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[4E] Encounter bulding advice, and recommended houserules

Kath

The Furthest Away
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I'm due to start running the War of the Burning Sky campaign, which looks pretty nifty. The fights in it are poorly converted from 3.5 though, e.g. putting a level 1 or 2 party versus a level 10 controller! I'm no expert at 4E encounter building, but even I know that that's crap. As I've never actually run 4E though, what advise would experienced GMs give on building fights? E.g. can a party routinely take level+2 encounters, what level solos should be put against the party, etc.

What houserules would people recommend? So far, my list is quite small:
* Inherant bonuses are on
* Free expertise feats
* All classes get the at least same number of trained skills (so the fighter is less sad)
* Long rests require a truly safe place to rest, e.g. Bree, Rivendell, Lothlorien.
Preference goes for houserules that are compatible with the offline character builder :)

Finally, if anyone has actually run War of the Burning Sky, I'd love any tips or pointers on the campaign itself.
 

DisgruntleFairy

Active member
Validated User
* All classes get the at least same number of trained skills (so the fighter is less sad)
At least 4 should work well. If you go higher that invalidates some of the other classes benefits.

I've played with some different stat arrays or extra build points. Just say highest starting stat can be 18 and only one stat can be 18 otherwise you get 6 extra attribute build points. It helps out people be a little more well rounded. Helps some classes work a little better. But it can make your PC's a little tougher too. So be aware.
 
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awesomeocalypse

Registered User
Validated User
I'm due to start running the War of the Burning Sky campaign, which looks pretty nifty. The fights in it are poorly converted from 3.5 though, e.g. putting a level 1 or 2 party versus a level 10 controller! I'm no expert at 4E encounter building, but even I know that that's crap. As I've never actually run 4E though, what advise would experienced GMs give on building fights? E.g. can a party routinely take level+2 encounters, what level solos should be put against the party, etc.

What houserules would people recommend? So far, my list is quite small:
* Inherant bonuses are on
* Free expertise feats
* All classes get the at least same number of trained skills (so the fighter is less sad)
* Long rests require a truly safe place to rest, e.g. Bree, Rivendell, Lothlorien.
Preference goes for houserules that are compatible with the offline character builder :)

Finally, if anyone has actually run War of the Burning Sky, I'd love any tips or pointers on the campaign itself.
I'm not familiar with War of the Burning Sky, but general advice for running 4e:

-If you're using MM3 or Monster Vault monsters, they're mostly fine as it--if you're using MM1 or MM2 monsters, consider chopping off some of their hitpoints and upping their damage. Combat moves faster and feels a little riskier and more fun.

-When building encounters, follow Stalker's Guide to Anti-Grind (http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?254630-Stalker0-s-Guide-to-Anti-Grind). It has really good advice for building fun encounters that don't turn into lengthy slogs (in a nutshell: don't use higher level monsters too much, don't use soldiers too much, never use a solo higher level than the party--but read the whole thing because its really good). The reason for this is that monster hp and defenses scale faster than damage in 4e--a higher level solo doesn't hurt that much more than an equal level one, but it becomes a big sack of hp that the party will whiff a lot on and end up sitting there chipping away with at-wills. If you want to make encounters tougher, adding more monsters (provided they aren't grindy monsters like soldiers) is generally a better way to do it than levelling up the monsters.

-Make terrain fun. 4e is full of abilities based around positioning and forced movement, and those become lots of fun for both you and the party if you give them a battlefield with hazards, traps, cover, different elevations, and other interesting terrain elements. 4e in a blank square room really doesn't do the system justice. Don't be forced about it, or overdo it too much, but one or two unique terrain elements per battle can add a lot--if the party is about to fight an evil wizard, putting that evil wizard on a raised dais protected by minions, but with a nasty-looking summong circle not far behind him that summons a new minion every 3 rounds until destroyed (but that a savvy party might be able to fling the wizard into to suffer the same unholy torments he visits on others), beats a wizard standing in a flat room thats mostly featureless except for some books against the back wall.

-XP rules around minion don't work as well as the rest of the system--if your party is low level and doesn't have much aoe damage, minions ramp up a party difficulty roughly in accordance with what the DMG says...but once the party gets higher level and/or if they have a lot of aoe, you're either going to need to be careful to use ranged minions really spread out, or you're going to pile 'em on. I regularly add 8+ minions to paragon level encounters and the party won't break a sweat.
 

kadnod

getting boat-sploded!
Validated User
For houserules, I often allow PCs to burn 2 healing surges to get the benifts of a "short rest" if I feel like throwing multiple encounters at them in a row. I'm guessing this could probably be exploited in some way I'm missing, but my group has never done it, and it keeps me from having to think up ridiculous reasons for the baddies to give the party a time-out between fights.
 

ResplendentScorpion

neither glitter, nor substance
Validated User
On top of free "expertise" feats, consider adding free "superrior implement proficiency" to implement-users and one free of Epic Reflex/Will/Fort targetting the weakest of the three for that character if you reach Epic tier.
 
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theliel

Fan of Many Things
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Be aware that the average heavily optimized for survival party has about 5-7 encounters in them before things start to go down hill fast.
9 is pretty much the limit.

So if you only allow long rests in 'safe places' and intend on having more than 4-5 encounters between rests unless you use a series of under level encounters are you pretty much setting the party up for a TPK.

I like 'one defense, one expertise feat free' as well.
 

simontmn

Registered User
Validated User
The house rule that has worked really well for me is to halve all monster hit points. I suspect with you running a 4e conversion of a story-heavy 3e adventure path, this may be even more important. The enormous hp totals in 4e are really to allow fights to take a long time, so that players can really get stuck into the meat of tactical play over 5-7 rounds. Which is great if it's a major set-piece battle, or if that is the primary focus of your campaign, or if your players are very skilled and/or play the simplest classes and can whiz through turns quickly. But it can easily turn really sour. Halving monster hp is a quick fix to the threat of grind that preserves a high threat level at the start of play. Elites & Solos in particular work far better at half hp; a full hp Solo fight can easily be a three hour slog of dullness - the pre-MM3 ones are appalling.

An alternative to halving hp, which I am looking at in my 4e conversion of 3e Curse of the Crimson Throne AP, is to keep full hp but minimise the number of encounters by combining or skipping, and treat many battles as 'roleplay/flavour' not 'I am trying to kill the PCs', eg if a fight looks low-threat to start with, make the monsters Minions (or all but one tough guy, to give the Striker PCs a target), and have the encounter be about taking them all out before they can run away/warn allies etc.

Whatever you do, always cast a critical eye over the ENW conversion stats. If they look drek, change them - you are doing it right re the level 10 guy. At XP parity he should be a 6th level Elite or 1st level Solo. For max fun, I'd go with either 2nd level Solo, or (probably better) a 4th level elite plus allies to make it a level 2 or level 3 encounter.

On EL - generally PCs can handle party level+2 stuff ok, as long as the level range is within 3 of their own, but may find it tough. More later, less at very low level - I did get a TPK with 1st level PCs vs an EL 4 encounter. At higher level, boss fights need to be at least EL+3 to feel threatening.
 

AbdulAlhazred

Registered User
Validated User
I'm due to start running the War of the Burning Sky campaign, which looks pretty nifty. The fights in it are poorly converted from 3.5 though, e.g. putting a level 1 or 2 party versus a level 10 controller! I'm no expert at 4E encounter building, but even I know that that's crap. As I've never actually run 4E though, what advise would experienced GMs give on building fights? E.g. can a party routinely take level+2 encounters, what level solos should be put against the party, etc.

What houserules would people recommend? So far, my list is quite small:
* Inherant bonuses are on
* Free expertise feats
* All classes get the at least same number of trained skills (so the fighter is less sad)
* Long rests require a truly safe place to rest, e.g. Bree, Rivendell, Lothlorien.
Preference goes for houserules that are compatible with the offline character builder :)

Finally, if anyone has actually run War of the Burning Sky, I'd love any tips or pointers on the campaign itself.
Those work, though I would just say "DM decides if a long rest is or isn't possible", I wouldn't necessarily make them impossible if the party is willing to endure some disadvantage for them (IE possible extra encounters, burning too much time, etc).

As for WotBS...

It was an EARLY 4e adventure, so it is using all early monsters. Early monsters have far too low damage outputs (rule should be roughly level+8 damage at-will, but there is errata with new damage charts). Early monsters have generally slightly higher defenses (and Elite/Solo monsters substantially higher). Early high level solos have 20% more hit points than later MM2 and up ones. In general you'll need a lot more action denial on higher level solos, and it won't hurt on lower level ones either (check out the newer young and elder dragons from MV).

As to specific WotBS encounters, I dunno. I haven't ever run it. I'd say the example encounter you give is not intended to be winnable by fighting, but I don't know. It IS possible to use highly mismatched levels of monsters. For instance my first group at level one handled a Carrion Crawler (level 7 controller). It was scary and being a controller made it easier, but it was cool. So you can break the guidelines and have good encounters, but obviously YMMV.

Mostly make sure encounters are worth having in 4e. Give them plot significance, make them unique and interesting through setting, action, or story.
 

awesomeocalypse

Registered User
Validated User
oh, one other thing...don't get too hung up on skill challenges. They've been errata'd a ton of times, they're hard to run in a way that feels organic rather than clunky or forced, and literally every DM I've played 4e with handles them differently. The main thing to take away from skill challenges is the idea behind them--for major plot elements that will take up a bunch of table time, stay away from one dimensional problems solved with a single skill check, or where one guy can just be the face or the scout and do everything. A heist with a few moving parts (say, some guards who need to be distracted or bluffed, a magical lock, a secret back entrance that involves a tricky climb) is a lot more fun for the entire party to engage with, rather than a simple burglary where one guy makes stealth checks for half an hour while the rest of the party twiddles their thumbs in a tavern. That doesn't mean every skill check needs to be some kind of multifacted skillcheck extavaganza--if they're moving through a dungeon, having the occasional booby trapped chest that only the rogue can handle is fine. But if it's a major part of the session, set it up in such a way that multiple people can contribute.

The other thing is, it can be cool if these things evolve in response to the player's actions, and if the consequences for failure are interesting complications. For example, say the party wants to negotiate with a Duke who's normally tough to get an audience with, but who will attend a certain ball. Getting into the ball and impressing the duke can form a sort of ongoing "skill challenge" (regardless of whether you actually follow the skill challenge rules by the book)--if they fail their "disguise ourselves" check, maybe they can't pull off effective noble disguises, and are forced to sign on as temporary waitstaff. It still isn't impossible to talk to the duke, but it's become trickier--perhaps then at the ball one of the party, while disguised as a waiter, might use his history check to display an unusual knowledge of fine vintage wines, impressing the duke and drawing him into conversation.

Obviously if the party just straight up fails everything, then they fail and need a new plan. Failure shouldn't be ruled out as a possibility. But you should set things up so that any one failure along the way doesn't necessarily guarantee failure of the whole enterprise, but rather adds obstacles or complications they need to work around.

Stick to these general ideas (involve the whole party, failure as complication) and you'll be getting the intended benefit of the skill challenge system, without getting too bogged down in slavishly following a somewhat clunky and forced mechanic.
 

ESkemp

Registered User
Validated User
So if you only allow long rests in 'safe places' and intend on having more than 4-5 encounters between rests unless you use a series of under level encounters are you pretty much setting the party up for a TPK.
My reservation about long rests in safe places is slightly different: it's probably not as much fun at 1st level. At 1st level, characters have their at-wills, one encounter power, and one daily. If it's a long time between safe rests, generally you'll wind up with several fights where they ask themselves "Is this the round I use something other than an at-will?", and then once they do use that encounter power, every subsequent choice is "which at-will do I use?"

Also, I would add at least one skill to the trained skill list for every class you bring up to an equal number of trained skills. I do this; if I didn't, with only five skills on the class skill list, every human fighter would be trained in all five they get from the PHB as-is. I would prefer for them to have at least a little more choice than that.
 
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