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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default [4e] Balanced encounters with allied NPCs?

    Spoiler alert - if you're one of my Baltimore players stop reading.

    My players are going into what should be a fairly big set-piece encounter in the next few sessions.
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    During the trial and summary execution of a criminal they've captured, the up-until-now "petty" brigands show up to the execution in disguise and stage a nasty surprise attack. The high point of this will be that the trial and execution takes place in the market square, and a shepherd bringing her flock through the market square pulls off her hood and reveals herself to be a warlock -- and her flock are revealed to be wolves in sheeps' clothing. She immolates the executioner and it's ON.

    The civilians scatter like leaves before the wind. The Duke and his bodyguards get the hell out of there, leaving the Captain of the Guard (lvl 1 elite soldier) and his sergeants-at-arms (lvl 1 brute) to deal with a pack of some Gray Wolves (lvl 2 skirmisher) and many homebrew minion wolves (lvl 1 minion skirmisher - basically a nerfed Gray Wolf) as well as the warlock (lvl 2 artillery) who is raining down hellfire.

    My PCs may decide to stand and fight, or they may bug out, or they might try to chase down the criminal (I have a skill challenge prepared, but that's not important right now). I've pushed their buttons a little bit with this plot, so I expect them to stay and fight.


    My concern is this: these are three level one players. I've sized the encounter according to the DMG guidelines but it still seems like it's going to be a cakewalk - the allied NPCs have some great crowd control skills and enough hitpoints that the enemy minions will likely get sorted out pretty quickly. At that point, the fight drops to 6-on-3 (5-on-3 if the bed guys get lucky, 4-on-3 if they get really lucky and the players and NPCs roll badly). I'm wary of piling on too many more minions, but I also don't want to get into a situation where I've added too many "real" opponents and get a TPK.

    How can I be certain that this encounter is going to be correctly balanced? I'm already dividing the total XP (650) by 6 instead of 3 (NPCs get an equal share) so I'd like to stack the deck to ensure that the PCs have an opportunity for a good haul.

    Side note: I have some lvl3 elite soldier NPCs (based on a paladin template) who will be waiting in the wings if TPK seems likely. Is this enough of a safety valve? If these guys show up the encounter is definitely an easy win for the good guys, and the XP drops accordingly.
    Last edited by Urist Ironblood; 2009-08-12 at 09:35 AM.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: [4e] Balanced encounters with allied NPCs?

    I wouldn't worry about a TPK, your PCs will likely be the last surviving characters if their side is losing and death saving rolls are pretty easy to make so even if they are defeated the worst that will happen is the warlock runs away. It doesn't sound like the warlock is there to kill them anyways.

    Although the wolves...hrm.

    Also, if things seem too easy for the PCs don't be afraid to throw in a couple more guys as backup. Maybe a few more wolves from somewhere or some enemy bandits perch on nearby roof tops and fire arrows into the fray?

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Hal's Avatar

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    Default Re: [4e] Balanced encounters with allied NPCs?

    Almost thought you were my DM for a minute there. You folks play at home or at a store?

    In any case, one way to decrease the impact of the NPC allies would be to limit their actions. If each of the wolves only had a standard action each round, they would be much less overwhelming.

    You could, of course, have the Warlock and his "flock" run "offscreen" to fight more guards elsewhere while the PCs deal with the encounter you've designed. They still get appropriate rewards while you don't have to tear out your hear worrying.
    Halbert's Cubicle - Wherein I write about gaming and . . . you know . . . stuff.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Troll in the Playground
     
    RTGoodman's Avatar

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    Default Re: [4e] Balanced encounters with allied NPCs?

    Here's how I would do it.

    Balance the encounter for JUST the PCs. The Level 2 Artillery, the Level 2 Skirmisher, and a couple of minions.

    For the allied NPCs, give them more enemies to fight "off-screen" while your PCs focus on their main problem. Probably the captain of the guard says, "My men and I will take care of these wolves and protect to townsfolk - you go deal with that witch!"
    The Playgrounder Formerly Known as rtg0922

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  5. - Top - End - #5
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: [4e] Balanced encounters with allied NPCs?

    Quote Originally Posted by rtg0922 View Post
    Here's how I would do it.

    Balance the encounter for JUST the PCs. The Level 2 Artillery, the Level 2 Skirmisher, and a couple of minions.

    For the allied NPCs, give them more enemies to fight "off-screen" while your PCs focus on their main problem.
    Yeah, pretty much.

    Unimportant NPCs are unimportant. Really, all that matters is that the players survive the battle.
    Last edited by FoE; 2009-08-12 at 12:28 PM.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: [4e] Balanced encounters with allied NPCs?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hal View Post
    Almost thought you were my DM for a minute there. You folks play at home or at a store?
    We play at home, but I've seen some games at Legends up in Towson. I'm not on a first-name basis, but I've watched a few combat rounds while I was getting dice there.

    I like the idea of the NPCs leaving... it hadn't even occurred to me that the Captain of the Guard and his sergeants-at-arms would pursue the convict, but in that city the Captain of the Guard presides over crimes against the state (treason & espionage) so he may have a military duty to pursue the convict rather than stay and fight. The bodyguards (lvl3 paladins) are still in the wings for relief if the PCs need it.

    I hate to railroad my PCs, but they are serving under royal warrants, so if the Captain gives them an order, their choices boil down to "kill the wolves and warlock" or "hope that you can catch the convict, and that you'll be forgiven for disobeying a lawful order in time of war." The non-combat encounter I had planned was a skill challenge to chase down the escaping convict, and I still have it in my hip pocket if they decide they'd rather chase him than stand and fight. I can spice it up by having wolves nipping at their heels.

    Thanks for the help, everyone!

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Griffon

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    Default Re: [4e] Balanced encounters with allied NPCs?

    Since your allies are being balanced on the same lines as your enemies, you might be able to just match out the ally and enemy numbers, add a standard encounter on top for the PCs to fight, and have the first group of enemies focus on the allies while the second group focuses on the PCs. If any group starts losing you could shift them around to balance things out. You'd also have more room to horribly fudge the combat between allies and enemies without the players noticing as much.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Yakk's Avatar

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    Default Re: [4e] Balanced encounters with allied NPCs?

    Build the following encounters:

    A and B are two half-encounters (well full size) at the execution booth.

    A' and B' are wounded versions of each half-encounter.

    C' is a wounded set of city guards.

    D is what happens if you chase down the escaping prisoner.

    Have a geographical split between A and B. Have the guards handle half of it, and the players the other half. Let the players pick to fight A, B, or go after D.

    If they go after D, they later face A + B' (or A' + B), as the guards are taken out without their help.

    If they defeat A or B before going after D, the guards are nearly taken out, and the bandits pull back heavily wounded.

    If they fight A or B, then go after the other half, they get the wounded guards (C') helping them against the wounded opponents.

    There is only a bit of railroading here -- it presumes the players aren't splitting up.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: [4e] Balanced encounters with allied NPCs?

    Quote Originally Posted by Yakk View Post
    Build the following encounters:

    A and B are two half-encounters (well full size) at the execution booth.

    A' and B' are wounded versions of each half-encounter.

    C' is a wounded set of city guards.

    D is what happens if you chase down the escaping prisoner.

    (snip)

    There is only a bit of railroading here -- it presumes the players aren't splitting up.
    This is a really awesome way to let the players pick their poison -- essentially force them to work their way around a triangle of three encounters. The only part I don't like is that the guards (one of whom is a plot-critical NPC in this instance) have to die or be seriously wounded in one of the choices.

    However, there are some encounters I've dreamed up for later on that I'll be borrowing this structure for. This is the first campaign I've ever DMed and the one thing I am most nervous about is railroading my players through 20 kobolds, then a boss kobold, then 20 goblins, then a boss goblin ("here, have a level"), then 20 orcs, then five orcs and a boss orc, then 20 orcs with really good armor and a wizard, then a little dragon ("have another level"), then 3 ogres...

    I want to give them a variety of encounters on really intriguing terrain with enemies that make sense for their place in the story, and I want them to really feel like the story hinges on their every decision.

    I'm even toying with the idea of an encounter that they simply can't win -- performing reconnaissance or some side quest, they stumble on an invasion force, and have to fleeeeeeee like the wind.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: [4e] Balanced encounters with allied NPCs?

    As a general rule, for every character on the PC's side they count towards the experience on the enemy's side. Five characters is Wizard's recommended number because any more really bloats the battlefield.

    I like the splitting up idea as well as the "You fight these guys, we'll go over here!" idea and it's what I use when I DMNPCs. Very rarely should a DMNPC fight on the player's side because they cheapen the challenges and take experience away from the players and pretty much every D&D player recognizes this and deeply scorns it no matter how much they smile while playing.

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Yakk's Avatar

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    Default Re: [4e] Balanced encounters with allied NPCs?

    Quote Originally Posted by Urist Ironblood View Post
    This is a really awesome way to let the players pick their poison -- essentially force them to work their way around a triangle of three encounters. The only part I don't like is that the guards (one of whom is a plot-critical NPC in this instance) have to die or be seriously wounded in one of the choices.
    PCs choices should matter. If they abandon the guards to defending the townsfolk as the guards ask for their help, their choice results in the guards losing.

    And an NPC shouldn't be plot-critical: He's an NPC. His death should result in as interesting a resulting plot as his continued life!
    I want to give them a variety of encounters on really intriguing terrain with enemies that make sense for their place in the story, and I want them to really feel like the story hinges on their every decision.
    So provide them with decisions, both explicit and implicit.

    Have interesting things happen regardless of what they decide, and have an idea of what kind of interesting things should happen. Don't think of it as punishing for a bad decision (because they might have a great reason for it that you didn't think of), but rather complicate their lives regardless of their decisions.
    I'm even toying with the idea of an encounter that they simply can't win -- performing reconnaissance or some side quest, they stumble on an invasion force, and have to fleeeeeeee like the wind.
    Instead of an encounter they cannot win, give them an encounter they can easily win.
    Then another harder encounter, without a break.
    Then let them spot another harder encounter coming at them, without a break.
    Then give it to them if they don't flee.
    Then let them spot another harder encounter coming at them, without a break.
    Then give it to them if they don't flee.

    Have it fluctuate some, but the point is there is an endless stream of enemies coming at them. Have interesting things happen if they flee, have interesting things happen if they try to stand their ground, and (ideally) make the things interesting in different ways.

    If they try to stand their ground, keep pounding on them, but reward them for standing their ground (and winning) -- they manage to rescue an NPC, or the like. Then push a bit harder (because the army isn't going to stop).

    Instead of a railroad, have a web of choices. Have interesting results of various sets of choices. Set up the web in such a way that regardless of what the players choose, awesomeness results if they succeed at it. Make the players think that they read your mind and found the 'real path' through your adventure by, say, chasing after the escaping prisoner, or standing their ground and saving the citizens, or fleeing before the invading army, or standing their ground against the invading army...

    Their choices should have world-impact: if they abandon the guards to fight the goblins, some citizens are dead and some guards are dead. If they let the prisoner get away, the prisoner gets away. But that doesn't mean the plot should be worse because they chose option A over B!

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