some structure to your high-level adventuring, you can hit our premade three-level dungeons. We’ve got three adventures of level 10 or higher, with Maze of the Mountain King our highest at level 18. And our Underland locale is specifically designed for characters of at least 8th level, and is populated with combat challenges for adventurers up to level 20.

Traps are an integral part of dungeons! When building high-level dungeons, GMs can often feel stymied by a scarcity of published traps. To fill that niche, we’ve got twenty-five traps or trap variants of CR 11 or higher; a lot of them are elite traps suitable for use as memorable set-piece encounters. For instance, elite traps from CR 18 to 20 include chaos crystals, the necromantic bridge, the balor trap, the obsidian vine trap, and the floating sphere of annihilation.

Finally, you can’t outmatch powerful players without powerful monsters! Here’s our take on Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of the underworld. The cerberus guardian, a construct of bronze, iron, and stone, can serve as a sentinel for liches, princes of Hell, and anyone else powerful enough to construct it. It’s a CR 23 monster. According to Level Up encounter guidelines, that makes it a suitable encounter for adventurers of at least 16th level.

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Paul Hughes

Paul Hughes

Ramaster

Adventurer
High level content is always welcome, but in the end it's just a patch.

The sad truth is that 5e was not designed at all for high level play. I mean, it was barely designed at all, but it especially fails to address the issues that naturally come up when PCs start gaining a mountain of powerful abilities (mostly spells).
 

High level content is always welcome, but in the end it's just a patch.

The sad truth is that 5e was not designed at all for high level play. I mean, it was barely designed at all, but it especially fails to address the issues that naturally come up when PCs start gaining a mountain of powerful abilities (mostly spells).
I thought people wanted DM empowerment? I guess I was wrong to think that WOTC shouldn't empose a particular play style on people.
 


UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
I am not sure that the issues related to high level play are design related issues. I think that it is more a support and experience issue.
The experience issue is that it is difficult to keep a group and a campaign going to high levels and I have only managed it once ever.
This means that not many parties get there and because of that WoTC does not support those levels well with material. This further discourages DMs that have not played at those levels because there is little to guide them on high level play so fewer of them attempt it.

My experience is that what works at level 7 for a DM is not really workable at level 14 and even what works at level 17 will not work at level 20.
I also think that at really high level play is best done as short adventures than long campaign style play.

I also think that I need more practise at high level play.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Looking forward to seeing how you've designed for high-level play, including spells and (sub)class features, as well as how the bigger scope of high-level adventures influences dungeon design.
 

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