Tiers Of Play: Epic

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on December 10, 2009

One of the joys of 4e Dungeons & Dragons is that the various tiers of play open the game up, changing the flavour subtly so that it always stays fresh. Recently my regular gaming group decided to try some epic tier Dungeon Delves. In fact, we decided to go for broke and take on the level 30 delve.

It was a blast and no where near as tough as I thought it would be, which is good because it increased my enjoyment factor.

Each of the tiers in 4e D&D adds an additional layer of complication to the game and as you can imagine the epic tier has highest level of difficulty. This is mainly because you have so many options. Not too many options, just lots of options.

I’m not going to bore you with how we defeated the delve, instead I’ll encourage you to go and try it with you regular group. I will tell you that we had no defender and two controllers. Read my article about why you want a controller in your party and you’ll understand a little bit more about that decision.

What I do want to comment on is how to make playing at the epic tier as fun an experience as it’s meant to be. There have been many discussions on blogs and forums criticising epic tier play as slow, boring, complicated, confusing… you get the point.

In an effort to provide some useful advice I polled my gaming group and asked for their feedback about epic level play. I then tried to identify what could be done to enhance epic play and make it better for everyone involved. Here’s what we came up with. Straight from the game table to you; a list of how to make epic play smoother. There are tips and pointers here for DMs and players.

Say Yes

This one is for the DMs and it is absolutely critical: Say yes. In the arena of epic play if you haven’t already covered a rules question, save it for the after the session is complete. Unless the idea, suggestion or action is totally outrageous, say yes. Saying no grinds the game to a halt. While this advice should apply to all tiers of play, it has particular importance at epic level where there is already a great deal going on.

It’s Not The DM vs Players

Epic level PCs have god-like powers. DMs need to accept that the monsters will likely be killed in manner they could never have anticipated. Don’t get angry or upset when the PCs do something that deals an insane amount of damage or stuns, dazes or immobilizes the monsters. PCs at this level are supposed to be tough. Live with it. In fact encourage them to really pour on the hurt.

Don’t Hold Anything Back

Another tip for the DM to keep in mind is that no matter how tough an attack power is or how much damage you think it’ll do if it connects, use it. The PCs have strong defenses, immediate interrupts and immediate reactions. They’ll survive. In fact most PCs at epic level have at least one power that lets them somehow cheat death.

If you’re a PC this advice also applies to you. With four daily and encounter powers feel free to unload on the monsters you’re facing. There’s nothing worse than saving a power for that ideal moment and then not getting that opportunity. Go ahead and use those daily powers. Rarely will you get the ideal opportunity to use your powers in the manner you’re expecting to.

Character Builder

At level 30, the character builder is horrible at listing all of your abilities, feats and powers on the character sheet. You have to make notes on a separate piece of paper, otherwise you’ll forget about your immediate interrupts, immediate reactions and daily item power. I found that I was highlighting my paragon path powers to remind myself to use them. I would also write down when to use daily items on the power card that best exploited the abilities of both.

At epic level you’ve likely had a lot of say in which items you’ve received which means items and powers should be complementing each other.

Encounter Length

Monsters and PCs will have a lot of hit points by the time you’re playing epic level games. Encounters become a lot longer and are more drawn out even with the increases in damage delt by the PCs. While some players complain about the length of encounters others find a way to speed them up.

Power Complexity

Powers are more complex and in some cases have conditions that occur even on miss. Add in effects and aftereffects and there is a lot to keep track of. Review your character before every session. DMs review your monsters. Remember it is your responsibility to remember what your powers do. It is also your responsibility to track aftereffects. The DM has enough to worry about. If you have inflicted ongoing damage to a monster, remind the DM on that monsters initiative so that it gets tallied.

Play Smart

Tactics are vital to combat at high level. Controllers will move allies and opponents around the map. As the DM don’t let it bother you. When your monster has 1,000+ hit points it can take a few hits without any significant impact. If moving will allow you to get multiple PCs in a burst, provoke the opportunity attacks and move first. Make full use of your powers.

PCs should be communicating during combat. Epic level is not the time to take your turn and then start reading the newest issue of Dragon or Kobold Quarterly. Stay involved and tuned in to what is going in. You don’t want to miss the opportunity to use that immediate action.

Call The Fight

Eventually combat becomes a war of attrition. When it’s clear that the PCs will win, call the fight. Just be sure to charge the PCs with healing surges or item powers to represent the resources that would have been required to defeat the remaining opponents. Then move on. Nothing equals boring more than all PCs down to at-will powers as they bring the monster down.

If it’s the last fight in an epic campaign, turn to narrative and describe how the PCs take the monster down. Better yet, let the PCs explain how they do something heroic… er epic, to take the monster down. Powers don’t matter at this point, story telling and drama matter. Cool matters!

Fleeing Is An Option

Epic PCs have awesome powers. Many of them last through the entire encounter. Intelligent monsters may realize this and fleeing, even for a hour or two, is a good way for the monster to counter these effects. This is advice that applies in many situations and should be used only with marque villains. Granted having a horde of minions retreat only to ambush the PCs later does have its merits.

What experience have you had with playing at the epic tier?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mike Shea December 10, 2009 at 11:12 am

Excellent article. My main group just hit epic level and yesterday was our first battle at the epic tier. They used an incredible array of powers to teleport-charge every round and inflict nearly 100 damage per player each round. Amazing stuff.

I just let the monsters crumple.
.-= Mike Shea´s last blog ..Ten Ways to Challenge Powerful Parties =-.

2 Youseph Tanha December 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm

As a new DM I found this post to be so helpful. Thank you very much. I have found that describing the battle; each blow, each hit in detail only adds to the excitement of a battle. You have written some good stuff and I am adding it to my DM Binder. Thank you.

3 Arcade December 10, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Just jumped on your site recently and am loving it. Good article. What’s interesting is that these are the same tips that you use in all other tiers, but the increase in power makes these fundamentals that much more important and the benefits are more noticeable. Good way to really drive home those important points. Thanks!

4 Wimwick December 10, 2009 at 9:19 pm

@ Mike Shea
Epic level is just that, epic. The sheer resources available to PCs truly re-energizes the game.

@ Youseph Tanha
Welcome to Dungeon’s Master, I’m glad you found the information usefull. If you enjoyed this article and are looking for more tips to helping you as a new DM, check out the DM Resources tab on the left side.

@ Arcade
Welcome to Dungeon’s Master. You’re 100% correct that many of the tips presented here are ones we recommend for other tiers. We do it for a reason as you’ve pointed out. I’m glad you enjoyed the article and I hope you continue to visit Dungeon’s Master.

5 Joost June 21, 2010 at 4:43 pm

those are valuable tips – especially Don’t hold back and Call the fight.
On my table, I perfer to let the ‘fun’ factore overrule the rulebook. If a player suggests an outrageous action, but everyone is laughing about the prospect it, imagining the poor creature at the receiving end, then rules don’t matter that much anymore. Hey, they’re epic. they are tough. they can bloody well bend the rules at level thirtysomething if they feel like it.
also, don’t hold back. really don’t. for the exact same reason: they WILL find an obscure defense somewhere and try to wriggle out of an obvious instant death.

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