How To Scale Up An Adventure

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0901

I received this Demonplague Kickstarter question the other day from Joshua Isaac:

I’ve got players about to finish up the D&D 5e starter adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver. How hard will it be for me to flow our characters into Demonplague directly from 5th level?

What’s at the heart of this question, to me, is how do you make a low-level adventure fun for more powerful characters?

Here are some ideas.

Go Fast & Awesome

Quick wins feel great. I love steamrolling a foe. The fight goes fast and the reward comes easy.

The danger of death creates juicy tension. But it need not be omnipresent. It’s the spike that counts, not constant anxiety.

This means you need easy times so adrenaline triggers when times get tough.

So why not leave the easy-setting on?

The adventure complexion changes away from will we survive? to more interesting choices like:

  • What responsibility do we take for the power we have?
  • With success in certain areas guaranteed, what’s our approach now?
  • If a combat victory is guaranteed, should we try a different tact for bigger win?

Change The Stakes

With loot scoped to low level, your campaign balance will not get upset by the fast and easy gameplay. Reward remains commensurate with D&D-style risk.

In The Demonplague, we’ve also added a pretty good social fabric or layer to the story.

So this is actually a really interesting opportunity for your group to play different.

For example, the people of Tomar’s Crossing struggle to survive against numerous threats. In addition, various factions vie for power.

So what if the PCs brought back a cartload of equipment and loot to Tomar’s Crossing?

Who gets the loot? What repercussions does that have? What enemies do the PCs make with this? What allies?

Do the PCs understand that the polar bear killed in one round is more valuable as food than the paintings and jewelry recovered?

Lots of cool ideas you might explore because the PCs do not have to hoard every last gold piece or dagger they find.

Change The Risk

Most game systems allow you to increase foe potency.

More hit points or health means foes last longer.

Better attacks mean foes do more damage.

Combo both for 1+1=3 to the challenge level.

However, I’d be inclined to increase foe intelligence first.

Set more traps. Try more tricks. Be cunning.

For example, weaker foes could try to draw tougher foes from other parts of the campaign to the PCs.

Perhaps Bazig realizes his slaver thugs are outmatched by the heroes. So he treks to the mountain lair of an old dragon using his young dragon companion as intermediary and makes a deal.

Another trick is to group foes. The Winter Hobgoblins challenge the PCs directly while the Winter Goblins fire ice arrows from a distance. So you combo two encounters together to make this happen.

Also think about applying my Combat Mission method [RPT#631: Combat Missions: Adding Glorious Stories to Gruesome Struggles] to make combat less about grinding to the last hit point and more about a specific goal that can’t just be bludgeoned into submission.

You could also reskin tougher foes to scale up Part I: The Frozen Necromancer.

Two options here.

First, take an ogre’s stats and make those the stats for Winter Goblins or to create an Elite Winter Goblin type foe.

Second, use a tougher creature and apply the unique abilities from the new winter creatures to ice-ify them. For example, add the Winter Goblin’s Cold Snap ability to a troll to create a Winter Troll and use those as Ralekai’s minions.

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Three possible approaches for you.

I’d be inclined to start with Go Fast & Awesome.

If your players don’t see the opportunity of that mode, switch to Change The Stakes.

And if you still see yawns, go to Change The Risk.

Hope this helps answer your question, Isaac.