Mike's Autojournal 2011-11-27
As much as we love 4th edition D&D, the design begins to break down as levels increase. The scaling power of PCs makes it harder and harder for 4e dungeon masters to build challenging encounters. Further, encounters at these higher levels take longer to run and longer to design. Back at Gencon 2007, Wizards stated that level 1 to 30 is the new sweet spot for D&D. That turned out not to be true, but there is a sweet spot and today we're going focus on it in two ways, level range and source material.
Focus on level 1 to 10
The easiest way to deal with the issues of ever-increasing PC power and complexity is simply to stay out of it. Things don't really start to get out of hand until around level 11, when PCs get their paragon path and the increasing curve starts to get steeper and steeper. For this reason, keeping adventures and campaigns in the heroic tier means a much smoother experience for both players and DMs. Battles will run faster, monsters will run as expected, the game will bring a good challenge.
There's also no reason not to start a campaign at level 1. Level 1 in 4th edition gives PCs a good deal of options and a good bit of power to survive and thrive. There's no need to start a campaign or mini-campaign any higher than level 1. Players enjoy it and the game runs great.
Luckily for us, there is a huge wealth of material for the heroic tier. The adventure line in the D&D starter set, the Dungeon Master's Kit, the Monster Vault, and concluding in the level 6 to 10 Gardmore Abbey adventure can make for a great level 1 to 10 campaign. This is a campaign I personally plan on running next.
The recent Neverwinter sourcebook also builds an excellent campaign environment for the heroic tier and even the recent Heroes of the Feywild book gives enough locations and background to run an excellent heroic tier high fantasy campaign.
Both the Monster Vault and Monster Vault 2 include hundreds of monsters focused on the heroic tier. When filling out a pre-published adventure series or your own campaign, these books give you more than enough monsters to do so.
In short, there's no lack of material both in story and mechanics to run many level 1 to 10 mini campaigns for years.
Run post-Essentials material
The design of D&D 4th Edition has also gotten a lot better over the years. Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms refines the core characters originally released and smooths out a lot of the rough edges of the initial release. With the Heroes of Shadow and Heroes of the Feywild books now released, players have enough options to tweak and customize their characters without having to fall back to pre-Essentials material.
The monsters in the Monster Manual 3, Monster Vault, and Monster Vault 2: Threats to the Nentir Vale also run much better than previous monster books.
Sticking to post-Essentials only material is a bit controversial. A lot of people hate having to give up all the options of previous material. Post-Essentials material contains four more years of design tweaks than older material. The designers learned a lot over those four years and the best way to benefit from that design is to focus on it.
A smooth, fast game of high adventure
Returning to the heroic tier and focusing on better-designed source material can help you, as a DM, return your focus to building fun and exciting adventures. With some excellent design, a nice linear power progression curve, and enough source material to last you a lifetime, there's no need to frustrate yourself and your players with an endless sea of imbalanced design.
If you enjoyed this article, please take a look at Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips. You can also pick up the new Pathfinder miniatures or the D&D Dragon Collector's Set from Troll and Toad, an official Sly Flourish sponsor.
Twitter / mshea
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Twitter / SlyFlourish
- SlyFlourish: My Sentinel just hit level 7 and got the ability to ask questions to plant-life. I dig how rituals are sort-of built in to Essentials chars.
- SlyFlourish: @cwgabriel Glad to hear you're still playing 4e. After 4 years, I still love it. On threatening bullshittery, use heavy aura damage effects.
- SlyFlourish: @cwgabriel I don't understand. You have what looks like Pathfinder with 4e monster stat blocks?
- SlyFlourish: Listening to Loreena McKennitt and writing up some epic-tier monsters. Few nicer ways to spend a Saturday evening. #dnd
- SlyFlourish: @geobancr definitely post-essential feats only. A lot of the broken bits come from old PhB feats like improved crits.
- SlyFlourish: @ObsidianCrane @ralixgaudreau if you guys are able to keep PCs challenged without adding all sorts of crazy stuff, more power to ya!
- SlyFlourish: RT @discerningdm: In honor of @SlyFlourish 's article on @criticalhits , I'm going to drop a house on my PCs tomorrow. http://t.co/i6THv3CI
- SlyFlourish: #dnd tip: A good villain thinks he's right. A great villain IS right.
- SlyFlourish: I bet @matt_james_rpg is right. It's probably my warlord screwing things up again... Most broken class ever, behind the Dwordmage of course.
- SlyFlourish: RT @matt_james_rpg: @SlyFlourish Yeah, and if you add a Warlord, it gets truly ridiculous. #dnd
- SlyFlourish: You know what else scales poorly in #dnd? Initiative. Seems epic PCs have average inits of 45 and monsters have 20.
- SlyFlourish: Go participate in @TheIdDM's survey of status effects and roles in 4e #dnd. I love the focus on data.
- SlyFlourish: @DaveTheGame I'm very happy with the system that I write controversial pieces and you moderate the comments. Think I'll take a nap now.
- SlyFlourish: RT @DaveTheGame: While discussing the benefits of commenting, just received an email indicating the arrival of terrible comment from ter ...
- SlyFlourish: @onlinedm1 @davethegame I receive a lot more personal and constructive email that often turns into new articles. I think that's useful.
- SlyFlourish: @OnlineDM1 @davethegame There's a risk of cutting off feedback. I question whether comments is the best way to receive that feedback.
- SlyFlourish: RT @OnlineDM1: @SlyFlourish @DaveTheGame Well Mike, I know that I read your last article and planned to leave a comment, saw I couldn't, ...
- SlyFlourish: @cwgabriel In case you're interested, here's an article I wrote on the scaling woes of 4th edition #dnd: http://t.co/LnpVOiH4
- SlyFlourish: @DaveTheGame I've yet to hear a big backlash on my removal of comments from http://t.co/9rRJxk7B but its a one-man blog; easier to do.
- SlyFlourish: My latest @criticalhits article "The Scaling Woes of 4th Edition #dnd" was just posted: http://t.co/LnpVOiH4
- SlyFlourish: @DaveTheGame Up to you about the comments. I read them for a little while but then tend to focus on new stuff.
- SlyFlourish: @Bartoneus What are the problems at level 9 and 10?
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- SlyFlourish: @matt_james_rpg It won't let me chat - says I'm a guest.
- SlyFlourish: #dnd tip: If you write up anything, write up a read-aloud summary of your last game to get your players in the right mindset.
- SlyFlourish: What is your favorite rules-light #dnd clone and why?
- SlyFlourish: @davidnett Level 30 gods should be threatened badly by level 35 uber-gods.
- SlyFlourish: RT @gregbilsland: Just saw recent episode of #Castle: Makes me think that a #dnd bank robbery/hostage situation could be a really fun en ...
- SlyFlourish: @TheAngryDM CSI Eberron would probably be awesome.
- SlyFlourish: @TheAngryDM Sometimes a sitcom is exactly what a group needs. I built a whole mini-campaign on the themes of Walker, Texas Ranger.
- SlyFlourish: RT @TheAngryDM: #dnd Tip: Running a holiday themed adventure is a great way to demonstrate that you have as much creativity as a sitcom ...
- SlyFlourish: @davidnett @alphastream @chattydm Any level 30 group that tries at all and is given full access to material can kill Lolth easily.
- SlyFlourish: @Alphastream @davidnett @chattydm My frustration is the imbalance between PC power and monster power at higher levels.
- SlyFlourish: @Alphastream @davidnett @chattydm I could definitely just be wrong and cynical about it. I had a lot of fun running 1-30 but got frustrated.
- SlyFlourish: @thedougman The fireshield is a favorite of mine. Any time monster takes damage, attacker takes 10 per tier.
- SlyFlourish: @thedougman @chris_haddad Yeah, I have lots of ways to make epic hard, but it's a lot harder to design it that way. Auras can get old.
- SlyFlourish: In case you're still bored at work: The Sweet Spot of #dnd 4th Edition: http://t.co/qZHD1c7A
- SlyFlourish: RT @chris_haddad: @SlyFlourish @chattydm PCs at lvl 15, I'm either killing them in one hit or never doing damage :/
- SlyFlourish: #dnd tip: Replace complicated status effects with "knocking prone". It's easy to keep track of and doesn't bone the PC too much.
- SlyFlourish: @chattydm if it were just 5 brains vs 1, we'd see the same problem across all tiers. Right now it's bad in Paragon and really bad at epic.
- SlyFlourish: .@davidnett Previous #dnd editions certainly had a narrow sweet spot and 4e's is much wider. Still, it HAS a sweet spot and it's 1 to 10.
- SlyFlourish: @chattydm Not me. I equate it to a greatly scaling increase in PC utility. I can challenge heroic tier PCs much better than epic.
- SlyFlourish: RT @davidnett: @chattydm @SlyFlourish Thing is, D&D has never rly been fun past lvl15 or so. Even back in AD&D, our chars always retired ...
- SlyFlourish: Of course, Penny Arcade articulates the #dnd PC power curve problem better than I ever could: http://t.co/cbwNYVJD
- SlyFlourish: Some very cool #dnd level 1 pregens that tap into the new Heroes of Feywild on Dungeons and Donuts: http://t.co/2Q4Jjr4C
- SlyFlourish: Check out @SarahDarkmagic's new #dnd column over at @Wizards_DnD: http://t.co/hv4r4sbM Thanks for the mention, Tracy!
- SlyFlourish: Just recorded a podcast with @erikscottdebie about #dnd sandbox gaming. It's going to be awesome when it's up on @criticalhits.
- SlyFlourish: RT @icosahedron: @SlyFlourish My fear for Monte's game modularity is that as characters can do more, monsters need to do more too. Could ...
- SlyFlourish: #dnd tip: Use vulnerability and "- X defenses" instead of action-stealing or "-X attack" status effects. Keeps up threat without boredom.
- SlyFlourish: @TheIdDM One way would be to only have 20 levels. I think 30 levels was a mistake.
- SlyFlourish: I think game complexity should be released in supplements, not part of the core #dnd game. @MonteJCook got me thinking a lot about it.
- SlyFlourish: 1. Resists scale poorly across levels. They make it too easy for higher level players. 2. Complexity should be a flatter curve across level.
- SlyFlourish: Just read @MonteJCook's latest article: http://t.co/NK72bp5E two things come to mind...
- SlyFlourish: @StartingTavern @theiddm @brainclouds Honestly, few probably care. It doesn't show quality. I just wanted to make a pretty chart in excel.
- SlyFlourish: Here's a better chart. Top #dnd tagged tweeters since 27 September from http://t.co/rVcI2X3r http://t.co/OD39NGcY
- SlyFlourish: .@TheIdDM Yes. Sorry. Number of #dnd tagged tweets.
- SlyFlourish: Top #dnd tweeters for the past couple of months: http://t.co/rVcI2X3r http://t.co/B1awMhnS
- SlyFlourish: RT @Morrus: EN World What's Up With D&D? for Monday, 21 November 2011 http://t.co/puMdaEHk #dnd #rpg
- SlyFlourish: @MonteJCook Good luck on the trip. I look forward to seeing the results of your work.
- SlyFlourish: @Alphastream @goinglast Paragon is where the path takes a steep upward curve. Epic, that curve skyrockets.
- SlyFlourish: @Trevor_WotC my des/dev question: What can DMs do to keep the continually growing power curve of PCs in check as campaigns go from 1 to 30?
- SlyFlourish: @OneSmartPanda Better but it can still get out of hand, I think.
- SlyFlourish: .@geneome I'd allow (and have allowed) Dark Sun stuff. It's really solid.
- SlyFlourish: #dnd tip: To give your dungeon some extra flavor and challenge, add a dungeon-wide effect like +5 to necrotic attacks or vul 5 to cold.
- SlyFlourish: The Sweet Spot of 4th Edition: As much as we love 4th edition D&D, the design begins to break down as level... http://t.co/29hQQcIl #dnd
- SlyFlourish: Some excellent tips on #dnd monster design in today's Rule of Three: http://t.co/Z2u0AcaV
- SlyFlourish: RT @Hzurr: Re-reading @SlyFlourish 's Epic Tier book before I start outlining my lvl 26 adventure. There's lots of good stuff here. #dnd
- SlyFlourish: @matt_james_rpg @arcanespringbrd And extended crits, and weaken, and free attacks, and crit triggers, and increased bonuses, and saves
- SlyFlourish: @ArcaneSpringbrd @matt_james_rpg It's not damage, its scaling effects like number of marks, size of bursts, # people healed at once, etc.
- SlyFlourish: @matt_james_rpg Ah, ok. I'd love to chat with you more about it. I've had three days of bending @RosaMoonshadow's ear and she's sick of it.
- SlyFlourish: @matt_james_rpg You available to chat on Skype?
- SlyFlourish: @matt_james_rpg What the hell is football? Some orc thing?
- SlyFlourish: @matt_james_rpg When percentages start to increase instead of flat scores, things get out of whack. Any +1/2 level to attack for example.
- SlyFlourish: @matt_james_rpg I don't think it's nearly linear enough and thats why it begins falling apart apart after level 11.
- SlyFlourish: Just sent @matt_james_rpg a 1,500 word rebuttal against the idea that PC power scales linearly in #dnd 4e. Future @criticalhits post? Maybe.
- SlyFlourish: Interesting article by friend @matt_james_rpg "Root the 4e System": http://t.co/V7SEZVa5
- SlyFlourish: .@TheAngryDM Counter #dnd tip: Did your players write some background on their characters? INCORPORATE SOME OF THAT SHIT INTO YOUR GAME!
- SlyFlourish: RT @TheAngryDM: #dnd Tip: Did your DM write a background/intro to the campaign? Here's a novel idea: INCORPORATE SOME OF THAT SHIT INTO ...
- SlyFlourish: @matt_james_rpg Pretty sure @RosaMoonshadow and I will be there!
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