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The 4th Pillar: 5 Things to Avoid in an Imbalanced Campaign

We’ve discussed a lot about imbalance and taking your games off the rails, but before we jump into putting together a how-to for all of this, of course we’ve got to get some disclaimers out of the way. It’s important to know the disclaimers up front rather than as an afterthought. So here they are. Rule #1: Have a “Session Alpha” Even before you have a “session zero,” you should get together with your...

The 4th Pillar: Playing by the Rules

It’s possible to play by the encounter design rules but still use the tools we’ve outlined so far in this series without totally breaking everything. This will likely apply to anyone who is still new or unfamiliar with GM’ing or who perhaps just hasn’t really found their style just yet. It’s totally okay to do it all by the book, especially when you’re still getting comfortable. This series is indeed aimed at...

The 4th Pillar: The Consumable Conundrum

While consumables can have an effect on matters of balance in your campaign, let’s first talk about how they can change the overall fun-level of your game. Potions, scrolls, and other consumables are those things that linger. They linger on character sheets, and they linger in the backs of the minds of the players and the GM. The real conundrum of consumables comes not from which ones to use but from the decision whether to use them or...

The 4th Pillar: Adventure Isn’t Balanced

Not only are some of the most popular movies, books, and other media devoid of “balance,” so are our lives. Sure Frodo and the Ring or David vs. Goliath is compelling, but even more so are the actual human stories we can read about on a regular basis. The odds are most certainly never in everyone’s favor, which is what pulls us in. There are countless tales of heroism that follow a similar arc the world over, from every region and culture...

The 4th Pillar: Focusing on Fun

When it comes to the 4th pillar of your game, which if you haven’t figured out by now is fun, there are lots of alternative options to traditional XP. We all know that, when players earn XP for the NPCs and monsters they defeat, “defeat” doesn’t necessarily always spell death, but it usually does, hence ye olde Murderhobo stereotype. So when it comes to focusing on fun at your table, you should also consider the following...

The 4th Pillar: Mythbusters (Party Composition Edition)

Everyone loves to talk about group composition. I feel like the prevalence and popularity of video games have only bolstered these arguments over the years as well. There’s the ever-unavoidable “holy trinity”: classes that primarily take damage (tanks), classes that primarily heal damage (healers), and classes that primarily deal damage (DPS). Even the acronym for damage dealing classes is plucked from video games, yet nobody is measuring...

The 4th Pillar: Risk and Reward

In our last installment, we talked about spicing up your encounters with some actionable dungeon flair, bits and pieces within your environments that players can use to even the odds and make things interesting. Today we’re going to be talking about a few other aspects of imbalanced encounter building, and those are what I like to refer to as banes and gambits. These are quite the opposite of what we discussed last time in that they will...

The 4th Pillar: Earn Your First Piece of Dungeon Flair

So when it comes to skipping steps on the encounter budget staircase, a great way to counterbalance your “rule of cool” is within the environs that characters are going to be playing in. After all, why should it only be epic monsters that get lair actions? I’ve always found that one of the best ways to offset players being outmatched is by giving them tools in the world around them that allow a turning of the tide or even...

The 4th Pillar: Learning to Let Go

Lots of RPGs in the D&D vein have progression systems based on accumulating XP and balancing systems based on the difficulty of monsters and challenges therein, which grant XP accordingly and keep the wheels of the game turning. Because of this, we often have guidelines on how to create balanced encounters, so players can be challenged accordingly, usually referred to as the encounter budget. The budget typically exists as a few pages of...

The 4th Pillar: Rethinking Encounter Design

The most interesting stories, the ones we share the most over the years and that stick with us longer than any others, are those that defy the odds. That inherent unfairness is what can make for the most satisfying, beautiful, and rewarding experiences possible. If the stories of David and Goliath or Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship were “balanced,” they wouldn’t have nearly the same impact that they do. When it comes to...


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