Saturday, February 28, 2009

In the Hook's Shadow

However the party decides to reach Hook Mountain, Shalelu approaches them with a desire to join their expedition. This is an opportunity to provide your players with an ally, one of many they will come across in the course of this adventure.

In 3.5, the Leadership feat was used to justify such allies a lot of the time. That's unnecessary here. Allow the party to control Shalelu in encounters - they can decide amongst themselves who should actually make decisions for her. As the DM, though, you should determine her interaction with the party (and other NPCs). Print her stat block out and hand it to the players. Page 116 of the Dungeon Master's Guide provides some advice on how to handle the party's allies. Of particular importance is accounting for what is effectively an additional creature on the party's side in encounters, so be sure to divide the experience award up as though there were an extra party member. All encounters where Shalelu (or other allies) would be involved will be designed with a slightly higher XP budget to reflect this.

A couple notes on how Shalelu works as an NPC ally in combat. As a heroic-tier NPC, she has a single healing surge available to her each day (and the ability to use Second Wind like any PC), so while she has the same staying power in a fight that most PCs do, she doesn't have the heroes' ability to rise up to challenge encounter after encounter without time to recuperate. As an NPC, she also is out of the fight at 0 hit points. Whether she dies or is merely knocked unconscious is up to you as DM. She does not roll death saving throws while unconscious, so although this prevents her from bleeding out it also prevents her from recovering by rolling 20+. Make sure your PCs know how the recharge mechanic works, too. The important thing is to reinforce the feeling that the PCs are made of tougher stuff than Shalelu is. Though she is a capable bounty hunter, she does not have the heroic destiny that the PCs do. If you'd like, you can even have her comment on the fact that the PCs seem to be able to withstand so much punishment and still press on.

Varisia is a frontier, and there's no reason to make the party's trip to Turtleback Ferry a cake walk. I dislike the idea of random encounters as a DM tool for planning sessions. They have some utility in providing suggestions for what a party might come across if they go off the "rails" of the adventure, but there's no reason to keep something random when you can have control over it without the party knowing the difference. Knowing what the party will encounter allows it to be planned for. It's reasonable to assume that the party will be traveling through the wilderness on their way to Hook Mountain (even if by ferry), so there's no reason not to plan ahead for what they'll disturb along the way.

Stat block(s):

Quest card(s):


tadkil said...

Shelalu and all the rangers are particualrly thorny in 4.0. The rules really aren't designed to support fully developed NPCs. In 3.5,I almost always (and always in 2.0 and AD&D) had an NPC ramming around the field helping direct and craft the narrative, but also adding bandwidth to the party. I am inclined to build out Shelalu using the PC creation rules, and use your stat block format for the Black Arrow rangers.

4.0 combats are much less labor intensive compared to 3.5 combats. I am comfortable running her and the big bad guys.

Any issues you see with this?

Scott said...

If you do flesh out Shalelu entirely and play her as a PC, consider raising the challenge level of the encounters she appears in even further.

Although the rules say that the best way to challenge a party with more PCs is to increase the experience value proportionately, this usually under-challenges the party. Because of the way party synergy works compared to monster synergy, PCs get a much bigger boost to effectiveness from having an extra member than monsters do.

There's no real disadvantage to playing Shalelu and the monsters at the same time, especially since if she's a full PC giving her to a player might be overloading them a bit (and could make others jealous). If you think you can handle it just fine, you probably can.

Starfox Musings said...

I think I prefer to handle NPC hangers-on by simply subtracting their XP value from encounters (as outlined under exceptional mounts), rather than divide xp into one additional share. After all as you point out, the NPCs are quite a lot less powerful than the PCs are.

Scott said...

I think you'll find that the two options are quite similar.

As an example, let's imagine a hypothetical level 9 encounter we're designing. The exceptional mount rules instruct us to add extra monsters to the fight equal to the exceptional mount's experience value. Shalelu is worth 300 XP, so we add 300 XP of monsters to the fight. When the fight is over, the exceptional mount rules instruct us to ignore that extra XP granted by the monster(s) added for the exceptional mount when calculating how much experience the party receives. For this level 9 encounter, the party will receive 2,300 XP minus the 300 XP Shalelu's presence added. The result is 2,000 XP. Divide that by the five party members, and each receives 400 XP.

Now let's imagine that same encounter, but using the normal NPC-as-party-member rules. Since the party now contains six people, we add an additional monster of the encounter's level to the mix. The 9th-level encounter is now worth 2,400 XP. When the encounter is over, we divide the experience by six (instead of five) because of Shalelu's presence. Each party member receives 400 XP, the same amount as in the previous example.

What was the difference between the two? Only that in the latter example the party fought 100 XP worth of extra monsters. This is because Shalelu is below the level of the encounter (7th level in a 9th level encounter), and the difference between her own experience value and the experience value of a 9th level monster is 100 XP. Now, if Jakardros had been in this situation instead, the FORMER example would see the party fighting an extra 200 XP worth of monsters because he would have been higher level than the encounter.

In other words, neither of these methods of calculating experience takes into account the relative power of NPCs versus PCs. All either of them take into account is level, and that level can very well be higher or lower than the encounter in question, depending on the NPC. If the NPC is lower level than the party (as in Shalelu's case), your group will have it slightly easier using your method. If the NPC is higher level than the party (as in Jakardros' case), your group will have it slightly harder using your method.

I don't think this is really an issue either way, though. Because of the way party synergy works in 4th Edition, each extra party member you add to any given fight makes the party collectively more powerful than simply throwing another monster at them can make up for. To put it simply, monsters don't synergize as well as PCs do. Adding an NPC to the party is much closer to balanced against one extra monster than adding an extra PC to the party would be.

Mysteria said...

With more books out by now, I'd turn them into companion characters.