The other day my friend (the one who had my Champions stuff) and I were discussing relative power levels in gaming the other day. Part of that discussion got me thinking about starting point levels, which prompted my post yesterday.
We were talking about the fun you get at different power levels. At some point, I said this:
If an orc is scary, and an orc can kill you dead in a single shot, then an orc and Demogorgon are about equally scary. You aren't any more dead as a PC if Demogorgon hits your with his rot-inducing tentacles or whatever. It's falling a mile versus falling ten miles - you're still dead. But if orcs are cannon fodder, and you go through them with ease, but Demogorgon can still kill you dead and rot your arms off, then Demogorgon is now scarier than an orc.
You can say that you "level up" (either literally in a class-and-level game, or figuratively in a point-buy system.) So Demogorgon is scary because he stays dangerous as the orc recedes in danger level. This is absolutely true, but just reinforces the point. You climb up the ladder and threats stop being "flat" and start being graduated. The point of leveling up and getting better is to make some threats less relatively dangerous and others remain so. The effective challenge level of the monster varies based on your power, and yet challenges can still scale - instead of an orc, you fight an army of orcs, or instead of a dragon, maybe you can only handle a single giant bat.
My friend brought up Bunnies & Burrows. One of our mutual friends didn't want to play "prey" and refused to play the game. After all, you're a rabbit - a hawk can fly by and eat you. But the would-be B&B GM retorted that, in a D&D game, a dragon can fly by and eat you. It's not all that different, just scaled. Our friend didn't want to play "prey" but had really played prey his whole gaming career, just with a "hawk" called a "dragon" and a "dog" called a "giant wolf." It's scaled challenges. It's having someone be powerful enough that the difference matters, or weak enough that the difference matters. Scaling the world differently so you have to run from things you would ignore in another game ("A hawk flies overhead." "Ignore it, look for dragons.")
This is one reason why the DF game I run can be so fun. My players love knowing that the orc brutes they run into and carve up, or the lizardman warriors they beat up despite the odds, and so are are exactly as dangerous as in our old game, where the PCs were less powerful. They get the thrill of being able to lord it up over what was once scary. The fact that we changed characters doesn't change this - you don't have to experience the "an orc is dangerous!" thing with the same character to appreciate being more powerful. You just have to experience it sometime, with some character, to have the capacity to appreciate it. The monsters that used to be such utter threats that they became a "flat" threat level (hit this point, anything above it is equally fatal to you) are now an interesting threat. The differences between them matter because you're tough enough to make them matter.
The reverse is true, too - it's fun to dial back to a lower power level (even if only occasionally) and face what was once easy. When those orcs your DF knight carves up two per second suddenly become such a challenge you can't face them without outnumbered them, three things can happen. One is that you can appreciate the orc more, the second is that you can appreciate the DF knight more, and third is that you can appreciate the challenge of the lower-powered character more. When you blunder into a pack of orcs in DF, you're fine - when you blunder into a pack of orcs in a low-powered fantasy game, you're pretty far from fine.
You get this outside of game, too - it's a real joy watching extremely good professionals play sports against each other, even if the relative challenge isn't more than two not-terribly-skilled teams play sports against each other. You can appreciate the skill and see the small differences in abilities and decisions play out in both, but they aren't exactly the same kind of fun. One is "who can exceed the other in ability?" and one is "who can overcome their own limitations more?" - both of which are enjoyable in their own way.
That's not to say the power levels don't matter. The color text does matter. Just because lifting a small rock might be a Herculean task for a weak character doesn't mean it's exactly the same kind of fun that lifting a huge boulder while running Hercules is. It's just a similar relative challenge, but provides a very different game experience for all of that, and the experiences feed each other.
And that this is why I like playing at different power levels.
This got wordy, but "If an orc can kill you dead, and Demogorgon can kill you dead, therefore both are equally scary - discuss" seemed kind of like a pithy but useless post. Heh. So you got to sit through my overly wordy discussion instead.