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Clutches at Greatness
Seeker

Germany
25 Posts

Posted - 28 May 2018 :  17:03:52  Show Profile Send Clutches at Greatness a Private Message  Reply with Quote  Delete Topic
Hi folks,

[Edit: I am mainly referring to 5th edition books. I haven't checked whether other editions have different numbers/ideas]

The situation: After a long absence from the hobby, I plan to get back into dungeon mastering. Being the vain creature, that I am, I am determined to master my own stuff, and in dire memory of unpleasant experiences with relying on my ability to spin coherent worlds out of my spontaneous sparks of inspiration, I am determined to come meticulously prepared this time.
I am even desperately enough in need of gratification, that I decided, that when I am done preparing, I want to put the fruits of this preparation into a form, fit for publication, an adventure compendium of my own making. No commercial plans attached, just a neat PDF-file on my homepage, that is well-crafted enough for other DMs to enjoy and play, but I want the quality to be as close to "official" products, as my abilities allow.

So far, I invested most of my time and effort into creating the story elements, that I want to be told. I got my arch villain, all the minions under his yoke, and "things they desperately want, but have difficulties to achieve" (shoutout to Guy Sclanders' youtube channel "How to be a Great GM"), I plotted out all the heinous acts, that he had to commit, to get to his position, and all the places he went, and the traces of his crimes, that he would have left for the players to discover and track him down. The timeline of events, that already happened, before the actual adventure starts is 9 pages long, and I am quite proud of it.
I have quite a convincing hook, how to get a start-up adventurous group involved in the plot and motivated to discover it, and ultimately foil the villain's plan.
The area of interest is largely preplanned, and satisfies my desires both regarding its lore-friendlyness and economical/ecological plausibility.
I still have to get down to painting approximately 10 to 15 individual maps for all the important locations, and I still have to detail a bunch of minor NPCs that will populate the area, victims of the villain, innocent bystanders and possible allies for the players, minor stuff, rather time consuming than difficult to figure out.

But I don't want to prepare a short story, or even an epic novel, but a Dungeons & Dragon's campaign. The main storytelling device of a role-playing game is the encounter, a typical roleplaying evening consists of a DM leading a group of player through a series of encounters. , either a string in a more story-driven, "railroady" adventure or a cluster, in a more sandbox-style game.

I decided, that I want to start the players at lvl 1, and by the time the grand finale happens to be lvl 4, with enough XP to advance to level 5, after they foiled the villain's plot and the adventure ends (for now). So basically the adventure/mini-camapign should bridge the total of what is considered low tier play in the DMG.
The DMG's advice about encounter difficulty is to run a group through 6-8 hard to medium encounters a day, and granting them two short rests in the meantime. Comparing the DMG's proposed XP awards "per day" to the PHB's rules for leveling up, and doing a bit of math, I figured out, that the recommended number of encounters would be 6-8 medium to hard encounters with 2-3 short rests in between to get from lvl 1 to lvl 2, or 1 "day" as the DMG puts it.
From lvl 2 to lvl 3 would be 1,5 "days", so 9-12 encounters and probably 3-4 short rests and a long rest.
Level 3 to level 4 would be 2,25 "days" so 13-18 encounters, 5-7 short rests and 2 long rests, and
level 4 to the finale at level 5 would be 3,7 "days", 22-30 encounters, about 10 short rests and 4 long rests.

Uhhm. My first impression: That is a lot of encounters! Are there really that many encounters detailed in any official compendium? My fault for not knowing the answer for certain, as I have access to quite a few of them. I will check them out after writing this, but my memory and gut-feeling so far tells me, that there are nowhere as many encounters in those books.

Also, the concept of "days" seems to collide quite a bit with what I had expected the story to proceed like. The timeline is bound to two quite distinct astronomical events, namely autumn equinox on Eleint 21, shortly after which the plot hook is supposed to draw the players in, and spring equinox, Ches 19, when the villain's plot reaches its planned climax. These dates are quite important to the fey lore involved in the campaign, so the adventure/mini-camapign is supposed to span almost 6 months in Faerun reckoning, during which the adventurers will mostly be isolated in a mountainous valley in winter.

Point taken, if I want to keep the story going over such a long time span, I will have to include quite a number of opportunities for down-time activities for the players anyway, with good goals and motivations to pursue them. And replacing any number of "long rests" with down-time activities shouldn't disturb the recommended power-balance.

Also, not all encounters will or should be combat encounters. Although they should tax the player's ressources comparatively to a combat encounter, if I want to stick with the recommended overall difficulty level.
Then also, not all encounters need to be predesigned, as the players will hopefully show some initiative themselves, and, as players tend to do, surprise their DM by initiating encounters, to which the DM will have to react spontaneously, meticulous preparation to or fro.
And lastly, not all XP will or should be awarded simply for running individual encounters, reaching key plot events and fulfilling quest goals should grant bonus XP. Especially the last step, from reaching lvl 4 to the grand finale and getting ready for lvl 5 can probably be shortened quite a bit, without appearing to cut down on content for convenience's sake.

So, writing this stuff up has helped clear my mind a bit, thank you to the audience for your highly appreciated attention. I now know, what the next logical steps to solve my personal puzzle are, namely scouring through the official adventures, that I have access to, with the focus on how much XP the professionals grant through encounters, and how much otherwise, also, what devices (if any) they use to provide down-time activities to bridge time spans, that are necessitated by the narration.
If anyone from the audience can relate to my struggles and has personal experience with related problems to share, or even obvious answers, that I may have overlooked in this post, please take your time and let me know. Although I am a firm believer in learning-by-doing, I am even more firmly convinced, that learning from what others have done can save a lot of time, effort and frustration on the way.

Sincerely yours
Clutches-at-Greatness
tabaxi bard

I'll be right back, after I caught that piece of string

Edited by - Clutches at Greatness on 28 May 2018 17:05:26

Diffan
Great Reader

USA
3525 Posts

Posted - 31 May 2018 :  15:01:09  Show Profile Send Diffan a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I'm currently running 5e for my group (two long time players, my 9 year old daugher, and my father-in-law who just started D&D for the first time) and we're doing the Murder in Baldur's Gate adventure. So because the adventure is actually written with the idea that you can run it using 3.5 edition, 4th edition, and 5th edition there's a lot of left in the open impromptu interpretation as to how to best proceed with the adventure.

For example there's a part where someone steals the hands of six different statues around Baldur's Gate plus the hands of a petrified Mincs and Boo (aka the Beloved Ranger). The adventure is set up where you track down and find those who steal Minsc's hands and resolve that part but NOTHING about the other statues. It sorta turns up during the encounter but it's done somewhat lazily. Thing is, my group REALLY wants to find how who did it and bring them to justice AFTER they solved Minsc's missing hands (and Boo). There's nothing in the adventure to go down this route. I could've hand-waived the whole thing but I felt that was too easy. So I had to ad-hoc some things.

Turns out their investigative works led them to the Guild (a rogue/thieves organization doing their best at Robin Hood but keeping some of the profits in the process). The PCs confront them, of which they assumed they were on good terms with *they weren't* because they had worked loosely with them in the past. Unfortunately the PCs were found to have killed some of the Guild's members during a bar fight helping the Flaming Fist, hence the Guild's ire. So the PCs confront the Guild and they're HEAVILY outnumbered, - like level 2 PCs gonna die horribly - outnumbered but it caused this near 45 min discussion at the table how to proceed. End result: The PCs persuade the Guild leader Rilsa to cough up a scape-goat and put the statues hands back AND the PCs won't kill a LOT of thieves before going down themselves (something both the Paladin of Tyr, NG Fighter, and NG Ranger were OK with) thus creating a vacuum of power and stopping any advancement of the Guild in helping the poor of Baldur's Gate. So no battle, all Role-Play and the PCs got the XP as if they had defeated them - thus earning them level 3.


EDIT:

Alternative Solution is that you can always level them up when it's appropriate to the story and adventure. You can even plot point when this happens depending on outcome and how they achieve it.

4E Realms = Great Taste, Less Filling.

"If WotC were to put out a box of free money, people would still complain how it was folded."

Edited by - Diffan on 31 May 2018 15:05:03
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Bladewind
Master of Realmslore

Netherlands
1253 Posts

Posted - 31 May 2018 :  16:17:44  Show Profile Send Bladewind a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I tend to preroll random encounters a week or two before I think they will happen, giving me opportunities to tweak the faction, race, gear and plot devices of the encounter to steer the direction of the players to the main story. To increase verisimilitude I include at least 2 token items (a salty crusty lambsbone in a leather pouch or a copper necklace with wooden tokens for each family member) for each plot one (a scrollcase with an unbroken sealed contract within detailing the the groups last orders).

I never finished a published adventure as written; always ended up following the whims of the players to a conclusion they saw at the horizon.

My campaign sketches

Druidic Groves

Creature Feature: Giant Spiders
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Balmar Foghaven
Learned Scribe

Canada
97 Posts

Posted - 31 May 2018 :  16:52:20  Show Profile Send Balmar Foghaven a Private Message  Reply with Quote
When I was running Tyranny of Dragons 5e, there was a section that had cultist retaliation for the actions of the PCs causing them setbacks. It was suggested that I build a deadly encounter using monsters provided in a table with the encounter guidelines in the DMG. To make a long story short, what was supposed to be incredibly hard to beat (2 young red dragons with several lower level cultists riding them, and a couple red wizard mages) turned out to be a piece of cake...
so I suppose the point of this was that very resourceful players can turn even so-called impossible encounters into a joke, so it would be best to have other contingencies in place if a challenge is what is called for.

"Despair not, for in the end all things shall work out for the best - in at least one timeline."

Edited by - Balmar Foghaven on 31 May 2018 16:52:52
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Ceranai
Acolyte

5 Posts

Posted - 14 Jun 2018 :  11:32:39  Show Profile Send Ceranai a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I tend to wing it. I also tend towards fewer more deadly encounters as having a hundred meaningless encounters isnt fun in my opinion.
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The Masked Mage
Great Reader

USA
2021 Posts

Posted - 14 Jun 2018 :  19:59:06  Show Profile  Send The Masked Mage an AOL message  Click to see The Masked Mage's MSN Messenger address Send The Masked Mage a Private Message  Reply with Quote
If you're building a campaign as much as you are describing, then you don't need random encounters. Script them.

Make half a dozen pre-designed "random" encounters that you can place anywhere in the campaign when there is a lull, or when characters don't know what to do next, etc.

I always like to build in 1 or 2 encounters that have nothing at all to do with the planned adventure, that give tie-ins to where I want to take them later. Half-clues that I can complete later and then have the eureka moment for the players when they realize that they've had a piece to the puzzle all along.

I also like to have both allies and enemies that are beyond PCs - and this is why I always loved the realms. No matter where in the realms you are playing, there exist NPCs that are going to be too much for them to handle. The Zhentarim, Halaster, The Red Wizards, etc. A "random" encounter with a Zhent caravan that culminates in Manshoon popping in, killing his puppet before your players learn his secret, saying something cryptic and threatening, and disappearing just as quickly for example. This way when players become more powerful down the road they have their Arch-Enemies (and arch-friends) to make the world more interesting.
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Gelcur
Learned Scribe

292 Posts

Posted - 20 Jun 2018 :  06:06:08  Show Profile  Visit Gelcur's Homepage Send Gelcur a Private Message  Reply with Quote
So I have zero experience with 5E but similar experience from 3.5E that might be helpful to you.

In 3.5 it took around 13 encounters to bring the party up a level. Of these 10% were easy, 20% easy if handled correctly, 50% were a challenge (same level as the party), 15% were difficult (1-4 levels above the party), and 5% were overpowered (5+ levels over). It was generally assumed the party could handle 4-5 challenging encounters per day before they were out of "resources" (spells, hp, etc). More simply, 4 "easy", 7 "medium" and 2 "hard".

Now that you have grounds for comparison. I generally assume characters level roughly 2 levels an in game year. I could see a very driven character with the right resources/motivations going even up to 4. Going much faster than that starts to break realism of your story telling. What many times is overlooked is down time, or encounters that earn no combat XP. I assume that for every 1 week of adventuring there are 2 weeks of down time.

Down time can be anything for crafting and working side jobs, to planning your next adventure, taking some well deserved R&R, shopping, etc. We often lump all this time together and assume that these things happen in a snap, but in reality any city big enough to have what you need will likely take time to navigate to complete those tasks.

Many random encounters will quickly start falling into the no combat XP range. It seems we often assume a bubble of random encounters scaled for our PCs follow them around. But the reality is that the areas they travel through are likely "rated" for a certain level. The old Undermountain maps had encounter tables right on the map, didn't matter what level the party was there was always a chance of encountering these things randomly on each dungeon level. Sometimes it is nice to hand wave this away and just briefly describe the trivial events. A few dice roll might determine just how epic the parties victories were.

So to bring it all home, my parties only have 13 significant combat events every 6 months. It can be more than that by splitting "medium" or "hard" encounters down into "easy" ones but even then it isn't that much more. Running a dungeon could eat up most of those those encounters. So really just have fun and hand out xp when you feel like it is time to fight harder things, keep track of which players are ahead or behind, but other than that trying to make it both fit story and make rules sense is difficult.

The party come to a town befallen by hysteria

Rogue: So what's in the general store?
DM: What are you looking for?
Rogue: Whatevers in the store.
DM: Like what?
Rogue: Everything.
DM: There is a lot of stuff.
Rogue: Is there a cart outside?
DM: (rolls) Yes.
Rogue: We'll take it all, we may need it for the greater good.
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