Friday, August 20, 2010

This Adventure is for All Levels

I know that it's no fun to have the whole party enslaved by mindflayers in thirty seconds. And I know that wading through hordes of little monsters gets boring fast. But there is something about level appropriate adventures that has always bothered me.

You know, those labels: Suitable for 2-6 adventurers of 3-5 level. Sure, there's always some wiggle room, always hyphens because party power is hard to determine if you don't know which classes are present and how well the players rolled their hit points. But it still feels a little tidy to me. It gives me the impression as a player that I will encounter nothing I can't handle. It constrains the Mythic Underworld.

My challenge to you all, give me an adventure locale suitable for all levels.

Some thoughts on this.
  • Hirelings can serve as a powerful DM tool here. They can be a buffer that reduces party size as a factor. They can also help bulk up the power of a lower level party through sheer numbers.
  • Part of the problem here is thinking of all encounters as combat encounters. Who says the dragon even cares about your first level schmucks? Maybe the Sphynx likes talking to visitors and will only eat you if you annoy her, whatever your level.
  • There would definitely need to be decision signposts for players, so they didn't stumble into packs of beasts that do only want to eat them.
  • Geography is probably the key. Think of the Caves of Chaos but also how other topological features of a place might partition different monster communities- elevation, water sources.
  • Verisimilitude could work to our advantage here too. Maybe the lower level creatures work for the higher level creatures. Maybe the powerful planar creatures are observing the ecology of the place, and that's why they don't blast it all to kingdom come.
  • Puzzles are difficult for players, not characters, and thus should be level neutral.
  • Environmental hazards- rock slides, lava, geysers, mud pits- could make places equally deadly regardless of level.
I would like a place in my campaign world that's interesting and dangerous whether you're first level or tenth. A place that has enough personality, or features that it can be re-visited by parties again and again. Is it possible?


  1. The obvious (and my favorite) locale for all-level adventure is the city. Not exactly Mythic Underworld, it's true, but it's just as viable a place for adventure. The bigger the better: sprawling, decadent, where danger lurks in filth-strewn alleys and danger of an entirely different sort occurs in the richly appointed salons of the elite. (Political plots are almost always level-independent!).

    Shakespeare's Venice,Lieber's Lankhmar, Sanctuary, Green Ronin's Freeport: run them well and your players will beg for the relative safety and certainty of the dungeon.

  2. Actually, I was never all that interested in running published adventure, and that's part of the reason; in addition to tidying up things (which was bad), it tended to focus me on what the players should be doing, and when, and in what order. Plus, it often seemed to me that I'd end up running adventures I wasn't all that pumped by just becuase it was all there was available for that level.So it was like: " Okay, I have a starting adventure, its blah, but its okay for new characters, but they need to gain 4 levels before I can run the cool adventure, unless I want to start them at level five , and wheres the fun in that ?

    I always had a mix of challenges in any preprepared area, simply because the players were so damned....well, "self directed" ;)
    BF monstyers could be avoided or chad other agendas, or were constrained by design if they were too much for the party .

    Once a mainly unarmed 1st level player talked his way out of a fight with an ogre by pointing out that while he would certainly die, he, for his part, could equally certainly manage to tear the ogres nose off or put out its eye, or stab him in the groin, particularly since he knew he was going to die if they fought....worked like a charm.

  3. First, it's great comments like these that make blogging such a draw for me.

    @drnuncheon: Yeah, you're right there is real potential with the city for old school games. I've experimented a bit with an abstracted, orientalist, swords and sorcery city (Nidus) but I have a lot to learn. I think the key difficulty is making it interesting-- you know, more than just humans bickering politically. I think in a lot of ways Lankhmar is a model for me. I'll never forget the way the gods moved up and down the street as they gained or lost popularity.

    @Doc, it sounds like we're on the same page. I think that example of the player and the ogre is wonderful. It requires some player skill, but for kids or people not good acting extemporaneously I'm hoping they could at least learn to tell the DM "I'll try to convince the Ogre that fighting me will be bad for him too." and a dice roll later the DM describes something amusing.

    Hmm, which makes me think it might be interesting to post about when the DM should/could take on the creative burden at the rpg table.