This is another musing of mine. This time, it’s around the OSR and D20 systems. The overall theme is levelling. As you may have noticed in the times I’ve played an OSR or D20 game, I might have stacked the deck in the opponent’s favor. A good example is how I ended up killing off my entire party plus one late comer in my Swords and Six-Siders game because I insisted on having them fight a monster of a higher level, or even have them be out numbered seven to one.
If you notice my past games, the reason is pretty obvious: I play a lot of games on Solo RPG Voyages that don’t have a heavy focus on scale or even have a fixed scale. What I mean is that there’s no clear indicator of how strong one person is compared to another like in D&D. Either both parties have even grounds in terms of powers or in the case of a few games like Titan World, one party is guaranteed to be stronger than the other due to how mechanics are.
D20 and OSR games are different, though. Not only do you have a good idea of how powerful your players are, but you have a wide array of monsters, each of varying strengths and weaknesses, to throw at them. I’m in a couple of D&D 5E campaigns, so perhaps the reason why I don’t play that much D20 games is because I play them a lot outside of Solo RPG Voyages.
One of my campaigns is actually a part of the D&D Adventurer’s League, so it obviously had a professional feeling to how the game works and even how schedules run. One time, after a convention had drained pretty much all the energies of the DMs who ran the games, one of the main hosts proposed a seminar for wannabe DMs instead of a session, sort of as a break for the other DMs.
Since a part of Solo Roleplaying is wearing the hat of the DM, I naturally went to the seminar. I learned a couple of things, but what this musing will be on is one I realized is a huge problem in my solo D20/OSR games. This being how you can easily make a mistake and pit your players against monsters with a challenge rating that dwarfs the party’s combined levels.
For those who don’t play D&D, players have characters who have levels. In story terms, this means how experienced they are at a certain profession. Mechanics wise, it means how strong they are in that class. Likewise, monsters have something called a Challenge Rating. They are roughly the same as levels, but they’re more of an indicator of how strong they are.
To give an example, a monster I have faced was called the Bull of Heaven. He has a challenge rating of 13. Looking at his stats, he is a very beefy cow (pun intended) with an average of 310 health, 28 Armor Class, will almost always hit with his +30 Gore Attack and at minimum will do twelve damage, and that’s not getting into the fact that his horns can do an additional point of damage each turn via wounding and how, upon being killed, will curse his killer with a disease that slowly robs him of his strength and constitution. Not to mention his spell casting prowess.
My two characters were, at best, level eight. And, if I recall correctly, only one of those two fought the bull. I managed to note this even in the game and had my character bail out. The only reason they made it out alive is because the temple the bull was in collapsed with him in it. The worst part was that I was the one who pitted a godly bovine against my heroes.
Another example is Swords and Six Siders. Here, the power levels are lowered drastically. Level six is the maximum amount of levels either party can go to, with all monsters having the same stats depending on what level they are at. You’d think this would be easier to play around with, but then you have some special abilities, like a troll’s ability to regenerate.
My characters in that game were all level one save for an NPC I statted up, who was Level 3. In a true example of DBZ-style fights though, said NPC was able to easily defeat the troll (read defeat, not kill), but was unable to beat a group with a combined level value of 7. So, in a way, I am very aware that I stack the deck way to highly in the other favor, and the only ways I can overcome this is through story-driven reasons (collapsing the temple to kill the bull) or through having higher leveled NPCs back me up (Pendrick in my Swords and Six-Siders game).
There was a reverse of this if the form of pitting my level five fighter against monsters with a CR of up to 1 in D&D 5E, so it’s either I overguess or underguess my challenge. Even what I consider my most successful D20 Solo Play, me playing Avalon Quests, had a lot of times where I had stacked the deck against me. Using encounter calculators, the first fight against a prostitute and a street thug was challenging due to the fact that only two of my characters were fighting them (another problem I see is that I have a tendency to split the party). The fight with the hyenas were at least challenging to easy because of the completion of the party, even after a dire hyena entered the fray.
Most of the others were easy or challenging, though it has helped me realize that I need to better focus on calculating challenge ratings more before I decide to throw monsters at people. That’s basically my musing. I just make it too difficult for myself and I need to make it easier on myself in more than just giving me unfair advantages.