I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition since only a few weeks after it was available. My gaming group had been winding down a lengthy 3.5 campaign. After reading through the core books and playing the game at game day the group decided they wanted to play 4e sooner rather than later. I wrapped up the plot lines in a dramatic fun fashion. Everyone was happy. They ended at level 26.My 4e campaign got played about every other week for a few hours. A few months ago we hit epic level and I decided to increase the pace people leveled. All the PCs were clearly powerful, had strong ties to the world. They weren’t in a place where they slogged through a dungeon for several session. They were now finding big targets and going after them. It was fun, but I didn’t want to slow them down by creating huge groups of epic enemies for them to slog through so we could justify earning enough xp to level. It didn’t make sense for the world. It would also have been a lot of work to create as many new monsters needed to supplement the available epic monsters, already updated post MM3. We had a blast playing with Epic Destinies, going straight up to the rulers of nations and telling them how its going to be, and generally making evil gods upset with the PCs every breath.
A few days ago the campaign ended unexpectedly. The PCs had just killed the goddess of fate in a no contest fight. They decided that since that probably provoked the ire of the gods, they might as well kill Tiamat while they were on a roll.
I ran Namassi, the consort of Tiamat, as written. Namassi has an at-will, close blast 3, that stuns. It’s a standard action. Whether or not you think that’s fair or broken, two things are true. One, it would have possible for them to beat this enemy with planning. Two, they did not plan. It didn’t help that their controller got locked down by the power early.
Two of the PCs fled. The rest were killed or captured. The PCs who fled realized they had it pretty good. They each controlled a nation, they had re-established civilization to a degree, and they had sent the gods a strong message about the power of mortals. They were done. It wasn’t worth it to them to find things to fight. So, that was it. They were done.
The players came to the conclusion that their PCs had reached their goals several levels ago for the most part, but they were having fun so just kept on playing. They came up with new goals, but it wasn’t the same. They argued a little about whether the other PCs should have ran. They discussed where they had made mistakes over the last 29 levels. They concluded they should have retired a few levels ago, when their characters goals had been met.
I agree. There’s something about 30 levels being in the player’s handbook that makes you feel like you should play to level 30. The epic tier isn’t really balanced to be treated like the other two tiers. That’s the reason why I changed the rate at which they leveled. It’s a different game. I should have wrapped it up with a bang when the characters were done, and not waited to run out of mechanics. There were several bangs in the last nine levels that would have worked fine. Don’t be afraid to end your campaign whenever you’re done. The limits of the game are not the limits of your story.
I’ll tell you what’s not ok though. Ending on a disappointing note. I just sent my group an email. They’re not done yet. Characters are coming back for one last fight. One last chance at being heroes. I don’t care if some of them are being eternally tortured by Tiamat. This is epic fantasy and nothing stops a hero from returning just when they are needed.