Hey there. Hope your week has been going well.

The next book to be released, as I’ve been saying for a while, is the Earthdawn Companion. This book will bring in material generally suited for higher powered and more advanced games. Among other things it will provide the talent progression (and rules) for Warden and Master adept tiers (Circles 9-15), along with creatures and opposition generally suited to adepts of that caliber.

I asked fans on Twitter for ideas and questions about what to talk about in this week’s post, and @wmacgyver suggested:

Talk about what a high power ED campaign is like. Most people don’t make it past 3rd Circle.

I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of successful long-term campaigns, but even those games wrapped up when the characters were about Eighth or Ninth Circle. So while I don’t have the direct personal experience with the highest tiers of play, I do have some knowledge of the kind of problems that arise when your player characters get that powerful.

First, the number of tools available, and the effectiveness of those tools, increases dramatically. Physical combat becomes less of a threat. Even for less combat-oriented Disciplines, damage and defense ratings can climb pretty high, especially when group patterns are brought into play.

Consider. The pre-generated Eighth Circle t’skrang Swordmaster in the Earthdawn GM Screen has a Physical Defense of 15, and that’s without the potential +5 bonus for a group pattern thread, or the enhancements that might come along from spells, talents, or additional thread items. She’s also got 8 Physical Armor, an Unconsciousness Rating of 84, Initiative of Step 15 (with Tiger Spring), close-combat attack steps of around 16, with Step 20 damage for her primary weapon. (And don’t forget all of that can have karma added in!)

Add in three to five other adepts with similar high values in their areas of expertise (and players that know how to take advantage of them), and you’ve got a group that won’t have trouble with “conventional” encounters.

So, what to do with groups like this? If you’ll recall from an earlier post, I talked about how rarified high Circle adepts are likely to be. Given the power they can bring to bear, that’s probably a good thing, but “with great power,” as the saying goes.

Adepts at this power level can change the face of Barsaive or wider world. Over the course of their careers they will have forged numerous alliances and rivalries. Kings, merchant princes, dragons, and Horrors will have an interest in seeing them succeed or fail. And they often won’t be polite enough to bring the heroes a stand up fight.

Not surprisingly, the way to progress when your game gets to these levels involves communication. What kind of game does your group want? Do they want to get involved in the politics of nations? Would they prefer to face hazardous and exotic environments like the Wastes, Badlands, or Death’s Sea? Is there some long-term, truly epic goal that one (or more) of the characters wants to pursue, like the redemption of Blood Wood, or healing the Mad Passions of their corruption?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a high Circle game that involves beating up on ever bigger and badder foes. If that’s your thing, go for it! Personally, I think I would get bored with that. Instead, I would focus on the connections the characters have forged, and how their actions (past and present) affect the people in their lives. Present challenges that can’t easily be solved at the point of a blade or high damage spell.

Have the adepts discovered a forgotten kaer and led its residents into the light? Maybe it stands over (or within) a rich vein of true earth, and our heroes must watch out for the new village’s interests during negotiations with a Throalic mining guild.

Perhaps a living legend cult springs up based on the group’s exploits. These fans might be spreading the legend, but are they ultimately a help or a hindrance?

I think, perhaps more importantly than any other aspect of high Circle play, the success (or failure) of a game at that point relies on characters. Not just the player characters, but the gamemaster characters as well. If, over the course of the campaign, you have populated your game with varied and interesting people, and worked to make them matter to your players (as friends or foes), then you’ll have plenty of ways to challenge and motivate a high Circle group beyond just high numbers.