The DM's Guide to DMing

I’ve run into an issue with my 5e game. I want to switch to the ‘gritty’ rest variant, but I’m getting pushback from some of my players, and it fees like we are taking past each other.

I eventually settled on Justin Alexander’s hexcrawl procedure, which has worked well except for one problem: encounters occur too infrequently, so they are either effectively trivial or hard, and the PCs have no reason not to nova everything they encounter. That’s at odds with the idea of exploring an unknown continent full of danger (thus you shouldn’t assume every fight is supposed to be winnable), but it also doesn’t follow the system’s assumed adventuring day for encounter pacing and resource expenditure. From my perspective, since the timescale of the adventuring day has been stretched out, it makes sense to do likewise for the resting rules. The response I have gotten is that would be too punishing, which suggests my players are falling into the trap of assuming that everything they encounter should be fought (my random encounter tables range up to CR 11, so that is a bad assumption right now).

I’m thinking we may need to talk through it before the session starts since Slack just isn’t cutting it.

I'm stumbling now with encounters in my 5E campaign. I'll probably come back here and post my issues/dilemmas when I have time to make a coherent post.

-BEP

kenada wrote:

I’ve run into an issue with my 5e game. I want to switch to the ‘gritty’ rest variant, but I’m getting pushback from some of my players, and it fees like we are taking past each other.

Sounds like they may have different expectations about what kind of game it is going to be. It doesn't sound like it is really about the exact rules so much as it is a disagreement of the purpose of the rules. Getting on the same page there will probably help.

It does sound like you're more concerned with having the wilderness travel be a challenge and they are viewing it as random encounters between points of interest, but that's just my guess.

My campaign also features a lot of travel, so I use the long rest variant (8 hr short rests, 7 day long rests) during any long periods of travel. The way I justified it to my players is that it's essentially just stretching out the "adventuring day" over multiple days, so rather than having 5-8 encounters every single day while travelling (which would be incredibly tedious, and wouldn't really make all that much sense anyway), we can stretch that same amount of encounters out over a whole week.

Any time they embark on a proper adventure that will require multiple encounters per day we switch back to the normal rest rules. I've made it clear to my players that I'm not trying to punish them with the longer rest variant, I'm just trying to keep resource consumption as an important concern without bogging down travel with a million random encounters.

So far my players seem to be generally ok with it.

I’ve tried to explain in that way. I’m not concerned with balance per se, but right now encounters are effectively trivial or hard. There are no little encounters to sap resources, and I want resource management to be a thing.

The group is split. About half the group has concerns while the others have remained silent (but don’t really care usually) or have acknowledged the issue without necessarily agreeing on a solution.

If we did switch, I would use the longer rules for everything. The PCs are part of an expedition with a rotating cast, so I want hitting the dungeon to require mustering their resources and possibly involve multiple teams working in tandem.

Gremlin wrote:

It does sound like you're more concerned with having the wilderness travel be a challenge and they are viewing it as random encounters between points of interest, but that's just my guess.

Well, it is a hexcrawl game, so yeah. The players are on board with that, but I think they are used to the idea of the traditional adventuring day, which I want to make more like an adventuring week. That will keep encounter pacing (read: resource usage) in line with the game’s assumptions. I am also getting concerned that they are assuming they can just nova everything, even if they don’t consciously realize it, since that is what the system currently rewards (or: fails to punish).

kenada wrote:

I’ve tried to explain in that way. I’m not concerned with balance per se, but right now encounters are effectively trivial or hard. There are no little encounters to sap resources, and I want resource management to be a thing.

Are the players on board with the resource management concerns? I mean, they might very well be but just don't realize that's what you're trying to do. Or they might not be interested in resource management as a thing, or in that particular way. Either way, talking about why you want to push resource management and attrition sounds closer to the root of your problem than the encounters themselves.

Gremlin wrote:
kenada wrote:

I’ve tried to explain in that way. I’m not concerned with balance per se, but right now encounters are effectively trivial or hard. There are no little encounters to sap resources, and I want resource management to be a thing.

Are the players on board with the resource management concerns? I mean, they might very well be but just don't realize that's what you're trying to do. Or they might not be interested in resource management as a thing, or in that particular way. Either way, talking about why you want to push resource management and attrition sounds closer to the root of your problem than the encounters themselves.

That’s a good point. I plan to have a live discussion before the game, but I also pinged the group on Slack.

To the extent that you can, it may help to explain this difference from a mechanical point of view and also from the point of view of what their characters will experience. Once, when I had a party of characters set out on a long overland journey, I told them that I was going to change the resting rules, and explained that while they might get the full benefits of a long rest at an inn, or another place where they could get food, shelter, clean their stuff easily, and get uninterrupted sleep, sleeping out in the wilderness was a different story. If they could find an inn, on the other hand, they could get a normal long rest. I think that helped.

Of course, if you explain it this way, they may get creative with spells or abilities in an effort to protect themselves and get more benefit from their rest. But if this plays into the resource management game, that's not necessarily a problem.

We talked about it for a while on Slack. The issue is they like the 15-minute adventuring day. They think it’s fun to be a bit overpowered, blowing everything up. I was at a loss for a bit, since that makes encounters either effectively trivial or deadly, but then I suggested something a bit more old school: nerfing healing during a long rest. Instead of regaining all HP, you only regain 1 HP plus whatever you gain from spending hit dice (including those gained from the long rest). If you want to recover fully, then you’ll need to spend about a week resting and regaining hit dice. That seemed to go over better with the group.

kenada, I'm a fairly new DM (only a couple of years), and ran into your concerns with my group when we did Tomb Of Annihilation.

Here's what we came up with: hexcrawl style adventuring is boring. At least, for us. (Some people love it.)

My solution: mostly switching to more narrative encounters. Either non-combat stuff, or just "on this day, you run into a half dozen goblin skeletons, which you fight through with no problem." We'd only do a few combat encounters that were sufficiently difficult to merit going "full nova" and still be fun, or if there was a good narrative reason (I wanted them to become familiar with the powers of an unfamiliar creature, or there was something other than punching each other to it).

It sounds like your group enjoys combat a lot more, and it seems like you came up with a great solution.

Now that I've played 5e for a while, it does seem like the power of rests makes balance tougher; I've seen a number of modules do things to penalize or prevent resting in order to better control balance.

Here's the thing about hexcrawl - depending on the scale of each hex, and how the game is structured (e.g.: are you fully exploring each hex, or just travelling through it), it can be reasonable to assume that it would take a full day (or more) to explore each one. If that's the case, then the characters are resting after every hex anyway.

I ran a hexcrawl for a Pathfinder group a few years ago, and I ended up scrapping random encounters specifically because of the resting issue - they weren't a resource drain, and unless the fight was interesting, they weren't even fun for the players.

My suggestions:

1) If there's a single combat encounter in a hex, make it memorable. Use terrain judiciously, power-up the encounter (CR++) to make it difficult because you KNOW that they're going to rest after that fight, tailor the enemies to the characters' weaknesses, and fight tactically. (I don't know how many times I've almost wiped a party by actively targeting the healer first while having a DPR specialist go straight for the mage.)

2) Large setpieces in several hexes that have multiple encounters. Sprawling ruins inhabited by whole tribes, a fortress controlled by a despotic warlord, a natural cavern hosting a whole ecosystem of animal-level creatures, and so on. Basically, places that must be explored in stages, without a safe place to make camp unless they retreat. Then, if they do, the tribe sets out after them, or the warlord calls for reinforcements, or whatever will complicate their ability to rest and re-assault. After all, if a small group of people assault a keep and clear out the gatehouse and bailey, it's not likely that the ruler of that keep is going to hunker down and hope they go away. They're going to harry the invaders and attempt to overwhelm them before they can come back in force.

Were you using the Pathfinder exploration rules? I ran Kingmaker about a decade ago, and they were not good. I can’t even remember whether we used random encounters or not, but I’m thinking not mostly. The way they handled exploration was particularly terrible. It just didn’t work from a narrative perspective at all.

The way the hexcrawl procedure I’m using now works is you treat it something like a dungeon crawl. Every hex is keyed with a location. You make a random encounter check for every four hours (what the procedure terms a “watch”) of travel. If you generate an encounter, you first check to see if it’s a location encounter. If it is, then the PCs found the keyed location for the hex. Otherwise, you roll on the terrain type’s random encounter table to determine the encounter and then see whether it is a tracks, lair, or wandering monster encounter.

The idea behind the procedure is to use random encounters to continuously generate new content for the hex while also keeping the hex structure hidden from the PCs. This means that going somewhere is going to eventually lead to something new and interesting, and we can narrate it from their perspective. I particularly like that last part because the Pathfinder exploration rules felt like going down a checklist: “We’ll explore hexes 1, 2, and 3 this time….” There’s a pretty good example of play here.

The way I’m keying my hexes varies pretty wildly from hex to hex. I agree that just having a simple fight would be pretty boring. Many of the hexes are locations with stuff going on or dungeons to be explored, though I do have one where crocodiles are so abundant that there’s a 50% chance one shows up during an encounter (any type), which should be fun. Some of the things the RNG has generated so far have been a t-rex in their base camp’s hex, which I’m sure they’re going to want to hunt down later, and a (now abandoned) goblin camp. The fight with the goblins was pretty nasty. They got the drop on the PCs and nearly dropped one, but the PCs ended up routing the goblins after their morale broke. Now that camp is a possible location encounter in the hex.

beeporama wrote:

It sounds like your group enjoys combat a lot more, and it seems like you came up with a great solution.

Now that I've played 5e for a while, it does seem like the power of rests makes balance tougher; I've seen a number of modules do things to penalize or prevent resting in order to better control balance.

Maybe, but I think they also just like being awesome. We’ll see how the healing change goes. I’m hopeful that it’s enough of a cost that ‘easier’ encounters remain impactful even if it means they have to be careful about their resources a little bit.

kenada wrote:

...I eventually settled on Justin Alexander’s hexcrawl procedure, ...

Sorry to interrupt the hexcrawl conversation, but I just have to thank you kenada for the link to The Alexandrian. That is a true rabbit hole. I discovered I was using some of the Three Clue method inadvertently, but reading through that and articles on Nodes has helped tremendously in planning and adapting upcoming sessions.

bhchrist wrote:
kenada wrote:

...I eventually settled on Justin Alexander’s hexcrawl procedure, ...

Sorry to interrupt the hexcrawl conversation, but I just have to thank you kenada for the link to The Alexandrian. That is a true rabbit hole. I discovered I was using some of the Three Clue method inadvertently, but reading through that and articles on Nodes has helped tremendously in planning and adapting upcoming sessions.

You’re welcome. It’s a fantastic resource.

I really like his stuff on map keys too.

I am about to look for a pre-made Pyramid to stick into my game. A couple maps, predefined encounters/trap, a boss and maybe sub-boss and some loot. This is a 5E game, characters are level 8 and a little overpowered. I don't want a whole adventure like the Pharoah/White Palm/Martek stuff. I just want a fleshed out tomb/pyramid that has an Egyptian flair.

I don't care what system, as long as I can somehow translate it to 5E. Ie. Modern day won't work, but 2E D&D is fine - except I'm looking for _good_ maps and those were rare back then.

I can fudge levels of the encounters if needed. I don't need motivation for the PCs to be there, that's already taken care of.

If you guys know of one I can get, please let me know. I haven't searched yet, but don't mind doing so if you don't know one offhand.

Appreciate it!
-BEP

BEP,

I may have something pretty close to target for you. PM me and I would be happy to share the PDF with you.

bepnewt wrote:

I am about to look for a pre-made Pyramid to stick into my game. A couple maps, predefined encounters/trap, a boss and maybe sub-boss and some loot. This is a 5E game, characters are level 8 and a little overpowered. I don't want a whole adventure like the Pharoah/White Palm/Martek stuff. I just want a fleshed out tomb/pyramid that has an Egyptian flair.

Dyson's Dodecahedron has an unstocked map, which could make a good starting point if you don't find something more complete.

Lower level
Upper levels

bhchrist wrote:

BEP,

I may have something pretty close to target for you. PM me and I would be happy to share the PDF with you.

Will do. Thanks.

Katy wrote:

Dyson's Dodecahedron has an unstocked map, which could make a good starting point if you don't find something more complete.

Lower level
Upper levels

Definitely a great starting point and I like the size of the map. I could look at the old "I" series modules I mentioned above to populate the place if needed. They're sitting on my gaming table as I type this...

-BEP

Have you checked the One Page Dungeon contest entries? The quality of map is hit or miss, but some of them are gorgeous; there might be a nice Pyramid in there for you somewhere.

All of the old entries from past contests going back a decade or so are archived in Google Drive and browsable for free.

Adam made a pretty awesome special episode of Office Hours all about running a Dungeon World one-shot. Great instructions. I have used the same blueprint to start a campaign and it worked great.

Having a lot of fun in my Curse of Strahd game at the moment: our heroes have gone off to an area rather higher level than appropriate for a bunch of level 6 folks

Spoiler:

specifically, The Amber Temple

After a massive first fight that knocked one of the barbarians down to zero HP and a few other characters scared to take another hit, they were a lot more cautious in the second session. At least, they were after they got hit by another fireball. Still, the lure of loots continues to get them into more trouble. Looking forward to the next game - we ended with two of them falling down a pit and now separated from the rest of the crew.