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Balancing Epic Scales

February 21, 2012

http://images.wikia.com/dragons/images/9/9a/Tiamat.pngLast night was another Scales of War session. We’re wrapping up the penultimate module, and while we started at level 10, getting to level 28 has taken more than 2 years of pretty regular gaming. Monte’s recent article and the Weem’s recent post were perfectly timed, as I had them fresh on the brain while playing last night.

As I’ve mentioned here before, playing Epic 4e takes not only an Epic GM, but Epic players who know their PCs cold. Most of our character sheets are somewhere in the range of 10-14 pages, and we don’t even currently have a wizard in the party. That spell book eats paper like no other type of character. There are a number of challenges when playing at high levels for both the DM and PCs.

One of the main ones is encounter balance. It is extremely hard to challenge a well-built epic party. At the beginning of the session last night, we had to figure out if we had just completed an extended rest last session, because several of the party members weren’t down any surges, and weren’t hurt. Not a scratch. Turns out we had been through at least one fight, as some of the guys had used surges, but with the ability to slough off even the most debilitating effects and defenses in the mid to high 40s (my warlord has a fortitude of 53), its very difficult to challenge the party. In the module we are currently playing we encountered an ancient black dragon… as a wandering monster. In a regular game that would be the ultimate encounter and any of the party would be lucky to survive. Using party synergies and team work developed over the last few years of play, we spanked him like a misbehaving wyrmling.

A lot of great ways to counter this and make it challenging using 4e mechanics are detailed in Sly Flourish’s Running Epic Tier D&D Games. One of the best points in there, and one used to great effect in the last fight of the evening, is that big enemies should have auras of vulnerability. Some of the minions were only  doing 10 damage a hit, which at epic level is next to nothing, but then when we stepped up to the big bad, and were vulnerable 25 fire, suddenly the minions were doing 35 a hit; Not insignificant, even at level 28.

We are approaching the ultimate battle with Tiamat herself. It looks to be the very epitome of epic play for 4e. Of course, once we defeat her (and we *will* defeat her), won’t the balance of good and evil be thrown out of wack and cause a dragonlance-like cataclysm? We’ll see.

In the end though, I think I was hoping for something more. Sure, we’re rolling a big pile of dice for any major attack, and my head-math skills have improved appreciably because of it, but shouldn’t our near god-like heroes be something more than just bigger numbers? We’ve got enough feats to allow us to break every rule in the book (Flanking? No I don’t grant combat advantage. Oh he’s got cover? Great! I’m more accurate if they have cover than not.) So why have those puny ‘mortal’ rules at all? I think the Weem has got the right idea. If you stick with it long enough, your hero should ascend to the heights of a pantheon, and when he does, a lot more than the size of the numbers should change.

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Categories: 4e, 5e, Adventure, DnD, Epic, RPGs, Tips
  1. February 21, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Good stuff!

    I was explaining to Trevor (@Trevor_WotC) last night that Epic Destinies felt like you were just getting more of what you already had. I even quoted from the book…

    “…Epic adventurers have even more ways to recover expended powers, more ways to heal damage without relying on healing surges, and more powers overall from magic items and epic destinies…”

    Telling me I’m getting more of what I already have is not exciting. Granted, I think the model works fine for what 4e is, and as an “experienced DM” I can work around things that don’t my personal standards… but I don’t think it does much to excite new player/dm’s or give them a good idea of what is really possible – and frankly they are the ones who need that stuff. Experienced DM’s already do what they want.

    • February 21, 2012 at 1:57 pm

      I completely agree. I was excited about the prospect, just reading about it, but in play it doesn’t really feel much different. That being said, one of the encounters did involve climbing a fire-waterfall of molten elemental energy, so that was epic, but in the end I feel like its a bit lackluster.

  2. February 23, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Great post. This is one of my biggest issues with 4e. I don’t feel like it’s condusive to real character development and growth because there’s too much focus on growing your pluses instead of developing interesting Skills and Feats that might help you deal with situations in ways other than beating things to death. And the benefit of not developing a PC in such a narrow way means that he/she might not be unstoppable and will still be challenged by enemies. There’s a similiar post on Gaming Tonic you might be interested in: gamingtonic.com/blog

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