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.