Jan 9, 2013

Determining Adventure Module Difficulty Part 3: Example & Spreadsheets

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Part 1

Part 2

In my adventure The Horrendous Heap of Sixteen Cities there are 17 monsters with an average Hit Die of about 3.  The standard deviation is also about 3.  It's pretty big becuase I have a couple of outliers; the Garbage Golum and Great Heap Worm.  So, using my new system, this module is a:

Low Level Adventure for Character Levels 0-6
It makes sense that this adventure would have a wider range of character levels becuase of the exceptionally large monsters.  Spreadsheets makes this sort of thinking easy.  In fact, a monster spreadsheet is a very handy tool for GMs.  Because you can quickly sort monsters by a variety of factors, not only does it give you a good idea of the relative difficulty, but it helps plan encounters and create logical environments.  Don't let "logical" scare you, I'm not necesarily talking about biology, but gaming mechanics.

For example, if you expect your players to run around at night you can sort the monsters (see picture above) by their activity classificiation (diurnal, noctural, cathederal, etc) to see if there is enough variety and/or liklihood that they encounter the monsters you want them to.

You can also create images on the fly to think about your games in new ways.  For example, I can plot HD as a bar graph (see above) and see something very interesting about my adventure:  It's either going to be relatively easy or very difficult without much middle ground.

Compare that Heap data to my data from my upcoming adventure, Menagerie of the Snow Lord, which offers a far gentler slope of difficulty reflected in the subtitle:

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

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You can also create fun line graphs of your monsters to think about, not only the game you run, but the trends in your monster creation.

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In this line graph using the same Heap monsters as listed in the first image, I chose to compare the number encountered, AC, HD, number of attacks, and maximum possible damage.  When I do this (and they're still sorted by HD), I see some interesting things in my own style of monster creation.  I see that, while I vary my damage greatly, the number of attacks is remarkably consistent.  Boringly so.  This is something I need to change more in the future.  I also notice little correlation between HD and the other factors I inlcuded here. 

This last point further weakens my damage naming algorithm, but I'm still sticking with it, to paraphrase Starship Troopers, until I find something that does the job beter.

Also, I can use this graph to see what monsters are really nasty, as opposed to simply high HD monsters.  If I see a single monster (a number on the x-axis) with corresponding spikes in many factors, I know they're going to be really tough.  Inversely, if I see a monster with a high HD, but inverted spikes for the other categories, I know it's more of a bluffing monster.  That is, it looks harder to defeat than it really is.

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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!