Among 3.5e players, the Epic Level Handbook has a very bad reputation and its rules are often called out as being highly dysfunctional. In addition to this, high level play in general has a poor reputation, with issues including a large disparity between the power of casters and non-casters (e.g. see the justification for E6 or the tier list) and the game becoming difficult to play. Regardless, it is quite clear that Epic level play has a worse reputation than regular high level play, but why is this the case?

To my knowledge, the only unique issues with epic level play are the absurdity of Epic Spellcasting, which is so well-documented that I can't see any sensible DM not banning it outright, and occasional bits of nonsense with Epic Skills such as Epic Diplomacy or Epic Escape Artist, which, given the levels in question, aren't really all that much worse than the exploits that already exist in high level play (e.g. Diplomancers or optimized Truenamer tricks with Knowledge skills). As serious as these issues are, I do not believe them to be sufficient to explain the terrible reputation that Epic level play has.

It has come to my attention that Epic level play is so dysfunctional that giving a proper explanation of its numerous dysfunctions would be an Epic level task. For that reason, as much as I would like to read a book on what's makes Epic level play more dysfunctional than regular high level play, acceptable answers will not need to go beyond explaining why Epic level play has a worse reputation than high level play. This will of course require some discussions of mechanics, but only short summaries will be needed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Please define "broken". Epic-level play is different and less playtested, that's for sure, and it allows doing crazy things with or without magic. That said, we usually call something broken if it is unbalanced against other things with similar level / cost / rarity etc, and that does not make sense when talking about whole Epic Level rules & gameplay. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 11:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Would you prefer "dysfunctional"? That being said, I suspect that it's broken in both senses of the word. \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 11:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are three votes to put this on hold as being too broad. I suggest identifying the kind of anwer you'd prefer so that answers don't feel obligated to write a book. Something like A good answer will have from 3 to 10 bullet pointed reasons that, combined, give an overview of the issues with epic play. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 30, 2019 at 12:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Are there really so many noteworthy issues that the question is considered to be too broad? If anything, that's an answer in of itself. \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 12:38
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Putting on hold one second for clarification. I fear people are just going to answer with "why they don't like the epic rules" (or why they do). You are asking on the face of it "why they have this reputation" - which I guess is more answerable, although it somewhat begs the question of "do they have this reputation, is there any proof of that?" I get this is somewhat similar to e.g. rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/60044/… but that older Q doesn't necessarily have a lot of citations to back up its answers' claims either. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented May 31, 2019 at 5:07

2 Answers 2


Yes, but also no.

In short, the game gets more and more problematic the higher in level you go. With epic, if anything, that slows down aside from Epic Spellcasting, because you aren’t accessing new and more powerful spells. Epic classes also progress more slowly, with a lot of dead levels and less gains in BAB or saving throws.

But you can also do things over and above what you could at 20th level—which was already broken. So while comments are seeking a definition for “broken”—not unreasonable in most cases for a question like this—I would say a bigger consideration here is what definition you are using for “regular high-level play.” Because if you have already broken the game before 20th—something that is often difficult to avoid even if you want to—it’s not going to get “more broken” at 21st. But if you have somehow managed to avoid breaking the game all the way up to 20th level—bravo!—21st is going to offer a new and improved way to break the game. For example, metamagic is a frequent path to game-breakage, and there are tons of shenanigans for doing that pre-epic, even with the highest-level spells. But if you haven’t used those, once you get to epic you get Improved Spell Capacity and epic metamagic feats, and it becomes less about shenanigans and more about “they literally just printed this feat here to do that.” It’s just going to get harder and harder to keep the game working as you get higher in level.

But as I said, that’s not different from pre-epic levels. There are reasons why E6 stops at 6th, and not 20th—it’s because these problems start long, long before the epic levels. Epic Spellcasting is really the only thing that totally changes the paradigm of the game at 21st, so in a sense, epic without it isn’t any different from “regular high-level play,” but then in almost all cases “regular high-level play” already is broken.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Play above somewhere around 15th level has a reputation of being rather bad in almost all editions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yora
    Commented May 31, 2019 at 7:31

The original epic rules are no more broken or dysfunctional than the core books.

The original epic rules are found in the DMG (p.206-210), and are quite simple, easy to understand, and fully playable.

The problem? Most people don't know they exist.

Epic rules have existed for most editions of D&D (pretty much ever since Mordenkainen reached level 20 and Gygax didn't want to stop playing the character...).

The Epic Level Handbook should have been 3rd edition's expansion of the basic epic rules given in the DMG. Oddly enough, even though the ELH actually references previous edition's epic rules (notably the epic spell seed rules which were inspired from the High Level Play book of yore), it doesn't seem to reference the DMG epic rules at all. As such, since the DMG is the primary source, anything which contradicts it can be freely ignored.

What then causes the bad reputation? Most people cite the rule set as the main problem. However most people are wrong, despite the admittedly wonky rule set. The real problem is that almost everyone is not following the pattern the game assumes that you are doing.

When this game assumed pattern is not followed, gameplay runs into problems. Part of the problem is that the game itself never tells you what that pattern is, explicitly. You're just supposed to know, or figure it out.

Dungeons and Dragons has some hidden assumptions built into the earliest versions of the game, which have been carried forward into almost every edition of the game since. These hidden aspects trip up groups time and again, because it's supposed to be a game of freedom and imagination, right?

Well, sorta.

So let's examine some of these assumptions.

  1. Your players are using the dragon's four basic food groups as characters: fighter, thief, priest, and mage. (Though we find more politically correct titles these days, and note they don't include the horses. Poor horses.)
  2. You have four players.
  3. You are keeping track of weight and encumbrance, light sources out lack thereof, and food supplies.

And so forth.

That's great, but what about epic?

So, with regards to epic, the game has the following assumption built in:

  • at low level you are playing a small group tactical game.

  • at mid levels, you are naturally transitioning away from a small group tactical game to a large group tactical game plus simple strategic elements.

  • at high levels, you are no longer playing a tactical game, you have switched completely to a strategic game eighth political elements where your characters are ruling over many, possibly running a country or something.

  • at epic levels, you are playing a political game, wandering the planes, and creating myths and legends, eventually either dying, retiring, or becoming a god... at which point congrats, you have won the game, time to retire your character and start another campaign and do it all over again.

The problem starts when almost every gaming group out there fails to transition away from a small group tactical format, unsurprisingly enough at or around level 6. (E6, anyone? )

Failing to follow this built in assumption causes the game mid to high level problems, let alone epic. Most groups crash and burn long before epic.

So, in short, the game sneakily assumes that you are playing a certain way. And when (almost everyone) doesn't play that way, the rules don't cover the results very well, which yield increasingly severe issues over time and levels.

These failures are blamed on the Epic Level Handbook version of the rules (which, again, are pretty wonky and are worthy of criticism), much online analysis is had, and the bad reputation is writ in stone.

The easiest solution is to follow the original DMG version of the epic rules.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .