DMing paragon tier for the first time

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At D&D Experience, I will be DMing a paragon tier adventure. This will be the first paragon tier adventure I've DMed (I've been DMing heroic tier since the get go, and back to Red Box Basic before that.)

Anything I should watch out for with paragon tier PCs?

I'm already expecting crazy Action Point rounds because everyone will have a paragon path.

I'm not particularly concerned about optimized PCs, and I don't want this to turn into a debate about that. If some person / group wants to show up with a finely honed killing machine of a PC / party, that's fine with me.

One thing I was wonder about is rituals. Haven't seen much of 'em at heroic tier (though the few I have seen cast have been very cleverly used). Not sure what to expect at paragon tier.
One thing I was wonder about is rituals. Haven't seen much of 'em at heroic tier (though the few I have seen cast have been very cleverly used). Not sure what to expect at paragon tier.

I wouldn't expect any more rituals in paragon play than in heroic. In theory, you might see more because low heroic rituals should be getting very cheap rather than eating up significant portions of your rewards. In practice, I think players are used to playing without rituals, writers tend to write adventures that can be completed without the use of rituals (given that only a limited set of characters can use rituals, it is fairly common to see parties without any ritual casters present--and even in parties with ritual casters, it would be folly to expect them to have any specific ritual).

Due to this, I would not expect to see any difference in ritual use in paragon play than in heroic.
You can see a decent discussion of ritual use here:
My post has the list of all rituals I've personally found useful up through and including 14th level.
If you PM me which adventure you're running (I've seen most of the paragon stuff at DDXP), I might be able to point you to specific shenanigans that might arise in your adventure.
John du Bois Living Forgotten Realms Writing Director, Netheril story area Follow me on The Twitter: @JohnduBois Follow my presence on The Intertubes:
Main thing to concern you, as a DM, is, especially with "new" Paragon characters, is that they may forget all their new reactions and such that come with the Paragon Path.

"If X happens, then my character gets to do Y." is easy to forget, even at Heroic (my first time playing a Barbarian, for example).
The specific adventure I am running is CORE 2-2 Rising of the Dark. It involves... wait for it... underwater combat.

I'm sure the players will be overjoyed to bust out their javelins to avoid the underwater attack penalties.

Also, I'm sure that there will be at least one fire-mage at the table. Because it is a law of the universe that whenever a D&D adventure takes place underwater, there must be at least one PC who relies on fire to deal damage.

But, these are paragon tier PCs so they'll have to muddle through somehow.

There's also a skill challenge where certain rituals are called out that can be used to help. That seems straightforward enough.

(The adventure even addresses what happens if the PCs use a portal-type ritual to bug out. Heh.)
Eh, fire spells just have -2 attack, same as most weapons. If you're lucky they'll have the water's gift ritual, which helps a ton.
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director
Careful with spoilers!

(You can use brackets around the word "sblock" and then end it with the same but using a "/sblock" to start and end a spoiler section).

Regarding that type of combat, the adventure should have some rules on it.

When judging paragon, I find that a few things really jump out:

Complex monster stat blocks
The stat blocks can be pretty intense. Most creatures will have several attack powers, plus one reaction or utility power or an aura or similar "feature". I usually use a highlighter or underline with a pen the powers I expect to use offensively, then star any defensive or conditional power. I sometimes write #1 and #2 if two powers should be used in sequence (grab, then squeeze!).

The toughest is when you have one monster that has a lot of powers. Some elites fill the page. In that case I make notes at the top of the page about what power I use when. This avoids the DM being dazed (save ends).

Terrain matters
Terrain is really important. You can't skimp on prepping the Features section of each combat.

Flexible skill challenges
At this point the players have seen a lot of skill challenges and know their PCs well. You want to empower them rather than shackle them and reward creativity. If they come up with something plausible, use a DC from the listed options based on how well you think it could work and ad-lib the situation. Allow rituals based on the situation - don't be afraid to ask them for the rules and how they use it, then give them the RP around it. In general, one ritual should yield one success unless it is obviously going to completely bypass the skill challenge. If the challenge is crossing a gorge and the gorge distance can be completely bypassed by a ritual, so be it. If it is about crossing wilderness and they can fly, give them a success or two, but they still have to land for food, check out things they see, etc.

Figure out your system for tracking conditions, marks, bloodied, etc.
As I blogged here (others have elsewhere as well), there are a lot of ways to track these. You just need one that you feel works for you. Tracking things poorly is not an option, though placing some of the responsibility on your players can work well. Typically, what worked at H1 will not necessarily work here, but what worked at H3 should work fine here. If all you do is look for the common conditions in each encounter and have some clear way of tracking them, that will be a huge plus.

Trust players
... that aren't 11th. When a PC is 11th they get a new paragon path feature and power, a new paragon feat, and might have retrained for a second new paragon feat. That is a lot! You might ask for levels and note how many players say "11". Those might bear some watching since they can get things wrong.

Paragon path stuff tends to be pretty useful, though. Around 12th the players should be the undisputed masters at understanding their PC, much as they were at H3. If an argument comes up, in general it is best to trust the player (unless you specifically have deep experience with that power/etc.). Second-guessing slows down the paragon game and the players really should know their stuff. Trust the players - 99% of the time it won't hurt play nor the challenge level if they were wrong.

Paragon can take longer. Take a look at the adventure and think about how much time you need. An easy thing to do is guess at what might be the halfway point, then further divide it into quarters. At the top of each encounter that corresponds to half or quarter, make a note of the time. If you slot 0d, you can track this as you play. The basic idea is to have some guideline so you can watch the pacing and correct to prevent taking long. Correcting can mean calling fights, mysteriously forgetting that the attack should have missed, losing some HPs, cutting the needed successes for an uninspiring skill challenge, and so on. When an encounter is labeled as "optional", feel free to skip it based on the group and where you are time-wise.

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Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

Regarding that type of combat, the adventure should have some rules on it.

There is an appendix with rules from the PH, DMG, and a few clarifications. It was originally provided by Keith, and expanded with PH information on request from the playtesters.

Take note that some skills in the skill challenges are group checks (checks which everyone must succeed in). This can make quite a difference in the difficulty of those encounters.

Please watch spoilers, particularly for adventures not even released yet.


DMs should check errata on Endurance.  To hold your breath, there are some important changes.

Keith Hoffman LFR Writing Director for Waterdeep
Pacing, pacing, pacing. Especially since you're in a time-constrained environment. Players have a LOT of options at paragon (as do you), and tables can get bogged down if one player takes a long time choosing a power, then changes their mind, four times, . . . .

A gentle reminder is usually sufficient, especially if you "benchmark" when encounters are supposed to end. Letting the players know, "To complete this mod in the time available, you'll need to complete this encounter in 70 minutes of real-time."  At the end of each round (or other slow points), letting players know - "Hey, to stay on schedule, you [plural] have 30 minutes left." does wonders.  (The players want the full experience just as much as you do!)  

Dan Anderson @EpicUthrac
Total Confusion
LFR Calimshan Writing Director
LFR Epic Writing Director

LFR Myth Drannor Writing Director

Thanks for all the helpful advice.

I have reviewed the adventure (Core 2-2 Rising Of the Dark) and have some comments and questions.

* Overall, the adventure shows signs of hasty editing. There are several (nonessential) typos and grammatical mistakes. This doesn't really impact the functioning of the adventure, but it does make it seem unprofessional.

* My favorite is the following on page 26: "The best rams into the ship, which halts in its rising and surfers to close." I have no idea what that means, but I plan to use it at every opportunity. For example, next time I'm preparing to dunk on someone in a basketball game: "Step back, Jack, 'cuz I'm about to surfer to close!"

* No, I can't really dunk.

* This isn't the adventure's fault, but the ritual Waterborn (level 14), which the PCs can gain as a magic item bundle, is inferior to the ritual Water's Gift (level 10) in one important respect. Both rituals allow you to breath underwater, but only Water's Gift actually negates the penalty for fighting underwater. That seems strange considering it's 4 levels lower!

* For that matter, it would greatly simplify the adventure to have the Chiangs pay for Water's Gift to be cast on the PCs instead of Water Breathing (level 8) -- see page 8. The only downside is that Water's Gift only lasts for 12 hours max, while Water Breathing lasts for 24 hours max. Water's Gift does cost 265 GP more in components, but as the cost of Water Breathing is being handwaved away by the adventure, why not upgrade to Water's Gift and spare the PCs from the underwater combat penalty? (I'll probably suggest to the players that their PCs scrounge up the 265 GP to pay the difference.)

* In several places the adventure implies that it is dark -- e.g., page 12 where there is dim illumination around the ship, but no other light sources. This begs the question... do sunrods work underwater? I'll probably rule yes, simply to avoid annoying the players.

* None of the underwater combat encounters mention the water's state (calm, rough, stormy), which affects the Athletics DC that the PCs need to make in order to Swim. I'm going to assume everywhere is calm (DC 10).

* This is a minor annoyance, but Encounter 3 calls for 2 sets of Ruins of the Wild (Dungeon Tiles) and Encounter 4 calls for 4 (!) sets of Arcane Corridors. That seems a little crazy given how old those sets are, and how few people have 2 of a given set, let alone 4.  Yes, yes, you can use different tiles or just hand-draw the maps, but it's still annoying.

* Encounter 6, page 27 mentions that the "servitors" will sacrifice themselves to dominate a PC. Presumably this refers to some monsters that were removed -- maybe aboleth servitors? -- although aboleth servitors can't "sacrifice themselves" to dominate anyone.

* The aboleth behemoth (p. 28 & p. 30) should have the acquatic keyword. This is important, because acquatic creatures gain a +2 attack bonus against nonacquatic creatures.

* The kuo-toa (p. 28 & p. 30) do properly have the acquatic keyword, so if you're DMing this, don't forget to add their +2 attack bonus against the PCs.

* The sea shambler (p. 29 & p. 31) has one of its attacks messed up. Vicious Bite should not have the "+12 vs ; 2d6+5 damage" [sic]. That mistake comes directly from the DDI Compendium's warped grick alpha, which is what the sea shambler is based upon.

* The conclusion mentions that Panahq offers the PCs his versatile armor +3 because "being undead, he can no longer use it." But nothing about this armor restricts its use to living beings.

* The XP when added up is more than the Total Possible Experience (2260 / 3200), and unlike some adventures this isn't called out. (Some adventures say something like, "Even though the XP totals up to A, the PCs can only earn B because that is the maximum.")

* Added straight up, the XP is [1] 2540 / 3680 or [2] 2660 / 3840, depending upon how much XP the PCs gain from Encounter 6.

* But, to get the higher XP amount in Encounter 6, you must have failed Encounter 2 and only gain half XP from it (or 120 / 160). That would change the total "added up" amounts for [2] to 2540 / 3680, making it the same as [1].

* Bottom line, can the PCs earn more than the 2260 / 3200 that is specified, or not?
My suggestion is to edit out those spoilers and ask on the DDXP Judges Yahoo list. Even with a spoiler warning, I would avoid posting any advance info on an unreleased adventure. (I haven't taken a look, as I have not read that adventure).

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You can never earn more then the standard XP for normal core adventures.

The water is calm unless specified otherwise (you need to make Athletic checks in the skill challenge which are against ~ DC 15 and hence are clearly not calm water.

Rituals were changed in a very late phase of the editing proces. The author had missed the better ritual and one of the later playtesters noted it. Sorry for having missed it on some spots. Feel free to replace it with the better ritual.

When a tactic section makes no sense for the monsters, it is a clear sign something changed at one point or another with the creatures. This particular encounter was more or less rewritten after the first two playtests. Just ignore the text that makes no sense.

As for hasty editing, the adventure has been reviewed by 4 different people. It is rather easy to miss a typo or two, especially when your are focussing more on game mechanical and story inconsistencies. We are working on a sollution to get spelling, writing style and gramar a bit more attention, although, to be honest, I never let a spelling mistake ruin my fun in an adventure or book.
A few comments on the notes above:

- We were a bit in a hurry with this due to DDXP, so editing may have been done in haste. We went through a few interations with some encounters, and had multiple playtests. A lot of comments are due to that. I hope a brief edit after DDXP is possible to take away the confusion (though I am unsure if there will be time).

regarding the rituals:

- Unlike what Pieter said, I did not miss the better ritual. I actually considered offering Water's Gift or Waterborn being cast, and decided against it.
The reason the ship's mage casts Waterbreathing is because while I wanted to provide means for PCs that didn't have their own rituals, I felt it was not up to the adventure to automatically offset the inherent penalties in underwater combat. PCs should use their own resources for it.
Also, I did not want to make the ship's mage higher level than strictly necessary. 8th was about the highest level I wanted to make a generic NPC whose only function is to allow the PCs to get underwater. Besides, the Chiangs are rich but they are not philanthropists. They pay the PCs well - they feel they are already going out of their way to provide a ship and Water Breathing...

- Waterborn was offered as the bundle because it's level fitted better for the tier. Possibly those who wrote Waterborn thought the swim speed would negate the combat penalty - or maybe Water's Gift is overpowered for its level.

regarding the rituals

So do you think it would be reasonable for me to do the following when DMing:

* Tell the PCs the bulk of the adventure will be underwater. (Pensu can certainly tell them this if they didn't already figure it out.)

* Tell the PCs they can provide for their own underwater rituals _or_ that the Chiangs will provide Water Breathing (only) for free.

* If the PCs have an appropriate level ritual caster, then is it fair to assume that somewhere in Westgate they can buy a scroll or book of Waterborn or Water's Gift?
Yes, that would be reasonable.
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