D&D 5E Running 5e at high Levels

The #1 factor that causes combats to seem long and/or sloggish:

Players without a reasonably solid grasp of their PC’s abilities and spells.

It happens at low levels and only gets multiplied as PCs gain more tricks at higher levels.
 

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TheSword

Legend
There is an alternative if the higher levels are an issue. A lot of the balance issues at high levels have to do with the actual levels. Such as spells and abilities the players have access to.

You can actually dodge a lot of these issues and still have the same "plot lines" and enemies. You can do this by subbing in magic items for levels. The math in 5e is predictable and elegant with almost everything based on proficiency bonus and ability modifiers.

Knowledge of this same math, how everything from DC to "to hit," is based on the same 6 numbers, also benefits encounter design and balance.

So what I've started doing is just not playing at high levels per say. But raising the power of the magic items I give to compensate. Watching a entertaining combat between level 12s and a CR 24 is weird in some ways. But those level 12s are level 20 in power due to the items I gave them.

I hope this is a helpful Idea for someone :D. I've found it's almost a game changer for me.
Can you explore this idea further? Because it is fascinating?

What kind of items do you give out?
Items that give bonuses to match what they would get from higher levels or items that grant abilities that don’t come on line till higher levels like spells?

Do you do the same for monsters or do you let them scale normally?

Also do you slow progression across the levels or do you just slow progression at 12th to continue things on?

I wonder if a variant of Epic 6 could work where after 12th level you gain a feat instead of levelling up
 
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TheSword

Legend
The #1 factor that causes combats to seem long and/or sloggish:

Players without a reasonably solid grasp of their PC’s abilities and spells.

It happens at low levels and only gets multiplied as PCs gain more tricks at higher levels.
This isn’t my issue to be honest. I have great players that have generally built their characters from level 1. They understand them.
 

I was thinking more along the lines of recovery for things like spells and other abilities as well not just HP. I understand why we have things that recharge on a short rest, others on a long rest I just wish we had something in-between.
I understand. Nothing published like that exists which is why I and others have created systems where HD spend gives one access to spells and abilities. Which is also why I mentioned Travel Rests as our in between which recovers 1/2 one's HD.
 

I'm curious for those of you running quite a bit of high-level 5e D&D (@wedgeski @Oofta @TheSword and others), what do you notice being the main contributor to longer combat time at high level specifically?

Is it mainly monster HP bloat outpacing PC damage? Or is there more going on that's a larger factor?
I'm playing high levels currently 12+ for 2 years (currently 15th)

I'd say it's a combination of hp bloat + options on both sides of the table. But our table meets in person and it's a whole day affair (6 hours minimum) - somewhat social + meal. I'm not sure that is the norm here.
 

Can you explore this idea further? Because it is fascinating?

What kind of items do you give out?
Items that give bonuses to match what they would get from higher levels or items that grant abilities that don’t come on line till higher levels like spells?

Do you do the same for monsters or do you let them scale normally?

Also do you slow progression across the levels or do you just slow progression at 12th to continue things on?

I wonder if a variant of Epic 6 could work where after 12th level you gain a feat instead of levelling up

You can essentially just give more, or better items. A level 13 with a +2 weapon, and a level 12 with a +3, as an example. How big is the difference between these? Is that difference meaningful if the +3 item gave 5 temp hp every short rest? This has the side effect of allowing the DM more granular control over player power levels relative to each other. Essentially, weaker PCs can be given stronger items.

Monsters are bit different. You, largely, need to have the items show up on an enemy. When that happens a monster will get those benefits. But the monsters are balanced around a damage per round vs total hp comparison ideally. For example if a party has an average hp of 38 and have four party members, you can largely take the sum of that (38x4=152) and divide it by the number of rounds you want the combat to last plus one. (152/5 = 30.4 dpr). You have your monster damage per round and you just adjust monster hp to suit the player dpr adjusted for desired difficulty. The presence of the item doesn't matter here. You want your players to win slightly before the monsters do.

The issue with slowing progression under normal gameplay is one of pacing. A sense of progression is a high beat in pacing and is often needed at regular intervals. Slowing it too much messes up this pacing. You can get around that as powerful items that noticeably influence a player's behavior, has the same effect. They give a sense of progression power wise. I go from 1 to 3 very quickly, and get progressively slower as they level up. I often aim for 10-12 months per campaign, and I often aim for the last level up to be 1-3 weeks before the end.

To revisit the question of what kind of items to give. The answer is largely not relevant. I've done wild things like give a scroll of gate to a level 5 party. Or more conservative approaches such as mimicking the stat increases from a level up with item bonuses, as described above with the +3 weapon. The wizard can have a wand of a 7th level spell, but probably not forcecage. You can give players items with their class capstone abilities. The possibilities are endless, but its fully personalized to the players and campaign.

I've given feats post-level 12 in leiu of an item, or attached to the item. Both work fine.

I hope this helps explain what I mean.


EDIT: It's important to remember here that default 5e is balanced for no magic items. The math simply doesn't take them into account. So in a way, every magic item you give moves your towards this goal of replacing a spread of levels with a few magic items.
 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
I'm running a 5E campaign on a VTT, where everything is automated (for the most part). One click and Roll20 rolls the dice, rolls the damage, rolls the save throw (if any), and applies the modified damage to the target(s), automatically. One click and the action is resolved. The five characters in the group are 12th and 13th level.

A single combat scene lasts about 4, maybe 5 rounds. Yet it can take two, sometimes three HOURS to resolve! It's not because the VTT software can't handle stuff, and not because folks forget to add modifiers or whatever and have to keep redoing stuff (like I said, most combat stuff is automated).

The issue is decision paralysis: by the time the characters get to 10th level or so, they have so many options to consider at the top of each round, and those actions affect the actions of other characters on the field. Like, each player takes 5-10 minutes to decide their actions, carefully trying to get the most out of every single action, bonus action, and reaction, and out of every single square of every kind of movement. You'd think that all players would use that same 5-10 minute window to decide their own actions too, but you'd be wrong--because Player One's decision will change Player Two's planned course of action, which changes Player Three's planned course of action, and down we go. It can sometimes take half an hour to finish a single round of combat.

I'm not sure what can be done about it, but it's certainly something we've noticed. BOY HOWDY, have we noticed it.
 

The issue is decision paralysis: by the time the characters get to 10th level or so, they have so many options to consider at the top of each round, and those actions affect the actions of other characters on the field. Like, each player takes 5-10 minutes to decide their actions, carefully trying to get the most out of every single action, bonus action, and reaction, and out of every single square of every kind of movement. You'd think that all players would use that same 5-10 minute window to decide their own actions too, but you'd be wrong--because Player One's decision will change Player Two's planned course of action, which changes Player Three's planned course of action, and down we go. It can sometimes take half an hour to finish a single round of combat.

I'm not sure what can be done about it.
One way we which has helped our table with THIS particular issue is to have each player declare their actions BEFORE initiative is rolled and initiative is rolled EVERY round.

Having tested this system out for 1-2 years our table will never go back to static initiative. Combat is so much more fun + dynamic.

In our system which we borrowed from @toucanbuzz your declared action (and size) determines the initiative die to be rolled for your character for that round.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I'm playing high levels currently 12+ for 2 years (currently 15th)

I'd say it's a combination of hp bloat + options on both sides of the table. But our table meets in person and it's a whole day affair (6 hours minimum) - somewhat social + meal. I'm not sure that is the norm here.
I love long sessions like that! We used to do once a year gaming weekend at a cabin which was the best. I’m lucky to get three hours online.
 

You can essentially just give more, or better items. A level 13 with a +2 weapon, and a level 12 with a +3, as an example. How big is the difference between these? Is that difference meaningful if the +3 item gave 5 temp hp every short rest? This has the side effect of allowing the DM more granular control over player power levels relative to each other. Essentially, weaker PCs can be given stronger items.

Monsters are bit different. You, largely, need to have the items show up on an enemy. When that happens a monster will get those benefits. But the monsters are balanced around a damage per round vs total hp comparison ideally. For example if a party has an average hp of 38 and have four party members, you can largely take the sum of that (38x4=152) and divide it by the number of rounds you want the combat to last plus one. (152/5 = 30.4 dpr). You have your monster damage per round and you just adjust monster hp to suit the player dpr adjusted for desired difficulty. The presence of the item doesn't matter here. You want your players to win slightly before the monsters do.

The issue with slowing progression under normal gameplay is one of pacing. A sense of progression is a high beat in pacing and is often needed at regular intervals. Slowing it too much messes up this pacing. You can get around that as powerful items that noticeably influence a player's behavior, has the same effect. They give a sense of progression power wise. I go from 1 to 3 very quickly, and get progressively slower as they level up. I often aim for 10-12 months per campaign, and I often aim for the last level up to be 1-3 weeks before the end.

To revisit the question of what kind of items to give. The answer is largely not relevant. I've done wild things like give a scroll of gate to a level 5 party. Or more conservative approaches such as mimicking the stat increases from a level up with item bonuses, as described above with the +3 weapon. The wizard can have a wand of a 7th level spell, but probably not forcecage. You can give players items with their class capstone abilities. The possibilities are endless, but its fully personalized to the players and campaign.

I've given feats post-level 12 in leiu of an item, or attached to the item. Both work fine.

I hope this helps explain what I mean.


EDIT: It's important to remember here that default 5e is balanced for no magic items. The math simply doesn't take them into account. So in a way, every magic item you give moves your towards this goal of replacing a spread of levels with a few magic items.
This is a great way to play. Capping things at 12th level is smart too because of that last ASI/Feat + cutting off 7th level+ spells. I think I'm going to start playing more like this! Thanks!
 

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