Power Gaming II

So I’ve been thinking after my last post about levels and power gaming.

One of the biggest differences between OD&D and AD&D was that levels in OD&D tended trowards the significantly lower, this changed significantly when the B/X/C/M/I (shortened to “B/X”) rules came into place and D&D turned into a power game the likes that AD& could never even envision (at least until the later stages of 2E). I suspect that this is the reason why I tend to furrow my brow when folks start talking about level/power creep in AD&D and go on about the purity of D&D – I came in really just after the end of the real OD&D era and the beginning of the AD&D and B/X eras (e.g. Late Golden and the prime-time of the Silver Age).

But I had two major groups that I interacted with, mine (that I DM’d for) and SD’s (that he DM’d for and I played in). Out of SD’s group there were a couple of other DM’s who played on-and-off (mostly off, I joined the group after SD had graduated college and folks had kind of drifted off getting jobs and the like) and there was a fair amount of cross talk about campaigns and “how to do things.” Plus, then of my players ended up starting his own group.

All of these groups did sandbox play in self-generated worlds. Some of us experimented with things like Oerth or Faerun and whatever the Judge’s Guild World was named. Yes, modules were used as often as they came out, but pretty much people invented thier own adventures and there was the usual mish-mosh of rules and rules systems (Chaosium’s games were a favorite to steal additional rules and magic systems from). If you gamed regularly, there just weren’t enough modules out there to use. Plus, and this is the point I was wandering too – the modules were just too damn easy for the most part, at least for the level ranges that were suggested for the higher ones.

As much as the G & D series is beloved and full of all sorts of fun – our experience was that a well-run group of 6-8 players who had advanced through play and loaded for bear could pretty much get through them at around 7th level of so, not the nine or so 9th-10th level characters that are suggested. And this was done with the DM’s in question usually boosting up modules a bit with tougher takes on the monsters.

SD’s world, by the time I stopped playing had characters that had topped out at around 10-12th level. There were a couple that were higher, but this included the fact that people had worked their orginal characters up to that level. In my game the highest level characters averaged around in the 8th to 9th level – though there were a couple of notable exceptions that I’ll probably talk about in a later post.

In both worlds, characters power ended up being less about level and more about who they knew and the relationships they had built with the people and institutions of power – and knowing how to use what abilities and magic they had to the best effect. The character’s were the movers and shakers, the “Young Turks” of the game world and they acted accordingly.

One of the things I’m not so sure about some of the talk coming out of the OSR is that it seems to equate “high-level” (certainly a relative term on a campaign by campaign basis) with “Monty Haul” and I just can’t get on board with that. It doesn’t make any sense to me and just seems reactionary bluster in the wake of the OSR against anything vaguely 3E-ish with character ability bloat.



Categories: Campaign Development, Game Play | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Power Gaming II

  1. 1d30

    I agree that a character of Level X is more powerful in 3E than 2E, and in 2E than 1E, except that any Oriental or Underdark character is more powerful than a comparable-edition character.

    I think part of the problem with high-level characters is that they become much more variable. At low level, at least in 1E, level equals the number of man-equivalents you are. A Hero (4th level Fighter) is equivalent to four normal men. But when you reach great disparities in number or HD the formula breaks down. For example, a group of six 2nd level characters could reasonably fight twelve 1HD monsters, or four 3HD, or maybe even three 4HD. But can they fight 24 Kobolds? Maybe if it’s a fight in tight passages where the Kobolds’ short bows can’t all fire at once. Can they fight a 12HD monster like an Iron Golem or Dragon?

    The issue is special abilities. Higher HD monsters tend to have great special abilities like Magic Weapon To Hit, Magic Resistance, Save or Die, etc. The same goes for higher level PCs: Web, Fireball, Stoneskin, Heal/Harm, Vorpal. When there is great disparity in HD, one side has special abilities that might put it firmly out of the league of the lower HD side.

    A second issue is attacks and damage. A monster with 1 attack of 1d10 damage might be 4 HD, and have effectively THAC0 17. But take 6 Goblins with hand axes, 6 attacks of 1d6 damage and THAC0 20. Sure they might miss more, but against AC 4 the 4HD monster does on average 3.575 HP per round while the Goblins do 16.8 HP per round. Admittedly the Goblins decline in damage output as you kill their HD, which doesn’t happen to the 4HD monster, but then again the Goblins will suffer overkill damage which would apply to the next HD of the Ogre.

    Another issue is that humanoids are tougher than monsters in general. They might cast spells, they can use equipment, etc. Take those Goblins above and give them Short Bows instead of Hand Axes and you double their damage output while letting them spread out so one Fighter can’t sweep them all at once. Humanoids use tools, so prepare traps and fortifications. They are smart and use language, so prepare strategies and ruses. On the other hand, humanoids have more treasure in the form of equipment. Consider a big 3 HD snake vs. 3 Orcs who have hide armor, short bow, arrows, and hand axes. The Orcs are a lot tougher and have lots of treasure compared to the snake.

    Still, I think the 4E system of balancing everything precisely is a joke. Part of the interest in D&D is the unexpected.

    • Yup, you have it in a nutshell. In truth, the players in all the games weren’t worried about “monsters” for the most part, they were all worried about other “characters” – or the sorts of monsters that duplicated characters (ala mind flayers or the more intelligent demons/devils that could/would use equipment).

      While a high level group could take out a tribe of goblins, it was through superior firepower and surprise – not a bunch of melee-types wading in and killing stuff. It was mages dropping fireballs and lightning bolts and taking out huge swathes of them and then the melee-types spiking and interrupting enemy spellcasters and leader types.

      Now we all played with a 2-20 rule (one natural 20 double damage, two natural 20 instant kill) and that was one of jokes. In the game I played in there was the joke that the 15th level paladin lived in fear of a kobold with a sharp stick – because that is what everyone knew was going to kill him. Not some epic battle with a arch-demon, but some lucky shot by a measly kobold. That kept everyone on thier toe in a way that the canon rules wouldn’t, you could never be completely complacent because any fight or plan could go south in a heartbeat with some lucky shot by a minion.

      Kind of like “real life.”


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