Thursday, November 20, 2008

Preferred Power Levels?

So over the last couple of days there's been some drama here about a 3.5 campaign that got (apparently) way out of hand, involving PCs being polymorphed into dragons and then keeping their statlines etc. etc.. I was pretty harsh in my assessment of the situation, and it does sound like the campaign got pretty out of hand and eventually came apart.

But you know what? Over the top isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some gamers and some campaigns do just fine with ultra high-powered PCs and villains, and there's nothing wrong with that. If your character is capable of arm-wrestling Thor and winning, I'm sure a crafty GM can find some equally superhuman enemies to pit you against.

And your character doesn't have to have a superhuman statline in order to be phenomenally powerful, either. Dan Abnett's character Gregor Eisenhorn, Inquisitor of the Imperium of Man in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, has the (theoretical) authority to call in military reinforcements, squads of superhuman Space Marines, orbital bombardments, or even declare an Exterminatus on a planet and have it wiped clean of all life. That's a pretty phenomenal amout of power for a character to have, and yet Eisenhorn isn't just running around the galaxy, starting wars and snuffing out planets. Remember the old adage about great power and great responsibility? And also remember the line "You can't always get what you want..."?

On the other end of the spectrum, of course, you've got campaigns that might never get much above subsistence living, with the occasional feast scattered among the famines. A lot of classic Sword & Sorcery characters are perpetually broke, and many of them never engage in earth-shaking epic adventures - most of their excitement is in just staying alive while (trying) to land that one big score that will set them up with wine, women, and song for the rest of their days - but alas, it never comes to be. At this power level, the PCs are individually pretty competent, but have almost nothing in the way of money, influence, or power.

So the question I put to you is, what is your preferred power level? Do you enjoy campaigns where a world (or worlds) hang in the balance and your PCs have the powers of kings or even gods, or do you prefer to keep to the gutters, where survival is its own victory? Do you think setting has a lot to do with this as well - i.e., do you prefer low-powered fantasy but high-powered sci-fi?

Comment away!


Darkwing said...

I definitely lean towards the lower level, but not quite so low as subsistence level Sword and Sorcery. I like them to have enough resources to take on missions beyond "find dinner", but I like the PCs to have to think by their wits than just be able to throw their weight around to get what they want.

So enough money/power to have something to work with, but not so much that they have nothing to work for.

Sham aka Dave said...

Over three decades, I've gone to both extremes. back in the heady AD&D early 80's, we felt that if it was in the rules, it was fair game. We had fun watching characters attain levels in the high 20's. It was almost Monty Hall, in fact. There were plenty of deaths and challenges. I had to home brew A LOT and import from all kinds of crazy non-TSR sources to keep things interesting.

Now I prefer a S&S approach; I feel it makes each minor gain that much more meaningful...but it's all relative. I'd never return to those teenage 'oohhs and aahhs' and 'wow' factor that pushed my buttons as a kid, though...but damn if it wasn't the most fun we had with D&D. I guess it was the discovery factor, pushing the envelope, and just playing way too much D&D.

David said...

I can see virtues in both power levels, and to be honest, most campaigns I've participated in have gone from wretched poverty and failure to world-spanning demigodhood.

Which do I prefer? I prefer DMing a low-power sort of situation, and I prefer playing mid to high. DMing low power makes it possible to, say, have towns and merchants. My group has been going Chaotic Neutral lately, and by and large don't find it too much of a problem to loot black market shops. Thus, unless every traveling merchant in my universe has 40 level 20 guards, he's just asking to get killed and have all of his stuff pawned in various cities. Thus, DMing a scenario where the party can't do that sort of thing is more manageable and fun.

However, to be honest, the ability to do that sort of thing is fun also.

So both have their place. Both can be fun, if you can get into the spirit of it.

Gamer Dude said...

As mundane as the question appears on the surface, it's quite loaded... But you're not asking for objective.

I'd have to agree w/ nearly everyone here; I like both. But saying that I'll have to quantify my statement by adding "dependent upon DM and rules."

IMHO, 3.x stunk at high levels. It bogged down to such and extent that it took FOREVER to get through any kind of an encounter. And if you toss in a DM that's not good ad adjudicating a high level game then you're doomed. (regardless of rules actually)

AD&D was fun at higher levels. But when I say "high", I'm talking 18 or so...that's about as high as it got. And we thought we were gods.

I'm now playing Labyrinth Lord and it's a wonderful game from the get go. So yeah, I like them both.

taichara said...

I've never run a D&D campaign that made it past 8th or 9th level before people started getting bored. And that's regardless of edition.

But during those eight - nine levels, I think we touched on just about everything without somehow going overboard. (Even with the "weighted" Deck of Many Things ...)