Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are you not entertained?


Over at Ode to Black Dougal, Patrick made an interesting post about a campaign with a cap level 3 for the players. You can read it here. This is exactly the kind of gaming I enjoy.

In the comments I found an interesting one of note:
from Badmike...
good luck finding a handful of players willing to game for 30 or so sessions to get their characters to 3rd level! I think the IDEA is intriguing and would make a great pick-up or convention type setting (no one higher than 3rd level in the campaign world); however, the actual application would be very hard to implement. I'm still waiting for the brave soul(s) who are willing to devote a year or so to this endeavor just to prove they could. Just imagine the look on the poor Joe's face as the 2nd level ftr he has been playing for 2 years gets killed by the thrown axe of a kobold warrior, or a fall into a pit trap, or the bite of a good sized war dog.... I won't even mention the absurdity of a "god" that a decent sized troll could work over like a pint of beer at a biker rally....

I guess, because of my own bias on what makes gaming fun, I just don't get it. Is losing a 2nd level character harder to a kobold's axe than losing a 10th to a giant's sword? A loss is a loss. Is it the issue that in gaming for a year you raised one level and that's the problem? Or is it that you only made it to 2nd in that year so you feel cheated? But going from 8th to 9th and then dying is just fine? I don't see it.

I think the difference boils down to what makes gaming fun. In the early levels, kobolds, rats, bugs, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, skeletons and other creature serve as opponents. The characters progress in levels, gain abilities making them more powerful and they gain new magical items to play with, again making them more powerful. This raises the stakes so the challenges become tougher, and the rewards greater..and this forces the cycle on...and on...until the characters fight gods or become immortals.

Sure that is a rarity and probably a lot of folks top out at say 15th-20th level or so. That's my point. If the game is only about leveling up and rewarding players with more gold and more magic it comes to some point where the characters have a veritable swiss armory of magical items, they've slain multiple dragons, demons, liches, vampires, etc. and there are no new worlds to conquer. There is nothing left to fear or fight except gods or and army of dragons or some such silly idea.

When I think of games like this it reminds me of the ending scene of the D&D movie. The sky is FILLED with dragons, ridonculously filled with dragons. Its not scary, its not exciting, its just laughable and goofy! Unfortunately, that's what I think high level gaming devolves into.

The ONE dragon in The Hobbit or Dragonslayer is far more exciting and filled with adventure and wonder then a sky filled with dragons flying in echelon formations. In an odd way Stalin summed the idea up quite well, " One death is a tragedy, a thousand deaths are a statistic." In a gaming sense, fighting one dragon at low levels is a harrowing and rewarding experience. Fighting 5 or 10 or 100 at a high level is just, well, let's say not as rewarding.

At some point no amount of gold is enough to be exciting, the powerful quest weapons and high level spells lose their magic, and no amount of dragons flying is challenging nor army of demons frightening enough.

This gets to the core idea of why do you play? Is it for power? glory? gold? super weapons? higher levels? or is it for fun?

Was exploring the Caves of Chaos or the Village of Hommlet a tiresome bore because you were low level? Did the game only become fun when you ventured into the Tomb of Horrors?

Don't get me wrong I think there is a lot to be said for the challenges of higher level adventures, but there is no reason that these are somehow intrinsically better than those found at lower levels. Regardless of level the challenge is one of risking life and death in fantastic situations against villainous foes for cash and prizes and fame and fortune. Whether they are kobolds or gods the challenge is essentially the same, and no number arbitrarily representing my level nor pocket full of kryptonite+5 really changes that for me.

The higher the character level, the more super powered the treasure, and the outlandish and numerous the foes become the less magical the game is.
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