Granted, when you're playing a fantasy RPG:
1) You want to be able to do extraordinary things
2) You're able to TRY to do anything
But beyond that, it's all up to the DM. My interpretation may be the minority; I'm not sure. I think my heroes should be able to do a lot less amazing things at levels 1-5 than 6-10 and so on. I believe it's a logical thought process, supported by most gamers and even the rules of the game. You don't even think about sucker punching a great wyrm Red until at least level 20, right? (If even then!)
But where's the line? I talked to a DM years ago about how he runs his Star Wars RPG crew, and they can't expect to be 'heroes' for a while. The biggest reward he gives his players is the ability to modify a bowcaster at level 5 for a +1 attack. Their job until level 10 or so, in this guys mind, is to simply survive the environment. Everything else is flourish!
I'm not that bad, I have to say. But I definitely am not liberal with my distribution of power and wealth. My heroes can expect to do good things, but there's a limit. I once had a DM that pitted my level 5 or 6 crew against a young adult green dragon. Um...ok? Let's see where this goes. As the skinny bard with little combat prowess, you can guess what I did. That's right! I lassoed it around the neck with my grappling hook. I mean, isn't that a no-brainer? My DM and I rolled it out, and it stuck, a perfect shot that wrapped around the beastie's neck five times. Then the DM just threw his papers in the air in a lighthearted "you win" gesture.
Really? Is that all it takes to best a dragon? It's silk rope at best, and my bard weighs about a buck-o-five. I should have been used as a Swiffer to dust the undergrowth of that forest. Sadly, I cemented a five-round knock out of that beast. Come on, dragon! I mean, your breath is corrosive! You can polymorph, I saw you do it before the battle. Sure, my bard can now sing a song throughout the Realms about himself for a change, but... I feel like I was robbed a bit.
I always try to find that perfect balance between allowing my heroes to do amazing, bard-worthy things, and making sure there's something to look forward to. If my bard can do that at level 5, I'm going to hogtie a Tarrasque at 10!
Again I ponder...where is that line? This is all brought about by a play by e-mail game I'm running while I sit in Baghdad. (http://groups.google.com/group/saga-of-the-realms) It shouldn't be a big deal, but somehow it eats at me: Did I make the right call, or should it have been a simple success? Here's the story:
A group of PCs are in a rowboat on the waves, stranded. Three humans, an elf, and a halfling, plus gear. Suffice to say it's barely floating at best. The waves crash here and there and it's taking on water. The paladin summons his mount: a hippogriff. His plan is to ride off on it in the air so that some of the weight is gone. He summons her, and she has to appear adjacent to him. He's on a rowboat in the ocean. She can't hover according to her stat block, so she appears in the boat. That's right...its taking on water and we've just added a winged horse with barding. Hardly the ideal situation. So the pally has her take off immediately, as the ship is about 1/3 full of water. Off she flies, and he wants her to wheel about and fly by, and he'll just mount up as she returns.
What's the issue to me? At level 6, should a fully armored guy in a sinking boat on the seas be able to just mount up on a passing mount? I figure, let the Ride check decide. Not a good roll, but he's holding on. So now he's hanging onto the saddle as she flies. He tries to climb up her, and I make some more rolls. Nat 1. Nat 1. He grabs and pulls her reins and down they go into the ocean. Sucks, right? I could have just said, "Yeah, you're all good. Let's press on." But if they can do that in those circumstances, what is there to look forward to?
At low levels, I want my players to remember how they struggled to navigate the traps of the mummy's pyramid, narrowly escaped (not defeated) the deadly maw of a kraken, and had to pull out all the stops to drop the ogre mage. Because they'll be less cocky, less sure that everything they encounter is a battle to win. Drizzt, Kelemvor, and Han Solo all ran. They were all crafty in overcoming situations. And overcoming seldom meant bludgeoning to death in three rounds.
I want low level players to look forward to the times when they'll be able to do battle those epic baddies, not battle them right away. So they'll savor the tough tasks now, and not think that the DM fudged some rolls in order for them to do the impossible. And when the time comes, they'll sail back out to sea ready to slay the kraken that took their left hand.
I guess at the end of the day I want my guys to accomplish the improbable, not the impossible.
What are your thoughts?