50th level adventures in Rolemaster. Does it work?

50th lvl…the mythical pinnacle of roleplaying achievement. I vaguely recall 1sted. D&D and I don’t recall 50th lvl (maybe it was 20th in that game system?). I do remember looking through Rolemaster for the very first time and thought the 50th lvl spells were so crazy—and cool! It opened up a world of possibilities. After that, MERP modules continued to introduce VHL (very high level) NPCs that continued pushing this perception of Rolemaster: deadly, complex and high level. After that…Shadow World. Again, the inference was that this was a high fantasy world, only populated by incredibly powerful NPCs and organizations.

So, Peter and I are working on a 50th level adventure series. Mine are based in Shadow World, but I’m going to convert these adventures to a generic format. So guess what? Creating adventures can be hard, but creating an adventure for a group of 50th lvl +- adventurers is even tougher!

Some people would argue that RM system rules break down around 15th lvl. Others would argue that the gradual power progression of RM spells, while potent, is not the same progression as the power progression of spells in AD&D—spells like “Wish” make high level Magic Users or Cleric almost god-like. Many 50th lvl spells in Spell Law are just “Laws”: the ability to cast lower level spells 1/rnd. That’s an efficient resource spell, but perhaps doesn’t lend itself to a transcendent narrative.

My first question when starting this adventure design was: “Under what circumstances would a 50th lvl PC even get involved? Not all world threats should, or can be, handled by a “well balanced group” of 5-15th lvl characters. An adventure should be: challenging, interesting and rewarding. Once a PC reaches the heights of 50th lvl, what is challenging? What adventure could possibly be new, novel or interesting? What could be rewarding for a player group equaling 200-250 levels?

We are going to try and find out with our Rolemasterblog 5of50 later this year. Have you run or played in a VHL adventure or campaign? What worked? What didn’t?

7 Replies to “50th level adventures in Rolemaster. Does it work?”

  1. Dungeons & Dragons Basic to Immortals went up to 36th level (Master). After which players became gods (Immortals). AD&D and later editions usually go to 20th level. The H1-4 series is the only really high level adventure series past 20th level, at least in AD&D 1st and 2nd editions, and the final module in that series had some pre-gen 100th level characters as an option.

  2. ever try any of those? I recall someone on the RM forums running a 20+ lvl game but I can recall if there were any details on balance, playability etc.

    1. We did H1-4 back in the day, the culmination of a campaign that started as a D&D game in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos and ended in the Forgotten Realms as an AD&D game. Although there weren’t many players left by the end of it, so many of their characters ended up as NPCs (one of whom was called Azukail, a name that may be familiar). H4 was pretty dangerous, as it involved going up against the Demon Prince Orcus in the Abyss and Tiamat in the Nine Hells. God-killing. (I mentioned in the forums that the party that managed that would probably have got wiped out in the megadungeon Rappan Athuk; a really lethal dungeon.) At that sort of power level, and given that Battlesystem was an important factor in H1 and H3, you were dealing with gods and the fates of nations.

  3. The highest level PCs I have ever known were at 29th level Magic User in AD&D 1st Editon and my own 33rd level rural man fighter in RM 1st Ed/MERP.

    At 33rd level I didn’t feel overly powerful but as a mainly arms based character the skill based diminishing returns had made progression slow and uninspiring. Levelling up was so rare that it ceased to be a consideration. I think the population of VHL NPCs in MERP also made my 33rd level seem insignificant.

    I think the power imbalances start with the spell casters and that will be the challenge in designing these adventures. At 50th+ effecting the characters with other casters spells will be extremely difficult.

    1. Peter, I put up the rough draft of my first 50th adventure–it will be 3 “chapters” (which I’m counting as 3–is that cheating!). take a look.

      I think there are 2 overarching strategies:

      1. “Handicap approach”. this is what they did in Thor by making him mortal and taking away moljnir. Basically constrain or take away some of the players abilities or powers or devise situations that do the same. this is helpful in tournament style modules where the GM wants to frame the decision tree.

      2. “The Immortal approach”. As noted above, this is just coming up with ridiculously powerful foes in crazy situations (extra planar, demonic realms, god realms) and tossing the group against them.

      Less a strategy is another option: “turnaround is fair play”. Think about it, most player groups battle more powerful foes, mob bosses etc by planning, teamwork and creativity. Why can’t the bad guys do the same thing?

      And Peter to address your point–I’m not sure a pure arms character does match up well at high levels unless boosted by powerful magic items: artifact armor, weapon etc. Generally I think that’s what happens to maintain that illusionary balance. In our rules–and perhaps yours–all of my PC’s learns spells so it’s less of a concern.

      1. Even my fighter had magic. He once studied a tome during a sea voyage that taught him all the open channelling lists to 10th level.

  4. 4th Edition DnD tried to rehabilitate the higher levels with three tiers: levels 1-10, levels 11-20, and 21-30. Levels 21-30 were playable. In practice, I found that good parties made their characters so good that by level 21 they started to outpace the challenges; mediocre or casual parties would still get a challenge.

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