Massive Challenge every now and then ......

twiggyleaf
twiggyleaf
edited January 2011 in General Discussion
I just wanted to see how fellow DMs (and also players) felt about this:

Most of my campaign is set within the confines of relatively appropriate Challenge Rating. (Appropriate to the level of the Characters and the Campaign) but occasionally I feel like putting in something much more potent! (Challenging the characters beyond what they should usually have to encounter). My argument for this is that sometimes, this is how life works out.

(Understand, I am not aiming for Total Party Kill here and it is VERY IMPORTANT that this does not happen in the first two thirds of my campaign, but I am setting a MASSIVE random encounter for my players soon. Theoretically, they should lose, but I believe they will WIN the day. I don't know how, but I am giving them the benefit of the doubt.)

How do other DMs (players) feel about this policy?

"I met a traveller from an antique land....."

CotM May 2016: Mysteria: set in Wolfgang Baur’s MIDGARD.

Previous CotM Aug 2012: Shimring: High Level Multiplanar Campaign

Inner Council Member

Comments

  • DarkMagus
    DarkMagus
    Posts: 425
    I think it can be a useful tool to teach the party when to run and fight another day to occasionally put them in over their heads. If they think that they can defeat everything that comes their way because the players know that the DM always balances out challenge ratings then there's too much metagaming and a difficult encounter can put them back into character, and some fear into the characters. Some of the best experiences I've had as a player were for a DM who I always felt had no qualms killing a PC or putting in a monster that is too tough. It really makes you think as that character would instead of as a player looking for more combat XP. Also if they overcome this challenge the rewards (both self esteem and treasure) should be phenomenal. That can be worth it alone.
  • arsheesh
    arsheesh
    Posts: 850
    I agree with DM, a little bit of fear every now and then can be healthy for PCs; hopefully it will prevent them from gaining a superman complex. Anyway if you look on table 3-2 of the DMG (for D&D 3.5e) it suggests that around 5% of the battles a party faces in a given adventure ought to be Overpowering (that is, CR 5+ higher than party level).

    Now this is even coming from 3e D&D, a system that is both focused upon balanced encounters and a reasonable expectation of attaining higher, perhaps even epic, level play. If you talk to an OD&D or AD&D enthusiast, they are likely to point out that one of the things the enjoy about earlier systems is that combat is more "gritty": PC death is an "expectation", rather than an "exception" within the typical campaign. Balance is not considered as much of a priority (or even a virtue) in these systems. Battles are quick and often deadly, and it is only exceptionally experienced, smart and/or lucky PCs that make it to high levels. So you definitely do have a precedent in place here if you want to throw in more challenging encounters. I tend that direction myself (keeps things interesting).

    One thing to be careful about however, is to let your players know ahead of time that they are going to face some challenges that they are not likely to be able to overcome; or at least not without severe casualties. That way they don't just go charging in to every combat thinking success is a fore-drawn conclusion.

    Cheers,
    -Arsheesh
  • DarkMagus
    DarkMagus
    Posts: 425
    I've been thinking about this and I wanted to add one more comment.

    PC deaths can also be an interesting oppertunity or useful tool for a new plot element. Examples: Maybe a God or demi-God brings them back from the dead. Maybe they tell the group the reason, if not it could be a mystery. If they do maybe there are strings attached. Maybe the character is reincarnated (if that fits your cosmology) in another form and a whole adventure or series of adventures can revolve around finding them in their new form and then finding a means of transforming the character to their "old self" . Maybe they have to seek a hidden mystic or a powerful wizard transmuter to polymorph them back... Anything like that.

    I had a player die long ago when I was still an my early years of gaming and DMing. His death wasn't his fault, it was caused by another players poor decision. They were supposed to be killing a room full of sleeping vampires and this one kid went around knocking over the coffins and woke them all up. This particular player sacrificed himself to protect the party. Instead of killing him off we reworked his character as a vampire so he could keep playing. It added a whole new dimension (of coolness) to his character.

    I never reward players for bad decisions or bad roleplaying. I always do my best to be fair to players who are smart and role play well. Also, rewarding PCs in an interesting way for heroic deaths can be fun for everyone.

    None of this has really been an issue in my current campaign but its definately getting me to think about changing pace a bit for whatever I run next. Maybe I'll start off telling people to roll up two characters in case one dies. Right off the bat that'd probbaly put enough fear into them that they'd always think before they acted.
  • Poutine_Paladin
    Poutine_Paladin
    Posts: 285
    I agree with Arsheesh's assertion that the players have to know ahead of time that these encounters are a very real possibility, as it's not really fair to lead them along with easy/slightly challenging, but not really life-threatening encounters for a while and then suddenly pitch them something that could annihilate them. If they are fully aware that they need to run/play defense sometimes, then by all means tru to kill them once in a while and see if they make the right decisions in that regard.

    I also agree with Dark's illustration of ways that character death can be utilized to further (or change the direction of) storylines in fun and interesting ways. One must always keep in mind that in a fantasy world (well, most ones I've played in, anyway) death does not need to spell the end of a character, but just another obstacle to overcome.
  • twiggyleaf
    twiggyleaf
    Posts: 1,792
    Thanks for all your comments so far, Guys.
    I will definitely let them know they may be in for something a bit heavier than usual. I had already intimated this through "in game" prophesy but it is a bit cryptic so I will also take your advice and tell the players OOC that they should expect some HEAVY opposition.
    Arsheesh - thanks for pointing out table 3-2. With my players it is always useful to have a "RULES PRECEDENT".

    As for Death, well they are all aware that for some reason, if they die, they are TRUE RESURRECTED if they do not use a spell of their own, but this is at the expense of their most powerful magical item (the reasons for which I cannot go into in case one of them reads this). They should still want to avoid this as much as possible.

    "I met a traveller from an antique land....."

    CotM May 2016: Mysteria: set in Wolfgang Baur’s MIDGARD.

    Previous CotM Aug 2012: Shimring: High Level Multiplanar Campaign

    Inner Council Member

  • FemmeLegion
    FemmeLegion
    Posts: 521
    One way to introduce the possibility might be to, when giving players the background of the world, mention some other heroes that are currently renowned in the world.

    Then have the town they're in get word that these heroes had gone up against a threat not too far from here, and been slain. Maybe someone's trying to take up a collection to get these guys revived because at the moment they're the best hope the world has.

    Make it clear that these other heroes were much stronger than the PCs are at the time, and they got wiped.

    With any luck, it will teach them that there is real danger, really close. It can also make a great plot point to revisit later when the PCs would find the encounter a "fair fight".

    Man, I love it when I give myself ideas. ;)
  • gnunn
    gnunn
    Posts: 423
    Everyone is throwing out some excellent advice. I also ran a bigger fish encounter recently, because I felt that my players should realize they can't just destroy everything. Some things that I felt worked really well for me that I think are good to keep in mind:

    * Advanced knowledge of the opponent's power can prevent bone-headed ideas about fighting an unwinnable fight. In my case, my level 8 players were up against a level 14 nightwing. They knew it was in the area, but knew they had to cross it to complete their mission. They succeeded on knowledge checks and conducted reasearch to prepare for their crossing. As a result, they did a mad dash from cover to cover to avoid it, instead of fighting.

    * Consider limiting the opponent's time confronting the players. In my case, after my players had withstood 10 rounds of withering attacks, I had the nightwing suddenly pull away in response to a beacon originating from the building where my players were headed. Arriving on site to find a swarm of the creatures circling a tower and totally ignoring the PCs added a sense of dread about the BBEG... anyone who can control the behavior of such beasts is nobody to be trifled with.

    Other ways to limit the exposure to an overpowering enemy could include placing it in a confined space that the heroes must traverse, or using an opponent that can only remain present for a short amount of time (e.g. an extra-planar being in an area of fluctuating planar energy.)
  • Dyluth
    Dyluth
    Posts: 92
    I think I would have to agree with the consensus of the thread thus far, that not only is it acceptable to throw an obstacle or a villain outside of your party's challenge rating their way once in a while, it's quite healthy for a party's mentality to know that player death is a strong possibility in the world you've created for them.
  • gnunn
    gnunn
    Posts: 423
    Ooh!

    Gnome Stew had an "excellent article":http://www.gnomestew.com/gming-advice/i-hate-the-ice-level?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+GnomeStew+%28Gnome+Stew%29 today addressing some of the "don'ts" of challenging encounter design. I thought it was an excellent read and potentially pertinent to the thread.
  • Duskreign
    Duskreign
    Posts: 1,085
    Oh, gnunn, you find me the best reading materials :D
  • RaseCidraen
    RaseCidraen
    Posts: 890
    Spectacular - I loved reading the comments, even. Mortal de Murder indeed.
  • twiggyleaf
    twiggyleaf
    Posts: 1,792
    Thanks again everyone for your further comments. Femme Legion, your idea of "hype through rumour" is pretty cool, but probably not appropriate to this particular encounter, which is a BIG random encounter pre-set. I have now already warned the players OOC that they could encounter something heavier than usual.
    Gnunn, I also like your idea of the enemy having a "limited time to engage" but again in this instance, it is not appropriate, although the enemy are intelligent and will retreat if they feel it is not going altogether their way - i.e. they are NOT "fight to the death" die-hards. Your article link was also a very useful read.

    Thanks all.

    "I met a traveller from an antique land....."

    CotM May 2016: Mysteria: set in Wolfgang Baur’s MIDGARD.

    Previous CotM Aug 2012: Shimring: High Level Multiplanar Campaign

    Inner Council Member

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