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Rising to the Top!

Written by Nicholas - Published on January 20, 2010

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

I know that MMO is a dirty word around these parts, but have any of you played Star Wars Galaxies? The first incarnation of that game was criticized and because it was nearly impossible to become a jedi, the classic Star Wars characters were all but completely absent and you spent your time killing wamp rats. Essentially the game put you into one of the most beloved settings in all fiction, but then made you experience as a cantina dancer or a lackey doing jobs that are beneath stormtroopers. Obviously, when they revamped the game they had learned their lesson! Now during the opening tutorial you’re running away from Darth Vader in the Millenium Falcon and getting a backrub from Chewbacca! Then you get dumped into a space station with a million other special people and start killing rats.

The point I’m trying to make is that the progression of fame and power is a delicate thing. Too slow and players get bored and discouraged. Too fast and it just feels false, undeserved and boring. So how do you handle the progression?

Up the Steps

In 4e in the tier system is meant to be something of a guide of the progression of power, although the rate at which you achieve it is still variable. Although the tiers give a good guide of what sort of threats people in that tier should face, but not the other sorts of perks.

In my opinion, the first few levels build up a reputation in the local city and probably the surrounding ones. People buy them drinks in taverns and people talk about their exploits to friends. By the end of heroic tier the heroes should be doing their first jobs for the highest levels of government, like kings and emperors. They will be acknowledged by some of the most famous heroes. Perhaps even be offered to tag along on a mission or offered their own work by one of the greats.

In the paragon the names of the group will be known across the whole land. People who have never met them recognize them based on reputation and tales, perhaps exaggerated ones, will pass down through generations. Rulers from exotic lands will want to meet them, perhaps even great figures from other planes. They can stand on even ground with the contemporary great heroes.

By the epic tier they should be getting recognized everywhere, probably even have their own major holiday! Audiences with gods are possible and their words should move the minds of mortal kings. They are recognized as the equals of the greatest heroes in history. Their stories will be told and retold forever.

Taking the Highway

Well, that’s the path, but how do you walk it? Well the straight forward way to do it is the standard rate of about 1 level every 4 sessions. That’s awesome if you have a few years to do weekly games, but many groups don’t have the consistency, endurance or will to do one campaign for so long. That doesn’t mean you need to miss out on the development arc. You could try a simple trick of increasing the xp rate to produce that same rise to power, only on fast forward. Alternately, if you just want to play a paragon or epic tier game you can do a prologue adventure. Show the characters’ humble origins to give a sense of where it all began and then time skip into the glory days. Or you can have multiple time skips. Give the players a few session adventure and then jump them ahead two or three levels and repeat. Let them will in the cracks in between.  Like an episodic TV show, you are only seeing the highlights but there are more mundane missions going on off camera.

However you advance, I don’t recommend just jumping into the later levels. You lose a lot of context when their characters just spring into prominence from nowhere. Have an intro adventure or a collaborative background to ground them in some origins!

A Few Big Things

It is easy to go overboard on fame and power. Odds are good your players don’t want to be pestered by groupies at all times, constantly listening to stories about themselves or fielding invitations from all of the upper classes. It takes a light touch, owning an item of legend, recieving expensive gifts or having one session revolving around a holiday based on them lets them know how awesome they are without constatly cramming in down their throats.

How prominent is your party? Do they feel their place in the world?

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Rising to the Top!, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



3 Responses to “Rising to the Top!”
  1. In a recent level 6 campaign of mine in 3.5 I did a similar tactic by getting them to roll their characters at level 6. First, I tricked them by asking for sheets at level 1,3, and 6 for ‘accuracy reasons’. Then, during the first game, we ran their level 6 characters until a particular point where they had two ‘flashback’ missions spread out over two days.

    Since the back-story involved a school of sorts, first mission was naturally the first day of class, and the second was one somewhere in the middle. Finally, the day that they entered on (the very first day we played) was their graduation.

    They really found it to be more convincing than just meeting up in a bar and being ‘good friends’ going adventuring. They actually had a chance to role-play getting to know each other and learning the ropes. It helped that I tricked them into giving me 3 sheets, so their surprise was genuine.

    I plan on using similar plot introduction methods in all my future 3.5 and 4 games. Hopefully my recurring players wont ruin the surprise for everyone else.

    Good post!

  2. Eoghan says:

    My PCs were initially slaves of a vast empire, who then helpeda resistance group kill the Vizier of a major colony. They were not the main protagonists but they certainly made a significant impact. Now they are on another continent and are building up their reputation in an Orc-run army.

    They have a lot of gods and significant people rubbing shoulders with them but true glory is still a long way off. They are approaching a major arc of intrigue and action in the imperial capital. After about 2 years of play, they are level 11 in a 3.5 campaign. I hope to make it the kind of game you play for years, so here is to an Epic future!

  3. Dave says:

    I think it is important to point out, that it’s not only good guys and the adoring public that learn of your exploits. Becoming world renown as the guy who saves the day will make you a part of any evil masterminds plans.

    It would make a good case of when to bring the adventure to the adventurer rather than the other way around.

    -A leader rival to one you have previously helped wants to do away with your heroes.
    -Another hero has learned of your fame and seeks to see if you are truly as great as tales say.
    -A typical evil goer, knowing he is likely unable to directly stop you, seeks you out to attempt trick your heroes into unknowingly assisting his plan, or at the least being preoccupied to stop said plan.

    Any of these could be sprung on a group who thought they were in the middle of another adventure.

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