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 Post subject: Getting the funnel right
PostPosted: Sat Sep 01, 2012 3:31 pm 
Wild-Eyed Zealot
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Joined: Tue Aug 21, 2012 6:05 pm
Posts: 61
Location: Northern WV
I'm interested in hearing some thoughts on how to design a funnel that balances the difficulty so that it's not a cake-walk and yet it doesn't end in TPK. It seems like an incredibly fine line, and one that will require a good deal of luck to pull off in any event. I have playtested several encounters and the results can be wildly different, depending on how well the party and the monsters roll. It's particularly tough getting the third and fourth encounters set to an appropriate difficulty, since what I've playtested so far has resulted in anything ranging from one out of 16 characters dead after the first two encounters all the way up to half of them dead.

I'm just curious to hear how some of you have dealt with this challenge. I'm an experienced DM, going back over 30 years, but I'm really having trouble guessing at the right level of difficulty with the monsters.

I very much appreciate any advice!

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 01, 2012 4:24 pm 
Wild-Eyed Zealot

Joined: Tue Jun 07, 2011 7:12 pm
Posts: 108
I normally build three death traps that can area effect and do enough damage to kill average hit point pc's. I make sure all three death traps can be disarmed or triggered safely with a little luck and reasoning.

Half the battles I make either lower level monsters or fewer than the party.Often though some of these will have traps on the battlefield.

1/4th the battles are the same level or a little more.

1/4th are hard encounters: higher level and more numerous or with traps on battlefield.

At least one battle meant to kill at least one pc(often it doesn't but I aim for it).

I also have been known to set a full party killler on the party early on,A once triggered its disarms type.

The Last time it was a flame trap that did minor damage in a large area the party would have to go in.The trap itself was trapped so that any tampering with its base would ignite the gases stored underneath the statue causing it to explode for heavy damage in that limited area.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 01, 2012 4:46 pm 
Deft-Handed Cutpurse

Joined: Thu Jun 09, 2011 5:05 pm
Posts: 261
Location: Central Vermont
There is an excellent post on this topic here:

I don't think I can say anything that this post doesn't sum up well. Weird circumstances, traps and dangerous situations are great for 0 level play. Combat, as you noted, is swingy, so it shouldn't be the only thing going on - and there should be options to avoid or flee it if necessary.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 01, 2012 4:58 pm 
Cold-Hearted Immortal
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Joined: Fri Mar 16, 2012 9:41 am
Posts: 2797
I would take Sailors on the Starless Sea as a good model.....lots of ways to die; lots of ways to avoid death; a couple of chances to gain new funnel characters.

The more chances there are for players to think their way through things, rather than to simply roll, the better the chances that PCs will survive. Of course, you don't want all of the PCs to survive, so you need to include some combat encounters and some places where the PCs have enough rope to hang themselves.

I would recommend starting with a situation, writing out all of the encounters, and then going back and putting statistics to what you've written. Consider that, against a creature with a +0 to hit, the average 0-lvl PC is going to go down in a little less than 50% of the hits, because few PCs have enough to stand a second hit. But, where there is a single monster and a gang of PCs, that gang has an advantage. Consider giving the PCs a chance to replenish their numbers after "gang" attacks, but not after single monster attacks (no matter how brutal)....again, what you see in Sailors.

I would also consider picking up every funnel you can for design ideas. I've run Perils of the Sunken City, Attack of the Frawgs, and am halfway through Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk. Each is different. Each has very real dangers. Each has a good chance of killing off a few 0-level PCs while letting a few others go on to 1st level.

Remember those 1st level D&D and AD&D modules back in the day? They didn't worry too much about how the PCs were going to survive. They set up situations where the PCs could survive, but if the players were insistent on fighting the minotaur in the Caves of Chaos, well, that wasn't the DM's fault. I've run Portal Under the Stars where the PCs suffered minimal casualties through good play, and I've played where no one got past Area 3. I give the players the credit in all cases. If one adventure seems easy, well, there is another one coming up that might seem hard.

Finally, look to Sailors to see how several encounter areas build up the party so that they have a better chance to deal with what comes thereafter....often in knowledge, but sometimes in items that give them an edge over upcoming foes. Not everything has to be a fight, and sometimes a period without a fight makes the upcoming bloodbath all the more visceral.

The post linked to above is a good one; you should read it.

See also here: ... ngeon.html

Good luck!

SoBH pbp:

Cathbad the Meek (herbalist Wizard 1): AC 9; 4 hp; S 7, A 7, St 10, P 17, I 13, L 8; Neutral; Club, herbs, 50' rope, 50 cp; -1 to melee attack rolls. Hideous scar.

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