Encounter Design

Discussion on game mastering Earthdawn. May contain spoilers; caution is recommended!
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Encounter Design

Post by graywulfe » Wed Nov 27, 2019 8:06 pm

I asked this question on the Discord but I thought I would ask here as well.

"So I am a fan from 1st edition days, though I only rarely had the opportunity to play. I was drawn back in by 4th edition and I am looking to introduce some new players to the game which will mean me running the game. Is there any advice somewhere about balancing encounters? I know that creatures are given a challenge rating, but what is that measured against. Is a 1st circle creature considered a reasonable threat for 1 1st circle adept or is it balanced against a full party?

I know that with the variability of power between characters of equal circle this can only go so far, but I would like to avoid making the game unfun by grossly over or underpowering encounters early on."

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Re: Encounter Design

Post by Slimcreeper » Wed Nov 27, 2019 8:30 pm

It's tough to give many guidelines, though I'm sure some people will pipe in with some rules of thumb, but I'm sure if you post any potential encounters people can give you specific feedback.

That said, here's my general thoughts:
Whenever I set up an encounter, I try to come up with a way to modify the encounter on the fly if it seems grossly unfair one way or the other.
Compare their attack steps to the baddies' defenses and damage step to figure out if they can take them down and about how many rounds it will take.
A lot of the time I ignore my GMCs armor, but that's also because I prefer shorter, deadlier combats.
Avoid the temptation to do battles with lots of baddies, esp at the beginning, and if you do have mooks on the field, let them run away before dying. On the other hand, if you only have one big bad, be prepared for the party on one-shot them.
Avoiding combat can still be a victory worth LP.

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Re: Encounter Design

Post by MetalBoar » Wed Nov 27, 2019 8:58 pm

It looks like Slimcreeper has made a lot of the same points I was going to make while I've been typing, but since I have typed it I'll post what I've got! :D

I've only played a little 4th edition at this point but I've run a number of 3rd edition games and there are a couple of fundamental things that I doubt will have changed much. The thing to really look out for in my experience is that the number of enemies can make a big difference. Large and sometimes even mid sized groups of low challenge rating creatures can be surprisingly difficult for your players to deal with, especially if the enemy uses intelligent tactics. When there are a lot more enemies than PC's the PC's penalties really start to add up. Most of the party may be Harried, their active defenses may get overwhelmed by the number of attacks, and when they're each facing multiple attacks every round sooner or later exploding die are likely to take a toll. When facing a large number of adversaries the PC's own exploding die are less valuable because while they will occasionally one shot an opponent with damage to spare that's unlikely to change the odds much in such an encounter and the extra damage is wasted. The reverse tends to be true when it comes to higher challenge rating creatures and I've found that they are frequently less challenging than they might appear at first glance and for exactly the same reasons. If they do not have minions or special abilities to prevent the PC's from encircling and ganging up on them they will face the all the same hurdles that challenges the PC's in that kind of scenario.

The composition of your party can also make a big difference. If you've got PC spell casters with good crowd control options then larger groups are less challenging. If the PC's can dish out a lot of physical damage but little mystic damage or vice versa then some opponents will be much easier or harder than their challenge rating might suggest. My last group had 3 characters with high charisma, 2 of which had very high ranks in Taunt and the 3rd had a lot of ranks in Battle Bellow and/or Battle Shout (I don't remember the details at this point). If they faced an enemy that didn't have a very strong social defense they were a terror, but if the enemy was mostly immune to this sort of power things could go sideways for them.

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Re: Encounter Design

Post by Sharkforce » Thu Nov 28, 2019 3:19 am

i'd expect to see a large difference not just based on the characters (a troubadour is not going to be able to hold off a group of enemies as effectively as a warrior, but will make a warrior more capable of hitting higher target numbers) but on players as well. experience with the system, recognizing what is or is not a powerful talent, when to use karma to get maximum value, knowing how to use talents for maximum synergy, both within a character and within a party, knowing how much of a difference it makes to face multiple opponents, how much the characters are min/maxed, how familiar they are with monster stat blocks, how willing they are to run away from an unwinnable fight, etc. and, of course, house rules. do the players know before they try to use avoid blow what the attack roll was? that's gonna make a pretty significant difference. could be the roll was just barely over your physical defence, could be that it exploded like crazy and you're wasting a point of strain and a use of avoid blow on on attack that you have a 1 in 50 chance to beat (and even if they know the roll, how well do they know their chance to make that roll?)

i imagine that can make it quite difficult to give generally applicable advice. my suggestion would be to start off small, and work your way up... or, alternately, do a bunch of one-shots to find out what works for your group, and expect to see a few TPK scenarios before you figure things out :P

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Re: Encounter Design

Post by Slimcreeper » Thu Nov 28, 2019 2:52 pm

One-shots are a great idea! Give the players a chance to try out different types of characters as well.

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Re: Encounter Design

Post by Lursi » Tue Dec 03, 2019 7:38 am

I dont care about balancing too much.

Give your players a chance to scout ahead. If they do and dont behave utterly stupid, (stupidity is the biggest TPK threat!) allow then to get a glance what is waiting ahead.

Let them decide. It is a dangerous world after all.

Make clear to them that they need a team. 4 fighters, no scout and no caster typically do not cut it.

Getting swarmed is always bad, if they allow this to happen, their tactical management has failed. Same true for the big baddie, I like these archenemies that retreat when the tide turns against them. Leaving the PC with a victory for now, but allowing a second leg or even sweet revenge.
Of all things I lost, sanity I held dearest.

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