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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
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.
I had fun subverting this is one campaign I'm running. All of the characters were chosen by these mask relics of the (failing) Imperium. It made the agents of the Imperium, responsible to the Child-Empress. Who sent them over (magic-nullifying) seas to a new land with the right of High Justice - they could legally try and condem a person to death, as well as having a bunch of other authority. At level 1. They quickly got involved in what would normally be "mid to high level" category things, doing what they could with diplomacy, intimidation, and the force they could bring to bear.
 

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Orius

Adventurer
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.
There's that too, and it feels more natural than a sudden gear shift at name level. In the old days though, not only was there the sudden shift later, but there was training costs earlier too, which sucked up all the gold PCs needed to find just to level.
 


Schmoe

Adventurer
I expect fewer restrictions on the types of challenges the DM can put before the players. I expect the game to pose problems without a known solution and ask the players to figure it out. I expect a much broader expanse of possibilities for the types of adventures.
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
I had fun subverting this is one campaign I'm running. All of the characters were chosen by these mask relics of the (failing) Imperium. It made the agents of the Imperium, responsible to the Child-Empress. Who sent them over (magic-nullifying) seas to a new land with the right of High Justice - they could legally try and condem a person to death, as well as having a bunch of other authority. At level 1. They quickly got involved in what would normally be "mid to high level" category things, doing what they could with diplomacy, intimidation, and the force they could bring to bear.

My own, still running, most recent experience involved a patriarchal clan where the men and particularly the male leadership was slaughtered and the female leaders were faced with decisions they weren't willing to take about the clan's survival. We played young women, hunters and herders, who had ideas of what to do and were willing to carry them out to help our kin survive and propser - which we have, even if it has been difficult and not without setbacks.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
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, . .
Care to provide an example, for those of us who aren't 4e-knowledgable?

. . . 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. . .
A good example of PC level scaling with situation level. High level play can mean that the PCs push the world around, but the world can also push back. Super hero PCs might seem pretty impressive in the "normal" world, but if they travel to, say, an elemental-ice-demiplane in which they must resist glaciers that move like falling sleet, well, they don't seem so super anymore.

I expect it to be harder to run, harder to prep for, harder to adjudicate, more time-consuming, for equal or lesser amounts of fun.
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. . .
Some games, like those with complex NPC character sheets, are going to be more time-consuming at higher levels as those sheets become less wieldy. But if "high level" just means "more chaos," then I suspect all games will suffer the problems brought up by innerdude. A GM can design a dungeon or situation with an obvious problem and a best solution, but "high level" can mean that PCs can create their own best solutions, or oftentimes PCs can use those levels to create more obvious problems.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Care to provide an example, for those of us who aren't 4e-knowledgable?


A good example of PC level scaling with situation level. High level play can mean that the PCs push the world around, but the world can also push back. Super hero PCs might seem pretty impressive in the "normal" world, but if they travel to, say, an elemental-ice-demiplane in which they must resist glaciers that move like falling sleet, well, they don't seem so super anymore.



Some games, like those with complex NPC character sheets, are going to be more time-consuming at higher levels as those sheets become less wieldy. But if "high level" just means "more chaos," then I suspect all games will suffer the problems brought up by innerdude. A GM can design a dungeon or situation with an obvious problem and a best solution, but "high level" can mean that PCs can create their own best solutions, or oftentimes PCs can use those levels to create more obvious problems.
Again, this is pretty specific to D&D (and similar systems) due to the spell capability and interoperation "features." It's lacking in other systems. Savage Worlds, for instance, ends up running into the exploding issue at higher "levels" -- challenges require exploding dice or are too easy, and that neans resolution is more random.
 

corwyn77

Explorer
One of the reasons D&D et al is not my go to game system is that D&D at different levels is not the same genre. I prefer a game where I can decide the power level of campaign and, while there is still character growth, the game style is still recognizable - GURPS, primarily, but also BESM, M&M, Hero in the past.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Whatever happens should be what makes sense based on what's come before in that campaign. It's not one thing or the other, or this or that,
I should have been more explicit - what do you expect from the system (which inludes mechanics but also thing like monster manuals and such) for high level play.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I should have been more explicit - what do you expect from the system (which inludes mechanics but also thing like monster manuals and such) for high level play.
Again, what kind of system are you talking about, here? This is general, D&D isn't the default assumption.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I should have been more explicit - what do you expect from the system (which inludes mechanics but also thing like monster manuals and such) for high level play.
I'll use D&D as the example since it's a common frame of reference. As you move into HL play I would expect more interaction with the wider world as the threats at those levels tend more often to be world shaking and the impact of the PCs on the setting is high. The higher the tier the less actual monsters are around to reasonably challenge the PCs on an X encounters per day level, so the action needs to shift somewhere. Obviously this will look different from table to table, but some mix of politics, strongholds and followers, major factions, and major exploration would be my expectation. The HL abilities of the PCs need to be met with appropriate challenges, however that's handled, but it probably won't be a steady diet of dungeon crawls, although that is possible.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Again, what kind of system are you talking about, here? This is general, D&D isn't the default assumption.
That was in the first post. High Fantasy. And leveled because that's a needed component of the description.

How do your expectations for high level high fantasy play differ from low and mid level high fantasy play.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
That was in the first post. High Fantasy. And leveled because that's a needed component of the description.

How do your expectations for high level high fantasy play differ from low and mid level high fantasy play.
High fantasy wasn't mentioned, so thanks for that. However "levels" are different in different systems, and generate very different structures of play even though they share levels. The effective differences in play are going to hinge on other system design elements rather than levels. For instance, you can level up in a game where you just earn more plusses, and that's going to look very different from a game where you get boundary breaking new abilities from spells like D&D. Which are you asking about, or are you trying to survey what different systems do? Your question in the OP is not very clear.
 

A specific thing: I expect high-level characters to be treated as important people in the setting. No matter how bad they smell, they just got done kicking a demon lord's butt in his abyssal lair - npcs should treat them like big shots.

But more broadly: high-powered characters should face high-powered threats. If you want, you should be able to build and use a network of connections to influence the world beyond killing stuff. That could go as far as building a kingdom to rule, but doesn't need to be used at all if no one's interested.
 

The combat will take two hours instead of one. ;)

Also, I do think it requires a mental shift, for both DM and players. PC's should be recognized. Maybe feared or at least pandered to. The DM has to be ready for high level shenanigans. There is no high level guard that is going to show up and stop a bar fight or stop your 20th level thief from stealing. That said, it is up to the DM to navigate places they do not want chaos with kid gloves or to just narrate over the high jinx: "Yes, you steal the king's crown. He does not notice." No roll. No fan fair. Unless of course you want them to players to revel in the chaos-sewn seeds.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Care to provide an example, for those of us who aren't 4e-knowledgable?
4e D&D has 30 levels, and it breaks up the game into three tiers of play (4e DMG, p. 146): Levels 1-10 (Heroic); Levels 11-20 (Paragon); Levels 21-30 (Epic). The game sets certain expectations about what you are (generally) facing, what you are doing, and the tools at your disposal (e.g., magic items, spells, rituals, abilities, etc.) at each tier of play.

At heroic levels, you are fighting more localized, earthbound threats (e.g., bandits, gnolls, chaos cultists, etc.). At paragon levels, you are outstanding, renowned heroes dealing with the fate of nations and possibly the world. At epic levels, you are focused on dealing with the otherworldly and extraplanar realms and working towards your epic destiny (e.g., demigod, primal avatar, archmage, etc.).
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
I think traditionally D&D has not handled rules wise the higher levels very well. I houseruled more high level things than I did low level things. It depends on the flavor of the game.

For one,
I limited the range of scrying, teleport, clairvoyance/clairaudience, and such. A lot!

There is more administration of NPCs and world events but I find the payoff is greater unlike @innerdude

My players always seem to have personal goals and the group tends to cater to those goals so everyone is helped along at advancing some agenda. I do tend to have a world that while not full of high level characters is not bereft of them either especially in larger nations and cities. So the group while almost super heroic in many ways at high levels, can't just roll over entire kingdoms without serious opposition.
 

Randomthoughts

Explorer
At heroic levels, you are fighting more localized, earthbound threats (e.g., bandits, gnolls, chaos cultists, etc.). At paragon levels, you are outstanding, renowned heroes dealing with the fate of nations and possibly the world. At epic levels, you are focused on dealing with the otherworldly and extraplanar realms and working towards your epic destiny (e.g., demigod, primal avatar, archmage, etc.).
It's been a long time I've ran an Epic-level campaign but 4e's tiers of play would be the closest template I'd follow for High Fantasy. In the ones I've planned (but never finished), I adjusted the scale a bit so that the high end is "just"
world changing (versus multi-verse). I find that scale to be a bit too much for my personal tastes. A few more expectations:
  • Very Personal. High level should be closely linked to the PCs, whether their (Epic) Destiny or backstory. The PCs should be able to make world changing contributions that can be permanent. That's why I would find using pre-made material difficult beyond inspiration (and stealing ideas for encounters).
  • Go For Broke: Everything should be on the line. The plots are world shaking and consequences and failures have a material and lasting effect on the PCs and especially the world.
  • Don't Sweat the Small Stuff: PCs shouldn't need to track mundane matters like rations, ammo, etc. I would expect PCs would have a base of operations (up to and including a kingdom or realm) and support staff to deal with trivial matters.
 

bloodtide

Explorer
I don't expect the game to be different at all in the real ways that matter, but only be different in the fluff. The game is an immersive adventure full of problem solving, no matter the "level".

At first level characters are picking simple iron locks, fighting goblin bandits, and get past a mechanical trap. At 20th level the characters are picking ethereal time locks, fighting blackball obliterators and get past a time space trap. At fist level the characters have an iron lock pic, wood club and a rock; and at 20th level they have a admantinum lock pick, a sword of sky cleaving and an hourglass of time travel.

To many players they will think they have "more options", but they really don't as it's all fundamentally the same, just with different fluff. Blocking a mechanical trap with a rock is exactly the same as blocking a time space trap by freezing it in time: both have exactly the same effecot of the trap is blocked. Though many players will then the second one is "cooler".

I have always hated the level bias. When the characters are low level ALL they can do is save a single farm from destruction as they are low level; but then when they are high level they get the "reward" of saving the kingdom or world or reality. In my view 1st level characters can save a kingdom or world or do anything else.

The fluff changes, the game is always the same.
 

pogre

Legend
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.
It is hard for me to answer without referring to a game system. In any game, I expect the scale to widen and the stakes will increase. However, my expectations are shaped by the rules. IME - expectations are very different in a zero-to-hero like D&D versus some other system like WFRP or Ars Magica. For D&D their is a mental shift, but not so much for the other games.
 

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