Content of the article: "Dynamic encounter design: as a DM, the rules serve YOU, not the other way around"
Just in case you guys see this: spoilers for a game involving Crest, Bright, and Kareem
So, for my most recent session, I ran a combat encounter involving three baby purple worms. I had three things that I wanted to accomplish with this encounter:
- Demonstrate that purple worms in my setting have a fire breath weapon.
- Provide the players with an easy encounter to have fun with their new abilities (they just levelled up)
- And give the players a choice as to whether or not to allow the worms to flee (whatever they choose will have narrative consequences)
So, I pulled up D&DBeyond, found the stat block for a purple wormling (CR 2), and used kobold fight club to find the right number for an easy encounter versus my three level 10 players. Then I wrote out a fire breath weapon, recharge 6, targeting a single creature, with a dex save to take half damage. I figured out the damage by roughly calculating how much damage a wormling would do with multiattack, and had the breath weapon do the same amount so it wouldn't change the CR. First two bullet points done and done.
Now, I probably could have just left the encounter there, and had the wormlings flee at low hp. There are, however, two major problems with this. First, with the breath weapon, the worms will just all use fire on the first round, then, statistically, probably never recharge it and just attack physically for the rest of the fight. I find that boring. Second, with low CR creatures and high-level characters, it's incredibly likely that the PCs would kill the worms before they'd even have a chance to flee, robbing themselves of the choice. To resolve these problems, we have to take narrative control of the fight.
My first change was to remove the recharge from the breath weapon. Instead, I just decided that a different worm would use the breath weapon each round. Now we're mixing the fight up, interspersing blasts of fire amongst bite attacks and stinger jabs. The players don't know what kind of attack will come at them next, and are kept on their toes.
Now, to make sure the players got to choose to let them worms live, I had to stretch the rules a bit further. I decided that a wormling that dropped to 0 hp wouldn't fall unconscious or die. Instead, it would keep on fighting, and I wouldn't keep track of any damage dealt to it until the start of its next turn. Then, on its turn, a wormling at 0hp will not attack and will try to run away, and once it is actively fleeing, any damage dealt to it will kill it. This way, the players don't risk obliterating the worms before they can do anything, and they get to choose whether or not to shoot an enemy that's running away. It ensures that they get to make a meaningful choice.
TL;DR: don't tie yourself to mechanics like hp and attack recharging. They are tools in your DMing toolbox, and while they can be very useful, you shouldn't be afraid to tweak them to make the game more fun and the narrative more interesting.
- Applying status effects on key NPC attacks?
- Eldritch Blast Variant Invocations:
- Would this be unfair to my players? /how do I make this combat more unique
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