D&D Campaign Ideas That Start Out With High-Level Parties

Most Dungeons & Dragons games start with a party of level one characters, but what about a campaign that begins with a high-level group? Wizards of the Coast won't be releasing a D&D 5e book for epic characters, but there are plenty of ideas that can be used in a homebrew game. The reason why there isn't much high-level content for D&D is that games rarely last that long.

The majority of the D&D campaigns released over the years involve low-level to mid-level content. The main reason for this, especially during the 5e era, is that groups don't always finish their campaigns. Real-life tends to get in the way for a lot of people and personal or work commitments tend to take priority over D&D. This is why most of the 5e content is aimed at shorter campaigns that pack in a lot of content, as that is better suited for groups that may eventually grow apart. As such, groups tend not to reach high levels of play, as they never get the chance to climb the levels.

Related: When To Split Parties In D&D Campaigns (& When To Avoid It)

There's nothing stopping a group from starting with characters that are higher than level one, with some DMs even preferring this approach, as the characters will have more options in combat and be more durable. If most games never reach a high level of play through gradual means, then why not have a campaign where the characters start out as established heroes? Not only does this give players the chance to use some of D&D's best spells and abilities, but it can be used to set up an explosive opening act to a regular campaign. A level 20 D&D character might seem invincible, but there are plenty of high-level monsters that can bring them down a peg or two.

There is an AD&D campaign called Vecna Lives!, which started out with an amazing twist. Vecna Lives! is set in the world of Oerth from the Greyhawk campaign setting, which is home to an organization called the Circle of Eight. These are eight of the most powerful wizards in the setting, who work together in order to ensure that the balance of good and evil doesn't shift too far in either direction. At the beginning of Vecna Lives!, the players are given control over all of the members of the Circle of Eight, including Bibgy (18th level mage), Drawmij (16th level mage), Jallarzi Sallavarian (14th level mage), Nystul (16th level mage), Otiluke (16th level mage), Otto (14th level mage), Rary (23rd level mage), and Tenser (20th level mage).

The Circle of Eight journeys to the Kron Hills to investigate a powerful magical disturbance in the area. They enter the tomb of a king named Halmadar the Cruel, only to discover that he isn't quite dead. The Circle of Eight are slaughtered within the first few rounds of combat. Halmadar has both the Hand and Eye of Vecna, and he uses their powers to destroy eight of the strongest mages in Oerth. The player characters then wake up, having seen these events in their dreams, and it's up to them to stop Halmadar.

Related: D&D: Dragonlance Kender Race, Explained

Giving the players the chance to play high-level characters in D&D, only for them to fall in battle against a foe is a great way to set up the villain of a campaign. It shows how much of a threat the villain is off the bat and will set the players into action to stop them, even if they're currently outmatched. The high-level party might have fallen because they underestimated the villain, or the villain had an item that gave them the upper hand. The players are then armed with the knowledge that could help them overcome the villain, but they don't have the power of high-level characters anymore, so they're either going to have to get stronger or use their wits to try and win the day.

In D&D's older editions that predate 5e, one of the most common traits used by necromancers and undead monsters was negative levels. It was possible to temporarily drain a character's level through the use of necromancy, which was one of the most feared tactics that a DM could use against the party. Negative levels are no longer part of D&D, but their effect can be used by the DM as part of a unique campaign idea.

The concept for the campaign is that the players start out with level 20 characters, but fall under the effect of a curse that starts draining the powers. With each session, they drop another level. It's quickly discovered that these seemingly untouchable heroes are growing weaker by the day, and their enemies take advantage of the situation. The goal of the campaign is to find a way to reverse the curse, ending with a climactic level one dungeon, where once epic-tier heroes are forced to survive against goblins, kobolds, and spear traps that deal 1d6 damage. A similar concept to this was used in the Scourge campaign in Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne, where Prince Arthas' connection to the Lich King grows weaker, and his level lowers with each chapter.

The Tarrasque is one of the most powerful monsters in D&D. It's an unthinking engine of destruction, which can flatten a city and crush an empire beneath its bulk. There are many parties that have dreamed of being the ones to conquer the Tarrasque, but 600+ hit points, an AC of 25, and a long list of resistances/immunities tend to put players off.

A high-level campaign centered around the hunt for a Tarrasque could make for a short and fun experience, especially as Tarrasque's tend to be easy to find. A group simply coming up with a plan of action that involves all of the high-level abilities and spells that a 20th level character can bring to bear would be interesting for a group, as it's so rare for Dungeons & Dragons players to ever gain access to things like wish or time stop in a game.

Next: D&D: New Dragonlance Lunar Magic Sorcerer Subclass

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