Part of my goal in running The Long Arm of Lauto 1: Algarezh Hoofchew was to demonstrate that it's not very hard to plan and run a simple but satisfying adventure. (I them promptly sabotaged the "not very hard" part by taking 9 PCs, but I digress...) So this thread is to go through it from the beginning up to the beginning of the fight, at which point it pretty much handled itself.

The basic concept was on two levels. First, I wanted to run the simplest adventure I could. One combat, maybe a skill challenge. Second, I wanted to create a framework for a continuing series of similar simple adventures. I had a couple of ideas for such a framework; bounty hunters for Lauto was the one I settled on. (The others may yet make an appearance at some point, but there's enough going on just now...)

At this point there were eight players in the tavern, cooling their heels, so I opened an email window and started typing the adventure proposal.
About halfway through typing the proposal, I realized I'd have to actuallhy come up with the encounter details. I'd never built a 4e encounter, so I opened the DMG to chapter 4, "Building Encounters". I was pretty sure I wanted the main target to be a leader, and I wanted him to last longer than his minions, so that he'd be around for most of the fight. That meant making him higher level, and either a big sack of HP, or a controller who would stay back from the thick of it and try to keep his guards between him and the party. I figured if I just made him tough, the PCs would focus on him to the exclusion of his guards, adn I'd have to beef him up to solo monster levels to have him survive. I didn't particularly want to run a solo monster for my first 4e combat. So I looked mostly at controller leaders for the main bad guy, with some tough bodyguards. Skimming through the encounter templates, it looked like the double line template suited my needs best. I used the hard double line template at the very top of page 59.

So I was looking for a level 5 controller leader, a level 5 lurker or artillery, and level 3 brutes or soldiers. And, since I had 8 PCs, I figured I'd pad it out with minions. Flipping to the back of the MM where it lists monsters by level and role, I quickly picked out the Orc Eye of Gruumsh for the leader. EoG has some cool powers that only work with other orcs, so I was strongly tempted to pick orcs for the rest of the monsters. There were some nice level 4 brutes, but they looked a bit on the tough side, and I was starting to worry about overdoing it and having a TPK. So I chickened out and went with Hobgoblin soldiers, level 3 soldiers, but called them orcs so that they'd benefit from the orc leader. They had good defenses and some teamwork powers that I thought would help them keep the leader alive a bit longer. Once I'd decided not to care if my "orcs" were actually orcs, the rest was easy. Greenscale darter for the lurker; human rabble for the minions.

But how many minions? I was expecting a party of 8, and I wanted a fairly difficult encounter. After all, I was fairly sure the players would realize it was the only encounter, and would dump their dailies and APs, probably overwhelming an easier encounter. At this point, my XP budget was 850, or just over 100 xp/PC. Looking at the table on DMG p.57, that's about a level 1 encounter. I added 8 minions at 31 xp each, bringing it close to 150 xp / PC; roughly a level 3 encounter.

I planned a skill challenge to find the enemies. DMG p.72 says, at the bottom, that a complexity 5 skill challenge should carry the same weight as taking on 5 monsters of that challenge's level, which made the math simple: a level 1 challenge of that complexity gives 500 xp.

Only one more thing to put in the proposal: treasure! My encounter was at 1098 xp total at the moment, and with the skill challenge, that came out to roughly 200 xp each. I guessed that the adventure would take a month, giving 80 time xp each. That puts them about 1/4 of the way to level 2, so I figured I'd give out 1/4 of the treasure I wouuld give if they were going all the way to level 2. DMG p.125 says that a party of 5 should, in the course of gaining a level, find 4 magic items of appropriate levels, plus money and other treasure worth the price of two more magic items. For an 8 person party, it suggests adding 3 more magic items, for a total of 7 and some cash. So I figured I'd give out 2 magic items and some cash, probably off of the bodies of the targets. I'd decide later exactly what items.

And that's pretty much all I put into the adventure proposal, which I copy and paste here for your viewing pleasure:

Adventure proposal

Hi, judges. I'd like to propose a very simple mini-adventure, leading into an open-ended series of similar mini-adventures.

The Church of Hadeys (or Lauto) is known to be willing to loan you money if you want to be resurrected and can't afford it. What happens when you can't or won't pay? They send thugs after you. In these adventures, the PCs are those thugs.

The way it works is that there is a thread representing a notice board up for the temple of Lauto in Daunton. Every so often a priest walks out and posts a notice: "Wanted for failure to pay resurrection fees: Algarezh Hoofchew. Reward 500 gold. Inquire within," or some such. Players put together a group and ask for more information, leading to basically a single encounter (the target and his buddies, or traps, or whatever), with possibly a skill challenge or two leading up to it to find the target and/or chase him down. Reward comes from either the church or from items off of the dead guy.

Right now there are 8 players in the tavern, and I imagine they'd probably all pile in if I started this thing tomorrow. The encounter I'd use would be based on one of the hard double line templates from the DMG, with a couple of minions thrown in for fun:

1 Orc Eye of Gruumsh (level 5 controller, leader) -- this is the target
3 Orc Soldiers (mechanically the Hobgoblin Soldier, level 3 soldier)
1 Orc sniper (mechanically the Lizardfolk greenscale darter, level 5 lurker)
8 orc rabble (mechanically Human rabble, level 2 minion)

total XP 200+450+200+8*31 = 1098

I'm intending that to be a moderately hard encounter for a party of 8. Since it's a single encounter, I figure they'll probably use a lot of dailies. Obviously if fewer players come, I'll adjust.

To find and confront them, need to succeed on a skill challenge (level 1, complexity 5, xp 500 (I think... still haven't completely wrapped my head around the skill challenge design thing)), using social skills as primary: streetwise, diplomacy, intimidate, bluff and so forth. Success means the players find out where they're hiding and get to plan the assault. Failure means missing out on the xp, and that the targets hear you're looking for them and ambush you, and they get to plan the attack.

For 8 players, that's about 200 xp each, with maybe 80xp more for time xp (I'm assuming 1 month). That gets them a quarter of the way to level 1, so I'd plan to give a bit more than 1/4 of the treasure they'd get in getting to level 1. Say, 2 magic items around level 3, and 1000g worth of gold and miscellaneous mundane junk.

----

Meta: Obviously, this hook can lead to any number of similar "adventures" of any level. Part of what I want to do with this series is to demonstrate that it's dead easy to be a DM here, and help people who are wary of DMing take the plunge. So I'd like run two or three of them myself, along with some other simple ideas I'll talk about later, and start a discussion about how to go about creating them. This one literally took me an hour over my lunch break at work, and I expect that with practice I could do it a lot faster. So after I've done a few of them, I hope to "coach" other people who want to DM but don't know how to get started.

Obviously, the series will be open to anyone who wants to DM in it.

So, what do y'all think?

cheers,
covaithe


Note that the adventure proposal as written is almost entirely crunch, with very little fluff. Mostly that's because I was in a bit of a hurry. I came up with the idea, built the encounter, and wrote the proposal over my lunch break one day at work. It took me about an hour. But it's also partly my style; crunch I can build pretty mechanically, but writing fluff takes me time and effort. I trusted myself enough to come up with something suitable over the course of the adventure, but coming up with it all ahead of time isn't my strong suit. Also, from a judge's point of view, I knew that what I really needed to see in an adventure proposal was the crunch; for the fluff I'm happy to let DMs do pretty much what they want.

I'll admit that I hurried through it a bit more than I might otherwise have done, because I was trying to demonstrate that this isn't hard. But, really, it isn't.

Next: recruiting players, and changing my mind!