Sunday, September 18, 2011, 1:15 PM
I would have written this sooner, but I have been playing HoN on Facebook...
The party had little to no problem with the Nalfeshnee, which is a level 23 controller. I am pretty well convinced that if I pick a monster with a low enough AC (or theoretically if one picked a monster with low enough defenses for the parties "to hit" attributes) the party can handle a threat level eight levels above their own. The qualifier, of course, is that one needs to examine the monsters stats and avoid choosing one with high defenses against the party's "to hit" attributes...
Don't get me wrong, it was still a fight, but it was nothing comparing to C'tallun Astral Hunter (a level 20 elite skirmisher). This was a bloodbath, the party rolled weakly and the the PCs had to cheat to win. How do I know this? One PC was left and when he made his final "last roll" he picked up the dice and showed me that he had rolled an 18. He never does this, and so I am convinced that he cheated in a final desperate attempt to win the fight. Fortunately for him, the monster was down low enough that a hit did effectively kill it. I figured, let 'em cheat, I just won't let them level as quickly as if they had won the fight legitimately...
This kinda makes me wonder though. The level 20 Elite was a 16th level encounter. The party had rotten luck with the dice, and the monster's Mind Blast kept recharging, effectively killing (or rather knocking unconscious) two characters. (Ctallun was going to bring the party back to Kallendurren to the slaver pits where they were fighting as gladiators in God's Dice Arena)...
The party seems to have no problem killing demons, and beholders for that matter. Whereas, with mind-flayers they get their arses handed to them consistently. Why is this? Are certain monsters easier for specific characters and character types? I would have to say, yes. The demons' variable resistances do nothing against a fighter, who isn't inflicting radiant damage, etc, etc. The beholders for some reason always go down quick too.
I wonder if this is my PCs playing style, or if it is MY playing style. But there is a question that will have to be answered in time...
The obvious is that for my campaign, the elites work better as a challenging encounter. I would put Ctallun at a hard encounter, whereas I would put the Nalfeshnee as a normal encounter.
The PCs still have a ways to go, so next in my experiment I am going to start throwing Solo monsters at them to see how that works. I am going to start with easy to normal encounters and move the encounter level up to hard and see how they fare. The next set of encounters isn't going to test the Threat Level of monsters, but rather see how I can start messing with monster role (as elites or solos) and encounter level.
Let's hope it works out, it will be fun gaming nonetheless!
Friday, September 9, 2011, 8:55 PM
Well the party did it. Threw 2 encounters at them tonight, both a solid eight threat levels above the party. They took them both down, yes it was a fight, but it wasn't as close to a TPK as I would have expected.
For clarity sake, I am running the Henchman. I know, there is serious objection over this sort of thing, so let me clarify as to why I think it is okay in this instance.
Firstly, the party is currently small enough as it is, and I am only throwing single monsters, or single elites at them. With this being the case, I have more than enough time as a DM to run a PC behind the screen. I am not bogged down by running things in this way so it seems to make sense not to over-burden the players with yet another PC to run. Secondly, I am running the PC impartially, I am not running them in a way that would compromise the DMs role as adjudicator and/or rules arbiter. I see it as a challenge to stay neutral in the encounter, and not fudge anything whatsoever.
Thirdly, the PCs need me to do it this way, they are already taxed enough as it is, and while it may be argued that I am giving them somewhat hollow victories. I have to argue the point that I am being truely neutral and playing a character in the fashion that a player with my experience level would play the same character.
I am not using companion characters, although I think it is an interesting idea. Perhaps when things progress into the Epic Tier then it will become more appropriate to do things that way, however I anticipate that the campaign will become more active with other players by that time.
The other interesting thing to note, is that I am not messing with ENCOUNTER LEVELS, I am finding variables in THREAT LEVEL of individual monsters based on this specific set of circumstances in a somewhat controlled experiment.
I have to say, that in my example the party is able to reach up to eight full levels above the party's level when encountering a single monster quite easily, and it is easy for me to stick single monsters into the storyline of the campaign. So it is kind of a win for me, makes the encounters really short though...
Without giving too much away, there is a time when I am going to expect the PCs to fight a solo monster that is three levels above the party's level and the henchman idea will probably prove too much at that point. I may try it just to find out, I have DMed monsters at the end of the Epic Tier level, so I do have a feel for how they are run. The mechanics of combat don't stifle me the way they used to after running a few 28th level scenarios...
For that, I pitted similarly leveled solo monsters against one another. Specifically I ran Grazz't against Yeenoghu and Grazz't against Dispater. I won't disclose the results of the encounters, but I will say that it is an excellent way to prime yourself beforehand to see what a monster can do. I have also done this with other monsters ranging from the Epic Tier down to Paragon Tier monsters.
I won't say that this, by any means, makes me qualified to say what it is like to run (let's say) Yeenoghu against a party of Epic level adventurers. It does, however, give me an idea as to how much math and record-keeping is required to run a monster at that level. I figure if I can keep track of two monsters at that level, then when it is time to run one against a party I will have a much easier time doing so. On a side note, this practice has made DMing the lower level monsters much easier for me.
I may try to use the Epic Solo as a lower level threat with a higher encounter level, by putting it up against a party of less than five PCs, and then again I may use companion characters. I am kinda adverse to this, as the AD&D DMG warns strongly against letting players play monsters, and I kinda like to stick to the AD&D DMG wherever possible.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011, 7:02 PM
I am discouraged. I showed up tonight to run a session of Encounters and had a a zero turnout. First time that's ever happened to me.
It left me wondering why is there such a backlash against 4e? I know I have been critical of 4e at times. But, the spirit was that of improvement; or at least that's how it was intended.
The crowd at the shop I run encounters at is pretty much anti-4e. But to be fair, the shop has had difficulties running Encounters in the past. Most of the earlier campaigns didn't even make it this far.
I wonder am I wasting my time and energy with 4e? I hate when I get like this, but the reality of the situation is that I still play D&D and I enjoy it.
I picked up a copy of MME today. Lots of cool items there, and I realized something.
I don't really have as good a grasp on the game as I would like. It seems like there is still so much to learn. I realize that I sat Essentials out, and many of the newer supplements make use of the newer rules. This is kinda disappointing, as I hoped my dollar would have gone farther with this edition.
I played D&D long before there were many others playing, at least in comparison to the numbers playing RPGs now. If 4e isn't cool, then neither was AD&D back in the day. And most people who subdivide the genres are missing the point. But I am starting to ramble...
I am not going to continue with Encounters. I have my own campaigns to worry about without having to teach people how to play the game. I have been neglecting my AD&D endeavors to keep Encounters going, and perhaps this is an opportunity to get going back at that.
I don't expect to play 5e. I just can't afford the investment. I may play, but am more than likely not going to DM. I figured I had a decade to DM with 4e, but the consensus is that that is not going to be the case before 5e is released. Why does all this speculation about 5e exist?
I am sick of edition wars, yet again. I am tired of people being elitist about which edition of D&D they play. Its all good. I have now played every edition of D&D ever made, and I can say that I have enjoyed them all.
Maybe, if I feel like bothering with a new group I might try Lair Assault, but that is kinda getting ahead of myself.
My home campaign is flourishing, and as well written as "Lost Crown of Neverwinter" was, it wasn't really my style. I haven't been running modules in 4e, with the exception of "Pyramid of Shadows" and I can clearly see why there aren't many modules being produced at this time. (Of course, with the exception of adventures being published on the DDI website).
In a way this is a relief, I thought I was going to have to stick this one out. Keep going and running 3 campaigns at the same time. That is just too much work for me, and with such a poor turnout tonight, I have an excuse to bail. Too bad though, there was potential in the starting group!
This entry isn't really intended as information. There isn't really any theories or profound insights here. I just needed to write something while my dinners in the oven...
Saturday, September 3, 2011, 7:27 PM
I love it when problems lead to new insights. Recently, I've had problems with numbers in the home campaign. Seems due to circumstances it has been two PCs for a little while now. This has proved challenging in some ways, but has also provided me with some insights as well. The upside has been that two PCs is a fair amount easier to manage than five, and this means combat has been way easier. Unfortunately, the loss is the interaction that occurs between multiple PCs in a campaign. This is not the end of the world, it almost gives me insight into the transition from the early game into the current incarnation. Let me explain.
With less role-playing and character interaction at the table, I have been able to focus heavily on the combat mechanics of the game. It's almost as if I have been given an intensive 4e combat experience! Well, in fact it isn't almost as if, it is...
Something I discovered first was that the party needed another PC, so we added a henchman. Henchmen were something that were played as NPCs back in the day, full fledged characters that had similar if not equal powers as the party but were controlled by the DM. This is something that I started doing in my current 4e campaign due to poor turnout over the summer.
It has provided me with all sorts of interesting perspectives. First, let me get to the goodies. I have an example of how the core mechanics of the game can be adjusted with the addition of DM controlled henchmen.
The party is currently 14th level and has started battling some pretty cool monsters recently. The neat thing is that 19th level / 20th level elites are now within the party's reach (with the addition of the 3rd character, of course). This means that the encounter levels are about 16-17th level for a three character party battling 19-20th level elites. Goristro's are pretty cool for a party to face. But I digress.
The party recently has been taking down monsters 6 levels above them. This is about the limit that it suggests in the DMG. Okay, so no changes to the core mechanics there. But last night, the party fought a Hezrou. They had a harder time with the Goristro than with the Hezrou, and the Hezrou is a full eight levels above the party in level. This was due to the fact that the encounter level for the Hezrou was roughly 17th level, while the Goristro was an 17-18th level encounter.
I haven't changed the maxes for encounter levels. I tried that already and the DMG is pretty accurate on those, and also threat levels (for the most part). Now, obviously there are factors to consider but the Hezrou is a Brute. Brutes generally (and Soldiers) are the more dangerous monster role types to start messing around with regarding threat levels. For the most part, when I put the party up against a controller, skirmisher, or even especially, artillery as an elite threat that is 6-7 levels above the party they slaughter it pretty quickly, and that is that.
The method for calculating encounter levels is explained thoroughly in the DMG, so I won't go into too great of depth here. I will say that to add an extra PC to calculate the encounter level, divide the monsters group XP by the number of players, that single number is equal to the XP for a single monster of the encounters level.
So why was the party able to kick down a threat 8 levels higher than the party? Was it because I was NPCing a character? NO. I can assure you I was impartial, I have no qualms with a TPK even with one NPC under my control.
This is somewhat of a mystery to me, I'll have to admit. I have been gradually stretching the threat levels higher and higher against the party, as with 2 (3) PCs things can get pretty boring behind the screen. The higher level monsters give me more to do as a DM, where I can't necessarily play solos. But that brings me to my next point.
I have a purple dragon, which is a level 13 solo. With 3 PCs the encounter level is roughly the same as the party, and the threat is still there. So even with less than 5 players at the table it still is possible to use solos. You need to calculate the encounter level carefully though or you will have a TPK on your hands. I also don't recommend doing it more than a level or two below the party, as the solo will have a hard time hitting and doing damage on some of its attacks. But, it is possible to have a pretty exciting encounter with a solo and three PCs.
Back to the Hezrou. I have a War-Devil that I am going to break out at the next session. I looked at the AC and it is still within range for my PCs to hit, this also could be the reason that the party was able to kill the Hezrou. It's AC isn't really that high, and that is the mechanic that most of the party is interacting with.
I'm pretty sure, that with the threat level, you don't want to go any higher than 8 levels above the party. Pretty darn sure of that, in fact. But now I have to figure out if this Hezrou incident was simply a "fluke" of the party or whether the threat level for soldiers and brutes can reach to and include 8 levels above the party, if the encounter level doesn't exceed 3-4 levels above the party.
One could also add, that in the Epic Tier, the addition of a henchman could make certain monsters that were once considered "untouchable" to be within the grasp of the party. I refer, of course, to monsters around the 35th level. (I'm looking at you LOLTH!).
I jest. But seriously, with multiple NPCs drastically altering the game the way they do, I HIGHLY recommend playing henchmen the way we did back in the AD&D days. Which is a full NPC controlled by the DM (If you didn't already catch that.).
Tuesday, August 30, 2011, 11:22 PM
I recently had to drop out of a friends campaign. I just couldn't hack it.
Now, without tearing my friend completely apart I will relate my story.
Several things struck me as wrong or at least difficult with his DMing style.
1) A lack of understanding of the rules saying that the DMG and PHB are supposed to be "just guides"
True. But there are limits. Not bothering to learn the rules properly is no excuse if you are going to try your hand at DMing. The fact of the matter is he hasn't properly read the rules, and it shows.
2) An over-reliance on the "DM as God".
Taken too far, this just defeats the purpose of the game. Hard to believe but the DM is not the "most important seat" in the house. The DM IS A REFEREE, there to arbitrate the game properly (see above about learning the rules properly). The DM functions only as a god in terms of world creation. They can not impose divine dictate without good reason, or rather they can. But then you wonder why no one wants to play. There is a good reason for that, if you railroad players and roll over anyone else having fun, people are going to resist at the very least. Most people simply don't bother to show up.
I could quote the AD&D DMG here about DMing, but I will summarize. The DM is a referee, remember "Judge's Guild?" That was another way of saying DM. You are there to act as a judge or referee whichever term you prefer. And yes, your word is final. But you are expected to arbitrate on RULES and that more than anything else. If a PC does something which irks you on a personal level, you need to let it slide. Heaven knows, this individual has been a "problem player" in my campaign at times...
I know that DMing is supposed to be glamorous. But in reality it isn't, it's kinda **** sometimes. The wasted hours, the sheer frustration, the money involved in running a campaign, etc.etc. The thing that makes up for it, is the ability to use your creativity in devising a world. Or rather than devising a world, deciding how to present a world to your players. Crafting encounters, weaving intrigue, creating NPCs these are all the joys of DMing. Having people consistently befuddling your efforts despite how pure, and expending the aforesaid resources is the downside.
I understand my friend and unfortunately DMing brings out his worst qualities. He literally kept repeating, "But as DM, I'm God" It drove me crazy. He had had problems with two experienced players the week before, and sad as it was I was siding with them. He literally didn't want them in the campaign anymore because one was a "rules lawyer". Sadly, the player in question was more familiar with the rules and it destroyed the DM in the process. This is why you need to know your rules. This is why Gary Gygax said that in order to be the DM, you need to be the best player at the table. At least you need to be as equally familiar with the rules as everyone else at the table. If someone tells you something that is clear as day in the rules, and it isn't something that can be reasonably overruled then you as DM have little option but to go with it. The PC wasn't a rules lawyer, he is a decent DM at least from what I have seen...
The issue I see with 4e, is more people want to play it than DM it. At least around here. I played my share of RPGs and it is my turn to play behind the screen. I don't mind this, I have played 4e though, and it is fun. I really enjoyed my time as a PC in 4e. (btw my friend is running a 3.0 campaign).
The reason that it is much easier to just play, is that you don't really need to spend that much time in preparation. You need a basic grasp on the rules, and some dice. As a DM, I spend $$$ on minis to put against my PCs, I also spring for the CB which in my opinion is a gift to the players in my campaign. I also spend countless hours READING, so I know the rules, the settings et al. that my PCs are going to be involved in. I know I may have more time on my hands than my friend. But in the end, that isn't my fault. I chose to spend my time reading the books, and learning my material. Whereas my friend hasn't invested that kind of time and energy. How he spends his free time is his business, but in the end it shows how much time has really been spent learning the ropes.
Its kinda sad, because he has latched on to the DM as God aspect of DMing really strongly. But he has missed the whole point of the statement. Oh well! Enough.
At the end of the day I just want to have fun and play some D&D. I don't want to fight constantly with the DM, nor do I want to fight with the PCs while I DM. The simple fact is, he just hasn't gotten it yet. And continues to think that the DM has to be some sort of super-villan, where the truth is that the DM is supposed to be impartial (truly neutral) in all aspects.
I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors as a DM, but for me. I just couldn't hack it.