I'm not much of an actual blogger, much preferring to respond to other people's blogs rather verbosely than to post one of my own, but why not. I do practically live on the Wizard Pages nowadays trying to comment on the new edition of D&D in the works.
There have been a lot of different posts about what should or shouldn't be in the new 5th iteration of the Dungeons and Dragons game. Quite lively discussions on things like Save or Die mechanics, Vancian Magic systems, Skills, and most recently, the 1 hour adventure.
Its the 1 hour adventure that I want to address this in regards to. It seems to me that trying to run a fully cohesive adventure from beginning, through the middle, and with a solid end, in an hour is not a very realistic dream for most of the players and DMs that I'm acquainted with. The fact that Mike Mearls managed to do it is impressive, and I do in fact take my hat off to him in that regard. However, it brings me to wondering what kind of formula he uses to balance out his encounters.
Surely, in a 1-hour game, there isn't time for too many encounters, first of all. He did mention in his post that all 3 major cornerstones of the D&D experience were included in his game, however, so there were I think he said 3 or 4 encounters in that time period (Not looking at his post as I write this).
Now, for a game session to count as an Adventure, and not just a session of play, at least in my book. So it has the beginning, the middle, and the end...your looking to have a fair spread of encounter difficulty levels. In most games, you have your easy encounters, a few standard ones (your equal or slightly more than equal), your Difficult or Tricky encounters, and of course, the Boss or Climax encounter to wrap everything up.
What I guess I'm asking people to comment on, then, is what do you use to break down your encounters when you build an adventure arc? I personally base my own breakdown loosely on the chart that has been in a couple of editions of the DMG throughout the years. The last one I remember seeing being in the 3.x DMG. I'm not saying its exactly like the one I'll present to you, but its pretty close, and it is kind of what I try to base my own games upon, as well as what I teach new DMs to use as a benchmark when they go to design their first adventures. My chart is as follows:
15% of Encounters_______Easy (PC Average Lv - 1)
50% of Encounters_______Standard (PC Average Lv to PC Average Lv + 1)
15% of Encounters_______Difficult (PC Average Lv + 2 to + 3)
15% of Encounters_______Special/Tricky*
05% of Encounters_______Hard/Boss (PC Average Lv + 4 to + 5)**
*Special/Tricky meaning either its an easy/standard type encounter, but with some conditions that make the encounter tougher. The monsters get to ambush, or have control of the terrain/environment, also includes encounters where you mix hazards/traps/puzzles in with the encounter, or Hard Encounters that have a secret that makes the encounter easier if you discover the secret involved. Get the Troll slayer sword, and the trolls are much easier to beat!
** Hard/Boss encounters still keep in mind that at least in 4e D&D, Monsters more than 7 levels above the PCs are generally next to impossible to hit.
If you read this blog, what are your personal criteria for building encounters throughout an adventure. And what do you consider to be a complete adventure, and not just a session or episode in the overall adventure itself?