Monday, June 2, 2008

DMG - Building Encounters

The chapter starts off with Monster Roles, a popular topic of discussion here, and right off it starts off poorly:

In the context of monsters roles (here and elsewhere in the game rules), the terms "controller" and "leader" have meanings and applications that are different from the class roles of controller and leader, as described in Chapter 4 of the Player's Handbook.

This would explain the problems I had while trying to figure out some of the numbers between the classes and the monsters that we've seen so far. It's a shame that they designed this brand-new system of terminology and couldn't work their way around ambiguous naming.

It didn't occur to me before, but the idea of the Elite monster, which counts as two monsters of its level, and the whole idea of putting together an encounter based on the roles of the monsters, is a lot like spending the points in D&D Miniatures to put together your warband.

I've posted before about the difficulty I've had with some adventures, trying to provide enough encounters of enough value so the story can progress with the characters at an appropriate level (provided they survive), and how 4e seemed to have solved this with their various monster roles and level mixing. No more will I be putting four CR5 creatures together to make an EL4 encounter. Assuming the playtesting has revealed that their numbers work -- that four minions are equal to a regular monster, and that a solo monster is equal to five regular monsters -- encounter creation should be a lot easier and a lot more fun.

There is a good handful of templates that seem useful for newer DMs, and in fact, I might use them myself once in a while. They do the math for you, figuring out how many of what kinds of roles you want to make up a variety of encounter types, from Commander and Troops to Wolf Pack. I just hope that people don't stick to these templates religiously to the point that a player can count the number of foes and say "this is either a standard difficulty Commander and Troops encounter, or a hard difficulty Double Line encounter."

Terrain is being emphasized as a large part of any encounter. I think this is another case of Miniatures leaking into the game (without terrain in Miniatures, you'd have a pretty dull game). But terrain is definitely something that should be considered more than it was in the past. As pointed out in this chapter, encounter after encounter in a 20'x40' room (that's right -- feet, not squares) as you go through a dungeon will get boring quickly. I've always tried using blocking terrain in my encounter design, whether it's pillars in a dungeon or trees in a forest, but haven't given much thought to difficult terrain, challenging terrain, hindering terrain, etc. Remembering this chapter will be valuable for future adventure designs. There's also a nice list of "fantastic terrain", such as Choke Frost and Ember Moss which allow you to spice things up a bit more.

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