They did it. Those maniacs, they blew it up.
My player characters have hit name level. Not all of them — recently, a marked-for-death smurf-hued sorcerer left the group and the former Lord Guardian of the Highwatch Clay Fenway joined. Similarly, the too-rigid-by-far Pali retreated to Thrane while her replacement Loreth (?) took money to train a wyvern and decided to go camping for the rest of her life. Smalli died by Strahd’s hand; Henderson the mathemagician took over. And even before that, Jolli bowed out and Bippi joined, with another hastily-disintegrated character between. And Whistler for Saladzar, long ago. There’s been a lot of churn! Still, here we are, nearly one-in-game-year later — it’s coming up on june in game, and the campaign started in late august.
I really want to hit the brakes on leveling pretty dramatically now, but I suspect that would lead to a player revolt. What I might start doing is leveraging the insanely large party sizes and doing some MVP-voting scheme, maybe with some d20 level-rollover to establish eligibility. At 10th level, the lowest level character would have a 50% chance of being eligible (say), which would mean the party as a whole would take 14 sessions for everyone to gain a level (7 players, 50% chance for each session’s nominee to make the jump). That might be so slow as to get me raked over coals. Could let two people through the gate at a time (7 sessions-ish!), maybe, which strikes the balance between what I want and what they’d want.
Or alternatively, we can escalate. The reason I want to go so slowly is to explain why things are so pseudo-medieval here in Berlaine and Barovia. They head west to Thrane or into the Iron City or Gehenna or Fomor-haunted Fymory or something, and we’re suddenly talking a significantly higher percentage of CR-appropriate encounters, as opposed to 90% way under CR, and 10% super deadly.
I guess what I’d like to do is either start building keeps and armies and all that, or else double down on superhero adventuring across the planes (and being the Pope’s best friend, and figuring out what the deal is with Cania, and on and on and on, forever).
Part of the reason we want to keep things going along the exploring-dungeons slaying-dragons mode is because that’s what the game supports. The monster manual doesn’t have CR 17 armies; the DMG doesn’t have a magic item that represents stewardship of an arcane laboratory; the PHB doesn’t give fighters followers.
Actually, that’s not completely true. The DMG and MM do have a little bit to say here.
The rod of rulership vaguely implies rulers get something like charming all creatures within 120 feet for 8 hours, DC 15.
The rod of lordly might does a similar trick, frightening those within 30 feet for 1 minute, DC 17. And turning their weapons into ladders.
The MM gives us the knight, who can basically bless their allies (1 minute/short rest, allies within 30 feet add a d4 to attacks and saves).
So there’s something there; charm, fear, and buffing.
Maybe I can split the difference. ENWorld published a noble class some time ago; maybe I start insisting the players multiclass into it. It certainly plays along with that.