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

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Actually, with the epic boon system neither your class nor your character level advance. You instead advance through feats, boons, and ability scores. We’ve played with a few time and i personally enjoyed it more than levels. In fact, we plan to do a campaign it starts at level 20 we liked it so much.
I probably prefer a more 4e approach with epic destinies.

For 5e, the boons need to be fluid, allowing the play free choice of which ones to take. Some boons are stupendously better than other boons. Players will and should cherry pick the better boons.

That said, the boons can organize thematically. Some themes will relate to Psion becoming an immortal mind (reminds me of Ob1). Some like Wizard becoming an immortal archwizard. Some themes wont relate to class, such as an undead Lich or so on.

At minimum, each theme should be levels 21 to 24, a full "immortal" tier. But higher levels are also possible. Even so, the player can pick any boon they want at each level, so the immortal levels are fluid.

Simply becoming level 21 should get immortality for free, but the flavor of the epic destiny will determine HOW the character became immortal (magic, ascendant, undead, etcetera) − in addition to the first choice of boon at level 21.
 

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d24454_modern

Explorer
I probably prefer a more 4e approach with epic destinies.

For 5e, the boons need to be fluid, allowing the play free choice of which ones to take. Some boons are stupendously better than other boons. Players will and should cherry pick the better boons.

That said, the boons can organize thematically. Some themes will relate to Psion becoming an immortal mind (reminds me of Ob1). Some like Wizard becoming an immortal archwizard. Some themes wont relate to class, such as an undead Lich or so on.

At minimum, each theme should be levels 21 to 24, a full "immortal" tier. But higher levels are also possible. Even so, the player can pick any boon they want at each level, so the immortal levels are fluid.

Simply becoming level 21 should get immortality for free, but the flavor of the epic destiny will determine HOW the character became immortal (magic, ascendant, undead, etcetera) − in addition to the first choice of boon at level 21.
Why should someone become immortal just because they reach level 21? Don't they have enough powers as is?
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Why should someone become immortal just because they reach level 21? Don't they have enough powers as is?
Immortal is narrative. There are no mechanical benefits. The character no longer ages, but can still be killed in combat.

A boon is a mechanical benefit to make the character more powerful in some way.

Each tier feels different from the other tiers
• 1 to 4: Student
• 5 to 8: Professional
• 9 to 12: Master (head an institution)
• 13 to 16: Leader (perhaps head a nation)
• 17 to 20: Legend (highest extremes of humanity)
• 21 to 24: Immortal (beyond humanity)

Immortality (achieved by various means according to the chosen epic destiny) is part of the feel of the tier.
 

d24454_modern

Explorer
Immortal is narrative. There are no mechanical benefits. The character no longer ages, but can still be killed in combat.

A boon is a mechanical benefit to make the character more powerful in some way.

Each tier feels different from the other tiers
• 1 to 4: Student
• 5 to 8: Professional
• 9 to 12: Master (head an institution)
• 13 to 16: Leader (perhaps head a nation)
• 17 to 20: Legend (highest extremes of humanity)
• 21 to 24: Immortal (beyond humanity)

Immortality (achieved by various means according to the chosen epic destiny) is part of the feel of the tier.
Your tiers are honestly too low and linear.

I would do:
  • 1 to 8: Low level
  • 9 to 14: Mid level
  • 15 to 18: High level
  • 19 to 20: Masters
  • 21 to 30: Paragons
  • 31 to 50: Legends
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Your tiers are honestly too low and linear.

I would do:
  • 1 to 8: Low level
  • 9 to 14: Mid level
  • 15 to 18: High level
  • 19 to 20: Masters
  • 21 to 30: Paragons
  • 31 to 50: Legends
Your feel seems accurate.

I prefer the symmetry. Where I have each tier be four levels, each tier corresponds exactly with the proficiency bonus improvement and having a choice of feat as its cap. The mechanical difference between tiers is significant.

Also, levels 1 to 4 as a tier feels very different from the levels 5 to 8 as a tier. But I agree both tiers together 1-4 and 5-8, are best for a low-magic setting, with a more Tolkien-esque feel.

Similarly, 9 to 12 (like 1e "name" levels) feels different from 13 to 16 (which sometimes becomes mechanically very different).

Once one gets into levels 17 to 20, with the Wish spell each day, and the like, it is a different kind game.



Regarding tier names I am of two minds. On the one mind, I am still leaning toward medievalesque advancement in profession.

• 1 to 4: Student: Apprentice / Page
• 5 to 8: Professional: Journeyer / Squire
• 9 to 12: Master: Guildmaster / Knight
• 13 to 16: Noble (≈ Lord/Lady)
• 17 to 20: Legendary



And on the other mind, the old Basic-Expert D&D is suggestive.

• 1 to 4: Basic
• 5 to 8: Expert
• 9 to 12: Champion (works for the name levels and "knight")
• 13 to 16: Master
• 17 to 20: ...
• 21 to 24: Immortal

While tempting, the BECMI divisions are awkward for both medieval-esque and D&D 5e feel.
 

Greg K

Hero
I actually think D&D should end around level 10. The only reason it doesn't it because Gygax made the mistake of designing level 9 spells for wizards, deliberately as a way to give antagonists spells the PCs couldn't use.
7-9th level spells according to at least one of his players
 
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Yaarel

Mind Mage
And on the other mind, the old Basic-Expert D&D is suggestive.

• 1 to 4: Basic
• 5 to 8: Expert
• 9 to 12: Champion (works for the name levels and "knight")
• 13 to 16: Master
• 17 to 20: ...
• 21 to 24: Immortal

While tempting, the BECMI divisions are awkward for both medieval-esque and D&D 5e feel.
Heh, I probably prefer "BEMCLI"

• 1 to 4: Basic
• 5 to 8: Expert
• 9 to 12: Master
• 13 to 16: Champion (!)
• 17 to 20: Legend
• 21 to 24: Immortal

Champion at tier 13 to 16, is also when the superhero feel kicks in.
 

I think using D&D Beyond numbers is flawed beyond belief. The vast majority of players don't play online. They play in person. During the Pandemic my group had to play online and it was very frustrating and not nearly as enjoyable an experience. It's no surprise that the D&D Beyond numbers are low with that kind of experience.
Just checking: are you under the impression that D&D Beyond is a service for gaming online? It's not. There's no VTT associated with D&D Beyond, though there are third-party add-ons to integrate it with various VTTs to various degrees (for example, I have one called Beyond20 that lets me click on an ability or attack or spell in D&D Beyond and send the result to a VTT like Roll20).

The main purpose of D&D Beyond is to have the books in an electronic format (and one that's far superior to PDFs), and in a way that lets me share my books with my players. This means that instead of bringing 8 hardbacks (PHB, DMG, MM, Xanathar's, Tasha's, Volo's, Mordenkainen's, and a hardback campaign) to the location where we're playing, I can bring one laptop or even a tablet. I also have access to the books no matter where I am. The secondary purpose is to have a character generator that makes it easy to create and advance a character, and to keep track of that character's abilities. D&D Beyond works just fine for these purposes work just fine regardless of whether I'm playing online or in person.
 

I think it's likely that most people are using D&D hardbacks, so the lack of higher level characters has a lot to do with the fact that adventures don't go up that high. Exactly why they don't go that high is an interesting question in itself. I believe that Paizo started with adventure paths going to level 20 and then backed away from that, so maybe that is informing WOTC too.
It's the other way around, actually. PF1 adventure paths generally aimed for level 20 but fell a few levels short and generally ended somewhere in the 15-18 range because in the later books things became more complex and took up more page count. In PF2, they have made a concerted effort to go all the way to 20 and even provide actual 20th level adventuring. Mind you, said adventuring is more-or-less the same as early-level adventuring except with bigger numbers and with spells that do increasingly wondrous things – but there's no transition from "adventurer" to "ruler" or anything like that.

I have Thoughts on how well the current APs work, but that's a topic for another thread.
 

d24454_modern

Explorer
It's the other way around, actually. PF1 adventure paths generally aimed for level 20 but fell a few levels short and generally ended somewhere in the 15-18 range because in the later books things became more complex and took up more page count. In PF2, they have made a concerted effort to go all the way to 20 and even provide actual 20th level adventuring. Mind you, said adventuring is more-or-less the same as early-level adventuring except with bigger numbers and with spells that do increasingly wondrous things – but there's no transition from "adventurer" to "ruler" or anything like that.

I have Thoughts on how well the current APs work, but that's a topic for another thread.
You're right. It's like a JRPG: while the scope of what you're doing changes, what you're actually doing doesn't actually change.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
In 5e, the only high level play I've had was a play-by-post game at level 11, and we never reached level 12. Apart from that, the highest was level 8 (both playing and running).
 


Minigiant

Legend
The issue with D&D levels is that we fans do it by feel and not mechanics.

Tier 2 is Tier 2 because warriors get an extra attack and casters get spells that truly break reality but with limitations.

The problem is after that, we don't agree what comes next and next after next. Is Tier 3 where spell break reality with the limiters off or is that Tier 4? What are warriors at tier 3, 4 or 5?

This is why we can't adventure past level 16th. No one agrees what characters should be able to do there.
 

mhd

Explorer
My personal issue with higher level play, apart from rule bloat, was that it inevitably felt too different from earlier play. At a certain spot, the world isn't big enough and you have to cross unto other planes or prime material places as of yet unreached. And for some kind of reason, this threshold often felt quite sudden. Regular archmages, dragons etc. were still mundane enough. So if this is all part of the same campaign or even adventure path, it's a bit like stumbling into Narnia.
And quite often, there's no good reason why the doorway wasn't there before and hasn't been crossed from the other side. If it's all part of the campaign that the new Big Bads are able to reach our heroes, that's good enough, but with D&D worlds, it sometimes seems like you just got the archdevils on your back because it's time.

High-level environments and monsters feel a bit like the Peter Principle of D&D to me.

Sticking to work place metaphors: Yes, a period of domain play is a nice gap between "regular" stories and epic levels. But why do I have to be promoted to management to get a raise ;)
 

AtomicPope

Adventurer
I probably prefer a more 4e approach with epic destinies.

For 5e, the boons need to be fluid, allowing the play free choice of which ones to take. Some boons are stupendously better than other boons. Players will and should cherry pick the better boons.
Same. I played in a 5e DnD game past 20th level and I run a campaign with lots of boons "past" 20th. What we did to keep the players from cherry picking is everyone chose one player's boon and then the DM chose the rest. The restriction on boons was they had to be thematic.
 


jgsugden

Legend
Why do we have trucks? Cars are so much more efficient!
Why do people eat steaks? Hamburger is so much cheaper!
Why do we learn to swim? It is so much easier to walk!

Why do we have high level play? Because it is a different experience that allows players to play a different stage of the game. It can be insanely rewarding when executed well. The problem: There is insufficient training and tools to support it and a lot of DMs don't understand the nature of the game at that level. Although this is not a universally true statement, I have seen it be true fairly often: Most groups that are not enjoying high level play are primarily struggling because they are trying to run it like a low level game.

When PCs have high magic available to them, it is folly to try to run a lot of the mainstays of low level play. Teleportation, divination, etc... negate a lot of things that would challenge low level PCs. It is this ability to bypass these types of challenges that makes the high level PCs feel powerful. This is a good thing. It gives the players new experiences with their old PCs.

So many DMs just try to run a low level adventure with high level monsters. They contrive reasons for PC abilities to not work. "Anti-magic zones", "Every NPC is wearing an amulet of proof against detection and location", "The BBEG wizard cast a spell that makes teleportation impossible." While a little touch of these techniques can be worked in without much impact, if you're constantly negating your PC abilities, you're fighting the system, not playing the game. After all, D&D is improve acting at the core, and the first rule of improve acting tells you not to negate what others are doing.

In high level play, you often know a lot about the challenges you face. Warlocks and wizards might scout out an entire dungeon with arcane eye or similar magics before the PCs set foot inside. The PCs might realize they can skip right past guardians with teleportation magic. DMs face a catch 22: Spend a lot of prep time on encounters PCs might bypass, or risk having to 'wing it' if PCs do not bypass it. However, you can write adventures for high level that are fun for the PCs and do not negate the abilities of the PCs. They generally work on a few fundamental approaches:

1.) There are massive forces at work. The PCs are trying to shift the balance of power. You want to recover powerful magics by gathering their elements, you want to stop forces in various places from achieving their goals, you want to build defenses that can withstand attacks. You're not going to dungeon delve as often. It is about the larger picture - not small goals. They can come up with dozens of different things they can do to further those massive goals, creating a more open ended game.

2.) PCs have to tap into deeper resources. They have more spell slots and more HPs, as well as better defenses. This allows for longer combat scenarios with less resting. I often see my high level games feature a four hour combat where the PCs are defending something from waves of enemies, or are racing against the clock to do something in less than an hour. This creates a challenge for PCs - how do they stretch their resources long enough to reach their goals? Short battles allow the PCs to effectively be at max power all the time - something that results in them using their most powerful abilities and ignoring the less powerful abilities.

3.) The PCs generally need motivations. They need to care about something outside of themselves - something that needs to be protected. If a PC is just accumulating wealth and power and killing, then it becomes hard to motivate adventure. It isn't impossible, but the game is far easier when the PCs are trying to do something bigger than themselves, even when they are so big and powerful.

4.) DMs must adapt to the unexpected. PCs with this many options will rewrite your story with a good (or horrible) idea. Go with it. If you're on a VTT and they go someplace unexpected that is not prepared, then you may need to just draw a map without the features or go with theater of the mind. If you have a grand storyline in mind tht is to span 5 sessions and they figure out a solution that negates the whole adventure - go with it. Yes, you'll lose out on a lot of planning, but it is not hard to recycle that later subtly.
 

The game should be kept to 20 levels, but I like the idea that each tier is split up like BECMI and that would effect the levels of it. Imagine if each class was designed like that in mind? Food for thought!
 

Shair-afiyun

Villager
Speaking from someone who played public games and home games over the years, dming included:

Public games like Adventurer's League or Pathfinder Society only go up to level 12. If you play in public groups your experience is shaped by games that only extend that high so you make the most out of the first 12 levels and treat anything beyond 12 as though it doesn't exist.

With home games, while the option exists to go to higher levels, I've been in an handful that certainly went to 20, but I seen plenty more games that just stop around 1-10 or even 1-5. This can be because the DM just wanted to run something else even if the party wanted them to continue, or maybe a player isn't having fun, or maybe the dm or one or more party members schedule gets very busy because of real life stuff.

There is also just the thing where while levels 16-20 can seem superfluous at times, first couple levels can also feel like a slog as the builds players want usually starting to come online at 3-6 range. And the temptation as a dm is there to start players at a higher level because why deal with levels 1 and 2 which are basically just 'rusty dagger shanktown'.
 

Why do we have trucks? Cars are so much more efficient!
Why do people eat steaks? Hamburger is so much cheaper!
Why do we learn to swim? It is so much easier to walk!

Why do we have high level play? Because it is a different experience that allows players to play a different stage of the game. It can be insanely rewarding when executed well. The problem: There is insufficient training and tools to support it and a lot of DMs don't understand the nature of the game at that level. Although this is not a universally true statement, I have seen it be true fairly often: Most groups that are not enjoying high level play are primarily struggling because they are trying to run it like a low level game.

When PCs have high magic available to them, it is folly to try to run a lot of the mainstays of low level play. Teleportation, divination, etc... negate a lot of things that would challenge low level PCs. It is this ability to bypass these types of challenges that makes the high level PCs feel powerful. This is a good thing. It gives the players new experiences with their old PCs.

So many DMs just try to run a low level adventure with high level monsters. They contrive reasons for PC abilities to not work. "Anti-magic zones", "Every NPC is wearing an amulet of proof against detection and location", "The BBEG wizard cast a spell that makes teleportation impossible." While a little touch of these techniques can be worked in without much impact, if you're constantly negating your PC abilities, you're fighting the system, not playing the game. After all, D&D is improve acting at the core, and the first rule of improve acting tells you not to negate what others are doing.

In high level play, you often know a lot about the challenges you face. Warlocks and wizards might scout out an entire dungeon with arcane eye or similar magics before the PCs set foot inside. The PCs might realize they can skip right past guardians with teleportation magic. DMs face a catch 22: Spend a lot of prep time on encounters PCs might bypass, or risk having to 'wing it' if PCs do not bypass it. However, you can write adventures for high level that are fun for the PCs and do not negate the abilities of the PCs. They generally work on a few fundamental approaches:

1.) There are massive forces at work. The PCs are trying to shift the balance of power. You want to recover powerful magics by gathering their elements, you want to stop forces in various places from achieving their goals, you want to build defenses that can withstand attacks. You're not going to dungeon delve as often. It is about the larger picture - not small goals. They can come up with dozens of different things they can do to further those massive goals, creating a more open ended game.

2.) PCs have to tap into deeper resources. They have more spell slots and more HPs, as well as better defenses. This allows for longer combat scenarios with less resting. I often see my high level games feature a four hour combat where the PCs are defending something from waves of enemies, or are racing against the clock to do something in less than an hour. This creates a challenge for PCs - how do they stretch their resources long enough to reach their goals? Short battles allow the PCs to effectively be at max power all the time - something that results in them using their most powerful abilities and ignoring the less powerful abilities.

3.) The PCs generally need motivations. They need to care about something outside of themselves - something that needs to be protected. If a PC is just accumulating wealth and power and killing, then it becomes hard to motivate adventure. It isn't impossible, but the game is far easier when the PCs are trying to do something bigger than themselves, even when they are so big and powerful.

4.) DMs must adapt to the unexpected. PCs with this many options will rewrite your story with a good (or horrible) idea. Go with it. If you're on a VTT and they go someplace unexpected that is not prepared, then you may need to just draw a map without the features or go with theater of the mind. If you have a grand storyline in mind tht is to span 5 sessions and they figure out a solution that negates the whole adventure - go with it. Yes, you'll lose out on a lot of planning, but it is not hard to recycle that later subtly.
Not that I disagree, but what about high level play is fun for the GM? I see a lot of advice here that boils down to, "Your PCs are super powerful now and can do what they want, more or less. Deal with it." The problem with high level play is it widens the gap. Players get more cool stuff they can do, including ways to ignore challenges that used to actually be challenges. GMs just get expotientally increasing headaches.
 

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