Something hinted at from one of the more recent Legends and Lore series talks about high level games, how they sort of break down, and what should be your typical experience at paragon tier and higher. One idea touched on was that maybe certain places in the game world might be better suited for high level play. If you are facing combat with a deity or traveling different planes, that’s something more aligned for high level tier groups.
It’s not a bad thought. I think higher level characters need something larger in scale to be an appropriate adventure for them. However at the same time, I like the flexibility 4E has given DMs for potential worlds to explore. I loved seeing lower level demons, elementals, and aberrant creatures pop up in MM2. While the majority of monsters that would frequent these different planes are for high level PCs, having a handful of heroic level creatures was a nice option.
Pushing this idea of flexible locations for heroes of all levels is inspiring. I tended to get stuck in the mindset that the planes were for higher level characters only. Having more heroic tier monsters available opened up that idea of allowing lower level PCs to step into other regions, especially the Feywild and the Shadowfell.
Even the scales of war adventure path had level 5 characters crossing over into the Shadowfell. Something that helped reinforce new DMs to think about having adventures in other lands. With folks that had run through a few heroic campaigns, having another place to kick off a campaign outside your typical run of dungeons against kobolds and goblins was a boon. Granted I could see the majority of the planes of elemental chaos something with incredibly difficult monsters and hazards, something only the most seasoned of adventurers would attempt to tackle. However at the same time, there could be this periphery on that plane that was more stable, with less powerful creatures, that heroic PCs could explore.
It makes me a bit nervous when I hear thoughts that certain places might be cordoned off to higher level tiers. I much prefer the direction taken in 4E where the DM was given tools to build encounters that could challenge a low level group (and at the same time not completely overwhelm them). It didn’t have to be enough to make out an entire series of adventures (or a whole campaign), but being able to slip over into the Feywild or pass into another planar region would be a pretty cool break from the typical game most folks run. And if anything, it could provide some ground story work to give an incentive for the players to visit those planes again.
The biggest difficulty for many DMs may not be designing encounters for high tier play (which can be an issue) but more along having problems with appropriate challenges and tasks that would appeal to higher levels. I hope a fair chunk of pages in the next DMG iteration of DnDNext tries to address this. I want to see a random table of 50 ideas for paragon and epic play. Give us some abstract rules for resolving large scale battles (something out of Savage Worlds Deluxe would be peachy), obtaining strongholds, and maintaining followers.
This seems to be the biggest roadblock to higher level play, thinking of an appropriate story that would grab the attention of high level PCs. To address this effectively is no easy task. For quite a few DMs with a lot of experience, this probably is not a problem, but relatively new DMs would likely appreciate advice. I’m hoping that is something that is given more attention for DnDNext. Don’t saddle the players with more complex mechanics and especially don’t consider things like segmenting off the planes for paragon level only. Keep planar travel and adventures flexible for adventure ideas. Spend more effort in helping DMs craft a campaign story that is worthy of high level play.