More LFR Changes – Level Bands and Encounters Levels

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on October 18, 2010

There are more changes on the horizon for LFR. A couple of weeks ago in the article Will Essentials Ruin LFR? we talked about forthcoming changes to magical treasure and PC equipment necessitated by D&D Essentials. Last week Greg Marks (posting as Skerrit) one of the Global Admins for LFR posted another article on the Wizards forums announcing more changes to LFR. In the article CCG Update he talks about changes to the way adventures are going to be structured in 2011.

Starting in Q1 2011, most new LFR adventures will be written to span an entire tier of play (Heroic or Paragon). None of us is super thrilled about this change, but because of the reduced number of adventures per year, we feel like we don’t have any choice but to widen the spread of levels. There will continue to be exceptions but by and large most LFR adventures will span an entire tier in 2011.

He covers two very specific, yet related topics throughout the article: Topic 1 – Level Bands and Topic 2 – Encounter Levels (ELs). Level bands refers to the minimum and maximum levels allowed for a PCs participating in the adventure. As it stands now the heroic level bands are 1-4, 4-7, 7-10 and the paragon level bands are 11-14, 14-17 and 17-20. So PCs playing in the 4-7 band must all be between levels 4-7. It seems pretty straight forward and it is. So far this system has worked out pretty well, a point Skerrit makes in the article. The encounter levels help determine the difficulty of the encounter and how powerful the monsters are for each encounter. Within each band there are high and low encounters. So in a level 4-7 adventure the low encounters are suitable for PCs levels 4-5 and the high encounters are suitable for PCs levels 6-7. Again, not rocket science and so far a pretty good way to run things.

However, beginning in 2011, there are going to be fewer adventures released over the course of the year. The proposal is that if the adventures are created with relatively easy mechanics to scale up or down, there may not even be a need for level bands. One adventure could be played by PCs of any level from 1-10 or 11-20. The DM would need to make a few adjustments but the story would still make sense and the encounters would still be suitable.

Part of the discussion is around the additional burden facing the good folks who write the adventures. Now they are expected to include monsters for both the low level and high level version of the level band their writing for. If the adventure needs to span ten levels, then the writers will need to create monster stat blocks to cover more situations. The question is what levels should they prepare? Or should they even prepare multiple stat blocks at all? Maybe they just provide the base monsters and then indicate where to add or subtract points to attack scores, defenses, hit points and damage. But that means a lot more work for each and every DM who runs that adventure moving forward.

One of the reasons for creating adventures that span so many levels is that it’s becoming harder and harder to fill entire tables at the FLGS and at conventions. Why shouldn’t a table with only three or four players levels 5-6 allow the player with a level 8 PC to join the game, filling out their numbers and giving everyone an opportunity to play? Under the current RPGA rules this is simply not allowed since level 8 PCs must play in the level 7-10 level band.

By creating adventures that span an entire tier there is the risk that players with PCs whose levels are drastically far apart may end up playing at the same table. This can upset the balance of encounters and can easily lead to abuse. As they state in the article a group of players who are all level 10 can have their friend create a level 1 PC and then join them during their next adventure and reap level 10 XP right out of the gate.

Personally I like the idea of level bands but I’ve always felt they were too rigid. I like the proposal that PCs of any level in the same tier can play together as long as the lowest level PC and highest level PC are within four levels of each other. However, the DM should always be allowed to make an exception. It sucks when you have to turn away one player when there’s a seat at the table or you can’t get enough people together to play because no one else is in your level band. This flexibility should result in fewer cancellations and more D&D (which is something I think we can all agree is a good thing).

I understand the argument that creating encounters for so many different permutations does mean a lot more work for the people writing the adventures. Considering how easy it is to level up or level down monsters using the Monster Builder in adventure tools I don’t think it’s too much to ask for monsters at all of the odd or all of the even levels. I think that asking the DMs to make adjustments themselves will just make it harder to find DMs. I know at my FLGS they ask everyone to take a turn DMing after playing six games and that’s already a chore. If these reluctant DMs have to adjust all the monsters one by one they’ll probably opt to stop playing all together.

This is just my opinion on the situation. I don’t have a solution. And it doesn’t sound like the LFR folks do either (yet). But as I mentioned the last time we commented on upcoming changes to LFR they want your input. This gaming community values your opinion. They’re asking for you to weigh in and let them know what you think. The greatest part of a living campaign is that everyone gets a voice. This is your chance to exercise yours. Check out the CCG Update article and leave a comment telling them what you think.

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1 Liam Gallagher October 18, 2010 at 10:50 am

I feel bad for Mr. Marks. From reading his writting you can tell that he is a very smart, but it seems as though he has an impossible task set infront of him because no matter how elegant the changes to the adventure design template are going to be he’s still going to have to make the lives of his writers harder. What would you do if your publisher wanted you to write a war time novel, but to do so in such a way that the main character could be a general or a private? The same consideration needs to be made with villans.

It’s not that I want FLR to get worse, but I don’t think the quality of adventures can suffer anymore.

2 Ameron October 20, 2010 at 1:02 pm

@Liam Gallagher
I agree that they’re not likely to find a solution that will make everyone happy. I only hope that the quality of any new adventures doesn’t suffer because of changes necessitated out of “administrative” needs.

3 Al October 21, 2010 at 8:32 am

I’m confused here wasn’t the point of allowing people to create higher level characters supposed to counteract the case of undermanned tables of a certain level band?

4 Ameron October 21, 2010 at 2:07 pm

I believe that was part of the original rationale. I think another big reason was to sell more books. If LFR was my only D&D outlet and my current characters were already in paragon I’d be a lot less likely to create anything new if I had to begin at level 1. Now if they let me jump in at level 8 or 11 (which of course they do now) then I might create a Monk and pick up Psychic Powers. Just my 2 cents on that.

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