View Full Version : 3.P Mixed-Level Parties? Challenges and solutions?

2016-12-27, 03:40 PM
I recently put up a thread discussing house rules and starting conditions for an upcoming 3.5e game (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?509856-Students-of-Rekkenmark-campaign-incl-(lots-of)-minor-fixes) I'm going to be running.

I got no comments on my house-rules, and a TON of criticism about my decision to run the campaign from 1st level only. I've played in games where that worked well, and I like the idea of contrasting levels for party-members, and earning your way upward. (I've also had situations where players would drop (or sacrifice) a character to start up an entirely new one, altogether more frequently than I would like, and I felt the challenge of having to catch up would be a useful encouragement for sticking with one character.)

So, what do you guys see as the major problems faced by a mixed-level party, and what could be done to help? Damage assumptions, skill-check and save-bonus assumptions, condition handling, item economy..

Now, we're not talking a level 2 character walking around with level 19 characters. For one thing, for my campaign, I'm not planning on going above level 10. I'm also going to encourage that if I happen to have a bunch of 9-10s and one or two starting level-1s, the 9-10s should make secondaries at low level to help the newbies.

But a difference of 2, 4, or 6 levels? Is it really THAT big a deal?

2016-12-27, 04:17 PM
3.5 is the wrong system for this, since characters scale basically exponentially. Keep in mind that you can basically take a character 2 levels lower than you as a feat - Leadership. You can try and force it to work, but it goes against the entire math behind the game and no amount of band-aids can fix that with less effort than creating an entirely new system.

Something like Ars Magica where an imbalanced party (a wizard and companions, with players rotating between characters) is part of the game design would be much better suited to the idea.

2016-12-27, 04:32 PM
Remember that low-level players get a lot more experience for facing off against challenges than a high-level character - if four ECL 12 characters and 1 ECL 3 characters face off against a CR 10 beastie (which is really easy for the four ECL 12 characters) then the ECL 3 character will practically gain a level outright (I'm away from books so I'm not sure quite how true this is, but it's a lot of experience).

As for "How different will it be," it depends. If blaster wizard A and blaster wizard B are two levels apart, then the lower-level one deals 2 less damage with his fireballs, and blaster wizard A has access to a level of spells that don't do considerably more damage than a fireball anyway. If proper wizard A and proper wizard B are 6 levels apart, then the lower-level one is missing a massive chunk of the polymorph forms that the higher-level one is gleefully turning himself into. If blaster wizard A is 6 levels above proper wizard B, then they might even be about the same power level.

The problem I see with a gap of even 2 levels is that for a party of 10th-level characters, a CR 13 encounter reads as a fairly tough encounter that they'll win with a little resourcefulness, but for a party of 8th-level characters, the encounter literally reads "The PCs should run. If they don't, they will probably lose." (From memory out of the DMG). This means that a level 8 PC is meant to be contributing to a type of encounter that they'd normally run away from.

If players keep dropping characters in favour of new ones, either tell them "Please don't" or do what the DMG suggests and put them one level behind the lowest-level player, halfway to the next level. A first-level character is going to have problems: they won't dare get into a tangle with a giant eagle (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/eagleGiant.htm), must be forcibly kept from screaming when a ghast (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/ghoul.htm#ghast) appears, and probably can't even damage a large animated object (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/animatedObject.htm), and almost certainly can't damage a shadow (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/shadow.htm). CR 5 encounters such as the huge animated object, bearded devil (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/devil.htm#beardedDevilBarbazu) and manticore (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/manticore.htm) will be even worse, and CR 7 encounters will simply destroy the first-level character by breathing in their general direction - perhaps literally (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/chimera.htm). Essentially, a low-level character is probably going to be relegated to archery duty even if they don't want to build for it, and trying to stand out of manticore-spike or chimera-breath range, when facing down encounters that otherwise wouldn't trouble their party.