9 votes

What do you do with 51 character levels?

My gaming group got to talking at our last game about how long we've been playing. Most of us were at 20+ years. I asked them if they'd ever played a 20th level character, and the answer was a unanimous no, so that's something we're going to remedy with the next campaign.

I got to fiddling around with characters and noticed that 5e caps itself out nicely once you hit 20th. No matter what you create, the limits on action economy, maximum spell/attacks, stats/scores all give rise to a nice plateau. The hit points getting huge is the biggest change, so you just end up trading healing word whack-a-mole for characters that can actually take some real punishment and using power word heal. Needs a wound mechanic so that going down has lasting consequences even if you get right back up, but that's easily workable.

I was bored and threw another twenty levels on for a 40th level character, and then another 11 for a meaningful dip into a third class. Just cap the character's proficiency bonus at +6/20th and nothing really changes except you have a far larger bag of tricks at your disposal. Twelve feats is like candyland. I'm anticipating some of my players are going to get ferret shock trying to keep up with their spell lists during combat. Too many choices, they'll make a hilarious mess out of it and it'll be fun. I have a tiny hourglass sitting on the table to keep the pressure up, I'm sure that'll get some use.

I told them to pick their favorite character they've played over the years that they want to revisit and make the best version they can, complete with character history, holdings, etc. They also have to explain everything on their sheet - every level, feat, item, holding, etc all have a story attached. You're a monk? Where and when did you get that training, etc.

Then one of my players turned me on to the epic level book for 5e from 2c gaming. It's perfect, plugs right into the limits and takes them up a bit, but also adds all sorts of epic madness. Every class/archetype gets its own ten level epic prestige class. That's the 'real' 21-30 I can use for their advancement. I can also torment them with the prestige evolutions from the campaign setting we'll be using. There's plenty of advancement to be had this way despite already being at 51st level. I'm working in all of their existing characters from adjacent games as well, so we've got a ready made pool of henchmen.

I have a feeling there's going to be a lot of spelljamming and planar travel in this campaign. There's probably a gods war in there somewhere too. I have my 2nd Edition monster manual binders right here, and a third of the critters in them can give these characters nightmares for days. I'm figuring I'll be making heavy use of Illithids as one of the main threats, that trailer for Baldur's Gate 3 has them back in vogue again. Psionics is such a wonderful foil for magic.

So what kind of character would you build if you were making a character that's already the master of his/her/its? tiny corner of the D&D universe? What do you do with those 51 character levels?

Any races allowed, of course. Racial abilities are the least of it at this point. Origin can be from any campaign setting, past or present.

6 comments

  1. [2]
    Omnicrola
    Link
    I don't really have an answer, but I'm sure i'd love to hear how this endeavor plays out. I've only played pen&paper for a relatively short time (8yrs), and the highest level character I've gotten...

    I don't really have an answer, but I'm sure i'd love to hear how this endeavor plays out. I've only played pen&paper for a relatively short time (8yrs), and the highest level character I've gotten is 13. And that was after he pulled The Sun card from the Deck of Many Things. The groups I've played with either don't last long enough to get the characters very high, or the group switches to another game.

    3 votes
    1. Amarok
      Link Parent
      That's been my experience as well. Usually the game/campaign ends before you get much past 12th level if you start off at first level. One session a week seems to be what most people get at best,...

      That's been my experience as well. Usually the game/campaign ends before you get much past 12th level if you start off at first level. One session a week seems to be what most people get at best, and at that pace it can take years of play to get high level. Most games don't last that long.

      I also notice a lot of GMs don't like trying to manage the scope of a game where players are so powerful. There are popular modes of play that even cap players at 6th or 8th level (see E6 mode) just to avoid dealing with the crunch that sometimes comes with higher level play. I can sympathize with that mindset since most RPGs are balanced very poorly at high level, they fall apart. 5E is the most resilient version of D&D for that so far but I'm sure there will be issues there too - nobody does 'playtesting' for characters at levels 18+ when designing a game, since it's a tier few ever get to play. Balance is an illusion anyway, there are always overpowered spells and abilities like the Lucky feat. In high level games there's a seat-of-your-pants factor to balancing things.

      I have cheesed the hell out of one character (Druid20/Sorc20/Monk11) to try and make them 'invincible' within 5e. Highest AC I can manage under that system is a 40, and that's decked out in near-artifacts and combining Shield and Defensive Duelist reactions for the extra +11 to AC (which you aren't supposed to do, technically). Without the cheese it caps out around AC30, which is hardly invincible. Plenty of monsters with +20 or greater to hit out there. Compare this to Pathfinder or 3.5 where these numbers would get into the high 40s, 60s, even 80s - that was a pain in the ass.

      The secret to high level play is information. The trick is in the intrigue, and in taking a step up towards the big picture. You have to get out of the trenches.

      Being high level is trading off freedom for power. You need to enforce this dynamic. The more powerful the players become, the less freedom they are afforded. I'll get to the why of this in a bit.

      You can flat out forget about running a combat-centric high level game where you explore a dungeon, clear it out, take the loot, and do generally the same things that got you to this level. These do not function. The game's mechanics are starting to creak, and the players can counter everything you do with ease due to their gigantic bag of tricks. You can't keep one-upping your last encounter forever. It's hard and it's boring. It'll become boring for the players, too.

      It's not that this is impossible. It's that it'll burn you out as a GM, because you're going to have to be a min/max God and work tirelessly just to come up with targets that are a challenge. It's too much, and I advise against going that route.

      Instead, take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

      Players don't fight in the trench now. They take Leadership and direct armies. They should be scouting the enemy and planning the battle, not fighting in it, expect perhaps to be on the front line directing entire platoons, and taking out the boss(es) of the opposing force (who should be on their level or even slightly higher, including the planning). Expect the enemies at this level to be spying on players and aware of their weaknesses.

      Players don't explore dungeons any longer. They have minions for that. They might pay a visit to a dungeon where a minion has found something incredibly interesting or important, and basically skip to the end and deal with whatever is there. They might renovate a dungeon, converting it into a stronghold (very common) or create one of their own.

      They can now expect to travel across the entire campaign world. This is lots of fun as you get to showcase all that a world has to offer, instead of mucking about in a small part of it all the time. Travel is the rule of the day. The players are like royalty now - the don't hear about the King of a new land from tavern tales. They are guests at his palace and dining with him on the day they arrive in his home.

      Worldbuilding comes into play here. While players were participating in the world before, now their actions are changing the face of it instead. The players are becoming much more aware of the political forces shaping the landscape. We're graduating from Lord of the Rings (a journey) to Game of Thrones (an empire).

      They were the members of the Fellowship of the Ring before. Now they are the Lannisters, the Baratheons, the leaders of the Night's Watch.

      Players will own land, businesses, estates, castles. That's something to lose - they'll defend it. These things don't come for free. Players have made commitments to major NPC forces, made pacts with devils or deals with guilds, and done a host of other things over their careers. The price of all of this is coming home to roost now. These forces are going to come calling on the players asking for help or advice. Power taking away freedom.

      The players once went before the King. Now the players are the Kings, and they are the ones putting out the bounties and starting the quests for other adventurers.

      Some great powers will court the players for favor, others will oppose them (a neighboring evil nation for example), some will ally with them. Every one of these transactions takes away a little bit of freedom and adds to the player's power.

      This is the point where your campaign's major overarching plot stops becoming the backdrop for other adventures and becomes the main focus of every session, with the players and their powerful adversaries at the center of it all.

      Information is the currency of this game. It's got nothing whatsoever to do with the numbers on the sheets - there is no special trick that allows a 20th level character to magically know everything he needs to know. Divination magic is best played as a trap - even the Gods have an agenda, and even Gods can be wrong or misinformed.

      If you're doing this right your players will begin longing for their dungeon diving days at some point. ;) You can even let them all play as their henchmen on some kind of critical mission if you want a break from the high level play for a little while. This is a good way to keep them really invested. It keeps everything connected and gives you some flexibility.

      It sounds like a lot of paperwork, but it isn't. Allow the players to create their henchmen, get them in on this worldbuilding process. We've got around... 30? I haven't done an exact count, but most of these players have 2-3 other characters we use from 5th to 14th level.

      Let them design dungeons and keeps. Soon you'll run a major war offensive on the map they built as an army invades. Let them figure out how to unite fifteen separate nations under one rule matching the player's vision. Let them make the wars, and make the peace.

      Enemies don't attack the players in person, save for the occasional assassin. Their enemies are also used to playing the long game. They'll learn all about the players, and all about the power structure holding the players up. They'll strike it where it's weak, tearing it down, and causing havoc. It's a grand chess game now. You want some real havoc at the table? Have the villains kidnap some of the other characters/henchmen, or do something to demolish some of the players' key infrastructure. It's the old Superman trick - how do you challenge someone with infinite power? You attack the people places and things they care about when they aren't around because they can't be everywhere.

      Expect to start using the downtime rules heavily.

      If your players are more of the exploration type, then it's time to introduce them to the planes. This means leaving the campaign world behind. This can also be a result of exile for losing the campaign, or ascension to higher levels of power. The players are passing out of their own world now and into legend.

      This is the point where you give them back most or all of their freedom and take away their worldly possessions (but not their personal ones). The building process begins again, but on a far grander scale. The players may well create their own planes and planar strongholds at this point. That 20dru/20sorc/11monk I mentioned has his own demiplane just to house the material components he's been gathering for a ritual to re-shape the weave. It's filled with floating islands made by spells like Proctiv's Move Mountain.

      Their world may call them back in from time to time, but it will no longer be the focus. Perhaps after a time in the planes, some planar force threatens their home plane's very existence (the Abyss is rather famous for its demonic invasions). The players and all of the legends of the world they remember are summoned back by the Gods to fight in that epic war. Perhaps there was a cataclysm. Perhaps 10,000 years have passed since they were last home. Time works very differently on the planes.

      They may war with Gods directly, or follow some kind of mystery across the whole of creation. The planes are infinite, and as a GM this is your license to create anything, and not be bound by the usual limitations.

      These games tend to get pretty RP-heavy since combat is either an afterthought dealing with non-epic antagonists or a massive epic throwdown that takes hours for the major battles.

      5 votes
  2. [4]
    ThatFanficGuy
    Link
    Do you have to set the campaign in the Forgotten Realms? Personally – not speaking for any of your players here – I'd love to play a D&D campaign with this overpowered a character set in our,...

    Do you have to set the campaign in the Forgotten Realms? Personally – not speaking for any of your players here – I'd love to play a D&D campaign with this overpowered a character set in our, modern-Earth world. Complete with the consequences.

    Got filmed teleporting while battling a nasty monster? Someone from the government is after you now. Broke into the bank vault for the momentary resupply of gold for your rituals? Someone's gonna make a fuss about it.

    The Gunslinger archetype takes on a new meaning with them fancy firearms hanging out in the new world.

    Also, you get to effectively recreate The Defenders, the Netflix version, in your campaign!

    1 vote
    1. [3]
      Amarok
      Link Parent
      A campaign like this kinda outgrows a single world. I know some of the characters will be from Toril, but the primary setting for this is going to be on The Forge which makes my short list for the...

      A campaign like this kinda outgrows a single world. I know some of the characters will be from Toril, but the primary setting for this is going to be on The Forge which makes my short list for the best campaign world that nobody knows about. It's built specifically for this sort of high level universe-spanning gaming. The canon for this world is that it touches all other worlds and all other planes, as they (or their builders) all came from The Forge in the distant past.

      But that's just where the Justice League hangs out, so to speak. The cosmos is their playground. Part of the fun of a game like this is visiting all of the other worlds hunting for time-lost relics or fighting threats that menace multiple worlds.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        ThatFanficGuy
        Link Parent
        ...no modern Gunslingers, then. :( You can always go the way of the Dark Tower: several worlds, each of a different kind. Your players will have to start somewhere. Not that I care too much about...

        ...no modern Gunslingers, then. :(

        You can always go the way of the Dark Tower: several worlds, each of a different kind. Your players will have to start somewhere.

        Not that I care too much about where your game is going to go. I just want to live vicariously through their adventures.

        To answer your question more straightforwardly: I'd do something like a mix of Chronicles of Darkness and The Secret World. Main place is Earth 'cause I'm heavily biased. The adventures are either on Earth or in adjacent planes of existence. My character would excel at one thing and be pretty good in two or three more, depending on what we're doing: it's never good to only have one healer, or one mage with the knowledge of the arcane, or one lockpicker.

        Can't break the Masquerade because if you do, people are gonna go crazy, and my 51 levels would mean nothing against the US military whole locking on my ass. Plus, maybe there's some destabilizing effect to breaking the Masquerade, aside from the public outcry: maybe, like in the Mage part of the Chronicles, people who realize reality is a lie become catatonic or turn into monstrosities we're trying to keep at bay.

        Sorta like American Gods: characters plenty powerful, but each within their own domain, plus some more mundane skills, hiding in plain sight and trying not to get into too much trouble: guns kill gods.

        1 vote
        1. Amarok
          Link Parent
          One of my players is angling for a warforged wizard/artificer build that actually does focus on guns, demolition, cannons and other artillery. His character is one of a small number of highly...

          One of my players is angling for a warforged wizard/artificer build that actually does focus on guns, demolition, cannons and other artillery. His character is one of a small number of highly advanced prototype warforged (think 6 million dollar man) created during the height of the conflict on Eberron. If you aren't familiar, that campaign setting has magitech advanced to the level of superintelligent AIs, so guns are part of the fun and so are computers. The UA:Modern Magic pdf even has spells for interacting with tech.

          Considering one of my other players has an assassin/ranger/bard inter-planar bounty hunter build that can score quad damage crits with a bow (up into the 500hp damage range on a single attack, not counting poisons) I'm not too worried about the guns unbalancing things. Missile weapons are missile weapons be they cantrips, sling bullets, arrows, or .50cal adamantium slugs enchanted with fireballs.

          The biggest challenge is making sure these characters remain complimentary rather than redundant. The players are all on board with that concept so we're building a pretty diverse party. Once I have their character histories I can weave it all together and find a reason for them to interact and meet.

          We can't play face to face during this quarantine but we can build the characters for the next big game after it's over. ;)

          1 vote