As the world scales…..

Posted on June 23, 2010 by


A conversation came up the other day on Twitter about how  DM’s treat the world around their PC’s, in as far as the level of threats that surround them.  Is every enemy that appears, and every area the PC’s discover at the player’s level? I was fairly surprised at the different responses that came about, and how different DM’s and players see this issue.

As a DM, the world I create around the players does not exist in a reality crafted around the level of the players.  In my opinion, this would be a cheap way to populate the world, and it would break the illusion that the players live in a breathing world that isn’t crafted just for them, but rather for everyone in the campaign world.  The in-universe PC’s aren’t living in some sort of  “Truman Show” reality where the world exists for them, so (in my opinion) the world has to reflect that.

Let me backtrack a bit.  This whole thing started because in my basic red box Skype game, I threw a couple of ghouls at the party.  This party is 1st level, and in original D&D, ghouls are nasty critters.  In fact, I probably could have killed the whole party, but I pulled my punches a bit, and only killed one.  Everyone else stayed paralyzed until their paralyzed time ran out.

Now, my players in that game are all 4e players as well.  Some are old-schoolers that knew ghouls were nasty, but some come from the “4e monster school”.   What does that mean?  Well, in 4e there can be a bunch of different levels of the same monster.  Take the ghoul, there are ghouls of the following levels in 4e:  5,13, 16, 18 and 23.  Now, in 4e ghouls  no longer paralyze you, they immobilize you (save ends).  It’s a little bit different, but the overall idea is the same.  But where am I going with this?  I’m thinking that most newer players of 4e are used to the idea that if they face an encounter, chances are that the encounter is perfectly balanced for them, and they should stay and fight.  While players of older editions may look at a ghoul and decide to bolt out of there if their characters are of low level.

I remember when I played 2nd edition D&D, you’d run at the sight of a Beholder if you were too low level.  No discussion.  Now in 4e, the possibility exists that the Beholder you are facing is more or less within range of any PC level, so the only question the PC’s face is whether or not the DM balanced the encounter correctly.  I am of the belief that most 4e players assume this to be the case.

So the question you face as a DM is the following:  Do you place possible encounters or areas in your game world that may lead to the players facing higher level threats which may kill them, or do you grow the threats in the world as the pc’s grow?  Personally, I may not play “gotcha”with my PC’s and place monsters  that they can’t beat in all the areas that they explore, but I will certainly place the “Here there be Dragons” signs and foreshadow that they may not want to go there.  If they do, they’ve been warned.  How do you all play it?

By the way, this topic was part of a blog carnival of sorts, in which these other fine bloggers had something to say.  Some are players in the aforementioned skype game and experienced this first hand.

The original article that led to this topic was this one, over at Thadeous’s blog:

And these were the responses:

1. Phelanar’s Den by WolfSamurai

2. The Daily Encounter by Obsidiancrane

3. Dkarr

4. Adam Dray

5. Sarah DarkMagic

6. Init or what ?  by DeadOrcs

7. Game Crafters Guild by Brian Engard.

Posted in: 4e D&D, Gaming