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Dungeon Master's Options: High-Level Campaigns
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Dungeon Master's Options: High-Level Campaigns

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What's a DM to do when the player characters in his campaign become so powerful that nothing in the 'world is a challenge for them anymore? Just what are the essential ingredients in an adventure geared toward high-level play? Here is a trove of advice and new rules for every AD&D game Dungeon Master who wishes to create adventures for truly legendary heroes. Find everything you need to create encounters that confound the craftiest wizard and chill the most valiant warrior's heart. Discover the power of True Dweomers, the mightiest spells ever. Build new realities for your heroes to explore. Learn how to conduct magical duels and oversee the creation of magical items. Expand the horizons of your Wing experience with High-Level Campaigns!

Product History

Dungeon Master Option: High-Level Campaigns (1995), by Skip Williams, is a core AD&D 2.5e rulebook. It was published in August 1995.

Origins (I): AD&D 2.5. In 1995, TSR kicked off a initiative that's now known as AD&D 2.5e. A revised Player's Handbook (1995) and Dungeon Master Guide (1995) led the way with new black-bordered covers and updated layout. However, the "optional" core rulebooks that followed over the next year were more important. The Player's Options books are best known: Combat & Tactics (1995), Skills & Powers (1995), and Spells & Magic (1996). There was a DM Option book too, and though a large part of the book featured GMing advice, the rules sections were just as important to the expansion of AD&D 2.5e as the new mechanics found in the Player Option books.

Origins (II): A History of High-Level Play. D&D wasn't created as a "high level" fantasy game. In OD&D, the fighting man experience charts went up to 9th level, magic-users went up to 11th level, and clerics went up to 8th level. Demihumans had restrictions that were both lower and more rigid. Elves could only become 4th level fighters or 8th level magic users, while dwarves were restricted to 6th level.

However, the formulas for level gain were actually open-ended — for humans at least. The rules clearly said there was "no theoretical limit to how high a character may progress". Simple formula told players how to keep improving their characters level by level … but unlimited gain wasn't necessarily what Gary Gygax intended. He wrote about this in The Strategic Review v2 #2 (April 1976), saying "There are no monsters to challenge the capabilities of 30th level lords, 40th level patriarchs, and so on." More notably, after calculating average experience gains based on 50-75 sessions a year(!), Gygax said "As Blackmoor is the only campaign with a life of five years, and Greyhawk with a life of four is the second longest running campaign, the most able adventurers should not yet have attained 20th level except in the two named campaigns. To my certain knowledge no player in either Blackmoor or Greyhawk has risen above 14th level."

Early published adventures tended to precisely match the maximums of those early D&D campaigns. Q1: "Queen of the Demonweb Pits" (1980), one of the highest-level adventures in the first decade of D&D, was for levels 10-14. Similarly, the Expert-level Basic D&D rules ran from level 4-14.

Frank Mentzer offered the first high-level expansion of D&D play. His BECMI Basic D&D rules (1983-1986) included Companion Rules (1984) and Master Rules (1985) that took players from level 15-25, then 26-36. Afterward the Immortal Rules (1986) offered another 36 levels of play for god-like Immortals. These three bands of high-level play were all carefully constructed to offer those new challenges that Gygax said OD&D had lacked.

The AD&D rules that were being published simultaneously with the BECMI rules kept OD&D's mid-teen limits, but they eventually leveled up in the "H" High-level adventures (1985-1988) adventures. The last of these, H4: "Throne of Bloodstone" (1988), allowed players to play as either 19th or 100th level characters, but it was clear that the latter was a weird one-off. It was the highest-level D&D adventure ever — but not necessarily an expansion of normal D&D play.

When AD&D 2e (1989) came along, it removed the messy and open-ended rules for higher level AD&D play, and instead replaced it was a clear-cut set of levels, from 1 to 20. It would be the basis of "normal" D&D play for a few decades afterward.

Expanding D&D. High-Level Campaigns mainly focuses on GM advice, but there's also a weird motley of new rules, including creating magic items, fighting magic duels, and using true dweomers, which are spells past 9th level.

However, the important heart of the book is the rules for high-level play, which move characters from level 20 to level 30. As usual in these old-school games, demihumans get the short end of the stick; almost 25 years after the advent of D&D, the rules still say: "Demihuman advancement limits are a fact of life". For everyone else, various abilities become more potent and characters also get access to new "high-level skills".

The Road to D&D 3e. The AD&D 2.5e books (1995-1997) are often credited with holding the first seeds of D&D 3e (2000) and that's also true for High-Level Campaigns. Mechanics for creating magic items and having an epic level of play from level 21-30 both returned in 3e, though not necessarily in this same form. Instead it's the "high-level skill" system which seems the most influential.

Skip Williams' new skills have requirements (such as a minimum level or another skill) and allow for rather extensive new powers — not just simple skill rolls, like low-level skills. In other words, they're the clear predecessor of the feats that would debut in D&D 3e.

About the Creators. Skip Williams was a very long-time TSR employee who really came into his own as a creator from 1994-1996, when this book was written. Perhaps more notably, he would soon become part of the design team behind D&D 3rd edition, explaining the migration of some of these ideas.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to

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W.S. Y September 05, 2019 2:43 am UTC
Is this OCR'd, bookmarked, and searchable?
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CA M October 21, 2016 12:26 am UTC
Did they ever re-scan this? No need to waste money on a bad product.
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