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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Commercial Adventures - Should They Be Level-less?



This thought occurred to me as I was finishing up my piece for +Michael Desing 's Saga of the Splinter Realm megadungeon Vault of the Goblin - do adventures need creatures with levels? Should they even have creatures with levels? Should it all be dependent upon what the DM needs for his campaign?

When I sent Mike my completed piece, I told him to stat out the creatures at the level needed to suit where he was plugging it in to the larger adventure. I told him how to balance "A" in regards to "B", but little more.

Which got me thinking? Would adventures be more useful if they indicated relative power level to the PCs instead of being written for a specific range of levels?

Of course, this could be the decongestants speaking...

23 comments:

  1. I think in our old school world a guideline like low, mid, or high would suffice. I assume any thing we publish is framework with built-in examples regardless of the printed level. I think decongestants are good for your posting :)

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  2. I have always liked the idea of ditching fixed HD for monsters, and adjusting their HD as appropriate... if there are 10 HD humans, why can't there be 10 HD orcs, goblins, or kobolds? This frees you up to just adjust HD, HP, loot quality and exp as appropriate, not completely restock an adventure.

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  3. It would make finding suitable modules slightly easier. There should be a lot more modules for low levels that are not about goblins giving trouble to village/keep on some backwoods borderland.

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  4. Modules are excellant for newbie DMs and mostly a source of ideas or maps for experienced DMs. I think the two audiances would disagree on your idea. Newbies need reasy to go and may not know how to adapt on the fly. Experienced would find your way of thinking makes a module more than just parts to raid.

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    1. I agree but it's not just newbies who want monster stats. There are experienced DMs who just don't want to have to wing it during the game.

      Many times you just want to run a module without having to worry about the details so your mental power can be focused on the story presented and altering it based on the PC's actions.

      I don't want to have to make up stats on the fly and I don't want to have to spend a lot of time pre-prepping. That's the whole reason I use modules in the first place. They have what I need already inside. I am free to alter it if I have the time/enerrgy, but I purchase them because they can be run "out of the box" without much work.

      If you remove the stats, you probably cut out the usefulness of the module for 75% of your audience. I can get adventure ideas without stats almost anywhere. what I need is complete fleshed out scenarios because I have 3 children below the age of 5.

      :)

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  5. There are a few break points is trad. OSR games - such as when MUs are able to cast Continual Light, or Fly, or when Clerics can turn a particular type of Undead at will.

    The problem with a bunch of 10HD Goblins is that it makes it harder for player to make informed, and therefore meaningful decisions. Players should be able to work out the potential risks and rewards of the answer to the question, 'what do you do now?' They don't have to be right about the level of risk and reward all the time, but they need some grounds for making such a decision.

    Re: low level modules that are not just about Goblins/Bandits etc. - I've found that the DCC RPG modules to be great inspiration in this regard, and the system assumptions are not too far divorced that they couldn't *almost* be used 'as is'.

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    1. Actually I would argue that the players should not be able to tell how big a threat a particular goblin or troll or whatever is until they wade into combat and find out. Makes the game much more dramatic than "gee, Monster Manual says he does 1d6 damage with his claws and has 8 hit points, let's kill him." The PCs may believe that based on prior goblins they fought who were wimps, but they shouldn't be able to rely on that as always being the case.

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    2. I can see both sides of the argument. The unknown can certainly be terrifying. On the other hand, so can the known - for instance, if players know a monster has certain attacks (energy drain!) or can only be hit by a type of weapon that they don't have. I've seen low level parties flee from a single wight on more than one occasion.

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  6. Hoggin' all the dope, eh, Tenkar? Pass a little down this-way-the-bar . . .

    I was continually guilty of raiding other maps/modules in a mix and match system. Ran CavesOf with the Descent mapset once (my father was a DOD man and had unfettered access to a copy machine) pirated the denizens of Bone Hill for innumerable "Village Threat" quickies before they were called micro-adventures.

    In fact I wonder if anyone will ever conceive a Village Threat series of mods/adventures. Kind of like AC/DC or LynSkyn songs: all the same, maybe, but all cool.

    "Level" is probably important as a commercial baseline but who hasn't swapped a troll for three bugbears on occasion? It's the great thing about the game itself. Adaptability, versus Party Ability.

    And I heartily agree with all points above. "Cheap Gin, in moderation, will still give you a headache."

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  7. The beauty of the OSR and its progeny is the flexibility of the system to allow an experienced GM to flex this on the fly. It is very easy to substitute out a group of zombies for a group of wights, and to increase the complexity of the trap by a few notches, and not miss a beat. The more complex the system is, the more it defies these sorts of changes quickly. I still like modules to have a 'suggested' level and complexity, so that when I make changes, I know whether I'm dialing up or down from the suggested text.

    From a design standpoint, however, the 'suggested level' is so broad anyway, and I have so much flexibility built in. I mean, what is an 'ideal' challenge for a group of four heroes of level 5? Yeah, I know, four enemies of 5 HD. How many enemies of 1 HD? 10? 25? 50? What about a 12 HD creature? Can they really handle that? In theory, no, but in practice, almost always. By level 5, they have enough resources to front load a lot of damage, and to be able to really lay into even a challenging foe. So many variables change this, too... are they resting regularly, or charging through the adventure with little forethought? What should you assume as you design the encounter area? It's all flexible, and in the end you have to hand it off to the GM and trust him or her to make informed choices as the game goes on.

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  8. Suggestions for how to increase or decrease the enemy's power based on the PC group would be handy.

    But it seems like most GMs would be able to do this on their own as presumably they would read the module and adapt it before using it.

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  9. My adventures heavily favor tricks, traps, and puzzles anyway. Level is almost irrelevant.

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  10. My RP'ing (mostly GM'ing) time is spent almost exclusively online nowadays due to real-life getting in the way of my fantasy. One thing that I see over and over and over again is a new game announced using "X" OSR Flavor, and "characters will start at first level"... The players join up, often there is at least one of them new to the realm of RPGs, and spend serious time getting a character worked out. Then the adventure starts, and 9 times out of 10 it stalls out on the way to the first dungeon, or just after the first random encounter. If not then, and the players (and GM) are a tenacious lot, they will grind through the game for several months, heck even a year before they ever get a chance to level up and face anything more than goblins or other fodder-type mooks.

    Players want to have the kinds of adventures portrayed on the covers of the game manuals!

    But in PbP or VTT games, that can often take f-o-r-e-v-e-r in real time to happen. One suggestion by many experienced GMs is to allow characters to start at a higher level. That's one solution, but I think what a few of you have mentioned and has been addressed by our dear Tavern keeper here, is that there's another way.

    If modules/adventures were "level" agnostic, and the GMs were to scale them to the "level" of the characters, mechanically, behind the screen, then it would generate the intensity that the scenes depicted on cover-art embody. A first or second level character is already considered to be a step above the common folk of the realm. They're cut from different cloth. Leaving the numbers out of adventures, like has been discussed, or labeling them as "low", "mid", or "high" will allow the fiddly maths to fade into the background and the adventure to come to the front.

    I think this is an excellent idea. As a GM with limited time on my hands, I very often find a module or map I like, gut it, and stuff it with re-skinned highlights I know will WOW my players. Unless you're running a game specifically for raising 0-level commoners to higher heights, I think we ought to assume that a 1-Level hero is just that, a hero, capable of heroic deeds beyond the slaying of rats in the Tavern's cellar. Scale the numbers to make it work, and once our players are trained a bit, changing their mindset a bit, I think we'll see some truly heroic RP'ing from the beginning of the game instead of sitting around waiting for "someday, when I'm 5th level..."

    I tip my conical helm to those of you who are already doing this sort of thing, and releasing your maps/modules/adventures with encounters nearing epic-ness, without over-focusing on balance or specific challenge ratings, etc, and letting us GMs figure it out... because the truth is that it's very rarely that we don't fiddle with them and actually run them "as written".

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    1. Sez you... I find starting from 1st level infinitely more fun than being handed a ready-made hero.

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  11. This is one of the reasons I really like leveled monsters. I often put in goblins lieutenants and bosses and such that are 2 or 3 HD.

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  12. Great to see such a highly digested discussion. All these viewpoints have merit and real (real?) world application. I'd be interested to know where the Bigs weigh in on the concept: Shorts, Finch, Logos, Venger, etc., the usual list of "public" D&D figures.

    And all this is way the hell better than listening to the stupid-rants of folks about Race Horse and Boxer exploitation warming up for this weekend . . .

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  13. Skathros did a series of quick play adventures on Dragonsfoot that stated potential 'threats encountered' rather than character level as parties of the same numberand level vary wildly due to class, magic items etc

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  14. Whats the point of player characters that gain levels if modules are written with foes of relative power? Gaining levels is the reward of D&D and related games. Modules should be written to a loose range of levels and/or with foes of specific level, otherwise why bother with levels at all?

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  15. I thought the reward was fun and camaraderie at the gaming table.

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    1. So why have levels? Just roll up your character and that's that.

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    2. So why have levels? Just roll up your character and that's that.

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    3. Levels are stupid. It's one of many flaws in D&D.

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  16. I prefer modules that explicitly list their level range. I could also handle the low/mid/name/high method. But I want to know up front and I don't want to tweak the stats if I can help it. I mean...I can tweak them if I need to but it is nice to have complete information in ccase I just want to run with it.

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