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  1. #1

    How do I plan my encounters? - making sense of the DMG's recommendations

    Hi folks,

    The situation: After a long absence from the hobby, I plan to get back into dungeon mastering. Being the vain creature, that I am, I am determined to master my own stuff, and in dire memory of unpleasant experiences with relying on my ability to spin coherent worlds out of my spontaneous sparks of inspiration, I am determined to come meticulously prepared this time.
    I am even desperately enough in need of gratification, that I decided, that when I am done preparing, I want to put the fruits of this preparation into a form, fit for publication, an adventure compendium of my own making. No commercial plans attached, just a neat PDF-file on my homepage, that is well-crafted enough for other DMs to enjoy and play, but I want the quality to be as close to "official" products, as my abilities allow.

    So far, I invested most of my time and effort into creating the story elements, that I want to be told. I got my arch villain, all the minions under his yoke, and "things they desperately want, but have difficulties to achieve" (shoutout to Guy Sclanders' youtube channel "How to be a Great GM"), I plotted out all the heinous acts, that he had to commit, to get to his position, and all the places he went, and the traces of his crimes, that he would have left for the players to discover and track him down. The timeline of events, that already happened, before the actual adventure starts is 9 pages long, and I am quite proud of it.
    I have quite a convincing hook, how to get a start-up adventurous group involved in the plot and motivated to discover it, and ultimately foil the villain's plan.
    The area of interest is largely preplanned, and satisfies my desires both regarding its lore-friendlyness and economical/ecological plausibility.
    I still have to get down to painting approximately 10 to 15 individual maps for all the important locations, and I still have to detail a bunch of minor NPCs that will populate the area, victims of the villain, innocent bystanders and possible allies for the players, minor stuff, rather time consuming than difficult to figure out.

    But I don't want to prepare a short story, or even an epic novel, but a Dungeons & Dragon's campaign. The main storytelling device of a role-playing game is the encounter, a typical roleplaying evening consists of a DM leading a group of player through a series of encounters. , either a string in a more story-driven, "railroady" adventure or a cluster, in a more sandbox-style game.

    I decided, that I want to start the players at lvl 1, and by the time the grand finale happens to be lvl 4, with enough XP to advance to level 5, after they foiled the villain's plot and the adventure ends (for now). So basically the adventure/mini-camapign should bridge the total of what is considered low tier play in the DMG.
    The DMG's advice about encounter difficulty is to run a group through 6-8 hard to medium encounters a day, and granting them two short rests in the meantime. Comparing the DMG's proposed XP awards "per day" to the PHB's rules for leveling up, and doing a bit of math, I figured out, that the recommended number of encounters would be 6-8 medium to hard encounters with 2-3 short rests in between to get from lvl 1 to lvl 2, or 1 "day" as the DMG puts it.
    From lvl 2 to lvl 3 would be 1,5 "days", so 9-12 encounters and probably 3-4 short rests and a long rest.
    Level 3 to level 4 would be 2,25 "days" so 13-18 encounters, 5-7 short rests and 2 long rests, and
    level 4 to the finale at level 5 would be 3,7 "days", 22-30 encounters, about 10 short rests and 4 long rests.

    Uhhm. My first impression: That is a lot of encounters! Are there really that many encounters detailed in any official compendium? My fault for not knowing the answer for certain, as I have access to quite a few of them. I will check them out after writing this, but my memory and gut-feeling so far tells me, that there are nowhere as many encounters in those books.

    Also, the concept of "days" seems to collide quite a bit with what I had expected the story to proceed like. The timeline is bound to two quite distinct astronomical events, namely autumn equinox on Eleint 21, shortly after which the plot hook is supposed to draw the players in, and spring equinox, Ches 19, when the villain's plot reaches its planned climax. These dates are quite important to the fey lore involved in the campaign, so the adventure/mini-camapign is supposed to span almost 6 months in Faerun reckoning, during which the adventurers will mostly be isolated in a mountainous valley in winter.

    Point taken, if I want to keep the story going over such a long time span, I will have to include quite a number of opportunities for down-time activities for the players anyway, with good goals and motivations to pursue them. And replacing any number of "long rests" with down-time activities shouldn't disturb the recommended power-balance.

    Also, not all encounters will or should be combat encounters. Although they should tax the player's ressources comparatively to a combat encounter, if I want to stick with the recommended overall difficulty level.
    Then also, not all encounters need to be predesigned, as the players will hopefully show some initiative themselves, and, as players tend to do, surprise their DM by initiating encounters, to which the DM will have to react spontaneously, meticulous preparation to or fro.
    And lastly, not all XP will or should be awarded simply for running individual encounters, reaching key plot events and fulfilling quest goals should grant bonus XP. Especially the last step, from reaching lvl 4 to the grand finale and getting ready for lvl 5 can probably be shortened quite a bit, without appearing to cut down on content for convenience's sake.

    So, writing this stuff up has helped clear my mind a bit, thank you to the audience for your highly appreciated attention. I now know, what the next logical steps to solve my personal puzzle are, namely scouring through the official adventures, that I have access to, with the focus on how much XP the professionals grant through encounters, and how much otherwise, also, what devices (if any) they use to provide down-time activities to bridge time spans, that are necessitated by the narration.
    If anyone from the audience can relate to my struggles and has personal experience with related problems to share, or even obvious answers, that I may have overlooked in this post, please take your time and let me know. Although I am a firm believer in learning-by-doing, I am even more firmly convinced, that learning from what others have done can save a lot of time, effort and frustration on the way.

    Sincerely yours
    tabaxi bard

  2. #2
    Darn it, I guess I managed to post this in the wrong forum. This is definitely D&D 5e stuff. And now I am too dumb to delete it on my own..... Mooood?

  3. #3
    Hey Clutches!

    I moved this post to the 5e forum for you.
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  4. #4
    damned's Avatar
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    Mar 2011
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    Welcome Clutches

    Sooo.... some randome responses.

    The "day" is important because of the rest thing so ensure that if your PCs only have one combat encounter per "day" it is challenging and draining.
    If they have multiple encounters in the day the accumulation of attrition and encounter adds to teh challenge - but you probably dont want 3 challenging encounters in one day.
    Make the encounters fit the timeline in which the story takes place rather than having X encounters per "day".

    In FG in a single 3-4 hour session you will likely manage 3-4 combat encounters only - although low level combat is much quicker.

    I believe the way this is being described is an Encounter is a meeting between PCs and NPCs or PCs and a challenge - combat is not required in all encounters.

    You may award XP any way you like - I generally award XP at milestones rather than based on accumulative points.
    Fit the encounters to your story keeping the guideline above in mind but dont be beholden to it.

    Scale the challenge of the encounters up as they reach milestones.

    The Encounters should add to and support the story.

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  5. #5
    LordEntrails's Avatar
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    May 2015
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    Lots of stuff to read here; http://www.fantasygrounds.com/forums...6014-GM-Advice

    The Alexandrian is my favorite of those sources, but Angry and many others have good things to say. Find one or two that you like and go read through all the numerous things they have to say.

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