D&D 4E DM'ing 4E - Stuff "Everybody Knows"

TarionzCousin

Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
What are the things that "everybody knows" about DM'ing 4E?

Example: N+1 (or higher) Soldier monsters are usually too tough for the PC's.
 

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Teemu

Adventurer
I don't think N+1 Soldiers are too tough. Rather, they're more prone to create grind.

Anyway -- stuns should be used sparingly. Domination likewise. I guess all conditions that take away a round's worth of actions. (Mind, I think this advice is spelled out in DMG2.)
 

Don't position your minions too close to each other (so they'll survive a little longer against AoE attacks).

Let the monsters use their "big guns" (encounter powers) early on in the fight.

Encourage your players to use stunts (DMG page 42).

Example: N+1 (or higher) Soldier monsters are usually too tough for the PC's.
I'd say they're annoying, but not necessarily too tough - as long as they're not elite or solo soldiers. But yeah, just avoid using higher-level soldiers.
(I remember a recent Lvl+5 encounter that included a Lvl+3 elite soldier. My fighter needed a 14 to hit that monster, and our sorceress needed a 17. Took us over an hour... :()
 


kaomera

Explorer
Let the players do their cool stuff. Provoke OAs and Combat Challenge from the Fighter, give the Wizard a bunch of minions to blow down, etc. You don't want to destroy the challenge for the players, but you can design / modify encounters that meet both those goals.

"No two games of D&D are the same" is probably a good one. I've never had problems with Soldiers, although I don't go over level+2 usually. The players have to work a bit more to make sure they have combat advantage, etc.; but it really gives the Leader's buffs a chance to shine.
 

weem

First Post
kaomera said...
Let the players do their cool stuff. Provoke OAs and Combat Challenge from the Fighter, give the Wizard a bunch of minions to blow down, etc. You don't want to destroy the challenge for the players, but you can design / modify encounters that meet both those goals.

I don't think this is something "everybody knows", but I think it's good advise (aka, every DM should consider it).

One of the two DM's I am regularly playing with right not does NOT do this enough (at all really). He knows your "cool stuff", and works to avoid it almost entirely. As a fighter, for example, this can be okay - after all, in many cases it simply means you are SUPER sticky, but in this case the DM actively looks for workarounds so that he can get his beasts out of it AND prevent you from using your "cool stuff" at the same time.
 

Boy can I sympathize that - my level 13 Holy Avenger has had Repulsive Armor +2, since about 5 levels ago, and guess what.....every single encounter is now filled with creatures that have reach +1 or +2.

Every

Single

Encounter

:(
 


I don't think this is something "everybody knows", but I think it's good advise (aka, every DM should consider it).
I think TarionzCousin put parts of the title in quotation marks precisely for that reason; at least, that's how I've been reading it.

One of the two DM's I am regularly playing with right not does NOT do this enough (at all really). He knows your "cool stuff", and works to avoid it almost entirely. As a fighter, for example, this can be okay - after all, in many cases it simply means you are SUPER sticky, but in this case the DM actively looks for workarounds so that he can get his beasts out of it AND prevent you from using your "cool stuff" at the same time.
Reminds me of my former DM during the 2e era. 4e requires a different mindset, so your DM needs to adjust accordingly, which can be difficult. Old habits die hard.
 

TarionzCousin

Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
Let the players do their cool stuff.
You must spread some Experience Points around before giving it to kaomera again.
:rant:



I DM'ed about six sessions of 4E at 3rd Level, and another dozen sessions at level 21. But it's been over a year and I'm just looking to consolidate what I've read (and can't quite remember).

What about "Give Solos/Elites half of their hit points and make them do more damage"? How well received is that by the general public? :hmm:
 

Hejdun

First Post
Elites or especially solos with high defenses lead to epic grind and should be avoided.

If your party has a TON of healing capacity (i.e. can allow the party to spend a ton of surges in one combat), normal battles become easy battles and hard battles become normal battles. Either throw small numbers of super hard battles (N+5 party level) or find a way to throw them into combat after they've depleted their healing surges. This is for when you want to give them a really good challenge, not all the time.

It's better to add more monsters than to drastically increase the monster level. Attack bonuses and defenses are the single easiest way to disrupt the flow of the combat. Make a monster too high a level and he'll auto hit and the party needs an 18 or better to hit, which isn't fun for anyone.
 

kaomera

Explorer
I don't think this is something "everybody knows", but I think it's good advise (aka, every DM should consider it).
I was reading "stuff every DM should know", so yeah, it was intended as advice...
What about "Give Solos/Elites half of their hit points and make them do more damage"? How well received is that by the general public? :hmm:
That's certainly not bad advice, and can definitely open up your options a lot when planning encounters. I think stripping that down to the core idea, you get: be aware of what your monsters can do and how they interact with the party. I might say "make them do more stuff" rather than simply more damage; the last two fights vs. solos I've personally seen the PCs owned hardcore. Being able to mitigate a solo's action(s), even for a just a turn or two, is much more effective than doing so to a lesser monster...
 



Rechan

Adventurer
Personally I think a lot of what a DM should know is in the DM2. :p Beyond that...

Encounters

First, there's Stalker0's anti-grind thread.

And not to forget Objective Based Encounters.

Prep so that something cool can happen mid-way through the fight. The ceiling caves in, new monsters flush into the battle, suddenly all the monsters are pursuing one target, some other goal is occurring. This way you can whip this out if things are getting boring/grindy, to shake it up.

Too much difficult terrain is a real pain in the ass. Difficult terrain (or really, any kind of terrain) can function as a controller (without cutting into your xp budget). It's a buffer zone.

Not all terrain should benefit the enemies and hurt the PCs. Let it operate both ways.

Enemies that move will force PCs to move. When everyone stands in the same spot and slugs it out, it gets boring.

Monsters

What about "Give Solos/Elites half of their hit points and make them do more damage"? How well received is that by the general public? :hmm:
Actually, the common practice around these parts is "cut half HP, give +5 to damage per tier". Some DMs around ENworld swear by that.

As far as Solos/Elites, WotC (with MM2) cut the HP by 20% and reduced the defenses by 2.

Make sure elites/solos can do more in the scene (several immediate actions, double attacks, powers that work on a minor action). For solos, anticipate that the players will condition-lock them thus giving them a counter or two, and make the encounter area dynamic with things going on so that the Solo isn't the only thing in the room.

When it comes to monster roles/different monsters, 3 different types is a great middle ground. Fewer than that and it can get boring, as there's no variety. More than that and you will forget all the cool stuff they can do, and it can get confusing keeping track of much.

Beware of too many complex monsters together. Tracking which monsters have powers recharging this time or when they reactivate, or too many powers that end At the End of your Next Turn, juggling lots of auras et al, can lead to you missing several things or at least having too many balls in the air. One or two simple monsters and one complex one can make your life easier.

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jbear

First Post
Ok, I'll have a go...

-Interesting, fantastic fun terrain that PCs and Monsters can interact with is very important to building an enjoyable and memorable encounter.

-Pre-made modules are good starting points for an adventure, but you really need to build your own stuff into them to really bring them to life and make them sing.

-Monsters should not fight to the death when the battle is obviously lost. Unless there is a good reason for them to do so, like they mindless zombies.

-Focusing fire whenever possible, both for PCs and monsters is more effective. Dead creatures don't fight back... monsters with 1 HP do.

-The goal is to make a star team, not to be a star individual. The game is designed that way.

-There are many areas that 4e rules doesn't cover explicitly; the best way to resolve these situations is a combination of common sense, good judgement and keeping ever present one piece of very good advice: 'follow the fun'.

Before I start getting into the realm of 'good advice for 4e' I'll to bed!
 

jbear

First Post
I'm just trying out my first paragon level play atm, running through Trollhaunt Warrens by myself with 5 level 11 pcs. The are all legal except I have given them Expertise as a free feat. The first 3 encounters have been laughable. The damage of the monsters is pitiful. And the PCs are hitting on rolls of 3 or 4 quite often.

I'm starting to think that the Expertise Feat is an unnecessary overkill. Also, I am getting the feeling that these large creatures need to have threatening reach as an in built feature. They are missing quite a lot, and when they do hit... pfff barely a dent made. All three encounters have been lvl 11 but the monsters are mainly lower level. Still it's only just begun... we'll see. I don't know if reducing HPs or defenses is necessary at all. The Ranger/Fighter took down a Troll by himself in one round with a critical hit. Over 100hp. Anyway, I don't want to derail this, but I do call into question that reducing HPs of monsters should be a standard parctice. I will be better informed by experience as I go along I imagine.
 

FireLance

Legend
From my ENWorld blog:

Musings on Skill Challenges (or: Three Questions You Should Ask Before You Run One)

First of all, here's a quote from a post I made [around the middle of April 2009], and which kind of sets the tone for the rest of this post:
To me, skill challenges strike a middle ground between a very free-form problem-solving approach which is almost entirely dependent on player skill/DM adjudication (e.g. solve this mystery) and a very mechanical, rules-defined approach to tackling common (but specific) problems (e.g. opening locks, noticing secret doors, finding and removing traps, following tracks).

Properly used, the skill challenge framework can give you the best of both approaches. An inventive player can come up with creative solutions to the skill challenge, or novel ways to use the skills he is good at, and the DM can allow the use of those skills to score successes, or even award successes without the need to make a skill check. On the other hand, a player who is more comfortable working within a fairly well-defined framework can simply run through his character's list of trained skills and pick one that seems appropriate to the challenge.​
So, before you run a skill challenge, the first question you should ask is:
1. Should you use a skill challenge in the first place?

Just because you expect the PCs to make skill checks at a certain point in the adventure, it doesn't mean that you need to run it as a skill challenge. In my view, before you decide to make a series of skill checks into a skill challenge, you need to consider the Consequences and the Constraints.

That succeeding or failing at a skill challenge should have significant Consequences either way might seem so basic as to be obvious, but DMs sometimes fail to make the players care about whether or not they succeed. Sometimes, it is because the difference between success and failure is small. At other times, it is because the players think that the difference between success and failure is small. DMs should ensure that the Consequences of succeeding or failing a skill challenge are worth the time and complexity of running one, and find some way to plausibly communicate them (or at least hint at them) in play.

Skill challenges should also have some Constraints in order to be interesting. If the character with the highest modifier in the most relevant skill can just keep making skill checks until the skill challenge is passed or failed, then that portion of the game should not be run as a skill challenge even though it is technically possible to do so. Ideally, a skill challenge should have Constraints such as a time limit to encourage as many PCs to participate as possible (but more on this later), or should require the use of three or more different skills to overcome so that more PCs have to get involved.​
The next question relates to the old post that I quoted:
2. Do you really need to ask for a skill check?

Your answer to this question is likely to be closely related to your views on whether the player of a low-Intelligence PC should be allowed to solve a puzzle in the game, or whether the PC needs to make an Intelligence check first.

Nonetheless, if you are inclined to allow player skill and creativity to solve problems in your games, the presence of the skill challenge mechanic should not prevent you from doing so. Feel free to allow players who come up with good ideas to overcome skill challenges without rolling for skill checks - just as if the skill challenge mechanic did not exist.

If you want to give clever and creative players an advantage, but are not prepared to let them solve the problem without rolling dice, then the granular nature of skill challenges (in that a certain number of "successes" are required before the skill challenge is overcome) allows you to reward good ideas with more successes if the PC makes the skill check, or even automatic successes (less than the total number of successes required, if you do want the PCs to make some skill checks).

Of course, none of the above is very useful if you are faced with a bunch of players who just go through their PCs' skill lists and roll dice. Under such circumstances, a DM who wants to encourage more imagination and out of the box thinking from the players should start hinting that such approaches would be more advantageous, and then actually reward the players' attempts, perhaps erring on the side of generosity, at least at first, to encourage more of such creativity in the future.​
Finally, the third question:
3. Is the standard "three failures" model the best failure condition for this skill challenge?

While the standard "three failures" model makes sense occasionally (annoy the king too often and he'll have you escorted out of his throne room), it can make players hesitant to participate in a skill challenge if their PCs have low skill modifiers in the relevant skills as they are more likely to hurt than help the party's chances of overcoming the challenge.

There are ways to mitigate this effect: some skill checks may not count as failures for the purpose of the skill challenge if they are failed, the skill challenge may require a variety of skills so all the players may have to get involved eventually, etc. However, I think the simplest way to avoid the problem may be to have a different failure condition in the first place.

I must confess that recently, I've been quite taken with the idea of timed skill challenges (i.e. X successes within Y rounds or the skill challenge is failed) or the related idea of something bad happening to the PCs each round until they overcome the skill challenge (this is pretty much the approach taken by traps). In addition to the obvious advantage that every PC has the incentive to participate even if his chance of success is low, it also adds a (slightly) more tactical element to the skill challenge: if the PCs have not obtained the necessary number of successes by the final round of the skill challenge, some of them may think about spending action points to increase the chances of overcoming the challenge.​
 

Zinovia

Explorer
I'm just trying out my first paragon level play atm, running through Trollhaunt Warrens by myself with 5 level 11 pcs. The are all legal except I have given them Expertise as a free feat. The first 3 encounters have been laughable. The damage of the monsters is pitiful. And the PCs are hitting on rolls of 3 or 4 quite often.
I have heard that complaint about Troll Haunt Warrens from a number of people, although I haven't played it myself. The damage is too low on a lot of the creatures from MM1, especially Brute monsters. Brutes are supposed to have low defenses and low attack bonuses, but high damage when they do manage to connect. All too often they fail to live up on the damage values, especially at mid and high levels. I reduce monster HP and increase their damage across the board in an effort to reduce grind. Trolls apparently need that adjustment more than most, so don't use that module as a basis for evaluating the Expertise feat.

I am getting the feeling that these large creatures need to have threatening reach as an in built feature. They are missing quite a lot, and when they do hit... pfff barely a dent made.
Threatening reach might be a good feature to add to more (but not all) large or bigger creatures. I don't see many that have it.

I don't know if reducing HPs or defenses is necessary at all. The Ranger/Fighter took down a Troll by himself in one round with a critical hit. Over 100hp. Anyway, I don't want to derail this, but I do call into question that reducing HPs of monsters should be a standard parctice. I will be better informed by experience as I go along I imagine.
That module is an unfortunate choice to test this since many of the encounters are widely regarded as being too easy, and trolls themselves need some adjustment to make them more interesting and more effective. The reason for changing the HP is to reduce the amount of time that combats take, but it needs to be done with your group in mind. My striker-heavy group needs less reduction in monster HP than a leader/defender heavy group. On the other hand, they can't take as much of an increase in enemy damage output as a group with three leaders. Is it necessary to make these adjustments? By no means. But for many groups, combats were dragging out long past the point when the outcome was certain, and the players lost interest in spamming their at-wills to finish off the Orc That Would Not Die. Better to have higher threat creatures that die more easily.
 

Rechan

Adventurer
Threatening reach might be a good feature to add to more (but not all) large or bigger creatures. I don't see many that have it.
Threatening reach means less overall movement; the PCs have to shift an extra round just to get to the monster/charging it would cause OAs. Since 4e is all about emphasizing movement, threatening reach is used sparingly and as a unique feature to some monsters.

Also, the amount of OA tracking would slow play.

As far as monster damage, if you look at the newer monsters being previewed for MM3 (The Mimic and Slime Devil), they are around 12-16 and are doing 3d8+12 or so with basic attacks. This suggests damage is being increased. So I would just increase base damage dice across the board, rather than just add +x to the damage.
 

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