Advice on level setting - Myth-Weavers


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Advice on level setting

   
Advice on level setting

Hello all,

I am a grognar who has been out of D&D for decades. The last time I ran a game was AD&D in the early 80s.

Though time and tide conspired to keep me out of gaming for these past years, I have recently been hit with inspiration and plan to begin running again in 5E - I had a brief foray in playing under 5E on these boards some time back, and liked it -

With the long gap in my DM resume, and under a new rule system, things feel kind of like the first time again. Which is both cool and terrifying. Now, back in the day, we really didn't do much in terms of level setting with players. We didn't go over what kind of campaign this would be or "what do you expect?" or "this is what kind of DM I am" we just got together and played.

I sense that's changed these days, and players tend to need more motivation to go into a dungeon than "it's there and it has loot in it!"

With that in mind:

What do you do to level set?

What are some key questions to ask?

What are some key points to be sure to tell players?

If you're running pre-made campaign/adventure stuff, do you tell them that explicitly or just set things up in your world, start them off and see where it goes?

I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “level setting.” (It sounds like balancing encounters, but I don’t think that’s what you mean from the rest of your post.)

Here’s how I approach what I think are your concerns. I ask players to come up with character motivations and story hooks as part of character creation. Also key NPCs, etc. More broadly, I try to build the setting with players in a “session zero,” so that it can have things in it that they feel would motivate their characters. This can be a bit time-consuming, but it’s gold when you sit down and try to start the adventures off — you have a bunch of stuff that you can use.

5e’s Traits/Ideal/Bond/Flaw system is useful for this purpose, especially the Bond. You may find it useful just to tell the players up front that you will be doing an old-fashioned dungeon crawl to start off with, and you would like them to come up with a reason why their character would want to do that as part of character creation.

Secondly, I’m a big fan of the front system from Dungeon World (etc.). There’s an SRD if you want to look at it in detail, but a pair of key elements that can be adapted without doing that is that you always have a clear idea of what is the driving force or motivation behind some danger in the world and what will happen if the players don’t stop it.

So the dungeon is not something that’s just there for the PCs to explore if they like — it’s sending out undead that are afflicting a nearby village. Why is it doing that? Because a demon is imprisoned within the dungeon, and once it has killed enough of the villagers, it will have enough power to free itself. The PCs don’t have to clear the dungeon of undead, but if they don’t, there are consequences, because the world is not static.

The advantage of knowing the driving force (“impulse”) is that it allows you to come up with some response by the danger when the PCs do something unexpected, such as deciding that they want to find a necromancer to redirect the undead into doing productive work for the village.

Thanks Voord. I will check out that mechanic from DW you mention.

And yes - to be more clear - by "level setting' I mean setting the level of expectations of the players

Quote:
Originally Posted by DesertDave View Post
With the long gap in my DM resume, and under a new rule system, things feel kind of like the first time again. Which is both cool and terrifying. Now, back in the day, we really didn't do much in terms of level setting with players. We didn't go over what kind of campaign this would be or "what do you expect?" or "this is what kind of DM I am" we just got together and played.

I sense that's changed these days, and players tend to need more motivation to go into a dungeon than "it's there and it has loot in it!"
Actually, it depends on who you're pitching the game to. Old-school D&D and OSR players might need nothing more today!
There's a thread with a list of those in the Gaming Dicussion forum, too.

Now, I haven't run D&D 5e yet...but I've played it, and it's not that far from other systems. So, here's my tentative answers - feel free to ignore them if they're contradicted by more experienced people.
Quote:
With that in mind:

What do you do to level set?
Assuming you mean setting the power level: I'd simply decide (how much crunch I want to deal with).
The 3rd level is the new 1st, however, since many of your class' main features are "opened" at this point.

Quote:
What are some key questions to ask?
Ask them about their ability to self-motivate, if you're running a sandbox.
Ask them whether they want, abhor, or don't care for a plot.
Ask them whether they'd expect you to use their backgrounds.

Quote:
What are some key points to be sure to tell players?
Your attitude towards character death and failure.
Attitude towards level-inappropriate encounters, if you're using those (I would).

Quote:
If you're running pre-made campaign/adventure stuff, do you tell them that explicitly or just set things up in your world, start them off and see where it goes?
Generally yes, because you'd want to ask them to abstain from applying if they've read said pre-made stuff (which might well happen)!

Quote:
Originally Posted by DesertDave View Post
And yes - to be more clear - by "level setting' I mean setting the level of expectations of the players
I think most of us will agree that this is a big thing. "Let's just play" is great if it works, but there's a big difference between one type of game and another, and not everyone likes everything. Worse, if the players expect one thing but get another, they may feel cheated or at the least disappointed - this is worse than them not knowing what to expect in the first place.

For example, I once joined a game which had been pitched as a kind of sandbox game, where the players were meant to go off and explore and found some kind of mercantile empire. However, the DM had in mind a very specific plotline that we would follow, as if it were a video game, and got really stressed when we started to deviate from it (though ironically, the NPCs shut down that plotline because of how we acted, even though we were still largely trying to pursue it). They also seemed to get worried about the prospect of us going to the "dangerous" area because it might be too dangerous. To my mind, in a sandbox, you either just make it less dangerous and adapt the setting and story as you go, or you let people do what they want and get killed if that's what comes of it. So basically this game wasn't a sandbox at all, it was the exact opposite.

Now, that's not actually a problem in itself except for the fact that we were expecting more freedom (certainly I was). I found myself railing at every turn, trying to jump off the rails. "Why would we even want to go there?" I'd ask. "Why do we need this NPC to tell us what to do? Why don't we just go do XYZ?" and consequently it got stressful for the DM too. If they'd just said, this is a railroad story (maybe just to start off), deal with it, I probably wouldn't have minded that much.

Anyway, long story short, yeah, it's a good idea to set expectations, basically about anything that might make someone like or dislike your game - but even saying "this is just going to be an old-school romp, I'll be making up adventures and maybe throwing in dungeons as I go along" works.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DesertDave View Post
And yes - to be more clear - by "level setting' I mean setting the level of expectations of the players
The more official termology you're looking for is "Establishing Expectations". I think. Also better known as "Session Zero" - where you and your players take the time to discuss the coming campaign.

Things you'll generally want to talk about is: tone, play style, setting/genre, system of choice, house-rules, level of optimization (if applicable), and topics to avoid (such R-rated stuff and potential emotional triggers). that last one can be a bit tricky, and sometimes best handled in private.

If you have time to read a lengthy article or five, I recommend reading some of the Angry Gm's work, starting with his advice on the different kinds of fun. Feel free to skip the opening rant, as it's just a word filler IMO, but overall he provides a lot of great advice and things to consider.








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