Dungeons and Dragons is a game containing many games. The very nature of the game shifts as player characters become more powerful and more capable. Things that challenge or stonewall — perhaps literally! — low-level PCs become mere nuisances or even decorative elements at higher levels. The chasm that was a nigh-insurmountable obstacle at one point becomes a trivial obstacle or source of curiosity.
Echelon develops this further. There are explicitly five tiers of PC ability. At the base are veteran characters, more capable and durable than the general populace. Then come larger than life heroes, superhuman champions, paragons who epitomize all that they are… and the legends stand far above them.
Characters no longer have classes. Instead, a character has talents that together define the character’s abilities. Each talent can grow as the character advances, granting more and better abilities the more capable the character becomes.
In a recent thread in rec.games.frp.dnd, I saw a comment with regard to a matter of power balance in a focus-mojo-and-release idea that I thought I would follow up on. I think it does a fair bit to explain where I’m coming from in my game design and campaign expectations.
Keith has already been pounding into my head that at “heroic” and “legendary” levels, “realistic” isn’t a big deal. So getting many ‘focus’ points per round at high levels might make perfect sense.
– David Lamb
I think this is an important realization to make. Mid- to high-level D&D is not ‘realistic’. It can be quite playable as long as you keep this in mind while designing… something that was not done well in D&D 3.x.
Never mind that the fighter is just using a ‘normal sword’ or a ‘normal bow’. Remember, the wizard is using a ‘normal ball of bat guano’ to throw fireball spells, or a ‘normal piece of amber’ to throw lightning bolt spells.
So, after about fourth level you can stretch credibility, after about eighth level you should be in incredible territory… at which point your primary worry as far as power is concerned is that you are in line with whatever balance point you have chosen.
Yes, your fighter can use his sword to lay down a line of wind that cuts his enemies along a 100′ path (much as lightning bolt, but not electrical… it might even be considered a force effect and push ghosts around). Your monk doesn’t leap across a big hole in the floor, he can get to the other side of a chasm (why not? The wizard could fly… or cast dimension door or teleport). Accept that mid- to high-level characters are no longer on the same level of ability that we have to accept in our world.
It will make your games much better, I assure you. ‘Believable in our world’ means ‘low level’; after that, ‘internally consistent’ is a better metric.