On combat encounters: why we shouldn't all play Bards

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Combat encounters in 4th Edition are subject to a lot of discussion here. They take too long, the player characters are over/underpowered compared to the monsters or to each other, the solo fights are no fun, etc. 

An often-heard piece of advice is: don't make combat about killing everything on the map. Give players and monsters objectives that they need to achieve to have an alternate way to end combat. I've thought about this and applied it/saw it applied to a number of combats. One thing quickly became clear: if encounters are built so that objectives are as important as/more important than killing the monsters, players are denied the opportunity to play their characters.

4E character creation is mechanically focussed almost singularly on combat. Everything you choose is mostly for its combat effects: race, class, ability scores, theme, paragon path, powers and most feats. But the most common way of getting objectives done, from convincing the villain to stand down to dismantling a bomb, is to make skill checks. And if skills become the most effective way to end combat, the rest of the character sheet might as well be blank. 

If most combats are like this, players will start complaining about it. I mean, I would (and do) too. I get a kick out of picking and retraining my powers to find the ones I like the most. If I then don't get to use them because I'm only using my actions to make skill checks, I feel cheated. The time I spent getting my character just right was apparently for nothing, since I would be better off making skill checks. Then why don't we all play Bards?
Combat encounters in 4th Edition are subject to a lot of discussion here. They take too long, the player characters are over/underpowered compared to the monsters or to each other, the solo fights are no fun, etc. 

An often-heard piece of advice is: don't make combat about killing everything on the map. Give players and monsters objectives that they need to achieve to have an alternate way to end combat. I've thought about this and applied it/saw it applied to a number of combats. One thing quickly became clear: if encounters are built so that objectives are as important as/more important than killing the monsters, players are denied the opportunity to play their characters.

4E character creation is mechanically focussed almost singularly on combat. Everything you choose is mostly for its combat effects: race, class, ability scores, theme, paragon path, powers and most feats. But the common way getting objectives done, from convincing the villain to stand down to dismantling a bomb, is to make skill checks. And if skills become the most effective way to end combat, the rest of the character sheet might as well be blank. 

If most combats are like this, players will start complaining about it. I mean, I would (and do) too. I get a kick out of picking and retraining my powers to find the ones I like the most. If I then don't get to use them because I'm only using my actions to make skill checks, I feel cheated. The time I spent getting my character just right was apparently for nothing, since I would be better off making skill checks. Then why don't we all play Bards?


You  don't  understand what "giving the monsters and PCs objectives other then just kill each other" means. It means seting up an encounter so that PCs have to get to a treasure before their hobgoblin enemies do, or trying to defuse a bomb (DnD equivalent, maybe a spell infused into a piece of wood?) while the monsters assault them. There will, and should be, lots of combat, but it will have a purpose.
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You’re missing the point - on several levels. 1st, there’s a lot more to playing a character than using their AEDU’s, but that’s really a separate discussion. The idea is combat goals BEYOND (not necessarily in lieu of) killing everything. Generally, you can stop a creature from achieving its goal by killing it. But more should be going on.


Last night I ran a combat in which a Dracolich was after a specific NPC. He used attacks to get players out of his way so he could get to her. He ignored OAs and went after his goal. In this particular case, killing the monster was the best way to stop the him from his goal, but killing the PCs was not the monsters goal. This created more drama than here’s a dracolich, now fight to the death!


In fact, some of the players’ tricks become MORE relevant when the monster’s focus isn’t “Kill the PCs!”. Imposing effects like slowing, dazed, stunned, prone, etc become MORE important than when you just go toe-to-toe. Alternate goals simply don’t have to remove combat, though it can and still be interesting.

One thing quickly became clear: if encounters are built so that objectives are as important as/more important than killing the monsters, players are denied the opportunity to play their characters.



In a way, you're right. But only if you gauge the effectiveness of the characters as being able to annihilate the opposing forces aligned against them. I understand this is the default assumption of many players and arguably the baseline by which we judge how optimized a PC is, but I find it to be very narrow and limiting. That kind of thinking leads to the same outcome every time which is not very interesting if often viscerally satisfying. How many times can you solve every problem with Twin Strike before before that gets pretty boring?

As well, I see no reason to believe that if simply because there is an alternative goal/objective that skill checks become the new attack roll. I can see why you might think that. If not Twin Strike, then what? Well - and here's the thing - that's up to you, the player. In the end, I see D&D as a game of choice. In games I run, your choices are limited only by your imagination and that applies to the combats as well. You can "win" the encounter multiple ways rather than just one way (murder-death-kill). So can the monsters if you don't stop them. The choice is yours. As DM, I take the role of presenting you with a problem without a preordained solution. The rest is up to you.

There are several neat side effects of this method. First, the effects of optimization that many DMs complain about (not me) are toned way down, which is to say, even a fairly novice DM can challenge players whose characters' DPR and actions per round are off the charts. Combats often run faster than the standard slog. Failure becomes something other than death, which is the least interesting of all defeat conditions. Finally, stories get told. That's my favorite part. Every combat I run is a story in and of itself because of the discussions generated by the players as their goals come into conflict with the goals of the monsters. It's a fiction generation engine.

Some examples from a recent adventure I ran for some of the folks on these forums:  

- Slaads in a ziggurat. PCs are there to find a treasure - a spelljamming helm which is buried in a pile of bones in the middle of the map. Combat is joined and the PCs find they may be outmatched, but the slaads are acting "weird." They're pulling their punches and using their powers to push the PCs into these vats of fluid... fluid that can infect you with a slaad tadpole (chaos phage disease). Their goal is not to kill the PCs - it's to infect them and let them go. The slaads even offered to give them the treasure if they'd simply allow themselves to be infected. They declined. In the end, one PC was dead, two were infected. They got their prize, but did they win? This led to some great interaction for the rest of the adventure as the PCs knew without a cure they would surely die, spawning a new slaad from their bellies. This generated a lot of new fiction.

-  A meteor crash site. The PCs needed the ore to reverse the petrification of one of their party members which had been taken out by a peacockatrice earlier in the adventure. Illithids send down their scavengers - the dreaded land-octopus lornaks - to get the ore as well. Combat ensues and once again the PCs find themselves outmatched. Each side wants the ore. The PCs revert to their goal rather than take on the lornaks toe-to-toe and manage to make it away with half of the ore, just enough to cure their friend, but not enough to make any cool treasure out of it. The lornaks leave with the other half. Did the PCs win? Yes. Kind of. The drama that ensued made it much more interesting than if they just touched pogs and had at it.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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I see what you all mean, and in principle I agree. It's just that, the way character creation is set up, as a player you're just pushed so hard in the murder-death-kill way it can be hard to see things any other way. The next logical step is then to make your build choices revolving around this (to optimize for combat, if you will). Even if your DM builds encounters in such a way that doing something else has a better overall outcome for the story, most players when their turn rolls around look at their character sheets and think: "Hm, what power kills the monsters fastest/best keeps the monsters from killing us?". 

Still, iserith's examples help me understand the difference between good and bad ways to make combat about something else. I admit I approach this discussion mostly with LFR (living forgotten realms, www.livingforgottenrealms.com) experiences. I don't know how many of you play LFR these days, but even when a fight revolves around something else besides "who kills who first", players mostly just trade making attacks for making skill checks to reach some sort of goal (diffusing that bomb I refered to in the first post). And that's when me (and others, judging from experience) start to feel robbed of the opportunity to play their characters, which led to me starting this discussion. 
I see what you all mean, and in principle I agree. It's just that, the way character creation is set up, as a player you're just pushed so hard in the murder-death-kill way it can be hard to see things any other way. The next logical step is then to make your build choices revolving around this (to optimize for combat, if you will). Even if your DM builds encounters in such a way that doing something else has a better overall outcome for the story, most players when their turn rolls around look at their character sheets and think: "Hm, what power kills the monsters fastest/best keeps the monsters from killing us?".



Couple of things here that might help illuminate some of the thoughts behind these processes: I think that optimization is actually a byproduct of the binary nature of D&D and nothing more. You hit or miss, have knowledge or don't, live or die. Since missing, not having knowledge, and dying are all dreadfully boring, people optimize. If you think about it that way, you can see what the correction is - interesting failure. When you incorporate that into your game, the urge to optimize goes away on its own in many cases. (This is not to say system mastery or optimization is inherently bad, but it does lead to odd outcomes especially with inexperienced DMs or DMs who are using plot-based adventures such that they have a stake in the outcome of encounters.)

Also, DMs who are building their encounters in such a way that doing something else has a better outcome "for the story" (as you say) are probably writing plot-based adventures which I've come to discover is folly and creates a whole new set of problems. That kind of stuff should be avoided in my opinion. When I design an encounter, I create a problem, not a solution. I don't even bother to think of potential solutions. That's the players' job. Creating the problem and the solution can lead to player dissatisfaction because, as you rightly mentioned, now they have to do this thing instead of the other thing they built their characters for. In encounters I design, it's up to you.

Still, iserith's examples help me understand the difference between good and bad ways to make combat about something else. I admit I approach this discussion mostly with LFR (living forgotten realms, www.livingforgottenrealms.com) experiences. I don't know how many of you play LFR these days, but even when a fight revolves around something else besides "who kills who first", players mostly just trade making attacks for making skill checks to reach some sort of goal (diffusing that bomb I refered to in the first post). And that's when me (and others, judging from experience) start to feel robbed of the opportunity to play their characters, which led to me starting this discussion. 



I haven't seen an LFR adventure I like and haven't met an LFR player that I can agree with on most topics involving D&D. Which is sad because I like to think of myself as fairly affable and open to ideas. I simply think the way the LFR game is approached is the source of a lot of problems. They're delvy and linear, combat-focused and when they're not combat-focused, it's clunky enough that I wish it was just so we can get past the awkwardness. When I've played in them, I've felt like the outcome of the adventure was already known and I'm just going through the motions just to see how many resources I have left at the end of the session. It's definitely not for me. When I run a game or play in one, I don't want to know what the outcome is and I'd prefer the DM not know either. It makes for a better game in my experience.

PM me if you'd like to get in on my next online game, probably in a month or so. I'm happy to show you what I mean. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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I see what you all mean, and in principle I agree. It's just that, the way character creation is set up, as a player you're just pushed so hard in the murder-death-kill way it can be hard to see things any other way. The next logical step is then to make your build choices revolving around this (to optimize for combat, if you will).

Yes, this is true, but why is it true? In part, because the baseline assumption is that the DM is going to be gunning for their characters, and people hate losing their characters. The whole idea is to change that assumption, so that players can relax about how they build their characters. Part of that might involve some cognitive dissonance in some people as they find, say, that they have defenses far higher than they typically need them to be. I ran a game for a couple of people in which they faced a pack of kobolds transporting treasure and hostages. One guy assumed the kobolds would attack en masse, and readied an action to attack whomever ran past. But they didn't run past, they just kept moving their loot. He was perplexed, so I can see people not enjoying this approach, at least at first.

Honestly, in that case, I shouldn't have tried to get fancy. But my home group seems to enjoy this style of play.

Even if your DM builds encounters in such a way that doing something else has a better overall outcome for the story, most players when their turn rolls around look at their character sheets and think: "Hm, what power kills the monsters fastest/best keeps the monsters from killing us?".

Many times, that way of thinking is still valid, except that it might become the more generall "What power allows us to achieve our goals fastest/best keeps the monsters from achieving their goals?" And lots of the time, just killing the monsters might be all that's required, but if the monsters' goal isn't to kill the characters or even to survive, just killing them might not be the best approach.

Speaking of LFR, the first time I judged an LFR game (and the last time I ever will) the party had to a side goal of protecting an NPC, who was essentially a minion. It didn't occur to me to attack the NPC, and didn't appear to occur to anyone else that I might. But I could have, which really would have been hard for them to prevent. This group probably could have done it, but they would have had to uncork everything they had. And if I'd been thinking that way, it would have been a lot less like walking all my creatures into a meat grinder, and more like the PCs really having to work to achieve their goal. There was, in fact, little or no danger or them dying, even if I used the "tougher" encounter, so the standard monster goal of "kill the PCs" was already utterly invalidated.

(That group probably would not have enjoyed me picking on the NPC, unless I'd stressed the importance of the NPC's survival, so it's better that I didn't try it. But it definitely made me think.)

Still, iserith's examples help me understand the difference between good and bad ways to make combat about something else. I admit I approach this discussion mostly with LFR (living forgotten realms, www.livingforgottenrealms.com) experiences. I don't know how many of you play LFR these days, but even when a fight revolves around something else besides "who kills who first", players mostly just trade making attacks for making skill checks to reach some sort of goal (diffusing that bomb I refered to in the first post). And that's when me (and others, judging from experience) start to feel robbed of the opportunity to play their characters, which led to me starting this discussion.

Done correctly, the alternate goals really should be alternate goals, in the sense that the game does not require them to be achieved. Players can still smash the monsters, and should do that if they fear that focusing on another goal will cost them too much. There should be a trade-off, but it's a valid trade-off to say that while busy fighting the monsters the opportunity to achieve the goal was lost. It's valid because the players had a choice, and did what their characters would have done, and because failing their goal doesn't mean the story ends, or that the PCs have failed utterly. The game continues, perhaps with a twist - perhaps even with a twist that will make later combat more challenging and interesting.

Thank you for raising these concerns. This approach is actually pretty new to me, and it needs to be questioned so I can refine the way I think and talk about it.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

(That group probably would not have enjoyed me picking on the NPC, unless I'd stressed the importance of the NPC's survival, so it's better that I didn't try it. But it definitely made me think.)



I'd have bought your pizza just for the opportunity to watch you do this and see how they reacted.

Done correctly, the alternate goals really should be alternate goals, in the sense that the game does not require them to be achieved. Players can still smash the monsters, and should do that if they fear that focusing on another goal will cost them too much. There should be a trade-off, but it's a valid trade-off to say that while busy fighting the monsters the opportunity to achieve the goal was lost. It's valid because the players had a choice, and did what their characters would have done, and because failing their goal doesn't mean the story ends, or that the PCs have failed utterly. The game continues, perhaps with a twist - perhaps even with a twist that will make later combat more challenging and interesting.



This is a great point and one that dovetails nicely with the adventure design (location-in-motion) that I've been working on lately. Since I don't have a plot, I really do need the outcomes of encounters to help me determine what might happen next to drive the action. Ideally, it's the players themselves, having won or lost the battle/objective, that decide what they need to do to sustain their momentum or account for a setback. Plans get made, new goals or sub-goals are created by the players themselves, new fiction is generated, and off we go. Best part is outside of my prep, I didn't have to do squat to keep that action going. The players were engaged and did it all themselves. If every encounter were of the binary life/death sort, I just wouldn't have as much to work with and the responsibility of driving the action would be shifted back onto me and I find that this doesn't help with player engagement as much.

Thank you for raising these concerns. This approach is actually pretty new to me, and it needs to be questioned so I can refine the way I think and talk about it.



Ditto. I wouldn't mind seeing other posters' alternative goal/objective encounters either. Good food for thought.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

(That group probably would not have enjoyed me picking on the NPC, unless I'd stressed the importance of the NPC's survival, so it's better that I didn't try it. But it definitely made me think.)

I'd have bought your pizza just for the opportunity to watch you do this and see how they reacted.

Man, this group needed it, too. Punks.

"Ok, your horribly overpowered direwolf mount has scaled the wall and you have obliterated one flameskull. The other fireballs the courtyard and the NPC you were sent to retrieve is turned to ash."

"Ok, you use Come and Get It to bring these zombies closer, but these ones are too far away because they're going for your NPC. Action point?"

"Ok, good job, you receive these two rewards but, ooh, not this one." *rip, rip, rip*

Yeah, I didn't have a fun time. And I have to admit that this way of thinking is partly a reaction to the problems I (and others) have with challenging certain groups, either very highly optimized groups, or simply high-level groups with lots of options. Giving them challenges that either can't be solved with daily-AP-daily, or challenges that require daily-AP-daily to succeed at them within the time limit, shake things up and make it possible for the PCs to lose again. It's also a reaction to the arms-race produced when failure means death, when it's not just a bummer, but grinds the whole adventure to a halt.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

if encounters are built so that objectives are as important as/more important than killing the monsters, players are denied the opportunity to play their characters.

I disagree with your conclusion because I disagree with the unspoken premises upon which you have built it.


  • Build *some* encounters so that other objectives are as important as killing the monsters.

  • Build *some* encounters so that other objectives are more important  than killing the monsters.

  • Build *some* encounters so that killing the monsters is more important than other objectives.


Mix these throughout your campaign and you provide a little something for everyone.
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
Problem:  "When the only tool you own is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Solution:  "Expand your selection of tools to include things other than hammers.  Screwdrivers, pliars, and so on are options."

New problem:   "Ever since I threw away the hammers and replaced them with a screw driver, those nails are pretty tough to work with!"


The idea isn't to replace combat-to-the-death entirely alternatives to combat-to-the-death and never use it again.  Rather, it is to introduce a better variety of tools into your arsenel.

No, your group isn't all playing Bards.  But then, neither are they all playing Fighters, and even fighters do things other than fight to the death day in and day out every day of their lives.  Instead, your players have probably chosen to play wise Clerics, mysterious Druids, sneaky Rogues, curious Wizards, jaded private detectives, friendly but angsty Drow Rangers, and anything else they can possibly imagine, probably because something of the fluff and character concept beyond simply grinding through one dungeon crawl bloodbath after another attracted them to the character race, class, alignment, and concept combination.  (Ironically, I suspect it may even be boredom with the never-ending combat grind that attracts many players to the idea of playing Evil PCs, parties, and campaigns:  no longer content with being 100% killers, they aim for being perhaps 98% killers with 2% darker-and-edgier style, before seeking other ways to vary their gaming experience....)



Remember also that another thing that often gets said in this forum, sometimes in same breath as "try to use goals other than killing all the monsters/party members", is this:  "combat is a reward".  It's perfectly fine to give those mid-level Orcs goals other than killing the PCs to death, to give the PCs goals other than killing all the mid-level Orcs to death, to let the mid-level Orcs flee from combat when the PCs take the upper hand, and so on.  But remember also that there is nothing quite so satisfying to the PCs as getting the chance at the appropriate time to finally beat the stuffing out of the sadistic Orc boss, or smoosh a horde of Orc minions into paste.

And, don't forget as well that it's up to you and your players to establish your expectations for the game during "session zero", preferably before character creation.  If the players enter the game expecting yet another all-out blood-and-guts crunch-fest, and design optimized combat characters accordingly, they are going to feel disappointed or even cheated if the DM springs a game where combat has been de-emphasized in some dramatic way, and suddenly their combat-optimized characters can't keep up the new style of plotting.

And, keep in mind that some players simply are not interested in doing anything other than decisively winning a dice game, or managing combat resources wisely, or in building the most optimized combat character ever seen, or in simulating a specific Computer RPG experience.  Or, perhaps one of these (quite legitimate) RPG styles describes you, as a DM.  These are, I think a minority of players (if for no other reason than most players like some variety in addition to these RPG styles), but I'm sure they exist, and it might even be possible for every member of your group to have no interest in doing anything more than running non-stop combats, and, if so, there's nothing inherently wrong with that.  Know what your group wants, know what you want, and try to do your part to give you and your group what you want.
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
Damn, and I thought I knew how to DM a decent game by now.

Thanks a lot everyone, this thread taught me a lot. I'm going to apply it to the LFR adventure I'm DMing next Saturday. I'm brimming with ideas to give the enemies in the module interesting goals instead of outright killing the PCs (which, as written, they basically all do). Kidnapping an NPC, knocking the PCs unconscious and immediately teleporting away with them, protecting a certain item, that kind of stuff. I'm sure my jaded LFR players will love it!

When I've played in [LFR adventures], I've felt like the outcome of the adventure was already known and I'm just going through the motions just to see how many resources I have left at the end of the session.


I never realized it before, but this is exactly how I've been feeling about LFR adventures lately. This realization will most certainly help the groups I play in to make things a little more interesting in the future.
Thanks a lot everyone, this thread taught me a lot. I'm going to apply it to the LFR adventure I'm DMing next Saturday. I'm brimming with ideas to give the enemies in the module interesting goals instead of outright killing the PCs (which, as written, they basically all do). Kidnapping an NPC, knocking the PCs unconscious and immediately teleporting away with them, protecting a certain item, that kind of stuff. I'm sure my jaded LFR players will love it!

Good luck. I recommend against "knocking the PCs unconscious" or capturing them, or really focusing directly on incapacitating them in any way. I think you'll have as hard a time accomplishing that as you would trying to kill them, and might receive even more push back. Your other ideas sound good, though. Check the 4th Edition DMG II for other ideas on things creatures can do other than killing the PCs. For that matter, check out other games and stories.

Look at the goals and rewards of the LFR modules. There might be ways for the creatures to confound those goals without bringing the adventure to a halt, and there might even be plausible reasons for them to do it.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Damn, and I thought I knew how to DM a decent game by now.



It's very possible to run a game without all these ideas and have it turn out just fine. I've run games for 99% of my DMing career that have been fun that didn't include these concepts. What ends up happening is you encounter a problem outcome (the forums are rife with DMs who run into these issues) and you develop some skills to avoid it. Over years and years, you develop a personal style that helps overcome the issues inherent in the "default" mode of play.

What I like about this method and the LIM we've discussed in other threads is that I don't have to have those skills at all. I don't need to smooth over rough edges or learn tricks to keep the players from seeing the flaws. I can just play to find out what happens and it's rejuvenated my interest in DMing. I don't know the outcomes of a given encounter (or adventure) for that matter and it's like being a player in my own game. It's fun as hell. Some people might be kind of irked that they built up skills that are then made obsolete, but I couldn't be happier.

Thanks a lot everyone, this thread taught me a lot. I'm going to apply it to the LFR adventure I'm DMing next Saturday. I'm brimming with ideas to give the enemies in the module interesting goals instead of outright killing the PCs (which, as written, they basically all do). Kidnapping an NPC, knocking the PCs unconscious and immediately teleporting away with them, protecting a certain item, that kind of stuff. I'm sure my jaded LFR players will love it!



Thanks for the engaging discussion and we'd love to hear how it turns out for you!

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
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Thanks a lot everyone, this thread taught me a lot. I'm going to apply it to the LFR adventure I'm DMing next Saturday. I'm brimming with ideas to give the enemies in the module interesting goals instead of outright killing the PCs (which, as written, they basically all do). Kidnapping an NPC, knocking the PCs unconscious and immediately teleporting away with them, protecting a certain item, that kind of stuff. I'm sure my jaded LFR players will love it!

Good luck. I recommend against "knocking the PCs unconscious" or capturing them, or really focusing directly on incapacitating them in any way. I think you'll have as hard a time accomplishing that as you would trying to kill them, and might receive even more push back.


Normally I'd agree with you, but...

Show
they're fighting a dragon who's the gatekeeper for a frost titan, and the dragon has one of those charging auras that explode after they've reached size 5. The effect of this "explosion" is that it knocks the PCs unconscious if it hits them. The dragon also has all these genasi slaves who I will set upon any unconscious PCs. If 2 or more slaves make it to an unconscious player, they teleport away into the frost titan's castle.

The fight will only break out if the players refuse to hand over their weapons and implements to the dragon's minions while they escort them to the titan's castle. At all times during the battle, the dragon is open to the players surrendering. He will then escort the remaining party to the castle.
Thanks a lot everyone, this thread taught me a lot. I'm going to apply it to the LFR adventure I'm DMing next Saturday. I'm brimming with ideas to give the enemies in the module interesting goals instead of outright killing the PCs (which, as written, they basically all do). Kidnapping an NPC, knocking the PCs unconscious and immediately teleporting away with them, protecting a certain item, that kind of stuff. I'm sure my jaded LFR players will love it!

Good luck. I recommend against "knocking the PCs unconscious" or capturing them, or really focusing directly on incapacitating them in any way. I think you'll have as hard a time accomplishing that as you would trying to kill them, and might receive even more push back.


Normally I'd agree with you, but...

Show
they're fighting a dragon who's the gatekeeper for a frost titan, and the dragon has one of those charging auras that explode after they've reached size 5. The effect of this "explosion" is that it knocks the PCs unconscious if it hits them. The dragon also has all these genasi slaves who I will set upon any unconscious PCs. If 2 or more slaves make it to an unconscious player, they teleport away into the frost titan's castle.

The fight will only break out if the players refuse to hand over their weapons and implements to the dragon's minions while they escort them to the titan's castle. At all times during the battle, the dragon is open to the players surrendering. He will then escort the remaining party to the castle.



You say only if they don't give up their weapons, be aware that players may not. I probably wouldn't for various reasons, if I didnt't know about the various ownages in store for them. Is ownages a word?
"The real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development." -Albert Einstein Resident Left Hand of Stalin and Banana Stand Grandstander Half of the Ambiguously Gay Duo House of Trolls, looking for a partner Wondering what happened to the Star Wars forums?
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141722973 wrote:
And it wasn't ****. It was subjectively concensual sex.
57036828 wrote:
Marketing and design are two different things. For instance the snuggy was designed for people in wheel chairs and marketed to people that are too incompetent to operate a blanket.
75239035 wrote:
I personally don't want him decapitated.
141722973 wrote:
And do not call me a Yank. I am a Québecois, basically your better.
And the greatest post moderation of all time...
58115148 wrote:
I gave that (Content Removed) a to-scale Lego replica. (Content Removed) love to-scale Lego replicas. (ORC_Cerberus: Edited - Vulgarity is against the Code of Conduct)
If they're non-diplomatic a-holes, then they won't give up their weapons and the conversation will probably end in a fight, yeah. But they're not on a search-and-destroy mission, so common sense might prevail here.
If they're non-diplomatic a-holes, then they won't give up their weapons and the conversation will probably end in a fight, yeah. But they're not on a search-and-destroy mission, so common sense might prevail here.



They don't have to be nondiplomatic a-holes. Are they going to negotiate with the frost giant, kill him, or what? That will heavily influence how they do things.
"The real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development." -Albert Einstein Resident Left Hand of Stalin and Banana Stand Grandstander Half of the Ambiguously Gay Duo House of Trolls, looking for a partner Wondering what happened to the Star Wars forums?
Show
Star Wars Minis has a home here http://www.bloomilk.com/ and Star Wars Saga Edition RPG has a home here http://thesagacontinues.createaforum.com/index.php
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141722973 wrote:
And it wasn't ****. It was subjectively concensual sex.
57036828 wrote:
Marketing and design are two different things. For instance the snuggy was designed for people in wheel chairs and marketed to people that are too incompetent to operate a blanket.
75239035 wrote:
I personally don't want him decapitated.
141722973 wrote:
And do not call me a Yank. I am a Québecois, basically your better.
And the greatest post moderation of all time...
58115148 wrote:
I gave that (Content Removed) a to-scale Lego replica. (Content Removed) love to-scale Lego replicas. (ORC_Cerberus: Edited - Vulgarity is against the Code of Conduct)
If they're non-diplomatic a-holes, then they won't give up their weapons and the conversation will probably end in a fight, yeah. But they're not on a search-and-destroy mission, so common sense might prevail here.

Or if they're toting their ancestral weapon, or they bluff (like Gandalf did with his staff) their way into keeping it, or if the player believes (quite rightly, I bet) that being relieved of their weapon is intended to completely take away the option of fighting in a later encounter. After all, the "give up your weapons" thing is a pretty common trope, and characters tend not to be relieved of their weapons unless they're really going to wish they had them in the near future.

If they're not on a search-and-destroy mission, why does the module require them to give up their weapons?

I'm armchair DMing here, especially since I've sworn off LFR games, but while I liked the other examples you gave, this one would worry me.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Just as an example, i recently started playing a FR campign. In the first encounter, we fought a crazy man who was possessed by a tatoo. As son as we knocked him out the guards (All minions) started moving in, telling us to drop our weapons. Now, obviously, the guards intended to detain us in some way. (Which they did). As a party, we could have killed all the guards plus the roughly PC strength knight on her way (This is maptool, she had PC level hp). None of the rest of the party wanted to resist detainment, so I slipped away. Does that make me a non-diplomatic a-hole, just because I didn't want to surreneder my ability to defend myself to a clearly hostile force?
"The real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development." -Albert Einstein Resident Left Hand of Stalin and Banana Stand Grandstander Half of the Ambiguously Gay Duo House of Trolls, looking for a partner Wondering what happened to the Star Wars forums?
Show
Star Wars Minis has a home here http://www.bloomilk.com/ and Star Wars Saga Edition RPG has a home here http://thesagacontinues.createaforum.com/index.php
Show
141722973 wrote:
And it wasn't ****. It was subjectively concensual sex.
57036828 wrote:
Marketing and design are two different things. For instance the snuggy was designed for people in wheel chairs and marketed to people that are too incompetent to operate a blanket.
75239035 wrote:
I personally don't want him decapitated.
141722973 wrote:
And do not call me a Yank. I am a Québecois, basically your better.
And the greatest post moderation of all time...
58115148 wrote:
I gave that (Content Removed) a to-scale Lego replica. (Content Removed) love to-scale Lego replicas. (ORC_Cerberus: Edited - Vulgarity is against the Code of Conduct)
Great advice from everyone here.

Another tip that lets you do non-combat centric stuff while still using what's on your character sheet, is allowing powers to be used out of combat.

Spells especially are good for this. Maybe a beacon has to be lit in a a hurry and it is windy and raining: cue fireball. That's a crude example, but hopefully you get what I mean. Read the flavour text of all those powers again and think about how that ability could be used for a purpose other than hitting someone with it.

A big problem though is the atitude to "what is a player character". Your problem confused me at first, because I didn't understand how using skills or even something not on the character sheet is "not being allowed to play your character". There can be a lot to a PC besides the stats and the powers. The choices they make, the friends they have, the things they know. Look for ways to let the players use those things too. 
A big problem though is the atitude to "what is a player character". Your problem confused me at first, because I didn't understand how using skills or even something not on the character sheet is "not being allowed to play your character". There can be a lot to a PC besides the stats and the powers. The choices they make, the friends they have, the things they know. Look for ways to let the players use those things too. 

Good point.

For a character that's just starting out, whether at first level or at a higher level, choosing its powers and equipment are the largest investment of the player's creative time, so if those don't come into play, it seems like a bit of a waste (it's less of a waste if the players know not to agonize over those choices, but the time investment is still significant). But it's expected that after a while, the player will have invested into other aspects of the character so that just using the powers isn't the only satisfactory thing about it, and maybe is even significantly less satisfying than the other aspects of the character.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I think you need a lot of trust from the players and/or some out-of-game understanding that "Every little thing gonna be alright" when asking them to divest themselves of their belongings. I'd expect a table full of strangers to be hesitant if I asked, but players who've been in my games before might not have an issue with it at all because they know I'm working toward something interesting rather than something punitive or the like.

I always take the "give us your weapons" trope as a sign of a railroad though. But then I see railroads everywhere these days, heh. It strikes me as a means by which to neuter the players so you can get your NPC those precious few minutes to deliver his boxed text before bloodthirsty PCs have at them. If the players have bought in, then it'll go smoothly. If they're prone to resisting that railroady nature of the transaction or don't have trust in the DM to make it cool, I see potential problems.

In the end, I'd probably just not use this trope for reasons stated. The titan is full of hubris and believes tiny weaklings like the PCs couldn't lay a hand on him even if they tried. He might be right. Or he might be wrong. Either way is good for me because I'm playing to see what happens. It might make a good objective in the encounter though - "Your belongings are in a box across the chasm where the titan stands. He's got one foot on the box and has challenged you to wrest it from him. Do so and you will earn his respect; fail, and you'll get to see what's at the bottom of the crevasse the hard way. Roll initiative."

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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I'm posting a response to a post in another thread: community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...

Then you're basically forced to make skill challenges before fighting. And if you're not trained in the right skills, you're SOL.

The core tenet of skill challenges is that if the players flop at them, or even ignore them outright, the game continues, but with an interesting consequence of some kind. If failing it means they are killed, then the entire point of using a skill challenge has been missed.

"[F]ailure in a skill challenge should send the characters down a completely different route in the adventure, but not derail them entirely." DMG Page 74

"Failure introduces complications rather than ending the adventure." DMG Page 75

So, using a skill challenge in concert with combat means (to me at least) that if you can't succeed in the skill challenge, there should be complications, or a different route to take, but it should not mean you're "SOL." However, that doesn't mean that it's not ok to require success in the skill challenge before it's possible to hurt the BBEG. What it does mean is that not being able to hurt the BBEG should itelf "introduce complications" or "send the characters down a different route in the adventure" rather than "ending the adventure" or "derailing them entirely."

In other words, if failure in the skill challenge means you can't hurt the BBEG, and hurting the BBEG is the only way forward, then it's a bad design. But there's nothing wrong with the trope. Happens all the time in movies and shows. Look at Return of the Jedi. They had to blow the shield generator before the Death Star could be attacked. When the fleet showed up, they couldn't attack the Death Star, but they had secondary goals in the mean time: "give Han more time" and "take a few of them with us." On Endor, Han and company failed several times: they alerted the garrison, they were captured (once by the Ewoks and once by the garrison), they failed to hotwire the door. They had some successes too, but these were along a "completely different route." At no time were they "derailed completely."

At community.wizards.com/lfr/go/thread/view... Encounter 7, I see the player said: " I wasn't allowed to play my character the way I wanted to play it." It doesn't sound like a good design of the skill challenge, but I'm perplexed by other things the player says:

"I enjoy using them to do what the melee rogue is designed to do: unload a massive load of damage onto a one target at a time.": That's an extremely narrow definition of the rogue, or any other class. Disarming traps is also something the rogue is "designed" to do, along with getting out the way of attacks.

"If I had been doing something tremendously exciting with my actions, then maybe I would've felt good about not making attack rolls. But making the same skill check (Thievery) over and over on a static obelisk wasn't exciting at all. It was tremendously BORING.": I can see that, and it's the job of everyone at the table to make skill challenges interesting though description and creativity. But wasn't this going on in the middle of combat? Wasn't the entire party having to figure out how to put their most well-trained characters on the skill checks while defending, controlling and leading (if not striking)?

The player mentions that only three skills were "allowed." That's not how skill challenges work either. Any skill can be attempted, with justification. But since failure isn't supposed to be a dead end, it's generally in players' interest to at least attempt to help.

The player mentions the other players having the same problem, all tied back to the damage the monster was doing, or their inability to damage it. Defender marks generally have a damage aspect, but even without damage, they still impose a -2 to all attacks by the creature (maybe even more by that level), so the defenders would still protect those working on the skill challenge. A shaman unable to keep its spirit companion around is rather hindered, but should still be in a position to defend the rogue. I agree that there doesn't seem much for strikers to do in that encounter. "Since we had no choice but to hit the dragon (despite its protections)" is the worst indictment in that whole post.

(I see that the player does praise the defenders and leaders for their efforts. In all, it sounds pretty interesting to me, but I wasn't there.)

And that's the major issue, and why I hate "kill or be killed" as the overarching "success or failure" mode for encounters. What were the PCs doing there? Just trying to kill the creature? What if, skill challenge aside, they simply couldn't? Or what if it were laughably easy, which I bet it would have been if not for the skill challenge? It would have been easy to put some other goals in that encounter so that not only would everyone have something to do, but if the protective skill challenge couldn't be dropped, the PCs could still claim a partial victory even in retreat. Even having scouted out the skill challenge would, in a non-LFR game, be useful intel to bring back: hey, here's how we defeat him next time, lets hope he doesn't wipe out too many villages while we lick our wounds and prepare.

Yes, this is a bunch of armchair DMing, and I'm not sure I could design an encounter with a similar approach that would be any more fun for this player. Ideally, this player would take this as a lesson learned and think about changes to make to future characters, for situations like this, but what's more likely to happen is that LFR writers will be advised not to make situations at all like this, even improved versions of them. In a home setting, the whole table could learn from this, and have expectations set, and come to a middleground. I don't know if that can or will happen with LFR.

I will maintain that it is possible and potentially enjoyable to mix skill challenges with combat. It is important to make sure failure or ignorance of the skill challenge is a viable, if more complicated, approach.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

The core tenet of skill challenges is that if the players flop at them, or even ignore them outright, the game continues, but with an interesting consequence of some kind. If failing it means they are killed, then the entire point of using a skill challenge has been missed.

"[F]ailure in a skill challenge should send the characters down a completely different route in the adventure, but not derail them entirely." DMG Page 74

"Failure introduces complications rather than ending the adventure." DMG Page 75

 
Thank you for reminding me of this, since it's easy to forget it sometimes. Also, awesome example. 

At community.wizards.com/lfr/go/thread/view... Encounter 7, I see the player said: " I wasn't allowed to play my character the way I wanted to play it." It doesn't sound like a good design of the skill challenge, but I'm perplexed by other things the player says:

stuff


I won't answer for the player, and I don't want to derail this thread, but I hope you don't mind posting your reply in the original LFR thread. It will probably spark a very interesting discussion there! 

I will maintain that it is possible and potentially enjoyable to mix skill challenges with combat. It is important to make sure failure or ignorance of the skill challenge is a viable, if more complicated, approach.


Hear, hear!
I won't answer for the player, and I don't want to derail this thread, but I hope you don't mind posting your reply in the original LFR thread. It will probably spark a very interesting discussion there!

Be my guest. It's really not my place to criticize the player's approach, or the design of the module, since I wasn't even there, but I hope my example and the basic approach I advocate will be taken for what they are.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I actually meant to ask if you would post that reply. Sorry if that wasn't clear.
Despite my initially harsh words, I admire how you've really taken advice and constructive criticism well. I had assumed you were some troll, or someone who didn't really care enough to try to understand the concept.
"The real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development." -Albert Einstein Resident Left Hand of Stalin and Banana Stand Grandstander Half of the Ambiguously Gay Duo House of Trolls, looking for a partner Wondering what happened to the Star Wars forums?
Show
Star Wars Minis has a home here http://www.bloomilk.com/ and Star Wars Saga Edition RPG has a home here http://thesagacontinues.createaforum.com/index.php
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141722973 wrote:
And it wasn't ****. It was subjectively concensual sex.
57036828 wrote:
Marketing and design are two different things. For instance the snuggy was designed for people in wheel chairs and marketed to people that are too incompetent to operate a blanket.
75239035 wrote:
I personally don't want him decapitated.
141722973 wrote:
And do not call me a Yank. I am a Québecois, basically your better.
And the greatest post moderation of all time...
58115148 wrote:
I gave that (Content Removed) a to-scale Lego replica. (Content Removed) love to-scale Lego replicas. (ORC_Cerberus: Edited - Vulgarity is against the Code of Conduct)
Thank you. I guess ;) 
I actually meant to ask if you would post that reply. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

Ah, I misread. No, I don't think I'll venture into that thread. It would be a good challenge, but far too theoretical. Maybe when I've worked with the concept more.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Thanks a lot everyone, this thread taught me a lot. I'm going to apply it to the LFR adventure I'm DMing next Saturday. I'm brimming with ideas to give the enemies in the module interesting goals instead of outright killing the PCs (which, as written, they basically all do). Kidnapping an NPC, knocking the PCs unconscious and immediately teleporting away with them, protecting a certain item, that kind of stuff. I'm sure my jaded LFR players will love it!



Thanks for the engaging discussion and we'd love to hear how it turns out for you!


I'm glad we had this discussion, otherwise I would've had a very difficult time. My players didn't exactly 'keep to the script', as far as the prewritten adventure went. But I just rolled with it, and they eventually got to all the places they needed to finish their quest. 

Well, kinda, since they decided that keeping the evil sorceress locked up was more important than getting the world-saving information from her in exchange for her freedom. The adventure kinda assumed the players would free her, but thanks to the advice from you guys I went with it and they ended the adventure the way they wanted to. Although it left the players somewhat dissatisfied (not freeing the sorceress meant they didn't have to fight a climactic battle at the end of the adventure), they were happier that they had the freedom of choosing their own ending. 
they were happier  



That's the best possible outcome.
"The real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development." -Albert Einstein Resident Left Hand of Stalin and Banana Stand Grandstander Half of the Ambiguously Gay Duo House of Trolls, looking for a partner Wondering what happened to the Star Wars forums?
Show
Star Wars Minis has a home here http://www.bloomilk.com/ and Star Wars Saga Edition RPG has a home here http://thesagacontinues.createaforum.com/index.php
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141722973 wrote:
And it wasn't ****. It was subjectively concensual sex.
57036828 wrote:
Marketing and design are two different things. For instance the snuggy was designed for people in wheel chairs and marketed to people that are too incompetent to operate a blanket.
75239035 wrote:
I personally don't want him decapitated.
141722973 wrote:
And do not call me a Yank. I am a Québecois, basically your better.
And the greatest post moderation of all time...
58115148 wrote:
I gave that (Content Removed) a to-scale Lego replica. (Content Removed) love to-scale Lego replicas. (ORC_Cerberus: Edited - Vulgarity is against the Code of Conduct)
I'm glad we had this discussion, otherwise I would've had a very difficult time. My players didn't exactly 'keep to the script', as far as the prewritten adventure went. But I just rolled with it, and they eventually got to all the places they needed to finish their quest. 

Well, kinda, since they decided that keeping the evil sorceress locked up was more important than getting the world-saving information from her in exchange for her freedom. The adventure kinda assumed the players would free her, but thanks to the advice from you guys I went with it and they ended the adventure the way they wanted to. Although it left the players somewhat dissatisfied (not freeing the sorceress meant they didn't have to fight a climactic battle at the end of the adventure), they were happier that they had the freedom of choosing their own ending. 



Awesome. Thanks for sharing. I always like to hear how advice turns out. Choice - meaningful choice - is a very interesting thing. To me, it's what makes D&D the game that it is (or purports to be). Note that if there is any hiccup here, it's that the adventure "assumed" something. That's a design mistake in my opinion. In games I run, players regularly choose not to fight for one reason or another, even when the map and minis are before them. I wouldn't have written up the "if this, then that" encounter at the end as the design method I espouse doesn't really work on "contingencies." At least not in that sense.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Thanks guys.

Looking back, the only thing I think I might've done differently was find a way for the players to fight a climactic battle anyways since they do love rolling their dice. On the other hand, it was getting kinda late and I didn't really feel like breaking character and have the opponent of the witch (the aforementioned frost titan) invite the players along to his battle with her. 
Cool thread with lots of good points. Welcome to the dark side of DME Sven

I realize it may be off topic and possibly better suited to a thread of its own, but I honestly think LFR gets an exceedingly bad rep based on a lot of misconceptions.

LFR adventures are rarely created as scripts to be run exactly as written. The willingness of a DM to adapt, adjust and work with their table to create an enjoyable experience out of the adventure is what makes, or breaks the deal. Unfortunately too many players and DM's both fail to realize that and end up ruining eachothers day... Sure, it sucks having to hear from the DM that "No, you cannot swing from the candelier, do a 3-point flip and skewer the dragon's eye with your rapier. You have to roll this arcana check instead to unlock the alternativegoalgizmo", but I feel the adventure cannot be blamed for that. 

Adventures are written for the (lowest?) common denominator with limited room for including all the possible variations . Adventures that are not tailored to a particular group HAVE to make assumptions. Doing otherwise would make the adventure creation process for, for instance, LFR, endlessly more complicated and time consuming. You can try to avoid most assumptions, but then you will inevitably run in to the DM's and Players that are lost without them. In my experience working on LFR stuff I find that is is better to make some assumptions, but to try and give DMs the tools, guidance and empowerment to deal with the rest. If something that is in the adventure does not work for you, makes no sense, would ruin people's day. Change it. 

Anyway, like I said.. different topic really And still good stuff in here. 
To DME, or not to DME: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous powergaming, Or to take arms against a sea of Munchkins, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;No more;
Adventures that are not tailored to a particular group HAVE to make assumptions. Doing otherwise would make the adventure creation process for, for instance, LFR, endlessly more complicated and time consuming. You can try to avoid most assumptions, but then you will inevitably run in to the DM's and Players that are lost without them.



I struggle with this notion. I realize it's the conventional wisdom. I just can't agree with it. In my opinion, there is only one real assumption the DM/writer need make and that's the goal of the PCs for that adventure. Even then, this is something that can be derived from the players themselves in an ongoing game. Once the goal is established, no assumptions need be made from there on out unless you're writing a plot-based game in which one staged scene leads to another with minor (planned) variations and contingencies based upon likely PC choices or other outcomes.

After many years of running games this way, I finally figured out that it's a pretty weak design method that leads to a plethora of problems. The meaningful choice offered by alternative goals/objective encounter design pointed to a better way which, in my experience, is the location-in-motion as oppposed to sandbox or linear. It's less prep for the same or better game experience and offers real choice to the PCs in the context of the location rather than limited choice due to the needs of the plot. The only downside I can possibly see is that this way of doing things produces multiple sessions of play, usually, which may not be appropriate for an LFR thing. You can more easily run a game on a schedule, start to finish, with plot-based. I think you still lose something of the true spirit of the game this way though.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
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Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

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I understand that struggle all too well, but please remember that LFR adventures (being the example of choice) need to be runable by DM's of all skill levels. From years of LG and LFR experience I can assure you that the kind of freedom you (and I for that matter) seem to prefer would lead to a lot of problems in organized play. Too often the assumption that DM's will make play enriching decicions and be able to deal with the lack of script and/or assumptions has been proven false. This goes for players in equal measure. 

So the fiarly rigid assumption based scripted nature of adventures is for those that want or need it, and those that do not should be totally fine ignoring most things except for the basic outline.  Unless of course they too meet with a momentary lack of inspiration or time (organized play tends to be short on time a lot ). And at that point the script can provide much needed structure.

edit: also, I think the structured nature of adventures are a good way to get ones feet wet and gain the confidence and skills to be able to handle the more freeform stuff as both players and DM's.  Well that and a lot of them really make good stories  
To DME, or not to DME: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous powergaming, Or to take arms against a sea of Munchkins, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;No more;
I understand that struggle all too well, but please remember that LFR adventures (being the example of choice) need to be runable by DM's of all skill levels. From years of LG and LFR experience I can assure you that the kind of freedom you (and I for that matter) seem to prefer would lead to a lot of problems in organized play. Too often the assumption that DM's will make play enriching decicions and be able to deal with the lack of script and/or assumptions has been proven false. This goes for players in equal measure.
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edit: also, I think the structured nature of adventures are a good way to get ones feet wet and gain the confidence and skills to be able to handle the more freeform stuff as both players and DM's.  Well that and a lot of them really make good stories  



I can't speak to any side issues that are requirements or assumptions in organized play, not being a participant in any of that. But what I do see is an awful lot of DMs becoming "trained" to run games this way, myself included (just not by LFR, specifically), and that filters through the rest of the hobby and finds its way to this forum or others where people complain about a lot of unsatisfying outcomes due to this style of play.

I don't have anything other than anecdotal evidence to back this up, but these scripted adventures do seem to be the standard way to run games these days. I'd heap a fair amount of blame on 2e's heavily plot-based adventures back in the day which trained a generation of DMs like myself to script everything or try to. (Some of those mods literally have advice on how to railroad and neuter player choice to keep them on the path.) What people aren't putting together, apparently, is that this way of running the game leads to a lot of niggling issues especially in the areas of DM control and meaningful choice. It's a source of a lot of problems when you really examine it.

I think it would be better to teach new DMs a different way without that script and structure, to offload some of their "workload" onto their players by way of shared storytelling, and to focus on location and NPC/monster motivations as opposed to scene-by-scene choreography. Because, even if you give them a script, the players are engaged in a game of presumably unlimited choice and thus the DM must develop skills to keep the players on script or close to it. Experienced DMs can be damn good at this, but I question the need for developing those skills at all with the methods I espouse. Methods which aren't new, by the way, just brought back from the old days when location trumped plot.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

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While location trumping plot can (and often does) work perfectly fine for a group in a private campaign setting. It however is mostly incompatible with organized play and likely to stay that way. But that just means there are many ways to run and/or experience D&D. Its all good, just maybe not all to ones taste.
To DME, or not to DME: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous powergaming, Or to take arms against a sea of Munchkins, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;No more;
But that just means there are many ways to run and/or experience D&D. Its all good, just maybe not all to ones taste.



I'm struggling with this notion, too, lately. I can have fun with a can of spray paint and a brown paper bag, but it comes at the cost of potentially doing harm to myself. If you believe as I do that the essence of D&D is meaningful choice (and that meaningful choice is very well-supported by the rules and in group manangement outcomes), then plot-based/linear adventures are potentially harmful to the game. They produce outcomes like you can see all over just this one forum - DM vs. powergamer, forcing outcomes in either encounters or plots, passive aggressive player rebellions, the joke that is the illusion of choice, fudging, you name it. Sure, there may be other factors involved, but if you look closely, you can see these are all related to plot-based games. If someone posts a problem on this board, you can bet that they are running a plot-based campaign almost every time. I can smell it.

Plot-based adventures are weird when you think about it. We're sitting down to play a game of choice and imagination and the DM pretty much knows the outcome from the get-go. We're doing this scene first, then this scene, then maybe you get a quasi-choice between one or two different scenes (maybe), and then we fight the villain and we're done, high five. There's no real choice here. Sure, you get to choose what you say to someone before the next scene or what powers to use, left or right, Coke or Diet Coke. But really you're still headed toward a predicted outcome. None of your choices really matter. The DM may as well have sent an email with a story in it plus how many surges and dailies I used and saved me the drive.

But since we’re playing a game ostensibly about free choice, most players will try to buy into the fact that the choice is meaningful even when it’s not. It’s a strange game of footsie where we all know what’s going on but don’t acknowledge it lest we see the rail beneath our feet and become rightly dissatisfied. The DM develops skills to obfuscate and give players the illusion of choice. So they probe, they inquire, they use their skill checks to tease the “correct” answer out of a DM who is doing his best to keep things falsely mutable enough to make any choice seem valid when only one, in fact, is. And all the while, problematic outcomes are a risk. The DM has a stake in the outcome of an encounter and so he steers it a certain way with fudging. The DM limits character options because having such and such may short circuit a scene that needs to go a certain way. And on and on (see these forums for plenty of examples). Like I said, plot-based adventures are weird when you think about them.

Now, I'm going out on a limb here because nobody wants to be the guy who tells others they're having the wrong kind of fun. And I'm not. I've run plot-based/linear style adventures for 99% of my DMing career which goes back to the early 90s and have had a blast. But I've also encountered personally almost every single problem reported on these forums in my own games at one point or another. Thus, I've come to realize something: Plot-based/linear adventuring isn't the default mode of the game and shouldn't be taught as such. It's rife with problems that are completely obviated by the "original" mode of play from when D&D was first created, which is to say, location-based adventures. I think we as a community need to seriously examine this for the betterment of the hobby. I'm always dismayed to see games go wrong when the solution is so much simpler than anyone seems to think.

Anyway, this isn't an attack or a rant. Or me telling anyone they're having the wrong kind of fun. It's simply an observation and one that I've arrived at fairly recently after making every mistake there is to make over the last 20 years. And yes, playing otherwise may not be compatible with organized play, I get that.  I think DMs need to be made aware of where these problems come from and I don't think many do because they're being trained to run plot-based/linear adventures. It bears examining.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Wow, this thread just keeps delivering. Dude, you should start a blog. I'd be your number one reader.
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