Behind the Screen: DMs metagame too…

2007 October 3
by Dante

In our new campaign, us two DMs are in uncharted territory: we have a 17th level party. In only one session, we’ve had to make adjustments on several occasions because some different challenges exist when attempting a campaign at this level.

We are faced with the conundrum of metagaming as DMs vs. creating an enjoyable and challenging campaign.

Culture Shock

Essentially, what we’ve got here is learning a new mode of game balance. Now our characters have the ability to inflict a fair to significant level of damage, heal quickly, and immediately neuter encounters that should’ve been very difficult. Case in point: we had a gathering of heroes to prepare for a coming war. The room was filled with “adventurers of note” from the realm, and we decided to have the whole shebang ambushed by a band of hired assassins.

These assassins had a series of nefarious goals, so they were adequately outfitted with various poisonous implements. They succeeded in offing several of the NPC heroes before our bard realized that he had a song from his Seeker of the Song prestige class that would grant immunity to poison. After he blew that off, my assassins quailed under the onslaught of our party (and a few of the other remaining heroes that were left over).

Operating in a mode where your players have abilities that can immediately nullify the challenge of your encounter is a two-edged sword.

Building a Better Bad Guy

I could sit and write a long diatribe on how to tailor your bad guys to suit the environment they are made to fight in, however I don’t feel that this is always the correct path. You need to do this intelligently… if your character discovered a rare artifact that gives them immunity to fire and keeps it secret and does not flaunt it around, then will the evil evoker that they are fighting know to energy admixture his spells to ice? Not unless he makes on HELL of Gather Information check or decides to scrye in the appropriate way.

Personally, I like to operate in the following mode for directed encounters:

  • Create motive – Your individual or band of bad guys should have a reason they are doing what it is that they are doing. Without this, they’d be at home on their couch eating chips.
  • Create skills to fulfill that motive – This can be done on the fly, but should be done with what the NPC KNOWS about the party if they are the intended target. If they are not the intended target, then the NPC skills should be selected to perform whatever task they were bent on performing in the first place (such as a targeted assassination from my example above).
  • If they should know something, make them try at it – Simply put, they have to gather information or hire minions to do this for them… build your plot by having the NPC Baddie go through the effort of gathering information… leave clues to this end if the baddie or his minions do a poor job of gathering info, that way it won’t be a major surprise when the bad guy shows up with admixtured iceballs.
  • Finding balance

    I feel that the best solution for this is a justified balance of metagaming and plot-related preparation. There will be times when you will be required as DM to make a few things happen to ensure that the party is challenged or certain events take place, but I feel this should be done as organically as possible within the constraints that you have placed around your plot and NPCs.

    By thinking about the motives of your NPCs, you will find much more success in making them seem like believable foes (or allies, as the case may be). Just remember, the bad guys that get away are usually good for a lot of information!

    Whenever you run into a situation like the assassin scenario I explained earlier, try to learn from what happens. The characters got a great opportunity to annihilate some bad guys and I learned a few lessons about what they are capable of at their new higher levels. Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

    One Response leave one →
    1. Yax permalink
      October 3, 2007

      That’s probably something I don’t do enough – make the bad guys really want something and look for it.

      The PCs sure are striving for their goals. Why shouldn’t the NPCs do the same?

    Leave a Reply

    Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

    Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS