As I have been writing about making monsters more interesting, rather than beefier I realized another player habit had always bugged me. Whether I was watching silently as a DM or playing with other folks I would notice that the issue of power leveling and power buffing always became an issue.

What is this behavior? Why do players do it? What can be done to make things not so out of balance? This type of play seems to prevail throughout all Multiplayer CRPG’s; whether it is Diablo, NWN 1, World of Warcraft. Players just seem to find ways to make things far to easy for the rewards they play for.

In NWN1, it was easy to log into your high level arcane or divine caster character buff up a party and follow them around. The results are super powered low level PC’s would gain rewards for what is almost no risk. On some PW’s players would take at least one higher level PC with them to fend off the real danger and make things soft for the low levelers.

Here are the issues at hand. Why do players do it, what is this behavior?
1) They want to play with thier friends who have higher level PC’s
2) They want to advance as fast as possible.
3) It makes things easy. Reward without too much risk.

Well. What can you do? Are these behaviors and lines of thinking wrong? Not really, at least not totally. However, that depends on the world and the level of challenge you wish to present to your players. So lets dissect the issues:

1) Playing with thier friends – This is a pretty honest line of thinking, as long as the motive were actually so pure. The methods used by some players do not always justify the actions they perform that create an imbalance. This can be a simple way of thinking, but can easily corrupt one’s sense of what is challenging.

2) Fast Advancement – Well, we all want to get ahead. But players never really think of…why? To have the biggest stick on the block? To what point do players want to get ahead. There is never a clear answer for players who blaze through content. At the end of the road, they end up bored and whining about nothing to do. On the other hand, players want to feel important and powerful within the world they are in. However, plowing through the monsters I dont think is a good solution the character’s place in the world.

3) Why do players like it easy? – That depends on if leveling up feels like work. As stated in #2, people want to advance to get ahead for whatever reason. They will take the path of least resistance through all levels. It is up to the designers of the world to make all challenges within thier level range equal — but different. A strange concept, but true. And definately not easy.

So what is a world designer to do to put things in line with thier vision of advancement and challenge versus the psychology of the player? There are many solutions, some blend with realism and some are just artificial barriers in order to keep things in check. I think the line falls between the two, but always leans towards the latter; artificial barriers.

What is an artificial barrier? An example would be capping statistics, such as ability scores and AC. If you consider that player levels, ability scores, experience and the like are actual artificial barriers in and of themselves, then the concept of limitations based on these statistics isn’t too far of a stretch.

One limit that every one tends to add to the majority of PW’s is that of Level vs CR = XP. World creators create a barrier of maximum level vs CR to get XP, usually within 3 to 5 levels has been the case. For example; a level 10 character is not going to get xp from a CR 3 creature (and should not get XP from them). You must understand the reasons for this; If players can get XP from an unchallenging encounter they will do it. Not only will they do it, they will do it easily and probably gain more XP faster this way overall. Secondly, you only have (with NWN2 at least) 20 experience levels to work with for any single character. You have to make things go at the pace you want. And lastly, each level has a very low XP threshold to the next level. The experience from one level to the next for any level is actually not that huge.

On top of limiting Level vs CR you will want parties not to be able to accept help within the party from higher level characters. If you are trying to keep with the Level to CR experience limitations, you must not use an average party level to determine experience gained for all party members considered. You must discount not only high level party members but low party members. You will want to keep parties within a level range of each other. The reasons; 1) Having a higher level party member counting toward the average will allow a party of low levels to party with a high level character and PLOW through encounters and still gain decent XP. 2) On the other hand the low level party members will likely benefit from the higher level party without much risk.

If you use this, it is important to keep a tight level range for parties. It’s artificial, but it works. No risk should equal no reward.

However, you still have the problem of higher level PC’s aiding lower level PC’s without even being in the party. This can easily trivialize your content and make things far too easy for a low level party. Not only that, it still circumvents the Level to CR boundry you might set up. But a couple of possible solutions come to mind;

1) Create artificial level boundries for an area. Anyone lower or higher than the level range of the area cannot enter. This is a very strict policy and should be used if you really want to tighten things up. However it does not stop High Level buffs being cast on a low level party before they enter said area.

2) Put the Party Level limit on all spells. You can restrict buff spells from being cast this way on a low level party or character. You dont even have to put it on curative or healing spells if you have option #1 up (level limits on areas). But if you dont, you might want to stick the same restrictions on healing spells.

3) Clean the Slate – In areas you want to balance out and keep high level buffs off low level players, force a complete mass dispel on all characters entering the area. This works well with option #1 as the high level player can come in with them to buff. If they are still able to come in, it would defeat the purpose of this option.

4) Restrict XP for such actions – Having high level buffs on low level characters could also flag the character as being of a higher level. Make it so thier XP and treasure gain is lessened or completely nullified by having high level spells in place on thier person. This is a good option if you want enough diversity in your world where high levels and low levels can travel together for protection or enter into world events. However, it would probably be the most script intensive to implement (making the proper checks and balances). This is probably the least artificial, and works without strange barriers and magical dispells firing off in wierd places.

Remember though. Its okay to be a little strict, but few players out there can or will stand or a complete fascist view of restrictions on what they can do or how fast they can advance. Find your target audience for your world and work around that.

If you want easy advancement, you had best put in more content on the upper end. Do you want a strict level advancement policy? You had best put in lots of things to do so that leveling is just something in the background. Or you can find a happy medium somewhere between. Of course, more content on all points of the spectrum is what you should always aim for.

Find your happy ground. Find what your players can be content with. Keep an eye on your systems. There are no easy solutions. Players with high level characters might have to compromise and play a low level character with thier low level friends. Creatures should be interesting encounters rather than XP Speedbumps. And character advancement should be something that is a justified reward for the challenges you wish to present to your player base.

(Just remember this is only opinion, a line of suggestions and by no means covers all the possibilities to push things one way or another. Everyone will have thier own methods, but I hope I have at least offered some insight that will help a few out there)

Take care!

Thanks, Ithalyan! If you have an opposing viewpoint or other comments to add, GO HERE.

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