Dungeon Crawl System: High Paragon Level

Image © 2008 Jesse Mohn. All rights reserved.

As some of you know, I published an article entitled, How to Build a 4th Edition Dungeon Crawl for Heroic and Paragon Tiers, which sprang from my conversion of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules into 4th edition adventures. The “standard” system of encounter design (i.e., the one presented in the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide) didn’t work. As I pointed out in the article, I could suspend my disbelief in fighting dragons, devils, and slaadi, but the “15-minute” adventuring day was too much for me to accept as applicable to a dungeon crawl or a trek across the wilderness. That is, if the PCs were in an underground dungeon consisting of 100 rooms, it was unrealistic on so many levels to think the PCs could go through those rooms at a rate of 3-5 per day (i.e., the standard system assumes an extended rest every 3-5 encounters). Every 30 minutes, they should expect their rest interrupted unless the DM provided some ridiculous deus ex machina to justify 6-8 hours of peace and quiet. Obviously, another system of encounter design was needed. My conversions started with C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tomachan (before Wizards of the Coast announced they were doing one), C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness (which I adapted as an LFR MyRealms adventure), L1: The Secret of Bone Hill, S2: White Plume Mountain (available here), and G1-2-3: Against the Giants (again, before WotC announced their conversion). Not being a professional game designer, I didn’t have the luxury of extensive playtests, instead relying on my Loremaster blog to supplement the article as I continued to refine it. As I progressed, I realized that what I had written was really appropriate only for levels 1-15. Once the PCs reach 16th level, some new math was required, which would eventually lead to the proper math at epic level (necessary for the next phase of the adventure, the conversion of the Drow series D1-2-3 and Q1). One of my home groups started G3: Hall of the Fire Giant King last night. It’s my first attempt at the new math. The results were remarkably good considering they were the result of my rough estimates as to what the new numbers should be.

What Am I Talking About?

Let’s start with some context. For those that haven’t read the article, read it dammit! Oops . . . . Sorry. For those that haven’t read it, the basic premise of the Dungeon Crawl system is that each individual encounter creates less of a drain on party resources while maintaining the threat level on the party. Moreover, through the use of “thematic encounter templates” (TETs), the system can be adjusted very easily on the fly for the varying number of players that shows up on any given night (much more accurately than, for example, the encounter adjustment rules provided by the Living Forgotten Realms campaign). The consequences are two-fold. First, for parties of 4-6 PCs, the party can address 10-15 encounters before having to take an extended rest. Second, for parties of only 3 PCs, the encounters create the same threat and resource drain as you find using the standard system, which means you don’t have to cancel your session because only three players show up on a given night.

How It Played out

So, now that everyone’s up to speed on what the system is, let’s talk about last night. I had only three players, so it was “game on,” but the encounters should feel like they would in the standard system. We had a ranger, a paladin, and a warlord, all level 17. There was a lot of role-play and a clever avoidance of combat by the PCs, which means there were only two combat encounters. For those encounters, looking at daily attack powers, daily powers associated with weapons, and healing surges, the PCs went through 30-40% of their resources. Considering they went through 40% of the number of encounters they should expect to face before an extended rest, and things will get harder, this seems to be about right. I have only two data points, but the numbers worked out ideally, and it felt right, so I’m very optimistic that, at the very least, I’m on the right track. Give me a few more weeks, and I’ll be writing the second edition of the article, which will include support all the way up to level 30, though not in the way you might expect. 🙂

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