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I want to be the DM of a published adventure: The Dragon of Icespire Peak, but am unsure of how to run it beyond 6th level. It offers suggestions to run beyond 6th level that I just don't understand. What should I do to run it beyond 6th level?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you mean you want to continue past the end of the published campaign, extending the story further? Or that you want to run this campaign for characters who start at a higher level? \$\endgroup\$
    – Draconis
    May 2, 2023 at 23:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I want to extend the campaign beyond 6th level, past the end of the published campaign. The campaign goes from levels 1-6. \$\endgroup\$ May 2, 2023 at 23:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you actually gotten a group to 6th level at the end of the campaign and are interested in going further, or is this just a theoretical interest? \$\endgroup\$
    – T.E.D.
    May 4, 2023 at 19:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Theoretical Interest. \$\endgroup\$ May 5, 2023 at 1:43

4 Answers 4

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Stick with the campaign as-is

You've told us that this is your first time DMing and your players' first time playing. I very much recommend sticking to the script (mostly) for your first go.

For yourself as DM, having a fairly clear and generally balanced prepared adventure is immensely helpful. It gives you time to figure out the general rules and learn how to apply them in prescribed situations. You can absolutely stretch your legs within those parameters, but having them will help you learn how to be creative with the system as you learn the system.

Trying to reinvent the adventure wheel and learn the ropes is going to be very, very difficult and possibly not enjoyable for you or the rest of the table.

For the players, they're learning how to play, too. Things can get very complicated in the later stages of the game and the learning curve can be steep for some classes and very steep for others.

The essentials kit is going to give you a solid base, but it will feel limited because it is. It doesn't give you access to everything, so I'd definitely stick with only what they've given - unless you and your table have access to the content you're adding.

One thing I would suggest is starting them off at level 2. Level 1 is a very basic beginning to slowly ramp up learning the character abilities, but the random chance of death is super high. Starting at 2 and ending at 6 shouldn't present any issues.

Once you've finished the campaign, you and your table can figure out what y'all like, see if there's any new content you need to get, and keep growing.

Don't be afraid to stick with published content or try your hand at a homebrew campaign. Published content has helped me learn some new tricks and homebrew lets me play with ideas I've just had in my head.

The last piece of advice is to quit when it's not working. Doubling down won't fix it - just move on and don't feel bad about it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sticking to the script is especially important with how huge the desired jump is. At certain levels the power grows so much that the problems need to grow accordingly, so the prewritten books problems would quickly become too trivial. Level 6 Heroes fight a local crimeboss. At level 15 you fight countries and armies. Level 20s fight literal gods. You cannot reconcile such a huge power difference. Any riddle or problem in a max-lvl-6-book is instantly solved by a high-level caster's utility spells \$\endgroup\$
    – Hobbamok
    May 3, 2023 at 9:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hobbamok: I think you're not giving the high level casters enough credit. Never mind solving one encounter at a time. A level 17 wizard can cast Wish once per day. It is difficult to imagine a campaign that is suitable for levels 1-6 but can't be immediately and totally resolved (or at least severely derailed or trivialized) by a single casting of Wish. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    May 3, 2023 at 21:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kevin: In 5e, Wish has a 1/3 chance of being your last ever cast of Wish unless you use it to duplicate an existing spell of 8th level or lower. And even if you succeed that, you're still weakened (Str 3) for 2d4 days, and take damage if you cast anything else the same day. Casting Wish is not at all something you can do casually, unless you're duplicating a spell less than 9th level, so it's a serious distortion to say you can cast it 1/day in ways that could solve whole campaigns. And even if a 17th level wizard were willing to risk it, 5e Wish's examples of power-level aren't that huge. \$\endgroup\$ May 4, 2023 at 4:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes for that reason I was ignoring wish on purpose, but the regular utility spells that a wizard (thanks spellbook copying) has access to (in the worst case through wish spel duplicating, migitating it's downsides) is more than enough. My mind was more on riddles, because a door locked with 3 keys? Just tunnel / passwall through it. Combat is irrelevant. Political intrigue? If it's solveable by lvl 6 it's instantly solveable with high level scrying/intelligence spells. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hobbamok
    May 5, 2023 at 8:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hobbamok: Yeah for sure, that high level party will have a super easy time of things, no disagreement there, just with Kevin's claim about Wish specifically. The level 17 party might need a day or two instead of a week or month, especially if clues lead to a distant destination they can teleport instead of walk to. High-level divination and teleportation magic can shortcut so much. And any problems that can be solved with violence become easy. \$\endgroup\$ May 5, 2023 at 15:23
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If a DM wants to continue past the end of a published adventure, they either have to make up their own adventure, or find an existing published adventure (preferably one made for PCs of the correct level) that can be made to fit.

In your case, you can use this material to continue the campaign: Beyond the Dragon of Icespire Peak

There are three adventures: Storm Lord's Wrath, Sleeping Dragon's Wake and Divine Contention which will between them take the characters up to level 13. They are available in PDF format.

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Even though the question has been marked as answered, I think I have a new bit of advice. Specifically regarding your in-text question (and how I read that):

What should I do to run it beyond 6th level?

Firstly, it's still a bit away, so you've got enough time to worry about it. What you're looking for is a goal or threat for your characters beyond level 6.

This can be a political intrigue at a nearby kings palace, a brewing war, rising evil necromancer or just looking for a cure of a special disease in a foreign land for either a player character or a related NPC (their mentor, family etc.)

These new goals can either be introduced after the great celebration (the easy but cheap-feeling way), or (way harder to pull off) slowly introduced during the prewritten campaign. Some (written by you) sidequests may hint of it, the final Icespire-Peaks-Boss might have had a letter / other known interaction with the next big evil guy or even have worked (in)directly for them.

Or if your party is happy with the Adventurers-for-hire-vibe that Icespire Peaks starts off as it could be as easy as some messenger finding them to hire them after the word of their epic deeds has spread. [Remember that you can ingame time-jump as much as you like, maybe their characters have just chilled and enjoyed their rewards for a month or three after the victory last session, so you skip to the scene where someone is trying to hire them again.

Just make sure to up the stakes, (potential) rewards and threat level.

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I tried putting this in comments, because it wasn't exactly what you were asking for, but it got to be too much information, and I think it actually backs up the accepted answer:

As a first timer, do what Nautharch suggests: Run that adventure as written as best you can, and then when its done, worry about what's next. Most likely you'll find you don't need more.

First off, that is going to take you months, likely the better part of a year, depending on schedules of your players if you take the online expansions to get you to level 13. That's a long time for a group of people to be able and willing to synch schedules and hang out together for hours on a regular basis. Honestly most tables can't do it. D&D Beyond posted some numbers on this back in 2019, and found about only about 2% of campaign characters even get past level 15. If your table even makes it past level 5, you've beaten the odds.

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I run a table with my immediate family, which is kind of a special case, so we've (so far) beaten the odds. We can also go at double speed by meeting 2 nights a week (although we're an all ADHD table, so its probably just normal speed). If you are one of the rare tables like ours that can get this far, you're likely to run into a couple of issues at the end of your published D&D adventure that we ran into at the end of ours.

First off, there's lots of advice out there for running D&D at high levels (say past 14), but that appears to be because the consensus is that it wasn't really designed to be a balanced playable game past that point. That doesn't really need to stop you, but you'll likely find it not to be the zippy rewarding experience for yourself and your players that it was at earlier levels. Or you'll have to put in extra work as a DM to make it so; work that you didn't have to at lower levels.

The other problem is that you aren't exactly spoiled for choices for good canned high-level D&D content. D&D's parent company really sees themselves as being in the RPG system business, not the RPG story writing business. WoTC isn't really geared to publishing lots of quality canned campaigns for DM's to run. They do have some really good ones! But not that many (particularly for a decade-old system), none of them go to level 20 (last I checked), and they are very slow to publish more.

This generally hasn't been a big problem for D&D, because (in my experience at least) almost no tables run just the published adventures. The systems' typical use is in homebrew adventures, which (for reasons mentioned above) invariably end long before lvl 20. So this weakness in high-level canned play isn't something you or the vast majority of other tables are likely to stumble into.

However, if you really want to run prebuilt campaigns in a system that's designed to be playable clear to max level, and has lots of good published stories for DMs to run that will lead your table to that level, you may want to consider looking at running Pathfinder 2E AP's. Paizo, unlike WoTC, is essentially a story publishing company that discovered they needed to grudgingly write a game system. They currently have six published AP's that end at 20 and will I believe be releasing two more by the end of the year. They publish a (3ish-level span) installment for the current story they are working on pretty much once a month, so DM's who don't like to run their own campaigns are really spoiled for choice.

But again, for the vast majority of tables, I'm not sure how practical those are. I run an immediate family table that meets 2 nights a week, and we are only about 1/3rd of the way through one of those Paizo 2E 1-20 AP's after about 7 months. That's about a 2 year pace for a 1-20 campaign. Very very few tables are going to be able to match us in longevity and consistency.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You've got a lot of claims in this answer that need support. It may get upvotes because people agree with it, but this answer reads a whole lot like an opinion and not a well supported answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    May 4, 2023 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch - Could honestly use a list of them. I did link a bit about the design of 5e at high levels. This is something that I see talked about online everywhere, which means its either a super prevalent myth, or there is actually some designer words to that effect somewhere. The rest I think I can back up, and where I can't, yes the claim should be removed. But I need to know what's considered controversial enough to need support. (For example, I can provide #'s to back up the relative adventure output of the two publishers, but is that really in dispute?) \$\endgroup\$
    – T.E.D.
    May 4, 2023 at 20:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Basically paragraphs 5-8 are a series of claims and would need designer support to proof them. Both from WoTC and Paizo in those paragraphs and the assumptions about what tables do and how the systems are used is something I don't agree with at all and don't think is provable. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    May 4, 2023 at 21:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just did another quick search on the high-level 5E issue, and still couldn't find anything official, but this . gets . talked about . a lot online and I see the same things said every time. If all those people may be full of it, perhaps we could use a question about it? \$\endgroup\$
    – T.E.D.
    May 4, 2023 at 21:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Found the 5E level distribution graph though. I'll post that. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.E.D.
    May 4, 2023 at 21:45

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