Gaming My Way

22 Oct

How to Successfully Run a High Powered Roleplaying Game

It happens sometimes. You find yourself bored when limiting yourself to the hub city and surrounding areas, and you want an adventure that’s more world spanning, epic. Naturally, you don’t need a high powered game for this to work, but it can be helpful, and provide a new layer of activities that your players can engage in. Some roleplaying games support high powered games better than others do, but it’s possible to have fun with a high powered game in most rpgs. There are, of course, some things you might want to consider before diving right in.

Are you ready to be challenged by running this game? Running a high powered campaign can be incredibly challenging. Your players will likely have a large array of solutions at their fingertips to solve a large variety of problems. Providing a solid challenge won’t always be easy when they can essentially wave their hands to make big problems go away.

To keep the game tough, you might provide multiple challenges they need to deal with in a small time frame. Even the most powerful characters are limited by time, in most games and settings at least, and the only exception I can think of will hit you pretty hard for messing with the flow of time too much. Sure, there are ways to gain some extra time in most game systems, but that’s one of the reasons you put more on the players’ plate to deal with.

Alternatively, if you’re setting up a direct confrontation, pull out all the stops. Don’t be afraid to play villains optimally and with good tactics, because your players are almost certainly somehow equipped to deal with it. Actively try to defeat them soundly, and employ the methods of the evil overlord, minus any character flaws your villain has.

Also, bear in mind that depending on your gaming system, you may need to deal with extended combat scenes due to the power involved. This is especially true in high level Dungeons and Dragons, as well as Werewolf games in World of Darkness. You’ll need to find a way to keep the combat exciting over a long period of time, shorten the combat, or perhaps a little of each. You can also avoid combat except for big showdowns if your group is into that style.

Naturally, this doesn’t cover all the challenges, but it should get you started on things you need to think about to figure out if you’re willing to take on the challenges involved in running such a game.

Figure out how you want to allow your players to be extremely powerful. There are, after all, different ways to go about giving your players lots of power. You could do the classic high level game, or high xp game for systems in which you buy new abilities directly through xp.

You could allow more character building options. In D&D, this means more splatbooks for new classes and feats. In World of Darkness, this means more splatbooks for playing a wider variety of supernatural creatures, as well as access to more maneuvers, merits, and flaws.

In both of these instances, you’ll need to scale combat for the power level of the players. If they gain power through high levels, this is moderately easy, as you throw higher level enemies at them, and all the scaling is basically done for you by the game system. If you allow them heavily optimize through the use of multiple splatbooks, you’ll need to pay careful attention to their characters to insure the encounters you design will challenge the crazy ability combinations your players are bound to come up with.

Of course, you may want to set a few limits, even when using splatbooks. For instance, characters like Pun-Pun and the Omniscificer are designed to be incredibly cheesy, and show some of the exploitability of D&D. I recommend not allowing infinite loops, as it’s near-impossible to challenge such a character in any form. Naturally, this is up to you and your players though. You might even be creative enough to create a challenging campaign despite these limitations. If you do, please somehow let me know about it, as I’d find such a game quite interesting, even though I likely wouldn’t play it myself.

Of course, there are likely other ways you can allow your players to become more powerful as well. One friend ran a game of D&D where everyone gained feats more often than normal. Another option would be to increase the skill points that each D&D class gets every level, or giving all World of Darkness characters a free merit. I’m sure you can come up with others if these don’t fit what you’re looking for.

Are your players up for this kind of game? Some players don’t like high level games. Perhaps the slow pace of combat grates on them and they want to get back to roleplaying through the social aspects of the game. Maybe they just  don’t like the bookkeeping involved in high level games, or the breadth of powers available.

Some players don’t like having to optimize their characters in order to be effective or useful. They just want to play the game, not spend hours poring over all possible choices trying to find one more way to sneak a little more power into their character.

Some players don’t feel challenged when they’re too powerful, plain and simple. Other players may have their own reasons to just not be interested.

For the first two situations, you’re best bet is to find people who are more interested in the style of game you want to run. There’s no real point trying to interest people in playing a type of game they won’t enjoy. It’s much better to find people who like the style of game you want to run, since they’ll be into it from the beginning, and less likely to be upset about how it pans out later.

For the last scenario, you could try showing someone how it’s possible to be challenged at a high power level in order to give them confidence that your game could in fact be fun, as well as addressing any other concerns potential players of your game might have.

Make sure you involve all the players. There’s nothing worse than playing a game and finding out you just aren’t useful or able to do anything for most of a session. There are many ways this can potentially come up.

Perhaps all the players have optimized but heavily specialized. So perhaps you have a meleer who can charge in and deal over 10,000 damage in a single hit, a spellcaster who can use every spell in the game, and a social character who can make any social roll you throw at him. If the game is too combat focused, the social character is left doing nothing. If it’s too social oriented, the meleer is left doing nothing. So you need to include challenges appropriate to all characters. This is true even in a normal game, but it’s exacerbated when characters really excel in a given role.

Another issue that could come up would be one player has optimized better than the others, and can fill every role in the game better than the other characters can. If you have a one man wrecking machine, who can also deal with every social situation that comes up, your other players might not get a chance to shine. This is a little trickier, but can still be dealt with. Perhaps this player is willing to back off when other players can fill a role. Not an ideal solution, but possible.

Maybe it’s possible for you to keep this all powerful character busy with one task, while everyone else deals with another task. Might get tricky after awhile, but it’s doable. You could also ask this player to scale his character back a bit to cover roles not covered by the other characters. There could still be overlap of roles, just not to the point where he overshadows everyone else. This is ideal, but the player might feel he’s being punished for building a good character. Of course, if he can somehow further optimize his character toward the leftover roles, it might be possible to mitigate that issue.

There are other ways this can come up too, and you’ll likely have to deal with them to keep everyone involved in your game and enjoying it.

Obviously, running this kind of game can be incredibly challenging. You’ll have to come up with your own ideas to deal with some of the challenges that come up, and my ideas might not always work with your players either. Hopefully they’ll provide a good starting point for you though. The more power you give your players, the more challenging your game will be to run. However, like any challenge, it can be incredibly rewarding to run a game in this fashion as well. If you do it well, everyone will have a blast, and they’ll be waiting to play more games like it in the future. So, give it a try if you feel up to it, and find players who will be interested in playing in such a game. You may find you really enjoy it.

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