Something that has always confounded me about high level characters is how they are treated as awesome awe-inspiring heroes in many GM’s campaigns and pre-made settings.
I was thinking about this the other day and it dawned on me a completely different way to handle this. Now my realization here is not novel and it may have been blogged about in the past and I just missed it.. Oh well.
In fantasy games, even old school games, the characters are just slightly a cut above your everyday-ho-hum-person. They are brave, have skills that many people may not have, and are crazy enough to actually venture into the wilds and pit their mettle against things that would make most people piddle in their pants.
In many fantasy games I’ve played in or read about the highest character you tend to see is around level 5. I think that this is to make the PC’s feel even more mighty when they are the same level as the captain of the guard or the king himself. I think the other reason is that the world is extremely dangerous and your Average Joe has a hard enough time feeding himself and surviving toiling in the fields and dealing with bandits than anything else.
Think about it this way: The sight of a Goblin or two is scary.. The sight of an Orc is terrifying.. The sight of a Ogre is horrific. Anything beyond that (to keep monsters fresh and not carbon-copy stat blocks) is like staring at something out of Cthulhu. It is incomprehensible and can reduce people to jibbering idiots.
So what does that make PC’s? They are the adventurers who do venture out and find themselves gaining power and tackling these horrors that gobble up people in the night and lay the bandits in the ground for disrupting the trade paths between villages, towns, and cities.
You Either Die a Hero… Or Live Long Enough to Become the Villain
So we reach the meat of my thought process here.. The PC’s first find themselves lauded as heroes… but eventually they are feared and despised for their power they have gained that sets them above the normal man…
Characters, especially in many of the older games get keeps and castles and followers starting around level 9-10? Why? Is it because the king has granted them a boon and gives them land, castle, and servants as a reward? Or is it that the hero has attracted a few people who aren’t afraid of her and had to use her own resources to build a keep out on the boarder lands.
The heroes killed a dragon that has been plaguing the kings eastern most territory. The heroes killed a dragon. Something that many Average Joes look at with fear, awe, and possible even reverence. Now the people are going to look at these heroes and beging to wonder what they are. After all how could anything mortal or moral yield the power to kill a dragon? Tensions will rise and eventually the heroes are turned into monsters that have entered congress with beasts of the deep.
What if the king needs the help of the heroes again? He may turn to them in desperation, but there is true fear that he is making a deal with the devil here. Sure the heroes might with whatever problem is now plaguing the kingdom, but do we really want to deal with people who can kill a dragon?! Is it the lesser of two evils? Will they set upon us next?!
I just think that this would be an interesting approach to handling PC’s at higher level. They aren’t monsters and wouldn’t let a whole city die of something terrible, but they aren’t exactly welcome there either and they know it.