High Level Gaming - The Game

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Created On 6 June 1999
Last Updated On 6 June 1999
Copyright (c) Simon E. Phipp 1999

See Also:
High Level Gaming
High Level Gaming - The GamesMaster

Here, I will try to spell out the important facets of a High Level Game. Elsewhere, I have given my ideas on the differences between High Level Games and other games and the role of the GM in High Level Games. I will now try to show the important areas of High Level Gaming. I do not pretend that this is how people should conduct High Level Gaming or that I am the only person ever to have run a High Level Game and anyone else's views are worthless, but I do think that many people have not had the opportunity to play in or run a High Level Campaign for a long period of time and that any guidelines or pointers will make it easier for people to participate in such campaigns.

In a High Level Game, the emphasis is not on how many broos, elves, Lunars or trolls you can kill or how many temples you can sack or on many of the things that are important in Intermediate or Low Level games. Take combat, for instance. One of the joys about low level and intermediate level gaming is the fact that elaborate combats can be run using impressive tactics, spells and heroic deeds with combat sometimes taking a couple of hours ending up with killing the Big Demon and getting the treasure. However, in my high level campaign, I refused to run combat with even minor Rune Levels as a waste of time. I just assumed the PCs win and, if I expect a big fight, I might knock off a couple of Rune Spells, but that was extremely rare. This meant that most combat lasted a minute or so and took the form of "you brush them aside and lose 20 Magic Points". Where the NPCs cannot get through the PC's armour except on a Critical hit and even then cannot kill the PC in a single blow, when the PCs resist at a POW of 30 and NPCs have a 5% chance of overcoming their POW, when PCs cannot get a POW gain roll from the combat, what is the point of running the fight?

In High Level Gaming, the emphasis is on:
PC-PC Interaction
Community Support
Increasing Personal Power
Cult Duties
PC-NPC Interaction

PC-PC Interaction

This is probably the most important part of High Level Gaming. PCs are often opposed to each other or, at the very least, have opposing views on a particular issue. The High Level GM should use this to the hilt as it makes for a far more interesting game. Why spend time devising NPC plots when PCs can do it for themselves and bring about each other's downfall. This is especially easy if the PCs rule different kingdoms or belong to unfriendly cults or if there is tension between two players. The GM can always cause PC plots by dropping false (or even true) information into a conversation.

Above all, remember that PCs are the front line in a campaign, try to resolve PC-PC Interaction before your normal scenarios or perhaps during the scenario as the players will become more interested in how their own plots pan out than in the GM's scenario. In any case, a good GM can disguise one of his own schemes as a PC plot or vice versa, disguising a PC plot as a GM scheme to put players at their ease.

Although I have concentrated on PC-PC conflicts as they are the simplest thing to provoke, there are also ways that PCs can help each other out. These can range from co-operating on scenarios to HeroQuesting against one PC's personal enemy or even giving other PCs gifts in return for no benefit. It is possible for PCs to interact well and to spark off interesting and fulfilling scenarios and plot, although nothing beats PCs potting each other's destruction and planning outrageous ways to run each other down.

Community Support

In a high level game, many of the actions of the PCs will be geared towards supporting their community, whether said community or a clan, tribe, cult, Temple kingdom or Empire. High Level characters are usually in positions of importance and power and need to support their position through their actions.

These actions may include Lawgiving, fighting wars, performing HeroQuests, acting as a judge, diplomatic missions or simply showing oneself to the adoring people every so often. For example, in my Holy Country Campaign, the main characters are kings of various countries. Solarus has built up Balazar into a fairly prosperous kingdom and has HeroQuested on many occasions for his country, in fact most of his work is Balazar oriented. Brankist is king of Bilini and has created two Barriers against the Chaos of Dorastor as well as closing a trade deal with the Lunar Empire. Derak is "King" of Dagori Inkarth and has gained extra territory from the Lunars and is in the process of building up alliances with local kings and chieftains. None of these deeds improve the personal power of the characters, merely their political power and the strength and prosperity of their kingdoms. In fact, many of their HeroQuests have cost them personal power or won them dangerous enemies but they have done this to benefit their communities.

Whilst there are a few high level characters who do not have a community, they are few and far between, being outlaws or renegades, fighting with all those around them. Most characters who have reached high level have done so within their own community. However, many players do not take advantage of this fact and simply meander along of their own accord. It is up to the GM to inspire a sense of community in the players so that their PCs can move along the community line. If a character is a Rune Level then have him perform HeroQuests to aid the cult rather than himself. Show that sometimes self-sacrifice is necessary for the greater good. Those PCs belonging to clans, tribes or kingdoms should be encouraged to help strengthen those communities. This can be done by creating threats or difficulties that the PCs have to overcome. At first, the PCs will simply follow the GM's lead and do what the scenario requires. However, as they become more comfortable at high level they will begin to actively look for opportunities to help their community. This helps create a more mature and rewarding game.

Increasing Personal Power

This is always going to be fairly important. All PCs need to increase their personal power in order to be able to forge their paths amongst the Heroes, demigods and deities of Glorantha. Not to do so would mean stagnation and possibly retirement.

Increasing personal power is achieved in many ways. Powers and abilities may be gained through HeroQuest or by taking on geases. Magic Items may be gained through trade, combat, stealth or HeroQuest. Skills and attributes may be increased through normal game play and HeroQuest.

In a low level game, players will try to increase all skills equally as all skills are low. In a high level game, each player should draw up a list of areas that the PC wants to improve or gain and should concentrate on improving those areas. Thus, a Healer would not want to improve in combat or thievery skills, a Humakti would not want Fire skills and a Troll would not want to improve his masonry skills. Once such a list is drawn up, the player and Gm can discuss ways of gaining those skills and working towards that end. This allows scenarios and plots to be drawn up for the future in order to give the players the chance to gain in their required areas. So, if a PC wants to become a master shaman then he may work towards controlling spirits, gaining shamanic powers and contacting gods and demons with the GM's approval and aid. He would not necessarily perform Quests to increase combat skills or sorcery skills or to learn how to build a city as they would be out of character. At high levels, there are specialists and very few jacks-of-all-trades.

Note that Power Gamers will always try to increase their personal power, perhaps in preference to other aims. A good GM will try to limit this and move the emphasis to the other aspects of the game. However, having said that, their are examples of Heroes who try to gain abilities to make themselves powerful at the expense of all else, Harrek being the prime example. Gaining personal power is not, in itself, a bad thing, it is only when it is done at the expense of the rest of the game and contrary to good sense and when it is not in character. The argument, that I have heard on at least one occasion, that "it is in character because that is what my character does" is not sufficient and should bring the GM's wrath upon the head of the player that used the argument.

Cult Duties

Most, or probably all, High Level characters will belong to one or more cults and will have certain duties which the Cult will call on them to perform. This is true even for Malkioni who belong to their Malkioni Church, whichever that may be. Where characters belong to more than one cult, their time is divided accordingly amongst the cults. Rune Levels typically have to spend 90% of their time on cult duties. However, what about Heroes?

In my campaign, Heroes are given carte blanche and only have to perform cult duties when important events occur. Most of the time they are working to the benefit of the cult, in any case. When Solarus sits in judgement of a case he is acting as Balazar. When Brankist summons a Storm he is performing the tasks of Orlanth Thunderous. HeroQuests count as cult duties in my opinion. This means that PCs may well be able to claim that most of their lives are taken up with cult duties.

If the GM wants to enforce the idea of cult duties then it should be done carefully. Cult duties should fit the character concerned. It is no use trying to make a Death Lord of Zorak Zoran and Master of the Fires of Hell spend a few nights on guard duty or teaching Bludgeon spells at a local shrine. However, he may feel that teaching the Fire Voice spell at his own Hero Shrine an acceptable cult duty. When a PC becomes powerful in his cult, he may well outrank local leaders and only be commanded by the head of the cult or by the Deity itself. In this case, it is very difficult to give the Hero any orders. Even if the deity himself gives the order, there is very little the cult can do to enforce it if the Hero wants to ignore it. Excommunication is not really feasible - it is better to have the bastards inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in. Even if the Hero receives dreams, portents and so on, it is up to the Deity to decide the appropriate punishment. Normally he will remove his favours so that the Hero cannot function properly. If necessary, the Hero can be summoned to the deity's presence for some one-on-one correction.

PC-NPC Interaction

In a low level game, most NPCs met are cannon fodder to be fought and destroyed. Of course,there are games where there is a lot of arty-farty stuff where people actually talk to the encountered broos and to see what their problems are, but that is rare. In high level games, there is a great deal of scope for interaction with NPCs.

There are several types of NPCs in a high level game - inconsequential people, one-off encounters, acquaintances , rivals, enemies, arch-enemies and permanents.

Inconsequential people - these are the ones that are walking down the street when Jar-Eel cuts the head off your friend and who are traumatised by the event. They are inconsequential and may be totally ignored.

One-off encounters - these are people who the PCs meet during scenarios or on HeroQuests. They may be there to be killed, to be threatened, to be befriended or even ignored. Generally, they are not important as they will never be encountered again. The GM may be able to have a few laughs by using these expendable NPCs to drive the PCs into the direction he wants them to go. I always used these as methods of letting the PCs find out secret information.

Acquaintances - These are NPCs that the PCs know. They may be friends but usually are not. Such acquaintances can be used to impart information, advise or confuse the PCs. They can be brought out as and when the GM requires without much danger. Sometimes the foolish PCs will ask such acquaintances for advice or help in which case the GM is given a free hand to do to the PCs what he wants.

Rivals - These are NPCs who are in some way rivals to the PCs. Whilst they are not exactly enemies they do want to succeed at the expense of the PCs, so they will be actively plotting against the PCs. This can be especially useful when HeroQuests are performed as Rivals will try and perform HeroQuests instead of the PCs. Most PCs will try to negate the effects of Rivals through HeroQuesting, politics or even assassination.

Enemies - These can be from an enemy cult, tribe or kingdom. They could even be Rivals who have gone too far. Generally, Enemies will be minor thorns in the PCs' sides and may well last for a couple of scenarios or plot-lines before being killed. Enemies can be important in that they can force the PCs to act in certain ways.

Arch-Enemies - These are the bread and butter of a GM's plots. They are the Enemies That Will Not Die. They continually plot against the PCs, usually through the use of henchmen and other agents. Very rarely will they actually deign to meet the PCs and when they do, they will generally either use the occasion to gloat, explain the plot or even kill the PCs. The GM should try to keep the Arch Enemy alive wherever possible, even if it means introducing sudden friends to rescue them as Arch Enemies are truly excellent plot-devices. However, if the PCs come up with a sure-fire way of killing them and actually carry out the task, by all means keep them dead, but bring out another Arch Enemy for them to play with.

Many NPCs can be interacted with and it is always worth taking a little time to let the PCs talk to them. After all, the GM can confuse the hell out of PCs and players by letting slip pieces of information about other things when talking to NPCs. Also, sometimes the PCs can gain useful allies by letting NPCs live (assuming they are of the "shoot first and ask questions later" school).

If the GM is the kind to have convoluted plots, sub-plots and character-play interwoven in the game then NPCs are the best tool to use. A good GM can use NPCs to guide and direct the PCs wherever he wants, often without them knowing it.