Levels of Gameplay: Campaign
There’s more than just Tiers of gameplay for characters. There is also how the Campaign’s overall gameplay – basic dungeon crawl, epic events in the world, or advanced gameplay were players’ actions not only affect the world in which they are from, but also the planes beyond.
Tiers of gameplay are:
Tier 1: levels 1-4
Tier 2: levels 5-10
Tier 3: levels 11-16
Tier 4: levels 17-20
A Heroic Fantasy campaign is dungeon crawls and doing adventures that allow a character to level 1-20 and perhaps retire with some land and gold.
You can be in level 15 in a Heroic Fantasy campaign, never crossing over into other campaign events. Commonly elements are brought to or touched on. An important event, or an NPC with an artifact or ability.
Heroic Fantasy is often referred to as “sword-and-sorcery”. The vast majority of D&D games are Heroic Fantasy.
Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Wizards of the Coast, August 2014
Tales from the Yawning Portal, Wizards of the Coast, April 2017
Tomb of Annihilation, Wizards of the Coast, September 2017
Curse of Strahd, Wizards of the Coast, March 2016
Waterdeep: Dragons Heist, Wizards of the Coast, September 2018
Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, Wizards of the Coast, November 2018
An Epic fantasy campaign – epic events are affected by the Player Characters (PCs); Stopping a demon or full aspect of a malevolent god affecting the world. Gaining higher social standings within the world at large, be that becoming royalty or advisers in multiple kingdoms. Many DDAL hardcover adventures have something the party is stopping from affecting the world. The party deals with things that affect the world.
The Rise of Tiamat, Wizards of the Coast, October 2014
Princes of the Apocalypse, Wizards of the Coast, April 2015
Out of the Abyss, Wizards of the Coast, September 2015
Storm King’s Thunder, Wizards of the Coast, September 2016
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, Wizards of the Coast, September 2019
Advanced campaigns, beyond those mentioned, could look at inter-spatial geometry, philosophy and logic. Perhaps players are “changed”, alien, or have an unusual talent or exceptional background. A background choice that affects the party, the world, and the planes beyond. The party deals with things that affect space\time, perhaps the direct conflict between gods and the planes beyond.
I can think of no published examples.
“There is a fine balance between making the game too easy and too hard: if one is permitted to rise too quickly, the court intrigues and Imperial bureaucracy can be deadly, and if it is made too difficult then one’s players all die too easily and become discouraged.”Professor M.A.R. Barker, The Dragon #11, “Seal of the Imperium”, p. 12
There are more choices of course, as to what else is included in a campaign: Heroic Fantasy to Gritty Realism; No-magic to Epic Magic; Low tech – Ultra-high tech.
Gritty realism has its place – when travelling to distant locations, or even the next town, is a challenge. Then using extensive hunger/extream weather/camping mechanics are a good fit. Creating another challenge within the game – I commonly will only use this at low to mid-level (1st to 8th perhaps), but then places aside for more epic usage of time – commonly using the rules when the party it travelling with a large force (army, merchant caravan, etc.)
However, using these mechanics doesn’t make a lot of sense in a high adventure with world-altering magic, dragons, etc. Realism shouldn’t be included in a game for realism, realism should be included in the game because it makes the mechanics of the game better, or adds to the feel of the game. How many Harn or Traveller characters died before character creation was completed? Where’s the fun in that!
In the 5e Dungeon Masters Guide (p.266) there is a Rest Variant called Gritty Realism which makes a short rest 8 hours and a long rest 7 days.
The campaign does not have to stay in one genre, and in fact, can traverse these – depending mostly on location. Perhaps there are magic rich or dead zones, perhaps one group or civilization has access to ultra-tech, while others are low-tech. Or perhaps you’re PCs are Planes Walkers, travelling from one reality to the next – solving mystories or collecting pieces to some epic adventure.