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"Epic" progression after 6th level

Ry

Explorer
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.
 
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Ferrix

Explorer
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*
 

Ry

Explorer
Ferrix said:
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."
 

Vrecknidj

Explorer
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
 

Nifft

Penguin Herder
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
 

Turanil

First Post
Ferrix said:
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?
 

molonel

First Post
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.
 

the Jester

Legend
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.
 

Ry

Explorer
Thanks for all the responses! My replies below:

Vrecknidj said:
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.

Nifft said:
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?

Turanil said:
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.

molonel said:
To be completely honest, I think you could skip this whole system and just slow down XP gain.

See the response to Vrecknidj, above.

molonel said:
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?

molonel said:
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?

molonel said:
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.

molonel said:
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.

molonel said:
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.

the Jester said:
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?
 

Turanil

First Post
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).
 

Tidus4444

First Post
Earlier, someone posted an idea for turning some PRCs into Prestige Feats. Maybe you can try that out with your group? The sorcerer could take Mage of the Arcane Order feats to gain access to the spellpool, or incantrix feats to increase his proficiency with metamagic (casting empowered magic missiles at level 2...). I don't think these would make your characters too much more powerful (lack of addition to BAB and caster levels), but it would give them something to grow into.
 

Ry

Explorer
Tidus4444 said:
Earlier, someone posted an idea for turning some PRCs into Prestige Feats. Maybe you can try that out with your group?

I found the post; this looks like a _great_ idea. I'm definitely going to implement something like this; I'll probably decide xp costs on a case-by-case basis, letting the players collectively gauge the value of the class feature in question against a feat.
 

molonel

First Post
rycanada said:
See the response to Vrecknidj, above.

Ah. Well, when the players and the DM are on the same page, it's hard to go TOO terribly wrong. It sounds like you're laying it all out for them, and talking about it intelligently. Since that is the case, the odds are pretty good that you and your players will discuss any issues that arise, or problems, and you will have first-hand knowledge and experience with those issues. Sounds like you've moving in the right direction, and to be quite honest, your playtesting of these proposed ideas will probably be more fruitful than anything I offer you here.

I'll offer my comments, anyway, but I think the best possible way to know will be to play it out. I hope, once you get six or eight months into your system, you post a follow-up to this thread, and let us know how it went. I'd personally be very interested to hear it, and if you don't post it, please shoot me an email at molonel@yahoo.com

I'd like to hear about it.

rycanada said:
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.

Well, again, when you and your players are on the same page, I guess that is really the best indicator.

In practice, item creation feats really don't HURT anyone, especially if you allow them to create commissioned items for NPCs at book cost. An artificer (anyone with item creation feats) effectively doubles the value of their treasure. That's a big bonus. Most players lose XP if they are killed and raised from the dead, or resurrected. Someone who is creating items loses XP, and gets paid for it. Not a bad trade-off.

The reason I compared the two was because now gaining feats and skills burns XP.

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

There are too many variables to answer that intelligently. That depends entirely on the XP they gain from combat encounters, and the rate of advancement. Playtesting will reveal more than I can say.

rycanada said:
Again, I think I'm missing something here. Indefinitely?

I didn't have QUITE as much information about how much your players are into the development of this concept. Scratch that question.

rycanada said:
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.

It really sounds like you've thought this idea, and its consequences, rather thoroughly. I've spent a little more time reading your description, and thinking it through. You have (a) legitimate design reasons for implementing it, (b) your players agree with it and understand it, and (c) it seems for all intents and purposes to work.

rycanada said:
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.

You're probably right. I think I was talking past the real issue.
 
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Ry

Explorer
Thanks, molonel, for the replies - I really appreciate you taking such a serious look at my idea. I didn't want to bog down my original post with too much gaming philosophy, so I can see why I wasn't clear at first.

I will let you know how it goes in a few months. I've got a slow story arc that will conclude with a confrontation with a CR 10 or 11 black dragon. I'll report back when that's over, along with any prestige feats we've built for the game.

One mechanical hurdle does remain, however, and that's how to account for some of the constant effect items that will be in the game. Does anyone know some way I could give a 6th-level equivalent feat that allows for the creation of 1st-7th level appropriate constant effect magic items?
 

Raven Crowking

First Post
rycanada said:
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?


Actually, I thought that your XP for feat purchase system was a great idea. Although I don't intend to run your "capped at 6th" rules, I could really see why you might consider it. A 6th level fighter clearly beats a 1st level warrior, but she isn't necessarily superhuman.

And, no, I don't think your XP costs are too high.


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?

Seems to me that one of the side-effects of your new rules is going to be that characters are going to want to do exactly what this sorcerer is doing. I don't see that as a problem. Why would it give you a hard time?

RC
 

Ry

Explorer
I was just mildly concerned that we'd lose role definition, but on further consideration

1. I don't mind that, so long as players are getting characters they want.

and

2. It actually doesn't look like it's happening.
 


S'mon

Legend
I might use this with the 'Lost City of Barakus', which is designed for 1st-5th level PCs but w XP halved. Maybe allowing XP as normal but treating 5th or 6th as Max level w Epic boosts would work well...
 


Ry

Explorer
Why would you want to remove the skill caps? My thoughts for keeping them circle around the power of available feats, and the availability of feats such as skill focus and +2/+2s for the truly dedicated. Why wouldn't these be sufficient?
 

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