What is the 'ideal' power range?


  • Admin

    Let's try to separate the choice of mechanics or even method of rewarding XP to players for this thread and focus on the ideal power range characters 'should' fall into.

    I was inspired by this link which happens to be about D&D: https://www.belloflostsouls.net/2019/12/dd-apparently-theres-no-country-for-high-level-characters.html

    In your games what is your preferred distribution? For example:

    • Which general spectrum do you prefer most characters to fall into (beginning/intermediate/advanced)?
    • Do you mind if some characters are more advanced than most others or do you prefer the playerbase to be more or less uniform in the distribution?
    • What is your preference for how characters reach higher levels of power? For example do you want it to be mostly a function of time? Skill? Player choice?
    • Do you like power caps, and if so in what abstract form?

    Please feel free to discuss other points as well but I'd really like to focus less on the methods to accomplish your ideal power ranges on a game and more on why you want that.


  • Pitcrew

    I find for the types of stories I usually want to tell an intermediate range works best, in that I don't really want God like power to deal with, but OTOH I want people to have somewhat well rounded PCs if they want, which is arguably hard in a beginner level (or maybe at extremely low powered everyone is well rounded in a sense so it depends on how you look at it.)

    I prefer slow gain xp, but only if rewards can be provided in other ways. (Personalized storytelling and attention, mainly). I think if you really can't provide that it's good to provide some way for people to feel like their activity is rewarded by the game. But on the other hand, I also think it is futile to try and reward all types of players in a single game in a way that gets everyone's needs met--i would rather just be honest but not shaming about it.

    Instead of "be an adult and don't bitch at staff if you aren't able to create your own fun", maybe say "we will only provide limited staff run opportunities for character development, so to be involved with a lot of character development/storylines it is going to require that you hook up with a group that does active storytelling for its members or consider being a storyteller or be willing to be proactive in meeting people ic or oocly, otherwise you may feel isolated even though you will still get the passive xp gain/can do activities to get xp." Or instead of "be a role player not a roll player/twink/min-maxer" more like "XP may be a lot slower than you are accustomed to/you may feel a little weird about having such "bad dice"/low numbers on your sheet, and if you primarily feel motivated by mechanical character advancement then the pace may be frustrating to you. We have chosen to focus on having staff driven storylines that concentrate on developing character /stories/ individually and as a group, and your sheets/power levels are taken into account as we tell those stories." Or whatever.

    People are motivated by many different things. Just because someone needs the hope of maxing out their sheet doesn't make them a lesser musher than me even if I personally don't care if I ever get to top tier, or vice versa. It is okay to want to "win" a game however you define it too, as long as the game is set up for that.

    It is when someone needs something that the game cannot realistically provide, or if something changes and it can no longer provide, that I think a lot of resentment problems arise, and I wish we had better ways of communicating staff intention/interest than implied shame on players. And I wish more staff felt more equipped/empowered to remove people who it's clearly not working for without needing to think that player is "bad".

    So I guess I don't think there is a universal ideal. Just some forethought in what kind of stories, progression, and support will be available and disclosure of that will help set the tools you will use to achieve that.


  • Tutorialist

    So my general thoughts on this:

    'Power levels' are kind of a red herring, because a 'power level' is really defined by what a character can do within the world, and whether or not there are more powerful people than them.

    Take DnD, like you mentioned. What is the actual different between a level 1 and a level 20 character? Better gear, better abilities, but does that automatically make a level 20 character some kind of god-king, destined to rule over all that he sees before him? Or does it make him a seasoned but still very human (or whatever) member of his profession, just as mortal as the next guy but far more capable of keeping himself alive?

    In the series I'm reading right now (A Land Fit for Heroes), all of our protagonists are incredibly capable individuals that have survived numerous tribulations and probably qualify as high-tier characters in the DnD world, with fantastic weapons and magical abilities, plus fighting finesse that outstrips pretty much everyone else alive. But you get them surrounded by four or five mooks and they still worry about dying, because they aren't that different, really.

    I think that's the ideal that I would shoot for. Rather than focus on power levels, focus on the role that the characters play in the range of their various powers, and keep it grounded and somewhat realistic. Yes, that 20th level wizard has some impressive magic at his beckon call, and that 20th level barbarian can probably cleave his way through a small crowd -- but are they unique in the world? What level is the captain of the guard? The army generals? The king's protectors?

    Give them enough to make them shine without outshining everything around them.


  • Admin

    @Derp said in What is the 'ideal' power range?:

    'Power levels' are kind of a red herring, because a 'power level' is really defined by what a character can do within the world, and whether or not there are more powerful people than them.

    To clarify on that point, my intention in the context of this thread is to define 'power' mechanically.

    In other words although a skilled, active player can (and arguably should) get to positions of authority or influence, what I'm looking for is stuff that's on the character sheet as attributes and stats bought by some kind of XP system.

    If the mechanical gaps are small between IC levels of experience then I'd consider them to not exist. That is if an IC veteran and a beginner have approximately the same stats then they're essentially both on the same part of the mechanical power curve.


  • Pitcrew

    I also wonder how to control for not letting anyone outshine those around them. Limited slots for certain skills at certain levels? I have seen this done in a limited away before (there were only a couple of spaces for top tier influencers, and it was non lethal pvp to get them and also to maintain them it took away time/ability to get other things because it was expensive to maintain and did not prevent pvp for people trying to gain that slot themselves). It seemed to work pretty good, but that was a social skill mechanic. You probably could do the same for maxed our skill in anything though. Or severely limit how many maximized and one step below max a PC could have period as well as capping how many people could have that particular skill maxed.

    My experience though is people freak out about any perceived limitation or potential no, even though they also tend to be resentful that even at max skill they are seldom the only one and thus it's not special.


  • Tutorialist

    @Arkandel said in What is the 'ideal' power range?:

    To clarify on that point, my intention in the context of this thread is to define 'power' mechanically.

    I mean -- I'm not sure that you can mechanically define an 'ideal' power level as a matter of general terms. The 'ideal' power level, mechanically, is just the one that lets the PCs have a reasonable chance of overcoming the challenges that you put before them in the story that they want to tell while still involving some real risk.

    That's going to different drastically between every game world. In order to know the 'ideal' mechanical level, you have to know the world you're working in. I don't think you can do it in reverse as easily (though i suppose you could look at the range and then design a world around it, but that seems like trying to roll a boulder up a hill.)

    To the specific bullet points:

    I think that most PCs should start as beginners and move to probably be in the intermediate range, somewhere. But that is also a byproduct of overall lethality / difficulty, which tends to be scaled down greatly in MU.

    I think that having a spectrum of character abilities is really essential, but that doesn't have to be a very wide gulf, especially not from a story perspective.

    Characters should reach higher levels of power through risk/reward proportionality. I don't think it should be a mere function of time, because time alone doesn't really present any risk.

    Power caps are usually a good idea, though they don't have to be static. What form they take varies as wildly as everything else, and depends on the same stuff as the first paragraph.



  • I think power, at its extremely basic level, consists of two main things. How much they can influence the world, and how much the world can interfere with their influence. Mechanics are an important part in this, but not the only part.

    To borrow @Derp's DnD analogy, the difference between a level one party and a level twenty party are as he described, with the added aspect of a level twenty party often finding PC death more of a temporary inconvenience than a deeply impactful problem.

    The difference in power between two level twenty parties, however, could be massive even if they have all the exact same stats. What allies do they have, what events have they participated in, what enemies have they made, etc. All of that ties into actual power, rather than simple mechanical power.


  • Pitcrew

    @Derp

    I don't think @Arkandel was asking what an ideal power level is. He is looking for how much of a difference a game should allow between characters. The power level itself is irrelevant as it is all relative. The question isn't "Should all the characters be literal gods or should all of them be dung beetles," it's "Should some characters be literal gods while other characters are dung beetles?" At least that's my read on it.

    Personally, if a game is going the free for all, no limit to xp earned and no limit to the number of maxxed out skills, then each increase in a skill should be as tiny as possible or you get the dinosaur problem. A person with a maxxed out skill in something should only defeat a person just starting off say 3 times out of 4. If you're keeping a very tight control on xp earned and limits on the number of maxxed out skills then a person with a maxxed out skill should defeat a person just starting off 9 out of 10 times.


  • Admin

    @Ominous said in What is the 'ideal' power range?:

    I don't think @Arkandel was asking what an ideal power level is. He is looking for how much of a difference a game should allow between characters.

    Yes, that, and also where that relative power level ought to be.

    Do you prefer high end games where characters have access to the most incredible feats available in the system? Do you prefer them being beginners with access limited to the first few powers? Somewhere in the middle?

    Then, equally as importantly, do you think all characters should be in the same range of mechanical power as the rest? How much should they be able to deviate if not? And how do some PCs then get to that point - is it a function of how long they've been active? Do they earn it through some risky means? Do their players just choose or apply ("I'll play a veteran", "I'll play Superman") for those outliers?



  • I think, ultimately, that if one is setting out with the intention to run a larger game (more than fifteen or so people at a time) then they should expect some power discrepancy. That said, they should also specifically tailor their plots (or stories, adventures, whatever) to suit the variety they have.

    I'd also add that it's important to recognise that power, even when just restricted to mechanical considerations, can take many forms. An ambassador isn't going to out-shoot a Colonel, but they're going to be far more charming and diplomatic, and a scientist is going to be investigative and intellectual. Not everyone is playing a fighter, so there needs to be more for the cleric or the wizard to do than just play support or shoot the occasional fireball.

    The main thing in a roleplaying game, for me, is a sense of progression. Certainly, social or story-based progression is crucial, but I also need that to be displayed in mechanical terms for when those mechanics come into play. If Joe Schmo has been going to therapy, I should be able to increase his willpower to demonstrate that for instance

    Characters that are narratively changing but mechanically stagnant can lead to a rather jarring case of ludonarrative dissonance, and a feeling that the stories we're telling don't "matter."


  • Pitcrew

    Whatever the game is built to accommodate, and staff is capable of handling.

    The biggest issue some games run into, IMO, isn't that characters are 'too powerful', but rather that a game is not designed to handle characters of that power level. By and large, most games are made to accommodate low to mid-power characters - by which, I mean characters who may have significant power, but based on the personal or immediate environmental level. A game can handle a mage who can throw fireballs, a werewolf who can tear one monster apart, or a businessman or gang leader who can control a building or small territory just fine.

    Most games are not able to handle a mage who can blanket a city in ice, a werewolf pack with a spirit who can tear apart whole swaths of monsters, or even a mayor or lord who can command police forces, armies, and make changes that fundamentally shift economies and social structures.

    High power characters need //different// challenges, not just challenges with higher numbers behind them. It's a struggle to accommodate them in the typical 'find thing, beat up thing' plot without making it either trivial for them or impossible for anyone who isn't them. I think a game has to be built to give them an arena that really showcases the privileges and perils of power...and most games aren't. Hell, most GMs aren't experienced in or interested in GMing plots at the upper end of power. That's true in tabletop, too - if you think about it, most tabletop games never get out of that 'heroic' phase, and the acquisition of real power is the end of a campaign.

    So, I don't think there's an ideal power range for a game, but I do think a game needs to define the power range it's interested in, and then design itself around that, including not allowing apps below that range, and requiring retirements for characters who exceed it.


  • Admin

    @Pyrephox said in What is the 'ideal' power range?:

    It's a struggle to accommodate them in the typical 'find thing, beat up thing' plot without making it either trivial for them or impossible for anyone who isn't them. I think a game has to be built to give them an arena that really showcases the privileges and perils of power...and most games aren't.

    I agree and I like your phrasing. Let me go down that path a bit.

    The majority of plots on MU* tend to be one of two things; either combat-oriented "find thing, kill thing" as you call it, or social get-togethers. There is no deep reason for this other than convenience - although it's definitely possible to run different scenes as well these are easier and don't require the ST/GM to know much in advance about the characters who'll be joining.

    For example if I create an +event to go kill a Bad Thing up in the mountains the footwork needed in advance is pretty limited. I don't even have to know who's going to join (which might be decided based on who's online at the time, no matter who signs up).

    However throw high level characters at this and it's all different. Why does it take two Archwizards and the Lord Captain of the Paladins to down an owlbear? I'd have to turn it into a dragon instead, but then what about the two squires and the fledgling bard who joined as well, what is their role in the party? I'm either going to challenge the highbies by things that would decimate the lowbies, or I'm going to bore the former with the trivial threats I throw at them. Either way that won't be fun for half the participants.

    This isn't to say that plot runners are lazy. It's that we all tend to take the path of least resistance, and that includes creating themes for entire MU*.

    Now here's the rub: How are these issues best solved? For example is a forced power curve successfully addressing the problem given @Tinuviel's point earlier about mechanical stagnation when effectively there is no longer a progression? Does gameplay suffer in a different area when the carrot of power advancement is no longer present, effectively treating one issue but creating another elsewhere?



  • @Arkandel said in What is the 'ideal' power range?:

    Now here's the rub: How are these issues best solved?

    I think, in some instances, that there is a point where a character becomes "too powerful" for a given game, or what the game-runners want to deal with. And that's perfectly normal, it happens. You don't want an Olympic athlete playing Little League.

    We definitely need to be more open to the idea that a character can reach a plateau - there's no more skills they can learn, no more strength or power to get, and that their story should come to an end. People sit on the same characters, sometimes for years, on a game doing very little but getting in the way of the next generation.

    So, the Lord Captain and the Archwizards (prog band) should, after their stories have reached a satisfying point, be retired. Either to move away from the game area, die in some dramatic and important fashion, or become NPCs.



  • For D&D, old as it is, this is actually a well-tread topic, and the linked data isn't the first time they've reported on it. It's been fairly well established over many editions that most groups don't play past level 10. It's why you had E6, for instance (a 3.5 D&D variant that capped at level 6, but allowed some continual non-leveling progress thereafter via feats), which conveniently hits the same popular range this article mentions.

    I tend to imagine, in the D&D case, this is DM driven as much as anything, because higher level chars are increasingly difficult to balance and provide good games. On MUs these issues (for STs) are further exacerbated since you spread the PCs out over vastly different XP points. We hear about dino issues all the time, and the historical answer has mostly been to shrug and pretend it's not really a problem / "omg why do u care about stats?!?!! roleplay not rollplay hurr hurr"

    Advancement is an option. You can have none at all, picking any power point and fixing people there, you can allow it but only to a point (caps), you can allow it in full, you can offer tiered characters, etc. I'm somewhat dismissing 'standard @Arkandel survey questions' but it's because there probably isn't a single best approach and will vary by game (to use the orignal example, a D&D Planescape game will almost certainly require higher power levels). However, I do think the straight D&D version of 'continually accumulate xp and grow in power until you can control the fabric of reality while some people are still hitting goblins with sticks' is very likely the worst.

    If you have advancement, your ideal is probably the bell curve curve some might expect, of beginners quickly becoming intermediate (while learning the ropes, setting, game culture, etc along the way) and rarely, slowly, and with luck, some making it to advanced and then (this is important) completing their stories. This doesn't actually happen on MUs though, because of two problems at the opposite ends of the same issue: player drop-out means that a lot of newbies don't stick around, while the general aversion to character death and lack of set narrative arcs means that intermediates always survive to become advanced and then never ride off into the sunset.

    So there's a variety of solutions approaches. You can not have advancement. You can have caps (we've circled back to E6). You can do tiers to have different layers of play on one game, which I actually kind of like so long as they're open to all players vs. getting an elder because you TS headstaff are a 'trusted player.' Or you can do full advancement... but not wuss out about death and other endings. A fair way back, I experimented with offering a variety of perks to players re-apping after death (including access to snowflake options), and some people did take it up.



  • I think the "no high-level characters" effect is just an extension of what you see in fiction in general. It's very difficult to make compelling stories for supremely powerful characters, especially ensembles. Sure, you can have a story about a king's political struggles, but what do you do with a whole pack of kings and queens? DCU/MCU shows the kind of world-ending insanity you constantly have to cook up to challenge epic level superheroes.

    Yet with people of the low-to-mid power range, there are tons of stories to tell. These characters have room to grow, the challenges are reasonable to write, etc.

    As for mechanics, anyone who's played FS3 knows my take on it. I despite being forced to make a low-level/low-power character. It's only mildly frustrating in a MMO or video game, but on a story game it logically means you need to be playing somebody who's just starting out, unskilled, inexperienced, probably young. I don't like being shoved into that corner.

    FS3 lets you start out as an ace fighter pilot, and acknowledges that if you start out amazing, you don't really have a lot of room to grow from there mechanically-speaking. You could expand horizontally to some extent, but not vertically.

    That doesn't mean you can't still tell stories. Starbuck in the revised BSG was pretty kick-ass from the get-go and yet still had an interesting character arc. Skill advancement isn't the be-all-end-all. Many (most?) MU players are perfectly okay with that as long as they know what they're getting into.



  • @faraday said in What is the 'ideal' power range?:

    with a whole pack of kings and queens?

    World's lamest poker game?



  • @bored said in What is the 'ideal' power range?:

    So there's a variety of solutions approaches. You can not have advancement. You can have caps (we've circled back to E6). You can do tiers to have different layers of play on one game, which I actually kind of like so long as they're open to all players vs. getting an elder because you TS headstaff are a 'trusted player.' Or you can do full advancement... but not wuss out about death and other endings. A fair way back, I experimented with offering a variety of perks to players re-apping after death (including access to snowflake options), and some people did take it up.

    I think this is the real meat of the topic, and I also think some game systems/themes better support the idea than others. I immediately thought of Exalted's various tiered power levels (Dragonblooded vrs Solars vrs Celestial Exalts, for example). It would be interesting to play in a game where dinosaur XP or character deaths could be traded for some other level of story entirely. (Possibly with entirely different mechanical systems....voting/trading/betting/etc instead of dice pools, for example).


  • Pitcrew

    @Arkandel said in What is the 'ideal' power range?:

    Yes, that, and also where that relative power level ought to be.

    Do you prefer high end games where characters have access to the most incredible feats available in the system? Do you prefer them being beginners with access limited to the first few powers? Somewhere in the middle?

    So you are asking what the ideal absolute power level is and not just the range between characters?

    I don't think it matters. The critical part is the difference in power between the PCs not the average around which they are all playing. If they're playing dung beetles, as long as the game is fun, they're all dung beetles in power. If they're playing gods, as long as the game is fun, they're all gods. The issue is when the game is gods vs. dung beetles.

    The problem with your example of D&D is that it isn't designed for play above level 10. The original white Box D&D topped out at around level 11, I think. The next edition of Basic D&D - B/X - had a max level of 14. I'm not sure what first edition of Advanced D&D had as a max level, but BECMI Basic D&D introduced a max level of 36 and Immortals - characters who had transcended levels.

    The thing is, even in the original White Box, after about level 5, you weren't doing as much dungeon crawling. Instead you were building fortifications, claiming lands, etc. The game changed as you got more powerful. It wasn't until AD&D, particularly Third Edition, that that entire aspect of the game was jettisoned and the expectation was that 20th level characters are doing the same stuff as 1st level characters only their dungeons are the outer planes. Unfortunately the game mechanics aren't designed for that and it just falls apart. The game is built for dung beetles, but you're trying to cram gods into it and expecting the gods to keep doing dung beetle things. It would be like running Call of Cthulhu with PCs consisting of Superman, Goku, Haruhi Suzumiya, Dr. Who, and Q. The game mechanics couldn't handle it and the game would fall apart.

    Then, equally as importantly, do you think all characters should be in the same range of mechanical power as the rest? How much should they be able to deviate if not? And how do some PCs then get to that point - is it a function of how long they've been active? Do they earn it through some risky means? Do their players just choose or apply ("I'll play a veteran", "I'll play Superman") for those outliers?

    The latter option for me; though, I would have it tied to age. I have for a few years now supported the idea that xp should be awarded as an equal amount to everyone every in-game month. When you roll up a character and decide on an age that determines the starting xp you have to invest in your starting skills. If you want to play a character who has top of the line skills, he/she can't be a smooth-faced youth who just left the farm yesterday to seek adventure. He/she is going to be the grizzled badass, 40-something veteran of two wars, a coup attempt by the royal vizier, the attempted ending of the world by a chaos cult, and that one time a dragon attacked his/her unit, killing all but 10 soldiers.


  • Admin

    @Ominous said in What is the 'ideal' power range?:

    The latter option for me; though, I would have it tied to age. I have for a few years now supported the idea that xp should be awarded as an equal amount to everyone every in-game month. When you roll up a character and decide on an age that determines the starting xp you have to invest in your starting skills. If you want to play a character who has top of the line skills, he/she can't be a smooth-faced youth who just left the farm yesterday to seek adventure. He/she is going to be the grizzled badass, 40-something veteran of two wars, a coup attempt by the royal vizier, the attempted ending of the world by a chaos cult, and that one time a dragon attacked his/her unit, killing all but 10 soldiers.

    I agree with that. One of the things that really bugged me on The Reach wasn't that characters were given a lot of XP but that the way the game was set it just didn't make any sense. Neonates had vast powers and Blood Potency a month after their Embrace, fledgling Mages triple-Mastered Arcana in no time, etc.


  • Pitcrew

    @Arkandel said in What is the 'ideal' power range?:

    However throw high level characters at this and it's all different. Why does it take two Archwizards and the Lord Captain of the Paladins to down an owlbear? I'd have to turn it into a dragon instead, but then what about the two squires and the fledgling bard who joined as well, what is their role in the party? I'm either going to challenge the highbies by things that would decimate the lowbies, or I'm going to bore the former with the trivial threats I throw at them. Either way that won't be fun for half the participants.

    Actually it depends on the edition of D&D. Earlier editions (and 5e somewhat with its "bounded accuracy") were much more lethal than later editions. A group of kobolds or goblins could still down a high-level (level 8-11) character. Mixing lower level characters with high level characters was more the norm, because you need cannon fodder. Let's be honest, that is essentially what Hirelings/Followers in OD&D and OSR games are. Occasionally one of those Hirelings/Followers happens to be a PC, maybe one of the secondary characters of one of the players who couldn't bring their main character on the trip.

    Ars Magica also addressed this with having players create a Magus, a Consortes, and a bunch of Grogs. When a group plays, only a few of the players bring their Magi, because the others have to stay back and run the convenant, perform research, keep an eye on the covenfolk, etc. The other players bring their consortes who, while formidable, are not comparable to a Magus. The grogs that come along get played by everyone.

    Power disparity can work, as long as the mechanics are thought-out to handle it effectively and contribute to everyone's fun.


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