For a single party, how can I make Dead in Thay a “fast-paced assault” and not a drawn-out series of skirmishes?

I having been running adventure modules from Tales from the Yawning Portal for a single group of 3-6 players (i.e. I have 6 players, but sometimes as few as 3 can attend a session). Part of the reason for me running modules is to minimise necessary preparation time.

We recently finished playing the first adventure, Sunless Citadel, when I asked the players which adventure in the book they would like to do next. Upon seeing the massive awesome-looking map for the Doomvault in Dead in Thay (with 107 rooms, all containing encounters, divided into 9 mini-dungeons), they unanimously voted for that one. I warned them that it would take many sessions to complete, and they were fine with that. So I got all the characters to advance to Level 9, threw them some bonus loot, and dropped them into the Doomvault.

We are now three sessions in, and I have identified a few potential issues.

The lengthy preamble to the adventure says:

The incursion into the Doomvault is intended to be a fast-paced assault in which the characters have little time for typical rests. A few areas of the dungeon offer access to special magic that allows characters to gain the benefit of a rest.

However, our experience so far has been contrary to this. I provide a transcript of the game so far below:

  • In the first session, with 5 players, they fought through 3 rooms occupied by ordinary enemies, then one room occupied by a big (CR 10) boss monster. This took 40 minutes of in-game time.

  • In the second session, with 3 players (all casters), they took a long rest, had one encounter with two-and-a-half rooms’ worth of enemies (although a well-placed conjure woodland beings tipped the balance in their favour), then killed another big (CR 10) boss monster. After the rest, this took 1 hour of in-game time.

  • In the third session, with 3 players (2 casters), they took a short rest, killed a relatively strong monster, found a source of healing, fought two gorgons, returned to the gatehouse, twiddled their thumbs and restocked for what I declared to be 9 hours, took a long rest, returned to the dungeon, and fought a small room’s worth of enemies.

  • In the fourth session, with 4 players (2.5 casters), they had 3 combat encounters.

  • In the fifth session, with 3 players (2.5 casters), they dealt with a minor trap, had one combat encounter, took a long rest, had one large combat encounter, then took a short rest.

(For those unfamiliar with Dead in Thay, the gatehouse is an unmapped area through which the players entered the Doomvault and is under control of allies to the party. The module assumes that no encounters will happen in the gatehouse. I have thus assumed that it can function as a safe-room.)

So far, we have had 14 encounters, 3 long rests and 2 short rests. Over an in-game time of 49:20, the party has only spent 3:55 inside the dungeon, with the rest of the time sheltering in the gatehouse – far from a fast-paced assault! Typically, the call to take a long rest was done because the casters were out of spell slots, and with small party sizes the casters needed their spell slots for the party to deal enough damage to push through the encounters. While the players have found ways to recover hit-points within the Doomvault, nothing they have lets them recover spell slots besides a long rest.

I do not believe this to be a fault in the party (besides being too small half the time), but rather a characteristic of Dead in Thay. Page 84 of the DMG talks of the Adventuring Day, which is how many encounters a party can have between two long rests. For three level 9 PCs, an adventuring day contains 22,500 XP worth of encounters. Between the first two long rests, my three level 9 PCs had 31,900 XP worth of encounters, so it is hardly surprising that the party’s resources are so taxed. Between the second two long rests, we had 29,050 XP of encounters, mostly for 4 PCs, 2 lvl 9 and 2 lvl 10, which is around the right amount for an adventuring day.

If I had all 6 of my players, they could probably get further, but their adventuring day would still be much, much shorter than a full day. And because of this, and how a character can only benefit from a long rest once every 24 hours (PHB 186) (a rule I have already stretched a little), I anticipate that this will result in many more periods of inactivity in the gatehouse.

I am aware that the Thayans of the Doomvault can and will run some degree of preparations and repairs while the party is resting. However, the highly segregated nature of the Doomvault leads me to think that damage dealt to one section won’t draw that much attention from another section unless it is utterly catastrophic. And since access into and out of the Doomvault is being tightly controlled against the Thayans, their ability to replenish lost monsters is limited. The modifications the Thayans could make to the Doomvault during rests would be highly situational and rather limited, as far as I can tell, although maybe I’m just unimaginative.

Further reading about Dead in Thay online indicates that the adventure was originally designed for many groups of players to tackle simultaneously. This makes me fear that the Doomvault will become a long grind rather than a fast-paced assault for a single party.

On a related point, Dead in Thay includes a feature called ‘Alert Level’ which increases the difficulty of random encounters the longer players spend in the Doomvault; a feature intended to add to the feeling of a ‘fast-paced assault’. However, if the players only spend 2 hours a day inside the Doomvault, then the Alert Level never goes up by the rules as written, which is boring. I am considering having time spent in the gatehouse not decrease the Alert Level (but not increase it either), or possibly make Alert Level increase faster (1 per hour rather than 1 per 4 hours).

My question is this:
For a single party, how can I make Dead in Thay a “fast-paced assault” and not a drawn-out series of skirmishes?

Specifically, I would like to know how to

  • avoid the “15-minute working day” in a module densely packed with encounters (I am aware of several questions which handle this question generically; advice specific to Dead in Thay is thus preferable),
  • avoid burn-out in this mega-dungeon, and
  • make the Alert Level meaningful (although this is a minor point compared to the above two),

preferably without having to re-write the module.

An answer should preferably include your own experience in running Dead in Thay and how you tackled these issues (or if they are issues at all), although experience from other adventure modules of similar scale and density is acceptable.

How do I kill the party?

I have twice before had a game in which, for story reasons, I wanted to kill the entire party all in one go. Once because I needed the players to enter the afterlife, the second because I wanted the players to be resurrected a while later in the future. In a "traditional" rpg where the GM is god you can simply inform the party they have been killed, but dungeon world has rules that the GM must follow.

The first time I did this I had the players ambushed in the woods by bandits and ended up playing the game as the antagonist. Seizing every opportunity to make the situation more dangerous for the players. This rather predictably was not very fun. I violated the "be a fan of the players" rule and we ended up with a very long fight sequence. Most of the players rolled last breath multiple times and it was just a complete slog.

The second time I had better luck, instead of having the party killed by ordinary characters I set up a front and had a being of unspeakable power as the antagonist. This made the build up fun and at least made their deaths feel significant. This time we were also playing the dungeon world hack Freebooters on the Frontier. This makes two changes that are useful for me: It generally makes the players weaker, and it allows me to skip the last breath roll if their corpse is unrecoverable. However I still didn’t feel like this was handled perfectly. The fight was still a little drawn out and I think the players were reasonably ticked that I gamed the system to prevent a last breath roll.

If I’d like to do this again in dungeon world, without the advantages I receive from the freebooters hack, how should I do it? Do I need to communicate to the party that I intend to kill them all for the story? How do I avoid the mechanics of the game keeping my players alive when the story requires them to die?

Maybe this story beat is just a bad fit for dungeon world, but I’m still interested in techniques that could make this less of a bad fit.

Are there any 3rd level spells a Lore Bard could pick at 6th character level to provide food and water to the party?

Just as the title says. I play a Bard, College of Lore. At 6th character level I will be able to pick up two spells, of up to 3rd spell level, from any class. I know we will be on the long-term adventure with no easy way to get food and drinks. Goodberries could make it much easier for us, but I do not want to "waste" a 3rd level spell known for a 1st level spell if there is something of more power available to me.

Preference is for material from Player’s Handbook and Xanathar’s Guide To Everything as it is automatically allowed. If there are multiple spells that meet the requirement, the one with the widest utility wins. If there are none, the highest level and biggest utility are the factor.

How many enemies will challenge my party of four 1st-level characters, but not result in certain death?

I was asked to DM for a one-shot with people wanting to try and learn the game. I have created a not-too-complicated world in which they can run around and interact with its inhabitants.

The problem I face is the number and strength of foes that can be encountered. How do I prepare a challenge to the players while they learn the game? I want them to be a little afraid while still having chance of saving the town/rescuing the princess or prince/find the treasure.

  • These are completely new players, there will be 4 of them.
  • They will play level 1 characters: a paladin, barbarian, rogue and sorcerer.
  • I play a separate campaign with other people but have never been a DM before.
  • We expect to play for about 4 hours – unless everyone is having fun and wants to continue, of course.
  • Based on decisions, the enemies will be either goblins or pirates. I tend to keep these enemies around the same level.
  • I would like to introduce one “boss” in the shape of a goblin chief/pirate captain.

How many enemies, based on the information above, would make for a balanced and fun game? I don’t really want everyone to bite the dust on their first game ever, but also want to keep it interesting at the same time.

Animal handling check new companions for other party members

DM here.

I plan to give the party an opportunity to find a homonculus in a defeated necromancer lair and possibly make it there animal companion if they wish to.

The druid characters could probably make the animal handling checks easily. However other characters could also be interested in the companion.

The question : is there an official mechanic other than the help action to allow the druide to help the sorcerer to acquire the homonculus as a pet ?

If not how would you implement a rule to do so and explain it narratively (not just "the druid role for you")

Is there a good way to have a party of adventurers with only one player?

My sister expressed interest in playing D&D, and I’m interested in DMing, so I decided to try and run The Caves of Chaos from the D&D Next playtest packet. Reading through the materials, I became worried that my sister’s elf rogue wouldn’t last very long by herself. None of her friends are interested in D&D, so I’ve been toying with the idea of including other party members, either controlled by me or by her (The way Jason and Marcus play in FoxTrot).

This adventure isn’t the most serious thing in the world, obviously…just some Summer break fun. But do you guys see any reasons not to do this? Or, do you have any suggestions on how to run the adventure?

Milestone leveling for a party of players who drop in and out?

Historically I have generally used XP for tracking character progress in my party. But my latest new campaign I intend to move to a milestone approach.

However the one thing I don’t fully understand is the best way to manage milestones for parties where players drop in and out of sessions. Up front we have accepted that due to life my players will not be able to make every session and so we have agreed that sessions will take place the character will just be missing, or be jaegured.

What is the best way to manage milestone leveling in this case, should I track player attendance and take this into account, level everyone at the storyline moments anyway, or take more of a player by player approach (which feels like doing XP just without the XP).

I know DnD published material is moving towards the milestone approach is there any official ruling from them with regards to league sessions etc?

What to do when I accidentally kill the whole party?

So, my players’ PCs were fighting 11 fifth-level orcs. They are five 5th-level characters in D&D 4e. It ended in an unexpected TPK.

Thing is, their bard was new (he was put in place of their cleric), with not enough magic items to be as strong as the others and, as everybody knows, a bard is not as powerful as a cleric.

It was a damn hard combat, though my players were used to it and they used to play very well together, making some combats easy even when they were meant to be overwhelming. This one was supposed to be quite hard, but not overwhelming.

What happened was: the wizard miscalculated his Color Spray, hitting the fighter, who lost his Rain of Steel stance. They didn’t deal with most of the orcs during the crucial time they had with many dazed enemies, because of the Wizard’s mistake. It was brutal. They didn’t get a break after that for the whole combat and finally, were obliterated by the orcs.

Now I feel like I killed 5 characters, but only one had it coming. The other players were disappointed because they all feel like it was the wizard’s mistake that killed them all (and I also believe it, BTW). And the one who plays the wizard was the only one who was “Yay! Finally I get to play my hybrid wizard/warlord!” which pissed me off a little bit more, I’ve gotta say.

They are all making new characters but they feel like the campaign ended prematurely. They also don’t wanna go back to level 1, but for that matter, I don’t feel like GMing for brand new characters that already start as strong ones.

So, how to deal with this situation?

Which 3rd party D&D nested random encounter resource includes combat/social/treasure/mystery encounters for each type of environment?

I had once found a nested random encounter resource, as in there was a master table to determine the whether the party discovered interesting terrain, combat, mysteries, etc and one could then find associated tables for those encounter types for various environments: arctic, trade road, forest, grassland, underwater…

This book was very similar to Necromancer Games 2003 Mother of All Encounter Tables except as I had stated previously unlike MOAET the book I am looking for includes many different types of possible discoveries to come across whereas MOAET simply lists possible monsters one might find and fight in a particular biome.

I do not remember many of the encounters from this book but one that had stuck out in my mind is one from the arctic table where the party comes across a metallic device generating heat in the snow, as if to imply alien or future technology.

Does anyone know the name of this resource or where to find it?

The BBEG wants to delay the party in the final battle… (narrative delay?)

I have thought of a few methods they might accomplish this. In this question, I am wondering about a potentially more controversial option. I am considering having them attempt to monologue or engage the PC’s in dialogue (e.g. offer for them to join his side, explain his plan, answer questions, etc) with a timer running, then increase the battle rounds based on the amount of time they were able to enthrall the PC’s with their speech.

I can see some problems with this:

  • I haven’t used this "on the clock" method before and the players may not recognize what’s happening (kind of the point?); I’ve loosely enforced limiting speech to your turn to maintain a suspension of disbelief
  • This could cause balance issues with planning the time depending on if they catch on quickly or not as all (see below)
  • It would require significant setup, coordinating clues that may let them read into what is happening while also maintaining a monologue
  • Our game is online, so it may be more difficult to implement this strategy

Some details about the campaign/fight (major spoilers for Paizo’s Ruins of Azlant AP)

The party will already be in initiative when they arrive in his area (they have to fight or bypass a couple ‘mooks’ before reaching him) but in our circle of gamers there is a precedent for NPC’s to interrupt combat rounds with speech. In this campaign, that even includes the players taking up another potential enemy’s offer of working together instead of fighting. In the past, however, it hasn’t been relevant that the clock continues moving.

My goal is to cost them a handful of rounds if they are willing to listen to the creature, who is manipulative by nature. I feel this is thematic but unlikely to make the difference in their success or failure in regards to the creature’s plan, but I think it would be an epic moment if it does (or comes down to the line).

Is this a bad idea? Has anyone had success doing something like this, and what was needed to pull it off?

Directly related to my question about doing it with spells.

Reminder: per "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective", to answer this question, one would either need direct experience using such a delay tactic or have experienced a GM doing so with them as a player.