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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Rauthiss's Avatar

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    Default DMing Questions [4e, not that it matters]

    I've been playing in a game DMed by a friend of mine, and I have some questions concerning DMing style, as I'm considering running my own game.

    1.) How do you make character deaths, especially at low levels, meaningful enough to matter? When characters don't have access to raise dead, deaths seem to be permanent, resulting in "roll a new character" or the player sitting out until the party somehow manages a raise dead. At the same time, once players get it, death often becomes cheap. What is the best way to rectify this?

    2.) How can a DM actively control his or her players? My parties tend to go wild, and we often end up overpowering the DM. As a DM myself, how can I avoid this? I'd like to stay away from really controlling the party (through forcing raised hands, etc.), but I'd still like to have authority.

    3.) How can I make encounters challenging, but still enjoyable? All too often, you have large "boss" monsters that can put even a defender from living to dead in one lucky hit. Do I simply make use of fiat?

    4.) How often should players' abilities come into use when determining monster tactics? Are monsters expected to know the results of a PC's attack? The best example I can think of is defenders - After a creature is marked, should it always attack the defender in order to avoid the penalty? Avengers are another good example of this class - If an avenger has the Censure of retribution, would it make sense for enemies other than the Oath target to avoid attacking the Avenger? I've always wondered what the best way to deal with this was, since from the player's side of the screen, it always feels disappointing when enemies try their hardest to avoid secondary effects of my abilities.

    Thank you for any and all answers!
    Last edited by Rauthiss; 2010-10-27 at 01:59 AM.
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  2. - Top - End - #2
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: DMing Questions [4e, not that it matters]

    I'm fairly new to DMing but it seems to me that if you say before you start "Hey I don't mean to railroad but could we at least try to stay somewhat in line with the story?" They will generally listen, expect hijinks but that goes without saying. And as for character deaths early on... Well I dunno, the party seems to be really lucky and they've yet to even be so much as scratched.
    An old adventurer once told me "That so long as the one has spirit he never dies." I farted really hard and struck a match. Apparently gas is more powerful then spirit.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: DMing Questions [4e, not that it matters]

    And also I try to get my monsters to seem natural, they don't know how the players will act so try pretending to not know what's going on. And as for boss battles, just tinker with the boss stats a bit if they don't stand a chance.
    An old adventurer once told me "That so long as the one has spirit he never dies." I farted really hard and struck a match. Apparently gas is more powerful then spirit.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: DMing Questions [4e, not that it matters]

    Read the 4e DMG. It's actually one of the best books for DMing I've seen in a long time.

    Simply playing the game as recommended by the guidelines in that book will solve most of your problems.

    Issues of balance for example aren't really a great concern in 4e. Most things are pretty balanced. Sure, there's some powers or feats that are better than others, but even the strongest, most optimized characters won't be so unbalanced that they'll dominate the entire combat.

    In 3e games, I've had characters (mostly spellcasters) end combat in a single round. That just doesn't happen in 4e if you follow the guidelines for building encounters.
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  5. - Top - End - #5
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    ninja_penguin's Avatar

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    Default Re: DMing Questions [4e, not that it matters]

    Quote Originally Posted by Rauthiss View Post
    I've been playing in a game DMed by a friend of mine, and I have some questions concerning DMing style, as I'm considering running my own game.

    1.) How do you make character deaths, especially at low levels, meaningful enough to matter? When characters don't have access to raise dead, deaths seem to be permanent, resulting in "roll a new character" or the player sitting out until the party somehow manages a raise dead. At the same time, once players get it, death often becomes cheap. What is the best way to rectify this?
    Well, in 4e, I think that raise dead is actually more affordable than in 3.5. I know that the cost starts off lower and raises itself at teach tier. It's not peanuts, but it's easily within reach. You could also have them take them to some sort of large temple to some god to have them resurrected. Maybe end up with a favor to the church or a debt to be paid off if the party is totally broke.

    And at higher levels of play, well, death does get a bit cheaper. Due to both monsters who can go 'whoop, you're dead', and various paragon and epic things that can say 'whoop, I'm not'.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rauthiss View Post
    2.) How can a DM actively control his or her players? My parties tend to go wild, and we often end up overpowering the DM. As a DM myself, how can I avoid this? I'd like to stay away from really controlling the party (through forcing raised hands, etc.), but I'd still like to have authority.
    Well, stay firm with decisions, or make sure you know what you're planning ahead of time. Don't be afraid to say 'yes' to valid ideas that the players have. That said, also be willing to say 'okay, that works, but then we're totally off the rails/what I had planned for tonight' if you're the type that can't make things up well on the fly. Also, 4e is very flexible with its monsters and can be easily reskinned. I've had several encounters for the group I run games for that were the same enemies mechanically, but totally different things fluff-wise. You might need to make some minor mechanical changes (say, that zombie fight doesn't make sense anymore, but you're using their stats. Drop the radiant vulnerability unless the mercs they're fighting now make sense for some reason)

    Quote Originally Posted by Rauthiss View Post
    3.) How can I make encounters challenging, but still enjoyable? All too often, you have large "boss" monsters that can put even a defender from living to dead in one lucky hit. Do I simply make use of fiat?
    If you're using the experience budget listed in the 4e DMG, encounter design is actually pretty easy. If your boss monsters are OHKO'ing your defender, they're either built incredibly poorly, you're rolling nothing but crits, or you're using way to high of a monster. (alternatively, you're in paragon/epic levels) Also, keep in mind that in 4e, 'dead-dead' is negative bloodied value, not -10 hit points. Also, make the rest of the party exercise their survival skills; it's perfectly acceptable to drop the defender. Watch the rest of them run and scream.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rauthiss View Post
    4.) How often should players' abilities come into use when determining monster tactics? Are monsters expected to know the results of a PC's attack? The best example I can think of is defenders - After a creature is marked, should it always attack the defender in order to avoid the penalty? Avengers are another good example of this class - If an avenger has the Censure of retribution, would it make sense for enemies other than the Oath target to avoid attacking the Avenger? I've always wondered what the best way to deal with this was, since from the player's side of the screen, it always feels disappointing when enemies try their hardest to avoid secondary effects of my abilities.
    For marks: usually monsters will go for the mark. I generally make exceptions for particularly berserk or intelligent opponents. It depends on the stickiness of the defender (fighters are obnoxiously hard to deal with. Ignoring their mark is basically giving them free attacks all over). For avengers, yeah, I'd attack him. They no longer have AC in the stratosphere. Don't let your players enjoy apparent immunity to attacks because you're afraid of a class feature triggering. That said, I probably wouldn't have a minion attack somebody when it's marked by a paladin, unless the minion also explodes when it dies. Basically, I avoid suicidal actions with monster, but not necessarily going out of my way to avoid them.
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  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: DMing Questions [4e, not that it matters]

    Quote Originally Posted by Rauthiss View Post
    1.) How do you make character deaths, especially at low levels, meaningful enough to matter?
    Permanent death always matters to people. You don't have to make it matter more than it already does. As for 4e's treatment of death as a status effect? I don't have an answer for that. I think it trivializes death. Just pretend that where 4e says someone died, they really just got a coma or bad concussion or something.

    2.) How can a DM actively control his or her players? My parties tend to go wild, and we often end up overpowering the DM.
    How exactly do they overpower the DM? I've only seen this happen a couple of times. My answer is to let them do whatever they want, but with consequences. Maybe I had a plot ready for them, but if the group really wants to rob magic shops, why should I stop them? Any time the players are enthusiastic to do something, you should roll with it. I'm not saying to ditch the plot you wrote. Just put it on the shelf and break it out when they're ready to go with it.
    [/quote]

    3.) How can I make encounters challenging, but still enjoyable?
    In 4e I haven't had that problem. Since the MM3 damage update, I've stuck strictly to the rules and gotten decent fights out of it. Players always get bloodied. Someone usually goes down if it's a tough fight.

    There are a couple areas to look out for though. If you're leveling monsters up and down, the paragon and epic thresholds can work strangely. Sneak attack damage goes up when you're paragon. What I've seen some GMs do is take a level 11 rogue type and de-level it. The DMG says nothing about lowering sneak attack damage, so the heroic tier enemy retains paragon tier damage. Also, watch out for soldiers. The guideline is that you can use a normal enemy 5 levels above the PCs, an elite 4 levels above, or a solo 3 levels above. Since soldiers are the equivalent of defenders, they have good saves. Using one at the peak of what the PCs can handle usually makes for an unhittable enemy. That's no fun.

    Make use of terrain. This is the trick to interesting fights in 4e. It's also a way to make the fights harder without eating up the XP budget. The way I do terrain is simple. I come up with a place that would be cool to fight in. Then I give the enemy first dibs on picking a location. If the players are smart going into the fight, they begin at a location that isn't the one set by the bad guys, and thus earn an advantage.

    4.) How often should players' abilities come into use when determining monster tactics?
    Depends on the enemy. Monsters have Int scores, don't they? Use that to figure out how they'll think about the PCs.
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  7. - Top - End - #7
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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: DMing Questions [4e, not that it matters]

    Quote Originally Posted by valadil View Post
    As for 4e's treatment of death as a status effect? I don't have an answer for that. I think it trivializes death. Just pretend that where 4e says someone died, they really just got a coma or bad concussion or something.
    ...4e does this less so than 3.5, where there's numerous insta-kill spells and basic Raise Dead is available barely any later than it is in 4e. Really, the only ways I see that 4e cheapens death (compared to 3.5) are the reduced cost of Raise Dead (it's only about 2-4 times more expensive than similar-level rituals) and the lack of losing levels (which is a bad side-effect when you want to keep the players roughly the same level).

    On the other hand, most players of either edition treat it as a status condition, which is a problem that could be solved by making it much harder to raise the dead... which would mean that the player of the deceased character would have to sit out of the campaign for a while, which really isn't fun unless he gets his own afterlife-sidequest like Roy did.
    Last edited by Mando Knight; 2010-10-27 at 11:29 AM.

  8. - Top - End - #8
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    Default Re: DMing Questions [4e, not that it matters]

    Death
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    This is a major problem in WotC D&D - character building is such a major part of the game that having to re-roll is a catastrophe. In TSR D&D, we would usually just bury the PC and have a wake at a local tavern while the Player rolled a new character; the loss of a character was mostly a matter of RP angst rather than RL angst.

    I just hit a character death in my 4E campaign. People took it plenty seriously and know that it will deprive them of a good chunk of treasure. In the meantime, the Player will take over an NPC "hireling."

    So, I don't think Death is really a problem to worry about. Make sure there's always some sort of rez opportunity available (even if it means going in hock to a church), provide an NPC for the Player to play until the PC is rezzed, and always give the Player the option to have his dead PC remain dead and to roll up a new one. As long as Death extracts some sort of cost to the Players (e.g. forgone treasure, awkward entanglements) it will be meaningful.


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    I have no idea what's going on here. If it's that the Players refuse to remain on the rails, then don't worry about it - this happens. The best course is to listen to what they want to do and to construct an adventure in that direction -- if they don't want to investigate the Spooky Castle, don't make them do it!

    But, if it's that the Players are rowdy, have an OOC chat about what it means to game at your table. They'll either calm down or you can boot them.


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    Follow the instructions in the DMG -- 4e allows for the construction of bosses that aren't going to squash decently made defenders. Ideally, start at =LV Encounters and ratchet it up until you reach the appropriate level of challenge.

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    (1) Minions are worth 1/6 XP at best, and 0 at worst. Use them liberally to "fill out" Encounters without worrying too much about their XP value. "Exploding" and ranged minions are more dangerous and should be treated as 1/6 XP for Budgeting purposes.

    (2) Brutes are easier than their XP suggests; Soldiers are harder.

    (3) Avoid Elites until you feel comfortable with Monster Design. They can be fiddly.

    (4) Use Solos rarely. Either make sure that they act multiple times in a round (e.g. the Behir acts at Initiative 20 and 10) or give them minions or brutes to prevent massive lockdown.


    Monster Tactics
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    This is a question of temperment and savviness. First, establish universal ground rules about knowledge (e.g. if the monsters know what a PC can do once he marks them, then the PCs should know about monster marks). Secondly, assume monsters are initially ignorant of what the PCs can do -- but they learn. Unless the PCs have clear, IC markings of their class, there is no reason for a monster to anticipate specific character powers.

    Finally, and most importantly, monster must adapt. If they have faced the PCs before, they will remember what the PCs could do last time. Really smart opponents might research the PCs and figure out what they can do in advance -- and the DM should highlight when this becomes the case (e.g. "watch out! That elf in the red robes specializes in mind control! Spread out!).

    Aside from that, all combat-capable monsters know basic tactics -- flanking is good, use terrain to your advantage, moving recklessly will provoke attacks. Seasoned combatants know advanced tactics -- such as stay out of fireball formation.
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  9. - Top - End - #9
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    Kobold

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    Default Re: DMing Questions [4e, not that it matters]

    Quote Originally Posted by Mando Knight View Post
    ...4e does this less so than 3.5, where there's numerous insta-kill spells and basic Raise Dead is available barely any later than it is in 4e.

    ...

    lack of losing levels (which is a bad side-effect when you want to keep the players roughly the same level).
    It's the lack of losing levels that makes me think it's more of a status effect in 4e. At least in 3.5 you get knocked back a bit. Over the course of a long term 3.5 campaign, a character who never dies will be several levels higher than one who dies a couple times. Not the case in 4e, making death that much more forgettable.
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    Default Re: DMing Questions [4e, not that it matters]

    Quote Originally Posted by valadil View Post
    It's the lack of losing levels that makes me think it's more of a status effect in 4e. At least in 3.5 you get knocked back a bit. Over the course of a long term 3.5 campaign, a character who never dies will be several levels higher than one who dies a couple times. Not the case in 4e, making death that much more forgettable.
    Provided that they're not casters who spend their XP

    But let's not make this an Edition Warz thread. I'm curious as to what the "problem" with Death is here. From the OP, it looks like it's more a question of swinginess (it's either a catastrophe or nothing) rather than the impact of death on Players.

    As I said in my post above, the "catastrophic" part is the problem; unless your Players actually treat death as a speed bump (i.e. they routinely act in a suicidal fashion) then it's not a problem for the game. Dealing with the catastrophe is relatively easy -- always have rezzes available, make sure there's an NPC for the Player to take over until he is rezzed, and be sure to allow the Player to choose between getting rezzed and rerolling. The more difficult part is to make sure that Rezzes remain costly; getting a Rez should never be as easy as healing to full XP.

    IMHO, the best way to do this is to incorporate the rez into the story. At low levels, the PCs might need to go into debt with a powerful individual to afford the rez; or maybe they need to quest to find a sufficiently powerful Ritualist. Even at higher levels, make sure that the drain on party coffers is noticable; spending 500 GP of reagents on a rez may mean that a party member can't enchant a magic item he wanted for another level.

    If you want a game where death is Serious Business, then make Rezzing a quest on its own or play without rezzes.
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