Tools for D&D Encounters DMs

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I thought I might try to pull together some tools for DMs running D&D Encounters. This is oriented primarily toward physical tools you can use at the table to make the session more vivid and enjoyable for players, as well as easier for the DM to run.

Please feel free to post your contributions, including links to tools you did not create but which could be useful. I'll do my best to link from this thread.


Maps and Tiles
The supplied maps work really well. The only down-side is really the presence of fold marks, which you can alleviate if the store can keep them unfolded (or rolled in a tube) between sessions.

In addition, you could recreate them with Dungeon Tiles if you have them. I don't recommend using alternate tiles, as authors often really look at room size and layout to match the monsters.

It can be really cool to represent elevations and features. For elevations, craft stores usually have cheap 1" wooden square blocks you can use to represent high areas. If you have dungeon tiles, you can place the tile over them, to keep the same look. You can do the same thing with some features, such as putting blocks under a tile for a dresser or pillar. Pillars can also be found in wood from craft stores.

It can be fun as a DM to add some three-dimensional terrain. Naloomi's workshop has really nice terrain (available painted or unpainted for reasonable prices). You can also find sites that provide paper 3-D elements, cast mold plaster terrain, and even plastic pieces. Used here and there they can really make for interesting combats and help set the scene. My suggestion is to use a few pieces at a time so you become comfortable with using them without blowing your budget or making the combats too complicated.


Minis
There are several threads on the minis for prior sessions.
Session 6 2-2 spoilers:

Fell Taints do not have existing miniatures, but you can choose any tentacled horror miniature to stand in. Ideally you use something distinct for each group.

Examples:
Intellect devourer: Intellect Devourer (Unhallowed), or Canoloth (Unhallowed), or several older metal minis.
Pulsars: Anything small and blob-like can work. You ideally want three in case the table is strong. Flameskull (War Drums), Ochre Jelly (Archfiends, Against the Giants), Lemure (Giants of Legend).
Lashers: The more tentacles, the better. Grell (Deathknell), Yochlol Tempter (Legendary Evils), Ethereal Filcher (Aberrations).

Session 7 2-3 spoilers:

This one is hard. For the first part, you can just use the map. Or, you might look around the house for some sort of globe-like object that could be used. A craft store might have something out of styrofoam or frosted glass. If you like projects, this portal by Sly Flourish is an awesome idea (instructional video included!). You could stand it up and just pretend it is spherical or lay it down, maybe even with a glass bowl inside... or fill the whole thing with lights/stuffing. Anyone have other ideas?

For the second part, any eladrin figure could work, though ideally you find one that is a bit interesting or even something that looks less like an eladrin and more like a changed creature.
Examples:
Female Eladrin Sorcerer (PH Handbook Heroes 1), Howling Hag (Dungeons of Dread), Wild Mage (Night Below), Female Eladrin Wizard (PH Handbook Heroes 1), Female Human Wizard (PH Handbook Heroes 2), Female Human Cleric (PH Handbook Heroes 2) / Combat Medic (War Drums).

Session 8 2-4 spoilers:

This one is easy. There are a wealth of WotC and other minis that can fit the roles of the various creatures. Consider several different minis instead of using the same for each monster of a type. Having several wraith-like and zombie-like minis on the board keeps players guessing as to whether there are just a few or many types of creatures in play. They can make a knowledge check (DC15) to learn the names, of course, but it makes for interesting play.


There are many fine places to purchase miniatures. First, consider supporting your local gaming store - they are hosting D&D Encounters, they are local (support the local economy, be green), and they will only be around if they make a profit. For hard-to-find minis from older sets, there are various places to shop. This site can be useful for comparing prices. This site is also useful.


NPC/Monster Table Tents
A table tent is a folded piece of paper (looking like an old fashioned camping tent) upon which you write information describing your PC. They are used by many RPGA living campaign players. They provide a quick capture of what the PC is and often contain a picture. You can read more about how I use them here. An example Word PC tent can be downloaded here. You can find others online or use the ones that came with the kit.

I have been working on NPC and Monster tents for all of the D&D Encounters sessions. Basically, I search my saved image gallery, the galleries on DDI, and my old pdf books for suitable images for each monster. I share the resulting pdf so you can print them out (grayscale is fine, and even low quality ink looks great). Cut out the images vertically, so you have a long strip with the image at the bottom. Fold in half, so you have an upside-down "V". When the players see the monsters you can bring them out. You can even put initiative tents (miniature folded paper "V"s with numbers on them) over them and give others to the players. Call out initiative ranges and hand out the initiative tents in order. ("Anyone over 20? Ok, you get the #1. Anyone above 15?...")

The table-tents can be downloaded from here. They are done through the end of Chapter 2. (The latest file covers 2-2, 2-3, and 2-4).


Intro Scrolling Presentation
This cool downloadable flash presentation makes for a nice store backdrop to have at a counter or near the gaming table. It was updated for week 6, so we may see more in the future.


Dungeon/Dragon Articles and Sourcebooks
Dungeon (and sometimes Dragon magazine) often has articles that are relevant to the topic at hand. It can be useful to search the archives for pictures, monster ecologies, and other relevant topics.
Spoiler for encounter 2-2:

Dragon 376 has an article on Fell Taints that can help DMs portray what they are like.
The Dungeoneering skill checks presented in the Monster Manual can be useful as a handout for players that make the DCs.
Several of the Chaos Star adventures (you can search through adventures here) have pictures and ideas that can help a DM approach the encounter in imaginative ways.



General DMing Threads
In addition to the above, here are some useful threads for DMs.

Useful Links for Dungeon Masters

A WotC group for trading ideas on Skill Challenges. You can also share ideas relevant to D&D Encounters here.


Ok, that should start us off. Any other tools you would recommend?

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Spoiler for encounter 2-2:

Dungeon has an article on Fell Taints that can help DMs portray what they are like.
The Dungeoneering skill checks presented in the Monster Manual can be useful as a handout for players that make the DCs.

Actually,
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The issue is Dragon 376
.

Thanks! Corrected with a link. I also added new parts, including minis for future encounters, terrain ideas, and a few other bits.

If anyone has good ideas for the 2-3 encounter, please let me know. I'm sure someone out there is crafty and has a cool idea the rest of us could steal. (Please use spoilers as needed).

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There are some great minis ideas over here for week 10. Wow!

For week 10, because our store has some Tuesday tables in addition to Wednesday, I implemented a card deck system to simulate both the Twitter buffs and the concept of the crazy alchemical/fungal explosions.

Spoilers for week 10 and content only for DMs:

I created a deck of 27 cards with effects that could impact the PCs. They work as follows:
  • The laboratory is littered in alchemical things tainted with the fungal growths... this has made everything unstable. In addition to the explosion possibilities, there is a Miscibility deck that PCs may trigger.

  • When a monster misses a PC, that PC must draw one card at random.

  • When a PC misses a monster, if there is another PC adjacent to the target that was missed, then that adjacent PC must draw a card

  • Monsters are not impacted, being immune from long-term exposure

  • If the cards run out, then the laboratory no longer has any more strange effects


Each card can have either a good effect, a neutral (or no) effect, or a positive effect. The effect lasts until the end of the encounter unless noted otherwise. Some cards have the equivalent of powers that can be used as an encounter power. Whenever a card is used up, it is removed from play.

There is a spray device on the exit that will spray all PCs as they leave, removing all chemicals and fungi and ending the effect. Under no circumstances should PCs retain any effect for future sessions!

You can find the cards here.

If you are using the Twitter buffs you may want to tone some of these down or place a rule such as 1 per PC at a time.


I have also uploaded table tents for the monsters in 3-2, though I am not sure anyone is using them.

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Author's Notes on Remaining Encounters
Every DM should read these.  There are some important bits there.


On Scaling Down Encounters and Ensuring Fun
The thread for season 10 underscores that there are a lot of DMs out there that seem to feel they must run what is in the adventure very literally. There are also more than a few DMs that want to run the combats as harder than they actually are written.

This is an introductory program. The author and WotC have made it clear on the forums that the point is to be fun and to attract and retain players. DMs should make sure that they are making this fun and that any increase in challenge is actually desired by the players.

There are a number of ways DMs can scale encounters, even on the fly. If during prep a DM sees that the encounter seems rough, or if the DM knows the table is low on resources, then one of these methods can be used to lower the difficulty.

Spoiler for session 10 and the remaining sessions:

Session 10 used up a lot of resources. It is very possible PCs are low on surges, low on daily powers, or both. Ideally, you want them to have some resources available for the final fight.

This suggests two things. One, you may want to reduce the difficulty in session 11 so they have an easy time and then can do well in session 12. Two, you may want to find ways to refresh these resources.


The part to follow is mostly written for DMs. However, for players, feel free to speak to DMs and let them know if the encounters have been to hard or too easy. Feeling overwhelmed? That is important information for your DM.

Spoilers for future weeks, for DMs only:

  • Make sure everyone is 2nd level. Help them level before play begins if necessary.

  • Before starting, think through what will play best. Will the party appreciate another hard fight? Will they enjoy a medium fight? Will they enjoy an easy fight? Depending on that answer, employ one or more of the following.

  • Treat the party as a "weak" party as listed on page 7, removing a foe of the level of the fight. You can do this twice if the party is already a weak party (table of 4, for example) and also low on resources. Alternately, apply the scaling rules from the DMG to lower all the monsters by one level. This is done by applying a -1 to attacks and defenses to all monsters and removing 8 HPs from each monster. (Technically, the HP value is based on role, but 8 is a good average).

  • Another way to reduce difficulty is to look at monster powers that might be overly strong. If the power recharges, increase the rate of recharge (make a tough power that recharges on 4-6 only recharge on 5-6). If the power is at-will but very strong, consider giving it a 3-6 or 4-6 recharge.

  • An alternate way to deal with strong monster powers that deal damage is to reduce the damage by one die. If a creature normally does 2d10+4 and that seems too brutal, bring it down to 2d8+4.

  • If your players lost all their dailies, consider using the equivalent of the DMG2's Energy Node terrain power (p59). A free action arcana check can identify that the square(s) will recharge an encounter power with a minor action - this can make a big difference. If your party is really hurt, it could even be used to recharge a daily... but make sure this is needed.

  • Alternately, consider the above but to restore a healing surge... this can be very big if you have a monk, rogue, or similar PC that is very low on surges.

  • In encounter 3-3, be inefficient with the W and Ts. The Ts are a lot less of a big deal if they don't get their tactics off, as is the W. Encourage knowledge checks so the party can try to prevent this as well. Consider delaying B by a round or two, so as to lower the damage output. Alternately, delay the Ts by a round or two and bring them in as a surprise, but after the party has focused fire and hurt the Ss.

  • In encounter 3-4, you want this to be a challenge. Still, make sure the perception checks vs passive are used and encourage active checks to lower the surprise factor. Remember that forced movement into hazardous terrain or a fall can grant a save to avoid (and the PC ends up prone). Remember that F can be awoken and encourage this as needed. Stat block for F is on page 11. Pathetic Appeal could be a cool power to use to defend herself and help by blocking or helping someone out the river. Silver Deception could be used to have a foe do nothing for a round or just move, provoking OAs. Those two powers alone are a nice way to contribute but not steal the show.





Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

I have uploaded the table tents for NPCs and monsters for the final two sessions, should anyone want to make use of them.

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This link contains spoilers for 3-3 and 3-4. For DMs only!

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).