High Level Play Being Optional: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

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tl;dr - I like some of the ideas presented in the last article by Mike Mearls (as of posting), but I question the actual capability for him and his team to deliver said ideas due to the way they plan on bringing those ideas to fruition... assuming I even agree to said ideas.  And I am rather disgusted at the assumptions made by Mike & Co. that were the basis of the ideas presented by Mike.

The Good
Designing the game with only 10 levels in mind isn't that bad -- 13th Age actually does cap its levels at 10 (14 for the mythic monsters), and the system is turning out quite well; I'm guessing Mike is considering the ideas placed forward by the love letter to D&D, hence the article?  However, unlike 13th Age, D&D Next does seem to take into consideration what every edition has done at high level and allows you to progress with that, albeit at a pace that would keep DMs from being overwhelmed that quickly.

Ideas put forth regarding high level would be


  • Legacy System: touched upon by D&D 4E through the Epic Destiny system -- particularly with the Legendary Sovereign  (which was the basis for my own homebrew Epic Destiny [The Connected]), wherein the PC is prepared for retirement, upon which his legacy can be used as a means to create continuity within a campaign.  However, not everyone appreciates 0D&D / AD&D forced game switch, and not everyone likes the idea of having to houserule the Legacy System to apply to pre-level 10[1].

  • Continuous Progression: the simplest way of handling high level play, and can be seen as early as 0D&D with the infinite progression as suggested by Gary Gygax.  While there is promise of scaling down of benefits to avoid the bloat that resulted to impractical to impossible play at high levels, there's really no way to stop bloat other than to stop feeding the options bloat.  Which will always be a lose-lose position no matter how you look at it.


On another note (which partially delves into The Bad), spellcasters are trimmed down and there's reason for me to believe that they would finally turn the whole magic thing into 1 caster level = 1 spell level, which means that magic would be much closer to true Vancian than it has ever been before.  Plus it's likely that rituals would now get more spotlight due to the fact that they're effectively at-will (although the idea that rituals take spell slots is a bit disconcerting).

The Bad
In an effort to stem options bloat, they aim to trim PC options.  The last thing that I'd like to hear as a player is that I need to be level X with game elements Y, Z, A, and B just to make my character as I envision them (I don't want a repeat of Underwater Basketweaving and CrApPer skills, ever).  Thankfully though, assuming the DM is benevolent enough to allow Specialties and Backgrounds and allow heavy reflavoring (and maybe ignoring a prerequisite or two), there's a chance that this negative aspect isn't going to hurt so much.

The Ugly
The assumptions made by Mike & Co., the absolute insistence on mundane play; these are the two things I consider as UGLY.

First off, the assumptions:


  • As a DM who runs Living Forgotten Realms adventures, my group has actually reached level 24 and will soon be preparing for the latest EPIC adventure available.  From what I understand, high level play has always been considered difficult to impossible primarily because of broken system mechanics, which made it harder to deal with PCs (who became too powerful, or whose turns became really hard to resolve).  To assume that groups don't go for high level play simply because campaigns end there seems more of an excuse to not try to work something out so that high level play becomes stable enough so that DMs can focus on high level adventures, without having to play the "get less" strategy

  • While D&D rules have almost always focused on combat capabilities and power, what really catches peoples' imagination when it comes to D&D is what you can actually do in spite of (or in the absence of) rules -- the assumptions that a) characters have to become stronger, b) high level play = low level play but with different creatures, are... baffling

  • Forcing roleplaying mechanics in the Legacy system?  Ugh.  If this was purely a section of roleplaying suggestions, I wouldn't mind.  But knowing Mike & Co...

  • EDIT: The assumption that developers hate designing for high levels makes me wonder why we even bother getting to level 2.  There'll always be high levels assuming 2 or more levels.  More levels simply allow more gradience.


Next, mundane play: while I do appreciate a more down-to-earth/frail approach to the game, I wouldn't like the thought that we are returning to a time when antagonistic player-vs.-DM, don't-name-your-character-til-he's-level-5 Gygaxian play was the norm.  0D&D/AD&D Revised might work for some, but seriously there's something about the system in both specific elements and overall implementation that to me makes it feel... hollow.  Not necessarily bland, mind you -- formatting aside, there's more fluff being shoved into D&D Next's maneuvers and spells than D&D 4E has in its power fluff text -- but it's as if the effort in making PCs is now brought to an absolutely-uninspiring level; even Essentials did it better by providing fluff text for each power in addition to the fluff found in the powers themselves, and apparently each class no matter how obscure had central concepts and mechanics that effectively emulate such concepts.  I suppose the current playtest and the numerous jarring changes that don't make sense to me -- particularly the abandonment of the Rogue's "special snowflake" (Sneak Attack) as a weaker variant of Deadly Strike, the gross escalation in expertise dice size, and the continuous ignorance of balancing out baseline ("plain") monster capabilities to player capabilities[2].

Makes me wonder what the thesis statement, specific objectives/goals and what not of this project. 



[ If I end up being dissatisfied by D&D Next as a system, I can always mine it for ideas, and ideas for playing from levels 11-14 in 13th Age isn't so bad ]

[1]personally, just like how I despise coded skills as a core assumption -- I love 13th Age's background system -- I loathe the idea of clamping excessively detailed mechanics on roleplaying.  Just give enough details to inspire DMs, then have them set up the scenarios for the players themselves.  4E's Epic Destiny was awesome in concept, but the idea of having to wait for level 21 to find out if your PC has always been a demi-god is... well, an exercise in suspension of belief.
[2]monsters in the current playtest are mostly jokes. 
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57047238 wrote:
If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
Can you link that article Fang? I'm terrible at navigating the internet.


[1]personally, just like how I despise coded skills as a core assumption -- I love 13th Age's background system -- I loathe the idea of clamping excessively detailed mechanics on roleplaying.  Just give enough details to inspire DMs, then have them set up the scenarios for the players themselves.  4E's Epic Destiny was awesome in concept, but the idea of having to wait for level 21 to find out if your PC has always been a demi-god is... well, an exercise in suspension of belief.




Part of the problem I’ve always seen with high level play is the way the mechanics get more complicated to model all the nifty cool abilities working together. I think the way to do it is to make high-level powers that displace lower level ones. So in effect you have 2 separate games anyway, one for low-level play and one for high level.


 But like you I feel that the idea of making high level play just more mechanically complex in order to make the players feel that they are now more powerful is self defeating. At least I think that’s what you were saying, that is a long post.

I agree with a lot of what the OP said. A lot of the power in the base core system needs to be trimmed down. Many of my long games went to double digits and the system broke down before the group did. The legacy system as described sounds nice. Just have to wait for implementation. I mean I like the idea behind the legacy system as well as advancing past level 10. It is practically required more than some of the other iconic aspects of D&D.

My issue with high level is that there are many different types of high level fantasy. There are tons of books, poems, films, animations, and stories that has been allowed to take up the imagery of D&D's high level because of its poor implementation. Plus D&D already has a LOT of very different settings. So base levels from 11-20 and a "legacy" system won't cut it. You'll need a lot of modules.

Here is my wish list of High Level Modules and Modules needed for high level play:
1) A followers and apprentices module
2) A stronghold and tower construction module
3) An epic spellcasting module
4) An epic magic item module
5) An epic maneuver module
6) A High level skill and action module
7) Template and transformation module
8) A realm management module
9) Rules and guidelines for bizarre and otherworldly planes
8) Divine and primordial rules
10) Epic dungeon design advice
11) The long game of time
12) Relationships and Contacts rules and guidance
13) Module for the Immortals
14) Armies and War module

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

Legacy System: touched upon by D&D 4E through the Epic Destiny system -- particularly with the Legendary Sovereign  (which was the basis for my own homebrew Epic Destiny [The Connected]), wherein the PC is prepared for retirement, upon which his legacy can be used as a means to create continuity within a campaign.  However, not everyone appreciates 0D&D / AD&D forced game switch, and not everyone likes the idea of having to houserule the Legacy System to apply to pre-level 10[1].

I'm really hoping they have something more in mind then the trivial epic destinies of 4e. I want something closer to Birthright or the old domain system, where characters can actually be lords of the realm, run a thieves guild, possibly even be a god, rather then reducing it to background details. I would also like to see it work for less then 10th level characters, but that is a secondary concern.


In an effort to stem options bloat, they aim to trim PC options.  The last thing that I'd like to hear as a player is that I need to be level X with game elements Y, Z, A, and B just to make my character as I envision them (I don't want a repeat of Underwater Basketweaving and CrApPer skills, ever).

This is annoying but also inevitable. Game balance requires it because not every game concept is possible at every power level. You can't have a half-god with all physical stats over 20 at 1st level and a farm boy warrior with average stats in the same game and keep balance.

Next, mundane play: while I do appreciate a more down-to-earth/frail approach to the game, I wouldn't like the thought that we are returning to a time when antagonistic player-vs.-DM, don't-name-your-character-til-he's-level-5 Gygaxian play was the norm.  0D&D/AD&D Revised might work for some, but seriously there's something about the system in both specific elements and overall implementation that to me makes it feel... hollow.

I tend to find a lot of the naming right now terrible, and the backgrounds and specialties rather lacking. They manage to be overly generic (skill expert) and overly specific (soldier makes a lot of assumptions about what kind of soldier and what the characters status is) at the same time.

Just a gut check:  90% of the D&D I've played over the past 30 years has been at or below level 10.  Your Mileage May Vary.

But that said, I always went with the AD&D assumption that by level 10, the characters were no longer nameless murder-hobos, but beginning to come into real power.  That's the level when one established a home base, a keep or some such, and started attracting followers.  It makes a kind of intuitive sense to divvy up the twenty-level game into those two halves, one which focuses on the individual exploits of the characters as they establish themselves, and then the second half in which the challenges are realm- or even world-affecting threats involving armies, or at least major villains like arch-liches, elder dragons and such.  I certainly think there should be room for both in the big D&D tent.

But in the interests of getting Core Out The Door, I think the devs could declare levels 1-10 'standard' D&D, and then expand it with a later book covering levels 11-20.  I'd MUCH prefer two PHBs split that way than the nightmarish crapfest in which each PhB has only some of the classes.
 

But in the interests of getting Core Out The Door, I think the devs could declare levels 1-10 'standard' D&D, and then expand it with a later book covering levels 11-20.  I'd MUCH prefer two PHBs split that way than the nightmarish crapfest in which each PhB has only some of the classes.
 



Agreed. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "nightmarish crapfest", but it was annoying. I'd rather buy 1 book to begin level 1 play with all of the classes/races in it and then, later on, buy another for higher-level play than having to buy 2 books for level 1 play just so I can give my players access to all of the classes/races.
If they do another PHB series I would prefer they contain new level information and not new races and classes only. The progression charts aren't taking up much space though, just saying.

+1 Birthright.

But in the interests of getting Core Out The Door, I think the devs could declare levels 1-10 'standard' D&D, and then expand it with a later book covering levels 11-20.  I'd MUCH prefer two PHBs split that way than the nightmarish crapfest in which each PhB has only some of the classes.
 



Agreed. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "nightmarish crapfest", but it was annoying. I'd rather buy 1 book to begin level 1 play with all of the classes/races in it and then, later on, buy another for higher-level play than having to buy 2 books for level 1 play just so I can give my players access to all of the classes/races.


another +1 here
So their solution to high-level play being difficult get a handle on is to punt.  Great.
CORE MORE, NOT CORE BORE!
So their solution to high-level play being difficult get a handle on is to punt.  Great.


No, their solution to high-level play being difficult to get a handle on is to say "we'll work on it and get back to you."

Not exactly a punt.
D&D Next = D&D: Quantum Edition
So their solution to high-level play being difficult get a handle on is to punt.  Great.



It is not "punting" to recognize that the pace, challenges, and structure of high-level play are vastly different than those of lower-level play.  In particular, the primary threat to low-level players ("you might die!") doesn't ring quite as true, even when you're going up against liches, elder dragons, bands of mind-flayers, or nests of beholders.  The characters' concerns at that level, again in my experience, are more frequently for the mission ("halt the eleder dragon in its quest for immortality," "stop the invading army or the city is destroyed").  That means feats and skills and traits and tools and all the other paraphernalia of character advancement should reflect that shift.  It's a different game.  It is not punting to treat it as such. 
Can you link that article Fang? I'm terrible at navigating the internet.



The article in question: www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4... (compliments of Plaguescarred)
 
So their solution to high-level play being difficult get a handle on is to punt.  Great.

 
No, their solution to high-level play being difficult to get a handle on is to say "we'll work on it and get back to you."

Not exactly a punt.



That isn't exactly what I got from the article.  Instead of saying "these are two things we are considering for high level play", we get "Our base assumption is that high-level characters engage in much the same type of adventures they did at lower level. You fight more powerful creatures and maybe visit a different plane, but you continue to adventure....If you want the game to change, you can implement options we're calling the legacy system."

It's basically forcing a choice between MOAR LEEEBELZZZZ  and semi-retiring your character into a different game.  Not that I find it a bad idea -- I really like the idea of characters eventually retiring and carving their own niche in an ongoing campaign, and is the entire basis of my campaign in 13th Age -- it's just that I don't like detailed mechanics in my roleplaying; g
ive the DMs the ideas and suggestions needed to make appropriate, well-adjusted calls (the DM's equivalent of plot hooks; let's call them "ruling hooks" for now) instead.

As I mentioned in the OP, I fail to see why legacy system has to be artificially placed at level 10.  If you're going to be throwing mechanics into my roleplaying, why not design the system in such a way that backgrounds combined with my current decisions -- especially my current decisions -- determine what my legacy would be?

Here's what I'm talking about: In my ongoing 13th Age campaign, I have asked my players what their characters' motivations would be (along with other details regarding their background).  One of them had his One Unique Thing to be the bastard child of the Dragon Emperor of the 12th Age, with the ruling Dragon Emperor being a puppet of a ruling party of mages (his character is unaware of his unique thing though, as all he knows is that his connection to the throne is being one of the former bodyguards of the ruling Dragon Emperor).  His motivation for adventuring is, from the onset, to overthrow the Dragon Emperor and to restore peace and harmony to the land.

The group has barely left level 1, and already the gears have turned in such a way that it is very possible indeed that his character will lose his purpose for adventuring by levels 5-7 (not even reaching Epic tier).  And when his PC retires, that PC eventually becomes the new Dragon Emperor.

Do I really have to houserule to make this and similar legacies happen in D&D Next at any level below "high level", which is currently set at level 10?  Do I really have to give X amount of EXP and allow Y amount of features just to get the same results?

tl;dr - I want the legacy system to be a culmination of player decisions from level -1 if such a level existed, and not a mechanical crutch that serves as an alternative to proper system development and solid mechanics.  (developers hate building for high level?  Unfortunately, games do end up at high level; it's just a matter of a) how well the developers actually do their job, b) how the DM handles high level based on the tools given to them by the developers, and c) what the players do while at high level)
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57047238 wrote:
If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging

The occasional one-off or one-module game aside, I’ve played in a grand total of three 3.x campaigns and one 4E campaign. All of those campaigns have run from first level and ran well into epic levels. The first of the 3.x campaigns was converted over around level 7 or 8 from 2E. All but one of those campaigns took several years to finish.


I mention this because my experience is almost completely at odds with that presented by the L&L article. My group never just “got bored” with the current campaign (although we did get bored with 4E, but that’s another story…..), and only one of our players had a burning desire to change characters on a regular basis. Mike Mearls’ tone in that article makes me a little sad for that reason.


While I freely admit there have always been some issues with high level play I still enjoyed it. My favourite levels in 3.x were 7-15ish as we had enough room to make a really interesting character and party, but the excesses of the system hadn’t started weighing it down yet. In 4E Paragon Tier was my favourite for similar reasons.


The real issue with balancing high level play, in my opinion, is that the scope for pulling off unintended combinations is greatly increased. That’s a direct result of the number of options a player gets to make on their way there, and how well they co-ordinate with other party members.


The only way I can see to reduce that effect is to reduce the number of choices a high level character has to make, and frankly, that would put me off high level play altogether.


On another note, we’ve been using a theme similar to the proposed legacy system for a long time now in our own games. All of my characters have links to my previous one for instance, and we’ve run side-PC’s for quite some time in our 4E games. Admittedly, we used the side-PC’s primarily to give us the flexibility to keep playing if one of our players in a vital role couldn’t make the game, but that’s beside the point – it’s worked well for us.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/12.jpg)

But like you I feel that the idea of making high level play just more mechanically complex in order to make the players feel that they are now more powerful is self defeating. At least I think that’s what you were saying, that is a long post.

Yeah that's pretty much what I'm saying.

First we have to determine what "levels" actually mean; heck, a lot of the mechanics we take for granted have to be re-established and redefined in order to understand the mechanics we should be putting in them.  For me, levels determine the range of threats that can challenge you without you dying a horrible death (by either brutality or boredom); so low level 1 Mary shouldn't be fighting Balors, and a high level 20 Sue shouldn't be fighting Kobolds.

Gaining levels doesn't have to result in gaining complexity; gaining levels can simply mean being better equipped to handle appropriate-level threats.  


  • For instance, in the Dying Earth series you see the most powerful wizards of the world being able to retain four of the most powerful spells in their minds, and must take time reading those spells and re-memorizing them in order to cast them again.  If we were to translate that to D&D, that could easily mean that wizards could end up gaining an increasingly long list of spells that they could use in times of need but they still can't get more than 4 spell slots and they can't memorize the same spell, and instead they can either choose to cast straight from the books (ala ritual) or they could spend an equal amount of time memorizing up to four spells beforehand.

  • 4E did this as well, to some extent: as your level went up, you eventually had to replace your lower-level powers for higher level abilities, which then allowed you to handle appropriate-level threats.  The problem though is that the overall design of 4E increased character complexity, sometimes unnecessarily.


So base levels from 11-20 and a "legacy" system won't cut it. You'll need a lot of modules. Here is my wish list of High Level Modules and Modules needed for high level play: 1) A followers and apprentices module 2) A stronghold and tower construction module 3) An epic spellcasting module 4) An epic magic item module 5) An epic maneuver module 6) A High level skill and action module 7) Template and transformation module 8) A realm management module 9) Rules and guidelines for bizarre and otherworldly planes 8) Divine and primordial rules 10) Epic dungeon design advice 11) The long game of time 12) Relationships and Contacts rules and guidance 13) Module for the Immortals 14) Armies and War module

Everything that involves leaving behind a lasting legacy for the characters apparently falls under the legacy system.

Personally I don't mind the legacy system as a high level option but what I am bothered about it (since I saw it in the 0D&D books) is that if done hastily or inappropriately, 1) it would feel like an artificial stopper to the game ("you can't play dungeons and dragons because you're too busy playing age of empires tabletop edition"), and 2) if it's built from level 10+, it'd be even more jarring to my perception than the 4E Fighter's Come and Get It power ("you think manipulating your foes' minds into charging you and timing your attack just right is magical?  how about adventuring in the various planes alongside the wizard then in the middle of a campaign you're suddenly baron of an entire county with no effort on your part whatsoever, no inheritance no tales of adoration no nothing?").

[ I'd rather that the PCs would adventure around a specific locale from day one, with each level representing a period upon which a section of their fortress and kingdom would be established (along with the complexities of doing so entails), with levels 7-10 involving dealing with kings and barons, so by level 10+ their legacy would be firmly established. ]
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57047238 wrote:
If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
The real issue with balancing high level play, in my opinion, is that the scope for pulling off unintended combinations is greatly increased. That’s a direct result of the number of options a player gets to make on their way there, and how well they co-ordinate with other party members.

The only way I can see to reduce that effect is to reduce the number of choices a high level character has to make, and frankly, that would put me off high level play altogether.


And my question is: does it have to be mechanically complex?

I'd like high level to be a different game by virtue of impact, not necessarily by virtue of inherent abilities.  Like it was mentioned in the article: crafting world-rending spells, earning vast political power wherein a single word or gesture can spark wars or create lasting peace, becoming demigods or exarchs, having eternally sung legends of greatness -- these are the things that I'd like to see happen.  And at least 4E built itself around that assumption more or less, albeit Epic tier was abandoned almost wholesale**.

Simple mechanics does not mean less choices per se.  It could simply mean less choices to shuffle through during combat, kinda like how Defense of the Ancients and League of Legends has extremely complex play, yet only like 4-5 buttons to press during the fights, as majority of the complexities from either game are found outside fights.

If you give me a 10-level D&D that gives me 2 buttons to press at level 1, an additional button at level 5, and an additional button at 10 (and each level after), with each new level giving me stuff I can assign to each available button, and each stuff allows me to work in tandem with my allies in various ways, and each stuff having various "power levels" that determine frequency of use, even if it doesn't sound the least like D&D classic or even D&D 4E I wouldn't mind, since all of the complexities of choosing what to use or what to do are done outside of the fight.  Then leave everything else to ability checks, terrain features, etc.

In a more D&D-ish speak, give me 2 spell slots at level 1, a third at level 5, and an additional spell slot at every 5 levels after that, then allow me to place any spell my character has access to, with some spells being cantrip-like or tradition-like depending on class, specialization and/or tradition.  Then for the martial classes allow me access to the same number of maneuvers as the wizard gains free (unresearched, uncopied) spells, and limit me to the number of maneuvers I can pull off at the same rate as wizards (just like how it's done in Tome of Battle).  Martial classes would still be different by virtue of a) most martial abilities are mostly at-will and at most rechargable or encounter (whereas most spells are still daily), b) martial classes would have abilities focused primarily on physique, skill and totally mundane abilities (see: Superhumans hosted by Stan Lee for the more extreme versions), while spells do things that would still be impossible even by the most skilled martial artist [unless Chuck Norris can roundhouse a cloud to make it rain, or something to that degree], and c) rituals -- memorized/prepared beforehand or cast impromptu -- would allow far greater versatility than martial classes.

** most feats are heroic/paragon tier, I guess there are at least twice as many paragon paths as there are epic destinies, there are only a handful of adventures set in Epic tier (and LFR's level 21 adventure is horribly railroaded), and DMs currently have to rely on compiling WotC web articles in order to have the equivalent of DMG3 (assuming the articles have good advice for Epic tier play).
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57047238 wrote:
If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
And my question is: does it have to be mechanically complex?.

I didn't really address complexity at all.

The only point I'm trying to make is that at level one, you choose a class and a feat and not much else. The designers therefore have a pretty good idea idea of what is likely to show up on character sheets and what the other members of the party (who are in the same position) are capable of. It's a relatively easily defined problem. 

By level 20, there are many more choices available. Even if any one player can only have a very limited number of those abilities, the designers still have to keep all of them in mind when developing new material.

As you can imagine, that takes a lot more work and insight than the equivilent job at level one. There is a correspondingly greater chance that something will slip through the cracks at high level than low level. Likewise, there's a greater chance that any two abilities will interact with an effect considerably greater than the sum of it's parts, simply because there are more abilities to choose from. One of us will find those "gems" or combos sooner rather than later, and pretty soon everyone will know about them.  

The same problem exists whether you make life more mechanically complex as you level or not, as long as the number of choices you have increases with level.

If the number of choices you get to make doesn't increase when you level, I'll get bored and stop playing. YMMV.      

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/12.jpg)

If the number of choices you get to make doesn't increase when you level, I'll get bored and stop playing. YMMV.

I don't mind getting more options when I level, but I do mind having to take one to ten minutes flipping pages, arguing tactics, and overall trying to maximize every little bit of option that I have, which does happen when more of your in-combat options increases.

Heck, in D&D Next's current package alone, by the time you're level 10 as a Fighter, while you can go for a single use of +3d10 damage, you also have the option of giving up any of those d10s for additional effects, and with two attacks with the option to move between attacks, that's a LOT of in-combat options to consider, so unless the Fighter's player goes the "dumb" route of just rolling his 3d10, there's always the likelihood that the player will be flipping through his options, looking back at the battle mat or asking the DM again about the details of the fight that concern his Fighter, and then deciding to go for one of as many as 36 possible things he can do -- 3 expertise dice, deadly strike, 5 other maneuvers, to be used on one of two attacks if not both and possibly move between attacks -- before rolling for his attack or damage dice.  That's a lot of stuff to consider, and we haven't even begun with the Wizard, who now not only has to consider which spells he'll be filling his 24 spell slots with, but also which of those spells to deploy when a given scenario comes up.

Assuming that both the Fighter and the Wizard are smart and skilled enough to reduce the chatting, decision-making and rolling to two minutes each.  Assuming also that the other party members are good enough to handle high level complexity in two minutes each, and there are five party members total.  That's ten minutes player side per round, not excluding the rain of dice that a DM would have to go for when monster side comes up (which for high level I'll assume to be 5 minutes).  Assuming 4 round combat, that pegs high level combat to at least one hour per combat.

Faster than post-AD&D high level play I suppose.

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Again, my point is that more choices and simpler play can certainly work; in DotA and LoL the additional options come in the form of a) increasing power abilities, and b) additional magical items as levels go up.   TRPGs in general can allow for even more choices while retaining simple play, and in some ways the fact that Vancian magic complexity is lessened by the existence of traditions and rituals proves that you can have more choices while retaining simplicity in play in D&D.  Which is why I somewhat approve what Mike's aiming for -- keeping high level manageable -- but I worry about how they'll fulfill their goals, because with the current playtest giving martial classes "dead levels" and the mention that they're going to be giving even less while at the same time stating that characters are supposed to become more powerful (relative to what?) as their levels increase... kinda unnerving if you ask me. 
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