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Building combat encounters:

•1 – The “center of gravity” of the encounter. The default center of gravity is the party itself. The party will generally not move far from their starting position unless there is a stronger “pull” elsewhere on the map. This could be something as simple as ranged attackers that have good cover to more complicated incentives like civilians that are in immediate danger (safely in a cage won’t do) or a lever that shuts off the poison gas that is filling the room.

•2 – The effect of terrain/hazards/traps have on the encounter. The effect of the terrain can be estimated by considering the impact of any difficult or hazardous terrain as modified by where the center of gravity is on the map. A map full of difficult terrain will have little impact in a typical ambush encounter, (except perhaps on the ambushers) since the party won’t be moving much anyway. If there is only one way for the party to go (down a hallway for example) and the center of gravity is at the end of the hall, then any terrain will have a much greater impact.

•3 – Monsters. For the Smuggler group monsters have presented an interesting challenge. The increase in party size gives a disproportionate increase in their ability to manage threats from monsters (the rules are optimized for a party of 5). As the party increases in level, it is becoming ever more difficult to challenge the group through #’s (and it makes battles take longer too). Feel free to experiment with different ways to increase the challenge without increasing battle complexity too much. The current method of most success is to have fewer monsters and just have them do more damage (anywhere from 30-100% more).

•4 – The capabilities of the characters. Some challenges can be completely bypassed by character abilities. This doesn’t mean you have to build every encounter in such a way that the characters have to do everything the hard way. Just keep in mind that your best laid plans may not turn out like you thought. Try to give the players their victory unless doing so would kill your story (or leave the party with nothing to do the rest of the night).

•5 – Each combat turn for the Smuggler group (generally 7 players) takes roughly 1/2 hour in a typical encounter. This estimate is a good rule of thumb when planning.

Skill challenges:

•1 If possible, include something for everyone. If that’s not possible, make the challenge short.

•2 See •4 in the combat encounters section.

Campaigns / Adventure story arcs

It dawned on me recently that the party has generally become tired of just about any story arc after 3 or 4 play sessions, so if you have an epic story line, break it up into small chunks and let the party do other stuff between “episodes” (we have generally done this with DM switches naturally, but I think it’s something we should start just planning into our adventures).

Milestones and Extended Rests

In order to combat the tendency of the party to take frequent extended rests, try to build in a “clear and present danger” to stopping to take a rest or a deadline that must be met for the quest to be considered a success. For example, the party must reach the safety of town by sunset or decisively terrible things will happen (to the party or the town). Or, an NPC that the party cares about has been taken hostage and the party must accomplish x, y, and z before he/she is executed. Just remember that the party must 1) know what they are supposed to do and 2) know why they need to keep going (instead of stopping for a rest) otherwise they will play it safe.

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Smugglers of Kristophan TheWereSloth