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D&D General Why does D&D still have 16th to 20th level?

As a player, you know when your DM has reached that point of 'Holy naughty word, I dont know what I'm doing anymore' that usually proceeds the DM rage quit' campaign ending.

Its when those Antimagic fields pop up everywhere.

We've all been there.

To all you DMs out there - don't do this. Just keep going, and learn. The first few times will be absolute train wrecks, but that's OK. Learn from them, and after a few goes at it, you'll know all the tricks and will be able to factor them into your planning.
 

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The only reason we don't get to do this more often is because so many DMs dont know how to run high level games (and to be fair to them, it is time consuming, and a labor of love that requires a lot of experience and skill).
If epic play was a core part of dnd it shouldn't rely on dm experience and skill so much. There's not a lot of support for this kind of play. I don't mean just modules; the game as a whole is geared toward non-epic play. There's nothing to teach DMs, aside from time consuming experience, how to run these games. The monster manual does not provide interesting threats that take into account high level PC abilities, and it's very possible that not a lot of thought was put into how the game would actually play at tier 4. So from levels 15+ the game is pretty much saying, "you're on your own, good luck," leading dms to give up and the group to start over at level 1. If that's the case, why include those levels in the phb?

The design aspect of this problem is quite distinct from the fiction. Monster's are just statistics that are scaled up or down, so there's no reason you couldn't fight a demon lord at level 12, as the final fight of your campaign.
 

If epic play was a core part of dnd it shouldn't rely on dm experience and skill so much.
That's plainly not the case.

The skills and abilities (and complexities) of a 1st level PC and a CR 1 monster are vastly different to that of a 20th level PC decked out in artifacts, and monsters that could seek to threaten such a PC.

Most DMs have experience with T1. They know common abilities and tricks used at that level of play.

Most DMs have little experience with high level play, due to having quit at mid levels when some 'new' ability came online and wrecked their games (because they had no experience with that ability before).

You need experience to be a good DM (or to be good at anything really). That includes making mistakes, because that's the best way to learn.

Even 'newb' DMs screw up low level play. But they learn from it, and in time get better.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
If epic play was a core part of dnd it shouldn't rely on dm experience and skill so much. There's not a lot of support for this kind of play. I don't mean just modules; the game as a whole is geared toward non-epic play. There's nothing to teach DMs, aside from time consuming experience, how to run these games. The monster manual does not provide interesting threats that take into account high level PC abilities, and it's very possible that not a lot of thought was put into how the game would actually play at tier 4. So from levels 15+ the game is pretty much saying, "you're on your own, good luck," leading dms to give up and the group to start over at level 1. If that's the case, why include those levels in the phb?

The design aspect of this problem is quite distinct from the fiction. Monster's are just statistics that are scaled up or down, so there's no reason you couldn't fight a demon lord at level 12, as the final fight of your campaign.
The game really can't do a whole lot. The more abilities you have available and the greater their power, the more options you have. At high levels there is just so much to consider and so many ways things can go, experience is really the best way to learn how to run it. You can get a bit of advice, but it's no substitute for the experience of running it.

It seems like a lot of DMs might be afraid of high levels and so they avoid it, but if they just dove in and tried it, they would master it just like they did when they first started DMing.
 

Jaeger

That someone better.
The point is, if it is true that most groups don't use the 11-20 material, then it is a waste of space including it in the PHB. For example, groups who play official modules and start a new campaign when those are over aren't really using a lot of the 10+ or 12+ material. It would be better to focus the phb around a level 1-10 or 1-12 experience (however you want to cut it up). Those players and dms who do want high levels could, in turn, probably use a book focused on gameplay at those levels, including options for customization.

Granted, maybe plenty of groups get past level 12 and want all that info in one place.

Re: "...most groups don't use the 11-20 material..."
Based in my own anecdotal experience + WOTC claims, I tend to believe that this is true. And I think that it has been true for some time in the hobby.

One just needs to see the number of adventure paths and modules published during WOTC's ownership of D&D. Just look how many are focused on levels 1-10 as opposed to high level play... So while it is evident from the replies to this thread that some do enjoy high level play, the amount of people who regularly do high level play is still just a subset of the larger player base.

Tradition is just as good a reason as any why 1-20ish play hasn't changed in D&D.

IMHO if it was any other game but D&D, the move would be to acknowledge that for most people there is a "sweet spot" in play for D&D.

So just design for that sweet spot. Have 1-20 levels but set them so that the game prolongs what 'tier' of play most find most desirable rather than move people into a different genre every 5 levels. The E6 mod for 3.5 is a great example of this.

Were WOTC to have made 5e following the E6 model, they would have neatly side stepped many of the issues faced with producing 'high level' material, and still kept the majority of the player base happy.

But that would have been big risk a post 4e, and there was no way the 5e Developers were going to take it.
 

Reynard

Legend
So just design for that sweet spot. Have 1-20 levels but set them so that the game prolongs what 'tier' of play most find most desirable rather than move people into a different genre every 5 levels. The E6 mod for 3.5 is a great example of this.
I can't speak for anyone else, but:

YUCK.

The game SHOULD change over the course of a campaign and the level ranges of the PCs. If you just like 4th to 9th, why should I be denied the whole breadth of the experience so you can play the same game over and over again?
 

I can't speak for anyone else, but:

YUCK.

The game SHOULD change over the course of a campaign and the level ranges of the PCs. If you just like 4th to 9th, why should I be denied the whole breadth of the experience so you can play the same game over and over again?
So does a level 20 limit work for you? Because you could say you are being denied the range of experience offered by levels 21-30, with its theoretical 10th and 11th and 12th level spell slots. At some point you would have to define the core experience of the game and make it work for that experience. The premise of the question is trying to figure out what that core experience is, based on how the game works and what people actually use.
 

Reynard

Legend
So does a level 20 limit work for you? Because you could say you are being denied the range of experience offered by levels 21-30, with its theoretical 10th and 11th and 12th level spell slots. At some point you would have to define the core experience of the game and make it work for that experience. The premise of the question is trying to figure out what that core experience is, based on how the game works and what people actually use.
I think your base assumption is flawed. There isn't A SINGLE core experience of D&D. There are at least 3: gritty low fantasy (tier 1), cinematic adventure (tier 2 and maybe 3), and high fantasy (tier 3 and 4). On top of that there are other important options, including leadership and domain management and war.
 

Raith5

Adventurer
I'll also echo the sentiment that DMs running high level play probably make extensive use of home brew. I know I made a lot of unique monsters for the end of my previous campaign and found most of the published high CR monsters from official sources underpowered compared to the party.

1000% agree. I killed a Demon Lord in Descent into Avernus when I rolled a 9 (and hit AC 18 I think) and I remember thinking that does not feel right. I think we were about 14th level. So I think bounded accuracy needs to be loosened a bit for higher level monsters and I really just get a sense that high level published adventures need to be at least 30% tougher.
 

Jaeger

That someone better.
I can't speak for anyone else, but:

YUCK.

The game SHOULD change over the course of a campaign and the level ranges of the PCs. If you just like 4th to 9th, why should I be denied the whole breadth of the experience so you can play the same game over and over again?

You are in luck. WOTC will never ever do an "E6" version of D&D in our lifetime.

Never ever? Never. Ever.

But you are still just playing the same game over and over again with the current 1-20 level paradigm.

Yes, you theoretically get more "powerful", but it is largely an illusion as everything just scales up in power with you.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
So does a level 20 limit work for you? Because you could say you are being denied the range of experience offered by levels 21-30, with its theoretical 10th and 11th and 12th level spell slots. At some point you would have to define the core experience of the game and make it work for that experience. The premise of the question is trying to figure out what that core experience is, based on how the game works and what people actually use.
Speaking personally, while I would love to see epic books and such, level 1-20 is sufficient for me. It takes long enough to get there that I won't be able to play every class to 20th, so the game is always a new experience.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
You are in luck. WOTC will never ever do an "E6" version of D&D in our lifetime.

Never ever? Never. Ever.

But you are still just playing the same game over and over again with the current 1-20 level paradigm.
No, that's not true. Each class has a different experience to offer. With lower levels happening faster than higher levels, if our games ended at 7th level, I could run though 4-5 classes for every 1 class I take to level 20. That's waaaaaay too many, and waaaaaay too many encounters all in that narrow level range. I get to fight Balors and Tarrasques and a bunch of other stuff above level 7. You never get to experience those things outside some DM fiat situation to allow you to survive.
Yes, you theoretically get more "powerful", but it is largely an illusion as everything just scales up in power with you.
It's jut just about the power. I get a very different experience.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
I can imagine three separate Players Handbooks.

One for level 0. Kidstuff and teenstuff.

One for tiers 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12. The bulk of the D&D experience. (But with advice for a low magic campaign stopping at 8.)

And one for tiers 13-16, 17-20, and 21-24. Superheroes.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I can imagine three separate Players Handbooks.

One for level 0. Kidstuff and teenstuff.

One for tiers 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12. The bulk of the D&D experience. (But with advice for a low magic campaign stopping at 8.)

And one for tiers 13-16, 17-20, and 21-24. Superheroes.
That will never happen. That would raise WotC's costs by a very large amount. There's no point when they can just do it in one book.
 

Stalker0

Legend
So at the end of the day you are working around the following desires from your player base:
  • The desire to gain new abilities of worth (each level gets something "decent")
  • The desire to gain new abilities "often" (levels come fairly quickly)
So ideally you want a system that gives something "reasonable" at each level, and makes leveling quick enough to be fun. From there its really a question of how high you want the power to scale. Personally looking at most 5e classes they get a bit thin at the higher levels. I really think they could compress things into about 15 levels with more "meaty" abilities (and give the spellcasters a "9th" level spell as their capstone...similar to the warlock for 6th level spells).

Then you can use epic boons if you want to add "extra capstones"....with Wish being one of those epic boons (Wish is really not a 9th level spell its more a 9.5 or 10). I like how in one of the older editions (I think it was BECMII but can't remember for sure)... while wizards got 9th level spells at X level.....they could not cast wish until they were the maximum 36th level. Aka that edition respected how powerful wish was and basically made it its own capstone power.



I also do think part of the issue is the "symmetrical" nature of 3e that's been pushed into the later editions. Get a new prof bonus every X level, get a new ASI every Y levels, gain your full Hitpoints every level...etc. In older editions, your hitpoints stopped at a certain point, your spell power was not fully symmetrical, your saving throw progression was not symmetrical etc.

You do want some consistency (it makes character and npc generation easier) but there is no reason after 9 or 10 levels the progression can't change to fit a better model, and that gives more flexibility on which level ranges to utilize.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
That will never happen. That would raise WotC's costs by a very large amount. There's no point when they can just do it in one book.
Mechanics for level zero can happen. Even an adventure for it.

Mechanics for epic tier (levels 20-24) can happen.

And currently, the higher tiers remain underdeveloped. Meanwhile superheroes is a reasonably popular RPG genre, that can equate levels 13 and up. There is a market for 5e superheroes. It is mainly a question of setting.
 

Stalker0

Legend
Another option that WOTC could embrace is "mid-level" rewards. Those have generally been optional, but you could do things like add in feats after a certain amount of XP.... a "half level" if you will, instead of always leveling to full. This allows you to keep giving the players something new to enjoy....but without giving them a full levels worth of power all the time.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Another option that WOTC could embrace is "mid-level" rewards. Those have generally been optional, but you could do things like add in feats after a certain amount of XP.... a "half level" if you will, instead of always leveling to full. This allows you to keep giving the players something new to enjoy....but without giving them a full levels worth of power all the time.
Are you saying player characters would be different levels, or are you saying the whole party would get feats instead of advancing to the next level?
 

teitan

Legend
D&D was not always a game with character levels going from 1st to 20th level. The original game only covered the first ten levels or so, and oldtimers from back in the day tell stories of characters retiring as rulers of their own domains rarely advancing much beyond that. In BECMI, characters other than humans can't go above 12th level, and in AD&D most characters other than humans and/or thieves cap out at 12th or 16th level.
I believe the codification that all characters go up to 20th level started with 3rd edition, because the game engine was called the d20 system and there's an opportunity to have another 20 show up.

But from everything I've heard in the two decades that I've been playing D&D, people playing above 15th level almost never seems to happen. Published modules and adventures also barely ever covered levels above that. Pathfinder Adventure Paths usually go from 1st to 15th level, and even the original Dragonlance series went only up to about 14th level, I've been told. In the days of 3rd edition, there was a lot of complaining from people digging deep into the math that things just start to break down completely once you go past those levels.

One problem seems to be that by 15th level, a group of 4 to 6 well prepared characters can take on a single one of the traditional top dog monsters. You can of course face off against groups of high power enemies after that, but that really stretches the narrative consistency of the game world. The best thing I've heard about high level play is "the same as always, but with bigger numbers".

Of course, the lure of 9th level spells has always been tempting. But given the overwhelming anecdotal evidence, is it really worth to still keep putting high level content in the regular Player's Handbook? If there really might be a market for material at higher levels, there's the option for a kind of Epic Level Handbook that covers level 15 to 25. (Remember the Epic Level Handbook? Yeah, I remember how people fawned over it when it came out, and then nobody ever using any of it.)
I think the PHB would actually become a better book if it goes only up to 15th level and doesn't bother 8th and 9th level spells. Not only does it become more compact and makes learning the game easier, it also creates more realistic expectations for players.
Basic went to 36+, AD&D had no upper level limit. OD&D provider rule guidelines for levels above 12 etc. 3.x had unlimited epic levels. The first edition with a hard cap was 4e at 30. So… ummm… yeah.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Mechanics for level zero can happen. Even an adventure for it.

Mechanics for epic tier (levels 20-24) can happen.
Sure. I thought it was apparent that I was talking about the three different books angle. The front end costs of putting together a book like that are large. They then have to sell a lot of copies to break even, and then after that mass production costs are low, so they begin to make money.

It's worth it to make a level 1-20, 0-20, 0-24 or whatever single book, because they will sell a lot of those. Dividing those levels up into 3 books just triples the front end costs and they aren't guaranteed to sell lots of all three books, especially the high level one. While there is a very significant number of tables that do play high levels, we are still in the minority and that kind of book would make little profit compared to a single all inclusive book.
 

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