D&D 5E Non Linear Adventures and Challenge Rating/Enemy Strength

Reynard

Legend
NOTE 1: This thread is tagged 5E because that is how I want to employ the idea, but certainly other forms of D&D and similar games could work.



NOTE 2: This is half baked. i am posting it here to discuss it and see if something coherent emerges.



I was thinking about non linear adventures and got to wondering what a good method for keeping the campaign challenging over the course of multiple level up. I am going to provide an example campaign framework to try and explain what I mean:



The campaign takes place in a relatively isolated geography, like a large island nation. Within, there are 7 BBEGs of various stripes that are all part of an overall plot to Take Over The World. Once the PCs get involved in the situation, they can deal with each of the BBEGs in whatever order they prefer and flows naturally from their actions. Each BBEG is the culmination of an adventure, though, and the PCs are meant to level up upon defeating each BBEG.



The problem this presents is obvious: if the BBEGs are static, there isn't a "safe" way to let the PCs approach them in whatever order they like. So my solution is that when one of the BBEGs is defeated, the rest increase in power. Since I don't like purely mechanical solutions for RPG problems, I came up with an in-game solution: the BBEGs all stole the power of one even bigger, badder evil guy and when one dies, their potion of the power flows into the others. When there is only one left, that original BBEG takes over that boy and returns to the world.

The way I want to mechanically represent this is through a value I’ll call “delta.” Whenever the PCs defeat a BBEG, they level (and this is the only way they level) and delta goes up by one.



Stat blocks for the BBEGs and their primary lieutenants and minions will have entries that are impact by delta – from hit points to recharge numbers to legendary actions and so on. In essence, delta will impact the CR of the main antagonists in such a way as to keep it “fair” no matter what order the PCs choose to engage them.



Like I said, this is a very loose idea right now and it needs some work. I’m interested in what folks think of it, how I could best implement it mechanically. I am also interested in what other folks do to try and account for PC leveling in a non-linear scenario.

And just to be clear, one thing I am not interested in is cries of “the world shouldn’t change to match the PCs!” That is a fine point of view, and is something I also believe when running certain kinds of games. But in this specific instance, I do not want that to be the case. Thanks.
 

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Reynard

Legend
Bad guys can level up over time too. They don't have to steal the other guy's powers, just earn xp (so to speak).
Do you track the actions and events for which those bad guys gain their levels, or are you suggestion just having them exist in a quantum CR state until the PCs encounter them. That is kind of what I am trying to avoid, or at least balance with non-linearity.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Even if you create some gloss of in world justification for it, ultimately this is still Schrodinger's Stat Block. The CR of each member of the council of BBEGs depends entirely on the order in which they are encountered.

There are too many variables here for me to say what your 'delta' should be. Things depend greatly for example on the starting level of the PC's when they are to encounter their first BBEG. Design some templates for each delta to represent the evil power infusing the minions I guess, and then just have minions with different stat blocks for each delta. You'll want to probably minimize the types of minions just to keep from driving yourself nuts.

For my part, I don't necessarily care if you have some in universe justification, but I'm unlikely to design my adventure the way you do. I might have BBEGs level up over time, but I'm equally likely to have them ally more closely with each other, so that in later fights you are facing two or three BBEGs. I am highly unlikely to design an adventure around mooks that level up as the PC's do though. I'm more likely to have the villains have lairs that they can retreat to where they have more resources. Once they realize they have a dangerous enemy, they retreat to lairs and take a more defensive posture. I'm also likely to have predesigned different lieutenants that are allocated to hunting down the PC's depending on the PC's perceived threat.

But really, whatever works for you.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I am also interested in what other folks do to try and account for PC leveling in a non-linear scenario.
Faction play. If the PCs are going around creating power vacuums, then folks are going to step in/up to fill it. Actions have consequences after all. Unlike a BBEG, a faction can be just like the setting, filled with a myriad of different level members.
Like I said, this is a very loose idea right now and it needs some work. I’m interested in what folks think of it, how I could best implement it mechanically.
I think it's very Highlander "there can be only one" and I kind of dig it. There is a tangible measure of strength increase happening that makes sense in the setting terms. I dont need this level of contrivance in my RPG, I have zero issue with quantum CR, but I could get on board with this. I'd offer some mechanical advice, but you seem to have the foundation in place.
 

Reynard

Legend
Just to be clear, I am not talking about a sandbox game with player driven emergent storytelling. I am talking about a designed adventure, just one that allows the players to decide who or what they want to tackle first without the answer being "whatever is right for our level."

Rather than 7 BBEGs, it could be a bunch of parts of a shattered relic, or a handful of different dungeons, or whatever. My bigger question is how to make a non linear adventure truly non-linear when taking into account how PCs are going to level in the process.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I made a whole monster spreadsheet based on this Blog of Holding post. I've tweaked it and fiddled with the numbers to better suit my preferences and style, but that post is a great start for homebrewing monster stats. End one session with the BBEG reveal pre-fight then build the monster's stat block before the next session based on what level the PCs are at the time of the encounter. There's also the excellent Doctors & Daleks, which has an encounter design system that is stunning...though definitely undertuned for something like straight D&D 5E.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Do you track the actions and events for which those bad guys gain their levels, or are you suggestion just having them exist in a quantum CR state until the PCs encounter them. That is kind of what I am trying to avoid, or at least balance with non-linearity.
It's not a binary choice.

You can also say that every X adventures, the villains gain Y levels. That can worth either with or independently of your (very fun) idea of them sharing a power source.

Are you trying to make this more simulationist, and thus the stuff about "quantum CR state" you're trying to avoid? If that were the case, you could go all-in and track the villains' XP totals, but I don't think your players would notice or care if you did that, so it'd just be to tickle your own fancy.
 

the Jester

Legend
Do you track the actions and events for which those bad guys gain their levels, or are you suggestion just having them exist in a quantum CR state until the PCs encounter them. That is kind of what I am trying to avoid, or at least balance with non-linearity.
You can pre-write multiple stat blocks with a timeline. "At point A (or after event A) on the timeline, upgrade bad guy stat blocks to version 2," that kind of thing. Tie it to the progression of their fiendish plans.
 

aco175

Legend
I think 7 options for a path may be too much for players and you may get paralysis. I would offer 3 choices to start and add more when one is defeated. Also, 7 options may be too much to design to start. Even if you are designing just ahead of the PCs.
 

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