Tools for D&D Encounters DMs - Season 2

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As with the thread for season 1, the purpose of this thread is to create one thread where DMs can share tools for the D&D Encounters program.

Player Introductory Information
There are some thoughts in my post here on how to provide a better introduction for the players.

ThatDamnNinja has gathered the information from the adventure in pdf form here. Personally, I would consider giving this out over time for the first sessions and then maybe giving it all out in later sessions.

Pre-Generated PCs and Errata
The thread here has pulled together various issues with the PCs. In general, they should not  affect play too much. WotC recommends that you simply remove the  thri-kreen's basic attack. You may also want to use the errata version  of two powers and allow half-damage on the sorcerer's daily power. A pdf pulling together the errata as of June 8th is here, and can be cut up and provided to players that feel comfortable with the added complexity of adding errata.

Even better, Perithoth created new versions with errata and posted them here (special thanks to Matt T for getting everyone started). Perithoth has created new chapter 2 versions with errata in the same format! We also now have Chapter 2 level 2 PCs with errata and the level bumps from ThatDamnNinja in the D&DXP format.

Perithoth and one of our DMs (thanks, Rob!) worked to make level 3 pregen PCs. These again use the standard format that came with the kits. TDN made level 3 pregen PCs here. Balerion also created level 1-3 pregens in a multi-page format here.

This useful thread provides information on how players can best play each of the PCs, stressing tactics, positioning, powers, and the like. Very useful as something to print out and provide to players!

TDN made some Wild Talent cards you can use as an extra reward for PCs.

Here is a character tracker for Chapter 2, as well as a tracking sheet for Renown, both from Jjafuller:  Download Chapter 2 Character Tracker         Download Renown Point Tracker

I modified the above to make a new Table Character Tracker for chapter 3, adding more space to track magic they pick up. These forms have been very useful for us to control tables when the players switch, drop out, or go on vacation. Renown can either be tracked on the renown tracker form above or in some other fashion at the player level (we track it on the RPGA tracking form, next to the player name).


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

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

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

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


Minis
Feel free to post ideas on minis (with spoiler blocks). There were some really cool craft projects DMs made for season 1!

Here is a thread discussing mini choices.

KJordan has created some monster mini stand-ins for chapter 1. Print out the paper, cut out the bits, fold the botton under, making a triangular tent, and then put/tape a coin or similar to give it some weight. Here are monster stand-ins for chapter 2 by Kerry Jordan with some very nice art. Thanks!

Here are some other monster stand-ins for chapter 1, these posted in threads like this one by Fuligin and created by Xaveria. Fuligin and Xaveria are also posting some each week for Chapter 2.

KJordan has made some mini stand-ins for the PCs here, in color pdf. Very cool! (Edit: updated for even nicer images!). And here are monster stand-ins that KJordan made for chapter 3! Awesome!


Dark Sun has seen a few plastic minis, such as the:
half-giant psychic warrior (Giants of Legend)
Thri-Kreen Barbarian (Angelfire)
Thri-Kreen Ranger (Harbinger).

You can also see the old line of metal minis. More pictures here. These can be very expensive now and require painting, but they are pretty nice.

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


Magic Items
Dark Sun DDE Chapter 1 and 2 Treasure Cards!
Thatdamnninja created really useful treasure cards you can hand out in PDF and other formats. For DMs only!

Darkraven 3 created Chapter 3 Treasure Cards in an awesome format! TDN continues his excellent work here with his Chapter 3 Treasure Cards!

Skill Challenge Tracking
Desert Survival Skill Challenge tracking sheet! You can use this document to track how a table progresses over time.

Monster Descriptions
As with the table tents below, it can be really useful to know more about the monsters. The old setting books have a lot of this information. KJordan posted some monster descriptions here.

ThatDamnNinja posted some open office and pdf files that are player handouts for the monster knowledge check results your PCs might earn. This is a really cool way to promote their use of knowledge checks.

Using Minions Effectively
This blog by Chris Sims is a very good read on how to use minions well in your encounters. Because DDE DMs can alter encounters with minions, this guidance can be useful in determining how best to shape a session with minion so it will be fun for your players. It also provides guidance on the common feeling a DM can have that minions die too easily vs. how players often feel empowered by minions dying.

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

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

Because Dark Sun has fewer unique monster images (it might have one Silt Runner, but not 3-4 different images), I am not making the table tents. You could still make them based on my instructions or just forgo them for this season.

Learning More About Dark Sun
The Dark Sun campaign setting should be available on August 17th. The Creature Catalog should be available then or shortly thereafter (online retailers are announcing delays, though we don't know if stores will get them earlier. WPN stores can often get them at least a week earlier, and may have them by the 7th.

In preparation, the D&D site has previews and excerpts available here (page down to the end for a link to all the sections). There are a number of other bits of information scattered around, all tracked down here.

Our group created a pdf handout on the Green Age, which was helpful in chapter 2.

We created a two-page weapons handout as well. Page 1 provides images and PC-specific information. Page 2 provides ideas on substitutes that can be found if the PCs break a weapon. Printing them back-to-back makes a very useful handout for each table.

My blog (see the link in my signature, below) reviews various aspects of the campaign world.


Understanding Disease as a Mechanic
A review of how disease work:

Certain monsters have diseases. As part of a power, they inflict disease. In a single combat you could easily have more than one disease and players could be infected by several diseases. Lycanthrope encounters are a great example.

A disease has no effect when it first affects you in a combat. This can be hard to understand from a reading of the DMG. Because of the way the rules work, the disease is only a factor for later combats and never for the combat where infection took place.

At the end of the combat where you were infected you make a saving throw and apply the Initial effects of the disease if you fail. This then affects the next combats/encounters. Note: according to Nick Tulach, the author, we skip this step for environmental effects. There is no save, and the initial hit means the PC suffers the initial effect.

Once the party takes an extended rest, you check progression. Everyone makes an Endurance check (a PC can also make a Heal check to help one PC throughout the extended rest). Any disease has two DCs. The lower one is the one you have to hit to stay at that level and not worsen. The second DC is to improve. (Several MM1 and DMG1 diseases have received DC Errata). It is very easy for diseases to see-saw back and forth over many extended rests. You might get worse on the first roll, then back to Initial, then back, etc. Eventually you either are cured or reach the Final State. Once you reach the Final State, there is generally no cure outside of a Cure Disease ritual.

Specifically to DDE, the Sun Sickness attack is used any day a PC is out of Survival Days. If at the start of Chapter 2 (and probably Chapter 3) the PC lacks a survival day, they get attacked. If they are hit, they then have Sun Sickness. Because it is an environmental effect (according to the author), you do not get a save. If they are hit, they now have Sun Sickness and suffer the initial effect.

Now, the next time they take an extended rest they will need to make an endurance check. (Alternately, a PC could make a heal check instead). The DCs are noted (improve DC 17, maintain DC 13, worsen DC 12). If they roll a 12 or lower, they worsen and now get the next effect (-2 attack and defenses). If they instead rolled a 13-16, nothing changes. If they instead rolled a 17 or higher, they are cured. At the end of this single roll, note somewhere where they are on the disease track (unless they are cured, then they no longer have Sun Sickness).

For each next extended rest, you roll again and see how the conditions change.



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

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

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

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

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

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

  • An alternate way to deal with strong monster powers that deal damage  is to reduce the damage by one die. If a creature  normally does 2d10+4  and that seems too brutal, bring  it down to  2d8+4. You can instead remove the static modifier (2d10+4 becomes 2d10). Each has slightly different mathematical outcomes, which you can get a feel for over time or do the math on average, minimum, and maximum damage if desired. (2d10+4 is 6-24dmg, average of 15. 2d8+4 is 6-20, avg of 13. 2d10 is 2-20, avg of 11.)

  • If your players lost all their dailies or surges, consider using some method to refresh them. The   equivalent of the DMG2's Energy Node terrain power (p59) can be fun. A free action   arcana check can identify that the square(s) will recharge an encounter   power or 2 healing surges with a minor action - this can make a big difference. If your   party is really hurt, it could even be used to recharge a daily... but   make sure this is needed.

  • You can always be less efficient with monsters. Don't use the best power every time. Move to a dangerous position. Provoke OAs. Communicate what the monster will be doing next round via a challenge. These minor steps give the party the breathing room to get back into the fight.




On the Nature of Posting on Forums and Helping DDE Develop:

It is really easy to post scathing reviews of things we don't like. The sad truth is that such posts tend to do the following:
  • The people you are trying to reach will be defensive, instead of receptive

  • You portray the program as negative, discouraging others that have yet to try it from being involved

  • You encourage others to be negative instead of positive


The bottom line is that negative posts often accomplish little. Also, keep in mind that the RPG industry is a fragile one. The history of RPG companies is one of them losing a lot of money and struggling to find ways to create profit. The following articles may help provide perspective.

If you want to help something be better and bigger, be positive and help it grow.


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


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

Useful  Links for Dungeon Masters

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


This thread is yours, so post your ideas, questions, and comments!

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 actually created a .pdf of monster standies for Chapter 1 of Season 2. (Basically, you cut along the lines, fold into a triangle, and add a coin or something similar for weight.) I grabbed images from the old Dark Sun Monstrous Compendiums and the new Monster Manuals. If your mini supply is small, feel free to message me and give 'em a try. (If you include your E-mail address in the message, I'll send ya a copy.) I do not yet have standies for the PCs, but that is the next phase of my plan. (I really really hate the Monster #1, Monster #2, etc. counters...)

Kerry


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

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



Fantastic thread! Just a quick reminder that any of you with 'Early Release' shops in your neighborhood (which should be just about any store that runs Ecnounters...) meane the tiles will be available to you starting on Friday, along with the Monster Manual 3.

Hey, is there any chance someone with more Photoshop/Paint Shop skills than me might be able to do some one-inch 'dot' pics we could print out on sticky-paper (or reg. paper wit some glue stick) to slap over the top of the tokens? I dearly love the ones from LFR Game Day that actually have images on them instead of just 'Monster 1-2-3'.

And, finally, am I the only one who rolled his eyes that the nice descriptions of several of the PCs look NOTHING LIKE the characters that are actually depicted on the sheets? We should see if we can find some more description-friendly images...

-JC/MM
Jim Crocker, Managing Partner Modern Myths, LLC Northampton, MA www.modern-myths.com
I actually created a .pdf of monster standies for Chapter 1 of Season 2. (Basically, you cut along the lines, fold into a triangle, and add a coin or something similar for weight.) I grabbed images from the old Dark Sun Monstrous Compendiums and the new Monster Manuals. If your mini supply is small, feel free to message me and give 'em a try. (If you include your E-mail address in the message, I'll send ya a copy.) I do not yet have standies for the PCs, but that is the next phase of my plan. (I really really hate the Monster #1, Monster #2, etc. counters...)

Kerry


If you happen to have the original images from your scans, I could turn them into table tents... let me know via PM and I can send you my e-mail. I can also host your pdf file or you can create a free hosting account at one of many sites.

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 aded a link to KJordan's pdf. Thanks!

I have also posted my thoughts on 1-1 (also for DMs only) in the thread for that session.

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 posted my miniature choices for the first chapter in the thread: What minis ya using? (A thread for DMs. Some of you might find that helpful.
Thanks, I added a link and also one to the two recent files from TDM (background and knowledge checks).

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).

RE: Monster Knowledge Check Cards

I should have the critters for session 4 and 5 done in the next day or so - been a little busy. I'm likely just going to have 1 file for chapter 1 at that point, so the old file will come down as it will be redundant and incomplete. 
Added KJordan's awesomeness in the form of PC stand-ins, should you not have minis for the PCs!

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).

Is anyone going to be making any monsters stand ins for 1-2 and beyond?
 BTW I used the monster and char standees at my 5pm table and they worked very well. I had a player bringing minis for the 7pm.


The thing that got the most attention was handing out the treasure cards. When I handed out the two healing fruit cards both tables were babbleing like pre-schoolers. My 7pm group is pretty jaded and has a WoTC staffer and they really dug the cards from that damned ninja's pdf.   You cant go wrong with Hand out references and item cards IMHO>
I'm second from the left in the picture.


D&D Home Page - What Class Are You? - Build A Character - D&D Compendium

I added the link to the thread with new post-errata PCs (unofficial), should organizers or DMs want to use them.

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 added the skill challenge tracking sheet. You are all posting some pretty awesome stuff! Thanks!

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).

Update!

I finished the monster cards for chapter 1 and you can find the post here:

community.wizards.com/dungeonsanddragons...
 
enjoy : ) 
I was out of town for two weeks, but I really liked this post on the skill challenge ideas, as well as the whole of the thread. Nice example of people providing ideas that lead to more ideas.

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Is Perithoth going to do the level ups on the character cards as well?

If he/she does I would recommend perhaps deleting the background and appearance info and place the "Other Abilities" Text in its place on the front card and then put the new powers in the left over space.

Just an idea and thanks for the great work on them 
I am not sure. I will let him know you are interested. He is low on time these days.

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).

Mithreinmaethor,

My plan was to update the cards for 2nd and 3rd level. However, as Teos has noted my time is now at a premium and I may not be able to do the 2nd level cards.

Your ideas for making more room are good and solve a problem I saw coming. That might speed things up for me. We will see.

Thanks for asking,

Bryan Blumklotz
(I am a he)
I got something in the works character sheet-wise for Chapter 2. It's not a photoshop edit of the pregen cards, but a sheet similar in presentation to the DDXP pregens.

I'm about halfway through them now (takin' longer than I'd like) but they'll contain all the level up information, fixes for the mathematical/build errors and nearly all of the fan errata that we've discovered to date. I'll also supply the open office file with the pdf so you can edit what you wish.

I should have them ready for download before Chapter 2 starts.
That'd be swell, TDN - looking foward to seeing the results! Smile
I added the link to TDN's level 2 pregen PCs (which are in the format of the Dark Sun Arena PCs). Nice job!

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
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You should see about getting this stickied, Alpha.

With all the useful fiddly bits created on this forum linked in that one post as well as all the GM tips and player info, it's a rather important thread that should be seen by all newcomers.
No objections on stickying. I added the note about revised magic item cards and added a spoilered section on being positive on the forums (including some good articles on the nature of our industry).

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
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Is there a list for errata for the adventure itself (non-PC related) compiled somewhere?
Is there a list for errata for the adventure itself (non-PC related) compiled somewhere?


I don't know of one. A lot of the things worth changing/addressing are not actual errata, so they are subject to interpretation. Also, because XP is not counted, some of the "errata", such as an extra elite template, are not really problems because the final XP is still ok for the range of the PCs (the issue is just that the combat is too hard).

In general, you would need to look at the threads that discuss each session and consider what changes you want to implement. An example for this 1-5 week is here (contains spoilers).

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
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I have added a section on how diseases work. You know, should that by any chance have a bearing on chapter 2...

Edit: I modified the disease info for how it plays differently for environmental effects.

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've uploaded a character tracker for chapter 2, and a renown tracker if anyone is interested.

Download Chapter 2 Character Tracker

Download Renown Point Tracker
Awesome jjafuller - I am going to be using these, much better than what I was using!!
I've uploaded a character tracker for chapter 2, and a renown tracker if anyone is interested.

Download Chapter 2 Character Tracker

Download Renown Point Tracker


Those are excellent, thanks! I have added the links to the main post.

Edit: We began to use these at our store, thanks!

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).

Updated with Kerry Jordan's paper mini stand-in monsters for chapter 2.

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 added a link to the cool article by Chris Sims on how to use minions effectively. I think it is a useful read for minion-heavy encounters.

I also added a link to Perithoth's level 2 pregen pdfs. They use the same format as the pregen sheets from chapter 1, but have all the errata and the level-up bumps. Very cool.

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).

Added the link to TDN's thread with level 3 pregens. I also added a section linking to the official DS products that come out on the 17th and to the excerpts.

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 added a few cool things:
  • KJordan made cardboard mini stand-ins for chapter 3

  • Our group made a Green Age pdf handout for players

  • Our group made a two-sided Weapons handout for each table


These are all found in the main post.

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).

Added a PC Tracking Sheet form that can be used by DMs/stores to track each table's use of PC capabilities (HPs, surges, daily items, daily powers, magic gained, etc.). These have been very useful for us as a way to handle table variability. If one player goes on vacation and a new player comes in, we use the tracking sheet to see what the PC should have. This keeps encounters balanced.

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).

Added a link to the thread for level 3 pregens.

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 added the Wild Talent cards TDN made and Darkraven3's magic item cards for chapter 3. My continual thanks to everyone that puts time into making Encounters so cool.

Edit: added TDN's magic item cards as well.

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).

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