4th Edition D&D: Beyond Level 30

EpicLevelHandbookCharacter level is one of the core concepts behind many roleplaying games, and it has been at the core of D&D from the very beginning as an indication of a character’s abilities, power, and influence in the world.  Back in Original D&D they were so distinguished that each level had a different name depending on your class – a Fighter became a Veteran, Warrior, Swordsman, Hero, and eventually Myrmidon, Champion, and finally a Lord.

OD&D in the beginning had a level range from 1 to 11, with only the Magic-User able to reach the highest level after becoming an Enchanter, Warlock, Sorcerer, Necromancer, and finally a Wizard.  The first Basic Set only included rules to take characters from levels 1-3, which was then added on to with the Expert Set which expanded the range with levels 4-14.  Next in the early 80’s the “Companion Rules” were released which allowed adventurers to play level 15 all the way up through level 25, the “Master Rules” which included levels 26-36, and the “Immortal Rules” which let characters go beyond level 36 effectively transcending the level system.

It was with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition that level 20 became the standard maximum level for all races and classes, with some different rules for humans/demi-humans and what level they could achieve.  3rd Edition D&D continued the trend by presenting a clear chart of levels 1 through 20 for every character in the core rules, and was expanded upon with the Epic Level Handbook that let characters progress through levels 21 and up.  4th Edition combined the epic levels into the core rules and allows characters to progress from levels 1 through 30, which is supposedly the first time since the “Master Rules” of classic D&D that the core rules included progression beyond level 20.

I haven’t heard of many people playing 4E who want to progress beyond level 30, which is understandable because 30 levels is a long time to be playing a character and the Epic Destinies that carry your character from level 21-30 set up a story for how the character ends their adventuring career.  However, even with the first Monster Manual we saw Orcus as a threat higher than level 30 and with the subsequent release of more products we’ve seen Tiamat, Vecna, and many dangerous primordials reach up to level 35.  When I first saw that a solo monster was equivalent to 235,000 xp I started to wonder exactly how many epic level characters would be needed for this to not be a ridiculously hard fight, so a while ago I put these numbers together as inferred from the existing 4E rules assuming they follow the same progression.

Level 31:

  • To level – 1,190,000 xp  |  Monster – 23,000 xp  |  Minion – 5,750 xp  |  Solo Monster – 115,000 xp

Level 32:

  • To level – 1,420,000 xp  |  Monster – 27,000 xp  |  Minion – 6,750 xp  |  Solo Monster – 135,000 xp

Level 33:

  • To level – 1,690,000 xp  |  Monster – 31,000 xp  |  Minion – 7,750 xp  |  Solo Monster – 155,000 xp

Level 34:

  • To level – 2,000,000 xp  |  Monster – 39,000 xp  |  Minion – 9,750 xp  |  Solo Monster – 195,000 xp

Level 35:

  • To level – 2,390,000 xp  |  Monster – 47,000 xp  |  Minion – 11,750 xp  |  Solo Monster – 235,000 xp

Level 36:

  • To level – 2,860,000 xp  |  Monster – 55,000 xp  |  Minion – 13,750 xp  |  Solo Monster – 275,000 xp

Level 37:

  • To level – 3,410,000 xp  |  Monster – 63,000 xp  |  Minion – 15,750 xp  |  Solo Monster – 315,000 xp

Level 38:

  • To level – 4,040,000 xp  |  Monster – 79,000 xp  |  Minion – 19,750 xp  |  Solo Monster – 395,000 xp

Level 39:

  • To level – 4,830,000 xp  |  Monster – 95,000 xp  |  Minion – 23,750 xp  |  Solo Monster – 475,000 xp

Level 40:

  • To level – 5,780,000 xp  |  Monster – 111,000 xp  |  Minion – 27,750 xp  |  Solo Monster – 555,000 xp

What does all of this math and numerology tell us?  Well for starters we know that a party of five level 30 epic characters should be able to take on a 95,000 xp encounter with average difficulty, and that a single level 30 character accounts for 19,000 xp in an evenly matched encounter.  For a monster such as a big-bad level 35 solo Primordial, this means an even matched fight would consist of 12 or 13 level 30 epic level characters.  Using the Dungeon Master’s Guide directions we know that a difficult fight for a character is an encounter 3 levels higher, so that each level 30 character then accounts for 31,000 xp in a difficult encounter which still gives us 7 or 8 epic level characters facing this extremely tough challenge.

Much like the explanation of escalation at the end of Batman Begins, the inclusion of monsters beyond level 30 and specifically to heights above level 35 naturally infers that players should be able to achieve such greatness as well.  Some examples of post epic tier play could be joining with the gods in a mission to destroy or imprison a rogue Primordial, or maybe the god Bane has finally overstepped his boundaries and needs to be put in his proper place for good.  The quest to eradicate all evil, everywhere, that’s ever existed would be another kind of such lofty quest that it would need to be undertaken by the mightiest of heroes.  For additional ideas I would recommend reading the 3rd Edition Epic Level Handbook which has some great write ups of adventures for characters up to and beyond level 30.

Surprisingly WotC has hinted that they will reveal some new information about playing beyond level 30 at GenCon (NEXT WEEK!) during some of their seminars, which pretty much guarantees my attendance!  My initial thoughts are that players will be able to attain some higher level of godhood than the demigod or other Epic Destinies explain, but I could also see some alternate rules for extended play that let players explore a secondary class further or even a second Paragon Path to further differentiate their characters.  Another idea would be completely breaking the 4th Edition rules and conventions by giving characters above level 30 non-power based mechanics, perhaps even bringing in some old school concepts like Vancian magic, to make them feel truly unique and extra-powerful.

Using the numbers above you should easily be able take characters beyond level 30 and create encounters to challenge them and lead them up to a whole pantheon of baddies to tackle.  Perhaps one of the easiest ways to let them progress is to simply let them choose more powers from the power lists available to their characters, or to start using daily and encounter powers more often then the rules previously allow.  If you want to venture into possibly less balanced territory, you can start allowing such high level characters to have as a base two standard actions  and a move action in a turn that they can then trade down for move or minor actions as needed.  The possibilities are really exciting when you start to explore ways to take the game beyond level 30, but it could also break things horribly as players begin to literally control gods and shape the way the universe works.  If you have any suggestions for other ways to take a character beyond epic levels, or if you have concerns about how things would work at this level of play, please share them in the comments!

Comments

  1. Gods are higher than 30 because players should not have the option to engage and kill them mechanically. If there is enough flavor and reason to do so, then that is a separate topic. Ending the progression at level 30 is perfectly reasonable. A group of level 30 players would indeed provide heartache for even the greater gods.
    .-= Matt James´s last blog ..4th Edition D&D: Beyond Level 30 =-.

  2. @Matt: Though I also responded to your comments on your forum, I will respond to your comment here as well – The 4th Edition rules already include a lot of content focused on allowing players to engage and kill gods. The mechanics are already there, whether or not you include them in your game is up to you, but clearly WotC and previous editions of D&D have had the idea of fighting gods included in the game mechanics.

    This post came about from seeing Primordial’s, and some of the God’s, statblocks and wondering if they could trounce a group of level 30 heroes. From there I wondered what kind of heroes, or how many, it would take to trounce them back!

  3. Level 40 gods will be an issue (if they ever release their stats) but a group of solid level 30 characters could take out Orcus or some of the other primordials. Its all situational. I will be the first to admit I was a bit harsh on my immediate response :)

    I guess I get very protective of splatbooks. That being said, it had nothing to do with your writing or analysis- which were both stellar and on message.
    .-= Matt James´s last blog ..4th Edition D&D: Beyond Level 30 =-.

  4. Sucilaria says:

    Hey hubby, here’s a question for ya:

    I know in 3rd edition there was a “sweet spot” – I can’t remember exactly where it was, but I know it hovered around level 10. Has a “sweet spot” been agreed upon in 4th edition yet, or is it just acknowledged that they’ve done a good job in bringing that feeling to every level?

    Certainly with Teodora (my Level 8 Cleric) I feel that I have a lot more options in combat now that she has some varied spells, though I am frequently frustrated with not rolling well enough (even with +12 modifiers) to hit. It’ll be interesting to see how that changes, or if it does, in the next few levels.

    Good article, though I have to admit, for all the hullabaloo about the endgame and level 30 and beyond, how many people actually take a character from level 1 all the way to that point?

    And a final thought – When you’re dealing with gods and demigods, I think crunching numbers starts to have a lot less to do with it than roleplaying and creative DMing does. Or perhaps, roll a d20 for a miracle?

  5. Michelle says:

    It’s all a matter of taste, but for me, it’s not a god if mortals can kill it. There can be 35th and 40th and 50th level challenges, but those still aren’t gods. 1000th level — maybe that’s a god. Maybe.

    The question I find interesting is, is it possible to have an enjoyable epic-level game *without* bringing in extra-planar beings and grand plots to destroy the universe?

    I think of Raymond Feist’s novels, which indeed feature those extra-planar beings, but also have Pug and friends trying to keep peace between the kingdoms. Is that feasible only because it’s a novel and not a game?

  6. @Michelle: Ah but once most characters hit level 21 they aren’t really “mortals” anymore, they are on the path to being a demi-god or a hero of legend (arguably still a mortal though). Also by the 4th Edition rules even though gods like Vecna and Tiamat are in the lower 30’s for level they are essentially close to unkillable because of the deity rules – once they become bloodied they disappear or teleport away. Only after a series of quests/tasks are completed and particular conditions met can a group of adventurers even begin to think about actually killing a god.

    Now the primordials, which is what spurned this entire post to begin with, are a different story – they are more like rampaging monsters than gods and the one I reference specifically is actually the same level as the gods. The story behind the primordial references several gods needing to team up to trap the primordial.

    You actually pose a very interesting question, I think it would definitely be possible to have a successful epic game and still keep it very worldly, but with the D&D universe as presented it might be a difficult venture. A lot of it would depend on how fast your party is progressing, but at the normal/suggested speed it would be quite tough. I would suggest that as heroic pertains to smaller scale – individuals and one or two towns being in danger, to paragon – a whole city or nation being in danger, you could then progress to epic – continents battling it out or a full scale invasion of one force into the lands of another.

    Really it depends strongly on the preferences of your players, if they want non-planar adventuring then I think some very interesting things could be done to go into epic tier without ever going to the planes or having world-threatening plots. One of the first things that springs to mind would be having a hidden order of assasins simultaneously take out all (or most) of the world leaders at the same time, this isn’t a plot that threatens the whole world at one time but each and every kingdom is very strongly threatened.

  7. I always thought of developing ridiculous powers above level 30, myself. I would do level 32, 33, 35, 37 and 39 like the ones in Epic Tier, and have a class feature attainable at level 31 to tide you over until you reach 32 for your first crazy power (which would be a utility). But it felt like too much work. The idea of tacking on a second paragon path at 31 is much easier.
    .-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Clerical Hierarchy in Eden =-.

  8. Level 39 Daily: Consume Planet
    740[W] + All Modifiers Combined
    Spend All Healing Surges, End the Campaign

  9. I think that the idea has a lot of merit.

    Let’s face it, most ancient mythologies (i.e. the ‘literature’ that all fantasy gaming ideas have descended from) have stories of heroes in combat against the gods OR situations where powerful heroes were able to kill ‘monsters’ that even the gods feared.

    When I consider the primordials of 4E, I can’t help but think that they are underpowered when compared to some of the bigger baddies in the Cthulu mythos. Most of those baddies, I think would fall in the category of ‘monster’ instead of ‘god.’ I guess my point is that it is not inconceivable to have supra-powerful monsters that are mortal and can be killed. Why not have a level 40 mother-of-tarrasque? [An idea that I'm considering for play in my own campaisgn is that purple worms are merely the larval stage of some really mean mother.]

  10. Personally I have little interest in Epic-tier play, so I doubt I’ll ever see post-Epic play either.

  11. You seem to have read the encounter level rules completely wrong. A level +3 encounter is considered a moderate challenge, while level +5 is a difficult one, with level +7 being the absolute edge of what PCs can handle. In other words, enemies like Maul-tar and Tiamat, who are level 35, a difficult encounters on their own for a standard party of 5 at level 30, or, in other words, they were designed to be climatic campaign ending bosses. Your assertion that it would need 8 or 7 people to take them down is false as with 8 or 7 characters the fights would be at-level, which, if you understand anything about 4e encounter balance, means they would be easy mode. Level 33-35 is perfect for a “boss monster” encounter, which is exactly how Demogorgon, Orcus, and Vecna are all meant to be used. Heck, the developers came out and said that they never created stats for the god Bane when he got an article in Dragon specifically because he would be impossible for PCs to fight.

    So, no, no level 31+. The rules wouldn’t support it and the meta-plot kind of breaks down at that point. Who would you fight? You kill Orcus, Grazzt, Tiamat, Vecna, and Maul-tar and after all that your still only at level 32. No non-solo monster published is enough of challenge for you, so you’d have to find some way to get XP without warm up fights. Do you clear the abyss out of boredom? The Nine Hells? Do you go on a God-stomping rampage because, by golly, you have 8 more levels to go and you have to get them? The game would kind of stop making sense after a certain point and you would need to completely redefine what certain things mean in the setting to get things rolling again.

    Its just unfeasible the way things stand.

  12. GreyPilgrim says:

    Yes! Fighting and killing everything in the multiverse because you have 8 levels to go is exactly what’s left to do in the game. Once and only once, every player of D&D should accomplish defeating everything in the DM’s world. I think if that happened I would finally retire playing.

    Post-epic play can always occur because they’re are always challenges that exist which can lead to deity champion or demi-gawd status for a player. Once you reach 30th level, the deities are definitely paying attention to you and may either try to destroy you or buddy up to get you on their side. This could mean endless quests that affect a deity’s influence in the multiverse, and affect your influence in the multiverse.

    Plus I’m sure there are some post-epic level dungeons that exist on other planes…dungeons that are even too powerful for primordials to escape…dungeons that took the will of elder gawds (level 1000 and above) to create. Most of the current gawds would think twice about entering those places without forming a party of themselves and using your measely level 35 player character as a torch bearer.

    I could go on, but my point is that post-epic play is DEFINITELY feasible.

  13. @Nyronus: Please provide an exact place that WotC sets out an encounter 7 levels higher than the PC’s being the edge of what they can handle. From everything that I remember and have checked out, a difficult encounter for PCs is listed as being 3 or at most 4 levels higher than a group of 5 PCs. Where they do mentino +7 levels is for any one individual monters, a monster 7 levels higher than the PCs begins to become too hard to handle no matter what the XP totals are. What you point out in your second paragraph are actually all good points, there is probably a certain point where a group of such high level PCs run out of things to fight – unless of course you start making up tons of high level primordials or even worse creatures for them to deal with.

    @Nick: Thanks, and I think you pointed out a lot of good things that might make this an even more feasible (and possibly fun) idea!

    @GreyPilgrim: At first I wasn’t sure if you were being sarcastic or not. :) Perhaps even then the PCs become godlike and then have to contend with all of the problems that come along with that.

    This definitely seems to be an issue that is split between either like it or absolutely hate it!

  14. I can understand why characters end at 30 and monsters/gods can go to 40. 30th level characters seem to still be tied down to earth. One level 30 character wouldn’t get anywhere against a level 35 – 40 God.

    A hard solo encounter is one that is about 3 levels higher then the party. So to take on a 35 primodial, I would think you would need at least 6 characters. For a 40th level God however, you probably need at least 12, maybe even 15 characters! It would be REALLY interesting to have a dozen people around one table taking on one enemy. But then the game would slow down to a crawl and become extreamly hard to organize.

    The answer in my opinion is simple: roleplaying. If 6 people have been playing their characters from 1st level all the way to 30th, they should have gotten a lot done. Also, by that time the DM should have been able to set up their final encounter, which is probably a God/primordial. The DM should have planned it a long while back before they actually started the encounter. He should have been able to place level 30 artifacts or customized weapons that would specificaly make the boss easier then he looks. The weapon could be something the DM cooked up to be albe to hurt the creature inmensely. He may make only one, so not everybody can be as big of a threat as the wielder. That level “roleplaying” weapon would be able to make the encounter possible for the 6 PCs. The weapin would change the difficulty from uber annialation to extreamly Hard.

    Roleplaying is the solution. It goes beyond the mechanical rules and allows the PCs to be able to do anything, rather then having to find 10 more friends to play with and have them materialize into the story.

    By the way, I have always wondered what the 31 – 40 tier would be named. Any suggestions? I have thought of Legendary or Mythic, but Epic still seems to be bigger…

  15. TheKipper says:

    As a DM-in-training just dipping his toe into 4th edition much of this 30+ discussion is beyond me. I do however have a suggestion for Gavin about what a 30+ tier might be called: Transcendent.

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