Playing a higher power (level) Part 1

October 8, 2016

By Christopher Robin Negelein

Being a godling in a fantasy world is no longer just the purview of high level D&D characters. Two new games, Godbound (an OSR* RPG) and Gods of the Fall (the Cypher RPG), let you play demigods in fantasy worlds that give up post-apocalyptic vibes.

These  settings differ from the Urban Fantasy RPGs like Scion and Part-Time Gods where Thor’s and Loki’s kids fight in the mystically hidden back alleys of 21st Century New York. In high fantasy, high powered games, kings wonder how long they have before they are deposed by divine stepchildren who are running around like loose cannons across the continent.

But in many regular games, that’s the opposite reality. Kings are the quest givers and they’re usually high level retired adventures who can lay out the party with a thought. It dissuades those players who might ask  players will say “So how many XP is the king worth.” And why loot an orc body when you can look a nation instead? A question that can cause havoc that upsets months of GM prep and planning

So what do GM’s do in a word where the question is not about the king’s XP, but whether the PC could just do a better job. It also doesn’t hurt that running country expands their faith across a globe.

Running a high powered game (be it high level or by game design) requires a much different tack than your usual dungeon crawls. Here’s some things to keep in mind:

Draw your map in pencil.  Keep the erasers handy.

After two months of gaming in Gods of the Fall, my players have healed a city call Hornscar. The wrecked ruin of a metro that worshiped the god of Magic, it took a hard hit when the sky fell For a generation as wild magics mutated people beyond recognition.

That sort of happens if heaven crash lands on top of your town.

But now there’s a new magic goddess in town and magic is beginning to right itself. The city is healed and now they’re thinking of changing the name of the town, so I have to pull out the pencil and change the map.. The thing is, I did it with a smile.

This was the first time a session truly surprised me and I enjoyed it just as much as my players.

It’s the destination, not the journey

Getting to Hornscar would have been a long dangerous trip for a regular party. But my pantheon has teleporters and a tech god who Builds Robots in a fantasy world as a hobby. They skipped through the mountains within a couple of days.

But even further back, my own  D&D play group hit 16th level, just four more and we’d be capped out at 20th level. With our new powers, we rushed across continents and flatly ignored minions sent out to ambush us.  Months of our GMs plot flew by in weeks, sometimes hours.  The old ploys of ambushes and Wandering Monsters  weren’t taking their toll on us. Before high levels, these encounters would be XP grinds as they also slowed they slowing us down even more as we inched across a map. What had once been the interludes and “cut scenes” were now the meat.

In high powered games it’s no longer the journey that’s important but the destination that’s the focus. Scenes can no longer be filler they have to advance an agenda or a story line. You can still have cool set piece fights and crazy combats, but as for the XP grind, their time is coming to an end in your high level game.

By now you PCs have changed the power structures of towns, now it’s time for the game to go up to an epic scale. Be prepared that your players will end up changing the borders of your map.

And when they do, make sure they feel the consequences of it … Because those consequences are gaming fuel for your next series of epic storylines.

Think about what would happen if your PCs took over a country:

  • Entire nations join up to war as kings and emperors fear they are next
  • Other godlings decide to move up their own timetable before the PC start meddle
  • Ancient evil thinking these upstarts finally have enough juice to make a solid snack?.

Your game practically writes itself. Better yet, your players don’t feel that you are “coming after” them, because you’re not. They see the organic growth of the plot from their own actions and see it as upcoming drama and conflict for their PCs.

New tech and old school

As you probably guessed, a god game is sandbox style game which means players move on soon than expected and sometimes stay longer than expected. That means upping your game when it comes  to prep shortcuts.

You can’t spend all the time expanding every  little town and its people if your godlings solve their problems with a hand wave. Luckily, there are lots of old school RPG websites like Wizardawn that have taken random town charts from old RPGs  into the 21st Century.

With a few button pushes,  you can have an entire city mapped, populated and printed out for your next game. And if you can roll with it reading the entries out loud only when you players knock on a stranger’s door, then you can discover the town with them.

The Hornscar dungeon was a slightly different matter, I knew they were going to do something crazy with it. So I got an auto-generated Wizardawn map with a few monsters andtweaked it over the week. But again, I was only laying a foundation so I had a comfort level with what would go on. Detailing it like I would have to for a like a low-level party would have been a waste of time; they just zipped right through it.

But what ’bout those rooms they missed?

They are now in my Plan B binder. My players think this binder it’s full of plots, and it does has a few. But most of it is just skipped rooms and missed towns ready to be rediscovered at a moment’s notice when my PC stop somewhere on a whim.

So thanks to recycling and automated city of old school RPG maps, I’m pretty much prepped for any direction that my high powered group wants to go. And it took me less time than doing the same thing for a regular party. As a GM, I don’t consider that cheating.

Besides GM’s never cheat. We just fudge it a little. Next week, we’ll get into more tools and attitudes that will help your high-powered games

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