New Game Plus - What do you do when the PCs hit max level?

I am running Stars Without Number: Revised and my players are around Level 8-10. SWN being heavily influenced by Moldvay and Traveller, leads to rather powerful PCs at such high levels. The players worked hard to get to that level and should reap the rewards of having graduated from amatuer adventure to galactic hero, but I dont want things to become to ridiculous.

I am looking for alternate rewards for leveling up or rather for "gaining experience".

So far I am considering:
- permission to roll up a second character and play both
- resetting the level of your current character, but gaining access to "Advanced Moves"
- rewards of status, influence or property. especially since SWN already has its own Faction minigame
- cappping leveling up, but awarding special abilities instead

Are there other games that I can steal ideas from? Or do you have ideas that haven't occured to me? Thanks in advance.


  • Retirement, with the ability to bestow different special abilities than normally available upon others.
  • edited April 2019
    There are a set of traditional answers attached to the game's heritage in old school D&D. Here's a list of the fundamental options:
    * End the campaign, as it's been successfully finished. Maybe end with some sort of climatic scenario.
    * Retire the characters, start new ones. Optionally do this via character stable shenanigans, flexibly over time.
    * Infinite ascension, just level up more and more. Curtail the effects of level-up in your preferred manner, perhaps call the level at which curtailment kicks in the "name level".

    Your succinct description of the campaign particulars makes me think that you would favour that last solution in some form - I read your game as being relatively character-attached here. The traditional D&D approach to curtailing things so they don't get "too crazy" (that is, so the characters don't grow mechanically too powerful for the setting) is to have characters who reach the name level drop off into an alternate level-up cycle that limits things somewhat.

    The reader might be more familiar with the popular 3rd edition D&D variant E6, by the way: it's basically an AD&D name level arrangement for 3rd edition, except better designed.

    The traditional gygaxian scheme has these four core properties:
    * Characters do not gain any more hit dice after name level. Instead they gain a few hit points per level, like one or two or whatever.
    * XP requirements stop growing geometrically and instead go linear: 100 000 xp per level, basically.
    * Various class abilities continue improving, including hit bonuses and such.
    * Non-human characters literally hit a level cap at name level and won't progress any more because of obscure reasons that are unlikely to apply to any given campaign.

    Now, I don't favour the mechanical particulars of the gygaxian scheme, but the basic idea isn't that bad for a lively campaign that wants to keep going on and on: declare a specific level at which the player characters have "arrived" and revamp all the advancement logic from that point onward. I would very much favour including the retirement option in this arrangement as well, on the principle that lower-level adventurers are more interesting than high-level characters, but whatever floats your boat is obviously what you should do. My personal ideal would be to have the name level characters only do "important" adventures while lesser servant/companion figures take care of lesser concerns, stable-play style. So most of the time you'd play your new low-level crew, but when the galaxy is really threatened, you call out the real heroes.

    As for the mechanical specifics, I won't pretend that I remember all the nuances of the SWN rules (is the revised edition different from the original?), but it's basically Basic D&D in space, isn't it? If so, perhaps something like this would be more elegant than what we get in AD&D:
  • edited April 2019
    Elegant Name Level for Basic D&D, a sketch

    Regardless of class, a character who achieves a full one million experience points (or half a million if you'd like - I just like the round number) hits "name level". Revamp the class advancement table so that any cool capstone abilities are achieved at that point. Also finesse the xp limit for the last level before this threshold so that it's one million instead of whatever it would've been; it's more clear that way. So e.g. a Fighter goes 250k, 500k and then 1 million, or however you figure it. The traditional finessing involves doing small arbitrary roundings in the level xp limits to avoid funny numbers - in many D&D charts Fighters indeed hit e.g. the 250k limit at some point, which wouldn't occur if you straight out kept doubling that initial 2k limit.

    Consider adding extra campaign-specific name level gimmicks to classes to emphasize the idea that this character has ascended to mythic proportions. Gygax, for example, had your character earn a castle and become a prince of the land at this level, or start up your own criminal organization if you're a thief - stuff like that. But it could be something totally different for some other campaign, like this is the point where Superman invites you into the Justice League.

    The core significance of name level is that it slows down character advancement a lot. I offer here my own suggestions as to how, exactly:

    Achieving more levels: After the one million xp you continue gaining levels linearly, with each level costing an extra 100k xp. So if your class's specific name level would be the 9th (this depends on the class's experience factor), then 10th would be at 1.1 million, 11th at 1.2 million, and so on. Neat, and it's the same for all classes now, unlike before. You could even "reset the XP" at a million and just start counting again from zero, as the million points to reach the name level are implicit in the name level itself. You might want to renumber these new levels, calling them "name dans" or whatever - so instead of 12th the character is "3rd name dan". (Doing that helps compare two name-level characters based on how much over name level they are; I personally think that this is more meaningful than their total level, considering how different classes fit more or less levels in before the name level.)

    Hit points: You do not gain any more hit dice after name level, but you get to reroll your hit dice to improve your hit point score - if you roll more than your current total, your points improve. You might also consider adding a +1 point per extra level to the total, but I wouldn't bother myself - Gygax does that for no reason I can discern.

    Other abilities: Most character advancement should cease here, frankly speaking. The post-name levels are relatively cheap at 100k xp each, and the entire point of this scheme is to slow down character advancement without doing a "level cap". When designing your after-game advancement pay close attention to class abilities that scale by level - those should be changed to scale by HD, meaning that they stop advancing at name level. The kind of explosive growth that characterized the early levels should end here.

    On the other hand, you do want to maintain some minor sense of achievement in the post-name advancement, so get elbow-deep into those character classes and consider it carefully. Also, non-class-dependent advancement options might be considered. It's a given that prestige classes are a no-go because we specifically want to stop advancing, but anything that doesn't fundamentally ruin the character as an adventurer is an option.

    Some examples of how various classes could still advance in the after-name game:
    * More hit bonus and extra attacks and such traditionally continue up after name level, but I'd reconsider that: if you stop giving out hit bonus, you can also stop making the monsters artificially stronger all the time. Very healthy to put a stop to that at some point. Instead, grant extra damage! A fighter-type class might start giving out "mighty blow dice" after name level, each worth 1d6 extra damage, that the player gets to allocate freely on each adventure. A neat way to continue improving as a combatant without being lame.
    * Caster types traditionally continue getting higher and higher level spells, and more slots. TSR routinely "stretched out" the caster tables specifically so you'd always be pursuing that elusive 9th level magic. Instead of doing that, consider stopping the magic where it is, perhaps establish epic level ritual magic rules, and only give post-name wizards more spell slots. They still get "more powerful" with those spell slots without becoming something completely different in the process.
    * Get a +1 HD after all, getting one more real level-up! I would make this something that doesn't come automatically, but rather only after a fundamentally personal and grievous quest. And you could only ever get it one time after name level - after that you're really, truly as high as you can go in basic advancement.
    * Treat after-name advancement as more of a social thing, so grant advancing characters fame and "dollhousing" privileges. These won't make them more effective adventurers, but they could allow the character to reach more interesting adventures or simply have a more pleasant retirement: essentially, give retirement bennies instead of adventuring bennies. For example, maybe the player gets to dictate one thing about the character's lifestyle at every level-up without the usual dicing bullshit.
    * Ability score shenanigans are a possibility, depending on how you treat them in the campaign in general. If it feels "right" for characters to improve their scores a bit slowly over time, then by all means go for it. Just don't go over-board.
    * Pick up special skills, feats, multi-classing that does not make the character more powerful, but does make them more flexible. You need to be able to distinguish between "power" and "flexibility" to be able to do mechanize this correctly, but it's not that difficult once you get the basic gist. If the class implementation involves characters having to choose between alternate paths through the class, this is a good way to let them pick up stuff they left behind earlier - for example, make your thief be both an acrobat and a trap-maker with post-name progression instead of having to be one or the other.

    Ultimately you'll want to strike a happy compromise between still counting score, still advancing, but also slowing down and orienting the game towards wider-level concerns than the endless adventure treadmill. You want something where after-name advancement is not a life or death question: a 15th level character should be essentially as powerful as a 25th level one. I feel that a D&D that hits name level and doesn't care is something of a failure, personally: your characters should at some level grow out of the adventuring role. That's one thing I will not criticize Gygax for: he may have failed in imparting the idea to the play culture, but I think he understood very well that adventurers must at some point grow up and become something else. That's what all this name level rigamarole tries to capture.
  • For SWN (great game!) specifically, the PCs now can take part of the faction turn. There is the "Darkness Visible" supplement if they want to run a spy agency instead of, or in addition to, a normal faction
  • Some great ideas here. I’d look at ways for the characters to address their retirement, as well as ways to influence the wider world.

    Taking part of the faction turn in SWN sounds like a fantastic idea!

    Freebooting Venus had a set of rules for “advancement” which were all about improving your character’s status and lifestyle/comfort. That kind of thing could be really great. You can establish an estate or a mercantile business.

    If you intend to continue the campaign indefinitely, then some set of rules of procedures for “passing on your legacy” to a new character could be really nice.

    Perhaps a high-level wizard can starting researching and developing new first-level spells (complete with slapping their name on them!) which new characters will now have access to.

    Finally, you can explore entirely extra-diegetic concerns and questions. Perhaps the player with the highest-level character becomes the GM for the next campaign, for example. Or you get to make some other important decisions about what’s happening with the gaming group. (Perhaps writing up a new race or class, stuff like that - especially nice for a sense of legacy if it’s based on that high-level character.)
  • Thank you for the great replies!

    The game is indeed rather character-attached and has become so more and more as the campaign went along. Our XP homerules might be a big factor in that, but the basic DnD-ness hopefully remains.

    This is what I came up with today and am pretty satisfied with:

    After Level 10: Named Levels
    Before you proceed, consider retiring your character. They have now outgrown their adventurer life and deserve some rest. If you still wish to continue playing them be aware that they will now have to contend with different challenges than before. They have simply become too important to the campaign setting.

    After the 10th level normal character advancement ceases. You now gain a named level for every 24 XP you earn. This changes the following things:

    Gaining Hit Points: You no longer gain additional HD, but you still reroll your HD every time you gain a named level.

    Improving AB: You no longer improve your AB.

    Improving Saving Throws: You no longer improve your Saving Throws.

    Additionally for every named level you gain, you may pick one of the following advancements:

    Faction: The first time you choose this advancement your character creates a faction. When you choose this advancement again, you may choose between improving your faction or creating an additional one.

    Renown: Your reputation precedes you, together with the GM work out what your reputation is. Every time you choose this advancement increase your Renown by 1. You may now add your Renown as a Bonus to any social Skill Checks where it is an advantage, but the GM may also apply it as a Penalty in social Skill Checks where it is a disadvantage.

    Influence: Every time you take this advancement choose a Faction, you gain 1 Influence with them. You may now add your Influence as a Bonus to any social Skill Checks when dealing with this faction.
  • I hope to encourages them to take a more active role in interstellar politcs. And who knows maybe "stable play" might be more appealing to them once they have set up their current characters with something lasting.

    I also love @Paul_T's idea of getting to add classes, spells or special abilities, but I fear my players might not be quite as enthusiatic about the design part of the hobby as I am.
  • edited April 2019
    That sounds pretty nice! How about you tie in making a new character related to those factions, influences, or reputations? Maybe the new character gets to benefit from some of that influence, or so forth. Maybe that player gets to make characters out of NPCs they meet?

    Also: making those new classes and what not… They don’t necessarily have to write them up themselves. It’s just important that they get the privilege of them coming into existence.

    Can they have a shipp named after them, or something like that, for example? A new weapon designed?
  • Really great, Babes!
    Looks like it'll work really well
  • One idea that fascinates me is earning the right to create characters with certain positions or certain connections. Perhaps, for example, when you earn influence with an organization, that means that players can now create a character within that organization. Interesting stuff! As you play, you earn the possibility of creating characters who have access to different parts of the campaign, different knowledge, or different aspects of the universe.
  • Having better “starting positions” is a fantastic idea and would encourage stable play. I’ll have to find a way to implement that.

    I dislike the idea of awarding the right to name things. It feels somewhat condescending, I don’t want the creative input to be something that must be earned.

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