Legends Begin Here
Songs are sung and tales are told of heroes who have advanced beyond most adventuring careers. They confront mightier enemies and face deadlier challenges, using powers and abilities that rival even the gods. This supplement for the D&D® game provides everything you need to transcend the first 20 levels of experience and advance characters to virtually unlimited levels of play. Along with epic magic items, epic monsters, and advice on running an epic campaign, the Epic Level Handbook also features stat blocks for epic NPCs from the FORGOTTEN REALMS® and GREYHAWK® campaign settings.
To use this supplement, a Dungeon Master also needs the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual. A player needs only the Player’s Handbook.
The Epic Level Handbook (2001) is a 320-page hardcover supplement that allows 3rd edition D&D characters to pass the traditional barrier of 20th level and rise from level 21 to level 100. This book is dense with intelligent rules, tremendously useful for players who want further adventures with characters that have already hit 20th level.
Mechanics and Balance. Mechanically, it's safe to say that the Epic Level Handbook (ELH) achieved its goals and produced a ruleset that could carry D&D heroes far beyond 20th level. This is a rules-heavy book that flattens out the power curve, minimizing the mechanical differences between heroes as they rise in level. This helps keep the math behind high-level encounters reasonable at the necessary cost of somewhat homogenizing the differences between character classes.
These epic level rules address a known problem with the usual d20 power curve for D&D characters: i.e., that it just doesn't scale well for high-level play. When your good saving throw continues to outstrip your bad saving throws, for instance, eventually you will always make your good saves and always fail your bad ones, no matter what number is rolled on a d20. The ELH rules address this issue by slowing down the rate of obtaining power from one's class abilities, instead transitioning additional power acquisition over to epic level feats instead of traditional class powers. There is admittedly some power imbalance in these feats, some being far more useful and effective than others, but they do allow for a wide range of unique and interesting powers.
Epic level spellcasting uses an entirely different system for spells than the regular D&D rules do, empowering the caster to create unique and incredibly potent spells at a great cost in terms of money and time.
Chapters on epic level monsters and epic magic items round out the mechanical rules.
Epic Characters in a Mundane World. Characters who could quite literally flatten a major city single-handed become an interesting challenge for a DM. Discussion of the "Epic Campaign" seeks to address this, walking the reader through adventure construction and design for particularly powerful heroes. A later section on epic settings details fascinating epic organizations, epic adventures, and the city of Union.
Pre-Release Controversy. Prior to its release, 3rd-edition Dungeons & Dragons had gone through a substantial playtesting period with virtually no wide-spread leakage of the playtest documents. The Epic Level Handbook, playtested on a small scale, was the first book in the new edition to be widely leaked and posted online before it was substantially polished and complete. Initial online impressions from gamers who read it were largely negative. The unfinished manuscript received criticism for unbalanced and inconsistent rules, particularly in the area of epic spellcasting. More fundamentally, the manuscript received complaints for its tone, with some commentators feeling that the book failed to capture the mystery and wonder of an "epic" high-fantasy campaign.
Philosophical Quandary. Do you think that epic-level play should involve the scaling of most challenges in the world to the power level of the PCs, or should an "epic" campaign involve very few powerful challengers in a world full of normal mortals? This philosophical divide tends to be polarizing, and the Epic Level Handbook follows the former design philosophy. This design decision has led to some player criticism of backup grunt guards in the city of Union who happen to be 30th level. (But if youve ever played an online MMO, that idea won't seem new to you.) If you believe think instead that epic-level individuals should be unique and draped in legends, you'll want to consider tweaking adventure creation guidelines to match your own campaign.
About the Creators. The Epic Level Handbook was designed by Andy Collins, Bruce R. Cordell, and Thomas M. Reid, with additional design by John D. Rateliff and James Wyatt.
About the Product Historian
History and commentary of this product was written by Kevin Kulp, game designer and admin of the independent D&D fansite ENWorld.org. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.