There has been a lot of discussion on the subject of post 20th-level play on these forums. I do believe that such epic adventures are something that needs to be formalized and organized, but I am also keenly aware of the risk of turning the game into something where the raw numbers matter more than the role-playing. Today, I am offering to you the adaptation of some rules that I have long used in the games that I run instead of the Wizards of the Coast Epic Level Handbook. These rules shatter some preconceptions, so be warned that not everything I suggest you will like. As with all homebrew house-rules, these are completely optional. Use what you will, or use nothing at all. It is, after all, your game.
Achieving 20th-level is an incredible task that can require years of game-play (and decades within the campaign world itself). By this point in the development of your character, you have become a true force with which to be reckoned—adult dragons, outsiders, and minor godlings are all within the realm of creatures that you routinely challenge and overcome. But are there realms of play past 20th-level? The answer to that question is yes. There are a few caveats, however.
First of all, I believe that attaining 20 levels in a single core or base class represents mastering that class completely. There is little more that can be gained by progressing in the same fashion that you advanced in until now. No character can gain more than 20 levels in a single core or base class, or more than 10 levels in a prestige class. Advancement in the post-20 environment requires your character to multi-class and to open new horizons.
I base this decision on the various gods we saw developed for Living Greyhawk campaign world. Virtually of them possessed two classes, and no more than a handful had more than 20 levels in a single class. More often, they were 20th-20th, or something similar. If the Gods themselves are limited in such a fashion then so too should the players.
Player characters may freely advance up to 30th level without any additional restrictions. However, to progress past 30th-level, it requires something more than additional experience. In these realms, are found the ranks of hero deities and demi-gods, and so to gain your 31st level, your character must find a way (often the result of an epic quest) to become immortal. Should you accomplish this, you may continue to advance (at a slower and slower rate) until you reach 40th level, which is absolute limit for any being not yet a deity (and for most deities as well).
Use the standard Pathfinder experience tables, but double the required experience for each consecutive level after 20th. For example, if your group is using the medium progression, it took 1,050,000 XP to advance from 19th-level to 20th-level. It would thus take 2,100,000 XP to advance from 20th to 21st; 4,200,000 XP to advance from 21st to 22nd, and so on.
The accumulation of treasure greatly slows once epic levels are reached. An average 20th-level character should have a total of 880,000 gp worth of items and gear. Advancing to 21st-level will increase your total to 1,100,000 gp. Each additional level gained, a character should expect to accumulate another 100,000 gp worth of items. This means a 30th level character should expect somewhere around two million gold pieces in treasure and a 40th level character around three million (60,000 pounds—30 tons—if it were all converted into coinage; more than many kingdoms!).
Unlike the ELH, there are no epic magic items in this system; they simply cannot be made. I can hear the lamentation of players already, protesting this. But consider the following: since all classes are capped at 20th level, who exactly can craft epic level items as shown by Wizards of the Coast? You can’t make them, so they are not there. This also restores artifacts to their place as rare and truly wondrous, powerful items that should be treasured and not duplicated (in all but name) by an enterprising wizard or cleric.
The Rules of the Great Game of Immortals
Characters past 20th level are often referred to (in my campaign) as playing the Great Game. At these levels, characters are expected to be major movers and shakers in the campaign world, dealing with politics, threats, and intrigue almost more often than they spend fighting monsters. You see, the Gods do not want new demi-gods and hero-deities to arise; a new immortal would dilute their own power base. So while they only seldom intervene directly, expect your new epic level character to have divine obstacles placed directly (and indirectly) in his path.
When creating a post-20th-level character, there are several things you must keep in mind. First, Base Attack Bonus is capped at +20, and Base Saves are capped at +15. As you advance in your chosen second class (or prestige class), you may increase your character as normal, except that once your BAB reaches +20 and your base saves reach +15, they are forever after frozen. In a similar fashion, no character can exceed 20 ranks in a single skill. All other features (with the exception of Spellcasting, see below) are gained as normal. Feats are acquired every third level (21st, 24th, 27th, etc.) and you still gain a 1-point increase in an ability score of your choice every fourth level (24th, 28th, 32nd, etc).
Spell-casting classes are a little bit different here. In these rules, caster level is capped at 20th level as well. There are no such thing as 10th-level spell slots (or higher ones), and epic level spells are a myth. A Wizard might choose a prestige class (such as Loremaster or Mystic Theurge) that adds additional levels of spell-casting. He would still gain all the benefits listed in the class, except for the spell casting, where it would raise his caster level above 20th level.
Ah, yes, the gnashing of teeth. I can hear the wails as clear as day. I have done this to keep the campaign relatively in bounds: previous epic-level casters so outperformed everyone else that it made such a campaign difficult to run. What these caps allows is for players to still advance—to still enjoy taking their characters in a new direction—while keeping the numbers within reason to anyone used to running a high level game. Sure, by the time that the characters hit 30th level, nearly everyone should have a +20 BAB (except perhaps for a Wizard/Loremaster, which might only have a +15 or so) and should have base saves of at least +15, +12, and +12. The characters will have a greatly expanded range of skills and will have the features of at least two classes to draw upon.
You might need to tweak the Spell Resistance of certain critters—under these rules a cap of 35-40 on SR is pretty much needed to keep the players in the fight; although it should be noted there are a number of spells that don’t allow SR and would remain effective even if the critter has a higher spell resistance.
Hit points continue to advance as normal, so player characters will be extremely tough, even those with smaller hit die. This system also rewards players who don’t completely focus on a single ability score; while that Strength of 30 might be fun to play, but if you made your Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom 8’s in compensation, you are limiting your post-20th options.
Of course, some players might like running a 20th-level Barbarian, 10th-level Fighter; that character would certainly be more than able to handle himself in virtually any combat. But combat is not the end-all and be-all of an epic level campaign. DMs should remember this.
Not all of the feats in the ELH made their way into my campaign; and many of those that did were changed. For example, most of these feats can be taken by character prior to level 20. If you don’t a feat listed here, that means it went away. If any of the listed feats list another feat among its prerequisites, it also has all of that feat’s perquisites.
Armor Skin Prerequisites: Base Fort Save +9; Constitution 13.
Benefit: The character gains a +1 natural armor bonus to Armor Class, or his or her existing natural armor bonus increases by 1.
Special: A character can gain this feat up to five times. Its effects stack, to a maximum bonus of +5 to a character’s natural armor bonus.
Bonus Domain Prerequisites: Wis 15; ability to cast 4th-level divine spells.
Benefit: The character can choose an additional domain from his deity’s domain list. The character now has access to the bonus spells offered by this domain as well as the granted powers of the domain.
Special: A druid, paladin, ranger, or any other class able to cast divine spells that does not normally receive a domain can select this feat, gaining one domain. In the case of divine spell-casters that do not have a full 9th-level spell-casting progression, the character gains only those spells of levels that he is able to cast as bonus domain spells. He also gains 1 bonus slot of each spell level in which he may only prepare a domain spell.
Combat Archery Prerequisites: Dodge; Mobility; Point-Blank Shot; Weapon Focus (bow or crossbow).
Benefit: You no longer provoke attacks of opportunity for using a bow or crossbow when threatened.
Damage Reduction Prerequisites: Base Attack Bonus +10; Con 15.
Benefit: You gain damage reduction 2/-. This does not stack with damage reduction granted by magic items or nonpermanent magical effects, but it does stack with any damage reduction granted by permanent magical effects, class features, or this feat itself.
Exceptional Deflection Prerequisites: Dex 15; Wis 15; Deflect Arrows; Combat Reflexes; Improved Unarmed Strike.
Benefit: The character can deflect a number of attacks (as per the feat Deflect Arrows) equal to 1 plus his Dexterity modifier (minimum of 1) each round.
Extended Life-span Benefit: Add one-half the maximum result of the character’s race’s maximum age modifier to the character’s normal middle age, old, and venerable age categories. Calculate the character’s maximum age using the new venerable number. This feat can’t lower the character’s current age category.
Familiar Spell Prerequisites: Int 15 or Cha 15; character must possess a familiar; ability to cast 5th-level arcane spells; Eschew Materials.
Benefit: The character chooses two 0-level and one 1st-level spell that he knows. The character’s familiar can now cast these spells twice each per day as spell-like abilities, at a caster level equal to the character’s caster level. A character cannot bestow a spell to his or her familiar if the spell normal has a material component cost of more than 1 gp. If the spell has an XP cost, the character pays the cost each time the familiar uses that spell-like ability.
Special: A character can gain this feat multiple times. The second time the character selects this feat he can give his familiar a second 1st-level spell and one 2nd-level spell as a spell-like ability. Each additional time the feat is selected, the familiar gains two spell-like abilities (one of the highest level spell-like that the familiar was granted through the use of this feat and the second of a single spell one level higher, up to a maximum of the highest level spell the character can cast).
Magical Attunement (Amulet) Prerequisites: Base Will Save +9; 10 ranks in Spellcraft.
Benefit: You gain the ability to wear and gain the effect of an additional magical amulet, necklace, periapt, or phylactery, for a total of two of these items in the neck slot.
Magical Attunement (Ring) Prerequisites: Base Will Save +9; 10 ranks in Spellcraft.
Benefit: You gain the ability to wear and gain the effect of an additional magical ring, for a total of three of these items in the ring slot (s).
Special: A character can gain this feat twice, allowing him to simultaneously wear and gain the effect of up to four magical rings.
Master Staff Prerequisites: Craft Staff; Spellcraft 15 ranks.
Benefit: When the character activates a staff, he or she can substitute a spell slot instead of using a charge. The spell slot must be one the character has not used for the day. The spell slot lost must be equal to or higher in level than the specific spell stored in the staff, including any level-increasing metamagic enhancements. A character cannot emulate a charge for a staff function that does not match a specific spell.
Master Wand Prerequisites: Craft Wand; Spellcraft 12 ranks.
Benefit: When the character activates a wand, he or she can substitute a spell slot instead of using a charge. The spell slot must be one the character has not used for the day. The spell slot lost must be equal to or higher in level than the specific spell stored in the wand, including any level-increasing metamagic enhancements. A character cannot emulate a charge for a wand function that does not match a specific spell. In addition, the character can apply his spell-casting ability score (Int for Wizards, Cha for Sorcerers, Wis for Clerics or Druids, etc.) to the DC to save against the spell (if any).
Metamagic Mastery Prerequisites: Any five metamagic feats; ability to cast 6th-level arcane or divine spells.
Benefit: You learn to ease the stress on your mind when you prepare (or apply, for spontaneous casters) a metamagic feat to a spell. The level increase of any metamagic feat that you learn is decreased by 1 (to a minimum of 0). For example, preparing a Silent Fireball after selecting this feat requires a 3rd-level slot, not a 4th. Preparing a Quickened Dimension Door after selecting this feat requires a 7th-level slot, not an 8th.
Special: A character can gain this feat up to four times. The effects stack.
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