Epic Level Handbook
Featuring Andy Collins, Bruce Cordell, and Thomas Reid
Tuesday, August 27th, 2002
The following text about the Epic Level Handbook was transcribed from a special Wizards of the Coast online community chat session. Take a look at what questions the fans asked designers Andy Collins, Bruce Cordell, and Thomas Reid, and see what these guests answered!
wizo_dabus: Welcome, everyone, to the Epic Level Handbook chat, featuring Andy Collins, Bruce Campbell, and Thomas Reid. Do you have any opening comments before I open up the queue for questions?
Bruce: I'd just like to say that working on the Epic Level Handbook was one of the most satisfying products I've worked on recently.
Thomas: Well, my job was originally going to be to design an epic-level adventure to follow the Epic Level Handbook, but that changed to me adding to what Bruce and Andy did in order to make the book larger. So, my work revolved around creating more monsters, spells, magic items, and the city of Union. Andy and Bruce did all the mechanics work, and I just worked with their system. However, jumping into their playground was a lot of fun. I wrote the adventure material, too.
Andy: Thomas was a real trooper, pitching in to add content in various sections as needed by the book's ever-expanding page count. Before he showed up, it was a measly 220-230 pages or so. But thanks to his design work, we cranked it up over 300 pages! Without Thomas coming in, we never would have been able to do epic prestige classes. So, let's get into those questions.
josh_kablack: As much as I like the book overall, I have a few concerns. One of the big issues seems to be whether the epic monsters have appropriate challenge ratings. Do you have any insights from playtesting about this?
Andy: The CRs for epic monsters are based on our "best guesses," which are in turn derived from playtesting and general experience with the rules themselves. It's all but impossible to "nail down" a CR at that level because of the widely diverging powers and abilities of characters.
Bruce: However, we're fairly happy with the CRs for critters under CR 30. We had a pretty good handle on playtesting and methods of assigning CR. Creatures higher than that get to be more complicated and can certainly be thought of as part of a range. And our editor, Penny Williams, put all their stats through the wringer.
k_tetsuko: I've noticed that many of the epic feats have nonepic cousins that do similar things, such as Improved Manifestation and Transcend Limits from If Thoughts Could Kill. How should a DM handle nonepic feats that do what certain epic feats can do?
Andy: We were smart enough to design the monsters well after the basic epic rules were completed, so there wasn't a lot of rule tinkering after the fact. There are certainly plenty of "epic" feats that are probably OK even in nonepic games. As always, a DM has the right to OK anything in the game.
dinubabear: Should the Divine Emissary requirement be total Attack Bonus +23? How is a BAB +23 possible? I thought it ended at +20 if you were a fighter and less for others.
Andy: Future errata may tell you to treat the sum of BAB and Epic Attack Bonus as your BAB for the purpose of qualifying for anything, including prestige classes. So a character with BAB +20 and EAB +3 would meet the criteria of needing a BAB +23 to qualify.
dragona42185: I haven't noticed this anywhere in the book, but is there a way to make the creatures from the Monster Manual challenges for epic-level campaigns? I think many DMs probably don't want to give up their favorite horde of raiding goblins for an epic game.
Andy: Well, there's no reason you couldn't have a few epic-level goblins, though a horde of them is probably a bit far-fetched. Many creatures have "advancement" ranges that could put them into the range of epic challenges as well.
shamara: In the Monster Manual, damage reduction is a supernatural ability that can be suppressed in an antimagic field. Epic spells cast at 31st-level always work in antimagic fields. So, do antimagic fields let PCs remove a monster's DR yet keep the player character's spells up?
Andy: Yes, an antimagic field would suppress DR but wouldn't automatically suppress epic-level spells. See page 73 in the Epic Level Handbook for the scoop on antimagic fields and epic spells.
jean-claude_gasteaux: What is your official stance on epic-level feats and the ability scores needed to qualify for them? Does a character actually need to have that base score or can items be added to the base score in order for them to qualify?
Andy: It's the same as for regular feats. If you have the ability score (including long-term enhancements, such as magic items), you qualify for the feat. Of course, if you lose the item, you'd lose the ability to use the feat.
dilliusardo: Was it meant for the demilich template's supernatural flight to be able to be disabled by an antimagic field or does it's magic immunity keep its flight from being nullified?
Bruce: This will be some minor clarification in the errata, but yes, the lich retains its movement.
k_tetsuko: Is there a system for determining starting equipment for levels above 40?
Bruce: Yes, but you'll have to extrapolate the table on page 23.
dragona42185: Could a player use the NPCs provided in the book, perhaps slightly modified or something?
Bruce: PCs could play them, but they are woefully short on equipment. You'd want to give the cash appropriate to their level. Right now, they have NPC equipment.
dilliusardo: When exactly is the permanent effect of creating an epic-level spell supposed to apply? At what point in the addition and subtraction do you multiply by five?
Bruce: Very good questions, since eight or nine of the epic spells had this order incorrect. The order is important, and this is it: seeds, factors, then multipliers. Only after multipliers have been applied can you apply mitigating factors.
rajak: With the mention of Sigil, the Believers of the Source, and the Infinite Staircase in the Epic Level Handbook, is that a possible hint that the Wizards of the Coast will possibly someday bring back the Planescape material updated for 3rd Edition?
Bruce: It is not impossible, but it is not currently being planned. But, we're all big fans of this setting. The business team makes these decisions, though.
dinubabear: There was disagreement on the boards about a 20th-level wizard that gained 20 levels of fighter having less BAB than a fighter that gained levels in wizard. Is order supposed to be important?
Andy: Once you've hit 20th-level, your BAB and base save bonuses never increase. So the order is important. A 20th-level fighter has BAB +20, Fort +12, Ref +6, Will +6. A 20th-level wizard has BAB +10, Fort +6, Ref +6, Will +6. So a fighter who then gained 20 wizard levels would have BAB +20 and epic attack bonus +10, for a total of +30. While a 20th-level wizard who then gained 20 levels of fighter would have BAB +10 and epic +10, for a total of +20.
josh_kablack: One of the other areas of confusion and concern seems to be the system for creating epic spells. Was the possibility of using epic spellcasting to mimic low- to mid-level spells that had been made permanent by using a ritual or taking damage instead of expending XP intentional or not?
Bruce: If you can make an epic spell duplicate the effects of an actual spell, then it is not a loophole -- go for it. You have to pay for the development, and often the casting, of your epic spells. Rarely will you find that it is better to use up epic spell slots for something that you can accomplish with regular spells. But, of course, you have that option.
josh_kablack: Are there established ways for changing a duration of a spell from permanent to instantaneous, instead of expending XP?
Bruce: There is not a factor to do this. It would probably require an ad hoc factor to do, and a fairly hefty one. If I were to estimate, off the cuff, I'd say it could even be a multiplier effect, say x2 or x3.
jean-claude_gasteaux: Are there any plans to release a module for epic-level play or will Dungeon Magazine be the only source?
Bruce: Dungeon Magazine has done one and may do others. We don't currently have plans, but then again, you never know. Of course, Bastion of Broken Souls extends to epic levels (plug! plug!).
Andy: I also wouldn't be surprised to see the epic rules enter the SRD at some point in the future, though this is pure speculation on my part.
shamara: The official FAQ says you can stack the Empower Spell feat to increase damage. The Epic Enhance Spell feat requires you to pick the feat each time to get stacking bonuses. Should Empower Spell be taken more than once to stack it, too?
Andy: Nope. They're different feats, and they work differently.
dragona42185: Is the Epic Level Handbook meant to be similar to the AD&D Immortals book?
Andy: Not really. It's not about playing divine characters, but rather about playing characters who, though mortal, are pulling off tricks beyond what "normal" characters can accomplish. In fact, we specifically identified the Immortals set from previous editions of D&D as something we didn't want to duplicate -- a set of rules that made you completely relearn what your character could do and how to play the game. We figured if you'd been playing for 20 levels, you liked the rules pretty much the way they were and weren't really interested in playing a different game.
Bruce: Andy was a proponent of allowing you to continue building on what you had learned the previous 20 levels and his core class system for the Epic Level Handbook shows this.
k_tetsuko: Genesis in the Epic Level Handbook has an XP cost. Does this version replace the version of genesis in the Psionics Handbook, which, as far as I know, doesn't have an XP cost.
Andy: Not according to the Psionics Handbook I'm looking at, though the spells look identical. To be honest, I'm not sure where the spell on page 117 of Epic Level Handbook came from!
Bruce: Okay, I'd say the jury is out on that. It could well be that this is the case. This was also done in Defenders of the Faith. But, the Psionics Handbook version was first. I'm not sure which way we'll end up going. Generally, we want spells and powers of the same name to be the same. But, speaking of what was first, genesis was adapted from an AD&D spell.
rajak: If a monster or character has the capability to cast 9th-level spell-like abilities and has the 24 ranks in Knowledge (arcana), is that enough requirement to take up the Epic Spellcasting feat?
Bruce: Not automatically. It would have to be a special feature of the monster.
Andy: Spell-like abilities aren't necessarily the same as spells. Now, that said, if I had a monster that could cast 9th-level spell-like abilities and met the other prerequisites, I'd certainly feel no qualms about giving it the feat if that fit my game.
Bruce: Yeah, they're "awarded" less stringently than how a spellcaster gains his or her spells.
Andy: Neither of those books requires you to own the Epic Level Handbook. It's true that Monster Manual II has quite a lot of high-CR monsters, and that the archfiends in Book of Vile Darkness are pretty darn tough . . .
Bruce: But, Book of Vile Darkness has monsters that were fine-tuned using knowledge gained through epic-level monster design.
Andy: Exactly. For instance, one could look at the credits for Deities and Demigods, the Epic Level Handbook, and Book of Vile Darkness and find David Noonan as editor on all three, suggesting that he might have had a hand in allowing them to "talk" to each other a bit.
josh_kablack: I thought that it was a great idea to include the suggestions and options for handling time stop at epic level. But, as a DM, I would have liked some advice for dealing with a few similar spells at these levels. Can you provide some helpful hints in dealing with gate in an epic-level game?
Bruce: I'm assuming the problem is in calling creatures. In many cases, the limit on being able to control only twice your level in HD is effective. Abominations are partly divine, and so they are not subject to gate.
Andy: Personally, I think that gate and the various planar ally spells should have XP costs, and the "reward" required should be significantly higher (more like 1,000 gp per HD). If you dropped a 1,000 XP hit for every gate spell, and required 1,000 gp per HD reward (minimum), that'd probably reduce abuse.
wizo_dabus: On behalf of our patrons, I'd like to thank all three of you for an excellent D&D supplement. Any final words, folks?
Andy: It's been really exciting to see the enthusiastic reception the book's gotten. To be honest, I hadn't expected it to make quite as big a splash as it has. It was definitely the most challenging product I'd worked on to that date.
Bruce: The Epic Level Handbook is something any player might want, when he or she sees a character's level rising toward 20. I'm glad I could be a part of it and work with designers like Andy Collins, Thomas Reid, James Wyatt, and John Rateliff.
wizo_dabus: Thank you all for coming. Thank you, Andy, Bruce, and Thomas for speaking with us today!
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