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

Reynard

Legend
As far as I know it originates from living world sandbox style campaigns. Though sometimes their mechanics are more simulationist - but I think for yours a narrative style mechanic would work best - one where you get the result and narrate in a sensible explanation.
I was curious if it came out of a particular game or community or such.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I don't think you even need to prioritize factions, necessarily. Let's consider that adult red dragon - Vorthinax, She Who Rages Against Death.

Vorthinax is both adept with curse-magic, and suffering a terminal mental illness. The further along that disease progresses (use a catastrophe die, rolled once per in-game month), the more erratic and more powerful she becomes. So as the catastrophe die drops to a d6, she gains resistance to all weapon damage (as barbarian's Rage), and the Unstoppable Rage feature. And then she shows up and wipes out a village, bellowing in Draconic.

As it drops to a d4, she gets an extra attack, and immunity to the charmed and frightened effects, as well as to any effect that would put her to sleep. Additionally, she gains resistance to psychic damage.

Finally, if the catastrophe die hits 0, she gains the traits of an ancient red dragon, along with all the effects she's previously gained, and will attempt to wipe out all life within a 50 mile radius of her lair...starting with any opposing power centers.

The key is that you have to let the PCs know the clock is ticking on all of these - that some of these threats are immediate and deadly and will get much worse if ignored. Light a fire under them that they need to get ahead of things. You can do that with proper rumors and proactivity, but if you don't telegraph any of this information (not the mechanics, but the "This is going to get bad" part), then don't be surprised when your PCs get salty about it when
Yea. That’s definitely a more simulationist take on the style and a good contrast to the roll to determine and then come up with a good narration that goes with those details.
 



DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
This is still just boosting the enemies to be level appropriate when the PCs walk through the door, which is one of two things I was trying to avoid.
If you really feel like you need to avoid "boosting" enemies as PCs level-- something for which I think is an unnecessary concern myself as the party having fun with challenging encounters trumps any need for "verisimilitude"-- I see it as you really have only two choices:

1) The PCs do not level up at all (or at minimum only once or twice) so that you can build all seven adventures within the same level range and never have to boost any of them because the PCs all remain within the requisite level range too.

2) Instead of boosting enemy power as the PCs level, the number of enemies gets larger and larger for every encounter. Which will increase CR for each encounter without increasing the strength of the individual monsters themselves.

I mean that's pretty much all you can do. There is no other way to make adventures more difficult for more powerful PCs. You either just increase numbers, or you don't increase party power.

But like I said... fun trumps everything else. If the party would have more fun leveling their PCs after every adventure to grow more powerful and then facing level-appropriate challenges after that... that takes precedence over whatever odd world-building heebie-jeebies you feel for monsters growing in power.
 

If you really feel like you need to avoid "boosting" enemies as PCs level-- something for which I think is an unnecessary concern myself as the party having fun with challenging encounters trumps any need for "verisimilitude"-- I see it as you really have only two choices:

1) The PCs do not level up at all (or at minimum only once or twice) so that you can build all seven adventures within the same level range and never have to boost any of them because the PCs all remain within the requisite level range too.

2) Instead of boosting enemy power as the PCs level, the number of enemies gets larger and larger for every encounter. Which will increase CR for each encounter without increasing the strength of the individual monsters themselves.

I mean that's pretty much all you can do. There is no other way to make adventures more difficult for more powerful PCs. You either just increase numbers, or you don't increase party power.

But like I said... fun trumps everything else. If the party would have more fun leveling their PCs after every adventure to grow more powerful and then facing level-appropriate challenges after that... that takes precedence over whatever odd world-building heebie-jeebies you feel for monsters growing in power.

A third way? Some areas have more dangerous threats than others from the outset. No need to level up the baddies, depending on where the PCs are exploring, the baddies are already are in the wheelhouse to challenge higher tier PCs. Get to those areas too soon… welp… better do your research ahead of time, party, or it might not end well!

(ETA: a good attempt at this is Curse of Strahd where there are recommended party levels for certain areas of the adventure)
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Extended (Gritty) rests (1 week in a safe spot).
Slightly boosted short rests that require a night's sleep in a safe space.
Require a long rest to level up.

Now hitting level 15 requires 140+ days, probably longer.

Have bad guys get stronger as part of their plans.

Have some bad guys be closer (physically) and less tough.

In first 10 levels travel is slow and expensive. Factor that in.

Now you have close to a year for bad guys to do stuff: ya got calendar time.

Note that you should take adenturing "day" budgets seriously here. 1 day's budget is an entire adventure chapter that takes about 10 days to resolve, plus travel time. The XP guides mean.it takes 1 to 3 such "days" per level: at an average of 2, it will be a full year before the characters hit Tier 4.

For yet more fun, enforce real time downtime. Time between sessions occurs in world for new adventures: each new adventure starts in the fantasy equivalent day to the real life calendar. This also paces the in game calendar, and means you have 1 less thing to track (look outdoors to know the season!)
 

Reynard

Legend
A third way? Some areas have more dangerous threats than others from the outset. No need to level up the baddies, depending on where the PCs are exploring, the baddies are already are in the wheelhouse to challenge higher tier PCs. Get to those areas too soon… welp… better do your research ahead of time, party, or it might not end well!

(ETA: a good attempt at this is Curse of Strahd where there are recommended party levels for certain areas of the adventure)
That completely defeats the purpose of nonlinearity as I defined it in the thread.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Mechanically, that's a great way to do it, but I have had some rough experiences weaving that into the world. For example, if I tell the PCs that one of the adventures I've set up has an adult red dragon as a boss (via rumors, etc), then they know what to expect. If they wait to take that guy on until level 20, though, they're over-leveled for that opponent and balance gets trashed, resulting in an unsatisfying fight. Admittedly I'm using a dramatic example here, but I hope y'all get the point I'm making.

I think this can be countered in a few ways:
  • Reskinning: Sure, you can always palette-swap that adult red dragon to an ancient red dragon, and probably no one will notice (or be polite enough not to point it out if they do). This feels unsatisfying to me because it basically nullifies the player's choice - they waited specifically so they could trash a bad guy and feel really awesome doing it. If I inflate the bad guy's stats to challenge them, I've just made their choice meaningless.

I’m not at all sure whats wrong with this approach though, ie whats wrong with monsters levelling up too?
Afterall if the PCs heard about the dragon threat when they were Level 1 and then waited until Level 20 to attack, what do they think the dragon was doing in that time? Was the intelligent adult red dragon sitting static waiting for the PCs to be level appropriate or were they actively doing their own things, learning new tricks and getting stronger too? Monsters dont need PC levels but they can certainly be given cool Lair and legendary actions that other dragons dont have - AoE Flamewalls and Wing blast to knock prone
 
Last edited:

cbwjm

Seb-wejem
I guess one good in-game reason that other factions might gain power after the PCs tear through another faction is through troops, when one faction is taken down, survivors filter down into the other factions giving you a good reason to add an extra enemy here or there to encounters. If the factions have anything that identifies them, you could even mention that some of the enemies the PCs are fighting have emblems of the previously defeated factions amongst their gear.
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top