Perhaps redefining 'epic level' would fix a few things?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

The Exchange

Perhaps PF 2.0 (may it not come until I've defrauded some widows or something and can afford it) should only run to, say, Level 15 and introduce its "epic rules" for those who want to achieve 16+ levels.

I don't use epic rules, but many other folks enjoy them. And from what I hear, it seems a lot of folks think that the PF engine starts to 'overheat' a lot earlier than 20th level. Seems like redefining where "Epic" begins might solve problems on both parts of the divide. I mean, it isn't like 'the range of levels starts at 1 and ends at 20' is an immutable fact.

The decision of which high-level class features to strip out and which to reassign to lower levels would require tons of playtesting, of course.

I think dropping 8th- and 9th-level spells from the basic rules (and using them as sample spells for 'epic magic') might remove some of the spells that GMs hate having to design adventures around. Similarly, the full-BAB types would 'cap out' just before gaining their final iterative attack at 16th level.

Well, go on, tell me this is a crazy idea and that I'm a bad person. (Don't forget to tell me that I didn't use the scientific method! I love hearing that!) ;)


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So, you want to scrap the 1-20 advancement tables, come up with new tables for 1-15, then make new nebulous epic rules for play past 15th level?

Why not have 3 tiers of play 1-10, 11-20, 21-30? They could each be tailored to their specific classes, rather than just broad epic advancement rules that all classes use.

We could call them... just throwing out names here off the top of my head: Heroic, Paragon, and Epic.


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Quantum Steve wrote:


Why not have 3 tiers of play 1-10, 11-20, 21-30? They could each be tailored to their specific classes, rather than just broad epic advancement rules that all classes use.

Those categories already exist. Among common gamer jargon they are as follows-

1-5: Gritty
6-10: Pulp Heroic
10-15: Wuxia
16-20: Superheroic

In more plain terms, it should read Gritty, Heroic, Mythic and Epic.

Gritty is, well, gritty. Conan is a good example of this powerlevel if you think of him as a 5th level character in a setting where nobody tends to get beyond 2nd. He's extremely powerful but still completely, believably human. H.P. Lovecraft and George R.R. Martin write at this scale.

Heroic meaning Action Hero scale. Powerful, but rarely beyond human potential. Batman is a good example of a character at this scale, as are most Hollywood heroes. This scale is still grounded in humanity. The villains still tend to be people (thought hey are often very powerful people)

Mythic meaning beyond human. This is the scale of powerful enhancement objects, like Stormbringer or Excalibur. Think like the heroes from greek mythology. Perseus exists here (winged boots, magic sword, gorgon's head. Here we start to get into beyond-mortal enemies and world-shaking conflicts.

Superheroic is exactly that. Characters are no longer grounded by any kind of rules of reality. They nearly exist in a class of their own. This is where Superman, Merlin, He-Man, and other characters who are power-level benchmarks tend to go.

Beyond that is usually classified as Godlike. At that scale the d20 system begins to break under the weight of the numbers. There's a lot of research, discussion and articles written about this. I know a lot of people are going to argue this, but really, this is the consensus.

The fact is, at 20th level you are flirting with Godlike power. If you want to play past that, fine, but you might be better off with a different RPG system. If your game has you taking on the gods, I'd recommend going the God of War approach and designing the most powerful gods as 20th level characters and scaling the rest of the world back from that benchmark. I'd bet real money that it would make your game both more playable and easier to grasp thematically.


Imo 12+ was already "epic" in pre-3E. Classes had established strongholds, hit die stopped advancing, fighters attacks/round capped, thieves were hitting max on several skills. The original level range was 1-10, so 11-20 had to be tacked on after. They wisely capped martial development to keep some semblance of sanity, but inexplicably let spells continue to scale exponentially to godhood. 3E decided to "simplify" by permitting linear martial progression which predictably fixed nothing.

E12 or E15 is a great thing for players to develop, but Paizo is hamstrung by their established rules and world. They have Golarian NPCs above 20 that need to be described, and they can't get there by forgetting the old 15-20 rules that the current setting is based on.


Anything past 12th is "epic" anyhow. Past 5th your outside the range of mortal, by 10th you walk as living legends, 12th your mythic figures who command powers out of the scope of most of the world, by 15th you have demi-god like power and can take on hoards of normal people naked.

There really is no need for "epic" when you already are demi-god like in power.

The Exchange

Quantum Steve wrote:
So, you want to scrap the 1-20 advancement tables, come up with new tables for 1-15, then make new nebulous epic rules for play past 15th level?...

Naw, no need to 'scrap' the 1-20 advancement tables, or come up with new tables. You just stop printing all your current tables 3/4 of the way through. As for making 'new nebulous epic rules', seems like a certain percentage of us want that done anyway... so why not let them get to it sooner?

As for the comparison to 4th Edition - well, I don't hate 4th Edition, and I think their three-tier system was a better stab at "mega character" rules than the Epic Level Handbook. (You'll notice that I still play PF, though.)

And FoxBat and Seekerofshadowlight - seems like you're agreeing with me on the general gist, although not about exactly where 'epic' begins. I admit that Paizo having a few Level 16+ characters presents problems, but that seems like a relatively fixable issue. After all, we're talking about, what? maybe 1 percent of all the NPCs in Golarion?


To clarify, I complete agree with the OP that the "rules start overheating" well before 20. Some kind of alternate, slowed, linear progression (especially on magic) would be preferable to the current system. Saying that "well up to 20 is already godlike so we don't need epic levels" is missing the point, when few even get up to 20 because the rules are flawed. Players should retire their campaigns when they personally feel too godlike, not because combat math is getting out of hand.

While many of those 8th/9th level spells ought to be redescribed as god-ish powers, once you institute the necessary pre-20 scaling change, there's no reason to bound those to 20- anymore. Still I have a feeling some kind of cap will be needed with built-in ascension encouragements like 4E, barring an E6 type system where real advancement doesn't actually happen.

I am skeptical whether Paizo will actually do what "should" be done though, but that's already been addressed.

The Exchange

As far as what the 'epic progression' would look like, that's a whole different topic. Although E6's concept of "nothing but feats" is rather weak tea, it does establish an interesting precedent that things other than levels become the rewards for increasing your XP total.

I know PF deliberately ditched burning-XP-for-crafting, but maybe 'epic' characters could spend XP to gain benefits: inherent stat bonuses, additional feats, inherent supernatural abilities from a long menu - one neat idea on that last notion that borrows heavily from the 'epic destinies' of 4E would be 'evolutions' that slowly lead a character toward various forms of immortality and/or incarnation, whether it's a monk's journey to perfect himself into an ageless kung-fu machine, an oracle's urge to ascend bodily into a celestial host, or an evil fighter's desire to become a daemonic lord.)

Shadow Lodge

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Lincoln Hills wrote:
Although E6's concept of "nothing but feats" is rather weak tea

I disagree. Feats are actually the interesting part about "leveling up". The boring static increases to BAB, Saving Throws, Spells, etc are what's "weak tea". Feats are how you're able to customize your character as they grow more powerful.

The Exchange

Interesting point, and - I think - a pretty good one. But I'm pretty sure feats alone would not satisfy those who crave EPIC, y'know?


Lincoln Hills wrote:
Interesting point, and - I think - a pretty good one. But I'm pretty sure feats alone would not satisfy those who crave EPIC, y'know?

Epic is just a matter of scale. It has nothing to do with numbers. If you are in a setting where the most powerful NPCs in the game are 5th level, being 6th makes you epic.

The Exchange

I think it was that very realization that made me wonder, "Why 21st, particularly? Why shouldn't the point where you stop gaining conventional 'levels' coincide with the point where the mechanics behind level gain start being more unwieldy than they're worth?"

Shadow Lodge

Lincoln Hills wrote:
I think it was that very realization that made me wonder, "Why 21st, particularly? Why shouldn't the point where you stop gaining conventional 'levels' coincide with the point where the mechanics behind level gain start being more unwieldy than they're worth?"

So....12th then.


Ragnar Death-Speaker wrote:
Epic is just a matter of scale. It has nothing to do with numbers. If you are in a setting where the most powerful NPCs in the game are 5th level, being 6th makes you epic.

I disagree. Epic is being able to chop the top off of a mountain with a swing of a sword.

Or, more mythologically, epic is being able to change the course of rivers with your bare hands.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

I've played in several epic campaigns in 3.5, and one of the really big frustrations I had was all the immunities and negations that occured at that level of play. You could conjure a river of lava, but everything was immune to fire--and drowning--and pretty much most magic (high SR or golem-like magic immunity).

You could do really cool things, but then they were often negated by all the weird defenses opponents have at that level.

Granted, all these epic campaigns were with a group I had joined about 10 years after all those campaigns had started, so I was kind of overwhelmed by that power level and had to create characters at 21st+ level without the slow growth and evolution that most epic characters go through.

I like the idea of spending XP after 20th level for feats, special abilities, higher spell slots, etc.

Also, some classes seem designed to advance pretty much as is into epic levels, like the barbarian, fighter, ranger, rogue, etc. Others lack a lot of regular, numerical, progression of powers.


seekerofshadowlight wrote:

Anything past 12th is "epic" anyhow. Past 5th your outside the range of mortal, by 10th you walk as living legends, 12th your mythic figures who command powers out of the scope of most of the world, by 15th you have demi-god like power and can take on hoards of normal people naked.

There really is no need for "epic" when you already are demi-god like in power.

That really depends on the scope of the setting and how the GM wants to place the Player Characters into perspective. I have played in games where what you have said holds true, and I have played in games where your typical guard unit patrolling the streets of a small town consists of 5th-9th level NPCs.

As with almost everything in RPGs, the definition of what is epic is completely subjective and can be redefined from game to game, or even session to session. The original Forgotten Realms is a good example of this - throughout the majority of the Realms Greenwood's mary-sue Elminster is undoubtedly epic. When it comes to the region of Halruaa, however, the old boxed set specifically described the power-level of the region in terms that would have placed Elminster amongst the typical rank and file in the area.

As far as I am concerned, more rules for extending the scope of the game would surely be a good thing. Those who wish to use them can do so, and those who do not can ignore them. My biggest concern with any type of Epic Level Handbook would be that they would repeat the mistakes of the past. In my opinion, such a set of rules should simply extend the game at the same pace as the Core Rules. In the past it has always seemed to me that the attempts at Epic rulesets have always cranked the knob a bit too hard, causing the difference in power between a 20th level PC and a 22nd level PC to end up more like the difference between a 12th level and a 20th level, rather than the difference between an 18th level and 20th.


Lincoln Hills wrote:
Interesting point, and - I think - a pretty good one. But I'm pretty sure feats alone would not satisfy those who crave EPIC, y'know?

In 3.X that's exactly what EPIC was, more feats. Sure, they were EPIC feats, but still just feats.

What exactly did you have in mind thats more than just feats, but isn't better served by a unique level progression for each class. To put it another way, why not just call level 15-20, as is, EPIC and be done with it? What exactly are you looking for?

The Exchange

Quantum Steve wrote:
What exactly did you have in mind thats more than just feats, but isn't better served by a unique level progression for each class. To put it another way, why not just call level 15-20, as is, EPIC and be done with it? What exactly are you looking for?

Me? I have no horse in this race at all. I have little to no interest in running adventures at such a scale. I am merely linking together two common complaints - "We want some means to create characters more powerful than the most powerful allowed in the base rulebook" and "Many of the problems with the d20/PF system appear, or grow more serious, in the mid-teens levels."

Suggesting a breakaway from the entire notion of advancing by levels was just a way to indicate that Paizo could devise a means of 'epic play' that bypasses the mechanical problems. The method I suggested would be much more personalized and modular, but I'm sure one of the better minds on these boards can suggest something more intriguing.

Grand Lodge

Huge E7 fan here (I think it works better with PF natural feat progression and gives straight 1/2 babs a +3, 3/4 bab a +5 and full bab +7, that 4th level spell access can either be given or waived away with a free spell, like that given with the arcane focus, once per day and many class features hit 'excellence' at 7th - I house rule 2nd attacks come only with being pure full BAB classes), that said now playing some PFS 12th as a soft top out (pre epic EPIC) works-ish.

Its really about the game world AND player expectations. If your average NPC is 1st/2nd level and your best skill challenges top out at DC 25, then you will feel epic at 5th or 6th esp. with cleave/gr. cleave or whirlwind attack.

If your average NPC is 4th level, DCs top out at 30 or 35 then you are likely feeling suitably badass at level 10-12.


I am still using the original definitions of what each level means... that is to say that "super hero" is 8th level, and "epic" is anything 10th or beyond.

The only reason those definitions ever appeared to change was because 2nd edition didn't include that chart (the one that labelled each level), and then 3rd went and included the Epic Level Handbook and made everyone think that meant that only 21+ were epic levels when it was really just expanding the already existing epic levels by officially removing the ceiling.


thenobledrake wrote:

I am still using the original definitions of what each level means... that is to say that "super hero" is 8th level, and "epic" is anything 10th or beyond.

The only reason those definitions ever appeared to change was because 2nd edition didn't include that chart (the one that labelled each level), and then 3rd went and included the Epic Level Handbook and made everyone think that meant that only 21+ were epic levels when it was really just expanding the already existing epic levels by officially removing the ceiling.

This is a good point.

I'm sure the designers are punting around ideas. 3E took a step away from these older systems, but didn't quite adjust as well. We've a few more years of testing now than the original designers did, though.

Part of what happens may come down to the style the audience wants. For instance--do we want fighters to own or run keeps?

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
FoxBat_ wrote:

.

E12 or E15 is a great thing for players to develop, but Paizo is hamstrung by their established rules and world. They have Golarian NPCs above 20 that need to be described, and they can't get there by forgetting the old 15-20 rules that the current setting is based on.

That's assuming that Paizo had any interest in E type systems, not all of us do. As to the NPC's that's a trivial rebuild fix if Paizo were to some reason, switch course and go to an E system. They're not hamstrung in anyway, they're producing the system they CHOOSE to design.

BTW, the original AD+D range was from 14-18, varying by class.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Distant Scholar wrote:
Ragnar Death-Speaker wrote:
Epic is just a matter of scale. It has nothing to do with numbers. If you are in a setting where the most powerful NPCs in the game are 5th level, being 6th makes you epic.

I disagree. Epic is being able to chop the top off of a mountain with a swing of a sword.

Or, more mythologically, epic is being able to change the course of rivers with your bare hands.

It's bend mithril with his bare hands...

Jump castles with a single bound...

Run faster than a mighty lightning rail...


Lincoln Hills wrote:

Perhaps PF 2.0 (may it not come until I've defrauded some widows or something and can afford it) should only run to, say, Level 15 and introduce its "epic rules" for those who want to achieve 16+ levels.

I don't use epic rules, but many other folks enjoy them. And from what I hear, it seems a lot of folks think that the PF engine starts to 'overheat' a lot earlier than 20th level. Seems like redefining where "Epic" begins might solve problems on both parts of the divide. I mean, it isn't like 'the range of levels starts at 1 and ends at 20' is an immutable fact.

The decision of which high-level class features to strip out and which to reassign to lower levels would require tons of playtesting, of course.

I think dropping 8th- and 9th-level spells from the basic rules (and using them as sample spells for 'epic magic') might remove some of the spells that GMs hate having to design adventures around. Similarly, the full-BAB types would 'cap out' just before gaining their final iterative attack at 16th level.

Well, go on, tell me this is a crazy idea and that I'm a bad person. (Don't forget to tell me that I didn't use the scientific method! I love hearing that!) ;)

I have to disagree with you that this would be a good solution to either problem. Your crazy and a bad person let me show you the math. Kidding.

The problem with this is people who want epic level play already play to level twenty....don't find the system 'overheats' at high level...have no problem as a GM with full BABs or those 'poroblem spells...etc.

Redefining where 'Epic' starts would just be moving the goalposts....we would just After Epic rules. Also it would be kinda of annoying to have to buy another book just to get the same play experience that we have now.

Also a small correction....D&D has never stopped at 10th level play...there was no cap for levels back than(you just did not gain anything really back than)...and plent of 20th + NPCs running around.


seekerofshadowlight wrote:

Anything past 12th is "epic" anyhow. Past 5th your outside the range of mortal, by 10th you walk as living legends, 12th your mythic figures who command powers out of the scope of most of the world, by 15th you have demi-god like power and can take on hoards of normal people naked.

There really is no need for "epic" when you already are demi-god like in power.

That an in 2E you couldn't even go past certain level if you weren't Human. Some races capped around 7th level for some classes. I think the highest was level 15 for elven wizards.

I remember playing games of humans where they would level up in Fighter then dual class into another. Basically we had almost level 30 characters that way. Like fighter 9, Wizard 18. You had to have good stats to do it though. If I remember right is was 15 in Str and 17 in Intelligence to do it.


Moro wrote:

That really depends on the scope of the setting and how the GM wants to place the Player Characters into perspective.

I am gonna disagree. While a setting or a GM can switch things, the game is built upon the assumption that high level NPC's are rare. You may have some in large cities but you won't have more then a score or so within a nation for the most part. Even if it is 60 or better, out of the few hundred thousand that make up a nation, that is less then a percent.


The way I see things parallels Doomed Hero at the top of this post:

Doomed Hero wrote:

Those categories already exist. Among common gamer jargon they are as follows-

1-5: Gritty
6-10: Pulp Heroic
10-15: Wuxia
16-20: Superheroic

In more plain terms, it should read Gritty, Heroic, Mythic and Epic.

Though I prefer the "plain terms." That said, at 20th lvl a character is essentially a demigod and can take on lesser deities without further advancement. Anything else is godly, though if you wanted to allow a "demigod" level of play, I would say that BAB, HD and saves (& DCs) no longer advance (though characters may trade out HD for better ones, as long as they already have a "non demigod" lvl in that class), but additional lvls still grant class abilites and feats (no additional "demigod" abilities would become available). This would allow characters to continue customization without being able to take over the gods without first becoming one, not that it couldn't be done, just not easily.

Of course, you could do the same thing, just capping the max lvl of any given class lower if it really suited your game better, just beware the repercussions in both game terms and player satisfaction (or dissatisfaction when they can't get that next shiny ability on the advancement table). If your group is cool with this, great, otherwise keep clear.

And please note, these are my opinions, and are not meant to offend or replace the rules for your game, just how I'd play mine.

Oh, and if you need lower lvl NPC's to challenge your PC's, try using teamwork feats and allowing some unusual uses of assist another actions.


I'm an epic-level enthusiast. I say that and I mean, "man, I love me some games that get past the ever-mythical level 20 mark" (and even that dreadful, awful, wonderful 3.0-spawned ELH). I enjoy the high level play, the host of options, the "overly-powerful" characters (fun fact: monsters are just as powerful!), and the lot of it.

I also enjoy completely redefining those expectations, sometimes.

I think redefining expectations can work, it just won't with the majority of PF fans as they currently stand (or with one step away from PF as the system currently stands), as too many people are too invested in the "level 20" concept. Plus, the number "20" is becoming slowly more mystical and important in Golarion.

Edit to clarify

The Exchange

I understand the appeal of a character that is Like Unto a God, and I quite understand that reaching Level 15 (or 12, or whatever) and then having to stop might seem like a terrible wrench...

But if the engine gives trouble, why not a system that allows you to spring out of the "gain x,000 XP, gain a level" entirely, as something your character has progressed beyond? I sigh when I'm regaled with stories of 31st level characters - not necessarily because I know I'm in for a 3-hour character story (the horror!) but because the numbers start to seem meaningless.

What I was thinking of, I guess, was more like Divine Ranks - the 3rd Ed mechanic for statting gods. Whether a god had 30 or 50 HD wasn't really important, compared to the god's Divine Ranks. Similarly, if a character achieves 'maximum level', I think it'd be mechanically more sound and more flattering to the PC's ego to feel that he/she is "beyond levels," acquiring new talents and powers piecemeal and essentially sculpting his/her own epic character in a way that, while inspired by the character's original class, is not limited by it. Remember Quantum Steve's snarky little comment that I was ripping off 4E? Well, he's partly right - 4E's "epic destinies" aren't (well, are hardly ever) limited by your character's starting class. Doesn't seem too bad a concept to me - folks who like Epic would still get their power rush, but in a form more fluid than the fixed level benefits we lowly mortals would be restricted to.

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