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 completely understand your perspective, Cruel. Let me paint a different scenario. Let's choose all the hardest monsters in DDE chapter 1 and put them in one encounter. Let's also choose the hardest room and add in some auto-damage terrain. Now, what should we do as a DM? Should we run it as written and not pull punches? As the certain TPK is dolled out, should we just sit back and say "sorry, I don't pull punches, this is what was given to me."? Or is our responsibility something beyond a robotic interpretation of the written page?
My position still remains. A professionally produced 4 edition product should not have to be dumbed to power levels of the players. Thats a 2nd / 3rd / 3.5ed mentality. where nothing was balanced to begin with and making things harder or easier on the fly had to be done on the fly.4th may not be perfectly balanced, but the power spread is close enough that if encounters are designed correctly, I shouldn't have to fix things on the fly.
After a good bit of consideration, here's my feedback on the Encounters program as a whole. Hopefully it will prove useful; more hopefully it won't, because all of the underlying concepts will have been considered and/or implemented in later seasons. 1. Square the instructions and the encountersOne of the big things with regards to Week 10 was the fact it's designed with 6 level 2 players in mind; the beginning of HLA states you should balance things with an assumption of five players. That would inherently require that everyone add more monsters. Similarly, my recollection is that the instructions tell you to play everything as written- which seems contrary to author intent. I could be wrong on that, but regardless it's worth noting just in case. 2. Keep in mind the players you're shooting forMy understanding was that the program was set up to encourage people to try out the game, learn how to play, and meet fellow players. If a more eclectic array of experience is being planned for, it may be best to consider several different encounter builds, such as novice, adept, and expert. This could be as easy as differing instructions for how to run the monsters or adding/removing elements. 5 3. Remember Encounters is an easy in/easy out programAn assumption that seems to be inherent with HLA is that the players will be present every week, start to finish, and have appropriate experience points. Right now we've only got one or two people who have done so. People have left, joined, and drifted in and out of the game week by week. I think only one has shown up every week, and other than a group of three who's missed two weeks, the rest have been here for less than 50% of the adventure. The modification of the Dark Sun setup to largely skip experience points is a good way to go- but there's also a question regarding the advancement; it's probably a good idea to come up with a way to let players deal with that easily too, since we are harking back to #2 and the new players.4. Provide more information to the DMsOne thing that kept coming up with LHA is that there's no description of monsters. While a few of them are self-evident, and others are illustrated in the adventure itself, the others are unknown. This can be difficult for a DM, particularly a novice DM or one who doesn't have access to the Monster Manuals. Even moreso if players want to roll a skill check to see if they know anything about a given creature. 5. Use a narrative cycle to the chapters as well as overall storyWith the second chapter of LHA, my store's groups ended up out of sync with the encounters. They went up against the third one and fought it using only their encounter and at-will powers, believing that a harder fight lay ahead. That made things more difficult. It also made life very anticlimactic when they fought the last room and blazed away with their dailies, annihilating everything in a matter of a few moments. After the events of the first two encounters of the chapter, everyone was expecting their 'spectator' to be more powerful. It may be best to go with this, and make sure that the last encounter prior to an extended rest is the big one. It allows for a climatic final fight, an epilogue-ish sort of rest, and then on to the next phase. Mixing it up can be interesting, but it can also leave people stumbling when the music changes. 6. Provide more information to store ownersWe'd have no knowledge about the Twitter feed save for one player keeping us up to date. Similarly with regards to the alterations to the 11th and 12th encounters of LHA. Establishing a mailing list or other means to reach store owners that is prominently made part of the whole process might be a good idea- if for no other reason than to ensure everyone's in the loop. Similarly, some sort of update to the DDI tools for D&D Encounters might be a good idea, if only to make sure that the pregens are printable via chargen and the monsters can be quickly updated and referenced. Obviously that's not ideal for groups without access to a computer, but it'd be nice for the rest of us. And it's also an echo of an idea that someone else said earlier, which I thought bore repeating.7. Include monster tacticsAnother element that's worth including would be monster tactics, with things like directions for general movement, synergy, and/or blind spots. If a monster isn't going to use an ability, I'd much rather not see it on the stats, if only so that it eliminates potential 'oops' issues. Prioritization might also be a good thing; in Week 10, I came to the conclusion the ooze and the minions were expendable to the others- they didn't care about affecting them. However, the rest were allied with one another and worked to help each other.
It isn't a mark of ....
For instance, my group has blazed through the Encounters with little or no deadly threat, but with sufficient challenge to make them fun experiences. We've had new players and old players, and while the old players definitely do better, the new ones have been well accomodated.
Check out my work:
Thy Fearful Symmetry: A Circle of the Moon Handbook
RCanine's Witchalock: EK 7/Booklock 13
Earthbound Aarakocra: more flavor, more balanced
Reknown points are awesome. Players love them. I think they were incredibly under-utilized in season 1. IMHO, each encounter should have unique (and secret) criteria for scoring reknown points, e.g. throwing a monster into the sewer in Encounter 1-1.
I’ve attended all 11 (!!) of the first 11 sessions as a player. I think D&D Encounters is an amazing success. The store where I play is packed to the gills with players every Wednesday. Here are the things I especially like about Encounters:
-It is friendly to new players. I hadn’t ever played 4E and hadn’t played any version of D&D for several years. I showed up and was immediately welcomed into the action by friendly organizer/DM/other experienced players. Very cool. Several players with no experience have regularly attended as well. So they must be also having a good time. The more experienced players do not seem at all frustrated or annoyed by newbies. On the contrary, the more experienced players have gone out of their way to help the new folks out (at least at my table.)
-It is a great format for people who love the game but have limited time. I’m a full-time worker with a variety of obligations. 2 hours on a fixed weekday fits my schedule perfectly, and I bet I’m not alone.
-Organization is excellent. I’m really impressed with how smoothly everything runs. DM and players show up on time ready to play. Store accommodates the large group with extra tables. Play is run in an orderly manner and everyone has fun.
-Integration/promotion is very good. Between the D&D Facebook posts and the hints that show up on the front page of the D&D Encounters website each week, I’m excited when Wednesday rolls around and a new adventure awaits.
I really only have two suggestions. First, the weekly recaps posted on the D&D site haven’t been updated for a few weeks. I enjoyed the weekly recaps because the store where I play is pretty loud with a lot of activity and I sometimes miss a description that is part of the plot. And for those who have to miss a session, I bet the recaps are useful. Second, I’d probably have one Wednesday off between seasons to give folks a little time to wind down from the previous season and gear up for the next.
Great job to all organizers, DMs, and players. Well done.
@Alphastream - I have poked the relevant people.
2. What are other organizers doing & why?I wish I had your problem. Last week I had 3 people hit 50 renown points, so one of those people is not going to get the option to get the 50 point card. I am bringing a bunch of other stuff to give away to the people who will qualify, but not win, the 30 point cards. I am lucky that I have a few extra RPGA Reward cards and some duplicate copies of Game Day adventures to reward regular players. Almost every one of my players has been a regular, with only 3 people not showing up 75% or the time.I think your option D matches what I am doing. I suspect it will go over well with everyone.
D) I guess my preferred method would be to have a D&D Encounters treasure hoard and anything leftover from any season goes in there (both players rewards cards and extra DM rewards if we only have one DM) and let players who hit the 30 & 50 totals in any season pick from anything left in the "dragon's hoard" of the appropriate point allotment while letting DMs pick from any of the DM rewards still in there, but not the rewards cards, in the order of most tables run to least tables run.
Could someone post what the 50 point card does?
There are two sides to DM guidance. One is the guidance as to the intent of the adventure. It may be the medium-to-experienced DM that needs this the most. Can they make changes? What kind? To what purpose? I am 100% sure that Erik saying we should DM for fun had a direct and positive influence on how people judged the rest of the season. That needs to be explicit in the adventure. Judge for fun, make changes to adjust difficulty for fun, do it for the players. It is better to be too easy than too hard, etc.The second set is tips around DMing. I think these can be provided in the encounter without sounding insulting. The truth is, most experienced DMs are happy to read these... they usually foster ideas that they run with. I think we saw this on the boards. One person posts about how they might make x change and you see someone else post that they used it. The ones that didn't like it ignore it, but might make their own change. That is good.The program really needs to look at the purpose, which is fostering more play and bringing in new players. Attract and retain. If I look at Undermountain, the biggest fault was probably this lack of information about what to do with difficulty. You can see from countless posts that too many DMs did not do what was in the interest of the program and the players. If I look at Dark Sun, this same issue is there. In addition, it lacks a lot of the nice information that Erik provided to make this a more vivid RP experience. Undermountain is better at setting up each encounter, providing more RP hooks, more interesting bits, more ways for the DM to describe things. The perfect example is the very first session. Compare Undermountain and Wastewalker... which one does a better job of introducing PCs, helping the table feel welcome, helping the PCs understand the story, etc.? Future DDE seasons need to take a look at that goal of attract and retain. Wastewalker reads like one of those adventures the DM is supposed to polish and make better. Isn't this an intro program? If so, that polish needs to already be in place, with potential hooks for more. It needs to be clear and appropriate for brand new DMs, who the program should also attempt to attract and retain.