D&D Encounters: Dark Legacy of Evard – Using Leveled Up PCs

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 30, 2011

Should players have to begin at level 1 again? I know that Wizards of the Coast wants all character to start on equal footing with 0 XP, but is this absolutely necessary? After all, some of the players have come out every Wednesday for over a year now. This is going to be the fourth time that they’ve worked a character up to level 2 or level 3 and once again they’ve being asked (forced) to start all over again.

What makes it even more insulting this time is that there are no new pre-generated characters. So if you’ve been using the PCs Wizards provided not only do you have to go back down to level 1 but you have to begin anew using a character you’ve already seen advance at your game table.

Before I even knew that no new pre-gens were forthcoming, I’d already given serious thought to letting my players keep running their level 2 and level 3 PCs for this adventure. I read through Dark Legacy of Evard and I have to say that this looks like it’s going to be a very exciting, challenging and difficult adventure. By the time I’d finished reading it I was convinced that letting player use their experienced characters for this season of D&D Encounters was the right thing to do.

The difficulty of each encounter really ramps up quickly. If everyone begins at level 1 (like Wizards wants), I think we’re going to see a lot of TPKs this time around. I’d be absolutely amazed if anyone but the most seasoned players completes chapter 3 without suffering a few character deaths. Just look at the difficulties of each encounter.

  • Chapter 1: level 1 / level 1 / level 2 / level 3
  • Chapter 2: level 1 / level 2 / level 2 / level 3 / level 3
  • Chapter 3: level 3 / level 3 / level 4 / level 5

One concern about letting players continue using their same character is that the PCs may get too powerful by the final few encounters. Level 3 characters that earned the maximum XP from March of the Phantom Brigade won’t earn enough XP to reach level 4 until mid-way through this adventure and won’t hit level 5 until the final climatic encounter. That is of course assuming that they play in every encounter this season as well (which only one or two players have done at my FLGS).

DMs that follow my lead and allow players to keep running leveled up PCs will likely need to scale the encounters to account for more powerful characters. I wouldn’t recommend leveling any of the monsters; just add more of what’s already presented. Considering how hard some of them hit, ramping up their output could lead to even more TPKs then a group that starts at level 1.

I want to repeat that Wizards of the Coast expects that all characters used for D&D Encounters begin the adventure at level 1. So anyone (me included) that ends up allowing players to continue using their characters from last season will in fact be bending the rules. However, I don’t think I’m the only DM considering this option. I’ve heard from many other DMs (in person and on the forums) who agree with me and are going to do the exact same thing. Not allowing players to continue running the PCs they’ve worked 13 weeks to improve may result in those same players getting so frustrated that they stop participating in D&D Encounters.

The way I see it, if the tables are full every week the players are more likely to keep purchasing D&D stuff from their FLGS and they’re a lot more likely to get a DDI subscription so that they can manage their own characters. That’s a win for everyone.

What do long-time D&D Encounters players think of the possibility of beginning at level 1 again? Would you be more or less likely to participate in Dark Legacy of Evard if you could keep using your same character from last season? How many of the DMs think they will follow my lead? Or do you see this as more work that you as the DMs shouldn’t be expected to take on for D&D Encounters?

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1 Lahrs April 30, 2011 at 8:02 am

I truly believe I will lose a handful of my vets if I make them start at level 1 again. They have been grumbling for two seasons now, but have stuck with me anyway and I really do not want to further stretch their patience.

To be honest, it will be more work for me as the DM, but, that is also one of the tasks I have accepted when I chose to take on the role. I have DM’ed a table since season 2, and the other DM since season 3. I will continue into season 4, but am handing the second tables reigns off to a new, though experienced DM. He will have the choice to allow leveled up characters, but I have a strong feeling everyone will be at level 3.

I mentioned in another thread that I believe Wizards would much rather have people at the tables over making sure everyone is level 1. I will be picking up my kit today and will get a chance to read through the encounters, but as far as difficulty, do you believe it is Dark Sun difficulty or just a reasonably tough adventure?

2 Chris April 30, 2011 at 9:12 am

I allowed leveled up characters for this season. Everyone was tired of restarting at level 1. All the PC’s started at level 3 for the Phantom Brigade season. I generally just leveled up the monsters. However, sometimes I would reskin or adjust a different monster to make the encounter enough of a challenge. By the end of the season most of the characters are level 6 getting close to level 7.

It really wasn’t that much work to scale up the encounters. The one thing you have to watch for is the combat taking a long time. By the end of the season I was scaling up damage, modifier to hit and defenses but not HP’s. I found our group can do about 6 rounds in an hour. So I want the monsters to have a strong punch but also go down fairly quickly.

Often, I would include a trap, hazard, difficult terrain or skill challenge to add some more difficulty to the encounter. I wanted to make the encounters more than just kick down the door and kill the 4-5 bad guys.

By the end of the season, I could reliably bloody most of the party and drop 1 or 2 into death save territory. By the time the party reached an extended rest, everyone was down to their last 1-2 healing surges with the defenders often at 0 healing surges. We only had one death for the whole season.

Everyone seemed to enjoy playing there more powerful characters and using some extra powers and feats. We have some experienced players; so even if a new person showed up with a lower level character, we could level them up rather quickly.

I’ll have to talk to the group to see if they want to start the new season at level 7 and finish out the Heroic tier with this season.

3 Eric M Paquette April 30, 2011 at 10:20 am

You got the chapters wrong:

Chapters 1: level 1/level 1/level 2/level 3
Chapter 2: level 1/level 2/level 2/level 3/level 3
Chapter 3: level 3/level 3/level 4/level 5

Basically, this season with be at 4/5/4 compared to last season’s 4/4/5.

4 Ameron April 30, 2011 at 10:54 am

It sounds like you and I are on exactly the same page with this one. I’d like to hear how things work out at other tables running higher level PCs so please be sure to comment on the weekly field reports.

I’m sure you weren’t the only one who played March of the Phantom Brigade with powered up PCs. I like the way you handled scaling the encounters. Traps and skill challenges are an easy way to add another level of complexity to any adventure. I think some of the newer players that participate in D&D Encounters need to experiences this more often.

@Eric M Paquette
Good catch. I wrote this article pretty late last night and there was a lot of last minute cutting and pasting. I’ve made the correction in the article. Thank you.

5 JSollars April 30, 2011 at 8:01 pm

This season was my first time playing Encounters, and I was surprised when I showed up for week 1 with my level 1 PC and was told that the group was playing their characters from the previous season and were all at level 4. I had to level up my PC on the fly and it took a lot of page-flipping to get through that first encounter.

Although I enjoyed playing, I ended up starting up a new table to accomodate new players who were showing up and wanting to play. I started everyone at level 1 and just went with xp per session (rather than leveling up automatically at the chapter breaks or such).

The end result was that the original table had a blast with level 4/5/6 PC and a DM who leveled up the encounters accordingly but they had very little turnover and a hard time fitting any new players into their game. My table had a blast with level 1/2/3 PC and were able to fit in the occassional guest player who just wanted to play for a week or two.

I say play how you want to play but I would hope that each FLGS has at least 1 table that will play with the lower level PC’s and can accomodate new players looking to participate.

6 Seb Wiers May 1, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I’d rather get a chance to play a new, radically different character than stick with the same guy for another season. Higher level != more fun. In fact, I’d also encourage people not to play the same role two seasons in a row, and certainly not the same character.
If our shop has tables for leveled characters, I think I’ll stick with the newbies, even if offered a chance to level up a new character.

7 Lahrs May 2, 2011 at 10:03 am

@JSollars – I do understand your point, and I have to admit starting at a higher level may scare away potential new people, but after four seasons, we are a fairly entrenched group of players just begging to play beyond level 3. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

@Seb – Everyone at my table will have a chance to bring either their same character at level 3 (leveled up if they were not at 3 before) or a brand new level 3 character. At the end of each season, we draw names out of a hat for tables so we have at least some fresh faces each season, and then they get to decide on which roles/classes they wish to play. It helps break things up.

Why would you prefer to start at level 1 if given the chance to play a new character? Just curious.

8 Seb Wiers May 3, 2011 at 12:26 am

Lahrs – I was assuming “leveled character” meant “character you had leveled in the last season”, not just any character you want to play, boosted to level 3. Simply put, I don’t want to play “Frimgar” for another season.
I might consider a new, leveled character, but given my unfamiliarity, might also want to avoid it. Plus, I suspect I’d design characters a bit differently if I expected them to go over level 3, and am unsure on some things (like which, if any, magic items they could have, etc).

9 Henry May 9, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I’ve been running the encounters @ my store here in Kingston ON for the first 4 seasons and had been already tempted to ‘tweek’ the more poorly written modules or to let the PC’s that had been playing since season 1 continue with their old characters.

I certainly think it would have been prudent for the Dark Sun campaign since that season more than any other ended up being a blood bath. So many character deaths or on the verge of complete TPK’s. A few higher lvl toons might have made all the difference in the world.

But when Wizards sent the kit to the store a few weeks ago and Belgos was staring up at me i assumed there had been a mistake…but no sure enough rather than run a non 1st level adventure and rather than de-level the new shadow characters on the CB thy instead gave us the same old weary adventurers that weas players and DM’s are meant to describe having lost thier powers lost their items and simply start anew. Perhap the arrow of time sent THEM back in time when they killed the dragon?

Anyways…lame. So it’s been decided.
I’ve told all my gamers to do one of the following…
They can continue with a character that they have been plying from season 4 and continue to see Brandis or Jarren develop from 2nd or 3rd level onwards since it will give them a more satisfying playthrough than starting fresh. Or they can roll up a fresh 3rd level character of their choosing. Or if they wish they can play the 4th level characters from the builder which i’ve printed off. This will let them start a level higher but have limited choice in the powers/items/and flvor of their characters.

I’ll simply level up the encounters as others above have mentioned.
A few extra monsters for fights that warrant it.
Slightly higher damage expressions as the DM2 chart lays out but with the same hp values and defenses so that fights dont drag on.
And skill challenges and more interesting terrain to give the encounter the TRUE feeling of a Shadowfall.

I strongly encourage all DM’s for season 5 to at least offer your players some sort of ‘out’. Be it through continuing a higher lvl character or maybe doing some groundwork yourself to invent or find new 1st level premades. Being asked to reset back to 1st lvl after being a seasoned ‘newb’ is one thing…we all get that they want it to be geared towards 1st level adventurers and leave the mid to late heroic tier for home games. But to ask us to play the EXACT same people as last season with no explanation is a breach in continuity that even the most imaginative players have trouble stomaching.

Evard is a diamond in the rough! All it needs is a touch of love and it will be the most exciting season to date. It’s perfect for a 3-6lvl adventure!

10 AlHazred May 10, 2011 at 12:11 am

I’ve been reading through this, and I think it’s a more solid adventure than Phantom Brigade which had (IMO) a horribly weak McGuffin (the arrow of time… ugh!) This one has some nice drama to it, and I hope I can bring it to life for the players. I find a strong Clark Ashton Smith/Averoigne vibe to it, and I plan to play that up.

I’ve been trying to find a map of Duponde since a great deal of the interesting action takes place there. There’s a one-page dealy in the module, but I’m hoping there’s a larger version I can print out to 11×17. Anybody found something like that?

11 Alveric May 29, 2011 at 1:58 am

I’ve been running this with 3rd-level characters for those who wanted to continue with their old 3rd-level characters, and we’ve been having a great time two levels higher! The 3rd-level pregens definitely help! Ironically, nobody is even using old characters from previous seasons, so go figure!

Anyway, if you HAVE been running at 3rd level, here’s a summary of what you need to fix (like you don’t know this already):
1) Monsters: +2 initiative/attacks/defenses/damage and +16-20 hit points
2) Skill checks: Easy/Medium/Hard DCs to 8/13/21
3) Encounter XP: 375, 150, 675, 300 in sessions 1-4 totalling 1500 – enough to level up to 4th at the end of the chapter. (The designers intended for players to level at the end of each chapter, and designed the sessions expecting 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level characters. Starting at 3rd level, characters should reach 4th and 5th levels at the end of the first chapters, and can end the adventure at 6th level.

12 Balazar773 July 1, 2011 at 11:34 am

After the season ends we will have the Neverwinter sourcebook, so I anticipate having a ongoing with the surviving advanced players table, or if the Lair assaults look promising, maybe we will have 2-3 tables.

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