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

cbwjm

Seb-wejem
Maybe just come up with a formula to determine how to buff your bad guys, something like: For every level the PCs gain, a boss gains 20hp and a +1 to hit and damage, maybe also +1 to power DCs. The final boss will end up with an extra 120hp and +6 to hit and damage. Ideally their basic actions wouldn't really change, but they'd get more effective at using them.

You might also decide that for each level, encounters gain addition CR equal to the level of the players (just throwing out the idea, no idea if this is in any way balanced for a new level). So once they hit level 2, encounters in the next adventure will gain an additional number of monsters equal to CR 2, possibly a single CR 2 creature or maybe something like 4 orcs, depending on the original encounter. I might also add in a leader so that a group of 6 orcs at level 1 gets an orc eye of gruumsh leader when the PCs are level 2.
 

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Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
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.
You actually have an excellent reason here for the world to change to match the PCs. Well done.

Neat idea. I think I'm going to call it "the Mega Man Model".
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
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.
People have been ok with 8 choices of big bad to fight since at least the early '90s.
 


Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Maybe just come up with a formula to determine how to buff your bad guys, something like: For every level the PCs gain, a boss gains 20hp and a +1 to hit and damage, maybe also +1 to power DCs. The final boss will end up with an extra 120hp and +6 to hit and damage. Ideally their basic actions wouldn't really change, but they'd get more effective at using them.

You might also decide that for each level, encounters gain addition CR equal to the level of the players (just throwing out the idea, no idea if this is in any way balanced for a new level). So once they hit level 2, encounters in the next adventure will gain an additional number of monsters equal to CR 2, possibly a single CR 2 creature or maybe something like 4 orcs, depending on the original encounter. I might also add in a leader so that a group of 6 orcs at level 1 gets an orc eye of gruumsh leader when the PCs are level 2.
Isn't that what the "delta" was?
 



Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
You are missing or ignoring my broader question, which is what to do as PCs level up.
I'm not ignoring it, it's simply irrelevant to non-linear play. See, for example:
  • The Toxic Wood
  • Black Wyrm of Brandonsford
  • Wyvern Songs
As the PCs gain levels, they are able to engage with the higher-level content they've discovered that lies further out (or along different nodes, if you're using an Alexandrian method). In short, you let the players gate themselves by providing adequate information about what's out there.

(Also, you're not wrong to ask - sorry if that was implied in my response. I can be quite terse, especially when replying from mobile.)
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
IIRC, Princes of the Apocalypse tries something a bit like this, as the PCs can take on the Elemental cultists variously. Dunno if Rick Baker really pulled it off, though.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I advise use Faction play and have your villains in the background. That way the PCs can choose which adventure to follow regardless of level and you can vary the strength of the Factions as they rise. Treat Faction territory as Lairs and use different minions as needed. If you dont need the Boss for an adventure dont use it - leave them as rumours and legends

For instance in one ‘recover the artifacts’ campaign I did the PCs were national heroes of a island nation menaced by a expansionist death cult from ‘islands to the north’. They had to recover artifacts that were also being sort by cultist and which were in various hard to reach places each with its own resident Big Bad and minions. It didnt matter which location they investigated first, just that they were challenged at each place
 
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