D&D General Epic Plots that Aren't About the Planes

Reynard

Legend
I think there is a tendency to assume that high/epic level D&D characters MUST engage in planar antics in order to have something worthwhile to do, and I don't agree. First of all, planar antics are fun at any level! Second, there are lots of things to do that don't involve plane hopping for high level PCs.

As such, in this thread we will share ideas for epic level plots that don't involve the outer planes. That sentence includes all the rules for this discussion (aside from Wheaton's Law, of course.)

To start, the main plot of one of my favorite campaigns I ever ran: The Great beast of the Earth, the Progenitor Dragon, the Arch-Wyrm, has awakened and begun to call all other dragons to it. The most recent Cycle is complete. The dragons will purge civilization and the Great Beast will rule for 1000 generations before it returns to sleep and allows civilization to rise again. Unless the PCs can stop the Cycle -- but what consequences will that have?
 

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Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter

Whole campaign set on the main world of the setting as the players fight against an unspeakable evil beyond comprehension coming to destroy their world.

Does that count?
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
I ran a campaign where the god-like entity created to protect the world from extraterrestrial threats, the World Serpent, had been (inadvertently) corrupted by a power hungry mage. In order to "protect" the world from itself, it began manipulating Fate, gradually extinguishing free will. The PCs eventually learned what was going on, and they then had to decide what to do about it. In a fairly literal sense, it was them against their world.
 

jgsugden

Legend
You've got:

1.) The Awakened Threat - Cthulhu, Ancient Dragons, Primordials, etc.... can awake and need to be addressed. To me, this is a bit of a cheat as you're often bringing the Planes to the Prime to make this happen, with the threat(s) being extraplanar in origin.

2.) War - A massive war between nations can be more than a backdrop for a high level adventure - navigating the war and finding a way to end it can be a high level campaign. I ran a campaign where there was a lot of pressure building for two massive nations to go to war throughout the campaign and they finally did around the times the PCs reached 15th level. The campaign essentially ended with a massive 24 hour (real time) battle scenario taking place over 6 sessions with the actions of the PCs in this battle shaping my campaign world's entire future.

3.) Go Small - If your players are more RP focused, the high level adventures do not need to be about power, but can be entirely about story. Think about the stories where "All the Power in the World will not help you now..." I had a campaign where a Trickster God was the BBEG for the tail end of the campaign - and he used his power to make the PCs choose between saving and protecting those they cared about, or trying to stop him. They elected to save those they swore to protect. However, even in those things, the Trickster made sure the PCs would lose (or tried to do so) by making sure the threats they had to face would require personal costs. It was a more ... intimate ... and psychological end to the campaign.

4.) Time Travel - You need to prepare and think about how you want to do this, but you can send PCs to the future or past and massively change your campaign world around them to give them a world that is more dangerous and appropriate for high level play. I've sent PCs to Gamma World, the ancient era of the Primordials, and a Sci-Fi Fascist Utopia ....

5.) Deep Beneath the Earth - My campain setting's prime world is about 12 times the size of Earth - on the surface. About 100 miiles beneath the surface is a Dyson Sphere style 'Underdark Surface' that surrounds a faint Purple 'Sun'. Inside that Sun is a place that PCs have adventured that is entirely my own creation with strange rules/dynamics (essentially, designed to be 4 dimensional to appease the science freaks in the group). Anyplace isolated far from the rest of your campaign world can be really strange - which can work for high level games.
 


Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Well, yeah, at 20 that's what happened.

But the entire game was focused on stopping Y'gathok the Ceaseless Hunger. Adventures fighting against the cult and it's leaders, explorations of ancient tombs and hidden libraries to learn about it and stop it, fighting the Spawn of Y'gathok...


Whole campaign was built up around the moment where the party failed, and would have to find a way to defeat Y'gathok before it devoured the world.

Epic Levels and Epic Threats doesn't have to mean "Demons and other Outsiders" all the time, either. Could have empowered mortals and giants and stuff. Just flip open the Evil Overlord List and plot the game from there! <3


(Don't forget to check out the Cell Blocks, too!)
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I think Gary was the one who offered up planar adventures for high level play, but there are some very powerful entities that exist on the Prime Material as well. Ancient dragons are historically very terrifying opponents, who can cause problems for players outside of combat.

I'm of course talking about the old school spellcasting dragons who may have the ability to take on a humanoid form, who can advance to great status in mortal society, and thus have amazing resources and minions they can deploy, make political actions against the group, and of course, use their magic to consolidate their power base and harass the PC's over the course of a campaign, and only at the end reveal their true form!

Even though this sort of thing predates it by decades, WoW players who know the story of Lady Katrana Prestor/Onyxia have this as a classic example.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
"You have to go deal with Attila the Hun" (on up to Joseph Stalin) - somebody with an empire's worth of resources / has defenses built up over a lifetime of dedicated effort - would be what high-level adventurers do all day.

On Dark Sun, the PCs might decide to not-pay The Dragon's tribute in flesh & blood ... then they get to deal with what The Dragon keeps bound away from the known world.
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

Autistic DM (he/him)
It depends on the setting. What would be capable in Eberron for "epic plots" would be completely different from those in Spelljammer, or Dark Sun, or Ravenloft, or the Forgotten Realms. Especially since the "no going extraplanar" restriction leaves out Planescape (unless you keep it on Sigil).

The campaigns that I've done/am doing that go to "epic levels" and haven't gone extraplanar have had the following plots:
  • Dungeon of the Mad Mage: Killing Halaster Blackcloak, fighting the curse that afflicts those that journey into Undermountain, destroying the dungeon after it was animated and destroying Waterdeep
  • Homebrew Eberron Campaign: Preventing Erandis Vol from restoring the Dragonmark of Death and achieving apotheosis, trying to retrieve Cyre from the Mists of Ravenloft, using a super powerful Eldritch Machine to reform Eberron's lost moon.
  • Homebrew Spelljammer Campaign: Using time travel to stop the illithid empire from returning and conquering all of the Multiverse.
In my experience, epic campaigns require you to increase the stakes significantly from earlier adventures. Going to the Outer Planes and killing gods/archfiends is an obvious leap, but there are other options, especially for certain different campaign settings. For Eberron, you can do something with any of the non-Khorvaire continents or the Mournland. For Dark Sun, you can try to wipe out the dragon-sorcerers and try to make the world a better place. For Ravenloft, you can try to permanently change the domains of dread for the better. For most settings, you can have the party try to take on a Lich/Demilich/Death Knight, a Greatwyrm Dragon, the Aspect/Avatar of a God, the Tarrasque, or something else of epic proportion. There's a lot of powerful monsters that you can grab and say "that, I want the campaign to focus around that".
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
If Gods count as planar threat then yeah, its one of those tropes thats hard to avoid.

I’ve used War and the invasion of a savage cult be a threat, but of course cults are empowered by their faith and at epic levels the high priest is summoning extraplanar powers.

In the same adventure their were elemental-enthused Ogres worshipped as volano spirits by goblins tribes

theres Dragons and similar Kaiju
 
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A good old man v nature take

Try to stop a volcano, or an earthquake, or a dinosaur killer meteor (or deal with it after the strike). What do you do when the apocalypse comes and your sword and fireball aren't enough?
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
A good old man v nature take

Try to stop a volcano, or an earthquake, or a dinosaur killer meteor (or deal with it after the strike). What do you do when the apocalypse comes and your sword and fireball aren't enough?
Cast wish? Fly towards the meteor in your Spelljammer and cast animate objects on it (since the largest size category in the game is Huge, it should be a legal target), putting it under your control with a fly speed of 30 and send it off somewhere else? True Polymorph a bunch of people into Beholder's to disintegrate it? Or True Polymorph the meteor into a 9HD creature that is friendly to you and your companions?
 

You've got:

1.) The Awakened Threat - Cthulhu, Ancient Dragons, Primordials, etc.... can awake and need to be addressed. To me, this is a bit of a cheat as you're often bringing the Planes to the Prime to make this happen, with the threat(s) being extraplanar in origin.

2.) War - A massive war between nations can be more than a backdrop for a high level adventure - navigating the war and finding a way to end it can be a high level campaign. I ran a campaign where there was a lot of pressure building for two massive nations to go to war throughout the campaign and they finally did around the times the PCs reached 15th level. The campaign essentially ended with a massive 24 hour (real time) battle scenario taking place over 6 sessions with the actions of the PCs in this battle shaping my campaign world's entire future.

3.) Go Small - If your players are more RP focused, the high level adventures do not need to be about power, but can be entirely about story. Think about the stories where "All the Power in the World will not help you now..." I had a campaign where a Trickster God was the BBEG for the tail end of the campaign - and he used his power to make the PCs choose between saving and protecting those they cared about, or trying to stop him. They elected to save those they swore to protect. However, even in those things, the Trickster made sure the PCs would lose (or tried to do so) by making sure the threats they had to face would require personal costs. It was a more ... intimate ... and psychological end to the campaign.

4.) Time Travel - You need to prepare and think about how you want to do this, but you can send PCs to the future or past and massively change your campaign world around them to give them a world that is more dangerous and appropriate for high level play. I've sent PCs to Gamma World, the ancient era of the Primordials, and a Sci-Fi Fascist Utopia ....

5.) Deep Beneath the Earth - My campain setting's prime world is about 12 times the size of Earth - on the surface. About 100 miiles beneath the surface is a Dyson Sphere style 'Underdark Surface' that surrounds a faint Purple 'Sun'. Inside that Sun is a place that PCs have adventured that is entirely my own creation with strange rules/dynamics (essentially, designed to be 4 dimensional to appease the science freaks in the group). Anyplace isolated far from the rest of your campaign world can be really strange - which can work for high level games.
This covers pretty much every proposal I would have made, so...yeah. Five solid ideas for an "epic-level" campaign that doesn't need to have anything at all to do with the planes.
 

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