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D&D 3E
New Member, New DM, New Problems 
30th-Sep-2004 11:49 pm
Okay, so I'm leading my first D&D campaign. I'm using a 3.5 Player's Handbook, and 3.0 DM guide/monster manual/etc. I read up and study everything for a month before the first play session, and figure I know most of what I need to. Cue the problems.

The encounter levels don't seem to work well, and the treasure the DM guide says to give them seems way too much. My playgroup consists of 8 2nd-level players, which according to the DM guide is an EL of 4. But whether I toss them 1 creature with CR 4, 2 with CR 2, or 8 with CR 1/2, it doesn't faze them. Then, when a foe (CR 1/2) happens to get in a shot, it's enough to take out half or more of a PC's HP. Is this normal?

Plus, the guide says that when the players win something with EL 1, they should get 300gp of stuff. EL 4, they should get 1200gp. Most of them could go to town after one dungeon and get pretty much anything they want! Am I overestimating things? One player suggested that we have a surplus of money because our party has no item-crafting mages.

I can only think of two reasons for these problems - one, we have a large group of players (nearly twice as big as "normal"). The other is one PC who's more than a little unbalanced in the stats. 24 str, 4 int. I've talked to him and he's agreed to let his character be a little nerfed as long as he can still play it.

Any advice would really be appreciated. I've spent two play sessions trying to figure this out so far, and I'm a bit lost. I don't want it to start messing with the storyline.
30th-Sep-2004 09:58 pm (UTC)

first off, here's something that will help out greatly: it's an encounter level calculator that should first off, help you calculate your EL's much easier....

now because you're running a large table (something i wouldn't recommend for a new DM) just take it easy and remember the DM's secret rule

oh...and a set of all 3.0 or 3.5 bookis to work from... if you're gonna use 3.5 rules then try to get all 3.5 books...they were all written so you can cross reference as needed... using the boks like you are is gonna cause minor headaches.....
30th-Sep-2004 11:14 pm (UTC)
Yeah, we're all college students, we don't have near the money to run out and buy a new round of books for everyone. Thanks for the advice, though. The EL calculator helped me realize that just putting up two CR4s don't really make it a EL8 encounter.
30th-Sep-2004 09:59 pm (UTC)
I'll leave the answers to your actual questions to some other number-crunching DM. (But 24 STR on a level 2 PC? You musta had some crazy stat rules.)

My advice: Forget EL and CR calculations. Get to know what your party is capable of (how much damage they can both take and dish out), and tweak encounters to what you think is an appropriate challenge. Accordingly, reward them what you want them to have, or if you're a realist GM (like me), don't give them any rewards they wouldn't realistically get (e.g. gold randomly popping out of slain monsters in the wilderness... what?). My players get XP from encounters. That's it. :P If I want them to have something, they'll get it (or, more often, work for it) some other way.
30th-Sep-2004 11:21 pm (UTC)
I totally hear you on the customization front - that's what I'm trying to do right now, but something's just drastically off, you can tell. Rock on with the realistic rewards.

As for Gor the Barbarian...I allowed a couple of races from a recent issue of DRAGON Magazine, one of which was the Half-Ogre template. Seems harmless enough, right? Only +1 level adjustment. Well, one of my players had the bright idea of applying the template to the Half-Orc race, which supplied us with Gor, a Large critter with STR twenty-something, decent DEX, and WIS/INT of 4. It's possible. Just a huge headache.
30th-Sep-2004 10:25 pm (UTC)
>My playgroup consists of 8 2nd-level players, which according to the DM guide is an EL of 4. But whether I toss them 1 creature with CR 4, 2 with CR 2, or 8 with CR 1/2, it doesn't faze them.

An EL usually refers to the monsters the party is fighting, not the party itself. Okay, it COULD be that, but only if the party was doing some sort of crazy FF4 fighting the mirror thingy... (: ELs in the monster manual are calculated so that 4 PCs all fighting at the level of the EL should be able to fight around 4 battles without having to rest. Calculating proper challenge when you have more than 6 PCs gets very iffy, especially if you have munchkins, like you seem to. In any case, don't feel too bad about ELs being somewhat off at low levels, when the PCs all have such low HP that lucky shots by enemies can easily spell doom.

Since you have 8 rather than 4 players, it's reasonable to assume you're going to need roughly double the EL to make a good challenge, but such assumptions can be very wrong. Like with players, more than 6 enemies gets (if nothing else) aukward. Mathematicaly it all works out, but not always in actual game play. (:

So in conclusion, get good at guessing proper challenges or start killing of PCs. (:

As far as treasure goes, if you use the treasure charts (or my personal favorite, a generator) then the average value for an EL1 treasure would be 300, but sometimes it would be higher, and sometimes lower. And unless you have a party of 7 paladins and 1 rouge (and if you do, god help you), that wealth should get spread around pretty evenly. As the party advances, items get exponentially more expensive (+4*+4*2000+300=no money left), so don't worry now if they seem to have way too much loot. I used to feel the same way about XP. (:
30th-Sep-2004 11:27 pm (UTC)
>An EL usually refers to the monsters the party is fighting, not the party itself.

Maybe I phrased this badly...the party I'm playing with DESERVES an encounter with an EL of 4. In the guide, the formula seems to be "sum of the party character levels divided by 4 = preferable EL". so (8*2)/4=4. As pyromancyr's EL calc showed, though, that might not be the case.

Point well taken about the treasure. It still seems a bit drastic, but I suppose it'll be different when we get into enchanted stuff. Thanks for the input.
30th-Sep-2004 10:43 pm (UTC)
How'd you end up with a 2nd level character with strength 24? Assuming the point buy system, that gets you 18 if you take crap other stats, +2 str for an orc, that's 20...

On the EL, not that it matters, but a group of 8 2nd level characters is an EL8...

Anyhow, I regularly run for a party of 8 players we've reached epic levels after 4+ years of playing. 1st off, extra players make a huge difference in party power level. A party of 5 players is probably about 30-40% more powerful than a 4 player party, a 6 player part is getting on towards double... Basically, at low levels, a party has 4 standard actions available to it, and the monsters are balanced based on that assumption. Each additional player provides a big power swing. After all, even if the monsters take a player down, there are plenty of hands avaiable to cast cure spells, or administer a potion...

To match a swarm of low level players, swarms of equal size help lots, or your monster has to be much tougher. As you noticed, individual 2nd level characters can be pretty darn fragile, so bigger monster can quickly mean PC deaths. What I recommend doing is hitting the party with swarms of low powered monsters. Deliberately spread the attacks out so that you don't focus on one or two players, or you'll take them down quickly.

Also, don't forget to be drastically reducing XP gained. with 5 players it is reasonable to shift the XP reward down one column, for 6 2 columns, for 8 judgement call, but 2-4 is not unreasonable.

Don't sweat the monetary rewards, just stick to the wealth by level guidelines and things should be relatively balanced. Anyhow, if you provide an EL4 encounter for the party and give them 1200gp, that is only 150gp each. Also note that treasure rewards are an average, some encounters will give more, some less. Regardless, don't worry about it too much, after a few encounters the party can buy all the mundane gear they want, but magic items will still be a challenge to afford. That's the real money sink, at least until they get to the point where they start building keeps all over the place.
30th-Sep-2004 11:39 pm (UTC)
See the endeavor21 reply - using the Half-Ogre template from DRAGON Magazine on the Half-Orc race can result in a PC that's near 25 STR, but dumb as the stump he's swinging.

Actually, knowing the EL8 thing is quite helpful. Sending 10 1/2CR critters against them (as I did tonight) is still just a CR5 - I should be stepping things up a notch or two. Swarms of weenies (to borrow an MTG term) sounds like the logical direction. Or possibly breaking the team into two seperate RPG parties of 4 on different nights?

Thanks a lot for the XP info - I'd not taken that into account. I might just leave it as it is for now to get them out of the low levels quickly, but I'll need to keep an eye on that.

I suppose I'm underestimating the treasure - 150gp seems like a lot to me for one encounter, but I suppose the magic items will bring a new factor into it. Thanks a lot for your input, you've been the most helpful so far. :)
30th-Sep-2004 10:45 pm (UTC)
An encounter of euqal CR shoudl expend 20% of the resources of a party of 4.

CR 4 = 20^% of resources of a party of 4 4th level characters.

resources = spells, HP, magic items etc...
30th-Sep-2004 11:29 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but that's not holding true here, that's the whole point of the post. I can put them up against TWO CR4s and it barely daunts them. Thanks anyway.
30th-Sep-2004 11:53 pm (UTC)
You have to get teh 3.5 books together, as stated above. Being a college student myself, I ordered them off of Overstock and saved myself quite a bit. Type in Dungeons and Dragons in the search box, and it will come with an item where you can get teh 3.5 Monster Manual/DM Guide/PLayer's Guide 3.5 together for around $50. You can also buy them individually for about $17 each, if I remember right.

With that in mind, be careful of using templates as a beginner. Try to stick to the basic books as you start, and introduce expansion rules as you go along. Some expansion rules are anything but balanced. And also, my first session as a player, my 1st level mage died in one hit--it happens. Yeah, when a monster hits a low level character, it should hurt pretty bad unless they have some good Constitution beef ups.
1st-Oct-2004 07:00 am (UTC) - Agreed!
Spriksie is right: mixing 3E and 3.5 leads to problems. There are some fairly significant changes between editions (personally, I'm running an all 3E game). Also, allowing "anything under the sun" is not a good idea for a newbie DM; I've been DMing for years and have never given players carte blanche.

My Suggestions: Have everyone leave their character sheet after gaming. If possible, copy them (or scan them, or whatever). Look for the weaknesses of the characters, and play to them. For instance, the PC with a 24 Strength is a monster in melee combat, but may not do well at ranged combat. Or since he has the most "vitality", he would be targetted first by Shadows, who drain strength. How good are that PC's Will saves... no matter how strong he/she is, being Charmed or paralyzed neutralizes the party's advantage there.

Another thing to consider is the tactics you're using. How smart are the monsters fighting, what kind of tactics (and dirty tricks) are they using, etc? Take advantage of the rules: use flanking to improve attacks, archers with prepared actions waiting to disrupt spellcasters, or feats that the PCs have (or want!). Give the monsters minor magic items; potions of Invisibility, Barkskin, and Bear's Endurance can make a low level grunt much more powerful, and spell scrolls can boost their spellcasters' ability.

I have another rule too: due to "environmental pressure" (and the fact that I throw the PCs a lot of bones) I automatically give creatures maximum hit points. It saves me a lot of time, and reduces the chances of encounters being too easy. If that's too extreme, you could just rule that anything less than half the die's maximum (5 on a d10, 6 on a d12, etc) is the minimum roll.
1st-Oct-2004 01:46 am (UTC)
My advice: ditch the EL/CR system. Read the monster descriptions, and think of if they'd be challenging to your group; if need be, tweak things. Kobolds remain, in any edition, my favorite monster. Used cleverly, they can challenge even medium-high level characters.

As for XP and treasure - if you want, award them according to the official CR. Personally, I tend to award based on how difficult things were. If they squashed the monsters despite being lower-level and theoretically weaker, they didn't do that much and thus don't get as much XP - unless the victory was due to a stunningly brilliant idea or spectacularly solid teamwork above and beyond the norm. Treasure should be handled logically. An angry bear won't have any gold, gems, or the like - but you could potentially skin it and tan the hide, if it didn't get too damaged during the fight. On the flip side, no self-respecting hobgoblin is gonna be caught dead in crude hides; leather armor, however smelly, ill-maintained, and flea-infested, is almost certain.

Magical items shouldn't just be lying in the treasure heap of intelligent monsters, either. If you know you've got a magical longsword, why would you pick to use a plain steel sword instead? Potions are more likely to be found on the bodies of enemies who died too fast to drink them, and wands in the hands of more intelligent opponents. Scrolls are a possibility, but less likely than you'd expect at first glance - why keep the scroll stashed away, if you need it to defend yourself?

Anyhow, enough prattling from me for now. Hope this helps.
1st-Oct-2004 10:59 am (UTC)
Y'know, I completely overlooked little expendable items like potions. Can't believe I had a blind spot that big. Thanks.
1st-Oct-2004 05:02 am (UTC)
My advice is not all that different from the other posts, so I'll limit it. I used to run a group of 8 characters. I ended up ditching the CR system. It is ok to get a baseline, but that's about it. Obviously a bunch of 2nd levels aren't going to be able to take on a CR12.

I too have found that quantity of monsters is better with larger parties. The goal is to keep everyone occupied so that no more than 2 or maybe 3 can concentrate on any one individual monster (or if they do, the monsters will gang up on one of them).

Another bit of advice I often give: fudge the numbers. If they are taking down a creature too fast, give it more HP "behind the screen". Have it make more of its saving throws when your roll really failed. If the situation allows, have other baddies "show up". I always follow that bit with a bit of caution. You don't want to get into a rut where every encounter, the PCs are waiting for the 2nd batch to show up. You also want to allow the little failures for more "realism".
1st-Oct-2004 11:31 am (UTC)
Yeah, that's what I've been doing so far, fudging with the numbers a bit. It's kept things in line so far, but I'm hoping to (and I think I have, this community is a huge help) figure out where I was erring so I can worry more about atmosphere and plotline and stop worrying that the Orc's 1d12+3 attack is going to wipe someone out after everyone's already done their share with good rolls. Anyhoo...thanks for the input.
1st-Oct-2004 06:58 am (UTC)
You also may want to think tactically. Plan your encounters to give the monsters an advantage. Archers at the top of a cliff, hidey holes, booby traps, reserve groups attacking with suprise from behind, etc. Whatever fits the terrain and style of the critters. Also consider that most intellegent monsters will recognize who the big threats in the party are and act accordingly. Ether focusing on them, or trying to cull the weaker members quickly and then go after the biggies. If you play the monsters as smartly as the PCs play their characters, you can make them really fear even the lowliest of beasties. If they see a group of Kobolds, instead of just charging in, make 'em paranoid about where 'the rest' might be lurking in wait. A bit of tension at the table can liven up the game.
Also consider the weaknesses of the party. What are they NOT good at? Exploit their flaws to create challenges. Have enemy spellcasters throw mind control spells at the big brute and send him on a rampage against the party. Will saves are his weakness, exploit that. Same sort of thing for others in the party.
1st-Oct-2004 11:15 am (UTC)
You know, you're right...I'd been randomizing the creatures' attacks so as not to seem like I was "picking on" players that were decent in combat, but it makes a lot of sense that a foe would probably attack the Large barbarian before the Small spellcaster...thanks.
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