Occasionally while running my low-level heroic tier D&D campaign, I run side stories from the setting's history to break things up, and it's a lot of fun. Not too long ago, I ran one with 10th level characters, and the players struggled to understand how to use their powers effectively and only barely had their footing by the end of the evening.

I thought about running a one-shot in the paragon or epic tiers (inspired, too, by Sly Flourish's recent epic handbook), but after making the first 15th level character -- even though I had picked the simplest powers and feats I could -- it seemed like the players would be spending the whole evening struggling to understand their powers.

I thought about cutting the number of powers down and allowing multiple uses of them, or other changes, but I wonder if there are other useful tactics to make a higher-level 4E character easy to "jump into" from a standing start.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So for full understanding, do you create all the characters for the players in these one offs or are they making their own and still facing confusion? \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Jul 30 '12 at 19:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I created the characters in question. Although it would be nice to have the players do it on their own, creating high-level 4E characters takes an age. :( \$\endgroup\$ – rjbs Jul 30 '12 at 21:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think it all comes down to experience and the tools at hand. Making on on char builder using the compendium with a helpful handbook like those made by LordDuskBlade on the forums can really speed things up, but I assume your players either don't have access to those tool and/or don't have the time/aren't interested in it. To me I think the only way you could lessen confusion/problems is if you made them all very straight forward essentials class characters like Knights and Slayers. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Jul 31 '12 at 17:02

I've had quite a lot of difficulty with jumping into high-level characters in a campaign. One of the hardest parts to master is the idea of synergy.

With a long-running campaign, characters grow together as their fitness equations generally include support from each other. That support shapes the direction of growth.

I have three recommendations that I've used to some success. First, try to use essentials characters wherever possible. The simplicity, especially in a one-shot, is very worthwhile.

The second is to create a flowchart or flow-outline. Here is one I made for an epic Battlemind. If possible, have the player who will be playing the character make the notes, because it is the process of articulating the flowchart or edge cases that creates mastery. If that proves difficult due to logistic concerns, feel free to make a flowchart for that person, but encourage them to translate it (in handwriting if possible) before the game into a style that suits their way of thinking.

By thinking through the strategic cases of the character, much of the tacit expertise-building of lower-level play can be abbreviated. By having a simpler character at the outset (try to avoid conditional feats, I find those give me headaches) that is further improved.

The third is to use intrinsic bonuses for items, and limit the character to 3 uncommon items. While this quite satisfactory limits the power level of the character, it also limits the really annoying fiddily bits that items tend to contribute. Static mods of a fire-and-forget variety mean that complex thinking time is not going through the "now what item an I use, and how do I set up that combo" line of thought; a line of thought inappropriate in a one-shot. If a character has a combo, make it easily triggered, visualized, and fit most strategic cases. Morninglord is great. Morninglord, power of the moon, a couple radiant enhancing items, and a holy symbol that sometimes contributes damage... really needs a flowchart which precalculates all the damages in a hash-table lookup.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I happen to love flow charts, so that suggestion hits home with me. I'll probably make one much simplified from the one you provide, but it's a great suggestion. Thanks very much! \$\endgroup\$ – rjbs Feb 20 '11 at 16:21

During xmas break every year, we play a one-off exactly like you're describing. Everyone in the group has been playing for 20+ years. We've tried lots of different editions. We ran into the same problems that you did - each round was very long because it's tough to get a good handle on the number of options you have as a high level player during a one-off session. Add in the "normal" magic items a character of that level would have, and the complexity is pretty staggering.

However, we've also grown characters to that level and it wasn't nearly as hard. When you play a character up to that level, it's much easier to have a handle on all your powers, because you've used them for probably years prior to that point, and to know which are your most powerful. You've had time to play with each new power/item as it's been added to your character, without it slowing down the game because it's only a couple new things added at a time.

An alternate idea for one-off gaming: we played "shots D&D" not long ago. Temple of Elemental Evil. A stack of computer-generated 1st level characters with an occasional magic item randomly thrown in. Red box rules. Every time your character dies, you take a shot and draw a new character. Looting the dead is encouraged. Heck, at one point I needed to know how far down a shaft went, so I just jumped down it and yelled while the party above counted how long it took me to hit bottom. Silly, goofy, but fun.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ This isn't a very helpful answer for the original question of "how to do high-level one-shots well?", but I love the Temple of Elemental Evil Drinking Game. That sounds like a blast! +1 for giving me a stupid grin. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 18 '11 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Seven, I dunno - sounds like that well one-shotted her. That probably makes it high level. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Ludwig Feb 19 '11 at 3:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pat groan! :) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 19 '11 at 4:46

This may not be the answer you want, but don't do it yet. Run a campaign until your characters get to epic level and retire. This will give your players a chance to get used to the epic powers on their own timetable.

In your next campaign, do this and you will probably notice much less difficulty adjusting to the epic powers.

Or if you want to do it in the current campaign, is there a way you can give a character's their epic sheet the week/session before Epic Night? That way, they can take their time to look up the stats, powers, spells, restrictions, etc. and will come into the game with at least an IDEA of how to play the character.

Finally, you could always have THEM make up their epic characters, so they know what they picked. This way, if they don't use half of their feats/skills, it's their fault.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I had originally meant to note that I realize that it's much, much easier to understand your character's powers if you grow into them level by level. That's why I specified one-shots. Your other two ideas are good, but I fear my players might not be interested in using up free time prior to the game, especially making characters, since they don't have DDI. \$\endgroup\$ – rjbs Feb 18 '11 at 22:34

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