Epic Level Handbook

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Epic Level Handbook

Author: Andy Collins & Bruce R. Cordell
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Publish Date: 07/2002
ISBN: 0-7869-2658-9
Pages: 319
Rating: 8 out of 10
Retail Price: $39.95

 

I bought my copy of Epic Level Handbook off the shelf when it first came out. It’s a very big, heavy book, so I figured that I’d get a lot of use out of it. Unfortunately, my understanding of the core rules wasn’t very good at the time, so the new rules for epic-level progression confused me. I ended up putting this book on the shelf and only taking it out when I needed stats for extremely powerful monsters. I recently picked it back up and gave it a read through, and I’m happy to say that my knowledge of the core rules must have gotten infinitely better since my last attempt.

 

The core rules only give level progressions for characters to 20th level. Most campaign worlds assume that by the time a character reaches 20th level, he’s probably one of the most powerful individuals on the planet. But that isn’t true of all worlds, and it certainly isn’t true of those who give up adventuring across a world in favor of adventuring across all the various planes of existence. Enter Epic Level Handbook. By design, this book gives rules for level progression from level 21st and above, literally to infinite levels. The first chapter of this book details exactly how to do that, and it’s simpler than I had originally thought it would be. Patters for advancement are established so that characters from any class or combination of classes from Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide and Psionics Handbook can continue advancing in levels once they reach the limit of the core rules. Additionally, a few new prestige classes designed specifically for epic levels are presented. The reader must bare in mind while reading this chapter that this book was written long before the v3.5 revision, so certain allowances for changes in skills must be made. As well, it proceeded the release of the updated Expanded Psionics Handbook, so that is a concern as well. It was nice to read a book from so long ago because it didn’t try to pimp out any of the classes or races from the various splatbooks that WotC released (a trend that became extremely popular in later books). That said, I think the epic prestige classes weren’t very well-defined at all. There is little justification for the power they get, aside from ‘epic characters should be powerful.

 

Chapter 1 continues with an expanded progression for the Leadership feat into epic levels. This progression also allows characters with the Leadership feat to continue gaining followers to infinite levels. A nice touch in this chapter was a large list of expanded skill DCs for epic (read: impossible) tasks, such as swimming up a raging waterfall or tip-toeing across a cloud. Afterward, this chapter presents the largest collection of feats I’ve seen in any book at one time. Well over 150 new feats are presented, including a great many epic feats, powerful feats that can be taken only upon reaching 21st level. Once again, the reader is cautioned that some changes may need to be made to bring some of this material in line with the v3.5 revision, but in this instance, those are actually very minor changes.

 

The second chapter deals exclusively with epic spellcasting. After 20th level, spellcasters don’t actually continue to gain spell slots. Instead, they gain the ability to cast epic spells in addition to their existing spell slots. This is done via Spellcraft checks, and is very, very difficult to actually pull off. For example, the epic spell epic mage armor requires that a DC 46 Spellcraft check be made to cast the spell each time it’s cast, and it’s one of the easier epic spells listed in the book. The book gives plenty of examples, but best of all, it gives the reader the tools needed to create his own epic spells, mixing and matching effects. Money and XP are required in massive quantities to develop epic spells, and even after being developed, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to cast them when they’re needed (the Spellcraft check). This cost and uncertainty of casting is well worth it, however, for the kind of power that epic spells can produce. Literally any effect is possible over any distance and affecting any area.

 

Chapter 3 is relatively short, but it’s an important chapter. It teaches the DM how to run an epic game, starting with how to integrate epic-level PCs and NPCs into the game if there has been no such contact before the PCs reach 21st level. It addresses several valid concerns, such as the ready availability of wish spells, or how to mitigate the effects of timestop. A new table for city demographics updates that found in Dungeon Master’s Guide and details a new class of city, the planar metropolis (places such as The City of Brass or Sigil). Advice on how to best run a game where the PCs are the biggest badasses on the block are given, as is advice for keeping them from being the biggest badasses on the block without killing them outright.

 

Chapter 4 deals with epic magic items. The core rules limit magic items based on the bonus they grant. A bonus to attack, damage or armor generally can’t be higher than +5, and a bonus to skills generally can’t be higher than +20. Epic Level Handbook provides no such limitation, so long as the appropriate item creation feats are in place. That being said, most of what is offered in this chapter is just more powerful versions of existing items. For example, the icy blast weapon enhancement is just a more powerful version of the icy burst weapon enhancement found in Dungeon Master’s Guide. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s pretty handy to have a pricing guide around for this sort of thing. However, if you’re looking for something new, you’ll have to flip to the back of the chapter, where a few new artifacts are presented.

 

Chapter 5 might be the most useful chapter to DMs that aren’t planning on running an epic game, as it contains new monsters. For non-epic characters, many of these new monsters could be used as a unique threat to the entire world. A single atropal (the undead corpse of a stillborn god) or demi-lich could quite easily be a force for destruction like the world has never seen. Worse yet, the threat of a hecatoncheries (a CR 57 creature with 100 attack per round that was bred to kill deities) being released could frighten even the gods of a world. As useful as this chapter is, any DM running a v3.5 game is going to have to decide on a system of DR conversion. In v3, DR was based on the magical enhancement of a weapon, but v3.5 changed that. The easiest way to overcome this might be to just assign any DR above +5 as DR/epic, but this might actually weaken a creature, since some creatures in this book have DR/+6, while others have higher DR, even up to DR/+12.

 

The final chapter, chapter 6, is dedicated to providing examples of things that might be found in an epic setting. Several epic organizations that span the planes are detailed. As well, an entire planar metropolis, the city of Union, is detailed pretty exhaustively. The most useful part of this chapter, though, might be the complete adventure that’s included. This adventure is suitable for PCs of 21st to 23rd-level, and is designed to advance a group of epic PCs by one level by the end. It takes the PCs to the Elemental Plane of Fire to search for a missing person and a major artifact. Afterward, several good seeds for potential epic adventures are given that the DM can expand upon to create his own epic adventures.

 

Finally, two appendixes are given that detail popular epic-level characters from the world of Toril (Forgotten Realms) and Oearth (Greyhawk). I see these as being less useful for an actual game, but of interest to those who want to use their favorite characters as a gauge for their own power.

 

I’m glad I picked Epic Level Handbook back up. The rules aren’t as complicated as I originally expected they would be. They’re quite easy, actually. Obviously, some things will require a bit of work on the part of the DM, especially if he runs a v3.5 game, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the work a DM is going to have to do to provide a good challenge to epic-level characters. I’d recommend this book to a DM that wants to run an epic game, but I’d also recommend it to a DM that is running a high-level (level 17+) core game, as it can provide challenges, NPCs and items that the core rules just don’t have.