Jan 2, 2013

Determining Adventure Module Difficulty

I often wonder how publishers create their recommendations for player level.  I'd like to think there is a system, but if there is, I can't figure it out.  For a while I discounted their importance altogether.  However, as I began to publish more adventure one of the most frequent questions was, "What is the adventure level?"  So, I suppose it's something I should begin including, but how do I do it systematically?

Right now my system is to average all of the Hit Dice for all of the monster encounters and use that as my experience level.  For example, in my Extra Stout adventure, the sum of all 11 monsters's HD is 42, so I rounded the difficulty level to 4 (42/11~4).

I'm not fully satisfied with this method because it fails to account for the many dangerous factors other than monsters.  Traps, items, and other environmental hazards can adjust relative difficulty.  This system also doesn't account for the probability of encountering certain hazards.  This last problem is more pronounced in more sandboxy-style of play.

I'm not concerned with balance, but I am very concerned about giving potential customers an accurate snapshot of the relative difficulty.  So, until I come up with something better, this is the system I plan on using.  You can expect to see this begin with my next adventure, Menagerie of the Ice Lord.  It has a difficulty level of 3, by the way, and should be available for sale before the end of January!

Here are some of my illustrations for Menagerie:


  1. I tend to think there are actually 3 categories where modules belong to, concerning difficulty:
    - low levels (1-3)
    - mid levels (4-6)
    - high levels (7+)

    This is much easier than giving an exact level rating for the module but still informs the DM what to expect. Also, it takes into account that larger parties of lower level characters might be capable of accomplishing similar deeds to a smaller party of a bit higher level characters.

  2. What if you use the average HD rating as the low range and add 3? That would make Extra Stout for levels 4-6. Of course, that doesn't address the issue of party SIZE. It might take math like "For 1-3 characters + X (where X is a function of something like number of monsters and traps divided by the average HD or levels or something...)

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  4. This one is always tough to calculate. I usually got with the generic low level, mid level or high level, but without specifying too much. But I do try to narrow it down. Or I try to suggest total levels of the party. If you find a magic formula please pass it along. Me banging my bald head on my desk never seems to work.


Thanks for posting to the Digital Orc! Be sure to pick up a copy of one of my old-school modules available at RPGNow.com!