Touched By The Gods

Here’s some good stuff RPT GM Dan Barrow wrote me about powerful PCs:

In your email about high level PCs a reader said he split PCs up with multiple crises needing averting simultaneously. This makes me think. At high level, there must be ever-worse things to deal with. Multiple crises will need averting.

Imagine an invasion, natural disaster, and out-of-control riot in a town the PCs are familiar with. Individual PCs will have to fight on their own a lot to save as much as possible of the things they value.

Another way to split them up is to increase the call of their own issues. Their family, legacy, personal ambitions even, pulling them away at times on side quests. Meaning the rest of the party could be swamped and without a tank or healer.

The world is more complex now they’ve come this far, the stakes higher, the responsibilities more numerous and weightier. And what and where they can safely, sanely experience is limited by less and less. This challenges the DM’s imagination.

Now that they are known by the world as heroes or rulers, even as emporers, they will find foes previously challenging to not be worth five minutes of their precious time.

But the world is full of people trying and succeeding at establishing themselves. And they will not fail to have an opinion and a feeling about the PCs, one way or the other.

Paranoia abounds, and perhaps the whole world, or even the omniverse, becomes like a dungeon filled with traps.

Dan brings up good points.

Three ways in which we can challenge high-level PCs are:

  • Legacy
  • Complexity
  • Responsibility

Legacy

If a first level character dies in the forest, do they make a lasting sound?

Assuming a player has taken their beloved character from dirt to mountain top, that player wants their PC to become a legend. Someone cast in permanent memory of their friends, if not the campaign world.

So at high level, make your adventure stakes about legacy.

Work with players about what they hope their legacy might be. Then put obstacles and threats in the way of that.

Complexity

As the power of foes increase, so too does the breadth, severity, and intensity of resources they can bring to bear against the PCs.

At low levels it’s a few goblins charging the party.

At medium levels it’s the goblin clan chief and his drow ally foiling character plans.

And at high levels it’s the entire Goblin Mafia and the Drow Inquisition punching at the PCs.

Dan’s example is great, too. The domino effect of invaders, disaster, and riots is a cause-and-effect chain of simultaneous threats to what the PCs care about.

To orchestrate complexity without overwhelming you, increase the number of inputs the party must deal with.

Low level => Invaders. One input.

Medium level => Invaders + Disaster. Two inputs.

High level => Invaders + Disaster + Riots. Three inputs.

Responsibility

When the characters can do more, what should they do?

Have the world come to the PCs with its problems. Then give your players tough choices.

One way to do this is to think in abstract terms first. Next, figure out how to manifest this into dangers threatening the who and what the PCs care about.

  • Protection — How to defend against armies, evil influences, and dangerous ideas?
  • Offence — When to strike proactively? When to drop your guard and attack?
  • Growth — How to increase prosperity? When to expand into the unknown or dangerous areas?

If you look at threats, obstacles, and opportunities through the lenses of those concepts, you put pressure on your players to do the right thing while weighing options and making tough choices.

Should Templeton the cleric’s church try to convert the Goblin Mafia heathens (growth)? Or should Broghan’s army crush them (offence)? But then Little Phingers’ network of spies and contraband the party relies on will dry up (protection). Maybe Sir Valiance should become their leader and put them on the right path (growth).

Thanks for the email, Dan. It’s generated some great Musings today.

May your players’ high level PCs live long, prosper, and make a noise in the forest.