D&D: Dismay & Disillusionment


I have played D&D for many years and naturally when I heard about the upcoming Epic Level Handbook I was very excited. I had dreams about cool new monk abilities, fun items with interesting new effects and awe-inspiring new spells. I waited patiently for months, but what arrived in the mail was very disappointing.

I have played D&D for many years and naturally when I heard about the upcoming Epic Level Handbook I was very excited. I had dreams about cool new monk abilities, fun items with interesting new effects and awe-inspiring new spells. I waited patiently for months, but what arrived in the mail was very disappointing.

All in all I liked the change from 2nd to 3rd edition. The system had its better points as well as its flaws, but overall I liked it. The only thing I missed was the mood in the campaign settings, but this was easily transferable. When I first heard about the coming Epic Handbook I couldn't wait, I was hoping for cool new monk abilities, cool new arcane and divine spells and a few awe inspiring new artifacts. I waited patiently for months, I pre ordered it on Amazon and saved 10 bucks. What arrived in the mail was very disappointing.

The first thing I saw shocked me: NO NEW CLASS ABILITIES. The monk got nothing new, neither did the paladin. The prestige classes got nothing either. Everything that increases by level keeps going, but you never learn anything new! The new "epic" prestige classes were just a different mix of abilities that make up other prestige classes, just a little stronger or useable more often.

The skills allow you to do the super-human and practically replace some spells. Appraise lets you Detect Magic in items, bluff lets you place suggestions as the spell, escape artist lets you get through a Wall of Force, and there are a bunch of others too. I admit, they are really hard to do, but I don't care how cool you are you shouldn't be able to ignore falling damage just because you know how to tumble or climb a perfectly smooth flat ceiling without the Spider Climb spell.

Then they add a whole new system for casting spells, and overall it works, but the spells are too powerful to use more than once a week. I mean, I have a 31st level sorc who is humble and likes enchantments and illusions and subtle spells, with a few attack spells in reserve. He can cast 3 epic spells a day. A lot of the spells just aren't appropriate for him to use so many times a day. Seriously, how many times a day can you cause a solar eclipse? Or send someone up into the atmosphere to orbit the planet (wouldn't it get polluted after awhile)? Or create a blast of cold that animates the people it kills as skeletons under your control (think Brisk commercial)? Or create a tsunami of plant growth? Or cause everyone to turn into frogs? If you use them too much they lose their dramatic effect. The only spells you can actually use a few times a day are Epic Mage Armor (never mind, no you can't it lasts 12 hours), and Momento Mori (free action spell killing any one person within 300 ft). To quote the immortal Zaphod Beeblebrox "OK, so ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for common sense, yeah?" Here's the perfect example: Vengeful Gaze of God deals 305d6 damage to any one person in 12,000 ft but you take 200d6 kickback damage. "Freeeeeooww!"

I thought they would at least try to put some effort into a few of the items, but I was wrong. The weapons have special abilities like "Everdancing" and "Icy Burst" which sound very similar to abilities for weapons in DMG, and for good reason. . . they are! Even the specific weapons and armor are nothing more than a combination of abilities. A good example is the everwhirling chain, listed as the most expensive specific weapon at over 5 million gp. It is really just a +4 defending everdancing spiked chain of speed. The rings are just as dull, including "epic protection," and "epic wizardry". The rods are (if possible) even duller. Rod of Epic Might, Rod of Epic Absorption, Rod of Epic Rulership, Rod of Epic Splendor, and so on. And, surprise surprise, the wondrous items include Cloak of Epic Resistance, Bracers of Epic Health, Bracers of Epic Armor, Headband of Epic Intelligence, Gloves of Epic Dexterity, and so on. The word epic is so over used in this book that it's used as a prefix to 17 feats, 4 spells, and used as a type of spell and a type of feat, with 48 in the former group and over 150 in the latter.

The artifacts looked cool at first but ended up really bad. They took all the coolest 2nd edition artifacts, and somehow (it must have taken a long time and much effort) made them all suck. Among the artifacts they butchered were the Ring of Gaxx, The Invulnerable Coat of Arnd and the Axe of the Dwarfish Lords. I would trade those all in for that everwhirling chain and some decent armor.

The monsters were just as shoddy. The Abominations were cool, as were the demilitches, but they tried to recycle too much. They have colossuses, which are big golems you can build, more slaadi, more golems, "primal" elementals, 2 more types of dragons, lavawights and winterwights, and a bunch of other stupid stuff. They even tried to recycle old creatures. They put in two legendary animals, which were already featured in Masters of the Wild, and the psudonateral template that was in Tomb and Blood.

As a mini-rant I would like to say Wizards has to check over their content before they print it. They make soooo many typos it's ridiculous. Not just spelling mistakes either. Flipping through Epic in the store I found one in the artifact section. When I was looking through the monsters in Epic I found another mistake within the stat block. But the one that really takes the cake is in Defenders of the Faith. It was so obvious and very amateur. If anyone can tell me which 3 errors I am talking about I'll list names (or pseudonyms or whatever) in my next article.

Thought you were about to bash on D&D in general. A more appropriate title might have been in order.

Interesting thoughts on the ELH. Though as far as me and my gaming group are concerned, 20th level is generally around the time to think about retiring PC's and starting fresh stories. And as a DM, I don't really feel the need to spend $40USD on a book that I'm only getting to use for a small fraction of my campaign's lifetime.


Well, I can think of one thing that'll make WotC re-think their quality policies: stop buying their products. The reason they can get away with making this junk is that people keep buying this junk. If we stop buying these lame products, one of two things will happen: a. WotC will try to improve the product in an attempt to get people to buy it, or b. they'll stop making the product entirely.

Either one would suit me fine, really.

Well, I haven't purchased the book but I've flipped through it and I found it very lame.

But what could you expect from a product that aims only at people who like to play characters remeniscent of those from the greek legends of antiquities?

I'll quote one of my friends who read the monster descriptions and said: "Where the heck were these monsters when we started out? Thank god they happened to come up when we got powerfull enough to face them."

I mean most of these creatures can easily lay waste to entire kingdoms if not continents. Entire flights of dragons and beholder hives would need to die to stop some of these monstrocities. At least the Tarrasque sleeps most of the time (which explains why it hasn't eaten the world yet).

Although I must admit that one of these creatures can become the focus of an entire campaign. Where the characters witness the birth/awakening of the abomination and must muster power and allies to eventually stop it from laying waste to their world. But this plot has a somewhat low level of re-usability no?

Defenders of the Faith mistakes:
Master of Shrouds can summon specters and vampires (or so the sidebar says) but nowhere does it say how many and when this ability is gained.

Although I find this is their best class book (it really lets you devellop any sect, order and whatnot).

The last two class books were less than satisfactory (to my taste) but most of the Realms stuff is good as long as you don't customize it too much.

I tend to agree though that 3E is starting to suffer from the quantity over quality syndrome.

But to completely boycot WOC products is not the answer. Only boycot those you deem unworthy of your campaign. That's what we are doing. This way you tell WOC: "You know products a and b were good but c, d and e sucked real bad."
There is also the product evaluation card inside that costs nothing to mail back (if you're in the USA) amd not that much if you're in North America.
There are also forums such as this one where the folks from WOC musr peek once in a while.

If enough people say "Stop wasting paper and ink making things like Epic Level" maybe they'll give us what we want.

Which is what exactly?

Sam's got the right of it. I mean, gawd, a 20th level character is all but godly already! I mean, yeah, I suppose you could invent some weird alternate world or somthing to have your epic campaign in, but IMO "epic" is Wizards-ese for "twink". When you're seriously upsetting the politics of Hell and wandering around the outer planes with impunity, it's time to quit.

Personally, I'd rather start over with a new character once they get to level 18-20. At that point you can gracefully retire the character--who should have had his fill of adventure by now and should be the richest person in the world. Your DM should be able to arrange things so you have a nice kingdom to rule and a cute elven wife or somthing.
Your new character can find out how mean goblins and kobolds can be all over again! There's somthing to be said for the simple pleasures of one's first fireball into a crowd of goblinoids, or finally getting to use your Great Cleave feat. If your DM needs to bring in Epic level stuff just to keep the game interesting, he's not a very good DM.

I've been playing D&D and it's family for a long time. I ended up wondering what happens after level 20? I mean, I've never gotten to experience it myself.. In second edition, I have a folder full of characters: mostly levels 5-8, when the campaigns died, or ended naturally. A few lower level that were not played yet, or abortive attempts at games. Then there's my masively high-level characters: Level 12 elf wizard. Level 15 ranger. Fear my level 14 bard. Boo yah. I never hit the Epic levels. I never even hit 'Epic-ish'.
I finally decided that there comes a time when you've reached the pinnacle of what you are. It's time to become a god, or retire. Or become a world-class pastry chef. OK, so that's all well and good. But what about those souls which cann't abide by that normalcy. The Paladin who cannot rest while evil still exists. The warrior who refuses to let the blood of battle lie sallow in his veins. The Mage who refuses to let a Fireball or Meteor Swarm go unused. What about them?
Well, I decided on an answer: These people rarely exist. When they do, they start acting on such a great scale that it doesn't affect the players. What if they are the players? No idea. Sit down, have a Westport East Port Stout or something, and retire.
But I've got an idea working in my head. I've been reading some Mythology, and I have a river in mind. I also have an NPC in my world who would be a great plot hook to get this River in the game. The River Lathe.
So, you've become the pinnacle of what you are. You can become no better a Monk/Sorcerer/Badass than you already are. After a long trip, Badassing your way to the secret location, you find yourself at the river. You drink, and.... *BAM*
You are Baboldo, the human. Your class is rogue, your level is one. The great big reset button in the sky...

(Damn, I rant real silly when I'm on sleep deprivation.)

River Lathe sounds rather painful. River Lethe is a bit more peaceful.

Nothing beats reincarnation rules from that god book.

Fun article. I may use the epic thing in my game. Just the adjective. You know, epic spoons, epic glocs, the like.

"Okay, so what, it's a magic sword. Whoo ho. Plus one. Who cares?"
"Ahh, but it's in an Epic Scabbard."
"Which means?"
"People start spouting rhyming hexamter whenever you show up.

In my dm's crazy world epic isnt enuff we, well not personally, but sertain members of the campaign like those that have been rasied 7 times. But epic isnt that great well probably retire, for GOOD this time casue of it.

Been using Epic for a while now since it's release. My long time regulars dragged out their retired 17th-20th level characters from 2nd edition and converted them to 3E after much begging, and I decided to give it a try. While I expected the experience to be much like pulling teeth and giving blood with a rusty needle, it turns out that the Epic book has done much to enhance and make high-levle gaming accessible and challenging. However, I have found that the issues I have with the book are two fold. First, the power level ramps up very quickly; if characters want a prayer of acquiring most epic feats, they need ungodly ability levels and some very careful feat planning to meet all the prerequisites, so most of the epic level feats assume PCs will hit 30th-40th level before they can really meet some of the preqreq's. Second, the old problem (mentioned elsewhere by another post) of, "Where did all these demiurges, godlings, demon gods, and other things come from?" is only really addressed in terms of planar adventuring, and the campaign included focuses on the planes as a source of such adventures, which is fine.....but if you want to keep Epic gaming in your home campaign, you do have to work out certain assumptions or conclude that the new high-octane world busting nasties your PCs are about to get raped by are all fresh to reality.
But all told, I have to admit, the Epic Level Book, in actual practice, is proving to hold it's own and I wouldn't even attempt to run games aimed at 16th level or higher without it.

You know, J.S. Might have a winner on his hands there... Epic clothes (like Lewinsky's dress), Epic socks (Sewn by the same needle Betsy Ross used for you-know-what), Epic Bottlecaps (uncapped by Mr. Miller himself)... The possibilities are endless.

I am a DM who also plays. Without the Epic Handbook, only winging it, I got to Lv. 65. Even then as a Lich. When the Epic Handbook came out, I instantly popped down to my local hobby shop and flipped through it. Disappointing. After I was done flipping, I just had to cry. That was sad. It was just so cheap!!! And you're right, they did ruin some of the coolest artifacts. (A little sidenote about my character, I took Dreamwardens Advice and retired him to become the world's greatest pastry chef. Long Live Danishes!)

Wooh! Magic beer! Combines all the effects of every potion in the DMG, and doubles all the numerical values!

Um . . . yeah. The way I see it, the only reason to get a book like that would be for extra mateirial--numbers aren't overly hard to extrapolate, you just work out the formula for increase and apply it to progressively higher numbers. But if I'm going to do Epic Level type adventuring, the flavor and feel of the world is going to be already so fleshed out that tacking on "Epic" to an item (or spell, or feat) and doubling the numbers won't be necessary or realistic. Just thumb through my notes: "Hmm . . . my players are going to get to 20th pretty soon, so I'm going to have to get some stuff planned for them once they finish this quest . . . where can I find some uber-cool spells? Well, earlier on in the game they had to fight that maniac who thought he was a reincarnation of the wizard Thanus, that pyscho who nearly covered the world in everlasting winter with hordes of Cold undead, and was defeated by Kathos and his flaming, undead-eating sword . . . hmm . . . Thanus's spellbook would be something I could do up fairly easily. . . Kathos's sword would make an awesome artifact, but it was shattered in the final battle that anhillated the two of them and the continent of Madres. The pieces could still be around, though . . . maybe everone's forgetten where they are, but maybe someone could try to go after them . . . and Madres could always have been shunted to another plane--theoretically, it could make a comeback . . ."

At least, that's how I would approach it. My worlds tend to just keep expanding. :-D

I found some rules for alcohol intoxication and hangovers in D&D on the Internet somewhere. Very cool, I used 'em in my campaign.