New to D&D - Advice for running Keep on the Shadowfell

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My friends and I are new to D&D.  I'll be running Keep on the Shadowfell as our first campaign with three player characters.  I've read that there are a couple encounters that can be tough for a party of three.

What's the best way to scale down difficulty to accomodate three new players?  I'm trying to avoid making it too easy or having a TPK.

Any other tips for running KotS?

Thanks!



 
First make sure you have one that was fixed.  You can find it online.

Two read the whole thing all the way though and if you have questions ask us. There are a few things that are written very poorly you may have questions about.

I found it easy to scale down duirng encounters.  New player may need some time to really figure out how to do combat with their characters.

Mty players found the Hobgoblins particularly brutal.

Personally I took out the magic items and added ones my players wanted.

If you have any other questions you can PM or post here.

The module is designed for 5, so just reduce the budget of all encounters by 40%.  Be careful with the Irontooth encounter: that tends to result in a TPK for many groups, especially new groups.

As an aside, I recommend cutting out a large number of encounters as well, unless your group likes that kind of thing.  There were way too many fights for my taste.

If you would like some tips for adding more atmosphere to the dungeon, I used several of the ideas posed in the Orcus Conversion.
The module is designed for 5, so just reduce the budget of all encounters by 40%.  Be careful with the Irontooth encounter: that tends to result in a TPK for many groups, especially new groups.

As an aside, I recommend cutting out a large number of encounters as well, unless your group likes that kind of thing.  There were way too many fights for my taste.

If you would like some tips for adding more atmosphere to the dungeon, I used several of the ideas posed in the Orcus Conversion.




This is all good advice

I'd like to add if you want you can replace encounters with skill challanges so new player can get a better understand of what the skills can be used for.
If you have the DMG, you might want to run the "Kobold Hall" adventure that's in there first, before running KotS.  Also, there's some sidetrek encounters published in the early editions of Dungeon — 155 or so, if I recall correctly — which can be run early on (the two Hobgoblin encounters, which I had them do the same day they got into Winterhaven, going to rescue a caravan that had been waylaid; but they can be run before they go into Winterhaven, too).  Both of these helped alleviate some of the problems with the Irontooth encounter, because by the time they actually faced Irontooth they were level 2, and had more HP, the +1 from the half-level for their attacks and defenses, and a better idea of what they could do.
The module is designed for 5, so just reduce the budget of all encounters by 40%.  Be careful with the Irontooth encounter: that tends to result in a TPK for many groups, especially new groups.

As an aside, I recommend cutting out a large number of encounters as well, unless your group likes that kind of thing.  There were way too many fights for my taste.

If you would like some tips for adding more atmosphere to the dungeon, I used several of the ideas posed in the Orcus Conversion.




This is all good advice

I'd like to add if you want you can replace encounters with skill challanges so new player can get a better understand of what the skills can be used for.



I'm not familiar with "reducing the budget" does this mean reducing the HP of enemies by 40% or reducing the number of enemies?
If you have the DMG, you might want to run the "Kobold Hall" adventure that's in there first, before running KotS.  Also, there's some sidetrek encounters published in the early editions of Dungeon — 155 or so, if I recall correctly — which can be run early on (the two Hobgoblin encounters, which I had them do the same day they got into Winterhaven, going to rescue a caravan that had been waylaid; but they can be run before they go into Winterhaven, too).  Both of these helped alleviate some of the problems with the Irontooth encounter, because by the time they actually faced Irontooth they were level 2, and had more HP, the +1 from the half-level for their attacks and defenses, and a better idea of what they could do.



I didn't run the hall but its sounds like a great idea.

Irontooth is tricky because of how his abilties work.  He fight one way till hes bloodied then that changes, It confuses players tactically.  Usually when a target is blooded it is a time to rejoice, with him not so much.  At the advice of people on these forums I changed his weapon (but not the damage) to something a player wanted.

Also my players had some problems with the final encounter so you might want to consider modifiying stuff on the fly.  What is nice is that the players can win that one with skill checks.



I'm not familiar with "reducing the budget" does this mean reducing the HP of enemies by 40% or reducing the number of enemies?



The short "give a man a fish" answer: reduce the number of enemies.

The much longer "teach a man to fish" answer:

In 4th edition, the build-an-encounter system is based primarily on the XP Budget.

The is the amount of XP that the monsters (and traps) in an encounter are worth, which helps determine the Level of the Encounter (or, vice versa, you determine the level of the encounter you want, and then figure out how many XP are in the Budget).

Complicated terms, the Individual XP Budget of any particular level is 1/10th of the XP it would take to go from the level in question to the next level.  So Level 1 that would be 100 xp (1000/10); level 2 would be 125 (2250-1000=1250/10=125); Level 3 is 150 (3750-2250 etc), and so on. 

Simple terms: To find the amount a lot quicker, just look up a Standard monster of the appropriate level in one of the Monster books, and the XP value of it will be listed.

Take that number and multiply it by the number of PCs in the combat, and that will be the budget for that encounter.

So a Level 1 encounter for 5 players will have 500 xp in it.  A level 3 encounter for 6 players will have 900 xp, give or take.  A level 2 encounter for 3 players: 375.

In officially published adventures, the level of the encounter and the XP Budget for it will be listed at the beginning of the encounter set-up. Example: Encounter Level 15 (6,300 XP)

Most officially published adventures are designed for 5 players.  You can double check this by dividing the budget by 5, and then comparing it to a standard monster of that level.  (Or by doubling the budget and comparing it to the difference between that level and the next.)

Since you have stated that you intend to run it for 3 characters, this means that you need to consider reducing the budget by 40% — 2/5ths — in order to compensate for the lack of those two players.

The simplest way is to remove one standard monster of the encounter's level per player under 5 (or to add one for each player over 5).

Note that I keep mentioning "standard" monsters.  This is as opposed to Minions, Elites, and Solos.

What you may want to do — if it feels like the encounters are getting too stripped out — is replacing a couple of standard monsters with minions (1 hp monsters with standardized damage).  This keeps the encounter populace up there, but recudes their longevity significantly (since they'll usually die on the first hit).  Their XP is about 1/5th that of a standard monster, at low levels anyway; so that should be a good way to reduce the budget without making it too easy for them.

Ideally, PCs should be able to handle encounters of their level to their level+5.  The "sweet spot" tends to be Level+2 or Level+3, in my experience, though your mileage may vary.  Play around with it a little, figure out how good they are at combat, and how good you are, and you can start setting things up pretty well for them.

Either that or recruit two more players.  ;)
I was going to post a topic much like this one, so this is good to see.

I may try to Kobold Hall approach myself. I just hope my party won't be all "Kobolded Out" by the Irontooth encounter.

I do like the hook the DM's guide gives you to tie the two adventures together....
paperkeg.com @dale_a on the twitter
Keeping them as kobolds let's you tie the two adventures together.  Besides which, once you get past Irontooth, no more kobolds.  And then you get to hope they don't get goblin'd out.  ;)

Can always refluff the kobolds as goblins, though, and just go with it.  Whatever you do decide to do, though, I recommend you have an idea of why they're doing it and what, ultimately, you intend to happen if the heroes didn't get involved.

Since my games are running around here (as PbPs), and my players might see this, I'm spoilering it and hoping they stay on their honor. ;)

my "Kobold Hall - Keep on the Shadowfell" plotline arc

First, instead of going to Thunderspire Mountain for the next bit, I set my next hook to be HS2 Orcs of Stonefang Pass, with a stop in a refluffed Hommlet (standing in for Timbervale) along the way.

The Kobolds near Fallcrest, the Goblins near Winterhaven, the Hobgoblins near Timbervale, and the Orcs near Stonefang, are all loosely coordinated by various Evil Cults — Tiamat, Orcus, Lolth, and so on — who've been brought together by someone who wants them to be distracting everyone from what he's actually up to: Acererak.  (Yes, I have the Tomb of Horrors adventures planned, if they manage to get to them.)

Opposing them are the Raven Queen (who's passively helping) and Vecna (who's a bit more active, in that he's using underlings to annoy the heroes into following the trail of breadcrumbs).  Vecna's playing the long game, though, in that he wants Acererak to succeed long enough to weaken the Raven Queen, but not strong enough to be a real threat, which is why he's involved the heroes.  The rest of the non-evil Gods won't get directly involved because of the Dawn War Accords (Raven Queen being exempt because she wasn't immortal then, and probably wouldn't give a damned anyway even if she was; everyone else is too good to do so, or too evil to care).

Heroic Tier is the figuring out of what's going on.
Paragon Tier is countering the immediate threat — Acererak's own plots, as well as the plan the other Evils have come up with (Revenge of the Giants).
Epic Tier is dealing with the ultimate face-off: Acererak (if he's still around) vs Raven Queen vs Orcus vs Vecna in a battle royale.

Keeping them as kobolds let's you tie the two adventures together.  Besides which, once you get past Irontooth, no more kobolds.  And then you get to hope they don't get goblin'd out. 

Can always refluff the kobolds as goblins, though, and just go with it.  Whatever you do decide to do, though, I recommend you have an idea of why they're doing it and what, ultimately, you intend to happen if the heroes didn't get involved.

Since my games are running around here (as PbPs), and my players might see this, I'm spoilering it and hoping they stay on their honor.

my "Kobold Hall - Keep on the Shadowfell" plotline arc
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First, instead of going to Thunderspire Mountain for the next bit, I set my next hook to be HS2 Orcs of Stonefang Pass, with a stop in a refluffed Hommlet (standing in for Timbervale) along the way.

The Kobolds near Fallcrest, the Goblins near Winterhaven, the Hobgoblins near Timbervale, and the Orcs near Stonefang, are all loosely coordinated by various Evil Cults — Tiamat, Orcus, Lolth, and so on — who've been brought together by someone who wants them to be distracting everyone from what he's actually up to: Acererak.  (Yes, I have the Tomb of Horrors adventures planned, if they manage to get to them.)

Opposing them are the Raven Queen (who's passively helping) and Vecna (who's a bit more active, in that he's using underlings to annoy the heroes into following the trail of breadcrumbs).  Vecna's playing the long game, though, in that he wants Acererak to succeed long enough to weaken the Raven Queen, but not strong enough to be a real threat, which is why he's involved the heroes.  The rest of the non-evil Gods won't get directly involved because of the Dawn War Accords (Raven Queen being exempt because she wasn't immortal then, and probably wouldn't give a damned anyway even if she was; everyone else is too good to do so, or too evil to care).

Heroic Tier is the figuring out of what's going on.
Paragon Tier is countering the immediate threat — Acererak's own plots, as well as the plan the other Evils have come up with (Revenge of the Giants).
Epic Tier is dealing with the ultimate face-off: Acererak (if he's still around) vs Raven Queen vs Orcus vs Vecna in a battle royale.

Nah, you're right, swmabie. I think I'm more or less worried about what little time we'll have to play together will be spent "not playing the Keep on the Shadowfell."

Basically, with what all of us have going on in our personal lives, we'll be lucky to meet every 5-6 weeks for a chunk of play time. I have my mind set on running KotS. I'm just hoping my players don't get bored with the probable situation of them NOT getting to the Keep for what could be 3-4 months of real time, if not longer. If I choose to do Kobold Hall first, that will take at least the first whole play session and push back things even more. I think that's what I mean by being Kobolded (and Goblin'd) out.

Bah, I'm just stressing, no need to post about this junk OR hijack the op's thread! AT LEAST we'll be getting to play, something that is more important to us than anything else!
paperkeg.com @dale_a on the twitter
There was a whole section of the initial dungeon, I think it was the rough, unfinished caverns, that I found to be a huge waste of time. I dropped the whole thing, moved anything the players needed to find to other sections. I think that is a big part of the adventure, removing the "grind" portions that are there purely for xp or to slow down the adventurers. Focus on the interesting bits, ones that don't require a fight to the death in every encounter.

Also, I would suggest revamping the main villain. As he stands in the written game, he isn't that effective and really lacks in clear direction. He even carries a magic item, a helm of charging or somesuch, he can't even use. If the evil necromancer dude is charging the players, there is something wrong ;)
Use the module, any module, as an inspiration and guideline, rather than as a constraint. It might seem like everything will be fine if you just stick to what's written, but in doing so you will miss out on the true potential of the game, especially if you're blocking player ideas in order to stay on the track of the adventure. As soon as you're comfortable, start asking the players what they think is going on in the adventure, and what they'd like to be engaged in while playing. They'll give you good ideas, and you can avoid or omit sections they players wouldn't enjoy.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I think I'm more or less worried about what little time we'll have to play together will be spent "not playing the Keep on the Shadowfell." Basically, with what all of us have going on in our personal lives, we'll be lucky to meet every 5-6 weeks for a chunk of play time. I have my mind set on running KotS. I'm just hoping my players don't get bored with the probable situation of them NOT getting to the Keep for what could be 3-4 months of real time, if not longer.



Believe me, you are not the only one with this issue.  My own tabletop group gets together twice, maybe three times, a year, at best.

From personal experience, I strongly suggest you don't bother with a long term adventure like Keep/Shadowfell.  The second time y'all get together, you'll be spending a good portion of the time reminding people who and what they are, and why they're doing it.

I suggest finding One Shots instead.  If you go to the Living Forgotten Realms website, there are a bunch of adventures that can be run in one sitting (3 or so hours, if not quicker); just refluff them if you don't want to tread on the Realms.  There's stuff published in Dungeon all the time.  There's even a book full of them: Dungeon Delves.

I've personally found it a lot easier to run one of these when my people can get together, instead of trying to run any sort of campaign or even multi-session adventures.

In fact, its rare for them to play the same characters from time to time; they wouldn't remember them even if they did.  So the night before, once I know how many people are supposed to show up, and I've found a one-shot I like the look of, I make a party for them, based on what I know of them and what they like.  Sometimes I'll give them twists they've never played before, sometimes I'll give them their usual types of characters.  Sometimes I'll pick investigations, sometimes combat-intense stuff; sometimes I'll have one of each and gauge their moods.  4e's easy enough to play that I usually don't have to worry about what I'm giving them; some people I'm more likely to give Essentials classes to than others to cut down on Analysis Paralysis, but the mechanics are all straight forward, so once I've done the "Ok, read over your powers.  Any questions?" and answered anything they're not sure about, it's pretty straight forward.

AT LEAST we'll be getting to play, something that is more important to us than anything else!



That's the definite truth. 

If you're interested in playing more often, though.... ;)  There's a couple of forums on the boards here for Play-by-Post games.  As rare as my tabletop group gets together, I (and my wife) get our fix by playing PbP instead.  If you're looking for more steady games, that might be an option for you to look into.  If you want to know more, PM me. 
swmabie,

That's probably the best advice that I will need to hear. As much as I fantasize about a grandiose adventure where I can take my players from 1-to-infinity, realistically, I'll be lucky if we see each other 8 times in a year.

Maybe I try to implement some crazy plan where every time my players meet, they are a new level. I run a little one-shot adventure for first level and that "levels" them to 2, and the next time we meet we have a 2nd level one-shot... it's starting to sound more appealing as I type. Just to keep it sort of fresh and a way to capitalize what short time we have together.

Thanks for the PbP input, as well. I may be pm'ing you! I appreciate it. 
paperkeg.com @dale_a on the twitter
Maybe I try to implement some crazy plan where every time my players meet, they are a new level. I run a little one-shot adventure for first level and that "levels" them to 2, and the next time we meet we have a 2nd level one-shot... it's starting to sound more appealing as I type. Just to keep it sort of fresh and a way to capitalize what short time we have together.


If you do this, and your group enjoys the combat aspects more than other stuff, then I strongly recommend getting the Dungeon Delves book.  It has 30 short adventures in it — one for each level, each with about 3 encounters or so; so if you do the level-per-game thing, you can do everything with the one book, pretty much.  They also have suggestions for expansions and other tie-ins, so if you are able to spend more time playing, you can expand them as you see fit, or keep them as simple one-shots.  I've used them both ways; I've used them for my tabletop group as one-shots, and I've used them to tied into one of my play-by-post group's adventure, to save me time for full-fledged encounter building.
Maybe I try to implement some crazy plan where every time my players meet, they are a new level. I run a little one-shot adventure for first level and that "levels" them to 2, and the next time we meet we have a 2nd level one-shot... it's starting to sound more appealing as I type. Just to keep it sort of fresh and a way to capitalize what short time we have together.


If you do this, and your group enjoys the combat aspects more than other stuff, then I strongly recommend getting the Dungeon Delves book.  It has 30 short adventures in it — one for each level, each with about 3 encounters or so; so if you do the level-per-game thing, you can do everything with the one book, pretty much.  They also have suggestions for expansions and other tie-ins, so if you are able to spend more time playing, you can expand them as you see fit, or keep them as simple one-shots.  I've used them both ways; I've used them for my tabletop group as one-shots, and I've used them to tied into one of my play-by-post group's adventure, to save me time for full-fledged encounter building.
I second that recommendation, whether you're into combat or not. Furthermore, many of the supplementary books contain "delves" and encounters that can be slotted in with little or no justification.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

swmabie,

That's probably the best advice that I will need to hear. As much as I fantasize about a grandiose adventure where I can take my players from 1-to-infinity, realistically, I'll be lucky if we see each other 8 times in a year.

Maybe I try to implement some crazy plan where every time my players meet, they are a new level. I run a little one-shot adventure for first level and that "levels" them to 2, and the next time we meet we have a 2nd level one-shot... it's starting to sound more appealing as I type. Just to keep it sort of fresh and a way to capitalize what short time we have together.

Thanks for the PbP input, as well. I may be pm'ing you! I appreciate it. 




You  have DDI, so look at the Chaos Scar adventures.
Most of them can be played in a single night, and they exist for just about every level , so it's good for the 'we level after every session' pacing. 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
Thanks for all of the excellent advice so far.  I've been super busy and we haven't started the campaign yet but I'll post an update once we do.