Wednesday, 4 August 2010

High-Level D&D? Read on, True Believer!

A few years back, before I discovered the online OSR and before I was blogging, I started feeling the urge to go back to Basic D&D and Fighting Fantasy and Tunnels and Trolls but do these games at completely the other end of the scale to how we'd played before.

What I wanted to do was start at 10th level and do some monstrously OTT high-level dungeon bashing with everything ramped up to 11 - stupid game breaking PCs and using every single AD&D beastie with massively unfair killer special abilities. Sounded like fun. Battling Sons of Kyuss on the stone archways spanning the Lake of Acid on level 150 of the Megadungeon. That sort of thing. (This was sort of where I started to realise that D&D was somewhat underappreciated in my eyes and where I starting drifting back towards enjoying what I'd originally enjoyed - Red Box, Lone Wolf, FF and the thrill of exploring underground abysses and battling Monster-of-the-Week).

However this never happened because the JRPGs I was playing (Final Fantasy, Grandia etc.) taught me something important. You can't play a 10th level character properly unless you've either played him up from 1st level or you are a massively experienced D&D gamer. There are just too many options and abilities in the "real", "properly grown and cultivated" high level D&D PC for somebody to leap in and take control of. Too many spell options, too many magic items with many and varied abilites and a near total lack of knowledge of what the other players can do which synergises with you.

So you either scale down 10th level characters with a less than usual amount of magical trickery or accept that they will be "underplayed" to a degree but then you've not got 10th level characters. They are effectively some levels below that, but exactly how many is not clear.

A few weeks back at my FLGS (Waylands Forge, Birmingham) I came across a copy of TSR's Marvel Super Heroes in the second-hand rack for £6. I snapped it up because I'd never seen it before and heard many a good thing about it in the past. As it happens when I got it home it turned out to be lacking the all-important PC stats cards so I don't really have any superhero stats for it hence it's relegation to "interesting and unused bookcase fodder".

As it happens I don't particularly like the superhero genre anyway (Batman and Watchmen excepted) but I've always viewed it as a perfect genre for roleplaying. One of the reasons for this is that it can handle just about anything. Nobody will bat an eyelid if, due for arcane and obscure reasons of plot, the PCs get teleported to an alternative realm of magic and monsters and end up being, basically, high level D&D adventurers.

Which is when the penny dropped.

High level D&D is basically a superhero game. I'm starting to suspect that it is so much a superhero game that I'd be better off dropping all pretence of using fantasy rules and going over to Superhero rules. And Marvel Superheroes aka FASERIP looks ideal because a character of 10th level power is far easier to pick up in that game than D&D.

While most FASERIP players just describe a character and have the GM sort out the nuts and bolts with a bit of creative reskinning some Marvel characters could walk straight into a D&D campaign. For example The Human Torch is human-size, can turn his body into flame, fly and generally manipulate fire. His player just tells the Gamesmaster how he will use this abilities to achieve his aims and goals.

Well, that could describe a high-level Elementalist or Theocrat of some fire God. No need for changes, just rename and redescribe the character. In fact, it would be a good match for Magic:The Gathering's Red Magic planeswalker pin-up girl Chandra Nalaar.

Effectively the same thing.

Our Elementalist/Theocrat/Chandra would be a complicated thing indeed in D&D but Marvel Superheroes was built from the ground up to allow an 11 year to pick up Human Torch's character sheet and be told "You control fire and can fly. Just tell me how you'll use that to capture villains and rescue innocents".

Somewhat happily, somebody here has done conversion guides for d20 to FASERIP and I have a complete set of 3E books (which are apparently of no use to man nor beast because they aren't the all important 3.5 release).

I'm thinking aloud with all this but suspect that this might just fly.


  1. Count me intrigued. I love the FASERIP system!

  2. I've worked out some guides and using old versions of D&D and its retro clones for super-hero gaming. I'll have to post them sometime soon.

  3. High level D&D is basically a superhero game.

    Fin Fang Foom, that is all.

  4. Bah, and I sold all my Marvel Superheroes stuff just a few months ago.

    It did let me get more WFRP stuff, but still...