Jan 8, 2013

Determining Adventure Module Difficulty Part 2: My Solution


I settled on a system for quantifying and naming the difficulty level of my adventure modules.  A weakness is that it accounts for monster difficulty, but not environmental hazards and sandbox playstyle, but I think it gives a fairly accurate snapshot for prospecting Game Masters.

Since Labyrinth Lord lays out information to 20 levels in the main book, I created three broad categories:

Low-Level Adventure:  Levels 1-6

Mid-Level Adventure:  Levels 7-14

High-Level Adventure:  Levels 15-20

To determine which category from the three above, calculate the average monster HD in the adventure.  Then add and subtract the standard deviation from the HD average to create a level range.

Step 1:  Average the HD for all of the monster/encounters in the adventure.

Step 2:  Calculate the standard deviation for the HD of all of the monsters/encounters in the adventure.

Step 3:  The level range is created by adding and subtracting the standard deviation rounded to the nearest whole number to the average (from step 1).

For example, in my upcoming adventure, Menagerie of the Ice Lord, there are 29 monsters with a total of 76 HD, giving an average of 2.6... which I round to 3.  The same data set has a standard deviation of 1.5678... which I round to 2.  Therefore, the recomended level range is 1-5 (3-2 and 3+2).  The final subtitle for the adventure, therefore, is: 


A Low-Level Fantasy Adventure for Character Levels 1-5

8 comments:

  1. How do you calculate the traps and such? Does the depth of the pit get determined by the difficulty level? For example most beginning adventures will have a 10' pit. If its a 9th level adventure does the pit level get deeper, say 90'? I am curious if that's calculated in. Interesting post and something I always struggle with when I make level suggestions.

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  2. I don't include traps in my formula because I couldn't settle on a method to quantify them. Perhaps I could count traps as monsters, assigning them different "HD" based on difficulty, lethality, etc.

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    1. For traps I would consider first and foremost their potential damage dice, and simply treat them like monsters' HD's

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  3. I just did the same calculation for the dungeon beneath Zenopus' Tower as given in the Holmes Basic D&D Rules. It has approx. 27 monsters ranging from 1/4 HD to 6 HD with an average which rounds to 1 and a standard deviation which also rounds to 1. So I guess it is suitable for characters from level 0 to 2. That's good for an introductory adventure, right? :^)

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    1. That makes sense. I may have to go back through my classic modules and see if there are similar results. Thanks!

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  4. I may be missing something you already covered but what jumps out at me is the number of monsters per room/encounter. Two mind flayers in one room is bigger challenge than they are individually. A troll with 10 orcs is much tougher than 10 orcs then one troll.

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  5. Damn you Blogger! lost my comment again.

    I was just going to ask about how much it matters how the monsters are spread out -- 10 orcs and one troll in one room is a bit tougher than 10 orcs here and a troll there, and so on. I suppose it could be arguably up to the players to figure out a way to deal with monsters in detail regardless of how they appear in the module...

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    1. Great point, Mike. This my simplistic method certainly does not account for this factor. Nor special abilities, nor liklihood of encounter. I could create an algorithm to account for all these factors and more and if monsters are kept in a spreadsheet, such an endeavor would be relatively easy. However, I don't think most people use spreadsheets in such a way. Hmmm....

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