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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Prince Zahn's Avatar

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    Default challenging "mid-level" PCs for Dummies?

    I'd like to begin by saying that the advice I hope to receive here will also be of great use for several prospective DMs in my Available Friend Circle (AFC), and that I hope you guys will offer your playground wisdom for us. thank you.

    Ahem, So, a quick story:
    I had a conversation with an ex-Dungeon Master of mine, (we'll call him O.) who told me he wanted to run a Pathfinder adventure for 8th level characters. most of us never experienced high-level play, but immediately after I found out he was planning a treasure hunt of some sort complete with a map that they have to find someone to decode. I told him "comprehend languages and read magic, or the Linguistics skill; they don't need to find a decoder." he told me "well, mine is undecipherable to them."

    I moved on, dissatisfied with his answer. "anyway, O., how will you make this treasure hunt difficult for them? at this level they have the Scrying spell available, with the expected Wealth by Level, they can purchase teleportation scrolls, they can just skip to the end."
    this led us to several hard questions, as I tried to explain to O. that "the tricks and obstacles that stand in the way of low-level players aren't necessarily going to stop them at mid-level, you need to think bigger, because just saying "you can't" doesn't cut it at this point.

    and then, he asked me a simple question: "So how do you challenge a mid-level party?". and... I was at a loss.
    -----
    In the meantime, I'm building my own campaign setting, it's D&D 5e, not Pathfinder. which may likely also be mid-level (around 7th level). I was wondering the following things:
    1. what kind of stuff needs to be done differently as a transition from low-level play to mid-level play?
    2. what challenges are obsolete? what impossible things are suddenly feasible?
    3. what are some challenges you had to face in your mid-level games? or alternatively, what are some challenges have put in front of your mid-level players? (preferably in D&D 5, 3.5 or Pathfinder)
    4. as DMs, do you have any tips or wisdom to impart for us when approaching non-low-level play?



    Sincerely yours,
    Prince Zahn.
    Last edited by Prince Zahn; 2017-03-17 at 02:19 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by The_Jette View Post
    If you write gibberish in common, even comprehend languages won't turn it into a sonnet.
    P.Z. - gamer; friend; royalty. 'Tis a pleasure.
    <<Cynthia the Witch by me. she's a nice gal, I promise!

    My player Resume, for potential DMs to read over.


    My Extended Signature

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    DwarfFighterGuy

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    Default Re: challenging "mid-level" PCs for Dummies?

    Honestly, at mid-level the party can still be challenged by a lot of the things that were difficulties earlier. Sure, the 50 foot pit can be by-passed with fly. But, that's a spell slot not available for the rest of the dungeon. A cloak that lets you climb on walls? Cool. But, you have to use that in intervals of 5 minutes, and only get so many minutes a day. If it's a major treasure map, making it at least resistant to the read magic/ comprehend languages isn't out of the question. And, it may be written in plain common, but in a code that you still need to break, something that comprehend languages won't do. If someone writes gibberish in common, comprehend languages won't turn it into a sonnet. Then, there are less magical means you can throw at them: directions are written on the map in an unusual alchemical ink that is invisible unless you are using a special revealer that only lasts for so many rounds per use. As for scry, if the party has access to it, then the enemies have access to the counters. Non-detection is a pretty common counter to scry. You can only teleport if you know where you're going. So, unless you can read a map, and know where the map is showing in relation to yourself, you won't be able to get there without risking a huge mishap. All in all, challenging a mid-level party only takes a slightly higher amount of prep than a low level party.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: challenging "mid-level" PCs for Dummies?

    Yeah, this doesn't seem that bad. I mean, Scry is kindof a non-thing - anyone who seriously wants to hide their stuff is going to make it scry-proof. And if you can't scry, you can't teleport.

    I don't think this is as hard as you are making it out to be. I mean, heck, comprehend languages doesn't work on codes - it specifically says so. So sure, you can't make the map a "really old map" and expect it to work, but a little bit of thinking about this stuff means it's not that hard.

    So I guess the real answer is: To challenge mid-level characters, use mid-level resources. Look into the various ways that the tools mid level characters have can be legitimately countered. It's not like no one in the world has ever heard of "scry and teleport" before.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Prince Zahn's Avatar

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    Default Re: challenging "mid-level" PCs for Dummies?

    Quote Originally Posted by The_Jette View Post
    Honestly, at mid-level the party can still be challenged by a lot of the things that were difficulties earlier. Sure, the 50 foot pit can be by-passed with fly. But, that's a spell slot not available for the rest of the dungeon. A cloak that lets you climb on walls? Cool. But, you have to use that in intervals of 5 minutes, and only get so many minutes a day. If it's a major treasure map, making it at least resistant to the read magic/ comprehend languages isn't out of the question. And, it may be written in plain common, but in a code that you still need to break, something that comprehend languages won't do. If someone writes gibberish in common, comprehend languages won't turn it into a sonnet. Then, there are less magical means you can throw at them: directions are written on the map in an unusual alchemical ink that is invisible unless you are using a special revealer that only lasts for so many rounds per use. As for scry, if the party has access to it, then the enemies have access to the counters. Non-detection is a pretty common counter to scry. You can only teleport if you know where you're going. So, unless you can read a map, and know where the map is showing in relation to yourself, you won't be able to get there without risking a huge mishap. All in all, challenging a mid-level party only takes a slightly higher amount of prep than a low level party.
    okay, that explains how that scenario might work rather well, I do want to hear more about general cases, and not just my own.

    Also can I sig that comment about comprehend languages and gibberish? I think it has great potential with a tiny bit of paraphrasing, too, but all things with consent. :3

    Quote Originally Posted by Airk View Post

    So I guess the real answer is: To challenge mid-level characters, use mid-level resources. Look into the various ways that the tools mid level characters have can be legitimately countered. It's not like no one in the world has ever heard of "scry and teleport" before.
    I would like to do that here, if that's okay. The scry and teleport thing was just context via a real example.
    Last edited by Prince Zahn; 2017-03-17 at 06:48 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by The_Jette View Post
    If you write gibberish in common, even comprehend languages won't turn it into a sonnet.
    P.Z. - gamer; friend; royalty. 'Tis a pleasure.
    <<Cynthia the Witch by me. she's a nice gal, I promise!

    My player Resume, for potential DMs to read over.


    My Extended Signature

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: challenging "mid-level" PCs for Dummies?

    Off the top of my head, here are some things DM's need to take into account when players gain access to 4th, 5th, and 6th level spells. I'm speaking from a 3.5 perspective, which should more or less count for Pathfinder as well, but I'm not familiar enough with the differences to vouch for them. And 5th is a different beast entirely.

    1. PC's are good enough at their specialized skills that they can expect to pass most checks even with a below average roll. Rogues are going to be able to beat most Spot/Listen checks with their stealth rolls unless they're being opposed by someone with a high modifier in those skills. Rangers can reliably do pretty much anything they can use the Survival skill for. Bards aren't going to fail Bluff checks unless they're trying to fool someone with a really good Sense Motive. Wizards aren't likely to fail Concentration or Spellcraft checks. The DM should plan accordingly by expecting the players to use those skills whenever they might apply.

    2. Baddies trying to escape a losing fight are going to have a harder time of it now. Fly is probably no longer good enough because the PC's have it too, or the caster has spells that can still hit them out of the sky. Dimension door and even teleport won't always suffice here, because dimensional anchor is a thing. Sure, it's not an everyday spell for a wizard or cleric, and the sorcerer probably isn't spending a slot on it, but if your Recurring Villain guy uses a teleport to escape, you can bet they're going to either prepare it next time, or at least look for an item that can use it.

    3. Similarly, capturing PC's becomes even harder than it was before, because now they can teleport as well. So now everything I said before applies in reverse; you can block a teleport if you plan ahead for it, but do that too often and they'll look into countermeasures.

    4. Scry/teleport is a thing they can do now, so if there are places you don't want them able to scry, you need defenses. Scrying normally targets a creature, so a high Will save can make it difficult. Lead sheeting or a nondetection spell will block scrying. As for teleportation, if they haven't at least seen the area once (in person or by scrying), they can't teleport there.



    Combat deserves its own section apart from the above.

    1. Challenge Ratings are not always reliable, especially in older sources. A monster that's CR 10 but relies on melee attacks and a decent AC to threaten opponents isn't going to mean much against a wizard that can fly out of its reach, bypass its AC with touch spells or AoE effects, or simply stop it cold with a single failed Will save. Likewise, a monster that has multiple deadly SLA's but low hit points isn't much of a threat if it lets itself get smashed by the Barbarian.

    The DM has to play encounters a bit smarter as things go up in level. This means thinking about how enemies would use their magical abilities, using tactics if the monsters/NPC's are smart enough to do it, and just generally not assuming that players are going to do unlikely things such as 1v1 individual monsters or trade blows without using their magic against melee-specialized monsters. Also, they have to know their players' individual strengths and weaknesses to help judge appropriate encounters since the system is less helpful the higher you go (especially if players are optimizing even a little bit).

    2. Save or suck/save or die effects start coming online a lot more commonly at these levels. Be prepared for your PC's to use them, and to be using them yourselves. You can pull your punches here if you want to, but if you don't use them at all you may find it tough to keep encounters challenging.

    3. In my experience, as you go up in level battles tend to take fewer rounds, but rounds take more time. Melee types can hit pretty hard, sometimes enough to kill in one hit even if they're not an ubercharger type. Rogues have a hefty amount of sneak attack, and can afford to start investing in ways to circumvent immunity. Spellcasters can dish out big damage, powerful battlefield control, or spells that will stop a threat in one roll. On the other hand, summoned creatures, companions and familiars, larger numbers of enemies, etc. can mean it takes much longer to get through a round. If your group is like mine, you also have to look up spells and items more often, because maybe you don't have as much experience with exactly how, say, chain lightning words, as opposed to fireball.

    There's a lot more to say on this topic, but I'm out of time for the moment.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Prince Zahn's Avatar

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    Default Re: challenging "mid-level" PCs for Dummies?

    Quote Originally Posted by Velaryon View Post
    Off the top of my head, here are some things DM's need to take into account when players gain access to 4th, 5th, and 6th level spells. I'm speaking from a 3.5 perspective, which should more or less count for Pathfinder as well, but I'm not familiar enough with the differences to vouch for them. And 5th is a different beast entirely.

    1. PC's are good enough at their specialized skills that they can expect to pass most checks even with a below average roll. Rogues are going to be able to beat most Spot/Listen checks with their stealth rolls unless they're being opposed by someone with a high modifier in those skills. Rangers can reliably do pretty much anything they can use the Survival skill for. Bards aren't going to fail Bluff checks unless they're trying to fool someone with a really good Sense Motive. Wizards aren't likely to fail Concentration or Spellcraft checks. The DM should plan accordingly by expecting the players to use those skills whenever they might apply.

    2. Baddies trying to escape a losing fight are going to have a harder time of it now. Fly is probably no longer good enough because the PC's have it too, or the caster has spells that can still hit them out of the sky. Dimension door and even teleport won't always suffice here, because dimensional anchor is a thing. Sure, it's not an everyday spell for a wizard or cleric, and the sorcerer probably isn't spending a slot on it, but if your Recurring Villain guy uses a teleport to escape, you can bet they're going to either prepare it next time, or at least look for an item that can use it.

    3. Similarly, capturing PC's becomes even harder than it was before, because now they can teleport as well. So now everything I said before applies in reverse; you can block a teleport if you plan ahead for it, but do that too often and they'll look into countermeasures.

    4. Scry/teleport is a thing they can do now, so if there are places you don't want them able to scry, you need defenses. Scrying normally targets a creature, so a high Will save can make it difficult. Lead sheeting or a nondetection spell will block scrying. As for teleportation, if they haven't at least seen the area once (in person or by scrying), they can't teleport there.



    Combat deserves its own section apart from the above.

    1. Challenge Ratings are not always reliable, especially in older sources. A monster that's CR 10 but relies on melee attacks and a decent AC to threaten opponents isn't going to mean much against a wizard that can fly out of its reach, bypass its AC with touch spells or AoE effects, or simply stop it cold with a single failed Will save. Likewise, a monster that has multiple deadly SLA's but low hit points isn't much of a threat if it lets itself get smashed by the Barbarian.

    The DM has to play encounters a bit smarter as things go up in level. This means thinking about how enemies would use their magical abilities, using tactics if the monsters/NPC's are smart enough to do it, and just generally not assuming that players are going to do unlikely things such as 1v1 individual monsters or trade blows without using their magic against melee-specialized monsters. Also, they have to know their players' individual strengths and weaknesses to help judge appropriate encounters since the system is less helpful the higher you go (especially if players are optimizing even a little bit).

    2. Save or suck/save or die effects start coming online a lot more commonly at these levels. Be prepared for your PC's to use them, and to be using them yourselves. You can pull your punches here if you want to, but if you don't use them at all you may find it tough to keep encounters challenging.

    3. In my experience, as you go up in level battles tend to take fewer rounds, but rounds take more time. Melee types can hit pretty hard, sometimes enough to kill in one hit even if they're not an ubercharger type. Rogues have a hefty amount of sneak attack, and can afford to start investing in ways to circumvent immunity. Spellcasters can dish out big damage, powerful battlefield control, or spells that will stop a threat in one roll. On the other hand, summoned creatures, companions and familiars, larger numbers of enemies, etc. can mean it takes much longer to get through a round. If your group is like mine, you also have to look up spells and items more often, because maybe you don't have as much experience with exactly how, say, chain lightning words, as opposed to fireball.

    There's a lot more to say on this topic, but I'm out of time for the moment.
    As a general rule of thumb, most of the major issues in 3.5 were inherited to PF as well. I'm confident that these tips will prove useful for my friend, and perhaps to me, too, to some extent thank you!

    Any more advice for PF and 5e? also are there things that as DMs we should avoid or bar entirely?
    Last edited by Prince Zahn; 2017-03-20 at 05:24 AM.
    Quote Originally Posted by The_Jette View Post
    If you write gibberish in common, even comprehend languages won't turn it into a sonnet.
    P.Z. - gamer; friend; royalty. 'Tis a pleasure.
    <<Cynthia the Witch by me. she's a nice gal, I promise!

    My player Resume, for potential DMs to read over.


    My Extended Signature

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

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    Default Re: challenging "mid-level" PCs for Dummies?

    Quote Originally Posted by Prince Zahn View Post
    okay, that explains how that scenario might work rather well, I do want to hear more about general cases, and not just my own.

    Also can I sig that comment about comprehend languages and gibberish? I think it has great potential with a tiny bit of paraphrasing, too, but all things with consent. :3

    I would like to do that here, if that's okay. The scry and teleport thing was just context via a real example.
    Sure. Just put my name at the end.

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