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    Default Different Power Levels in RPG's

    I'm interested at what power levels people enjoy playing at and how it impacts your games?

    A game about cinematic normals is going to have different focus than epic heroes. Some mantain that high powered games open new arenas of play and let you partake in adventures that low powered games can't offer. But do high powered games close as many doors as it opens?


    What systems are able to handle well the shifts in power levels and how do they manage it?
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    High power games tend to open doors and windows by running a car through it. There are more options but they become so wide and plentiful that they merge into what seems like fewer options. Which is why low power games tend to feel more crip and focused without needing to be more crisp and focused
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    I personally find the lower power levels more relatable and thus compelling, at least as GM, so maybe it's because I'm better at GMing lower power level games.

    The higher the power level of the game, the more likely I find for the GM or players to accidentally totally plow over the other side in some battle or challenge, and that isn't fun for anyone.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    As a GM?

    Call of Cthullu and 1st level old TSR "Basic" Dungeons & Dragons are the easier for me to run, so "low" power.

    As a player?

    A bit more powerful, 1st to 5th level 5e WD&D, Traveller, and Top Secret seem about right.

    "Power" is relative to the environment, and playing PC's in Champions and Vampire, for example, where the setting is relatively mundane, but the PC's are not is dull for me.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    I enjoy playing at high levels of power, every time I try low power stuff I honestly get bored. all my more successful roleplaying has been higher powered stuff with light or no rules. Fate pretty much handles any power level well as long as you do some adjustments of what you yourself perceive of the system, mostly taking the same mechanics it always has and expanding your own mind to apply them to bigger more powerful things than normal rather than changing the mechanics themselves.

    though M&M is good for superhero games in general, they should really get around to a system that does an even higher level of power well.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    On my personal scale

    1) Ordinary scrub
    2) Talented/Professional
    3) Hero
    4) Superhero
    5) Demigod/Mary Sue

    I gravitate to 2 or 3 personally.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Quote Originally Posted by RazorChain View Post
    I'm interested at what power levels people enjoy playing at and how it impacts your games?

    A game about cinematic normals is going to have different focus than epic heroes. Some mantain that high powered games open new arenas of play and let you partake in adventures that low powered games can't offer. But do high powered games close as many doors as it opens?


    What systems are able to handle well the shifts in power levels and how do they manage it?
    Well, for me, "Dr. Strange" is a backstory. I prefer to play as gods* come down to earth to play at being whatever stat block is appropriate for the fun of the game.

    What type of stat block do I prefer my gods to play at? Hmmm... Technically, I prefer a system which allows the whole range, from incompetent cripple to deity. But I am more often to be in the mood to play at the range where most campaigns end: where the characters have amassed real political power, are the movers and shakers in the campaign world(s), and can affect real change.

    *or equivalent

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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    I guess I'd break the scale into two components: force and reach. Force is essentially the scale of thing on which a character can just outright decide what happens by virtue of their own ability or fiat. Reach is the scale of thing that a character can gain access to and interact with. So for example, in 2ed D&D's Planescape setting you could play 1st level characters who regularly hobnob with demons and devas and gods (low force, high reach).

    I tend to prefer to play in and GM games that very, very high in 'reach'. For me as a player, I feel like high reach is a sufficient condition for the feeling of being powerful, without necessarily needing to be able to just wave my hand and rewrite the universe. Playing high reach/low force makes it an interesting challenge as to how to leverage mere access into transformative change, which I enjoy. Playing high reach/high force is fun too, though simpler; for me that's more about picking some idea that would normally be unreasonable and seeing what happens when brute force is sufficient to carry it through.

    On the GM side, I tend to find more cosmic plotlines and settings easier and more fruitful to imagine than things that are very narrow in scale. I'll tend to run games that start with maximized reach and low force, and then kind of build the setting to have a trail of breadcrumbs that lets people with reach steadily increase the actual force they can exert by exploiting the advantage conferred by that reach. I've also run games that start at low reach but where there are opportunities to let that grow and see what the players do. I've got a pretty bad track record of keeping games low reach though, even if they start there - I just find it harder to come up with actually compelling long-term stuff at small scales.

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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Well my favourite system seems to focus in on the "professional" power level or maybe a bit above. Although often the most powerful or influential characters in the story, not by much. It seems to work out because there are moment where you can go all out or call in a favour and have a pretty big impact. Still it is not so much that we can do that all the time, or that if we aren't careful the characters still could end up in a bad situation.

    And that is actually where most of my old free-form games fell into as well. And to borrow NichG's force and reach, that is usually force, reach depends on the character, a mercenary has short reach, a leader has more. Nothing up to gods though. I don't think I have played a system that goes well outside of that however, never reached high level in D&D for instance.

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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    I guess I'd break the scale into two components: force and reach. Force is essentially the scale of thing on which a character can just outright decide what happens by virtue of their own ability or fiat. Reach is the scale of thing that a character can gain access to and interact with. So for example, in 2ed D&D's Planescape setting you could play 1st level characters who regularly hobnob with demons and devas and gods (low force, high reach).
    Keeping with this split, I'd add to at high reach can also mean institutions more than individually powerful entities. A corporation or city state has a great deal of reach even if it's made entirely of normal people, a megacorp or nation state extends much further.

    I'll play basically anywhere on the force scale, from Mouseguard (you play minimally anthropomorphic mice in a world full of dangerous stuff like totally mundane owls) to Mythender (you kill gods, while trying not to become one by accident). I'll also play just about anywhere on the reach scale, although playing with a reach well under the force for a given game isn't something I tend to do. I'll run that for the right players, but I don't have them.

    With that said, there are trends. The force scale generally hovers around the action-hero to pulp-hero level, and is more likely to go below than above. This is then often bolstered by setting elements; characters likely have access to military technology of the time, from mail and horses to tanks to spaceships. Reach tends to run high, and it almost certainly runs high because of institutions. There's also the matter of how force has a few different facets, some of which really stand out. Notably trickery is technically a force side category, and in my games trickery is often vastly more even than other forms of force, particularly when the biggest force multiplier is usually numbers.

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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    I personally prefer to play at the lower power levels, and with lots of access to technology. The best game I ever had literally got to the point of 'need some information? Make an internet search roll'. The internet search skill was added by the GM because when asked how we were investigating we responded with 'google', and the GM couldn't come up with a decent reason why information regarding buildings or organisations wouldn't be on the internet. But against anything more powerful than humans, bulletproofness was a problem impossible to overcome.

    I haven't really played much high power stuff bar superheroes, and I just generally found those games less engaging. One was interesting, and fun, but less engaging than people having to rely on their wits, skills, and technology.
    I prefer science fiction to fantasy, and generally play in the former genre. Due to this, I generally expect the laws of physics to apply to games, and work from that perspective.

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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    You know there is another aspect (or might be) to this that I would like to run by you guys. Call it stability, depending on the situation you could view it as defensive power or the reliability of your force and reach.

    I was just thinking about one campaign where we played a party that were more "powerful" than most of the D&D parties I have played, often in both force and reach. However at the same time they feel much more vulnerable than even a level one down in 1 hit character in modern D&D. I'm not entirely sure why but I am trying to formulate the idea into this third type of power.

    There is a very significant difference between "if I mess up we are going to have to burn some healing spells" and "if I mess up that is probably the sudden violent end of the campaign". The first definitely is more in my favour, could you call it a kind of power? The power to take a hit, to recover from a mistake or to know that even if you fail it will not be a catastrophic failure.

    I guess I'm just describing the rough idea I have in hopes someone else will see something that resonates with them.

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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Quote Originally Posted by Cluedrew View Post
    You know there is another aspect (or might be) to this that I would like to run by you guys. Call it stability, depending on the situation you could view it as defensive power or the reliability of your force and reach.

    I was just thinking about one campaign where we played a party that were more "powerful" than most of the D&D parties I have played, often in both force and reach. However at the same time they feel much more vulnerable than even a level one down in 1 hit character in modern D&D. I'm not entirely sure why but I am trying to formulate the idea into this third type of power.

    There is a very significant difference between "if I mess up we are going to have to burn some healing spells" and "if I mess up that is probably the sudden violent end of the campaign". The first definitely is more in my favour, could you call it a kind of power? The power to take a hit, to recover from a mistake or to know that even if you fail it will not be a catastrophic failure.

    I guess I'm just describing the rough idea I have in hopes someone else will see something that resonates with them.
    Call it "resilience"--a high resilience system is one where bouncing back from a mistake (or a run of bad luck) is relatively easy. This isn't necessarily a constant of a system (although some systems have much less variability on this axis than others):

    Combat examples:
    • Games with a damage spiral tend to have less resilience.
    • Games where resurrection-type effects are cheap have more resilience.
    • 4e has much more resilience across the board than 5e--this effect is magnified at low levels


    It's not just combat though--systems that have single-roll resolutions ("roll social to see how well you did") usually have to have degrees of success to compensate for the binary nature of the result spectrum (and offer some resilience).

    As for power levels--I prefer "grounded heroic." That is, the characters are more than the average denizen, but not super-heros. Numbers or clever tactics can bring down more powerful threats (or threaten heroes).

    On the force vs reach plane, I'm prefer starting at low force, low reach and graduating to mid force and high reach by endgame. Having too many fiat options (especially at the beginning) leads to analysis paralysis and tip-the-table styles of play. Start small, work up in reach.

    My current 5e campaign (with me as DM) has the party acting (more or less unintentionally) as the catalysts for massive change. At no time (up till now, near endgame) did they wield significant direct power, but they set a lot of things in motion. The next few sessions will be dealing with a cosmic-size deus ex machina (quite literally--they've gained access to an artifact that is the literal feather of the being that created the crystal sphere they're in). With this, they can add a single root level clause to the machine that runs reality. At a cost--the existence of the character that uses it. Whoever (NPC or PC) makes that Wish will have done so by burning their entire existence, past, present, and future. All their actions will be attributed to someone(s) else and they never will have existed. They can use it themselves, or choose who will use it (from a select group of possibilities). They're the lever with which worlds are moved--not because they're individually capable of moving worlds using their powers, but because their actions have placed them at the critical points where their small contribution has huge ripple effects.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Quote Originally Posted by Cluedrew View Post
    You know there is another aspect (or might be) to this that I would like to run by you guys. Call it stability, depending on the situation you could view it as defensive power or the reliability of your force and reach.

    I was just thinking about one campaign where we played a party that were more "powerful" than most of the D&D parties I have played, often in both force and reach. However at the same time they feel much more vulnerable than even a level one down in 1 hit character in modern D&D. I'm not entirely sure why but I am trying to formulate the idea into this third type of power.

    There is a very significant difference between "if I mess up we are going to have to burn some healing spells" and "if I mess up that is probably the sudden violent end of the campaign". The first definitely is more in my favour, could you call it a kind of power? The power to take a hit, to recover from a mistake or to know that even if you fail it will not be a catastrophic failure.

    I guess I'm just describing the rough idea I have in hopes someone else will see something that resonates with them.
    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    Call it "resilience"--a high resilience system is one where bouncing back from a mistake (or a run of bad luck) is relatively easy. This isn't necessarily a constant of a system (although some systems have much less variability on this axis than others):

    Combat examples:
    • Games with a damage spiral tend to have less resilience.
    • Games where resurrection-type effects are cheap have more resilience.
    • 4e has much more resilience across the board than 5e--this effect is magnified at low levels
    I don't think that Cluedrew is talking about resilience. I would call it Stakes

    With higher power the stakes get higher. If you are responsible for a company of men in a war then all you can lose is a company, if you are the general you can lose the whole army, if you are the emperor then you can lose the whole war.

    If you are the superhero/epic hero that has to save the world from ending then the stakes are the existance of the world. If you fail the campaign is over and I should know because my character once destroyed the whole multiverse by mistake.

    So as the reach and force increases so must the stakes. This is also why some people like to play a murderhobo because there is no accountability and lesser stakes. If they **** up and the world gets destroyed then hey! they don't care, they lived in a cardboard box on some demiplane anyway.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    I find any one level of "stakes" gets tedious after a while, especially at the ends of the spectrum. Nothing of consequence at stake or the whole world at stake over and over gets old.

    As for power level, it's all relative to the setting and circumstances -- just never ask me to play a character who is helpless or overwhelmed or defenseless.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    I find any one level of "stakes" gets tedious after a while, especially at the ends of the spectrum. Nothing of consequence at stake or the whole world at stake over and over gets old.

    As for power level, it's all relative to the setting and circumstances -- just never ask me to play a character who is helpless or overwhelmed or defenseless.

    I agree. Most often the world saving scenarios are fine if I'm playing four color supers because that's kinda what it is; Soap opera with ass kicking while saving the world.

    I like Dark fantasy, low gritty fantasy, post apocalyptic and dystopian future. Most often I run character driven campaigns where the focus on the characters goals, motivations and background. If the characters are invested in a village then that village can mean the world to them. I like to run games where failure is an option and the heroes lose somtimes, not because of GM fiat but because they just didn't handle the situation well, were too late or got outwitted by their enemies.

    As in my current game where a important and powerful NPC's who is allied with the PC's almost got killed because of bad tactics on the players behalf. One of my players after realizing that the NPC had almost died "What, doesn't he have plot armor, he's the most important NPC in the game!!!"

    The game is much more fun I find if there is a real chance of failure that doesn't end the campaign be it TPK or the end of the world.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    I prefer moderate amounts of power. Low power means my options are more limited, which I don't find as fun. High power means that I have to build a character with certain abilities appropriate for it, instead of fun abilities, so I don't like it as much.

    Or for examples of my problems with both:
    Low:It's hard to build a level 1 barbarian that really feels distinct in any significant way mechanically in 3e. Your only choices are race (most of which offer only minor benefits), and a feat (most of which have only mild impact on the characters function).
    High:Exalted has some basic abilities you pretty much are required to have to not die horribly, which take up almost half your resources to get, and lethality so high (due to all-around high power levels) that making any non-best choices feels incredibly dangerous (i.e, can't use any charm because otherwise I'll die if my Charm use isn't open for my PD).
    High: Because of how much damage is thrown around, playing level 30 3.5e feels more like an exercise in paranoia and frustration than any fun game.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    though M&M is good for superhero games in general, they should really get around to a system that does an even higher level of power well.
    Have you seen the Cosmic M&M book? Gives rules for how to handle creatures (and players) who are massive in power scale, like incarnations of the universe/death itself/gods/etc. It goes to power levels "1 to 20 to X1 to X5" instead of "1 to 20".
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    Call it "resilience"--a high resilience system is one where bouncing back from a mistake (or a run of bad luck) is relatively easy.
    Quote Originally Posted by RazorChain View Post
    I don't think that Cluedrew is talking about resilience. I would call it Stakes
    {Thinks for a moment.} I think resilience was actually closer to what I was talking about, but for the very technical reason I was examining power like force and reach. As resilience (stability) goes up the character is in a better position because there is less for them to loose, as stakes go up the character is in a worse position as there is more for them to loose. So it goes the wrong way to line up with power and reach.

    Not to say that is a useless term, I got what you were talking about pretty quickly for instance. In the weird way actually the form a pair across from a pair across from power and reach. Reach says what you can do and power is your ability to do it. Stakes says what you can loose and resilience is your ability to keep it. This is perhaps a bit too technical, but there is one observation I can make it.

    Games with really high stakes often seem to have high resilience to compensate. In games where losing amounts to a Game Over screen, that is boring so to avoid it the resilience is cranked up so that it is unlikely to happen.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cluedrew View Post
    Games with really high stakes often seem to have high resilience to compensate. In games where losing amounts to a Game Over screen, that is boring so to avoid it the resilience is cranked up so that it is unlikely to happen.
    This is why you can have video games where death is easy (e.g. Dark Souls)--you can always reload a save game. All it costs is some time, and you can learn from the experience. TTRPGs don't have that property, so the in-universe resilience has to go up to compensate.
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    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    I guess I'd break the scale into two components: force and reach. Force is essentially the scale of thing on which a character can just outright decide what happens by virtue of their own ability or fiat. Reach is the scale of thing that a character can gain access to and interact with. So for example, in 2ed D&D's Planescape setting you could play 1st level characters who regularly hobnob with demons and devas and gods (low force, high reach).

    I tend to prefer to play in and GM games that very, very high in 'reach'. For me as a player, I feel like high reach is a sufficient condition for the feeling of being powerful, without necessarily needing to be able to just wave my hand and rewrite the universe. Playing high reach/low force makes it an interesting challenge as to how to leverage mere access into transformative change, which I enjoy. Playing high reach/high force is fun too, though simpler; for me that's more about picking some idea that would normally be unreasonable and seeing what happens when brute force is sufficient to carry it through.

    On the GM side, I tend to find more cosmic plotlines and settings easier and more fruitful to imagine than things that are very narrow in scale. I'll tend to run games that start with maximized reach and low force, and then kind of build the setting to have a trail of breadcrumbs that lets people with reach steadily increase the actual force they can exert by exploiting the advantage conferred by that reach. I've also run games that start at low reach but where there are opportunities to let that grow and see what the players do. I've got a pretty bad track record of keeping games low reach though, even if they start there - I just find it harder to come up with actually compelling long-term stuff at small scales.
    I feel like that's a pretty good division of the 'power' PCs have. I used to prefer both low-force and low-reach games, by these definitions, but some time ago I gained an appreciation for higher force. Not necessarily higher reach, though. I just don't like the management and bookkeeping that such influence tends to bring. But the more personally powerful your characters become, it gets harder to justify their reach being limited to their own personal exploits. Unless they deliberately avoid accruing influence, which is of course possible.

    A Dark Heresy 2E campaign that's run for... two years now has seen our characters rise from goons with laspistols to people who take on Chaos Space Marines and live to tell about it. Our reach has stayed low, though, because we're still Inquisitorial Acolytes and move around frequently. Then again, we managed to established a strong contact network on one of the planets we operated on, and secured the cooperation of the Imperial Church on the newest one. So we still move up places, even if we can't flash the Rosarius and order people around by the grace of the Golden Throne.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Quote Originally Posted by Milo v3 View Post
    Have you seen the Cosmic M&M book? Gives rules for how to handle creatures (and players) who are massive in power scale, like incarnations of the universe/death itself/gods/etc. It goes to power levels "1 to 20 to X1 to X5" instead of "1 to 20".
    I do have it, I just thought the PL stopped at 12 or 14 since those are the recommended levels.

    now that I think about it, there is a character of mine that I could use the X rules to represent, didn't think about that before.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    I do have it, I just thought the PL stopped at 12 or 14 since those are the recommended levels.

    now that I think about it, there is a character of mine that I could use the X rules to represent, didn't think about that before.
    As far as I can tell, those recommended levels are for starting a standard game, not finishing it or for non-standard games.

    I'm using the X5 rules to stat up various planes of existence. 100 ranks in elongation + 100 ranks of growth gives them such a massive sphere of influence.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Quote Originally Posted by Cluedrew View Post
    {Thinks for a moment.} I think resilience was actually closer to what I was talking about, but for the very technical reason I was examining power like force and reach. As resilience (stability) goes up the character is in a better position because there is less for them to loose, as stakes go up the character is in a worse position as there is more for them to loose. So it goes the wrong way to line up with power and reach.

    Not to say that is a useless term, I got what you were talking about pretty quickly for instance. In the weird way actually the form a pair across from a pair across from power and reach. Reach says what you can do and power is your ability to do it. Stakes says what you can loose and resilience is your ability to keep it. This is perhaps a bit too technical, but there is one observation I can make it.

    Games with really high stakes often seem to have high resilience to compensate. In games where losing amounts to a Game Over screen, that is boring so to avoid it the resilience is cranked up so that it is unlikely to happen.
    There is also a thematic difference between resistance and recovery - between being able to soak a hit, and being able to recover from it over time.

    Arguably, I actually prefer recovery, where you have to make painful choices, can have painful losses, but can still recover.

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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    This is why you can have video games where death is easy (e.g. Dark Souls)--you can always reload a save game. All it costs is some time, and you can learn from the experience. TTRPGs don't have that property, so the in-universe resilience has to go up to compensate.
    .
    That actually sparks a thought:

    The shorter character creation is, the less I mind "squishy" PC's (character death).

    Once upon a time I liked the "mini-game" of PC creation, and the more "customable" the better, but now I regard the process as an impediment to getting to when the GM asks me "What do you do?", so yeah, with quick and easy TSR "Basic" Dungeons & Dragons character creation "squishy" PC's are A-OK, but if I'm going through GURPS/HERO/full family background in Pendragon types of character creation I want that PC to last.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    I actually had a pretty big "Cognitive Dissonance" moment in one of my games recently that ending out turning out well. I was trying to run a harsher style world, but one of our players got an ability that effectively let him heal infinitely very early, after looking through it, several classes had similar options through either fast healing or low level at will healing effects. I was worried that the power level of the system would ruin the game I was trying to run.

    I ended up having to restrict other aspects of the players lives, such as Items, and started tracking food water and weather. It got slightly tedious, but after getting used to it and streamlining the checks the players seemed to be more wary of their actions from aspects other than just their health depleting, which is what I wanted in the first place.

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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Quote Originally Posted by Kane0 View Post
    On my personal scale

    1) Ordinary scrub
    2) Talented/Professional
    3) Hero
    4) Superhero
    5) Demigod/Mary Sue

    I gravitate to 2 or 3 personally.
    I prefer 2 as well. For a dnd like game, around levels 3-7 or so
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Take "mary sue" off the list, it has nothing to do with power level (or at least isn't simply a measure of raw power or subjective "too powerful")


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    Last edited by Max_Killjoy; 2018-01-06 at 11:02 PM.
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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    There’s another axis that might be worth thinking about in this conversation; a blog I follow was just recently having this discussion but with the added factor of rate-of-advancement (aka volatility or velocity) - how quickly can a character in the game process from the weakest power level to the high end?

    This can but doesn’t have to have an impact on the PCs in the game - pretty much any system with a high variance between ‘ordinary person’ and ‘most powerful people around’ can have you start play at the top of that scale - but it can and should have a serious impact on the feel of the setting. A game where new demigods can rise to power in a matter of weeks or months is going to behave very differently from one where it takes decades and thousands of deadly conflicts to reach that height.

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    Default Re: Different Power Levels in RPG's

    Ok, so... I prefer high force, sandbox* reach, low velocity games.

    EDIT: how does this impact my games? Hmmm... I'm usually disappointed. Because low velocity games very rarely make it to / rarely are played at high power. And few GMs are good at sandbox reach.

    * in other words, as much reach as the PCs care to have, from trying to overthrow the gods to helping an old lady cross the street.
    Last edited by Quertus; 2018-01-09 at 12:18 PM.

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