My friends and I have always been very invested in homebrew rules and settings, to the point that playing actual published TTRPGs is a rarity. That being said, we have a pretty good understanding of balancing mechanics and meta. Combining our experience with the fact that there’s 6 of us to give feedback, most of our games run pretty smoothly.
I’ve been GMing my own high-fantasy setting and rules with this group for a few years now, and the rulebook I’ve written in my spare time as a hobby rivals the length of Pathfinder’s. I won’t bog the story down in the minutia of the mechanics I’ve written, but there are a few things to note that are important here.
Firstly, if a character wants to be any good at fighting in my world, they have to be able to use magic. You can’t even get past Level 1 if you’re a mundane creature. This means that all the monsters and playable classes can use magic in different ways. Traditional melee classes like Fighter or Barbarian are replaced by magical variants that specialize in melee combat and magic that buffs your strength or weapons.
Secondly, anyone can put levels into their race as well as the various classes, including Human. Maxing out your racial levels is, in theory at least, an equally valid way to build a powerful character.
Lastly, the difference in power between each level is significant. To showcase this feature, I had 10 level 1 players pitted against a normal level 5 monster in the second session, first dungeon, who was capable of casting 3rd-tier spells. Needless to say, by the 2nd round of combat, all of them were bleeding out without having dealt a single point of damage. I don’t try to “beat” my players, but I needed them to feel how scary a level difference is before giving them the option to explore the open world. While leveling up is extremely rewarding, carelessly challenging someone even two or three levels higher than a 4-player party could easily result in a TPK.
Our story begins in the city of Gaverdance (pronounced guh-VARE-dence,) one of the eleven major cities in the Holy Roman Empire. To clarify, my setting is Earth with about 2000 years’ worth of altered history, wherein magic was suddenly introduced to the world two millennia ago.
Our heroes have just finished falling from the sky a few miles outside of the city, teleported out of a massive pillar that has just finished erupting spontaneously from the ground. This is a regular occurrence, don’t worry about it. After being caught by the frantic city guard, they are told to wait for the General to arrive for their interrogation.
The General arrives a little later, and asks them a series of questions inside a ritual room that forces everyone inside to tell the truth. After realizing that they are not foreign spies, they proceed to have a friendly chat. The General, whose name is Leplazr (pronounced lep-LA-zur, hard A sound) is a member of the playable race called the Hebi (HEH-bee), who are known for their childlike physiques, long white snake tails, immense speed, and control of lightning magic. It is also revealed that Leplazr shares the same last name as one of the PCs, and that in fact they are both the adopted sons of the same merchant, albeit separated in their upbringings by a hundred years or so. This will be important later.
Leplazr has something they’re looking for, a divine artifact known as a Hallowed Ember, that appeared before him around the same time the pillar erupted from the ground. As of now, the players don’t know why these pillars are appearing, only that they are all identical and each one has a unique Hallowed Ember that appears somewhere nearby when the pillar erupts. Yes, I ripped off of Magi: Labyrinth of Magic. Sue me, it’s a good show! Anyway, the first creature that picks up a Hallowed Ember bonds to it, and becomes a Proctor. In order to claim a Hallowed Ember as its proper owner, you must either kill the Proctor, or convince him or her to forego its immense power and give it to you willingly.
Thankfully, Leplazr is the easy-going, fun-loving type, always in it for the thrill. He tells my players he is willing to give them the Ember, if they can touch him even once within the span of the next three days. My players immediately tried to jump him, but he was halfway across the city before they could even blink. They hadn’t realized it until that exact moment, but Leplazr is the single strongest entity they had encountered in the campaign thus far, possessing 3 levels in my magical equivalent of a Monk, and maxed out in his race with 10 levels of Hebi. Grand total of level 13. My players, on the other hand, were levels 2 and 3. Worse yet, he is built for speed. If he spends all his action points on movement, he can sprint over 400ft in a single round. He also has a spell that lets him teleport a distance equal to his Sprint Speed, which he can use once per round while he has the resources. This sounds overpowered, but it’s not unusual for a character or monster of his level. Being high level in my system is like being an anime protagonist.
At this point, I stepped out of the game for a minute and spoke to my players. “I haven’t planned a way for you to win this encounter. Your lives aren’t in any danger, and in the worst case you’ll just miss out on the divine artifact. Whether or not you succeed will depend on how creative you can be. That said, if you make him roll against you, you are guaranteed to fail. His numbers are just that much higher than yours.” My players and I are very good friends, many of whom I’ve known for over a decade. I trusted their ability to solve this problem without any help from me, and to have fun while doing so. Over the course of an hour or so out-of game, they concocted an absolutely ingenious plan.
After a little sleuthing in-game, they discovered that Leplazr’s soldiers aren’t very loyal to their commander. He shirks his duties, and they end up having to finish the paperwork he doesn’t want to do. It doesn’t take much convincing on the part of the players to find out that Leplazr is deathly afraid of his boss, a powerful cleric named Selen Gelgotha (rhymes with Helen, gehl-GOTH-uh), who worships the god of death. Selen is the strongest fighter in the Empire, and one of the most influential politicians in the world, being the Archbishop of the god she worships. The players then convince the receptionist to go on a coffee break, and manage to steal a letter from her desk with Selen’s insignia. They then forge a note from Selen to Leplazr, telling him to meet her in the truth-telling ritual room the players had been in before.
But that wasn’t the end of my players’ plan. Obviously it would be suspicious to Leplazr to receive a letter like this only an hour after he issued this challenge to the player characters. So they split into three groups. The first group of two moved to the ritual room to lay the trap. The second group consisted of Leplazr’s adoptive brother Lucien, and Lucien’s friend Koia. The fifth member of the party, in possession of the forged letter, awaited the signal at the post-office.
Koia and Lucien casually walk down the main thoroughfare. Suddenly, Lucien begins to bleed profusely from every part of his body, and collapses in the middle of the street. Passersby scream in horror, some running to get help and others crowding around Lucien’s unconscious body. Koia howls in anguish and desperately tries to stop the flow of blood. With his high perception, there’s no way Leplazr wouldn’t notice the commotion, and he zips onto the side of a nearby building in a streak of white lightning.
Of course, this is all an illusion cast by Koia. There is no blood, and Lucien is fine. Of course, Leplazr, with his high perception and insight, is not fooled by the illusion, but that was the players’ goal all along. When Koia turns to Leplazr and says, “Get down here and help your brother!” the player with the forged letter sends it through the post office. The postal worker teleports the letter directly to Leplazr since she knew his face and name (that’s how letters work in this world). Leplazr, still on the side of the building and observing the situation below, reads the letter and all the color drains from his face. Convinced that the player characters had already shown their hand, and terrified at the idea that his superior had come halfway across the continent to see him without prior notice, Leplazr makes a beeline for city hall.
Within a matter of seconds, Leplazr is in the foyer. He asks the receptionist, back from her supposed coffee break, if Selen was really there to see him. The receptionist looks him dead in the eye and says, “She’s in the ritual room, and she looks PISSED.” Of course, the receptionist is in on the plan, since she’s the one who has to do most of Leplazr’s paperwork. But then, something happens that makes my players freeze. Leplazr turns to a guard who happens to be walking by, and asks him the same question. Leplazr may be impulsive and lazy, but he is also a war hero with hundreds of kills to his name. He is no fool. The guard, who has absolutely no idea what’s going on, salutes the general and says, “Yessir, she’s here. Tread carefully.” What an absolute LEGEND. Leplazr makes an insight check with disadvantage. CRITICAL. FAILURE. Leplazr walks straight through the ritual room door and into the trap. Two player characters and a summoned gecko-monster teleport on top of him from above, and just like that the challenge was over.
I have never been so proud of my players. I hadn't planned any of what happened, and made up Leplazr’s fear of his boss on the spot. My players used their wits and in-game abilities to the utmost, and tricked this overpowered monster without making a single roll. They only took a few hours of the 3-day time limit in-game, and succeeded on their first attempt. Leplazr and I, equally impressed by their cunning, happily gave them the Hallowed Ember they had so thoroughly earned.
(Below is a physical description of each character, so you don’t have to spend too much time designing the characters for the video thumbnail/background if you happen to pick my story. Obviously you can draw whatever you want, but I figured this would save you some time depending on who you choose to draw.)
Leplazr – (race: Kamui-an advanced evolution of Hebi) a childlike male with white hair and purple eyes. He has black zigzag designs in his hair, and streamlined zigzag horns. He has 10 large tails, each one of which is long and flat like an otter’s rudder, but scaled like a snake’s tail with silvery white scales. He wears a royal blue tunic with silver trim. Happy-go-lucky smiling face.
Lucien – (race: male Smidgen-short devil like race that looks like Little Devil Teemo–just google) has faded rusty fur, a merchant’s vest with all sorts of baubles and trinkets, and a decorative smiling mask.
Koia – (race: female human) has short-cropped light brown hair, a sailor’s sleeveless shirt with a sahs belt, and bright red and gold Phoenix wings.
Others (receptionist and guard just normal boring humans):
Group 1 (guys that triggered the trap):
(Male drow–similar to dnd drow, but more fishlike. Has long, wormlike appendages instead of arms and hands, dark blue skin, and red eyes.) wears a black cloak with a hood; typical rogue. Sleeves are loose and baggy to accommodate upper limbs; like a wizard’s robes.
(male valkyrie–birdlike humanoids with vestigial wings, talons on hands and feet, and quills instead of hair.) Wears sandy-colored strips of cloth that make him look like a mummy, with a hooded cloak. Everything but his eyes, hands, and feet are obscured.
Gecko monster-has a thick tail like a salamander, and a black and white swirling pattern all over his body.
Group 3 (just that one guy that delivered the letter):
(Human male). African, with a shaved head and thick muscles, as well as a dragon tattoo across the left shoulder and arm. Wears simple yellow monk robes that expose the left shoulder and pec.