WotC Jeremy Crawford Interview: High level play. By Christian Hoffer

There's a couple of problems with your scenario. First, you had 8 players. Second, you had 8 players.

I just had a level 20 game and 1 PC died*, another was unconscious, several of the others were close to death at the end. PC spells included things like a meteor storm, a divine intervention and a paladin with holy avenger in the party giving everyone 1/2 damage from spells. I had planned on making the encounter a bit more difficult by having another wave, but probably good thing I didn't since it likely would have ended in a TPK. Would have been kind of a sad way to end the main campaign (we may revisit the PCs later).

*Admittedly they were revived, but that it was just luck that the cleric hadn't gone down as well and had the spell available. Perma-death has always been rare after a certain level in most D&D games.
Oh, I hear ya. Eight players is a lot. And, as usual, some did not know their characters, despite having played them for a year. But other players knew their characters very well and could squeeze every ounce of damage from them when needed. Myself, playing a warlock that refused to take damage spells could not partake in that. But he could create so much havoc. And besides, we had seven other players that could do damage. (That was my rationale for playing such a character. I mean, when was I going to have that chance again?)

And that sounds like a close call for level 20. Nice to see they still felt the danger from the encounter. I think we all strive for that as DMs. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I personally err a bit too much on the cautious side. But it has benefitted me greatly when tough encounters arise, as the players seem particularly on edge when it looks like it might not go their way.
 

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darjr

I crit!
Just make sure they aren't in meteor storm formation. :)
I ran a game for high level characters ported over from AL.

Ran them against the mountain of demon flesh from James Introcaso’s “My Fathers Monster Manual”

The 20th level mage had his simulacrum with him all setup with meteor shower, him too. The combat started six miles away. By the time they actually got to the monster one PC, one simulacrum and all meteor showers were gone.
 

darjr

I crit!
Ran an AL game and there were 4 20th level PCs. They’d been 20th level for a while. Long enough one of them was grandfathered Black Razor. Eight PCs all together.

They ignored the small crowd of intellect devourers, till one got that fighter.

He looked at me and asked “can I run him?” I knew and trusted him so I said “sure!”

He looked at his friends and said “payback time!”

In a good way.
 
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Oofta

Legend
Oh, I hear ya. Eight players is a lot. And, as usual, some did not know their characters, despite having played them for a year. But other players knew their characters very well and could squeeze every ounce of damage from them when needed. Myself, playing a warlock that refused to take damage spells could not partake in that. But he could create so much havoc. And besides, we had seven other players that could do damage. (That was my rationale for playing such a character. I mean, when was I going to have that chance again?)

And that sounds like a close call for level 20. Nice to see they still felt the danger from the encounter. I think we all strive for that as DMs. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I personally err a bit too much on the cautious side. But it has benefitted me greatly when tough encounters arise, as the players seem particularly on edge when it looks like it might not go their way.

Yeah, while we may do some small arcs with these PCs in the future, this was a final big boss fight so I wasn't holding back. Then again, my players are kind of used to being pushed to the extreme on a regular basis. Pays them back for those encounters I expected to be tough that they stomp on. :)
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
It matches my experience i play D&D since the 80's and played every iteration of the game, every editions and sub-editions OD&D-B/X-1E-2E-2.5-3E-3.5-4E and now 5E and while i often got to high level games, the vast majority of campaigns and one shots i DMed or played in 40+ years was level 1-10.

So while i like support for all level of play to some degree, i prefer to have a greater emphasis on the play level most commonly used.
 

I've run high-level games in 2E, 4E and 5E and I didn't find them particularly rewarding or engaging in the longer-term. I've played in them in 3E and it was some of the most tedious D&D I've ever played, but at least I didn't DM it (that I recall - a lot of 3E is a blur).

A lot of the problem with 2/3/5E at higher levels is spells - they're just staggeringly powerful and dominant at those levels. Not so much numbers-wise - a Fighter can still put out good single-target damage - but in terms of how they can influence what's happening in terms of the story or events, and how good they are at trivializing stuff, or how necessary certain spells can be to survive certain monsters/situations. If everyone was trivializing stuff that might work (though I think it'd still be annoying), but they aren't. It's not even all casters, much more prepared ones than known, but that's a whole other discussion. Much of the rest of the problem is the large numbers of dead levels up at that range.

4E was a lot more promising and laid out a path all the way to 30 that looked well-designed and concepted in a way no other edition has even come close to. Unfortunately 4E acquired a completely different problem, usually somewhere between level 11 and 15, which is that PCs and monsters just acquired so many Reactions, Immediate Actions, and so on (there were other kinds) that combat went from being actually faster and smoother than 3.XE to being an absolute morass of action-reaction-immediate action-reaction-to-the-immediate-action-from-a-different-person and so on. Essentials didn't fix this. PCs could just not take them, but many were extremely powerful/effective and the monsters still had them.
 


SteveC

Doing the best imitation of myself
I played one game from 1-20 very early on and haven't been back. I find this discussion interesting because I'm just about ready to start a game where we upgraded from 3.5 to 5 and we're going in at level 12. I have previously vowed never to run 3.5 at those levels, and I'll add playing it that way too. I'm excited to see if 5E can address the problems we had. It will be genuinely interesting to see how this all works out.
 

Stalker0

Legend
I played one game from 1-20 very early on and haven't been back. I find this discussion interesting because I'm just about ready to start a game where we upgraded from 3.5 to 5 and we're going in at level 12. I have previously vowed never to run 3.5 at those levels, and I'll add playing it that way too. I'm excited to see if 5E can address the problems we had. It will be genuinely interesting to see how this all works out.
I think 5e has 3 key things that make it much easier to run than 3.5 at high levels.

  • Concentration prevents the buff fests: You aren't dealing with 12 buffs like you do in 3.5. Less casting less tracking.
  • Dispel Magic autodispels magic: Dispels are actually a major major timesink in 3e. In 5e with the auto-dispelling, it streamlines this a lot.
  • Fewer high level spells per day. Ultimately there is just a lot less high level magic in a given day.
Now where 5e and 3e are similar is in the "downtime level of power". Casters still have the crazy game altering spells, and if your not on a time crunch they can still do boatloads of divinations, they can teleport around, break world economies, etc.
 

nevin

Hero
I ran a game for high level characters ported over from AL.

Ran them against the mountain of demon flesh from James Introcaso’s “My Fathers Monster Manual”

The 20th level mage had his simulacrum with him all setup with meteor shower, him too. The combat started six miles away. By the time they actually got to the monster one PC, one simulacrum and all meteor showers were gone.
Last time I ran a High level game the Drow were inside the Parties perimeter and the druid was dead before the Party realized they were in combat. High level play if the DM uses the same tools the players use gets brutal fast.
 

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