20th Level Sucks: a 3.0 Adventure Failure Story

Recently I was talking with someone about my recent first level characters suck post and about my problems with high level D&D games. I promised him I’d post a follow-up about why I hated very high level D&D games so much, so here it is!

Once Upon a Time in 3.0…

I was working at FFG when D&D 3.0 hit and FFG hopped on the bandwagon to make some quick bucks off the unstoppable d20 money train. After dipping their toes in the water with some adventures, FFG leapt in with both feet, publishing a line of hardcover books and eventually getting into settings.

So during the heyday we had a couple of fulltime RPG developers. One of them was very excited when Dragon magazine published a 20th level adventure for 3.0 and his enthusiasm was infectious. Before long he had a group of us rounded up to play in the adventure.

Our instructions were to create 20th level characters, and we were only allowed to use official WotC books for abilities and whatnot (somewhat notably he did not allow us to use  FFG books).

So we set to it. Some people went hardcore with their min/maxing, while others of us spent far more time than we should have on our character background. Eventually we were ready to go.

epic D&DArt by 1mpact

Save or F***

Back when I was playing 2nd edition (first was a bit before my time) we would refer to certain abilities as “save or f**k” abilities, because if you failed your save, game over. Maybe you died, maybe you turned to stone. Even sleep was essentially a save or f**k because if you failed, you could easily have your throat cut.

As D&D progresses these abilities become more and more common. By the time you have a group of 20th level characters, we quickly learned, combat involves sitting around while your spellcasters slaughter everything in their path with DC 40 save or f**k spells. I was some kind of melee fighter, as I recall, and so like the other melee guy was mostly superfluous to the fighting.

natural-1For two encounters the spellcaster (shapechanged, flying, and invisible) laid waste to everything we encountered. Finally we moved on from waves of baddies to one super tough one, some kind of leviathan. This monster was so tough that he could only fail his save on a roll of 1. He had is own save or f**k ability that he used on the party, but we could only fail if we rolled a 1.

So the encounter was really just the monster and spellcasters trading off, waiting for the 5% chance that someone rolled a natural 1 on a saving throw, and then they’d die.

That was literally how combat was decided at that level. Whoever rolls a 1 first loses. Nothing else really matters, with all the healing and giant health pools. I mean sure, the other melee type and myself were jumping in there, doing some damage and taking some damage as we hacked away, but there was no possibility our actions were going to determine the outcome.

After that encounter the DM stopped the game, though we were only halfway through the adventure, and vowed never to run high level D&D again.

I Haven’t Tried Again Either

Now to be fair, that was 3.0. I’m sure 3.5 wasn’t much different, but I have not even looked hard at very top level Pathfinder characters (which is what we play now) or 4th edition. I don’t know how those versions deal with the unbalanced scaling that has been with D&D from the beginning and that breaks the game at high levels.

Perhaps they found a way to fix things — but I know that save or f**k spells still exist, so I kind of doubt it. Either way, I’m a bit trepidatious to try and I’m planning my Pathfinder game to cap out with the characters hitting 12th level or so just to be safe.

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One Response to 20th Level Sucks: a 3.0 Adventure Failure Story

  1. Brian says:

    Actually, 4e fixed a lot of this. Characters are much better balanced at all levels, so you don’t wind up with situations like this where certain classes (at high levels, “everyone but the Wizard”) is superfluous.

    Also, 4e removed these sort of “save or f**k” spells. The few “save vs. f**k” effects which remain require multiple saving throws to get to f**k, such as a cockatrice’s bite which requires two hits and two failed saving throws to get to petrified. This greatly reduces the likelihood of a character dieing from one bad die roll, and increases the chance that the party can intervene to save their buddy.

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