[4E] Best practices for paragon tier DMing?

edited March 2010 in Story Games
Our D&D campaign, when it resumes,will either be in paragon country or very close to it.

As the DM, what should I expect? Do I need to change up my approach at all? I know that's a hopelessly vague question, so let me try to focus it a bit.

The DMG2 paragon tier advice amounted to "make the stakes bigger, and go to Sigil." I'm not interested too much in Sigil (though maybe the players might be) and I think I can escalate the stakes appropriately from the heroic tier.

But what about encounter design? Do the best practices change at the paragon tier? Are there new grinds or new anticlimaxes to avoid?

(I like the term 'best practices' because the OReilly best practices books have been pretty illuminating to me. If you don't, I apologize.)

Comments

  • edited March 2010
    At this tier and above the PCs become remarkably resilient. This can make them more difficult to challenge. In that sense the best practices shift a bit.

    I've found that the default baddie damage output is a bit low across the game but this is especially noticable beginning at Paragon. Part of my answer to this in encounter design came in the form of higher damage enviromental hazards, ones that the NPCs on their home terrain find it easier to avoid. Fifty-foot drops are a nice baseline; PCs that shrug and yawn at equal-leveled Lurker or Artillery damage start to actually take notice at 5d10. Hazards like elevation can also serve to divide some of the party from their Leader(s), making those PCs lives more interesting. As at Heroic tier, though, whenever you divide the party make sure both halves face fun opposition. Healing surge drain and heavier ongoing damage are other useful enviromental hazards that may have overwhelmed the PCs at Heroic tier but now they can take it.

    You'll also have noticed that that Paragon Paths give the PCs additional power whenever they have Action Points. Encounter design might take this into account by encouraging the PCs to burn them in an encounter that seems more threatening than it turns out to be, some kind of AP drain threat (don't overdo this!), or some other method.

    Look closely at the Rituals available to Paragon level PCs. They start to become more potent and interesting. If the players are in the habit of ignoring Rituals, make sure they are aware of this shift and make sure those potent and interesting Rituals are available to the PCs. Design your encounters such that casting just the right Ritual prior to a telegraphed encounter is a nice asset.

    Magic items, consumables and spells give Paragon PCs access to Resist10 versus a variety of damage types. Because of damage scaling issues, you have to be even more careful to vary your damage types in any given encounter. That cool encounter you had planned with the party against 4 Medusae? Yeah, the wizard just put Poison Resist10 on the whole party. What's your back-up plan, smart guy? (waves of harpies!!!)

    Good luck. :)
  • Matthew, that's exactly the kind of advice I want. Story Games win!
  • As a player, I've found that it's even more important to give solos some way of dealing with the absolutely inevitable chain daze/stun effects the party will lay down. Action points, other parallel threats, and
    Many-Headed

    Each time a razor hydra would become dazed or stunned, it instead loses one attack while using hydra fury during its next turn. The hydra can be dazed or stunned multiple times.
    were the methods I enjoyed the most.

    That "beware of damage resist" thing is definitely important, especially when considering minions... and if you do happen to include a bunch of necrotic damage minions and "oops now we have resist 8 necrotic haha", don't forget about Aid Another.
  • Excellent point on Solos, Guy. True in Heroic and then goes to a new level in Paragon for sure.

    You know that multiplication effect you saw in Heroic where you'd run for a varying number of players and 5 PCs were more than 25% tougher than 4 PCs and 6 PCs were more than 50% tougher than 4 PCs? Because of super-charged APs and their large number of Powers, Paragons PCs can put out a lot of burst power/actions for a time and seem like a larger number of characters - increasingly power in the form of actions that hobble Solos. Even though Solos are supposedly worth 4-5 times the XP in opposition, they only get one turn and generally only a couple of attacks. Definitely have to watch that.

    I don't use Solos much but my Solos and Elites can pay 10% of their hit points once or twice an encounter to get all their Saves at the beginning of their turns instead of the end. To avoid (at a cost) some of that lockdown while still giving the PCs their due; "Wizard player: 'Well, he broke my Daze but it's like my spell did 26 extra damage!' or 'Hurray! My spell did the equivalent of 26 extra damage and he's still Dazed!'" Don't know how you feel about new house rules in the middle of a campaign, but maybe this is a new "chapter." ;)
  • Oh! Maybe not in line with what you're looking for, but something I wish I'd done; ask the PCs at level 9 or 10 what Paragon Paths they're excited about. A lot of the Paths have amazing story grist and organizations associated with them. I'd have loved to start working those organizations into the tapestry of the world.

    There's this amorphous "D&D world" out there where the empowered players (in 4E in particular) have this gigantic menu of options. That's great! But once they've made those choices, I like to highlight them; maybe there's really only effectively five or six "Paragon Paths" in the whole world and the 2-3 organizations tied to those 5-6 Paths are monolithic/critical. But if those organizations just "appear" when the PCs hit level 11, how important/real were they really?
  • Posted By: nemomemeOh! Maybe not in line with what you're looking for, but something I wish I'd done; ask the PCs at level 9 or 10 what Paragon Paths they're excited about.
    We've done some of this! We've played some around our fighter's paragon intentions. (His girlfriend wasn't enthusiastic about him becoming a Dreadnought fighter. He dumped her.)

    My idea is to make the paragon induction process as fictionful as the individual player wants it to be. One possibility I want to explore is, maybe you don't get into the paragon path of your choice? Maybe we story it up to the point where you need to go on a (very short and abstracted) quest or otherwise prove yourself in order to get accepted, but if you fail at that, then what? Do you pick 'safety paths?'
  • edited March 2010
    We've played some around our fighter's paragon intentions. (His girlfriend wasn't enthusiastic about him becoming a Dreadnought fighter. He dumped her.)
    Hey! Karnak is pretty sure he's the one who got dumped! But he's still headed for the city of Brass.

    And I'm glad to see that the scheming and planning has started! :)
  • John: Maybe so. The vanilla "racial" paths, (e.g. from memory, the Human races' "Adroit Explorer") are all pretty potent and all unconnected to specific organizations. Maybe those are your "safety" paths.

    Or maybe all of the other Paragon Paths the character is eligible for mechanically are available for the PCs to choose from but it's their first choices, the ones they were really angling towards, that come with sweet story-game advantages - think GURPS/Champions' "Patron" advantages.
  • edited March 2010
    Posted By: johnzoOne possibility I want to explore is, maybe you don't get into the paragon path of your choice? Maybe we story it up to the point where you need to go on a (very short and abstracted) quest or otherwise prove yourself in order to get accepted, but if you fail at that, then what? Do you pick 'safety paths?'
    So long as you mean "maybe the character doesn't get the PP of their choice", then that's awesome. Roleplay out how the wizard tries to become a member of the Order of the Crimson Robes or whatever, then narrate his failure in the induction ceremony and how he instead turns to dark Blood Magic for revenge. Sweet.

    If you mean "perhaps the player won't get the PP of their choice" based on a random die roll or something, then it sounds like a massive fail.
  • edited March 2010
    I would be fine with "the player doesn't get the PP of their choice." We already use the resolution system to determine whether or not the character gets all kinds of things that I as the player might want. Since the Paragon Paths are in-world things, it makes sense to me to follow the actions and consequences of in-world stuff affected by rolls (battles, skills, etc.) to determine how my induction into the Path turns out.

    Maybe that's just my Burning Wheel and Warhammer instincts kicking in.
  • Posted By: Mr. TeapotIf you mean "perhaps the player won't get the PP of their choice" based on a random die roll or something, then it sounds like a massive fail.
    Well, I'm not going to push this idea unless someone else at the table is into it. This is a possibility, not a policy.

    And it won't be a one-size-fits-all; I've got no objection if some want to just pick their paragon path and move on while others want a harder road with the possibility of failure -- save for maybe spotlight time imbalance.
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