Content of the article: "The limiting (and sometimes boring) nature of creating high level encounters"
So, I have just finished a 1 and a half year weekly campaign that went from level 1 to level 20. I have already vented about some of the problems that I faced when facing some high level skills, and I intend to create a post describing my full experience sometime soon… But right now, let me just tell about how encounter design changed from Tier 1 and 2 to Tier 3 and 4.
I believe that the most interesting encounter I had build were the ones in Tier 1 and Tier 2. At level 5, I put my party to face a Balor. Of course, the balor could simply destroy them, but the way the fight was set they had a place to take cover, and they had a crystal capable of casting banishment… So the whole fight was this run against time to try to banish this hellish creature that was invading this world! Actually, I used a lot of high CR monsters against this low level party, creating fights with a twist, an objective, location or power that they could use to shield themselves against this indestructible foe and, even being weaker, secure victory!
At Tier 3 and Tier 4… This changed completely. There were very few monsters that, by themselves, could challenge a party of 5 heroes. Hell, at level 11 a balor would already be nothing. A lot of fights stopped being a battle against unsurmountable odds where the heroes used a clever trick to banish their foes! Most of the battles became a case of “this powerful creature was trying to do something, but luckily for the world, this group of 5 heroes that were stronger than that creature showed up and were able to kill it”. If this was a book, that would just be bad writing… The vanilla solutions weren’t too great either. A single balor is too week? Let them fight two balors…
What I started doing was buffing and changing the monsters, so that they were uber strong and players could still rely on ingenious solution to beat these cosmic beasts, but I have to admit to myself that this was just extra work. Like, I feel that if they were lower level I could have achieved the same result narratively by using a normal high CR monster, instead of busting my ass creating trying to innovate custom challenges for a high level party. Either, the fights became just boring (basically, the PCs were stronger all along and they kill the evil thing), or took A LOT of work to make.
So, I know most people (especially players) have this fantasy of reaching high level play, but if you are a GM keep in mind that your resources to build high level encounter is really limited! You can, with a twist, put a party of 5th level characters to face a tarrasque… Against a party of 15th level characters, the solution is often to place two tarrasques…
After this long game, I am starting to think that D&D is best being played from level 1 to 10 (mayyybe 11), and that level 11 and up stuff in the manual is there to ensure that the GM can make compelling villains and challenges for the party. So, my fellow GM, if you're about to GM a high level game, be aware of the challenges and limitations you will face to create cool and challenging encounters at those levels!
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- Secretly antagonist PC in an evil campaign? Looking for 2nd opinions
- Easy Rule-of-Thumb for Encounter Building
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