Yesterday I started playing the new game Dark Souls on the PS3 and the level designs in the game are very inspiring when it comes to planning out dungeons. One of the coolest things Dark Souls, and in fact many video games, does with its levels is interconnecting different areas in creative and unexpected ways. This is also an element that I see very rarely in tabletop RPG dungeon design, and that’s a disparity that I’d like to see changed.
Mike Shea talks to Chris Sims about designing effective encounters in D&D 4e.
In mid-December I received a great e-mail from a reader named Brian that I talk to regularly on my twitter account, he was planning for an upcoming D&D adventure and wanted some specific help with designing an encounter. I’m not sure what exactly prompted him to send it my way, but I was more than happy to read through and share some of my ideas to help spice up his encounter. Just today I received a follow up e-mail that he is planning to run the encounter tomorrow and that he wanted to run his updated encounter by me again. I was all to happy to oblige, and I also realized that the exchange of e-mails might be something some of you would be interested in seeing. So here it is, with his permission of course.
They say that there is no better teacher than failure. Let me show you how good a teacher I am.
Monsters can lose a battle before it begins if they have bad tactical positions. This is even truer with minions. Even if we assume, narratively, that your minions have no way to know they’re little competition for the characters, the creatures have a reason to seize tactical advantages.
Just like the epicure needs new and exciting experiences, numerous DMs among us need new ways to mix it up with minions. This is especially true if you feel your minions disappear too quickly to be interesting or seem to be no added challenge. I’m going to attempt to, as an infamous chef might say, help you to kick it up a notch . . . sometimes.
A minion is a tiny onion used for flavor, especially in soups. That’s what my father told me when I was a kid. Even then, though, the D&D game had imparted enough for me to see the lie and the humor. In fact, if analyzed closely, this quip from dear ol’ dad, and my assimilation of it, might explain a lot about me. Talk about analysis paralysis.
This final piece is all about the competition for your solos—the players and their characters. You design encounters to challenge those others at your game table, so almost all of this series has really been about them anyway. Rather than the mechanics of making and using solo creatures, this section focuses on engaging players, and keeping them that way, and allowing characters to shine against a solo.
DMing a solo is at least as rewarding as running encounters with more monsters. It can be even more satisfying, since a solo can and should evoke strong reactions from players as it deals out destruction. But running a solo requires extra care, especially if you’re using the creature as the lone menace in the fight. Make sure your aware of what your solo can and can’t do, then prepare for it.