DME or Bust: How threatening is Threatening Reach?

42 posts / 0 new
Last post

As a DM, I find the encounters in LFR too easy for the most part. The PCs in my games run from average to seriously min-maxed. I have some questions and concerns about DME, and I'm hoping for some feedback from the larger LFR community.


I am an experienced DM looking for ways to make the encounters more challenging. I am not out to wipe parties or punish players for savvy character creation. If something is too hard, I am perfectly capable of dialing it back. My point here is to provide a challenge, so that the players really feel that their characters have survived an ordeal and earned their rewards.


1. In general, I give Threatening Reach to monsters that have reach. Tonight, after a slot zero of the WitR adventure, we were discussing this and one guy said he would report me for doing this at a con and  that it was just too powerful an effect to give to monsters as DME. Now if I can add a level or add a monster, I don't see how adding a power here or there is out of hand. What do you think?


2. I often go over the monsters in LFR mods using the monster generation guides in the DMG and DMG2. This generally results in their defenses going up by one or two. Sometimes I spot clear errors in the monster stat blocks and this has taught me a lot about how monsters are put together. Is this a violation or just pushing the boundaries of DME? I inform players at the beginning of a session that I buff the monsters a bit to provide a more challenging experience.


3. Is it acceptable to switch out two normal creatures for an elite? For example, in Silver Lining there is an Orc Beastmaster with some bugs. The first time I ran the mod for six players with four bugs, per the guidelines and the PCs just slaughtered them. The second time, also with six players, I used two elite bugs instead of four normals. It was a much more satisfying encounter, in my opinion, where the monsters actually had a chance to demonstrate their powers and pose a little bit of a threat.


4. In reading over the RPGA rules, I didn't see anything about punishment for DMs who modify the adventures, but I did notice some rules that might make the pushy, overbearing rules lawyers uncomfortable. =) With a con coming up, should I be worried? Is an event organizer really going to get upset that I gave a monster threatening reach? If so, I think I might be done with LFR.


Thanks for reading such a long post. To me, the whole point is to have fun and create a challenging, yet ultimately satisfying D&D experience. But with a know-it-all rules lawyer in my face saying he would report me for my DME style, I thought I should get some other opinions.

Chris Tulach explained that you cannot change/add monster powers or replace monsters as part of DME, so nr 1 and 3 are not  valid for DME. I would avoid using it at Cons.


Nr 2: correcting monsters is fine. Try to feedback if you gind an error. we do make mistakes. Note though that the Monster Builder levels and de-levels monster differently than the rules we have used so far (as the builder also changes stats, defenses, and damage dice). I don't know if we are suppsoed to sue the budielr - I expect we won't as long as it is still in beta and therefor prone to change.


Nr 4: depends on the con organizer, but you should realize that at a Con, not every player caters to your taste, and they are in their right to complain about changes you makewhen these are not legal. In general, I believe you will get in trouble only if players feel slighted, but it is hard to predict if or when that happens.


Ia dvsie to not make changes to an adventure at a Con that are not withing DME rules. You can add monsters or up their levels, but even that should be done with some care. Not every group acts like yours. I have been in enough adventures where just the standard fight was tough on the party.


 

The newest iteration of the CCG has information on what is allowed with DME.  You can find it on the Events download page.

Sorry WOTC, you lost me with Essentials. So where I used to buy every book that came out, now I will be very choosy about what I buy. Can we just get back to real 4e? Check out the 4e Conversion Wiki. 1. Wizards fight dirty. They hit their enemies in the NADs. -- Dragon9 2. A barbarian hits people with his axe. A warlord hits people with his barbarian. 3. Boo-freakin'-hoo, ya light-slingin' finger-wigglers. -- MrCelcius in response to the Cleric's Healer's Lore nerf

The newest iteration of the CCG has information on what is allowed with DME.  You can find it on the Events download page.


Of course I have poured over every word of documentation already. I understand what is there, I'm just trying to understand what the wiggle room is.


Can anyone provide a reference for the Chris Tulach ruling above?


In this post he mod author specifically suggests adding powers if the combat is too easy: community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...


 

My opinion is that as long as any changes you make enchance the fun the table has, go for it.


The tricky bit, and this will require your experience as a DM, is to gauge whether a particular change will enchance the fun.


If you are going to beef up monsters, I'd run it by the table. Play the first fight by the book, then mention 'gee, guys. I noticed you kinda walked over that encounter. I was thinking about giving you a bit more of a challenge in the next one. Would you prefer a challenge, or shall I just run it as written?'


Many tables will be fine with you upping the challenge, as long as 1) they don't perceive changes to be 'unfair' and 2) you don't run over time as a result. Other tables will prefer to munch through the combats quickly and leave more room to explore the story, RP etc.

I would agree.  I tend to ask my players before we start if they are ok with adjustments to what is written if it enhances the game experience for them.  If it makes a challenge more fun or interesting great, if it makes it memorable excellent.  While I don't typically look at things like TR as this was about, I have adjusted a power that allowed a reach attack that also knocked the target prone to be adapted to hit everyone adjacent.  Using it against 2 dwarfs did only slight damage over normal but to see them pump fists because they saved from bing knocked prone and thought they "won" the round because of it can be a great way to get people involved when they are simply sitting waiting for their turn again.


 



My opinion is that as long as any changes you make enchance the fun the table has, go for it.


The tricky bit, and this will require your experience as a DM, is to gauge whether a particular change will enchance the fun.


If you are going to beef up monsters, I'd run it by the table. Play the first fight by the book, then mention 'gee, guys. I noticed you kinda walked over that encounter. I was thinking about giving you a bit more of a challenge in the next one. Would you prefer a challenge, or shall I just run it as written?'


Many tables will be fine with you upping the challenge, as long as 1) they don't perceive changes to be 'unfair' and 2) you don't run over time as a result. Other tables will prefer to munch through the combats quickly and leave more room to explore the story, RP etc.




Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate. "Abandon all hope ye who enter here." A child of 5 could understand this, someone bring me a child of 5.



To me, the whole point is to have fun and create a challenging, yet ultimately satisfying D&D experience. But with a know-it-all rules lawyer in my face saying he would report me for my DME style, I thought I should get some other opinions.




Your post had what I'd see as a few warning flags, though obviously I do not know enough about you or your gaming group to really say who's in the right here.

"What are the limits to how much I can change an adventure against the players' will without them being able to raise a legitimate complaint?" is almost always going to be the wrong question.

If players are having less fun because of your changes, then you're missing the point.  If you will not enjoy DMing without making such changes, you might be better off not DMing.

As far as your changes go:
* In a public play environment, an adventure should be an appropriate challenge within the time constraints.  If increasing the challenge causes an adventure to be unplayable in a four-hour time slot without rushing through the non-combat portions, your changes were not appropriate.
* The combats are play-tested with the creature statistics as given.  You should only change a creature's statistics if you believe that doing so will have a beneficial result, not to conform to the rule-of-thumb guidelines for monster generation.
* Threatening reach is a big deal.  There is a reason why most creatures that have reach do not have threatening reach.

I have always felt that DME was unnecessary--players empower DMs they trust.  LFR certainly isn't the first campaign where DMs show up at a table and say, "Hey, I'm going to change things in the module to make it more fun."  It is, however, the first campaign where players don't have the option to say, "Er, I'd really rather you not."  I am of the belief that players should always have the right to ask for an adventure to be ran as written (though, conversely, DMs always have the right to decide they're not interested in running for a particular group).

DME is there to allow you to deal with the unusual, with corner cases the adventure author couldn't have predicted and to allow you to customize an adventure for the group.  The default assumption should be that you pick up and run the module without changes.  If you are making meaningful changes to most adventures you run, then you're going beyond what most people will reasonably expect out of convention play, and you would be better off finding a group of friends who enjoy your DMing style rather than imposing it on strangers showing up to play standard LFR adventures.

I have always felt that DME was unnecessary--players empower DMs they trust.  LFR certainly isn't the first campaign where DMs show up at a table and say, "Hey, I'm going to change things in the module to make it more fun."  It is, however, the first campaign where players don't have the option to say, "Er, I'd really rather you not."  I am of the belief that players should always have the right to ask for an adventure to be ran as written (though, conversely, DMs always have the right to decide they're not interested in running for a particular group).



Well previous campaigns also didn't have an explicit "means" for players to tell GMs that they didn't like what they were doing but I'm sure it happened. I think that in the same way, players are still "empowered" to seek their own enjoyment and to give feedback to the GMs and to con/gameday organizers. That includes saying, "please run the adventure as written.


Can anyone provide a reference for the Chris Tulach ruling above?




In the CCG ver 1.9:


What can be done:



The DM can make slight modifications to an encounter to make it the right challenge for the group. Examples include adding another monster of the same type as one existing in an encounter (such as adding a 4th gobli sharpshooter to an encounter that normally has 3), removing a monster from an encounter, adjusting the level of a monster by +/- 1 level (and thereby adjusting hit points, defenses, and attacks), or changing the tactics present for a monster to something more/less optimal than listed.




What cannot be done:



The DM cannot add monsters or NPCs to encounters that are not present in the adventure. The DM must use the monsters present in the adventure. For example, if an encounter includes an adult green dragon, the DM cannot change the dragon to an adult white dragon or an elder green dragon.




Adding powers changes the monster to a different monster, so is not legal. I woudl avoid it at cons where you don't know the players.


Gomez

You should also remember that at Cons it can be a much bigger issue.  People pay to play many times, also it is possible some players have played or GM'ed the module before.  While they should tell you (and it could be a problem if they did not) they could be expecting something specific and might be more likely to complain than a home game where you know your people and what they expect from you.


I would stear clear of changing monsters/powers outright.  Tactics can get interesting and it is many times hard to keep with the tactics but it is a way things can play out significantly differently than a playtest.

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate. "Abandon all hope ye who enter here." A child of 5 could understand this, someone bring me a child of 5.

So, I personally strongly wish that DME were a bit looser than it currently is... but I would strongly suggest against handing out Threatening Reach to lots of things that have reach. Doing so is pretty much against a design tenet (and feature, imo) of 4e.

Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director

I play in a relatively optimized, balanced group and someone dies every 4th mod or so because the DM thought through the tactics of the monsters before even knowing what the composition of the table is.


And some of the mods are ones where we've played it at other tables and walked 'em.


I'd make a checklist along the lines of this:
Is there some way to take advantage of the terrain to keep melee types away? Pin ranged attackers in a confined space? Get people into burst/blast position? Force them past traps? If the creature is mostly ranged, how to avoid the PCs. If you daze, position yourself 2 away from melee types to make them unable to charge. Etc...


Do you want to focus fire? Who do you want to focus fire on? Either Leaders or people in Chain not in the front line(aka people you can be sure likely have the worst AC in the party) tend to be good choices - some players might find this really unfair, even those players who actually focus fire on opponents.


Try to use powers in this order:
Recharge
Encounter
At-wills 


Dragons, as an example, should only use their fear on round 1 if they can catch the party in their breath on round 1 too via action point. That gives an extra chance of getting an extra breath.


Doing these kinds of things can really add a layer of challenge that is already in the mod.


As a DM, I find the encounters in LFR too easy for the most part. The PCs in my games run from average to seriously min-maxed.



Some players feel this way, but I would note that this is starting to change. Where players would once name 1-3 mods that can be very challenging, most players that are playing a lot can likely name 7-10 1st-4th adventures that can be challenging. So, depending on how often you play and which mods you play, it could be that even your min-maxed players will see the difficulty increase on its own. In this poll the majority seems to feel the difficulty is either just right or goes back and forth, but the number of players blanketedly feeling that the campaign is too easy seems low.


(55% say just right, 33% say swings too much, 8% too easy, 2% too hard).


I have some questions and concerns about DME, and I'm hoping for some feedback from the larger LFR community.


Yeah, this is a nice reminder that I need to work on the DME guide. I did make some progress recently, so I have posted what I have as new posts in the old thread. I will work some more on it and then probably create a new thread, so everyone's comments are welcome.


I am an experienced DM looking for ways to make the encounters more challenging. I am not out to wipe parties or punish players for savvy character creation. If something is too hard, I am perfectly capable of dialing it back. My point here is to provide a challenge, so that the players really feel that their characters have survived an ordeal and earned their rewards.


You come off as a savvy DM, so I'm pretty confident you can dial things back. What I would say is that back a few years ago I probably was too challenging of an LG judge. I worked tactics too stringently, aimed for blood (even while being nice about it) and didn't pull punches. In retrospect, that wasn't necessarily better for my tables. Challenging is not always fun. I play with smart and often optimized players and there is a lot of fun to having easy encounters. For one, you feel like you accomplished something - you really are a super hero. For another, it allows you to relax, RP, and enjoy. An edge-of-seat battle is great, but should not be the norm. I know go for the DMG's recommendation. In most mods I look to have on easy, one fair, and one challenging combat. I don't look at success as dropping PCs, because players generally hate having their turn skipped while they are down. Instead, I look to have a few bloody PCs and/or see the players think hard tactically as a sign that the encounter was challenging. That's not to say I don't drop PCs unconscious, but it isn't my goal.

The second concern is that there can be a big difference between players. Some might be really optimized, rocking the defender-striker paladin, while another might be a casual player just checking out the shaman for the first time. You can really hurt the later player's enjoyment if you make encounters much harder consistently.


1. In general, I give Threatening Reach to monsters that have reach. Tonight, after a slot zero of the WitR adventure, we were discussing this and one guy said he would report me for doing this at a con and  that it was just too powerful an effect to give to monsters as DME. Now if I can add a level or add a monster, I don't see how adding a power here or there is out of hand. What do you think?


It isn't that threatening reach is so powerful, but I don't like it as a policy. The reason is that TR is more about denying movement, which is a big part of what melee PCs do. Consistent TR, especially in some adventures full of reach, could really make a player feel that it is unfair.


Aside from the effect of it, it is prohibited by DME. Again, I'm confident you mean well, but players can really be ticked off by things like this. I ran a mod (by the book) where I really nerfed the ranger. I kept him blind or stunned much of the encounter. I didn't aim to do so (because I hate consistently picking on one PC), but it just worked out that way. The player complained vehemently, then a day later apologized and said it was actually a good challenge and the first time he had been shut down. While i appreciate his later perspective, his first reaction is the one that registers most - many players will feel that way if we deny them all the time.


2. I often go over the monsters in LFR mods using the monster generation guides in the DMG and DMG2. This generally results in their defenses going up by one or two. Sometimes I spot clear errors in the monster stat blocks and this has taught me a lot about how monsters are put together. Is this a violation or just pushing the boundaries of DME? I inform players at the beginning of a session that I buff the monsters a bit to provide a more challenging experience.


If it looks to be errata, it should be ok. But, again, errors should work both ways, both up and down in difficulty, and you should be careful that a correction doesn't create too much of a challenge. After all, it is likely it was playtested as written.


3. Is it acceptable to switch out two normal creatures for an elite? For example, in Silver Lining there is an Orc Beastmaster with some bugs. The first time I ran the mod for six players with four bugs, per the guidelines and the PCs just slaughtered them. The second time, also with six players, I used two elite bugs instead of four normals. It was a much more satisfying encounter, in my opinion, where the monsters actually had a chance to demonstrate their powers and pose a little bit of a threat.


DME does not allow that. It actually doesn't allow swapping at all, though you could argue it could.... if you use monsters already in the adventure (and arguably just in that encounter). So, if you had an elite and two normals, you could add an elite and be within DME. You could not take an encounter with two normals and add some elite from a sourcebook.


Having said that, as you note later, sometimes DMs and even authors might recommend a substitution, but this has to be done with the greatest of kid gloves. And, I would strongly argue that it shoud be done with the approval of the players.


Here is an example of an experience I had at GenCon. We had played some Legend of the Five Rings and had our butts handed to us. One of our friends had his PC die. The other sacrificed himself that we would live. It was brutal. We were completely drained. Now we go play LFR and we state we are looking for a cakewalk. The DM stealth runs us on high, kills one PC (belonging to the player that had just sacrificed his PC in L5R), and generally gives us an insane challenge with his own variation of DME. Now, I know this DM enough to know he is an excellent DM. But, here, he erred in judgement. We did not want to play high, we did not want a challenge. It wasn't fun. I actually knew the adventure, so it was really hard for me because I could see what was happening. If I had not personally liked the DM, I would have considered complaining.


4. In reading over the RPGA rules, I didn't see anything about punishment for DMs who modify the adventures, but I did notice some rules that might make the pushy, overbearing rules lawyers uncomfortable. =) With a con coming up, should I be worried? Is an event organizer really going to get upset that I gave a monster threatening reach? If so, I think I might be done with LFR.


The rules are under the general RPGA guidelines, but are very rough. The chance of any reporting really causing grief for you are low. However, I would look instead to the community effect. You want to have the trust of the players in your area and at your conventions. I would not fear official sanction, but rather would examine player reactions and aim to keep the table happy.


To be honest, my preference and suggestion would be that you do the following: "Hi guys, I generally like to run a challenging table, as I find LFR to be a bit easy. Would you like me to use DME to make things a bit harder?" Then, if they say yes, you might say, "Would you like me to use things not allowed by DME?" But, to be honest, I would only venture beyond DME when I know the players specifically. I would not be in favor of a blanket rule regarding something like reach, because I think there are too many effects from that on specific PCs (melee) and because some encounter should not need that extra change.


But with a know-it-all rules lawyer in my face saying he would report me for my DME style, I thought I should get some other opinions.



That guy has as much a right to play as anyone else, though he may make it harder to have fun. I have judged enough to think that his reaction is not alone, however. Again, I trust that you are a fun DM, but I can believe that players would be annoyed by what is basically a custom rule.

For example, I use a warlock with a rod of reaving and a rod of corruption. I don't do it to minion-pop, but minions do indeed pop. Periodically, I come across DMs that try to use DME to rule otherwise. It annoys me to no end, because DME does not allow them to ignore core rules or make up their own.

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).


So, I personally strongly wish that DME were a bit looser than it currently is...




It was, technically, when LFR started.  DME was briefly mentioned but didn't have guidelines beyond telling DMs they could make minor changes to make things fun for the players.  As usual, people took it way beyond what it was meant to be (up to and including "reskinning" of modules) even when the admins explained what changes were meant to be appropriate.  As such the DME rules put forth made things more strict.
Sorry WOTC, you lost me with Essentials. So where I used to buy every book that came out, now I will be very choosy about what I buy. Can we just get back to real 4e? Check out the 4e Conversion Wiki. 1. Wizards fight dirty. They hit their enemies in the NADs. -- Dragon9 2. A barbarian hits people with his axe. A warlord hits people with his barbarian. 3. Boo-freakin'-hoo, ya light-slingin' finger-wigglers. -- MrCelcius in response to the Cleric's Healer's Lore nerf

Thanks for the great, thoughtful replies. I can admit when I'm wrong, so I will stick within the changes allowed by DME and work with the monsters I'm given.


I may try a new tactic. Part of the problem is that I spend a bunch of time making custom counters and drawing maps ahead of time for the battles that end up being a cakewalk most of the time. I started doing this because it seemed like LFR is mostly about fighting, which I think is a part of the culture of my local group. I hear people say that the battles shouldn't be so tough that they take away time from the roleplaying and laugh. The group here is generally itching for the fights and aren't really into playing their characters.


Anyway, I think I'll try spending less time preparing for the fights, use quick maps and the counters I already have, and let the fights play out quickly so there's more time for the story elements I enjoy more anyway. We'll see how it goes. I'm not making a U-turn and putting the combats on auto-pilot, I'm just going to try and not stress as much about making the fights more challenging.


Plus I finally got a job again, so I don't have as much time to obsess over LFR encounters. lol



It was, technically, when LFR started.  DME was briefly mentioned but didn't have guidelines beyond telling DMs they could make minor changes to make things fun for the players.  As usual, people took it way beyond what it was meant to be (up to and including "reskinning" of modules) even when the admins explained what changes were meant to be appropriate.




I think that might be overstating the issue slightly.  My characterization would be that there were a variety of points of view inside campaign staff when the rules were being discussed.  Perhaps as a reaction to LG, the "consistency of play is dead" group carried the day at the beginning, but that day has long since passed.

If you look back at the original postings, DME was originally sold as being fairly unrestricted, with DMs being given free reign to express their creative side.  Some campaign staff even took the tone that 'real' DMs would just be using modules as somewhat of a framework, with running an adventure as written being the province of unskilled DMs.  Here's how one regional POC described DME when it was first announced:
The reason this is being done is because outside of the RPGA it is viewed by many people as exactly what you say, the fast food of D&D.  It is the perception of many people that good DMs are hindered by the fact that they can't use their creativitiy.  They MUST follow the adventure as written not matter how bad it is.  Plus, they can't improvise in order to make the game more in line with the players currently playing it.  So, as the misperception goes, you cannot ever play a great game of D&D in the RPGA.  Good DMs will be limited to only a mediocre performance and bad DMs will be raised to a mediocre level.

The idea is now to give DMs an adventure that they CAN run exactly as written if they want.  This gives those without the confidence or skill to make changes the ability to run the mod at a mediocre level.  But it lets those who are extremely creative and adaptable do what they want and have free reign.  Yes, there will likely be some people who are bad DMs who are going to abuse this freedom.  However, I believe the number of people who will actually cause more problems with this freedom than they did without it is extremely small.

I'd like to believe that there are more good DMs out there than bad.  I'd also like to believe that given the freedom to explore their creative side and some encouragement a lot of average DMs could actually get better.

I do have more friends who like D&D and consider sitting down at a random table of non-RPGA D&D at GenCon to be a LOT more fun than going into the RPGA room than I have friends who think the other way around.  We aim to change that.



While I agree that DME is best left to minor customization, it would be erroneous to say that that was the uniform view of DME at the beginning.  Fortunately, that day has passed.

Yeah... I've used DME to great effect back in the day. In fact, it turned Spellgard from a ho-hum or possibly sucky module into one that was exceedingly well received.


Whereas now there are modules I'd avoid running, because I think they are pretty bad as written and I don't want to alter them sufficiently to make it fun. There's also groups that I would avoid running LFR for, in favor of a home game, because there's no longer the freedom to retouch the modules up for their particular group and get them more involved.


I still play and run LFR frequently, but I miss a lot of the DME freedom. I can empathize, however, with the many players who no doubt got _screwed_ by it.

Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director

By far the simplest and most effective method I have found is simply to ask the players at the outset.


Say something like "I can run this mod as is, but if your characters are at all well put together, you'll not find much of it challenging. If you like, I can push the challenge level higher. It will be riskier, but I think it'll be more fun so long as your characters are combat-capable"


That way the guy who has a concept character, or the girl who really likes to destroy enemies in a single round, leaving more time for role-play, can ask to play it as is, and those who like combat a lot can opt to play a more dangerous game. 


I think it's much better to ask than guess what player like. And if you do ramp it up, tell the table how you increased it so they can feel good about their accomplishment! 


- Graham


In most mods I look to have on easy, one fair, and one challenging combat. I don't look at success as dropping PCs, because players generally hate having their turn skipped while they are down. Instead, I look to have a few bloody PCs and/or see the players think hard tactically as a sign that the encounter was challenging. That's not to say I don't drop PCs unconscious, but it isn't my goal.




Excellent post overall, AS, and I particularly want to add my support for this bit. There is often IME a difference of opinion on different sides of the table as for what was 'challenging'. In one more recent 7-10 mod I ran, the players cakewalked the first encounter, so I had the second encounter run into the first with no short rest (the mod allowed for it in the notes, and it made sense from the point of view of the story). After the initial shock, the PCs got down to it, and by dint of some good tactics, use of daily powers and a couple of very poor rolls on my part, they seemed to me to walk this encounter too.


After the dust had settled, I made some offhand comment about the low challenge level, and was told in no uncertain terms that the players had found it a very challenging combat, and were pleased and relieved to have defeated it. I pointed out that only one PC was bloodied at the end (although several had been bloodied over the course of the fights; I think I dropped one of them at one point), and there was still some healing left, so they were hardly in any danger of death. However, this was not the point. The point was that the PCs felt challenged, felt that their superior tactics and a bit of luck had allowed them to prevail. And that is the best kind of challenging encounter, IMO.

It is that "feel" of challenge that is also one of the more difficult things to grasp especially for players since they have less overview then the DM, but even the DM falls into the same trap. All too often I have seen players conclude a fight was easy because they only look at their own character in detail and whether or not characters became bloodied. All too often they do not realize how much resources exactly each character spend during the fight. For example, if all methods of healing have been spend, a string of even moderately bad rolls can lead to dead PCs even though at the time it  looks like nothing bad is going on. Many players also don't realize how much influence the dice had on a particular fight. Of course, it also happens the otherway around as others have pointed out, but usually that is less of a problem.

Regardless, at conventions I stay within DME territority, and even then I rarely up the challenge unless players specifically ask me to do so. More often then not, using specific tactics makes the difference anyway. In home games or when running with players I know well I on occassion do a bit more then strictly permissable with DME (and always to increase the challenge or to add more RPing, never to change the story). The players are aware of it, and I have discussed what they are comfortable with beforehand. Ultimately we run the game for all at the table to have the most fun. Campaign management cannot predict group composition and players' preferred game style. As long as no players are having fun you as a DM are doing a good job.

As long as no players are having fun you as a DM are doing a good job.

hehehehe Cool
When I first started messing with 4E I was all over the "more challenging" fights approach, and I worked out a good balance wrt party level and monsters pool that would generate consistent challenging fights, and boy did the party have some close ones as a result.

Then recently I did something different; I made "average" fights. Fights where a bit of luck one way or the other would change the way the fight felt to the party quite a lot, but the fight would be well in the party's abilities with balanced rolling.


When I changed my players had more fun.


I'm not going back to the "more challenging" model.


This also feeds into the "lock the party down" approach to encounter desgin - nothing worse than spending 8 rounds immobilised/dazed/restrained/stunned and unable to do anything to the enemies. Sure the fights are challenging, and you burn through resources, but they are boring, when 1/2 the fight is spent doing nothing but making a save, and they are also time wasting (a problem with elite or solos that self heal as well spending 1/2 an hour taking 1/2 the hit points of such a monster just to have it heal them all back up leads to long dull fights).


In 4E the game is much more exciting when the PCs are doing things, moving around, using their powers effectively and so on.


That doesn't require you to make the encounters easy. Making smart use of the monsters (according to the monster's abilities), and of terrain etc will make the fights intersting and appropriately challenging, all without making a 45 minute fight take 75 minutes because the PCs spent most of it doing nothing.

As long as no players are having fun you as a DM are doing a good job.


Embarassed Ok Ok... that is a bit of an embarrasing typo. I blame it on the long weekend of gaming Wink It should have been: "As long as the players are having fun you as a DM are doing a good job."


As long as no players are having fun you as a DM are doing a good job.


 Ok Ok... that is a bit of an embarrasing typo. I blame it on the long weekend of gaming  It should have been: "As long as the players are having fun you as a DM are doing a good job."



Heh.


I thought that you might have been going with this theory of DMing:


www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/3/4/


 



In most mods I look to have on easy, one fair, and one challenging combat. I don't look at success as dropping PCs, because players generally hate having their turn skipped while they are down. Instead, I look to have a few bloody PCs and/or see the players think hard tactically as a sign that the encounter was challenging. That's not to say I don't drop PCs unconscious, but it isn't my goal.




Excellent post overall, AS, and I particularly want to add my support for this bit. There is often IME a difference of opinion on different sides of the table as for what was 'challenging'. In one more recent 7-10 mod I ran, the players cakewalked the first encounter, so I had the second encounter run into the first with no short rest (the mod allowed for it in the notes, and it made sense from the point of view of the story). After the initial shock, the PCs got down to it, and by dint of some good tactics, use of daily powers and a couple of very poor rolls on my part, they seemed to me to walk this encounter too.


After the dust had settled, I made some offhand comment about the low challenge level, and was told in no uncertain terms that the players had found it a very challenging combat, and were pleased and relieved to have defeated it. I pointed out that only one PC was bloodied at the end (although several had been bloodied over the course of the fights; I think I dropped one of them at one point), and there was still some healing left, so they were hardly in any danger of death. However, this was not the point. The point was that the PCs felt challenged, felt that their superior tactics and a bit of luck had allowed them to prevail. And that is the best kind of challenging encounter, IMO.




I will also note that, often DMs underestimate the challenge that an encounter poses. In the last few weeks, I have had several DMs call encounters where they said, "it's all over anyway" but the party was actually in significant danger of a TPK. For instance the last weekend in the realms, the DM called the final fight against an almost bloodied ice queen lieutenant when the only characters still standing were a barbarian with 1 hp, a fighter with 5hp or so, and my wizard with 26 hp and flaming sphere up. Now the most likely result might still have been for my wizard to kill the lieutenant with the flaming sphere while in single digit hit points and with the other characters bleeding out, but if we had played it out, it was probably just as likely that the lieutenant would kill us all. Now, I'm not going to complain that a fight was called prematurely in our favor, but it goes to show that DMs often do not realize quite how dangerous the battles are or quite how close they brought the PCs to the precipice.

After playing DALE1-6 at a convention this weekend I've confirmed my theory that, although many players will claim that they want a challenge they will just complain about things being too hard when they meet difficulty come up short.


I'm beginning to understand why RPGA mods err on the side of caution and usually make things laughably easy. A lot of people talk the talk but very few can walk the walk.

I'd like to see more fights have a higher amount of damage with more 'escapes' for monsters (interrupt teleports, condition removal, free saves, things like the dreadnought has, etc), but certainly no more control (stun, restrain, etc) inflicted on the PCs.


Ie, things that increase danger without increasing boredom or supporting static combats.

Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director


After playing DALE1-6 at a convention this weekend I've confirmed my theory that, although many players will claim that they want a challenge they will just complain about things being too hard when they meet difficulty come up short.


I'm beginning to understand why RPGA mods err on the side of caution and usually make things laughably easy. A lot of people talk the talk but very few can walk the walk.





I will have to concur with ferol on this one. There was a lot of anger coming from tables that played dale1-6. Of course this was coming from people who "wanted a better challenge." I playtested the mod and it was a lot harder than the editted version and we didnt complain. I mean people wanted to inflict harm on the author. I mean really? They got upset because they didnt walk over it.

I will also note that, often DMs underestimate the challenge that an encounter poses. In the last few weeks, I have had several DMs call encounters where they said, "it's all over anyway" but the party was actually in significant danger of a TPK. For instance the last weekend in the realms, the DM called the final fight against an almost bloodied ice queen lieutenant when the only characters still standing were a barbarian with 1 hp, a fighter with 5hp or so, and my wizard with 26 hp and flaming sphere up. Now the most likely result might still have been for my wizard to kill the lieutenant with the flaming sphere while in single digit hit points and with the other characters bleeding out, but if we had played it out, it was probably just as likely that the lieutenant would kill us all. Now, I'm not going to complain that a fight was called prematurely in our favor, but it goes to show that DMs often do not realize quite how dangerous the battles are or quite how close they brought the PCs to the precipice.



For what it's worth, the fighter hadn't been marked bloodied, so I figured the lieutenant would've died rather quickly being attacked three times for each of its turns, and attacking a non-bloodied defender. Also, I didn't really feel like killing anyone, but one of the players(cough) decided that it was time to crit the helpless bard, and I didn't want multiple deaths at an intro game(didn't want even one, but...).


So basically, one reason players' and DMs' perception of challenge might differ is incomplete or wrong information.

The real risk is that if you TPK a party after dialing up the challenge—especially at a con—you're really done the PCs a disservice.


IMHO, you've got to know your party very well before you crank things up. I've been DMing Friday nights with the same group, I don't pull the punches, because I know what their characters can do, and I know they can handle it. At the same time, when you know a party that well, you can also set up situations where their builds can really shine. Their swordmage was pretty frustrated that she was blind for most of an encounter, but that didn't stop her from swordbursting half of the enemies down.


I must admit, in the heat of combat sometimes my math skills get really bad. I could have sworn that monster's encounter power was +9 to hit, and not +7.


But at cons, it's quite different. The PCs usually do not know each other, and don't know how to exploit each others' synergies. They may all be good individually, but struggle working together. The worst thing you could do is give a player a bad time or deny him an award because you upped the challenge.

It does not help much though if players keep saying that LFR is so easy, and how they wlays play up, in any situation.


If you then crank up the challenge as a DM, or if you encounter an adventure that does have a tough combat (such as DALE1-6, which we toned down after playtesting, but that is still quite hard), you can get 'unexpected' results.


Ideally, a DM is able to judge what the PCs can take, and when to go all out and when not. Unfortunately, that is not always possible, especially when players show the above behavior.


I have played several times at tables where one player wanted to play high despite having an unbalanced party, and calling other people wimps for wanting to play low. In all cases, we were challenged playing low, and in some we would surely have been TPKed had we played up.


Personally, I prefer playing low. It speeds combat, and I often find that I am challenged quite fine playing down.


Gomez

But the problem Im finding, is one. The mod isnt hard at all. I had heard it was nerfed, but what I got was a roleplaying mod in terms of difficulty. When we playtested it, 2 people died in the first encounter w/o getting a turn and we were all at 1 hp at the end of the final combat because of the banner of healing and that was all on low! This time only 1 person even went down in the final combat and he still wasnt in danger of dying. I was actually quite disapointed with the new version as far as difficulty goes, I was hoping for a real fight where I would actually have to get creative to make it through. Great story though and decent loot.

I think some people should realize that their gaming skills and play style are not typical Wink Like you already concluded, the majority of people do not really want a challenge and they want it even less if it comes from controlling effects which is where most of the changes were made.

I don't think DMs should push players into playing up.  If a DM approaches the table and says "This adventure is not very challenging and I would like to raise the challenge level." that statement puts pressure on the players.  Did the DM even asked what is the style of play the players like?   


I also dislike when one player says "we want to play up," but no consensus of the players was obtained.  Too often the more tactically oriented players are eager to play up, but those less tactically oriented suffer in the outcome.. That is hardly fair.  This can easily happen at cons when tables are hurriedly formed. 


The only correct answer is the players will have fun at the table. 


Keith

Keith Hoffman LFR Writing Director for Waterdeep

While I have never done it as a GM I have played at a table that handled this very well.  Because 1/2 of the players were worried that we only had a secondary healer we played low.  The GM said that it might still be easy but if we would like we could play the first encounter as low and if it was too easy we could switch to high but would get the XP and Gold based on each encounter so we would not make max XP or gold as if we had played the module at high all the way through.


I liked it because it gave us an appropriate challenge after the switch, yes we lost access to one of the high-tier items that was found in the first encounter since we did not play it as high but it was still a very good compromise.


I am not sure if this is appropriate use of DME but if I played another table and had the option I would not complain. 

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate. "Abandon all hope ye who enter here." A child of 5 could understand this, someone bring me a child of 5.

The risk of using the first encounter as a grade for a challenge is that it does not necessarily has to be the most difficult encounter. In fact, even if the numbers tell you it is, party composition, terrain and the DM's ability to deal with a particular monster ability* might very well unexpectedly influence the combat one way or another. Having said that, I usually use that same compromise when a party seems to be unable to decide on whether or not they want to play up or down. Still, I prefer to avoid it for stated reasons.


* E.g. I just realized I could have made a fight considerably more difficult last Sunday if I had remembered that a monster can move after a successful grab. Had I done so I would have forced the weaker ranged strikers into melee which could have potentially lead to a TPK.

If you mean the morning adventure, that  combat was actually a good indicator that threatening reach is not something to sniff at. My invoker went down due to the critter's threatening reach (at reach 4).


Though being unconscious did mean that the darkpact warlock could power his spells without anyone noticing. Ouch.


Gomez

During a recent LFR game I ran, the final boss is an elite soldier way higher level than the party, resulting in a nigh-unhittable AC. Having recently been working on monk characters, I made a few changes that, in 3.x would have simply been a matter of swapping some feats arond. (in 4E, of course, monsters don't have feats)

Giving the boss in East 1-4 the effects of the Long Jumper feat and the Athletics skill, dropping his armor "down to scale" (-1 to all defenses), and making the battlefield multileveled with many ways of getting up, made the final encounter much more dynamic and interesting than typical. With his high AC, the boss wasn't afraid of provoking OAs as he literally somersaulted over the heads of PCs to get out of a flank.
During a recent LFR game I ran, the final boss is an elite soldier way higher level than the party, resulting in a nigh-unhittable AC. Having recently been working on monk characters, I made a few changes that, in 3.x would have simply been a matter of swapping some feats arond. (in 4E, of course, monsters don't have feats)

Giving the boss in East 1-4 the effects of the Long Jumper feat and the Athletics skill, dropping his armor "down to scale" (-1 to all defenses), and making the battlefield multileveled with many ways of getting up, made the final encounter much more dynamic and interesting than typical. With his high AC, the boss wasn't afraid of provoking OAs as he literally somersaulted over the heads of PCs to get out of a flank.



Dwarves don't do somersaults.
Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com

Dwarforged don't do somersaults.



Typo. I fixed that for you.

Dwarforged don't do somersaults.



Typo. I fixed that for you.



Haha! Thanks

Gymnastics isn't in their core code. I'm sure you can find a custom module to address that though.
Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com
Yeah, I'm not really seeing lots of flips and somersaults. Make it smashing through carts and walls and pushing things around and building up to charges through everything. Sure, that's dwarf enough.
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director