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5E How viable is 5E to play at high levels?

Helldritch

Villager
To the OP.
Yes it can be done. You can make it challenging without changing the context and using creatures right out of the box. Unfortunately, you need an experienced DM to do that.

That DM will need
1) To know his players, their tactics and most of all, their magic items.

2) To have an extensive knowledge of the monsters he's going to use.

3) To have an extensive knowledge of the spells in the PHB.

4) To design adventures in such a way has to counter the 5 minutes work day. Otherwise the players will steam roll everything (or almost). 5ed is designed with multiple encounters in mind. Only one encounter isn't enough to challenge the players. You will see nova.

5) Will have to be able to adapt quickly and vary his encounters so that the players will not be able to apply a simple receipe to all encounters.

If a DM can do that, it means he has the experience needed to run a high level campaing.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
I'm happy for you, though note the complaint has never been "I am unable to challenge the PCs even when I write my own material".

The complaint has always been "I can't challenge my PCs with the guidelines given, and/or by using printed supplement as is."
No, the question was:

So I was wondering, how viable is the high level game of 5th edition D&D anyway? What kind of adventures do you reasonably play at that level without resorting to silly "you open the random dungeon door and encounter 3 adult dragons"? Are players still interested in their characters after having played them for 10 to 15 levels? Do a lot of people play at higher levels, or is restarting at low level fairly common?
and I gave an opinion on that.
 

clearstream

Explorer
I'd also like to see a return to slower advancement. I ran the numbers, a couple days ago, and to recapture the 1E rate of advancement, even assuming you got twice as many XP from gold as from monsters, you'd have to reduce XP awards for monsters by a factor of 10 and still have to multiply the XP tables for leveling by 50 or even 100. There's just too much focus on the next toy. I don't mind zipping through the first couple levels, though.
Exactly right! I've been crunching and tinkering with the Encounter XP Thresholds / Adventuring Day XP Budgets and I believe a decent fix would be to reduce the CR XP values to two-thirds or half what they are now. The alternative - increase the budgets - has the problematic side effect of accelerating level advancement.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
The idea is that any "legendary" (or epic, or solo, or whatever the label is) creature needs "three strikes" from a given spellcaster (that resets if the monster lives to take a short rest). Each time the monster fails a save against a sufficiently high-level spell, that counts as one strike. (For a low-level legendary, this might be as low as 3rd level. For monsters of the highest CR, it would be spells of 6th level or higher, the ones where you only get one per level, to reinforce the "specialness" of those).

Only spells with "strike" info counts. For instance, Fireball would not have strike info. You would not be able to cast two Fireballs against a Legendary Wyvern and then top it off with a single save or suck spell that does have strike info. This is because spells that primarily deal damage has that utility anyway.

For instance, let's invent some strike info for Forcecage:

Forcecage
7th level Bard, Warlock, Wizard Evocation strike spell
[regular info here]
1st strike: The monster visibly struggles against the invisible prison, rendering it effectively grappled.
2nd strike: The monster is losing the fight, barely being able to keep gaps in the prison open. It is restrained.
3rd strike: The spell works as described. (This part is always the same)

Strike info is ignored for regular versions of the monster.
What about keying it to how much you fail the save? Fail by 10 or more, straight to stike 3, fail by 5-9 strike 2, fail by less then 5 and it is stike one. If your not stike 3, you must make a save at the end of each turn or move down the ladder. In theory solo monsters should have better saves (I know that is not necessarily the case) and would normally fail by less on their save.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
Exactly right! I've been crunching and tinkering with the Encounter XP Thresholds / Adventuring Day XP Budgets and I believe a decent fix would be to reduce the CR XP values to two-thirds or half what they are now. The alternative - increase the budgets - has the problematic side effect of accelerating level advancement.
Or couldn't you increase the budgets and the advancement table? That is only two tables vs. changing every monster. Regardless of the approach I am in favor of this idea of adjust XP values/budgets to re-balance the expectations for encounters.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
What about keying it to how much you fail the save? Fail by 10 or more, straight to stike 3, fail by 5-9 strike 2, fail by less then 5 and it is stike one. If your not stike 3, you must make a save at the end of each turn or move down the ladder. In theory solo monsters should have better saves (I know that is not necessarily the case) and would normally fail by less on their save.
Perhaps a question best asked in a separate thread! 👍

Sent from my C6603 using EN World mobile app
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
So if there are two games, one of which manages to challenge the players right out of the box, but the other not...

... the difference is that one DM is good, the other is lazy...?? Under no circumstances could it be that the first game is simply better, more thoughtfully designed, than the other one...?!

Stop blaming the DM, Sacrosanct. Admit WotC has failed to provide enough challenge out the box this time around. You don't need to tell yourself 5E is the best thing since sliced bread to use the game. It is okay to be able to criticize the games you love.
No. I won't stop. This is extra rich coming from the guy who has done nothing but blame WotC for literally everything about 5e since it came out. Why you even play the game or post on the 5e forum is beyond me. You do nothing but complain and blame others. Every day. Every thread.

But more to the point:

a) That is not what I said at all, but it's nice to see you resort to your strawmen immediately. There are many games (since we all have different preferences). It absolutely is up to the DM to tailor their game to fit their player's preferences. It's always been that way. It has to be that way when we all want different things. And a DM who refuses to bother to do that absolutely is a lazy DM. This is not assigning how lazy a DM is by how well the game fits out of the box for them. It is about a DM refusing to put the work in make the game fun for their table. It is absolutely the DM's responsibility to challenge his or her players, especially if his or her players want something most other gamers do not because of their playstyle.

b) what is "better designed" is completely subjective, and for some reason you keep assuming your minority opinion is the one true way of what is better design. It's not.

c) WoTC didn't fail. They succeeded. Extremely well by any reasonable metric. Popularity, sales, etc.. Clearly you don't like it, but guess what? That doesn't mean they failed to provide a good game. By most accounts of the population as a whole, it's one of the best editions

d) I never said you can't criticize games. Yet another strawman because your argument holds no water. Just look at my commentary on the class satisfaction surveys a few days ago, like the sorcerer. The difference is that you do nothing but criticize not only the game, but personally attacking the developers as well.



So maybe, at some point, you will actually take ownership of your gaming preferences and stop demanding they cater to you or else they fail and are bad/lazy/whatever. I'm not holding my breath
 

Tobold

Explorer
Well, a game not working as intended out of the box for higher levels seems like a design flaw to me. Of course a DM has to tailor their game to their group all the time. But if the DM uses the encounter design rules from the book and they work from level 5 to 10, but don't give a good result from level 15 to 20, it is absolutely correct to say that the devs failed *for that specific part of the rules*.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Well, a game not working as intended out of the box for higher levels seems like a design flaw to me. Of course a DM has to tailor their game to their group all the time. But if the DM uses the encounter design rules from the book and they work from level 5 to 10, but don't give a good result from level 15 to 20, it is absolutely correct to say that the devs failed *for that specific part of the rules*.
The thing though is "working as intended" is entirely subjective. Some people don't think it does. Some people think it works just fine. "Intended" is personal. They have no ideas what your intentions are. They only know their own. And as a software analyst in my day job, the only objective way to measure something is if it's is working as they intended. So if the rules are working how the DEV team wants, then it very much is working as intended. By the definition of what that means in a professional sense, actually. I know, I use that term almost every day when I do testing. Doesn't matter if someone over there doesn't like it, or someone over here does.
 

cmad1977

Explorer
Basically if you take responsibility for the game you run it's viable.
Not necessarily easy but that's the DM life.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

clearstream

Explorer
Or couldn't you increase the budgets and the advancement table? That is only two tables vs. changing every monster. Regardless of the approach I am in favor of this idea of adjust XP values/budgets to re-balance the expectations for encounters.
Mechanically, that would work. I have a concern that the level advancement table is more visible to players than the monster CRs are. The process of levelling has a few jobs to do. It allows new players to be introduced to the mechanics a piece at a time. It gives a strong sense of progress as things that once were major threats become trivial to deal with. It validates the acquisition of new toys, so players feel like they earned them. The new toys broaden the choice of answers, allowing encounters to be (potentially) more complex. One issue I have with story or milestone XP is that for me at least it feels less well connected with what players have actually done, and thereby less validated. That doesn't make it badwrongfun, of course. Bottom line is that I'd prefer to tweak something invisible to players, than something visible to them.

Is it easier to implement? Well, with the monsters all conveniently arranged by CR - with XP values - at the back of the DMG, in theory it's easy to go that route. Unfortunately those values are now embedded in the game tools. So you're correct: right now it would be easier to tweak both the XP budgets and the level advancement thresholds. I made a start on the XP budgets in another thread.

XP Budgets Per Encounter and Adventuring Day
The table below is intended to produce a harder 5e game difficulty. It is derived from the DMG, but multiplies the sizing values there by about 1.3. It also brings together Encounter Thresholds and Adventuring Day budgets into one construct. Encounters are categorised as attritional and lethal. Both types can result in PC death, but attritional encounters are not likely to do so unless preceded by other encounters: on average characters should be able to handle 2 attritional encounters between short rests, and 6 between long rests. Lethal encounters consume more resources and may deplete the party: 1 lethal encounter = three attritional. For example, a party might overcome 3 attritional encounters before a short rest, and then face 1 lethal encounter.

To build an attritional encounter add together the budgets from the table below for each PC in your party, and then choose creatures for your encounter (applying adjustments per the DMG) until at or just over that total. To build a lethal encounter, simply double the attritional total. For example, for a party of 3 level 4 and 1 level 5 PC, the budget for an attritional encounter is 2200, doubled to 4400 for a lethal encounter. Six orcs plus an ogre should be attritional, adding a war chief pushes that up to lethal.


Level....Attritional XP/PC....Adventuring Day
1................80..............
..............480
2.......
.........160..........................960
3......
..........300.........................1800
4........
........440.........................2640
5.......
.........880.........................5280
6.......
.........1000.......................6000
7.....
...........1260.......................7560
8.........
.......1500.......................9000
9....
............1880.......................11280
10.....
.........2260.......................13560
11....
..........2640.......................15840
12..
............2880.......................17280
13....
..........3380.......................20280
14.....
.........3760.......................22560
15....
..........4500.......................27000
16.....
.........5000.......................30000
17....
..........6260.......................37560
18....
..........6760.......................40560
19..
............7500.......................45000
20...
...........10000.....................60000


I feel like this needs another rev or two before reaching good values. Then if you wanted the same rate of advancement using this table, you'd need to multiply the levelling thresholds up by the same factor. Although I believe what I would then do is restructure advancement so that middle levels took a touch longer again. Also to make numbers that were nicer to use. There's currently a discrepancy that needs removing, in that the attritional XP/PC "budgets" are really floors while the daily budget is a... well, a budget.
 
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hawkeyefan

Explorer
Looking at the published WotC adventures to date I noticed that most of them start at level 1 (or the main story starts at level 3-5, with a small adventure provided to get there from 1) and end between level 10 to 15. I don't see any adventures starting at level 10 to 15 and ending at 20. I noticed that in the RPG club I am in, people usually discard their characters at the end of the campaign at level 10 to 15, and start a new campaign at level 1.

So I was wondering, how viable is the high level game of 5th edition D&D anyway? What kind of adventures do you reasonably play at that level without resorting to silly "you open the random dungeon door and encounter 3 adult dragons"? Are players still interested in their characters after having played them for 10 to 15 levels? Do a lot of people play at higher levels, or is restarting at low level fairly common?
I think that the game can remain perfectly viable at high levels. It does require a bit more work on the part of the DM, but I don't think that's avoidable. My campaign contains a group of level 16 and 17 characters played by very experienced players, and I routinely challenge them.

It is harder to design encounters for those characters as opposed to lower level ones, but shouldn't it be?

Whether or not players will want to play up to level 20 or stop prior to that...that totally depends on their preferemce. Some players will want to ditch the characters in favor of somethig new. Others will want to continue playing their old favorites forever. My group likes to do both, so our campaign has two groups of PCs; the high level group I mentioned, which is made up of 5E versions of characters daying back to the 1E days, and a second group of PCs that they started when 5E came out.

Their advancement is very slow compared to the actual XP rules, so the 5E group is only level 10 at this point. Pretty sure that if I ran things as written they'd be very high level now, probably 19 or 20.

But that's the beauty of the game...each of us can play it how we want. It may require a bit of work to do so, but I've found such effort to be enjoyable, and it's not so great an increase to really worry about. The game is yours to do with what you'd like. Don't listen when people try and tell you that's a flaw.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
I feel like this needs another rev or two before reaching good values. Then if you wanted the same rate of advancement using this table, you'd need to multiply the levelling thresholds up by the same factor. Although I believe what I would then do is restructure advancement so that middle levels took a touch longer again. Also to make numbers that were nicer to use. There's currently a discrepancy that needs removing, in that the attritional XP/PC "budgets" are really floors while the daily budget is a... well, a budget.
Thank you for sharing. I like your line of thinking. I started looking at encounter difficulty a while back (Encounter Building: Revised XP Threshold by Character Level Table ), but I never finished it up or got to the adventuring day or XP progression. At some point I want to wrap all these ideas together into one coherent documrnt.
 

Greg Benage

Explorer
I'm happy for you, though note the complaint has never been "I am unable to challenge the PCs even when I write my own material".

The complaint has always been "I can't challenge my PCs with the guidelines given, and/or by using printed supplement as is."
Well, you're way ahead of me, in any case. I don't use the "guidelines given" for challenging my PCs and I've never been willing or able to use published adventure material as-is, at any level. So at least you're getting several levels of plug-and-play in, since it seems that's what you're looking for. I'm customizing from the jump. Woe is me.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
? Under no circumstances could it be that the first game is simply better, more thoughtfully designed, than the other one...?!.
Correct. It is OK to have a subjective preference/distaste for a game or edition, it is not OK to evaluate one objectively, as a game, nor even to acknowledge that such evaluation might be possible.
 
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happyhermit

Explorer
Well, a game not working as intended out of the box for higher levels seems like a design flaw to me. Of course a DM has to tailor their game to their group all the time. But if the DM uses the encounter design rules from the book and they work from level 5 to 10, but don't give a good result from level 15 to 20, it is absolutely correct to say that the devs failed *for that specific part of the rules*.
There are a few aspects to the problem of "encounter design" formulae that get exacerbated at higher level simply due to the nature of a game like D&D and can only be resolved by adding a host of restrictions on playstyles or by the GM adjusting the difficulty for their party. At high levels there is going to be a greater gap between; optimized and optimized parties, number and power of magic items, etc. Then we have playstyle differences which are probably the biggest factor really.

Capn Zapp has said that they GM for players that put a lot of effort into tactics, but that as the GM they don't want to do that at all. Strategy, tactics, and other playstyle differences will have a HUGE effect on the difficulty of any particular encounter, and this can become even more evident at higher levels as both sides have more resources, stats, and tools to choose from. I am sure everyone who has played for awhile is well aware that player strategy can make encounters that are impossible as "charge in and fight" scenarios can be overcome with creativity, obviously the same goes for NPCs. So an encounter formula that might work for the most basic NPC tactics/strategy and the most basic PC tactics/strategy is going to be off whenever one of those varies, this isn't really much of an issue most of the time, it's easy for the GM to just sliding scale things but at the extremes it can cause issues. Obviously we understand that necessarily if the NPCs have an incredibly strong strategy (Tucker's Kobolds or something less funny) then encounter formulae become nearly meaningless, but it is almost as bad on the other side, if the NPCs have an incredibly weak strategy.

So, I feel like I'm repeating myself but the point is (using default numbers)

"Basic NPC tactics/strategy" + "Basic PC tactics/strategy" = OK, but slightly in favour of PCs at high levels if they have any magic items, etc.
"Basic NPC tactics/strategy" + "Reasonably thought out PC tactics/strategy" = cakewalk, in many situations.
"Reasonably thought out NPC tactics/strategy" + "Reasonably thought out PC tactics/strategy" + adjustment for individual party strength = All good.
 

Jester David

Villager
It's certainly possible. The streaming web series Critical Role started with the party at around level 14 or 15 and now everyone is 18 or 19th level, and there are still challenging fights.

At high levels (10+) the encounter building and CR rules become guidelines, and at epic levels (15+) they cease to be guidelines and are more vague suggestions. (Y'know, pretty much like in 4e and 3e...)
You need to build encounters based on your groups individual strengths and weaknesses, and focus on either lots of small encounters with limits preventing rests or high damage legendary monsters. Also, you should probably just throw the expected hit points out the window and dramatically increase hp for all foes.
You probably also need to design more creatures or look for sources beyond the Monster Manual. The Tomb of Beasts by Kobold Press is a good start, and there's probably some higher level foes on the DMsGuild.

The catch is, you can't be beholden to the text in the rulebook. There is a hard choice between following the text in the books and providing a challenge for the players.
The rules set the bar for challenge low. Because they only had so much time to playtest, and running through a full 1-15+ campaign to accurately test the power levels of characters wasn't an option (given that takes months). Even if you have identical characters, there's a huge difference in effective power level between a player who has played a character for 15 levels and one who is using a pregen. Experience and knowing the best tactical choices make a huge difference. Ditto with a group that has been playing the same characters for 5 or 10 levels and knows how to synergize or work together. Teamwork simply cannot be accounted for in the rulebook.

Break out some monsters that are probably higher CR than they *should* be. Switch to milestone levels. Have more deadly encounters.
Don't be afraid to use terrain. Rooms full of poison gas or rivers of lava. Necromantic altars that radiant death. Psionic crystals that empower enemies. Etc. Enemies should not be afraid to target fallen PCs in AoE spells or even attack them outright.

-edit-
Despite the monster math being a little on the easy side for high levels, 5e is actually pretty solid for high level play. Because of the "small hand size" to use a card game term. Even high level characters can't do ridiculous numbers of things each round, being limited in their highest level abilities. Even at high levels, combats can go fairly quickly and turns pass by fast.
It's certainly the most playable edition for high level games.
 
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Jester David

Villager
Sure all editions of D&D has become wonky at high levels, but after playing the game for twenty years it has never felt so... empty... like playing a game on easy mode.
That's a little rose coloured hindsight. They completely reworked the monster math to make monsters more deadly... twice.
I remember Mike "Sly Flourish" Shea having some great articles on 4e that disagree. With his party taking down a level 20 solo brute in a single round.
Compare his version of Orcus to the one in the MM:
http://slyflourish.com/pimp_my_orcus.html

And high level 3e/Pathfinder was certainly easy mode by the book. By the end of the two PF APs I ran, in one instance the players did an entire huge dungeon (gaining a full level) without resting or breaking a sweat, and in the second I had them three levels lower than where they should be and regularly had fights chain together.


As for the rest of your post... that's nice, but it doesn't really help the OP.
 
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LordEntrails

Explorer
IMO, high level play is just fine.

But it takes a different approach. Someone else somewhere else said it really well when they said something like;
Early levels are about staying alive. Then you move to do things to help one or two others, then a town, then a region or city. By the mid-teens you are are influencing history, it's no longer about dungeon delving (though you might be in a dungeon), and by the last few levels you are challenging the world itself. What you do will make or break things. You might even kill or displace a god.

The higher level the characters, the more variables that come into play and the more careful a DM needs to be. Often that means it is harder to make a good game, it is certainly more complex and challenging.

If you think of it purely in damage per round terms, one 15th level party might be able to do 200 HP of damage in a round, another might do 800 HP. This means you have to know their party, their tactics, their resources.

It means one adventure will have trouble being a challenge to both of those two parties.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I've never had a problem building challenging encounters at any level. Yes, you need to think tactically and (as has been stated here and in other threads) you need to adjust the game to your players and the options you allow. The basic encounter guidelines seem assume no magic items, a non-optimized group, no feats. So you need to tweak them.

If you have specific issues with running the game at higher levels post them and we can give advice.

Some of the things I do
- If I don't want people to be able to teleport to safety, then teleportation is not allowed where they are (Hallowed or Forbiddance for example).
- If my monsters have a hard time hitting I either give them the effect of a Bless spell or have low-level mooks assisting. Goblins firing an arrow to do an assist and then hiding every round can make a big difference. If you care about XP budget (personally I ignore the number of opponents multiplier) you can throw in dozens of 1/4 CR monsters without upsetting the balance.
- Fighting a black dragon on it's home turf? Use Hallowed to make everyone vulnerable to acid damage.
- Getting Counterspelled constantly? Make your casters sorcerers with Subtle Spell so they can't be countered or have them casting spells from more than 60 feet away. Give them some way of hiding so they can duck into the shadows only to blast away from the darkness.
- Set up traps and environmental effects that aid the enemy.
- Have enemies come in waves.
- Be creative. Give the bad guys cannon fodder Bulette's (or purple worms, etc) that dig tunnels into the carefully defended area to launch a surprise attack from the rear.
- Don't always have the bad guys show up on a wide open plane in fireball formation.
- Don't give the PCs a break. Do the 6-8 encounters between long rests with only 1-2 short rests.
- Develop an XP budget that works to challenge your group. You may have to adjust the guidelines a bit (I keep standard for 1 group, multiply by 1.5 for another).
- One guy always hides in the back? Ambush him with enemies that flank the group now and then.

And so on and so forth. In addition, some challenges have nothing to do with battle but are ethical or strategic. A big enough army of orcs can still take out any group of PCs. Just don't have the orcs camp above ground in a known location where they can all be Meteor Stormed.

I do create custom monsters, but I do that at all levels. And, of course there's always house rules to make your life easier if that's your style.

Most of all, adjust the game to your players and have fun. Oh, and don't listen to the naysayers. Some people just live to whine. :.-(

Remember that the game is about having fun. The PCs should shine now and then, but also feel free to throw a horde of Balors at them if that's what you need to do to to challenge them.
 

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