On High Level

The goal for NAP III will be to push people to explore an area of oldschool D&D that is not often touched upon. Despite having a progression that goes up to and beyond 20 (or 14 if you play B/X), actual adventures suitable for the higher ranges were present but scarce in the TSR era of D&D and are downright endangered in the OSR. The reasons for this are no doubt complex but some possible explanations may include:

* It takes a great deal of time for oldschool games to reach these higher levels organically and most campaigns end before that
* The great amount of abilities, spells and magic items at the disposal of both players and monsters requires greater investment from both players and GM if you are starting at a higher level and do not have the time to master these elements gradually over multiple sessions of play
* It might not be fun [*]

While verifying the first two points might prove difficult, verifying the third point was quite easy. About a year ago, over the course of several months, I teamed up with the esteemed Gabor Lux, the also esteemed Dr. Lynch (who was unfortunately forced to drop out), Settembrini, EOTB and several other worthies to explore this ultra-tellurian realm of staves of power, rings of regeneration, type IV demons and scrolls of wish through the excellent Anthony Huso module Dream House of the Nether Prince for AD&D 1e. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to chuck the macguffin through the Golden Gate at the heart of Orcus’s domain, and possibly beat the stuffing out of ole’ goat hoof in the process. Yes, sir, THAT Orcus.

Preparation felt a bit like training for a commando mission or equipping some sort of futuristic battlemech. I played a 14th level MU by the name of Prospero the Infallible. Soon you are pouring over the AD&D Phb, picking 40 spells of level 1-8, then picking another 10ish spells for your scrolls. Then you are figuring out what all of your items do, your items with daily uses, your charges etc. Getting used to the level of play meant we played a short intro mission that lasted 2 sessions. The module proper was, if possible, more intense.

If you have a week or more of in-game to time to prepare there are several avenues open for reconnaissance. While some sort of rumor could be had from a passing agent of the Nine Hells, I spent one part of the week toiling on a simulacrum of our 18th level fighter (who was soon equipped with our spare magic items) and used any stray time I had to fire off a series of Contact Outer Plane spells to gain some information on the denizens of the palace (obviously demons and undead were expected), which gives you a series of Yes or No questions of variable reliability. We played it very safe, avoiding all chance of insanity, and were able to get a few questions answered about their vulnerabilities, affecting my final choice of spells.

Insertion into the 1st layer of the Abyss took place via the canyon surrounding Orcus’s Mansion. It took us 3? sessions to complete. Noticeable was the relentless pressure, the whirlwind of different challenges that are hurled at you the second you hit the Abyss proper and you are given no place to take a breather. This place is hostile. We avoided the level-draining rain by the fighter’s cube of force, an invaluable tool, and once we were inside, the pressure only got worse.

Blow through a fortified rampart, equipped with ice-cannons and staffed with Manes and Bar-lurga, emerge into a great hall with hundreds of ghouls that soon wake up, hold them off with turn undead and the decanter of endless water while someone busts open the next door with a Chime of Opening, then emerge into an even bigger hall with about 20-30 Polar worms, who move curiously in your direction, once again swear as you make a break for the exit, leaving your simulacrum to fend them off and die in their coils, break through, fight two Type VII demons (this place is so off the scale it has type VII demons) in an atrium, the list goes on and on. With hit points near a hundred, low saving throws and myriad bonuses added to them, your characters feel almost indestructable, but you are quickly disabused of this notion if you stick around and fight. It is not possible to hoard resources. Every encounter feels like it can be blazed through if the right tools are applied, and can roll over you and club you to death if you apply the wrong tools. We ended up in a mexican stand-off between Orcus, Demogorgon with the Golden Gate before us, and having to choose which party to back, and tried to blast open the gate with a Wish spell (which did not work but revealed another method) and did a suicide run for the gate to reset all of space time, losing the Paladin in the process. There was some GM fiat in the end, but the rest was played ah la carte.

So yes, this is fun. It is, in fact, so fun that I want to create more of it. I would do all of it myself, but I am only one man. That is why we are going to marshall the power of the OSR.

In terms of designing high level adventures, it can be helpful to consider the differences between a high level and a low level party. What if I just run B2 but I staff it with mindflayers, beholders, balors, chimeras and liches? And yes, brute force can be a solution, but we can do much better. Consider the differences:

* Brute force: An Obvious difference. Area of effect spells equalize numerical disadvantage. Enchanted weaponry, enhanced strength (depending on the edition). 15d6 fireballs. Low saving throws and high hit points mean that you are far less likely to get taken out by a lucky shot.
* Intelligence: Myriad divinations mean that unless there is liberal use of wish spells and GM fiat, PCs have access to a greater amount of intelligence. Clairvoyance and Scrying can be used to inspect rooms, Augury can be used to discern the effect of certain courses of action, Contact Outer Plane and Commune can be used to gain information about the area beforehand. Consider also Find Traps, Detect Evil, Locate Object, Find the Path etc. etc. And of course at high levels a Rogue’s hide in shadows and move silently abilities border on the infallible, and what if you combine that with a potion of ESP, allowing you to listen in on the enemy’s thoughts.
* Mobility: Even if you strove to make your area as linear as possible, high level PCs are much more mobile then their low level counterparts. This applies both actual movement speed (in terms of boots of speed, or boots of springing and striding, or myriad ways to circumvent encumbrance) but consider vertical options like Levitate, Flight, sequence breaking shenanigans like Passwall, Teleportation, Dimension Door or the dreaded Etherealness. What good are walls if a man can phase into another realm and walk through your dungeon that way.
* Endurance: In low level games, you get into a bad scrape, you might have a potion of cure light wounds tucked away, or a single Cure light wounds spell means you can stay in the fight, but another scrape and you are close to death. The Magic user must nurture his few spells carefully and use them at the opportune time. In high level games healing is abundant, provided you have a cleric, allowing parties to stay in the fight for a very long time. Dozens and dozens of spells are available, combined with plentiful magic items (if the GM uses normal treasure distribution), meaning having to resort to clubbing someone with a quarterstaff is going to be rare indeed. Consider also something like regeneration, available through rings, extremely high Con (AD&D) or other powerful items. Conditions that would cripple or disable the character in lower games like diseases, curses, poison or level drain can be dealt with in situ.
* Resources: If you are playing B/X your characters will already have too much money. This only increases as the characters have titles, lands, and require vast amounts of gold to level up. Hiring a troupe of soldiers, or keeping up half a dozen levelled retainers, is no problem. Assaulting a fortress? What about a diversionary attack using 2000 men? With the ready availability of Raise Dead or Ressurection, even Death loses much of its sting.

My working model is that the best high level adventures don’t work by down-right banning or crippling the aforementioned advantages but by taking them into account when making the adventure. In this sense S1 has done a lot of damage, most of it because of misinterpretation rather then anything Gygax himself did. The idea behind S1 Tomb of Horrors was to put high level characters back in an arena where their dungeon crawling fundamentals would be put to the test. No you dont get Etherealness. Lets see if you have actually earned your levels. This was followed up by WG6 Isle of the Ape, originally (If Trent is to be believed, and he is correct on these matters more often then not) an adventure for OD&D at around the 12th level, now forced into a level 18 mould for AD&D. In order to make it work, all manner of spells and powers receive a blanket ban on the island. This is a heavy-handed and at times artificial form of difficulty; We make a high level adventure by making a low level one that forces the players to act like low level characters.

At the same time, limited use of zones of anti-magic, proof against divination, magical darkness and monsters with immunity as a matter of standard operating procedure is certainly fair game. It is not considered unsporting to occasionally employ narrow corridors, monsters that are immune to sleep or attacks from ambush in a low level game, so the use of unfavorable conditions for magical abilities should certainly not be considered beyond the pale. Nor is Dream House, which uses the rules for Planar Travel, less guilty of this. The Abyss is an extremely hostile place, spells cannot easily be recovered, magic weapons and items are diminished, many spells are curtailed. What do we think of the Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga, that can absorb and steal certain specific spells and turn them against the players? Is that not an interesting complication? It is often a question of frequency, not of concept.

The philosophy is that you make adventures that require the players to use most of their advantages, while occasionally restricting a few to add to the challenge.

* Raw power is the easiest to compensate for and there are ample super-powered monsters in the early bestiaries, to say nothing of the countless additions, OSR and otherwise, that came later. It can be easy to fall into the trap of only using the top of the pyramid but very often large numbers or interesting compositions of monsters can serve to create challenges that are just as interesting, if not more so. Consider something like D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa which uses a hordes of combatants, spearheaded by more formidable champions and specialists and then cheekily throws in an invisible level 8 monks/assassin amid the other combatants. Chefs kiss. Intelligence and strategy is often as good and interesting or better as raw power. D3 goes so far as to pit you against an entire evil civilization, the Drow City of Erehlei Cinlu.
* With increased intelligence capability of the players the obligation for the GM to telegraph possibly lethal encounters or traps diminishes accordingly. The practical application will vary according to taste, and you don’t want to be that guy who puts a pit trap in a random hallway, but do not be afraid to deploy formidable opponents. Traps can be more cryptic. Hazards can be more unfamiliar. Good intelligence will allow the PCs to counter-act or bypass many of these potential hazards. Then, of course, the occasional opponent with an amulet of proof against detection and location will come as an extra unwelcome surprise. Make liberal use of illusion to conceal parts of the complex.
* Mobility is counteracted by complex objectives. If the goal is only to assassinate a single Lord, no matter how powerful, the PCs can figure out his position via scrying, then teleport into his throneroom while he is in the bathroom and shank him. A council of evildoers, spread out across a fortress in a hollowed out mountain, each in a different location, one of them disguised and anonymous, is a different challenge altogether. Perhaps the central keep is protected by an impenetrable field of shadows that is sustained by three anchor points, one of them in another plane?
Mobility is also a dungeon designer’s gift. Make large maps, use verticality, create rooms that are only accessible through magic.
* The obvious way to counter-act increased Endurance is to just make everything really long but that is boring. Instead consider using increased Pressure. In Return to the Tomb of Horrors, Moil, the City that Waits, is located in a demi-plane near the astral. Unless characters are insulated against the cold, they must check con every 6 hours or lose a hit point. Anything living that is killed animates as a zombie within 1d3 rounds. The area is haunted by the Vestige, a slow moving but almost invincible gestalt spirit. In Dream House of the Nether Prince, once you get to the lower levels you must keep moving or you risk depleting all of your resources on near endless opponents before you can get to the more formidable (but numerically inferior) inhabitants of the upper levels. The Isle of the Ape corrodes and damages the character’s items and food. A type of dungeon inhabited by creatures like the Borg or MtG Slivers, that adapt to repeated attacks and develop immunities would be another way of forcing players to advance. You make it challenging to find the room to recover, or you extract a large toll simply to keep adventuring in the place.
* Resources. So your players can field armies? That’s great! Make them use that! Make an order of battle. See how the fortress responds to a diversionary attack. They have an extra party of retainers? Fantastic. That means you can use even more monsters.

Over the course of the coming months, I will be looking at a few high level modules to hopefully give everyone a glimpse into some of the tricks and tools of the trade people have come up with over the decades. I feel there is a lot of untapped potential here so a design competition should be good fun.

Possible candidates include:
* Gary Gygax’s Necropolis
* Monte Cook’s Labyrinth of Madness
* Carl Sargent City of Skulls
* Bruce Cordell’s Die! Vecna Die!
* The Dreams of Ruin
* The Rob Kuntz 3rd party modules
* Dream House of the Nether Prince, Fabled City of Brass and everything by Anthony Huso
* The C, DM and M series for BECMI
* Crypt of the Devil Lich and Colossus Arises for DCC

Feel free to recommend any others that might apply.

Have a great weekend everyone.

UPDATE: Added suggestions

83 thoughts on “On High Level

  1. If you’re serious about NAP 3 being high level only, good luck! I’m sure most BX players would consider something like the NAP 2 winner as a high level adventure! I don’t think, when you talk about level 4 or 5 for a BX character being august or even godlike, you are outside the realm of hyperbole. I wonder how many of the OSR have reached the point where level caps are relevant, or name level?
    If you’re looking at Crypt of the Devil Lich, try out Colossus Arise too (it’s the highest level official DCC adventure).


      1. This dovetails with my interest in your reviewing of Fight On! Magazine, but maybe the bottom levels of some published megadungeons could work? The “Darkness Beneath” levels in issues 12, 13, and 14 may qualify.
        Alex Schroeder’s as-of-now-not-published-in-print-but-exists-online semi-final (too many hyphens!) floor would too, and he made mention of some things you also touched on:

        Click to access Caverns%20of%20Slime.pdf

        From the below link, some relevant quotes:
        “I assume that many party members will be able to fly or dimension door or have flying mounts or flying carpets. Thus, there are several vertical drops that would make life very difficult for a low-level party.”
        “In order to reflect the changing dynamics of high-level play, there are a lot of save-or-die effects. At this point, hit-points aren’t so important anymore. Save vs. paralysis or be dragged under water; when under water, save vs. death every round or drown. This is what makes fighting the monsters dangerous, and this is why there are a lot of monsters with few hit dice down on level 13 of this dungeon.”
        “Enemies will have access to magic. I still remember hating spellcasters and devils and demons as a kid because picking the right spells and all that was tricky to do in the heat of combat. This is why important foes will often have two or three at will magic abilities. It’s simply easier to manage.”


  2. while it might be a bit controversial, there are some good pathfinder modules for higher levels. the final book of Mummy’s Mask (actually that whole adventure path is awesome) involves dungeon crawling through a massive pyramid come down from outerspace, hell-bent on restoring the ancient empire of the pharaohs. the final book of rise of the runelords has a trapped-with-a-wendigo section, a mirror-universe evil shangri-la that you can explore, and finally a wizard’s tower at the crown of the world.
    I’m too lazy to check if you’ve reviewed temple of the frog, but there’s another potential candidate.


  3. As I was the DM for the Dream House, and have a private group in their teen-levels, and am the President of the ‘International Brotherhood of DMs’ who actually run high level modules…to all would-be module cobblers out there: If you do not include adjusted saving throws for the monsters in the statblocks, I will come to your house and bust your kneecaps, Teamster Union style.


  4. Add in “Fabled City of Brass” by Huso to your review list. Other key “high level” stuff which you have reviewed: S1, RttToH, arguably Dawn of the Overmind. D3 also very close by the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @ Owen:

      Prince has reviewed a lot of this stuff already (um…everything except Fabled City of Brass, I think).

      However, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to return to (or “re-review”) some of these items specifically for how they apply to high level play. Assuming the good Prince has time, of course.
      ; )


  5. I don’t think Anthony gets enough accolade for how well he understands AD&D and more importantly high level play. My crew (modified BX) are hitting name level including racial maximums and the pickings for well designed adventures is noticeably slim in comparison the lower tiers. Anything to facilitate design in this space is welcomed.
    I strongly recommend anyone who enters the ring to read Anthony’s two essays on ‘High Level Play’ for starters.

    Part 1: https://www.thebluebard.com/post/high-level-play
    Part 2: https://www.thebluebard.com/post/high-level-play-part-2-mechanics

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ha! Just yesterday I was trying to find you on the Pedantic server to discuss this very topic (since you’ve been hinting “high level” might be a part of NAP3). I’ve already got an idea for a high level adventure I’ve been exploring…one in Hell…and I spent much of the last couple-three days researching the subject, including the old Dragon articles in #28, #75, #76, and #91, the Role-Aids box set, To Hell And Back, and various hell-themed entries on Ye Old Wikipedia.

    Ed Greenwood’s first entry (in #75) is instructive of high level play: devils make great adversaries for mid- to high-level characters, but once introduced to a campaign, it’s good idea to have some idea of the plane’s topography as high level characters are apt to be proactive and lead assaults of their own (players who have achieved a high level of character are far less apt to fuck around dithering).

    One important question: what are you considering to be “high level” for purposes of this adventure? As some commenters have already pointed out, lots of folks (perhaps the DCC and LOTFP crowd) consider anything above 5th or 6th level to be “godlike” in power. Personally, I find anything less than 10th (double digits) to be unworthy of consideration as “high level”…and sometimes, not even then (thieves, for example). 500,000 earned experience might be the LOWEST tier of “high level.” Which still puts modules like the (individual) G, D, Qs in contention as appropriate for such elite characters.

    I feel like the late 2nd edition had a slew of “high level” modules that came out around the same time that WotC purchased the company (prior to 3E). “A Paladin in Hell,” maybe…and I feel like they had a number themed on the various artifacts & relics (Baba Yaga’s Hut, the Rod of Seven Parts, the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords, etc.). There is also, of course, the H (“Bloodstone”) series…which is pretty terrible but it IS written with high level characters in mind. For Basic D&D, the DA series (based on Arneson’s Blackmoor) might have had some high level entries…I honestly don’t remember and I don’t have the time to look it up right now.

    This should be an interesting contest!
    ; )

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So if you’re looking at a high level NAP 3, are you still going with the 1/1/1 restriction for magic item/monster/spell? Feels harsh for all the way up there.

    If you do this you’re getting the final level of my kilodungeon. Although it uses my stripped-down C&C-ish Pathfinder derivation, not sure if Castles & Crusades is OSR enough for you but I love having more things than just hit points to damage.


  8. As JB says there’s the DA line for Classic D&D. They’re all 10-14 if I remember correctly. My favourite of those was the re-done Temple of the Frog which just blew my mind back in the day with the numbers of opponents and the magic/technical devices.

    Sounds as though NAP3 is going to be fun. Personally I’ve never ran anything as high as 10 as a DM and my highest ever PC made 12th.






  10. Spire of iron and crystal by Finch?

    H1 – The Bonegarden

    Keep of broken saint by wr betty

    NS4 – Blood on the Snow

    Oh! Also the Kelsey Dionne adventure thats very high level


  11. Spire of iron and crystal by Finch?

    H1 – The Bonegarden

    Keep of broken saint by wr betty

    NS4 – Blood on the Snow

    Oh! Also the Kelsey Dionne adventure thats very high level


  12. Excellent recommendations. I ran a Swords & Wizardry campaign that ran into high levels and it was a lot of fun. As you say, it was a lot of work. In particular I endorse the idea of creating adventure locations that don’t nerf high level powers and abilities but require their use. I created some adventure locations where simply getting there and moving around wasn’t possible without high level spells and magic items. My biggest recommendation is to create your campaign and setting with the intention of it getting to high levels, especially if you’re running a sand box game. Having 20th level NPCs, ancient dragons, and other major entities running around the campaign world and making players aware of them early in the campaign makes life a lot easier later on. I like to have the minor minions, allies, and clients of those major powers interact with the PCs early in the campaign. By the time the players get to 15th level, they’ve already run afoul of the plans and schemes of the big guys, have their own allies and enemies.

    How To Run High Level, Old School, Dungeons and Dragons.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I would love to do NAP III, but unfortunately my BECMI and 2e cred is a bit too rusty for that.

    Here’s a bold (and thoroughly blasphemous) suggestion: allow 5e but with no stuff that hadn’t existed in the old-school era.


  14. If you are going to do a series of reviews, I suggest you don’t neglect why bad high level modules don’t work, as well as highlighting successful features of the good. WGA4 Vecna Lives has some interesting ideas and a reliable author, Yet it is a disaster, high level characters with terrible equipment (brigandine armour anyone?) and miserable tactics.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There is a world of difference in playstyle between name level and 2000 000 XP plus, at least for 1e. Also related: do not talk too much about level, more about XP. Thieves can easily be 5 levels ahead of others at the same XP in 1e and probably other editions, too.

        For the Basics, clown fiesta starts way earlier, free resurrections w/o penalty and limit vs. CON -1 plus system shock per raise dead create another parallel universe in scale. BasicMen High level Fiesta seriously has campaigns consisting of looking for dozens of wishes to raise attributes. 1e is a different beast there.

        So my suggestion would be to create different level ranges for the three traditions of OD&D, BasicMen and 1e. The systems really diverge strongly after, say, level 9.

        Such is the pragmatic wisdom from the trenches of the proud IBDM-w.a.r.

        Liked by 2 people

  15. Also from the “International Brotherhood of DMs who actually run theses things” (IBDM-w.a.r): Pre-Gens! Give us Pre-Gens. Took me days to create proper ones for the Dream House, including solo-playtesting and adjustment. You might slide your masterwork by the text-fiends of tenfootpole and this here blog w/o pre-gens, but if you do not provide Pre-Gens that work, some kneecap-busting is coming your way.


    1. Absolutely. The higher the level, the more restrictions (e.g. alignments, classes, need certain items/abilities), the more having pre-generated characters moves from desirable to essential. At the very least they are a helpful comparison; some can be used to round out a party.
      Perhaps compulsory reading of the Dragonlance modules rather than kneecapping: let the punishment fit the crime.


    2. If there’s a requirement to include appropriate pre-gens with high level adventures for NAP3, you’re going to cut down the received entries by half, I think.
      ; )

      But I understand the frustration. Part of it is that many (most?) DMs don’t run high level campaigns these days (for a VARIETY of reasons), and they don’t know what a high level character looks like. The pre-gens I created for my NAP2 were largely based on actual characters I’ve run/played in high level campaigns, perhaps toned down slightly from their most “elite” versions (removing artifacts, vorpal weapons, hammers of thunderbolts, etc.). The pre-gens in the Giant series (Fonkin Hoddypeak & Co.) are perhaps the MINIMALLY powered examples of PCs for their level…probably safe to assume that they had more gear, henchmen, resources stashed back in their strongholds. Even considering that, they’re the best you’ll see for 1E.

      [I’ll have to go back and read the early modules in the H series. I remember the 100th level characters in H4 being fairly ridiculous]

      Anyway, despite any samey-samey (‘lack of distinction’) complaints about old edition D&D, high level characters tend to be MORE unique then lower level characters. I don’t think it would be right to have a single roster of pre-gens (for example) that all contest entries must work from. Pre-gens (if included) should be kitted out to meet the unique needs of high level adventures…sky-floating archipelagoes, undersea fortresses, penetrating Shangri-La type monasteries at the top of the Himalayas, and (of course) extra-planar travel. I was thinking of something like Barrier Peaks/TotFrog where the ship actually LAUNCHED…leaving the PCs to figure out how to get back to Earth…in addition to the usual challenges of plundering high level encounters; that would take a different equipment load-out than a more terrestrial adventure. Same holds true for a quest to the Nine Hells or Abyss.
      ; )


      1. I don’t think asking for pre-gens is significantly going to reduce the number of contributions but it will increase the likelihood the adventures are played so I will incorporate that.

        Given the fact that high level adventures push against and in many ways transcend the limits of the world we can see, relaxing the limitations so there is room to flesh out these supernal realms seems like the way to go.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Mmm.

    There seems to be some real discrepancy of thought in what folks think of as “high level” play. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t played OD&D extensively, but I *have* played B/X to a high level (and done some work with BECMI in the Companion-Master range). I really don’t think levels 7-10 can be considered high level for Basic editions of D&D. At least not post-Holmes.

    Don’t really want to “toot my own horn” here, but I *did* pen a B/X Companion book providing some rules appropriate for post-14th level characters. Character abilities up to 36th level, monsters and treasures designed to be adventure-spurs for stronghold-owning PCs, mass combat rules, etc. Originally, I planned on releasing it with a “Companion-level” adventure module…perhaps I should break that out for this (though I’d prefer to do something AD&D-ish), finally allowing those notes to see the light of day.

    Besides my own Companion book, there is Mentzer’s stuff (the Companion and Master sets), and at least a couple-three other Basic-related “Companion” books floating around Ye Old DriveThruRPG (some might even be FREE). For people interested in LONG-TERM CAMPAIGN PLAY using Basic set rules, I’d strongly picking up one or two of these just for ideas…eventually (unless you’re playing BECMI/RC) you’ll exhaust the possibilities inherent in “straight B/X,” and while it’s fine and dandy to build your own rules and scale things to taste, it might be helpful to see what others have come up with. Certainly easier.

    Regardless: until you’re talking characters with access to 5th level spells (things like passwall, teleport, contact other plane, and raise dead), you’re really NOT playing “high level” D&D. Once PCs have ready access to THAT kind of magic, DMs can safely take the kid gloves off.
    ; )

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’d like to see your take on “Bzallin’s Blacksphere,” an adventure from Dungeon #64 for levels 12-15. I thought it was awesome at the time it came out (1997), but that might have been because almost all the other modules available then were unimpressive, to say the least.


  18. 7th level isn’t “high level” by any reasonable definition. If it must be broken up by version, I’d suggest something like:
    OD&D/BX: 10-14
    AD&D: 12-20
    BECMI/RC: 20-36
    With bonus points handed out to people who venture closer to the top of those ranges rather than hugging the minimum.

    The problem with writing good high-level adventures is that it requires intimate familiarity with high level play (otherwise you get Jim Wardy “just like low level but everything is BIG!” crap) so there’s a sort of negative feedback loop – lack of good high-level adventures means fewer people get the experience needed to write good high-level adventures means the conventional wisdom grows that high-level play sucks (because everybody associates it with bad adventures). If NAP3 can actually generate several good high level adventures hopefully that narrative can begin to shift a bit.

    I don’t like the idea of requiring pre-gen characters because it’ll be tempting to customize the adventure to those characters’ capabilities making the adventures less generally usable. But, OTOH, I’m not sure there’s any realistic other way to do it – high level characters have so many variables and any “real” high level adventure is likely to be customized around the actual players/PCs who the author/GM has been playing with for years, that the idea of trying to make a “universally applicable” high level adventure that anticipates every possible approach is likely impossible (at least without massively inflating the size and complexity into something like the the rpg equivalent of Campaign For North Africa). Which is to say, high level adventures are likely condemned to be more exemplary or usable as one-shots than something that can reasonably be ported into a home campaign. But that’s okay: any GM who’s been running a campaign long enough for characters to actually work up to those levels (we’re talking probably 5+ years) should be fully capable of creating their own stuff if they’ve got a couple high quality examples to emulate.

    I can’t say whether I will take up this gauntlet and actually participate in the contest. I do have a couple of sketched outlines of high level adventures in my notebook but haven’t actually done any writing on them because my actual campaign play has never made it that far (the highest level character who was actually played up in any of our games was, I think, 12th level) so I don’t have that level of comfort and familiarity with that tier of play that would translate into being able to write a good adventure instead of just sort of guessing at it and coming up with something that in play turns out to be either an embarrassing pushover or impossible.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. High level play for me is 9th – 13th, or name level plus 0-3 lvls, in AD&D. I can conceive of some FIGHTERS and ASSASSINS still exploring alien environments at those levels and perhaps even a 15th lvl MU, but typically characters with that degree of POWER are hunkering down and strategising, adventuring far and wide by proxy.

    Of course there are FOES so powerful that their opposition requires the presence of these top-dog characters but my point is these encounters should be rare and ineluctable. I don’t see high level dungeon-exploration as an enjoyable way to run a campaign for high level players. It is the difference between running a Napoleon and a Muhammad Ali.

    I have two problems with the kind of high level play you describe in the OP, the invigorating *commando prep* resulting in intricate puzzle solving and, no doubt, interesting judicial debate about competing magic rules:

    1. As the campaign evolves, and the players grow in knowledge and power, I want the experience at the table to be *less* concerned with game mechanics and *more* concerned with deepening the environment and character relationships. *Commando prep* increasingly, with level, draws attention to game mechanics and rules, with constant rpg book referrals – something that should naturally diminish over time in my opinion. Yes we are playing a game but it should not feel ‘gamey’.

    I compare my point here with the absence of prescriptive SKILLS in AD&D in favour of the OPENNESS of ‘Tell me what you want to do and I will adjudicate perhaps with dice.’

    2. The NORMALIZATION of all the worlds of AD&D at higher levels is my second objection. At lower levels AD&D worlds can look strikingly different because of the sparse selectivity and rarity of magical effects, which few once chosen become defining of the fantasy aspect of that world. In contrast the various *high level* AD&D campaign worlds look surprisingly similar to me because all of the same magical material is unlocked, (foes too – demons etc). This is not how it should be. AD&D should grow towards uniqueness at the deeper end of exploration at the higher levels. Worlds should be as unique as the great fantasy novels.

    I would like to write something for NAP III, even if I don’t finish anything I want to get some practise writing, but from your description above I imagine your btb requirements would be too severe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. @ Kent:

      I think these are extremely valid points.

      Perhaps the DMs currently running high level campaigns can speak to this; I can only speak from past experiences. Straight “dungeon crawls” are generally a thing of the past with high level characters, unless you’re talking an assault on the lair of a demigod (Q1, H4, Dream House of the Nether Prince, etc.).

      But, of course, this is the reason for including monsters like Llolth, Asmodeus, Orcus and Demogorgon in the MMs: to challenge high level PCs and sustain play. It’s the reason I bitch-n-moan about low level adventures including demigods and pseudo-gods like (sorry, Prince!) Palace of Unquiet Repose: they are messing with the purview of high level movers.

      RE feeling “gamey”

      This has not been my experience with high level play…at least, no more than at EVERY tier of play. D&D *is* a game, after all. DMs (sometimes/often in negotiation with players) can explain the in-game justification for various mechanics with as little suspension of disbelief needed as why to why Vancian magic functions as it does.

      RE growing toward uniqueness

      Yeah, probably they do in the organic campaign. But I think it’s still POSSIBLE to create generic-ish scenarios for insert into one’s home campaign. THAT, I think, will end up being part of the REAL challenge of NAP3. What is it that’s going to get those sated warlords off their jeweled thrones and gird on the sword again?

      It IS a contest after all.

      And YOU, Kent, should definitely throw down.
      ; )


      1. == What is it that’s going to get those sated warlords off their jeweled thrones and gird on the sword again?



    2. 1. The commando prep is only applicable if you don’t know what you are doing. Ideally, as the game goes on, you integrate the various spells and items into your routine until you know reasonably well what you are doing. Even then, reconnaissance during downtime using something like divination is hardly going to be jarring.

      2. My btb requirements will be considerably more lenient, as I share your philosophy on what an adventure for higher levels should look like. It would be fun to see you try to compete.


      1. I will have a go at something that keeps me interested in the writing process, and that I would want to run myself. If it fits the format in the end, great.


      2. Was about to recommend the same thing! Write whatever you’re inspired to write. If it ends up fitting the contest parameters (or can be made to without too much effort and damage to the concept) great! But if it doesn’t, submit it anyway. In both NAP1 and 2 Prince still reviewed even the stuff that ended up getting disqualified.


      3. This is solid advice for *everyone* especially when creating material for the HIGHER LEVELS, enjoy the process of creating and work to end up with something you value and might use yourself.

        I don’t want to repeat myself but there is a tendency for High Level AD&D material to converge in creativity. There is a strong pull towards having the 5th-7th MU Spells of the PHB, and the corresponding artefacts in the DMG do the heavy lifting to the extent that they define the environment and the theatre of characters simply because this material is Utterly Brilliant.

        For a strictly ISOLATED campaign of offline gamers this approach will often yield the greatest Joy. However if the progress of one hundred of these ISOLATED High Level campaigns were examined the problem should be quite apparent. An aesthete or two might become fatigued by Wearisome Permutations.

        Prince of Nothing has two unenviable tasks as Judge of High Level adventures. I am not going to name them.


      4. @ Kent:

        I like/agree with MOST of this comment.

        However, you can’t just tease with regard to “two unenviable tasks.” Put up or shut up, as they say…if you know something, please share with the group. Otherwise, I’ll have to assume you’re blowing smoke with that remark.


      5. Sometimes when I am on the verge of sleep I tell people I have something terribly important to say but I I’m afraid I must go to sleep immediately.


  20. I have nothing against High-Octane commando prep. If I want moving and shaking whole societies and fighting grand strategical battles using real life scholarship, I have Traveller.
    In AD&D, I can arm-wrestle a Titan to steal a star from the celestial-machine to swoon my immortal lady of choice, only to get lost, and have to fight pheromonodrones in the labyrinth of seduction using our ram of legend and the horns of nimon.
    The mythical, the poetic, the grand are married to an actual, crafted, numerical game; Carl Einstein & Novalis’ dream come true. Such is high level AD&D. To denigrate one for the other is to diminish this perfect union.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Just out of curiosity, who was the DM running this Prince?

    Nice stuff, this should be a great competition, can’t wait to see what comes out of it.



  22. It would be handy to have a few forum-like threads attached to PoN Blog for NAP III to address some of the issues with High Level Play. And when is NAP III due?

    Two threads for example:
    1. It is unsurprising to witness on forums over the years the disparity in level attribution for the famous characters of fantasy lit. When we account for growth in power over the lifetime of the fiction we still see no agreement on the appropriate AD&D lvls for Fafhrd, Gray Mouser, Conan, Aragorn, Gandalf, Saruman, Sauron, Brandoch Daha, Gorice XII, CASmith’s necromancers, Cugel the clever.

    It is not important to *get agreement on these lvls*, but once aware of the disparity it becomes obvious that an Adventure for 11th lvl Characters does not have the objective meaning that we tend to assume. I think this is because the AD&D rules are self referential and independent of the DM/author created world of power relationships. So, when writing a HL adventure if you create the world first in your head and then affix AD&D lvls to the characters and beings, you are likely to stray from a purely mechanically evolved theatre of AD&D characters which evolved through play.

    2. I have thought of an image which captures my part of my understanding of the relative difficulties of writing an adventure for LL or HL. Picture a pyramid 3m tall, the top 1m is dressed shining white limestone. Now picture a pyramid 12m tall with just the top 1m a shining white limestone. The glistening top is the adventure itself and the heavy dull supporting mound below is the necessary foundation work that goes unseen.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. NAP III will be a while yet. I was thinking of kicking it off in summer, after April. A forum would be nice, but the drawback is that maintaining it would eat more time.

      These two topics merit further discussion.


  23. You’re officially my hero….

    I’ll suggest a couple of other modules for review, although borderline mid/high level:

    WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. Claims to be for levels 5-10 but is really more like 7-10.

    Dark Tower levels 7-11


  24. *My Insights*

    Your canon insights are 99% derived. You rediscover what was known.

    You expose yourself when you go out on a limb and express your own opinion about utter tat.

    You confuse people by being extremely verbose.


    1. A drinking night I see.

      It should not be hard to find instances where my reviews of new work were predictive, take, say, Perlammo Salt Mines, Peril in Olden Wood, Mines Claws Princesses etc or hell, look at Lotfp or the recent Beholders. It is inconceivable that over hundreds of reviews I would not make a few mistakes via random variation.

      W.r,t. the classics, even if this would be true, what of it? They serve as benchmarks for reviews of new material and for something like NAP III that would be vital. If I come upon insights that were already known, that means I am at least on the right path. Am I consistent enough so a reader can generate an impression on whether or not he would enjoy the adventure, this is the question that matters.

      You alienate people by your approach, and yet you persist in it. Self-destructive. But we have already discussed this, and we already know what the answers will be.

      Liked by 3 people


    I have just watched three very interesting little-known films.

    An early lesson for me was meeting a stranger-to-be-friend in Tower Records Dublin, and while I held forth on the virtues of Furtwangler in Beethoven I quickly realised I was in the presence of someone who spent half of his waking life exploring obscure intelligent film-making. Making use of my high nudge-for-pints I was fortunate enough to spend the evening reevaluating my grounding in art-film. Take away quote, “you will never exhaust finding great films from the past.”

    For example three film-makers you won’t have heard of:

    Director King Hu, Chinese, there are eight of his films I desperately want to see from the 1960-70s but the only exist in awful prints. Criterion have made two available – Dragon Inn 1967 and A Touch of Zen 1971. These were not available to be appreciated before 2018. The Chinese landscape is gorgeous on a projector.

    Director Monte Hellman, three very interesting westerns, The Shooting 1966 written by Carole Eastman, with J Nicholson acting (a lifelong friend of Eastman), JN wrote the screenplay for the second Monte Hellman film. Very strange, very interesting but only very beautiful when released on bluray in **2014** !!

    Wild For Kicks, 1960 directed by greville, with Fararr (the perfect Aragorn – see Black Narcissus 1947 one of the great films), Oliver Reed (jittery) Christopher Lee (pervert). This film is inexplicit but highly sexual, the cast is extraordinary in this regard. It really brings to bear the mutual contempt and incomprehension between generations which is apparent right now, as in 1960.


    1. I can co-endorse Hu and Hellman. I remember a couple other Hu movies (made for Shaw Brothers) being available in decent quality DVDs from Hong Kong ~15 years ago. Come Drink With Me stands out on my memory as a favorite. Never even heard of the third one.


      1. I store snapshots of landscape scenery for reference and Hu is keeping me pretty busy. Also, didn’t realise how good Warren Oates was.


      2. Have you seen Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop? It was a whispered-about cult favorite back in the 90s because it wasn’t available on home video & I remember driving an hour+ to some dingy old grindhouse theater that was playing it (and which closed down & was demolished almost immediately thereafter). The two “stars” are both non-actor musicians (Dennis Wilson and James Taylor) who have zero acting talent or on-screen charisma, so Warren Oates in a supporting role totally steals the show.


      3. Not yet. I have it lined up to watch very soon along with Cockfighter, well aware of its troubling aspect. When younger the banning and enforced obscurity of selected films added frisson to the experience of hunting down and watching, now I just want the damn things gloriously remastered.


      4. Two-Lane Blacktop feels really authentic, and as americana makes Lynch seem overly stylised and Altman a little unrestrained in his goofy humour. It’s low key but unpredictable . I didn’t know where it was going and was afraid it might turn into a horror film. I would love to screen on an unsuspecting audience a good old time ‘road movie’ double bill: Two-Lane Blacktop & The Texas Mainstreet Marathon (a disguised Texas Chainsaw Massacre). The film has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation on the National Film Registry.

        James Taylor grows as an actor from painful-to-watch to can-take-direction. His face when staring intensely by the end makes him indistinguishable from Daniel Day-Lewis. Very sad to hear what happened to Laurie Bird, I don’t even want to look to closely at that. When Warren Oates first appeared with his dapper gentleman passenger I thought they were going to be two homosexuals giving the dirty roughnecks the bird for the whole movie.

        The ending is better than The Shooting, at least I get this one. Ride in the Whirlwind -1966 tonight.

        Trent Smith, you didn’t say whether you thought your road trip worth it?


      5. Absolutely worth it. I’d read about it so I had some idea what I was in for before seeing it, but it still defied expectations and felt like very few movies I’d ever seen up to that point. When it was finally released on VHS a year or two later I bought a copy and have watched it many times since but all of those viewings serve primarily as a sense-memory reminder of that first viewing in that weird old run- down theater with like 4 other people in the audience (at least one of whom fell asleep midway through), where when the film burns up at the end we weren’t sure whether it was intentional or not. Now I want to watch it again – I’ve got a DVD copy in a box somewhere in the garage; maybe I should try to find it.


    2. Master of the Flying Guillotine for me this past weekend. 70-80s era kung fu movies seem a goldmine of inspiring material, totally fresh. No long dialogues or histrionic emotions, but a river of fantastical martial arts displays against a rich mytho-historical backdrop.


  26. Found an obscure (free) one while combing through Footprints magazines for some stuff to stuff in a sandbox – Citadel of the Carrion-Eaters, published in Footprints Issue 23. An adventure for level 10-14 AD&D characters. Could be neat. Disclosure that I didn’t read it at all, just raised by eyebrow at the level and came here to poast.


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