I touched on this last week in my post about embracing the big actions of role playing, and teaching the kids to do the same. But the thought has been banging around in my head so I want to expand on it some more into its own post. The idea of levels corresponding to the points in a hero’s journey, specifically a comic book or action movie hero.
This came up when I mentioned that the boys characters were at the point where they had reached the end of the origin story movie, or series of comics, or the first book in a fantasy trilogy. In 5E terms that would translate to about 5th level. In Pathfinder, that would be 5th or 6th level depending on the class. That’s when you get a big jump in abilities. You get a new class power, or a Feat, or move into the next level of spells. However, if you measure abilities and powers this level is kind of a big deal. This is the point where the hero finally comes into their own and recognizes that they can do something, they are no longer just a target, victim, follower, they are now a force to be reckoned with. And often in the stories, this where they acquire their first dangerous adversary. Someone who has a real grudge against them for whatever reason.Now your character is a Hero.
But you are a limited hero, you are a big fish in a small pond. The next stage is when you get out of that small pond. Often discovering that there are a lot bigger fish out there in the world. So you have to start getting better. Refining your skills, pushing the limits of what you can do, researching new abilities. You probably have a big knock down drag out fight with your nemesis. And probably acquire new, bigger and more fearsome enemies. At the end of this stage, you are now a SuperHero. For D&D 5E this would be around 11th level. For Pathfinder, it is about the same, 11th or 12th level depending on the class.
You are at the point where your reputation has greatly expanded. You are at least nationally, if not world, renowned. Your enemies are now the rulers of organizations or countries. You can defeat large numbers of enemies without blinking an eye. Your exploits have caught the ear of the most powerful people. When someone comes for you, they don’t just pack a gun, they bring small nuclear devices. The fights that you engage in can destroy cities, whole populations can fear or revere you. It is harder to develop your abilities, it takes longer to upgrade, the resources you use become scarcer. At the end of this stage, you are not just a Superhero, you are an Icon. For D&D 5E this comes around 17th level. And for Pathfinder, it is again about the same.
At this point, things can start to get a little silly. Creatures from other Planes of existence or planets have heard of you and may come for you, as enemies or friends. Your actions shift entire populations. Some consider you a God and are not far from it. You don’t fight armies, you fight nations. I’m not going to put a level on this because in terms of the rules you have probably moved past the point of counting levels anyway.
What I am trying to get at is that the stages of a player character over the course of a long-term campaign are similar to what you might see in movies or other fiction. Depending on how deep the game goes in character development you could almost equate what happens to the mythic Heroes Journey. But not many games get that complex. The important point to take away is getting players to realize what they have become. And for the GM to create adventures and encounters based on this.