RPG Design: Learning the Scales

Tales of the Rampant Coyote has taken a closer look at level scaling in role-playing games, particularly how it’s used in Wizardry 8, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Dungeons & Dragons.

A lot of what constitutes scaling depends on the system. In the earlier editions of D&D, damage output and armor class didn’t increase much as players and monsters increased in power. A group of bugbears might hit less often and not survive as many rounds against your 14th level party as against your 4th level party, but would otherwise do the same damage. The biggest difference – besides their shortened survival window – is that the level of attrition represented by that numerical value would be significantly less at higher level. The magic-user might survive three rounds instead of just one. And the second-level spell he casts to thin out the bugbear ranks represents a much smaller consumption of his resources.

Consequently, you had high-level modules in D&D that were still flooded by low-level monsters. Lolth, in Queen of the Demonweb Pits, was in an alternate demon dimension but still surrounded herself with the same orcs, hobgoblins, and bugbears that the party had been fighting since level 1. Fortunately, these were supplemented by nasty telekinetic demons and and stuff, but it was still an amusing mix.

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