In the latest episode of RPG Circus Jeff, Mark and Zach talked about low, mid and high level play in games like D&D. For some reason a lot of people find the early to mid levels much more enjoyable than high-level play.
While earlier editions of D&D included an “endgame” where adventurers settle down, build castles, towers or religious centers, starting with D&D 3.0 adventurers were meant to keep fighting monsters up to the epic levels beyond 20. High-level characters in D&D (especially since D&D 3.0) have a plethora of options to choose in combat, countless magic items, but on the other hand monsters have more and more immunities and special rules to counter that. This sometimes slows down combats to a crawl and a lot of groups move their focus away from adventuring to politics and intrigue instead.
In my personal experience most people prefer low and mid-level gaming. And especially in recent years grim and gritty sword and sorcery settings got more popular again, which usually are low-magic and not as overpowered as some of the high-magic settings like Eberron or Forgotten Realms.
After listening to the aforementioned RPG Circus episode I remember that I have read about an interesting D&D variant which limits character advancement to around level 6 or 8. Characters advance normally up to that point. When reaching the limit they can still acquire more feats and skills but don’t get any more levels. While the characters get more options and are more versatile, they don’t raise in raw combat power. Combined with a grim and gritty setting this could be an interesting option for any D&D game. In a way, this rule variant helps characters to stay in what some players consider the “sweet spot” of D&D 3.0/3.5.
After some research on the internet I found Epic 6 or E6 at the Mythweavers Wiki. The wiki page gives you a short description on how to use this variant and why it was designed that way. I think I also have seen a PDF document of this variant or something similar floating around on the ‘net, but I wasn’t able to find it. When I am not mistaken it was a complete OGL game which contained everything you needed to play E6.
Has one of my readers ever played or run an E6 game? Does it really work as advertised? Please post your comments below!
I can take a moment to let people know that I will be working on a post (that may turn into more than one post) about high level play, trying to go into more detail and not focusing purely on D&D the way the RPG Circus episode did. I'm honored and very thankful that Jeff, Mark and Zach thought my idea was worth dedicating a whole episode to, expanding it to cover all levels, but I think they took the word "level" a bit literally.
Some things I want to discuss: why people might want to play at high "level", what I mean by "high level" play, how it contrasts with low and mid level play (which the guys covered pretty thoroughly), and obstacles and objections to high level play and how to possibly handle them.
Now, if I can find the time to write the post(s) with all the NaNoWriMo madness going on…
You can find a copy of E6 at (direct link to the PDF):
I have not played E6 (So why reply at all you wonder), but I must say that while I understand the appeal of the sweet spot, I enjoy all levels of play in D&D and now Pathfinder. The tone of the game changes but I like it. Back in AD&D 2nd ed we rarely passed 16th level, but all three of my D&D 3rd ed campaigns went beyond 20th level.
When we began our current Pathfinder RPG game players had originally asked it be a lower level campaign, up to say 10th to 12th level but by now they’ve changed their tune an expect to go up all the way to 20th and beyond. I guess that’s a compliment.
Not so long ago I had a brief exchange of thoughts with Corvus (above) and several other comrades regarding high level play. Anyway it's enough to say that my experience of the high level D&D play is somewhat limited but certainly the possibilities look very interesting on paper and I would not necessarily agree that “sweet-spot” level cap is an elegant solution. Granted the sheer number of higher level spells/abilities/bonuses at our disposal probably slows down the set-piece elements but surely the increasingly epic Adventures & Adversaries (see what I did there 🙂 )more than make up for that. Also the advancement in characters reputation and social ranking brings quite a few ideas to explore – political intrigue Stargazer mentioned and larger scale conflicts are frequent campaign choices.
This dilemma seems to be quite typical of D&D (and similar) because the level advancement is more or less open ended, but it may be interesting to explore how other games tackle the game up-scaling to meet the characters' advancement. For example, I remember that Pendragon actually encouraged more epic adventures akin to Arthurian mythology and chivalric epos. Ars Magica had the distinct henchmen play model where depending on the scenario you could control the main character's inferior deputies and servants (a method which could work quite well in D&D). Most of the games tend to shift toward larger scale machinations (either political or military) and/or mythic level adventures where similar to fiction of our own antiquity, the characters would defy gods, cataclysms and death. Conversely, in a few games high character advancement spells certain doom (Call of Cthulhu) or some other form of retirement (godlike ascension, form transition or somesuch) and that's fine since those inevitable consequences contribute to the atmosphere and narrative of the respective setting. The bottom line is that the in spite of popular preference high level game can be a whole new dimension of fun and in many ways is the very aim we play to reach, with open ended games like D&D this may require some work to be manageable though.
Low-level games aren't for my group though I can see the appeal of E6 in terms of not needing to spend a lot of time in prep and just running a game.
For me, I've ran three campaigns in since D&D 3.0 that went from 1st to 20's level. Granted running the higher and epic levels requires more work, but it's still a lot of fun for characters and monsters to wield so much power. It's also a lot of fun for a monster to roll damage on their primary attack and it's over 100 points of damage.
I think if I wanted to run a grim and gritty game, E6 is definitely worth a look.
@Andrew: Thanks for listening, first off! It really does mean a lot.
Yeah, we likely were a little too specific with the term "level". I wanted to touch on the fact that many games are not arrayed in the standard level-progression, D&D-style advancement, but things (as usual) sort of got away from us.
Thanks again for the feedback!