Friday, November 17, 2023

What to do at High Level

Recently, I've been focused on the high level game. Expect that to continue for a while, as it's an area I've not blogged about extensively. And judging by the numbers of views for some of these posts, it's a topic people are interested in reading about. 

My last post was a reaction to the YouTube channel The DM's Lair. The video was listing 10 things that make high level (5E) D&D hard to run as a DM. I responded with my thoughts on those points, as they were things that can easily be avoided with a few old school style game ideas, or are things that are just unavoidable in general with RPGs played with high powered characters. 

Today, I'd like to post a very incomplete list of things that your character might get up to at high levels that could alleviate many of those headaches for the DM. And these ideas are system neutral (although some editions have better rules to support these sorts of things in play than others). Feel free to list more ideas down in the comments.

The main thing to keep in mind as a player of a high level PC in D&D is that YOU need to set goals for your character. Discuss them with the DM, so the DM can prepare content that allows you to attempt these things (remember, you're not guaranteed success, but you should at least be able to try). This in and of itself should solve a lot of the problems mentioned in the video. If you set goals for your PC, then dungeons and monsters are simply obstacles on the path to that goal, and it's not necessary to worry about "bypassing" an encounter or five with spells, magic items, or abilities. 

Things that High Level* PCs Can Do Besides Kill Monsters & Take Their Stuff:

1. Build a Stronghold. A castle, a tower, dungeon, a temple, a hideout... Somewhere to keep your stuff protected, and from where you can start to influence the world around you. 

2. Lead a band of men. An army, a mercenary company, a barbarian horde, a retinue of woodland beings, a guild of assassins and thieves, a brotherhood of knights militant/warrior monks...

3. Research and create new spells. Fill the gaps in your magical repertoire. Surprise rival mages in duels. 

4. Create magic items. Never did find that one item you wanted? Make it yourself. Or commission it if you're not a spellcaster. 

5. Get knighted, receive a barony, or acquire some other title of nobility. 

6. Get elected mayor, senator, or guild master. 

7. Command a pirate ship or merchant vessel. 

8. Build a fleet of pirate ships or merchant vessels. 

9. Start a martial arts dojo, weapon academy, or school of combat.

10. Intimidate all the monsters in a dungeon into your service and rule with an iron fist.

11. Become the leader of your demi-human clan. 

12. Build an army and conquer some land.

13. Compete in tournaments against knights and nobles. 

14. Go on a quest for a fabled magic item or artifact.

15. Seek out and destroy an evil magic item or artifact.

16. Explore the realm at the bottom of the sea. 

17. Seek out a gate to another plane of existence. Explore, trade, or conquer what's beyond it.

18. Claim, purchase, or conquer a private island.

19. Found a town. Is it a trade town, farming town, pirate haven? Up to you!

20. Construct your own dungeon under your stronghold. 

21. Subdue a dragon. It's your new mount or guard dog now!

22. Circumnavigate the globe; or if your campaign world is a flat earth, sail over the edge!

23. Found a dynasty. 

24. Overthrow the corrupt ruler of the kingdom and take the throne.

25. Seek out the secrets of how to live forever, or to become a lich. 

26. Take on an apprentice or successor (sidekick) and teach them all you know. 

27. Become a legendary craftsperson or artist. 

28. Fund caravans or trading vessels. 

29. Negotiate a peace treaty between warring kingdoms. Enforce the peace if necessary. 

30. Lead a crusade against a horde of monsters or an evil overlord.

31. Start a cult. Maybe summon a demon or Great Old One for fun.

32. Construct (or conquer) a floating cloud castle. 

33. Retire to a small cabin in the woods, or a cave in the mountains, or a hovel in the slums. Become the local boogeyman, wise man/woman, or the crazy cat lady (except with blink dogs or something). Keep coming out of retirement for "one last job."

34. Build a spy network. Sell your information to the highest bidder, or work at the behest of your land-holding companion. 

35. Build a flying ship, dirigible, space ship (spelljammer or otherwise), underwater boat, etc.

36. Seek out the mystic secrets that would allow you to transform yourself permanently into a dragon.

37. Capture monsters for a circus, menagerie, or zoo (or a wizard's research). 

38. Travel the land dueling every high level member of your class you can find to see if you're the best.

39. Set up a magic item shop (especially fun if the DM doesn't normally allow them). 

40. Learn how to time travel, and explore other eras instead of other lands.

41. Fund an insurrection to topple the monarchy and replace it with a democracy.

42. Seek out the hand of a prince or princess to marry.

43. Convince the greatest poet or bard in the land to immortalize you in verse. 

44. Seek to become an Immortal or god. 

45. Heal the blight, lift the curse, or otherwise remedy a problem troubling the land.

46. Become a necromancer, with a horde of undead subjects at your command.

47. Seek out the best armorers and weapon-smiths to equip your army with only the finest arms.

48. Teach students to become members of your class. 

49. Close a planar gate or dimensional portal to stop a threat from coming through.

50. Die, then adventure in the underworld! Or challenge Death to a game to get resurrected.

*or potentially Mid Level, and conceivably in some instances Low Level PCs!


  1. I'm one of those who's finding this series particularly interesting, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact I haven't run a high-level campaign since the late 80s when I was in my teens, and I ran it exactly in the way you advocate against. (We ending up rebooting the campaign, because it sucked at that point, and now I understand why.) This post raised questions in my mind, particularly: What specific modes of play would best suit the pursuit and achievement of these goals, e.g. other than simply fighting monsters? What supplemental rules systems, game mechanics, or other materials would be needed, or at least helpful, to support those modes of play?

    1. My last time running a high level campaign was also back in the late 80s/early 90s, when I was in high school. I didn't run it exactly the way I'm advocating now, but it was close enough that it kept going, petering out when I went to college simply because I was in a different city most of the year, not because of any breakdown in the style of play.

      I think I'll try to put up another post soon to answer your question about the modes of play needed to achieve these goals, but it really boils down to the DM running a world, rather than a series of linked adventures.

      Alexis at The Tao of D&D has posted often about this, and he's spot on. JB at BX Blackrazor also posts often about this. If you run a world, and the players get invested in the world and their PCs' places in that world, you don't need to do much to keep the campaign rolling. You need to do a lot to keep up with all the players' various plans and goals, but keeping the game moving ceases to be a problem.