I decided to stop the level progression of the player characters of my Pathfinder campaign at the 12th level. If that sounds strange to you, please take a little of your time to read ‘E6’ – a fabulous mini-game inside the traditional d20 engine.
My two previous experiences with d20 high-level were limited to one Dragonlance campaign in which I played a dwarf cleric from 1st to 17th level (and 2 resurrections). In that wonderful game, I became increasely aware of the DM’s difficult to respond to the high level spells and combos created by our party. The other example was a Greyhawk/Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil campaign that I run until the 14th-15th levels. Again, the party increasing power soon became a major problem that took most of my preparation time (instead of the plot and adventure development) – I was more worried with negating the spellcaster (and psionics) characters abilities than enjoying myself with the game.
These situations taught me that I really don’t enjoy D&D/Pathfinder high level games outside of a classical dungeon-delving or wilderness exploration structure (or Adventure Path). Which, thinking now, makes perfect sense – after all, that’s what those games were really made for, no? But that also made me remember reading that Gygax/Anderson never really devised the original D&D to go beyond the 10th level. Maybe that isn’t true, but it does make a lot of sense to me today.
Nevertheless, in my C7L/Pathfinder game I found out that the party’s power was getting ridiculous high and easily stepping into a “super-hero/Indian-demigods”-level of power. My campaign usually thrives on the clash of armies, recurrent villains, political intrigue and drama created by hard personal choices – themes that were becoming hard to execute within the system’s quick power progression. Of course, you could say that I really should stop playing that style of campaign with Pathfinder, however: 1) my players and I really LOVE D&D/Pathfinder; and 2) we used to play that way with AD&D without any problems.
The thing is: if I could stop the infinite HPs/Saving Throws/BAB simultaneous progression approximatedely at the 10th level I’m sure it’d be the perfect “sweet spot” for my Pathfinder games. The issue is not necessarily the power level, but the ridiculous consequences of the continuous (and fast) progression of the stats above. I realized this because, even taking into account that I’m stopping the game progression at level 12, I still want to use Epic Destinies with the player characters (a topic for a future post). The normal level progression was lessening every kind of menace I intended to throw at the party – and therefore lessening the drama. In other words, the game’s proposed structure was forcing me to resort to things like demons, dragons and other creatures whose presence didn’t make sense in my setting.
Well, enough rambling… here are the rules modifications. As mentioned, they were inspired by ‘E6’ subsystem, which is an obligatory read to fully understand and use them. The Pathfinder Advanced Players Guide is also necessary for this particular “house-ruled” version.
My “Pathfinder E12”
The PCs stop following the normal progression of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook at the 12th level. They still gain XP normally after that but, instead of gaining new levels, they obtain 1 Benefit each time they accumulate the necessary XP to go from levels 11 to 12.
NPCs are not bound by any of these rules and should be built according to the Gamemaster’s needs.
With 1 Benefit each PC must choose one of the following options: 1 Feat, +1 to one Ability Score, 5 Skill Points (still limited to 12 ranks) or +8 Hit Points.
3) Higher-Level Class Features, Feats, Skill Ranks and Spells
These abilities still can be bought through a new category of feat called “Heroic Feat”. The prerequisites of these feats should be adjudicated by the Gamemaster for each high-level ability desired. A basic suggestion is to creature a chain feat structure (with low level spells or class features as prerequisite for high-level ones), adding to each of these feats a setting element or special achievement as special requisites.
For example: a draconic bloodline sorcerer must drink the blood of an old dragon to gain a high-level power of his bloodline and a cleric must swear service to a specific temple (or outsider) to gain resurrection.
Finally, every Heroic Feat requires 1 Hero Point every time it is used by a PC. The Hero Points rule can be found at the Pathfinder Advanced Players Guide (or here). The idea behind this last restriction is to limit the use of potential “game-breaking” powers like disintegrate or gate. In fact, I encourage Gamemasters to further limit the use of certain spells and abilities, maybe by increasing the Hero Point cost or by linking them to a certain location or time (extra requisites). This should increase the tension and drama when these greater powers are used (for more “normal” features like high-level combat feats, the Hero Point cost alone should suffice).
This system will be used in my current Pathfinder campaign and I’ll try to post the results here (including new feats derived from these ideas).