Saturday, January 21, 2012

Our Levels Go To Eleven

I have an admission to make, I fear the dreaded Level Up pronouncement by our Dungeon Master. Oh sure, back when I was thirteen I played monty haul AD&D but now I don't want the extra baggage. I try to publicly convince our DM that our characters shouldn't level just yet. Thankfully she has a long history of being stingy with experience point awards. Other players, who want their character to get more powerful, cast aspersions in my direction.

What could possibly be wrong with leveling?

Dungeons & Dragons becomes less fun as you level. The act of leveling is fun, don't get me wrong. However, the more you level up the closer you get to the point where the rules start to make it difficult to enjoy the game. A commonly accepted problem with the previous edition (3e or v.3.5) was that it was too difficult to play after 15th level. D&D 4e wanted to solve this problem on both the player side and the DM side but all they accomplished was adding another ten unplayable levels. A sense of growth is very important and despite my phobia about leveling I want character progression.

The mechanics of higher level play need to work in order for me to try it. I played from lowly Level 1 through Level 21 in 4th edition and it stopped being fun long before we stopped the campaign. Combats were painfully slow and long. Also, daily powers were overwhelming such that it was really difficult to threaten the players without tediously wearing them down first in those slow, complicated fights that I disliked. I believe that R&D "got the numbers wrong" and hit points grew faster than player's ability to deal damage so it was a slog to kill things other than minions.

I would rather gradually grow my character to 8th level as the campaign story arc crests and be done. My player experience seems to mirror many other groups based on product sales. Adventures like The Sunless Citadel and The Forge of Fury sell much better than Heart of Nightfang Spire, Lord of the Iron Fortress, or Bastion of Broken Souls. I really enjoyed 3rd edition's Epic Level Handbook and it was very popular but I doubt even half the people who bought it ever played at those levels. My 4th edition, 3rd edition, and 2nd edition D&D experiences are all the same when it comes to what levels we played. Consistently in D&D we've ended our games by Level 12 at the latest (and I regretted those times when we didn't).

I was insulted by the repeated implications in 4e text that heroic tier characters (1st-10th) were putzing around killing rats and only making a local impact. I'm curious if any sizable chunk of games really work that way. The fantasy fiction that my games imitate are about grand heroes solving world-spanning problems like The Wheel of Time or The Lord of the Rings trilogy. If the characters start out as apprentices that entire rookie atmosphere for the game is gone by the time second level is over. I would never spend ten levels playing the village hero.

In D&D 4th edition, lots of cool flavor and interesting mechanics were hidden away from us low-level players. Paragon paths rock and even epic destinies brim over with cool descriptions. Many feats that opened interesting characters options, staple fantasy monsters, or inspiring magic items were powered-up such that they were locked away above 11th or even 21st level. Third edition did slightly better because you could often get into the fun prestige classes at 5th-7th level which was before the levels where the rules faltered under their own weight.

Slow down the power level progression. Increase the progression when comes to the level of customization and flavor players can layer onto their character. Make creative branching options available to characters sooner. This gives the important sense of growth and improvement without throwing fun out the window.

What about your games? Do you play mostly games where characters are below 12th level? Leave a comment below and tell me why you play low-level games?

-Aaron

1 comment:

  1. I agree so completely that it's ridiculous. I've gone to 13th/14th level, but that's as high as I think any of the various editions have been easily playable. It is possible to go further, but only for certain subsets of people, and certain very specific types and kinds of play. And the idea that a 10th level character in 4e was a powerful putz is kind of silly. Normally in any game, not just D&D, I end up trying to slow the progression of power while speeding up the progression of involvement and intrigue, and as 4e had very little non-combat stuff, I just never saw the point of it, and after a few half hearted campaigns, gave it up entirely. I don't hold out much hope for a 5e, but it might be better, at least.

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