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TSR TSR3 Throws In Towel, Rebrands Wonderfilled

In the news story that never ends, after reversing its position earlier and admitting that it was NOT the original TSR reincarnated, the new TSR company, embroiled in acrimony for the last two weeks, and having blamed the widespread criticism it has received on Wizards of the Coast, has deleted its own Twitter account and rebranded its website, misspelling it’s own name in the process.

In just a week a much-loved trademark, which was associated with the creation of our entire hobby, and which generally attracted nostalgic affection as recently as a fortnight ago, has been utterly trashed in an astonishing display of self-destructive publicity and incompetence. Two companies (one of which was directly responsible for the damage) have now divested themselves of it, and most major conventions have banned the company behind it, due to the actions and statements of three people: Justin LaNasa, Stephen Dinehart, and Ernie Gygax. "TSR" is no longer a brand which anybody wants to be associated with — not even the company which ‘relaunched’ it two weeks ago, let alone the company they sniped it from. It has been a spectacular masterclass in how not to manage a brand.

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This followed an astonishing day of activity where one of the three TSR3 founders, Stephen Dinehart announced - publicly! - that he had blocked WotC and Hasbro on Twitter. After everybody thought things couldn't get any more ridiculous, they did.

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As TSR2 rebranded to Solarian this week (after TSR3 sniped their name and trademark due to a missed filing), we've now gone from two TSRs to zero TSRs in the space of a few days.

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Most people assume that WotC (or Hasbro) has been in contact with TSR3 regarding its use of copyrighted imagery.

Meanwhile, search teams have been sent out for Michael, the mysterious PR officer announced last week who made two posts and then was never heard from again. In the meantime, somebody has set up a parody Twitter account for him.
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
The higher levels are, at least in 5e, basically completely unsupported. They have been largely unsupported for several editions. If there was material to play and for DMs to learn how to design good high level adventures from, I suspect we'd see more higher level play.

Speaking as a guy whose campaign includes lots of high level stuff and is going epic level as we speak, I'd love to see some high level support published, assuming it was quality.

Has there been any good third-party content for high level 5e? I can't see WotC committing resources to more than a single adventure anytime soon.
 

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Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
So here's a big important thing about why High Levels have little support:

It takes too bloody long.

The amount of individual encounters required to get from level 1 to level 20 is MASSIVE. And most stories don't last that long. You've got your "Main Plot" which gets resolved sometime between 9 and 13 and then that's it. That's the story. There's nothing left.

Oh, sure, you can reveal a "New Danger" that is higher level and require your players to go through another adventure path of similar length to get to level 20 and finish that story off, too... or you could just write that new story and get new characters and maybe swap DMs so no one has to be a Forever DM.

It's 100% a thing that there's not a ton of support for level 16-20 characters. Because most people can't handle it.
 


MarkB

Legend
So here's a big important thing about why High Levels have little support:

It takes too bloody long.

The amount of individual encounters required to get from level 1 to level 20 is MASSIVE. And most stories don't last that long. You've got your "Main Plot" which gets resolved sometime between 9 and 13 and then that's it. That's the story. There's nothing left.

Oh, sure, you can reveal a "New Danger" that is higher level and require your players to go through another adventure path of similar length to get to level 20 and finish that story off, too... or you could just write that new story and get new characters and maybe swap DMs so no one has to be a Forever DM.

It's 100% a thing that there's not a ton of support for level 16-20 characters. Because most people can't handle it.
Yeah, I've had more than one campaign peter out in the early teens because I couldn't pivot to bring in a new threat/plot once the original one was resolved.

On the other hand I'd quite happily run a published adventure that started above 10th level.
 

the Jester

Legend
So here's a big important thing about why High Levels have little support:

It takes too bloody long.

The amount of individual encounters required to get from level 1 to level 20 is MASSIVE. And most stories don't last that long. You've got your "Main Plot" which gets resolved sometime between 9 and 13 and then that's it. That's the story. There's nothing left.
This is only true for playstyles that emphasize a pre-determined story, rather than those that emphasize an emergent one, or those that have a serial adventure-of-the-week style, or those that can actually make a story that covers all 20 levels- not impossible, look at Age of Worms or Savage Tide, for two good examples.

What you're suggesting is the reason is a real factor, and in some cases it's totally true that what you're positing applies; but that's some cases. What you are posting is a reason, but it isn't the reason- and in cases where it's not the reason, it's just an excuse.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
This is only true for playstyles that emphasize a pre-determined story, rather than those that emphasize an emergent one, or those that have a serial adventure-of-the-week style, or those that can actually make a story that covers all 20 levels- not impossible, look at Age of Worms or Savage Tide, for two good examples.

What you're suggesting is the reason is a real factor, and in some cases it's totally true that what you're positing applies; but that's some cases. What you are posting is a reason, but it isn't the reason- and in cases where it's not the reason, it's just an excuse.
I wonder if one of the reasons is if to a lot of people it feels like a different game at those really high levels, and folks who like D&D for classic sword and sorcery and even high fantasy don't go in so much for super heroes. Is that less of a problem in 5e than 3.5?
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
What you are posting is a reason, but it isn't the reason

So, noting that it isn't THE reason isn't call to discard the point. All you manage to note is that there are also other reasons that may apply.

- and in cases where it's not the reason, it's just an excuse.

That's uncharitable to the people playing the game. Please rethink how you phrase that.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
There's a point to be considered about design: How fast do you, and people in general, drive their cars? Your car is probably capable of going over 100mpg. The vast majority of most people's driving is well below that, though.

When engineering something, the maximum capability is often significantly above the normal use. That has value, as overall performance and efficiency is typically best somewhere in the middle of a design range than at either end.

If you want good performance in the low-teens, you typically need a system designed to go to 20, even if you don't actually expect folks to use that upper range very often.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
This is only true for playstyles that emphasize a pre-determined story, rather than those that emphasize an emergent one, or those that have a serial adventure-of-the-week style, or those that can actually make a story that covers all 20 levels- not impossible, look at Age of Worms or Savage Tide, for two good examples.

What you're suggesting is the reason is a real factor, and in some cases it's totally true that what you're positing applies; but that's some cases. What you are posting is a reason, but it isn't the reason- and in cases where it's not the reason, it's just an excuse.
"Most Stories" was the term I used, not all. Not only. But even in the case of the "Emergent Storyline" that similarly tends to get resolved around levels 9-13 unless you're just flinging new antagonistic options at your players every other level like it's Dragon Ball Z or something.

Yeah, it's possible to release a storyline piecemeal so that it takes 20 levels. You can also drop an adventure from day one that gets the character from level 1 to 20. In neither of those cases is the storyline "Emergent". It's all pre-written and you just don't know it all, yet, as player or DM. The writer still knows that story. A True emergent story is one where you just faff around for a few weeks and then go "Wait, what? Isn't X the thing we did last month?" and the DM has to develop a reason for X last month and Z this month and a plot forms out of it.

But. Time is still a massive factor. Possibly the single largest factor.

6-8 encounters per day with 2-3 days of encounters between levels by the rulebook. Split the difference and it's 7x2.5=17.5 easy peasy.

How long does a typical encounter take in D&D? 3-5 round? Let's call it 4 rounds. 5 players, plus NPCs, being nice let's say it only takes about 2 minutes to resolve a turn. We'll go for 8 npcs on average (Some fights are big, some fights are small, most are in the middle) and to be charitable let's say the DM takes only 1/4 the time to resolve a given NPC's actions, so 30 seconds. 4 minutes for the DM, 2 minutes for each player that's 14 minutes per round... Let's round it up to 15 and call it 4 rounds for 1 hour.

How long do most people play? 3-4 hours maybe? And a goodly chunk of that is RP/Exploration/Description rather than actual combat. So let's call it 2 combats per session on average.

To get from level 1-20 on the 6-8 encounters per day, with 2-3 days of encounters between levels, 17.5, we can multiply by 19 to find out how many actual encounters it takes to get to 20 since level 1 is "Free": around 332.5.

Each encounter takes 1 hour ish, and people get 2 encounters in a session. So that's 332.5 hours and 166.25 sessions.

Assuming you get together once a week for 3 hours and spend 2 hours of it resolving combat or other noncombat encounters: 1,163.75 days have passed from Session 0 to level 20. 3.19 years.

And during that time people are going to move, have kids, have crises, lose people, change jobs, change shifts, get new schedules from work, school, family, etc, find new games they're interested in, want to be a Player rather than a DM, etc etc etc.

It. Takes. Too. Long.

When we were kids and teens three years was FOREVER but who cared 'cause we were spending it with our friends. We could play D&D six nights a week or have sleepovers and play 5-10 hour marathon sessions. When you're consuming D&D and Jolt Cola at that rate those 166.25 sessions can vanish into a long summer before school starts.

And even back THEN we rarely took characters to 20 because it was SUCH AN INVESTMENT of time into a single story, a single character. Especially with everything else SUMMER offered.
 
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Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
There's a point to be considered about design: How fast do you, and people in general, drive their cars? Your car is probably capable of going over 100mpg. The vast majority of most people's driving is well below that, though.

When engineering something, the maximum capability is often significantly above the normal use. That has value, as overall performance and efficiency is typically best somewhere in the middle of a design range than at either end.

If you want good performance in the low-teens, you typically need a system designed to go to 20, even if you don't actually expect folks to use that upper range very often.
This perspective makes a lot of sense, but only if you grant the premise of a system with levels and a level cap. That's basically reframing a bug as a feature. Most TTRPGs don't quantify progression in such a narrow way, and don't require anyone defending what seems objectively like bad design (presenting an entire spectrum of play that isn't actually supported with content, with high levels just sort of abandoned by the publisher).
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
This perspective makes a lot of sense, but only if you grant the premise of a system with levels and a level cap.

Systems without levels or a cap will still break down as you climb up, they just don't have as handy a metric for identifying where the breakdown is.

That's basically reframing a bug as a feature.

No, it isn't. This is an actual physical and mathematical phenomenon. All systems have performance limits, and their optimum performance is generally well short of the actual upper limit.

Say you run an animal shelter, with a website that allows folks to schedule appointments over the web. It works fine, and you never have any problem with it. Then, a video of one your your poor cute animals goes viral, and a million people hit that website in the span of two hours. Your website crashes and burns, but before it does, it starts acting squirrelly, slowing down, losing bits of data, and then falling over with a dull thud. This is not a "bug". This is a design limitation.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
"Most Stories" was the term I used, not all. Not only. But even in the case of the "Emergent Storyline" that similarly tends to get resolved around levels 9-13 unless you're just flinging new antagonistic options at your players every other level like it's Dragon Ball Z or something.

Yeah, it's possible to release a storyline piecemeal so that it takes 20 levels. You can also drop an adventure from day one that gets the character from level 1 to 20. In neither of those cases is the storyline "Emergent". It's all pre-written and you just don't know it all, yet, as player or DM. The writer still knows that story. A True emergent story is one where you just faff around for a few weeks and then go "Wait, what? Isn't X the thing we did last month?" and the DM has to develop a reason for X last month and Z this month and a plot forms out of it.

But. Time is still a massive factor. Possibly the single largest factor.

6-8 encounters per day with 2-3 days of encounters between levels by the rulebook. Split the difference and it's 7x2.5=17.5 easy peasy.

How long does a typical encounter take in D&D? 3-5 round? Let's call it 4 rounds. 5 players, plus NPCs, being nice let's say it only takes about 2 minutes to resolve a turn. We'll go for 8 npcs on average (Some fights are big, some fights are small, most are in the middle) and to be charitable let's say the DM takes only 1/4 the time to resolve a given NPC's actions, so 30 seconds. 4 minutes for the DM, 2 minutes for each player that's 14 minutes per round... Let's round it up to 15 and call it 4 rounds for 1 hour.

How long do most people play? 3-4 hours maybe? And a goodly chunk of that is RP/Exploration/Description rather than actual combat. So let's call it 2 combats per session on average.

To get from level 1-20 on the 6-8 encounters per day, with 2-3 days of encounters between levels, 17.5, we can multiply by 19 to find out how many actual encounters it takes to get to 20 since level 1 is "Free": around 332.5.

Each encounter takes 1 hour ish, and people get 2 encounters in a session. So that's 332.5 hours and 166.25 sessions.

Assuming you get together once a week for 3 hours and spend 2 hours of it resolving combat or other noncombat encounters: 1,163.75 days have passed from Session 0 to level 20. 3.19 years.

And during that time people are going to move, have kids, have crises, lose people, change jobs, change shifts, get new schedules from work, school, family, etc, find new games they're interested in, want to be a Player rather than a DM, etc etc etc.

It. Takes. Too. Long.

When we were kids and teens three years was FOREVER but who cared 'cause we were spending it with our friends. We could play D&D six nights a week or have sleepovers and play 5-10 hour marathon sessions. When you're consuming D&D and Jolt Cola at that rate those 166.25 sessions can vanish into a long summer before school starts.

And even back THEN we rarely took characters to 20 because it was SUCH AN INVESTMENT of time into a single story, a single character. Especially with everything else SUMMER offered.
An hour for an encounter?!? Good gravy, they should only last 2 rounds usually, 3 at most.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
An hour for an encounter?!? Good gravy, they should only last 2 rounds usually, 3 at most.
If your party is particularly skilled at eliminating threats in appropriate sequence (Geek the Mage gameplay) then yeah it takes 2 round, 3 tops. But if they're not playing at the cutting edge of lethality ('Cause remember, min-maxers and forumites are a minority in comparison to the 50 million players around the globe) it takes longer. So I put it at 4. Most of mine take between 3 and 5, though I also often have NPCs attempt to escape or make heavy use of environment for benefits.

I'm also averaging things out over the course of the campaign. At higher levels turns will take longer because of more complicated spells, more player-options, and more NPC abilities. Particularly as you get into Reactions and Reaction-Reactions and adjudicating all that stuff.

Plus time to laugh over foibles and congratulate each other on various actions, quote memes, and the like.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
If your party is particularly skilled at eliminating threats in appropriate sequence (Geek the Mage gameplay) then yeah it takes 2 round, 3 tops. But if they're not playing at the cutting edge of lethality ('Cause remember, min-maxers and forumites are a minority in comparison to the 50 million players around the globe) it takes longer. So I put it at 4. Most of mine take between 3 and 5, though I also often have NPCs attempt to escape or make heavy use of environment for benefits.

I'm also averaging things out over the course of the campaign. At higher levels turns will take longer because of more complicated spells, more player-options, and more NPC abilities. Particularly as you get into Reactions and Reaction-Reactions and adjudicating all that stuff.

Plus time to laugh over foibles and congratulate each other on various actions, quote memes, and the like.
2 rounds is what the designers assume the average group will take to win an appropriate CR challenge, not an optimized group. Even at high level, with a large group not optimized to the hilt, several encounters in a session should be doable.

I don't disagree with you larger point, however, games just naturally fizzle out around 11-15, and people want a change of pace. No product will change that pacing reality. Dungeon Crawl Classics solved this by making a 10 Level game.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
2 rounds is what the designers assume the average group will take to win an appropriate CR challenge, not an optimized group. Even at high level, with a large group not optimized to the hilt, several encounters in a session should be doable.

Wow.... I don't know if we've ever had one end that quickly. Even when we silenced the room of sleeping Evil guys it took longer than that to go get them.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Wow.... I don't know if we've ever had one end that quickly. Even when we silenced the room of sleeping Evil guys it took longer than that to go get them.
My friends and family are not, I repeat not optimizers by any stretch of the imagination, but my experience matches what I've heard Crawford talk about in terms of encounter expectations.
 


the Jester

Legend
"Most Stories" was the term I used, not all. Not only. But even in the case of the "Emergent Storyline" that similarly tends to get resolved around levels 9-13 unless you're just flinging new antagonistic options at your players every other level like it's Dragon Ball Z or something.

Yeah, it's possible to release a storyline piecemeal so that it takes 20 levels. You can also drop an adventure from day one that gets the character from level 1 to 20. In neither of those cases is the storyline "Emergent". It's all pre-written and you just don't know it all, yet, as player or DM. The writer still knows that story. A True emergent story is one where you just faff around for a few weeks and then go "Wait, what? Isn't X the thing we did last month?" and the DM has to develop a reason for X last month and Z this month and a plot forms out of it.

But. Time is still a massive factor. Possibly the single largest factor.

6-8 encounters per day with 2-3 days of encounters between levels by the rulebook. Split the difference and it's 7x2.5=17.5 easy peasy.

How long does a typical encounter take in D&D? 3-5 round? Let's call it 4 rounds. 5 players, plus NPCs, being nice let's say it only takes about 2 minutes to resolve a turn. We'll go for 8 npcs on average (Some fights are big, some fights are small, most are in the middle) and to be charitable let's say the DM takes only 1/4 the time to resolve a given NPC's actions, so 30 seconds. 4 minutes for the DM, 2 minutes for each player that's 14 minutes per round... Let's round it up to 15 and call it 4 rounds for 1 hour.

How long do most people play? 3-4 hours maybe? And a goodly chunk of that is RP/Exploration/Description rather than actual combat. So let's call it 2 combats per session on average.

To get from level 1-20 on the 6-8 encounters per day, with 2-3 days of encounters between levels, 17.5, we can multiply by 19 to find out how many actual encounters it takes to get to 20 since level 1 is "Free": around 332.5.

Each encounter takes 1 hour ish, and people get 2 encounters in a session. So that's 332.5 hours and 166.25 sessions.

Assuming you get together once a week for 3 hours and spend 2 hours of it resolving combat or other noncombat encounters: 1,163.75 days have passed from Session 0 to level 20. 3.19 years.

And during that time people are going to move, have kids, have crises, lose people, change jobs, change shifts, get new schedules from work, school, family, etc, find new games they're interested in, want to be a Player rather than a DM, etc etc etc.

It. Takes. Too. Long.

When we were kids and teens three years was FOREVER but who cared 'cause we were spending it with our friends. We could play D&D six nights a week or have sleepovers and play 5-10 hour marathon sessions. When you're consuming D&D and Jolt Cola at that rate those 166.25 sessions can vanish into a long summer before school starts.

And even back THEN we rarely took characters to 20 because it was SUCH AN INVESTMENT of time into a single story, a single character. Especially with everything else SUMMER offered.
A few things.

On emergent story- I wasn't saying that any of the other playstyle examples I gave were emergent story styles- just that there are more than one playstyle that would be served by high level material.

You claim that emergent storylines tend to get resolved in the mid-levels; I am curious makes you think that. Because in my experience (mostly as a DM but also as a player), emergent story playstyles tend not to have a distinct plot to resolve. There tend to be many threads that slowly evolve and develop over time. You resolve plots, but there is no main antagonist- which means, yes, there are always more things to deal with. I don't know how common the "wrap it up around 10th" thing is in general, given that my games and the games I've played in very much don't do that; and if said games aren't representative of the broader experience- which is quite possible and maybe even likely- I do think they're more representative of the "emergent story" playstyle than the "wrap it up at 10th" approach you're describing.

I also disagree with you about the length of a combat/number of combats per session. I run pretty large groups and, excepting gigantic battle scenarios, we fit more than two combats in a typical session (assuming a session that's not completely non-combat-oriented). I'd guess, without looking at my notes, that we average around four a session. Two combats a session was pretty standard for us in 4e, though. That quicker play factor is one of the major improvements of 5e over 4e, in my opinion.

Anyway, I do acknowledge that hitting 20th level takes a long time under anything approaching "normal" or "average" gaming circumstances. And I do acknowledge that there are lots of groups that never make it that far. But plenty do, and the underserving of high level play starts well below 20th level.

There are groups- not tons, but definitely quite a few- that run persistent campaigns that span years of decades and multiple, even many, groups of both players and characters. And there are now lots of ways for old groups that have scattered to play remotely. Those old characters can keep playing, keep advancing- if there's only good material to run for them. And high level play is different than lower level play; it takes more effort to craft a challenge to high level pcs and it would be awesome if there was some stuff out there to help support players and dms who wish to carry their games forward to those rarified heights.

Please note that I'm not saying there's anything wrong with wrapping it up at 10th (or even earlier, if that's what you dig). It's just not for everyone. And for those groups that prefer to go long and high, at least one adventure written for them with the standards WotC (typically) achieves would be great. So would a collection of material to support the elements of high level play that are distinct from typical low level play- things like mass combat/army rules; rulership and domains; how to become a hero-god or quasi-deity or even a god; epic destinies in general; a system for wide-reaching schemes that influence the setting; etc.
 

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