Monday, March 17, 2008

XP and you

I was reading an old blog from Dave Noonan, which mentioned the "XP budget" for designing encounters for a party of a given level, and was reminded of the statement that 4e is designed to allow much better mixing of opponents of varying levels in an encounter.

This is important to me, because when I design an adventure, or rather, a campaign, I start from the outside in. I take the story/plot/theme, determine where it's going to start and end (assuming no TPK), and figure out what the starting level will be for the characters and at what level they should be for that final battle.

It's the filling in that takes the most work, of course. If this storyline starts at 1st level, and ends at 20th -- nice and 3e -- then I know how things get started ("you're in a tavern...") and how it ends ("...the dragon eats you."), and I know the general story of the bits in-between, but now I have to come up with encounters that earn the party enough experience on their way. Sometimes this all works out -- the Fortress of the Orc Chieftain has enough traps and guards for a few levels -- but other times, I find myself struggling. I can't just throw in a half-dozen creatures with a Challenge Rating three or four levels higher than the party... they're going to get eaten for sure. But sticking with creatures of the party's level, +/- 1, means you're making up encounters just for the sake of boosting the XP earned, and sometimes I fear it's blatantly obvious, which is a point of failure as a DM. Story-based XP can only go so far...

4e sounds like it has solved this problem, or at least provided a lot more help. Mismatched levels will be much more easily supported, allowing for small minions and large henchman alike to help contribute to the experience earned. If this means that my encounters can feel more natural, in their make-up and occurrence, then I've found my favorite thing about 4e.

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