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

Cruentus

Adventurer
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.
I like the idea overall (the fragments of power redistributing to other BBEGs). It could certainly also be part of the lore/legend of the creatures (assuming that there are things known or rumored about these big bads) that is either figured out by the PC's as they adventure, available from Sages or those versed in history, rumor, or maybe the adventurers all know about this connection and source of the BBEG power.

I think it would also be interesting if the BBEGs are all different levels/power to begin, and then the level ups (or whatever the mechanical effect is) would then be somewhat asymmetrical, as the PCs could only make guesses as to who is more powerful than whom. Or again, another opportunity for RP or lore seeking to try to get an idea.

The actual mechanical effect is obviously going to depend a great deal on your system:
For 5e, increasing HD, damage, spell ability, Feats, other abilities, Lair powers, or other buffs as they build toward Epic-style tiers of monster would all be appropriate and could be crafted to be unique to each BBEG.

I mostly play OSE/Beyond the Wall, so skills, spell abilities, more HD, potentially resistances/immunities, and magic items and things would all be on my plate to upgrade enemies. Or even more minions as monsters and humanoids and even other humans are drawn to the growth in power of the BBEG. Or maybe even projecting that power outward as they grow - trying to thwart the PCs efforts, slow them down, buy time for that next ritual, or even direct them to a BBEG that the first BBEG has been feuding with. (all of these would also work in 5e as well).

Since I run the older style games, all of my enemies, dungeons, random encounters are divorced from the PCs levels. If they go into the Caverns of Death and Dismemberment, after being told that many other adventuring parties have never returned, that's on them. Likewise, if they are 5th level and hire themselves out to clear the Inn of rats, that's just what they're getting. PCs learn about the BBEGs, hear of their power, maybe experience it and retreat, research them, and then make a decision as to whether they're tough enough to go back in after it.
 

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Cruentus

Adventurer
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
This has been one of my bugbears with 5e, that Level 1 to 20 journey could potentially happen over the course of about 2 months of in-game time. Is that going to be enough time for that Adult Red Dragon to get that much more powerful than it has been for the last 100 years? I mean, I know its all fantasy and magic and whatnot, but that feels jarring to me.

I had a game where the party, at around Level 1 encountered a dragon wyrmling who was part of the enemy group. After about a month or two of adventuring the party was 3rd/4th level, and I could not come up with any reason to make that recurring Wyrmling any more powerful that wasn't "magic did it", a "growth potion", lost a battle with a ghost, or other similar ridiculously flimsy excuse as to why they wouldn't just be able to kill it with a swift kick. So, it just never reappeared.

I agree with your overall premise, but my personal suspension of disbelief took a hit. :LOL:
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
This has been one of my bugbears with 5e, that Level 1 to 20 journey could potentially happen over the course of about 2 months of in-game time. Is that going to be enough time for that Adult Red Dragon to get that much more powerful than it has been for the last 100 years? I mean, I know its all fantasy and magic and whatnot, but that feels jarring to me.

I had a game where the party, at around Level 1 encountered a dragon wyrmling who was part of the enemy group. After about a month or two of adventuring the party was 3rd/4th level, and I could not come up with any reason to make that recurring Wyrmling any more powerful that wasn't "magic did it", a "growth potion", lost a battle with a ghost, or other similar ridiculously flimsy excuse as to why they wouldn't just be able to kill it with a swift kick. So, it just never reappeared.

I agree with your overall premise, but my personal suspension of disbelief took a hit. :LOL:

yeah the rate of leveling up is far to quick, but even if you go with the normal rate then the same argument about Dragons applies to Elfs and Dwarfs - how come they’ve been level 1 for 200 years then suddenly gain 20 levels in 2 months?
My suspension of disbelief sits there, which is why I impose long downtimes (resulting in no more than 2 adventures per season), campaigns should span years (multiple seasons) with Downtime being meaningful rp life …
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
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.
I think its pretty clear that the idea here is go with something a little more than, "fun trumps everything else".
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I think its pretty clear that the idea here is go with something a little more than, "fun trumps everything else".
If they can think of something, sure. But as I said... I don't think it's possible to do what they are looking for. The only options I can see are not leveling the party so that all adventures can be written at level and never get bumped up... the CRs get bumped for higher-level parties by increasing the numbers of enemies rather than the power of the enemies... or they bite the bullet and raise the power of the enemies to go along with the party leveling up because it's the easiest way to accomplish having adventures that the players are challenged by without having massive amounts of crappy enemies to wade through.

Personally, I always believe fun trumps anything else because why else would we play? But if that's not a valid option in this case, then there's always the other two I gave. Or they can find some other option that somehow fits their criteria. I don't see it, but maybe someone else does.
 

Reynard

Legend
If they can think of something, sure. But as I said... I don't think it's possible to do what they are looking for. The only options I can see are not leveling the party so that all adventures can be written at level and never get bumped up... the CRs get bumped for higher-level parties by increasing the numbers of enemies rather than the power of the enemies... or they bite the bullet and raise the power of the enemies to go along with the party leveling up because it's the easiest way to accomplish having adventures that the players are challenged by without having massive amounts of crappy enemies to wade through.

Personally, I always believe fun trumps anything else because why else would we play? But if that's not a valid option in this case, then there's always the other two I gave. Or they can find some other option that somehow fits their criteria. I don't see it, but maybe someone else does.
I think it might be possible to compromise and keep everything within a contained range. Off the top of my head, PC levels 5-9 seem like a good range. The various adventures or villains or whatever could all be built around those levels and if the 5th level PCs decided on the 9th level adventure, it would certainly be tough but not instadeath. Likewise, a 9th level party could enjoy kicking the crap out of a 5th level adventure, but a few bad turns of the dice could still create tension on occasion.
 


Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
I’m not at all sure whats wrong with this approach though, ie whats wrong with monsters levelling up too?
I think this is a separate conversation around why we don't change stuff on the players without letting them know.

If they can think of something, sure. But as I said... I don't think it's possible to do what they are looking for. The only options I can see are not leveling the party so that all adventures can be written at level and never get bumped up... the CRs get bumped for higher-level parties by increasing the numbers of enemies rather than the power of the enemies... or they bite the bullet and raise the power of the enemies to go along with the party leveling up because it's the easiest way to accomplish having adventures that the players are challenged by without having massive amounts of crappy enemies to wade through.
That's a false trilemma all on it's own, as several posts here have shown.
 

Voadam

Legend
My understanding is that Curse of Strahd is decently open about which of the multiple threats and plots to engage in at various levels between arrival and final Strahd showdown. I only played and have not read through it though.

Bound accuracy in design helps out 5e more than would be the case for 4e or 3e here.
 

Stalker0

Legend
I should also note that I am not at all suggesting villains sitting around and doing nothing -- just not having quantum CRs.
But wasn't this the very point of your narrative about each of them having a piece of the BBEG power, and that as they die that piece flows into the remaining BBEGs?

That's the very narrative reasons for the quantum CRs, just as the players only level when they kill a BBEG, its 100% a personal mechanic you have imposed to meet the narrative of your game, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
 

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