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How do you expect high level play to differ from low level play in a high fantasy RPG?

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
So, as a player or as a DM, how do you expect the experience of high level play differs from low and mid level play? Is play similar but with higher numbers, do we see new abilities but they are just needed to match PCs and foes - for example flying PCs and flying foes, or do you want fundamental differences in play to the point where trying to do a high-level one-shot requires a mental shift on both the players and the DM's part.
 

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uzirath

Adventurer
In a typical high fantasy game, I expect high-level (or high-point) play to involve a different scale than low-level play. The protagonists are capable of sweeping feats of martial and magical prowess. The villains are powerful: demon lords, divine or semi-divine beings, or perhaps a legendary political ruler. Many resources can be brought to bear in terms of magical options, allies, expensive/unique gear, etc. While such a game will include exciting small-scale conflicts on the battle map, it will likely also include lots of roleplaying, politicking, and planning. The GM needs to be flexible since the PCs often will have the ability to think outside the box (in a big way). In many ways, drawing inspiration from superhero fiction is probably a good bet.

Running such a game as a one-shot can be difficult, depending on the system. It may require a lot of system mastery for players to understand the breadth of their characters' abilities. Moreover, some of the resources that a PC can bring to bear might be in the form of connections to the wider campaign setting. Alliances with powerful NPCs, knowledge of political events, and whatnot. All of this can be challenging to simulate in a one-shot.
 

HJFudge

Explorer
The impact of the players decisions and the stakes of getting it wrong are two ways I expect the narrative to differ between high level play and low level. Whilst when an adventurer starts out only a town may be at risk, and a bad decision might lead to the death of a villager or three, at high level the stakes should normally be raised to effect much more. It need not be world ending mind you but it should be felt far and wide.

From a mechanical perspective high level play should allow for more decisions at the table from an ability or Power perspective. My high level character should have access to more resources and ideally able to fight larger foes and longer battles. Whereas my low level fighter might be challenged by a single orc, my high level fighter should be able to wade through hordes of them.

To summarize. Low level should have lower stakes with fewer abilities and fewer enemies. High level play should have higher stakes with many options and many enemies
 

payn

Adventurer
I'll preface by saying my ideal game in just about any edition is level 1-10. A big part of that is how crazy 10+ can get in some editions. I just dont want to tell those stories or create game content for that level of fantasy. However, I totally get that its right for some people and think its great they have it. So if I ignore that type of game I'm not doing it from a point of view that it shouldn't exist.

That said, 5E introduced bounded accuracy and its something I've wanted out of fantasy RPG for decades. I dont like +1 to attack at level 1 and +15 to attack at level 15. I don't want high level characters to be able to kill a legion of goblins just because they are high level. I have a cognitive dissonance with the game world where these things can exist simultaneously that just doesn't work for me. So the treadmill design that been around for awhile isn't what I want low level to turn into at high level. Though, I get that its quite a contrast in feel that might be appealing to others.

I like to differentiate low and high level in a sideways progression instead. You gain more tools, skills, feats, etc for your available toolbox as you level up. At low levels you have a base set of these abilities to solve problems, which increases with level. High level characters just have plenty of options at their disposal to save the day or reach the goal. A slight increase in numerical bonuses are ok too to show the difference between levels, as long as those numbers are down to earth.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I think that 4e did a pretty good job of breaking down play expectations of low (heroic), mid (paragon), and high (epic) level of fantasy play, particularly in the context of D&D's own brand of fantasy, which has undoubtedly influenced TTRPG adventure fantasy.
 

univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
I expect turns to take longer. I expect a lot of forgetting what abilities are effecting what because there are so many ongoing effects in play. I expect save or die scenarios at the beginning of every fight. I expect that only one or two people in the party can get through the defensive of the bad guy. I expect the rogue-like character to die. I expect spell effects will make the mundane survival elements of food, rest, travel and social roles like diplomacy to be ignored because of spells, to the point we just hand wave all those elements as handled. These are not good expectations. This is just what tends to happen at high level play so I expect it. These things are much more applicable to D&D, some systems don't have this problem. Nothing like this really occurred in WFRP4E or Zweihander because there was still a chance you would get your foot lopped off and that would be the end of you in the fight.
 

Orius

Adventurer
I think there needs to be something of a shift in at least high level D&D.

Over the last few years, I've been seeing people repeat how stuff in the game tends to break down after name or 10th level. It's most pronounced with 3e, but I've seen similar arguments with classic D&D, 1e and 2e. Regardless of edition, it seems that at a certain point, nearly always around 10th level, the game has to shift focus if it's not already gradually doing that. The challenges of dungeon and wilderness adventuring stop being serious challenges at that point in the game, and it's futile to keep forcing those challenges to remain in the game.

Old school D&D basically shifted the game over to stronghold building and domain management, but that's something that's been on a decline since the days of 2e. I blame the 2e DMG for leaving out that material from the 1e DMG as well as the Expert sets (and perhaps Companion as well), and there's no good excuse here since Zeb Cook both wrote the original Expert set and was the lead designer on 2e. Possibly the focus on more narrative gaming that was all the rage at the time played a part, but I don't really know. Some OSR material has taken a look at this stuff, especially stuff inspired by the old D&D game.

However, there is a downside, and that is domain management and such doesn't always really lend itself very well to a full party and tends to be a more individualized thing. You have to set things up to be cooperative, so the fighter is in charge of the soldiers, the cleric runs his own chapel, the wizard's got a personal laboratory up in a tower or down in a dungeon, and the rogue is handling the scouts, spies and such. Even then, not all the players might want to do this, so it fragments things and makes the game harder to run anyway.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
This seems like a question specific to D&D ans similar games. It doesn't make much sense in other systems, though, because they don't have the problem of spells systems like D&D. D&D's spell system has massive jumps in ability -- you gain brand new and powerful abilities -- not just capability -- you get better at the same stuff. This often outright obviates entire classes of challenges in fell swoops, and so prompts the OP's question.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
I think high level play in 5e is far easier and less amenable to breaking than earlier editions (besides 4th). I've spent a lot of time playing and running in Tier 3 (levels 11-16), and it isn't really much different than Tier 2 (5-10). The PCs jump up in damage quite a bit, which just means you need some harder enemies. Casters only get a few 6th+ level spells to cast per day, so they aren't much better than they were at Tier 2, they simply have an occasional good trick. The biggest change is that geography will be much less of a limiting factor, assuming Wind Walk or other travel oriented spells. So if your campaign isn't prepped for some world travel or planar travel, you may need to be ready for that.
 


Campbell

Legend
In general I expect a lot more freedom of action, temporal power to go along with the personal power, less rote adventuring, and higher stakes. The big appeal to level based games to me has always been the idea that as you ascend in power your importance in the setting would also be on the upswing.
 

Y'know honestly, I've not done a ton of thinking about how it could be versus how it is.

I mean, sometimes you watch an anime and a bunch of teenagers can throw people through walls during a high school sports tournament, and the stakes are whether Yuichi will believe in himself. There's no fate of the world, but the power level is high.

Then you've got shows like The Expanse where no one ever gets any sort of exceptional fighting ability, but based on their connections and where they happen to put themselves, they have the leverage to make a difference in conflicts spanning multiple worlds.

You can have Godzilla and Kong destroying cities and possibly saving the whole world, or you can just have Kong wrestling some monsters on an island, hoping to save a tiny human he has taken a liking to. Power level and what's at stake don't have to go hand in hand.

I once ran a high-level adventure that was just some 20th level PCs trying to find a recipe for some really nice beer that happened to be in a lost brewery that became the nest of some horrific eldritch entities. The fights zipped between parallel worlds and destroyed huge swaths of the landscape, but at the end of the day the PCs just managed to achieve a personal goal.

Whatever the stakes, I simply want the rules in a high powered game to be fast. I came to loathe playing my 17th level Brawler in a Pathfinder campaign, because the efficient thing to do was make a ton of attacks and roll a ton of dice while standing put and doing nothing interesting. High level martial combat wasn't exciting. On the flip side, high-level 4e fighters could do amazing things, but the balance was borked, and in one round the PCs had debuffed Lolth the Spider Queen so hard that despite being a level 38 solo she couldn't hit a single level 30 PC, and she took damage for even bothering to try.

High power needs to be wedded with good playability.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
I've found some basic changes can help high level play a lot. Now I like the variety of abilities so that may just be a preference.

I do think the following can definitely help with old school games.
1. Severely limit scrying of all sorts. It can exist but make it limited in a variety of ways. Range for example. Locate Object, Clairvoyance, etc.. are just other forms of scrying.
2. Teleport is often too fast and easy. Make it a ten minute ritual with 2 rounds stunned upon arrival. Remove all the other downsides. You go exactly where you want to go.
 

nevin

Adventurer
So, as a player or as a DM, how do you expect the experience of high level play differs from low and mid level play? Is play similar but with higher numbers, do we see new abilities but they are just needed to match PCs and foes - for example flying PCs and flying foes, or do you want fundamental differences in play to the point where trying to do a high-level one-shot requires a mental shift on both the players and the DM's part.
I expect the players to shatter plans, drive politics, religion, and in general drive the game as much or even more than I do.

At that level I expect them to consider the world around them and the consequences of their actions.

I also expect them to roll with any DM fiat because I have yet to see a system that "feels" like high level that doesn't crack or even break if the rules aren't flexed or modified.

I basically consider my plans guaranteed to not survive contact with the players and my villains learn what the players can do and take it into account.
 

nevin

Adventurer
I think there needs to be something of a shift in at least high level D&D.

Over the last few years, I've been seeing people repeat how stuff in the game tends to break down after name or 10th level. It's most pronounced with 3e, but I've seen similar arguments with classic D&D, 1e and 2e. Regardless of edition, it seems that at a certain point, nearly always around 10th level, the game has to shift focus if it's not already gradually doing that. The challenges of dungeon and wilderness adventuring stop being serious challenges at that point in the game, and it's futile to keep forcing those challenges to remain in the game.

Old school D&D basically shifted the game over to stronghold building and domain management, but that's something that's been on a decline since the days of 2e. I blame the 2e DMG for leaving out that material from the 1e DMG as well as the Expert sets (and perhaps Companion as well), and there's no good excuse here since Zeb Cook both wrote the original Expert set and was the lead designer on 2e. Possibly the focus on more narrative gaming that was all the rage at the time played a part, but I don't really know. Some OSR material has taken a look at this stuff, especially stuff inspired by the old D&D game.

However, there is a downside, and that is domain management and such doesn't always really lend itself very well to a full party and tends to be a more individualized thing. You have to set things up to be cooperative, so the fighter is in charge of the soldiers, the cleric runs his own chapel, the wizard's got a personal laboratory up in a tower or down in a dungeon, and the rogue is handling the scouts, spies and such. Even then, not all the players might want to do this, so it fragments things and makes the game harder to run anyway.
I view all that as things that should holistically happen as the game progresses. Players should pick up followers, build fortresses,or become political players, or go build that remote wizard tower to do cutting edge research.
This does two things. One it gives players ability to feel high level, it also gives them weaknesses that can be exploited.
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
I'm not sure I can explain it very well, but I expect, in "high-level" play, for the characters/players' decisions to affect something more than themselves. They might not be the leaders of groups themselves, but they're probably involved with the world in ways that "novice" PCs aren't and as such the things they do, the opinions they express, and what is expected of them creates a different set of stakes than is mostly the case for beginning characters. Which isn't to say that characters starting out can't be leaders in a community and I've been in a very fun game based around that exact premise, but it's something that's more common and more expected when the characters are powerful.
 


Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
I don't have expectations since my D&D campaigns always ended around level 10-12 (if they don't crash before that).
 

So, as a player or as a DM, how do you expect the experience of high level play differs from low and mid level play? Is play similar but with higher numbers, do we see new abilities but they are just needed to match PCs and foes - for example flying PCs and flying foes, or do you want fundamental differences in play to the point where trying to do a high-level one-shot requires a mental shift on both the players and the DM's part.
In a class and level game...
I expect high level players to have a wider array of mechanical options to wield. I expect them to be tougher, too.

In a non-C&L game, I expect both wider and deeper skill sets.

But I like to switch games 2-4 times a year, so I can avoid high level.
 


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