Last night was session two of episode ten of the soon-to-be-finish Star Wars campaign (the WotC Dawn of Defiance arc), and after a battle that lasted twelve rounds and two hours real-time (which I think is the longest any of the encounters have been), the heroes defeated the Dark Jedi, Draco, and are on their way to do battle in space; and they have now levelled up to Level 20!
And they are god-like in their power… ok, that’s a slight exaggeration, but they are incredibly tough. Only one of the characters was really in any serious trouble, going from about 150 hps to 4 hps, but both the droid and the former clone trooper were heavily hit; only the Master Jedi managed to avoid any serious damage, and that was only because Draco couldn’t hit him (despite being a Lv 20 bad guy).
I confess I do not like the power-curve of these ‘modern’ games (3.5, Pathfinder, 4E, and Star Wars SAGA), as not only do the heroes become stupidly powerful, they do so in seemingly no time at all. It doesn’t feel like they have worked hard to get this experienced, and in a really short space of time (even with an in-game break that adds up to about a year, the game-time is maybe two years at most). It makes it feel ‘fake’, and yes I know this is a game and all that, but I remember when we played AD&D2E and it felt like ages between levels; but when we got into those magical double-figures, we felt like we deserved them, had earned them. Doesn’t feel that way for the other games.
Now, I know this is partly the way it has been played, with little down-time between some of the adventures, and that there are plenty of ways to slow down the progress of levelling, but my point is (and why my next game is old school style all the way), is that I want the players to feel like they have earned their levels, that it is a reward due to their successes and in-game experience, even out-game experience; more than just a pile of numbers that add up to ‘cool stuff’ for their characters to do; I want it to be more role-play than wargamey, which is what the later editions of D&D and their off-spins sometimes feel like; at least in the games I’ve recently been in.
Which brings me to Hit Points. I have a love-hate relationship with Hit Points, as their advancement doesn’t always fit well with damage output, so the higher level characters get, the more fights become a slog-fest, especially when you play later editions and have heroes with a couple hundred hit points (in the Star Wars game, I think the trooper character will end up with just shy, or just over, 300 hps).
I have tried alternatives to the rules, using things like wound points, substituting Constitution for HPs, that sort of thing. Nothing ever felt right (especially when wizards are throwing fireballs around). I’ve heard that Secret Fire has a different way of dealing with it, but I’m waiting for my copy to arrive and have no clear idea how that’ll work.
So, I’m looking forward to starting my Old School D&D-styled campaign, sometime in the next month. It should be refreshing, and I fully expect for PCs to die as the players get back into the swing of playing it Old School.