D&D 5E No One Plays High Level?

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I have found this to be true across the years. I have never heard players talking about how fast they are levelling or how quickly they advance. This seems to be almost an entirely DM concern. And I get it, because a lot of the time DMs have issues running at higher levels. The campaign I'm in right now (sorry for bringing this up again) transitioned from 3.5 where the group threatened to rage quit, to 5E where we just finished a chapter and people had a really good time.

I'm not the biggest fan of 5E but now that I've played it at high levels (we did level 12-14) I find that it runs perfectly fine. And I was happy to play it at those levels. For what it's worth, the DM switched to using Milestone advancement, so we kept a decent place based on the in game things we did.
I’ve heard it come up with Adventurer’s League, but there the rate of advancement really can be high, which is why they give you an option to slow your own advancement.
 

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Distracted DM

Distracted DM
Supporter
I have found this to be true across the years. I have never heard players talking about how fast they are levelling or how quickly they advance. This seems to be almost an entirely DM concern. And I get it, because a lot of the time DMs have issues running at higher levels. The campaign I'm in right now (sorry for bringing this up again) transitioned from 3.5 where the group threatened to rage quit, to 5E where we just finished a chapter and people had a really good time.

I'm not the biggest fan of 5E but now that I've played it at high levels (we did level 12-14) I find that it runs perfectly fine. And I was happy to play it at those levels. For what it's worth, the DM switched to using Milestone advancement, so we kept a decent place based on the in game things we did.
To be clear, you mean you've never heard players complain about leveling quickly, right? Because I've had plenty of players that want to level up, get xp etc. and playfully chide myself or other GMs with "have we leveled yet?"

I've run multiple 5e campaigns to levels 18+, but I wouldn't consider 12-14 "high level."
5e isn't BAD at high levels (I guess I'd call 15+ "high level"), it can certainly be more prone to slogging but it's usually because players accrue more power (magic items, features, spells, etc) and the stakes are more pronounced, so they take longer to make sure they're making the right moves during combat.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
5e's play loop is very simple. Go on difficult adventure, claim rewards. Where this can break down is the reward/challenge ratio. A DM might say "man, they keep taking on challenges and winning without any real problem. I better not reward them too much."

A player in the same campaign might say "I don't get it, it's been five sessions since we leveled last, some of these fights are really tough, we almost died last time! And all we have to show for it is more gold that we can't really use for anything!".

It's a communication breakdown. For the player, they want more out of the adventure. For the DM, they feel the player hasn't "earned" a reward that comes in the form of a "power boost"- after all, if the players get stronger, then the challenges have to go up a notch!

This can create a negative feedback loop in of itself- but it causes friction because the player and DM expectations don't line up.

Now before anyone says anything, yes, the adventure itself can be a reward, however, this requires a narrative that's more interesting than "grueling fights" or difficult puzzles, a trap a lot of adventures can fall into. Many forms of D&D, including 5e, are designed around whittling away at the party, making them less effective. However, the narrative design of most adventures have the difficulty escalate until there is a climactic "boss battle". Thus you can end up in a situation where the party is at their weakest when the challenge is at it's highest.

In video game design, this can lead to "rage quit", especially if the player's reward for defeating a given challenge is the knowledge that they get to do it again next adventure, without the benefit of additional levers or bigger numbers.

But of course, every time the player gets additional levers or bigger numbers, the difficulty spikes. In an ideal circumstance, this leads to parity. If the DM gets the balance wrong, however, they risk a TPK or for an adventure to be a "cakewalk".

And if the players do end up above the curve, the DM's options are limited- more enemies. bigger foes. And D&D characters don't tend to scale in a linear fashion, making this problematic- every few levels, a character might get a huge power up in the form of a new high level ability or spells on a completely new level of power.

And this is apparently by design- the game wants the players to feel stronger and to win. Death has always been treated as a failure state, and a lot of text has been applied to discussions of how the "treadmill effect" is also undesirable as it's not very much fun.

So what to do? It's something a lot of DM's have had to wrestle with. Obviously, the first step is for the play group to sit down and discuss their expectations. And to occasionally compare notes. It's perfectly possible for someone's viewpoint to be skewed.

Compare the following statements about the same campaign-

"You guys keep making my monsters useless! You totally killed my boss monster before he could even use all of his cool powers!"

"Those cool powers could have murdered us! Besides, it's not like you don't have more monsters you can use next time!"

Neither of these statements need be untrue, and in fact, they probably are both equally true. And yet, there's obviously a disconnect here, since the DM and the players are very much in an "us vs. them" mentality, the plague of D&D. For the game to work, both the DM and the players should be working towards the same ultimate goal- to make a satisfying campaign.

The DM needs to consider alternative ways to challenge the party, and the players need to consider alternative rewards for playing. Maybe it's not about beating all the monsters, but more about saving an NPC. And maybe saving that NPC gives the party a patron who can assist them down the road and offer them ways to get the things they really want!

"My friends, welcome to my home! Please, rest, enjoy yourselves. Noble Paladin, I've heard rumors of a lost holy sword, and I've gathered information and supplies if you wish to attempt to claim it..."
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I have multiclassed for story reasons before, but you are correct it is stat-limited. It is generall a lot easier if you roll abilities though. That said I was talking about feats

It is very easy to tie 5E feats into story elements, things like Fey Touched, Shadow Touched, Eldritch Adept, the Dragon feats all have specific story elements already baked-in and many others like Magic Initiate, Chef, Skulker, Observant, Actor etc all have some implied story elements. And the thing is you can take them all whenever the story dictates it.
I wasn't saying that there aren't any feats in 5e that can be taken for story reasons. Only that the selection is piss poor when compared to 3e and it's millions of feats. Lack of feat diversity hurts this style of play. It doesn't kill it entirely.
IME is a lot easier to do this in 5E than 3E. You mention how hard it is to multiclass in 5E - if you multiclass in 3E at a high level you lose xps. If you take 2 1 level dips now you are down 40% and the prestige classes are not an answer as they all have prerequisites, again meaning you have to start "bulding the story" long before the story happens.
Most of the time I saw players choose races that complimented their choice of class. That meant that very often the class chosen was favored, so the first multiclass, regardless of level, didn't give you any penalty since favored class(es) don't count. Or you take Additional Favored Class as a feat. See page 100 of the UA. Sure the latter had to be approves, but I doubt many DMs would gainsay that choice.
For example: Your good Elf Fighter is 7th level and after going through the Shadowfell, wants to incorporate that into his character and turn him into a sneaky magic assassin type. You can't take the Assassin prestige class because you aren't evil. There is the Shadowdancer prestige class, which fits perfectly, but you don't have any of the feat or skill prerequisites and you don't have a single point in hide or move silently ..... you could multiclass into Rogue to start building them, but then there is a 20% XP penalty and without bounded accuracy it is going to be 4 levels or so before you are any good at it, completely derailing your character and THEN after you get those prereqs you can start building into the shadowdancer prestige class.

Meanwhile the 7th level 5E Fighter just takes Ranger at the very next level, picks up stealth expertise and overnight goes from being below average in stealth to being a master at stealth. One level and he is already over halfway there! At Ranger 3 he has the Gloomstalker subclass, at Ranger 4 the skulker feat and then back to Fighter 8 and the Shadow Touched feat. He immediately changes his character at the next level and grows into the new vision over a few levels.
Or...

1. See if the DM will grant you the Shade template.
2. Take a level or levels of the Ninja class. And then add in a prestige class in a few levels when you qualify.
3. Or level(s) of Scout. And then add a prestige class in a few levels when you qualify.
4. Or Spellthief if you want more magic stuff sooner.
5. Take the Spectral Skirmisher feat.
6. Or go one of the Tome of Battle classes and take shadow maneuvers, feats, and stances. Possibly prestige classes later on.
7. Or...

You also mention above that the 5e PC can work towards the new vision over levels. That applied to 3e as well, only there were infinitely more ways to work towards your vision. 5e is extraordinarily limited and you often have to settle for something that is kinda sorta close. See your ranger example which has nothing to do with assassin. You have to get ranger abilities that don't fit your vision in order to get the stealth that does. 3e didn't have that flaw. You could work towards just about any vision without settling for stuff that doesn't fit the vision.
 

ECMO3

Hero
Most of the time, if I cast Web, the melee either blunder into it on purpose or even light it on fire, all to get at the bad guys. The idea that it's meant to give us some breathing room apparently does not compute in their brains.

Heck, one time, I cast Hypnotic Pattern, and someone deliberately attacked an enemy affected by it! When I asked, "why would you do that?", he made some lame excuse like "my character has no idea what your spell does", even though I told the whole group when my Sorcerer learned it!

I wonder if I'm the only one who has ever had these problems when trying to use control spells...

I've experienced them, but not routinely as bad as you cite here.

The worst I have had is we were getting really low on hit points, looking for somewhere to short rest and entered a dead-end room with 6 wraiths. Wraith 1 went, Wraith 2 went, both attacked the fighter, fighter attacked one of the ones on him, another wraith went and attacked the fightrer. Cleric ran up front and turned ALL 6 of them. Ok so we can whittle them down one at a time right? Nope. Ranger on his turn shoots arrows at one that had not gone yet and then Wizard casts shatter on all but one of them. That one that remained turned goes to run away from the fighter and he attacks him with an AOO. I was like "really guys?"
 

ECMO3

Hero
I wasn't saying that there aren't any feats in 5e that can be taken for story reasons. Only that the selection is piss poor when compared to 3e and it's millions of feats. Lack of feat diversity hurts this style of play. It doesn't kill it entirely.

Not really, if you are talking about feats for story reasons that you did not consider at all in your first say 10 levels. There are not millions of feats that are not traps in 3E.

There are lots and lots of feats yes, but if I get to 10th level and decide my story needs to go a certain way that I did not consider at all before now, I am taking a weak 1st level type feat to do that if I haven't prepared with the prerequisites and giving up on more power-apporpriate feats. Building a character to the story in 3E is essentially a trap.

Most of the time I saw players choose races that complimented their choice of class. That meant that very often the class chosen was favored, so the first multiclass, regardless of level, didn't give you any penalty since favored class(es) don't count. Or you take Additional Favored Class as a feat.

Those are all really weak options that don't pan out most of the time. If you are saying classes should be tied to races you are eliminating some 80% of the combinations and driving characters on narrow builds.



1. See if the DM will grant you the Shade template

Why should I have to see if the DM will let me do something? This is the point, the rules let me do it in 5E.

2. Take a level or levels of the Ninja class.
And take an XP penalty

And then add in a prestige class in a few levels when you qualify.

Many levels later

3. Or level(s) of Scout.

With an XP penalty. I can take scout with no penalty in 5E.
4. Or Spellthief if you want more magic stuff sooner.

With an XP penalty. I can take Arcane Trickster with no penalty in 5E

5. Take the Spectral Skirmisher feat.

Which would be useless on your fighter without a way to turn invisible.

6. Or go one of the Tome of Battle classes and take shadow maneuvers, feats, and stances.

Now you have things that work well with stealth ..... and you still suck at stealth ..... and not just mediocre, you really suck bad.

Possibly prestige classes later on.

Yeah after you have taken 10 more levels of fighter and managed to boost hide and move silently enough to access the PCs that you want ..... while being a pretty poor fighter.



You also mention above that the 5e PC can work towards the new vision over levels. That applied to 3e as well, only there were infinitely more ways to work towards your vision.

Not ones that were viable. Well over 90% including, including every one of the examples you mention above is a trap option that will make you one of the weakest players at the table and will generally take more levels to make progress and get where you want to go.

5e is extraordinarily limited and you often have to settle for something that is kinda sorta close.

Almost never I don't think. Very few feats in 5E have any prerequisites.

See your ranger example which has nothing to do with assassin. You have to get ranger abilities that don't fit your vision in order to get the stealth that does.

What are you talking about? What Ranger abilities are you talking about that "don't fit" specifically? It is a Gloomstalker, which fits pretty shadowfell darn well, to include the subclass spell selection.

I would say the Bard is more off target than the Ranger in the hypothetical example I used. I think the Gloomstalker Ranger is the closest of any subclass, including an Assasin.

3e didn't have that flaw. You could work towards just about any vision without settling for stuff that doesn't fit the vision.
You could, if you wanted your character to suck.
 

ECMO3

Hero
I've never seen anyone actually use those rules. Though, I do agree prestige classes require thought from level 1 and are not organic to play in 3E.
I've never seen anyone not use the XP penalty rules, but most of the games I played then (and still play today) are pretty close to RAW.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Not really, if you are talking about feats for story reasons that you did not consider at all in your first say 10 levels. There are not millions of feats that are not traps in 3E.
Only if you define trap as "non-combat" or "minimally combat" which isn't the definition. I frequently took non-combat feats for story reasons and still kicked ass. You could even have no combat feats and kick ass.

If you weren't a power gamer it was actually fairly hard to make a bad character. Non-optimal, sure. Bad, not so easy.
There are lots and lots of feats yes, but if I get to 10th level and decide my story needs to go a certain way that I did not consider at all before now, I am taking a weak 1st level type feat to do that if I haven't prepared with the prerequisites and giving up on more power-apporpriate feats. Building a character to the story in 3E is essentially a trap.
This is hugely false. There are TONS of great feats gated by level(base attack X, hide X, etc.) and do not need a tree to have been started.
Those are all really weak options that don't pan out most of the time.
If you power game, sure. But powe rgaming eliminates more options than you are saying get eliminated by tying race to class.
Why should I have to see if the DM will let me do something? This is the point, the rules let me do it in 5E.
By RAW 5e only lets you do it if the DM has okay'd it. PHB page 6

"Your DM might set the campaign on one of these worlds or on one that he or she created. Because there is so much diversity among the worlds of D&D, you should check with your DM about any house rules that will affect your play of the game. Ultimately, the Dungeon
Master is the authority on the campaign and its setting, even if the setting is a published world."

The DM can allow, change or refuse anything, per RAW.
And take an XP penalty
Take the feat that eliminates that if you are one of those who even needs it.
Many levels later
1-3 =/= many. Most of the time you are just missing a few skill points and you can dedicate a few level's worth to get there.
Which would be useless on your fighter without a way to turn invisible.
Super easy to find ways, especially since if you play by RAW, every item is available to purchase with the mounds of gold you find.
Now you have things that work well with stealth ..... and you still suck at stealth ..... and not just mediocre, you really suck bad.
Invest a few levels of skill points.
What are you talking about? What Ranger abilities are you talking about that "don't fit" specifically? It is a Gloomstalker, which fits pretty shadowfell darn well, to include the subclass spell selection.
So you go to the plane of shadow and as a result you are now Mister Nature Guy with Natural Explorer, natury ranger spells, favored enemies that don't make sense, fighting styles that don't make sense(shadows make me fight different!), and and on. The only thing ranger gives you before Gloomstalker that matches your theme is stealth
You could, if you wanted your character to suck.
Not all of us min-max/power game. And, well, we still don't suck. ;)
 

CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
Most of the time, if I cast Web, the melee either blunder into it on purpose or even light it on fire, all to get at the bad guys. The idea that it's meant to give us some breathing room apparently does not compute in their brains.

Heck, one time, I cast Hypnotic Pattern, and someone deliberately attacked an enemy affected by it! When I asked, "why would you do that?", he made some lame excuse like "my character has no idea what your spell does", even though I told the whole group when my Sorcerer learned it!

I wonder if I'm the only one who has ever had these problems when trying to use control spells...
can you end concentration off-turn? maybe you should start dropping it moments before they disrupt the effects, the web melts away seconds before they can burn it, hypnotic pattern ends and the enemy snaps out of their trance just as your ally goes to attack, "well you were going to end it anyway what's the difference in it ending a few seconds earlier?" maybe then they'll start getting a clue that you and them actually want those effects active

and if it wasn't obvious, /sarcasm
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
can you end concentration off-turn? maybe you should start dropping it moments before they disrupt the effects, the web melts away seconds before they can burn it, hypnotic pattern ends and the enemy snaps out of their trance just as your ally goes to attack, "well you were going to end it anyway what's the difference in it ending a few seconds earlier?" maybe then they'll start getting a clue that you and them actually want those effects active

and if it wasn't obvious, /sarcasm
Hey that's a great idea! Nothing could possibly go wrong! Those darned melee will learn their lesson and respect me more, I'm positive!
 

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