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Balancing an Adventure - an Analysis of B11by Giampaolo Agosta
The Balancing method works well, but I would caution against relying too much on it for very low-level parties.
Let us consider as an example B11, which is an introductory adventure for 1st level characters. The adventure is set up for 5 PCs (if there are 4 or less, a dwarf NPC joins the party, if there are 6 or more, there is one additional monster). There is only a trap and a strongly reduced chance to have random encounters.
The adventure offers the opportunity for at least one strategic retreat, and possibly two, before level 1 of the dungeon is cleared. There is almost no room for negotiation except for three encounters (Kobold, lone Orc lieutenant and Bugbear).
All these elements make IMO B11 a good benchmark (most other adventures are designed for a wider range of PC levels and numbers).
The Adj HD of the enemies for the first level are as follows:
- 3 Orcs (PCs likely to have surprise): Adj HD 3
- 1 Kobold: Adj HD 1/2
- 1 Giant Ferret + 1 Horned Chameleon Lizard (likely to have surprise): Adj HD 5
- 4 Orcs + 1 Giant Ferret (half arrive after 2 rounds): Adj HD 5
- Bugbear + Orc: Adj HD 4
- 7 Orcs (PCs likely to have surprise, orcs are drunk): Adj HD 7
- 4 Orcs: Adj HD 4
- 1 Orc lieutenant + 1 Giant Hunting Spider (PCs may have surprise): Adj HD 3
- 1 Orc lieutenant: Adj HD 1 (may join the next group): Adj HD 1
- 2 Orc lieutenants, Orc mage, Orc chief: Adj HD 9
Here we have 5 PCs, thus a TPL of 5.
Thus, we have two Extreme Danger encounters, two Risky encounters, two Major encounters, and two Challenging encounters. The last two encounters are a Too easy and a Minor one (but the latter is designed to avoid a fight and either reinforce or weaken the final encounter).
In one of the Extreme Danger, one Risky, and both Challenging encounters, PCs have some additional benefit (usually an increased chance at surprising the enemies). This possibly reduces the impact of the encounter since in a free round the PCs may be able to remove a couple of HD of enemies (also, encounters are one level tougher if monsters are in ambush, so the Horned Chameleon should likely count as an Extreme Danger encounter).
Note that there are 10 encounters. The module assumes 2 or 3 "adventuring days", thus 3-5 encounters per day (maybe 3-6 as there is no indication that the PCs should stop exactly at half the level), plus possibly one random encounter (most likely, 2 Orcs at a TPL of 2, a Good Fight).
With two adventuring days, the PCs will fight each day: 1 Extreme Danger, 2 Major (or 1 Major and 1 Risky), 1 Minor or Too easy, and 2 Good Fight encounters (considering 1 random encounter and downgrading the encounters where there is an increased chance of surprise). Now, going by the Balancing option, Extreme Danger should be a TPK, but actually, if the PCs include at least one spellcaster with Sleep (the pregens include a Magic User with Sleep on a 5 PCs party, as well as Fighter, Cleric, Thief, and an Elf with Magic Missile), then the encounter easily resolves, since all enemies are vulnerable to it. The same goes for the Risky encounter.
Basically, the Sleep spell at level 1 takes out 2d8 HD (avg 9) enemies, which is more than enough to clean out an Extreme Danger encounter for 1st level PCs (both have only 7 unadjusted HD of enemies). Even on a bad roll (4-5), the encounter is reduced from an Extreme Danger to a manageable Challenging one.
Obviously, this effect dilutes quickly -- the spell doesn't scale, and by level two it only downgrades an Extreme Danger encounter (Adj HD 22) to a Challenging fight (Adj HD 13). At level 3, an extreme danger is only downgraded to a Major encounter, and from there on many encountered monsters will be immune to Sleep due to having more than 4+1 HD.
Bottom line: at 1st level, if the party has access to the Sleep spell, you can (and should) add an Extreme Danger encounter to the mix, possibly even one Extreme Danger encounter per Sleep spell the party can memorize.
Also, note that the typical adventure mix in the Balancing option says that 1/2 of encounters in an adventure should be Good Fights, and uses Major encounters only once per adventure, adding a few Distractions and 3-5 Challenging encounters for a short adventure. Thus, 1 Major, 4 Challenging, 6 Good Fight, 1 Distraction, plus random encounters (usually Minor) might be a typical mix for a "short" adventure. B11's first level matches the definition of short adventure, but definitely not the mix.