Behind the Screen: The Perils of Being Epic

2008 March 3
by Dante

We are quickly approaching the endgame of our first venture into an epic campaign. My co-DM, Kanati, and I have both agreed that this has been quite an educational experience for us and I thought I would share some high level thoughts if you are considering such a foray on your own.

Encounter Balance is HARD

One of the toughest things about getting into epics for me was figuring out encounter balance. The player characters have so many weapons at their disposal in the form of feats, skills, weapons/items, and class skills that the combination of our particular group is nigh on unstoppable.

There is a fall off point, however, which I’ve been unfortunately falling off of ever since we got back into the campaign in earnest: battles with enough firepower to threaten an epic party takes a LONG TIME. We spent an entire session this weekend on a single battle encounter.

Granted, a lot of very dramatic and interesting moments took place (my favorite was SR’s character surviving a Disintegrate) but still… it took a long time. I have a certain difficulty with just waving my hands at some point and determining that these followers of an evil goddess would just give up, run away, or disjunct at their goddesses will. I hate having to play obvious cards like that, but it is sometimes necessary.

The PC’s probably have too many tools.

If you are a DM like I am, I tend to like to add some pizazz to the gear that I give to the players, or at very least handwave downtime and allow them to travel and purchase whatever they desire with their treasure. That pizazz can backfire in a glorious way at epic levels, especially when you need to either add drama by endangering a player character (or even a highly thought of NPC).

One of our players, Sir Geekelot, used all of his treasure during our years of in-game downtime to procure a Staff of Life. I didn’t quite realize this until he quite humorously produced said staff and deigned that he would bludgeon the life back into two fallen NPC cohorts that had fallen to the aforementioned baddies.

Now was this a mistake for me to make such powerful items available? Yes and no. I should’ve kept tabs better on what they were purchasing, but if you release an 18th level character to the world with a pile of well-earned treasure and give him years to do whatever he feels like it stands to pretty good reason if he dedicated himself to getting that item then he should be able to do it. That run-on sentence makes a good deal of sense to me, but yet it adds extra complexity when trying to add suspense, drama, or simply just speed up the group by blowing out a few cohorts for good.

More Comin’

Well, I’ve taken only two lessons learned from dipping our toes into the epic waters and written a novelette, so I will leave it here for now. Expect to see more on this topic as weeks pass, doing some analysis to grow my skills in public will be interesting at the least!

3 Responses leave one →
  1. kanati permalink
    March 4, 2008

    Which brings up something geekalot has stated before and I agreed with.

    Ressurection is BROKEN. At this point, unless we wipe out the entire party, or kill the paladin and cleric… and break their little stick in half…. There’s no way of putting them in any real danger. The threat of death is gone because at any time they can resurrect their people. And that we’ve allowed them cohorts, the party is now about 40 people strong and filled with uuber-toons that can take out a minor army all by themselves.

    Frankly… I think the campaign is very nearly broken at this point.

  2. Dante permalink
    March 4, 2008

    All extremely true, valid points…. seems like pretty much a flagrant misunderstanding of what epic power means.

  3. Katherine permalink
    March 5, 2008

    Quell your temper-tantrum, Kantai, staff of life offers return from death, but only in the form of raise dead…If we use it too often on PC’s or the small gathering of helper types they will cease to be epic level.

    Also I would say the that pretty handy death dealing enjoyed by the DM’s still felt pretty threatening from a PC perspective. Frankly… I think the campaign is far from broken.

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS