In order to run any RPG, it’s important to calibrate your expectation to the system’s rules. A lot of arguments, including edition wars, stem from people expecting a game to be good at one thing when it isn’t, or not noticing when a game transitions from one tier to another. There are many valid complaints about 3.X, but several of the complaints to do with the system stem from a misunderstanding of its tiers. Legendary blacksmiths from the real world are not level 20 experts, they are level 5. The greatest heroes of many fantasy worlds are between levels 5 and 10. Higher levels are the domain of demigods. This is one reason why epic level rules for 3.X often fail. They assume that level 20 is the pinnacle of heroic potence, but not near the realm of the gods. In truth, level 20 3.X characters are firmly in the realm of the gods, with the gods of most fantasy settings being in the neighborhood of levels 15-25. The Alexandrian has an excellent article on exactly this subject, so I will let that speak for itself.
We aren’t talking about 3.X, of course, so all of this is just to present an extreme example of how far off expectations can be from experience, and the harm that can do to the play experience. Later editions, including 5e, have sought to more closely model the expectation that the average fantasy world will go from level 1 to level 20, whereas in D&D 3.X most fantasy worlds went from level 1 to about level 8. In other words, 5e made 20th level characters much less powerful so that Aragorn and Conan can be level 20 characters instead of level 8.
To calibrate expectations for 5e, here is a chart showing various DCs and at what level characters can be expected to meet them. This gives us a much more solid grasp of what it really means to be level 5, 10, or 20 in 5e. Before we dive into the chart, though, let’s define some terms. Non-specialists are assumed to have either a good attribute bonus or proficiency, but not both. Specialists are assumed to have both a proficiency and a good attribute for their level. Experts have, in addition to the bonuses of a specialist, a double proficiency bonus from a race feature, class feature, or (particularly rarely) a feat. Generally speaking, only Rogues and Bards get expertise, but it’s reasonable to assume that an NPC blacksmith or the like would have this class feature without the rest of the Rogue or Bard class. 5e doesn’t have NPC classes like Expert, but if it did, Expertise would probably be one of the only class features that Experts got.
Continue reading “GM’s Guide: Ruling Guidelines for STR, DEX, and CON”