Character 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.
- To level – 1,190,000 xp | Monster – 23,000 xp | Minion – 5,750 xp | Solo Monster – 115,000 xp
- To level – 1,420,000 xp | Monster – 27,000 xp | Minion – 6,750 xp | Solo Monster – 135,000 xp
- To level – 1,690,000 xp | Monster – 31,000 xp | Minion – 7,750 xp | Solo Monster – 155,000 xp
- To level – 2,000,000 xp | Monster – 39,000 xp | Minion – 9,750 xp | Solo Monster – 195,000 xp
- To level – 2,390,000 xp | Monster – 47,000 xp | Minion – 11,750 xp | Solo Monster – 235,000 xp
- To level – 2,860,000 xp | Monster – 55,000 xp | Minion – 13,750 xp | Solo Monster – 275,000 xp
- To level – 3,410,000 xp | Monster – 63,000 xp | Minion – 15,750 xp | Solo Monster – 315,000 xp
- To level – 4,040,000 xp | Monster – 79,000 xp | Minion – 19,750 xp | Solo Monster – 395,000 xp
- To level – 4,830,000 xp | Monster – 95,000 xp | Minion – 23,750 xp | Solo Monster – 475,000 xp
- 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!