Monday, August 27, 2007

Monsters, monsters, monsters

The most recent Design & Development article was about dungeon design, or more specifically, encounter design.

The limitations with the 3rd edition system with Challenge Ratings and Encounter Levels is something that I, too, have found as a DM. Trying to make an encounter that is balanced, according to the formulae in the book, felt at times like a mathematics class: 2 CR3 creatures are an EL5, so those two with this CR5 makes a EL7... add in a CR8, and we have a... EL9? But where does this cleric fit in?? And of course, after all that figuring, the party made such short work of this encounter that you should have doubled the numbers...

As a DM, then, I have to adapt to allow for more than the straightforward numbers to decide how the encounter plays out. The encounter in our last play session was greatly unbalanced in favor of the NPCs, but because the party wisely waited for the NPCs' return in their own stronghold, the element of surprise was on their side, as was the terrain to keep the enemy manageable -- until the enemy took advantage of their knowledge of their own stronghold to attempt to surround the party.

This is why I enjoyed reading Mike Mearls' article about exactly this -- having an encounter not just a static group, waiting for the PCs to arrive, but might hear the commotion from down the hall, or might be summoned in by the first group. Granted, most of the adventures released by Wizards of the Coast had at least one encounter where it was stated that after X rounds, so-and-so from the next room would hear and join the battle, so this isn't new, but it sounds like the group-up design of encounters is going to take into account terrain, distance, and less definitive lines on where one encounter starts and another ends.

But what does this have to do with 4.0? Isn't this really just a strategy for DMs to use when designing modules and campaigns? The only 4.0-related difference is in the vague discussion about the CR of the monsters in 4.0, and how the difference in levels isn't so great as it used to be. To me, it's not clear how this is going to help. Regardless of the actual number, there is going to be some level of monster that is challenging one-on-one with a player (or a party), some lower number where two-to-one is challenging, four-to-one, six-to-one, etc. Just because the numbers are different, or in a wider range, I don't see how that makes the 4.0 encounter any different from the 3.0 encounter where I have to use either 16 kobolds or a single 4th-level barbarian ogre to get the same challenge.

You have me interested, Mearls, but not convinced. Leak a little more about these encounters so I can believe.

1 comment:

Griff said...

We make short work of your encounters because we're freaking awesome.

Also, I am a tactical genius.

Definitely agree that Mearle's blog didn't seem very 4e-ish. A nice read in terms that at least they are thinking of how encounters play out but a peek at the math would have been nice. Or better yet, a glimpse at a "Tactics" section straight from the rough draft of the MM.