Friday, January 16, 2009

Epic destinies

Going back through all of the older articles, I found the December Ampersand article in Dragon magazine which ends with a peek at a new Epic Destiny, the Primal Avatar from the Player's Handbook 2.

Browsing through it, I remembered the section on epic destinies in the Player's Handbook, and what I thought about them. This was furthered by listening to the backlog of podcasts that I've been ignoring, where some of the team talk about their epic-level characters.

A few things struck my about the epic levels. First, there aren't many bonuses to being there. Sure, you get the usual progression at each level, as detailed in the front of the book, and your powers lists continue to advance in power. But considering this Epic Destiny is portrayed as some sort of, life-defining choice that you're making, it's seems surprisingly lacking in actually defining you.

Second, there's this sense of finality to an Epic Destiny. The "immortality" that each Destiny has basically shelves your character from that point on, which might be okay for some, but might feel like a huge loss to others. Yes, this Epic Destiny is meant to be the culmination of everything this character has lived for, but... but... I wanna keep playing!

Of course, the Player's Handbook has a paragraph discussing exactly this, and mention that the "notes that appear in each of the epic destinies below are entirely optional." But even so, without something *else* beyond 30th level, what do characters do? Take on a second Epic Destiny - the D&D equivalent of a midlife crisis?

"Bob, what have you done??"

"Honey, I killed Tiamat and got the heads stuffed for over the fireplace. Oh, and I bought a Porsche."

With all of the grumbling from Griff and me lately about the sameness of the powers and classes in 4e, there has been talk of going back to 3rd edition. But I'm still hoping to hang on and try out the Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies, to see if the powers start to stir things up or the Paths and Destinies can lend a uniqueness to the individual characters in the party.


Alexandra Erin said...

I can understand some of the criticisms I see about the epic tier, but the thing that always leaves me scratching my head is the idea that the Immortality section is presenting an impediment that wouldn't exist if there weren't such a section or an Epic Destiny mechanic.

If they hadn't included it, we'd still have an experience chart that topped out at level 30. And if they decided to keep going, we'd have one that topped out at level 35 or level 40. They'd have to stop at some point.

Faced with that unassailable fact, they provided a way to end a character's career gracefully... or in a blaze of glory, in some cases. This design decision isn't adding a limitation that wasn't there before.

Anyway, I have a suspicion that, unless 4E suffers a surprising reversal of fortune and goes utterly belly up, we'll be seeing an Immortal Tier added in a few years.

The DMG 2 is supposed to focus more on the Paragon Tier. I think we can expect the DMG 3 to deal with the Epic Tier. So what's next after that?

I don't know if you're old enough (or old school enough) to remember the BECMI days and its five tiers of play (Basic/Expert/Companion/Master/Immortal), but that's what I thought of when I read about the new tier system. I haven't seen anybody referencing this, but I really have a suspicion that the Epic Destinies and their Destiny Quests and flavors of Immortality owe a debt of inspiration to the paths of immortality from the early 80s version of Basic D&D.

I think if Wizards passes on this potential, Immortal-level play may be one of the areas that sees a lot of third party/unofficial content... people are going to want to play as their Parables and Archliches and Demigods and Avatars, and they're going to want to fight the Demon Lords and Deities and Archdevils and Ancient Dragons that are higher than level 35.

As far as the Epic Destiny defining your character... I look at it more as completing your character, representing a culmination of the choices you've made. It would be weird to me to make a choice at level 21 that equaled or exceed in importance all the choices I'd made that far.

If you look at the specific destinies (especially when you get past the 4 from PHB, which are all fairly generic), most of them focus on one specific aspect of your character... one class ability that's greatly extended or one bit of fluff that's given some mechanical oomph behind it. I think the idea is that by level 21 your character's life is already pretty well defined, but having an Epic Destiny lets you underline it in red.

Crwth said...

Interesting timing on your comment (and visit to our blog -- welcome!); Griff and I read this article today regarding life after 30.

I think the main reason this "wall" of 30th level rankles me is because we never fully explored the really high levels of 3.5, trying out the truly epic levels for any length of time. I have quite a few adventure ideas for that range that have gone unexplored, and 4e just seemed to tell me right out of the gate "and you still won't."

I like your optimism about an Immortal Tier; it balances well with my pessimism about our group ever making it to 30th level for it to matter.