by Mike Shea on 30 November 2009
We'd all like to have a perfect set of five players every time we play D&D but in the age of constant busyness, it can be harder and harder to achieve. One way to get close is to build a pool of players and hope five can attend at any given time.
What happens, however, on those days where more show up than intended? No one wants to kick someone out of their game and it's a poor strategy to take if you plan on keeping your game alive a long time. Instead, we should look for ways to scale the game up to six players.
Scaling the game down to four players isn't terribly difficult. Usually you can remove a creature or two to keep the experience pool correct per PC. In many cases, a D&D game with four players might be preferred. The battles will run quick and the challenge will be high.
Scaling for six, however, can be a bit more challenging. First, keeping the threat high will be hard. A single PC added on to a party of five ends up creating an overall base of power higher than the sum of its parts. A group of six puts out and mitigates a lot more damage than a party of five - more than you'd think for simply adding another character.
Today we're going to look at some tips for scaling your own game up for six players instead of the usual five.
The easiest way to scale up a battle for a larger group is to add more creatures. Keep in mind, however, that you must add enough experience points worth of creature to keep the encounter level the same. This can be a bit confusing. If you're planning a level 21 encounter for your group of level 18 players. When they add a sixth PC, you have to add an additional level 21 creature to keep the encounter at the same level. Sometimes this might mean adding two level 17 creatures. Even still, the difficulty will probably be less.
There are a couple of problems with this method, even though it is the easiest. First, if time is a factor, your battle is likely to go significantly longer than one with five PCs. Adding an extra player will already add a bit of time. Adding more creatures on your side will add more time as well.Second, as mentioned above, it can be hard to keep the level of the battle the same.Third, you're still not likely to make the difficulty any higher.
Another easy way to keep the threat high against six PCs is to increase monster damage. There are two ways to do this, one more subtle and one more direct. The subtle way is to simply add a die of damage. If a creature does 1d8+6, convert that to 2d8+6. This makes the damage more swingy and will add an average of about 4 to 5 damage overall.
A more direct and powerful way is to add 1/2 the creature's level to damage. A level 10 gnoll would add +5 onto his normal damage. An easy way to do this with your stat block is to look at the creature's appropriate stat modifier and use that instead of the creature's normal damage modifier. For example, an Azer Beastmaster's normal 1d10+5 damage would turn into 1d10+13 using his +13 strength modifier.
This added damage will keep a party of six on their toes as long as damage is spread out across the group. As a DM, remember not to pile too much on a single character this way.
D&D 4th edition isn't scaled for single powerful battles that put a fully rested group on the edge of disaster. It's built to wear down a party over time. In this case, there's nothing wrong with running combats as though you only had five players. Sure, they're bound to be easier combats than expected, but they will still wear down a party of six.
Using this method, the duration of battles shouldn't go any longer than you'd expect with a party of six. Ensure, however, that the group gets few chances to fully rest. A group of six should go six or seven battles before they're able to take an extended rest with at least one or two more challenging battles using the other methods above.
Boss creatures, those big bad evil guys we love so much as a DM, will need some special protections when battling a group of six. These bosses act like lightning rods for your players - usually taking an extreme amount of the nastiest hits your party has to offer. Consider giving them a few more defenses than they'd usually have when facing a larger group. My personal favorite is a resistance to dazes and stuns. Consider giving your bosses these abilities:
Unstoppable Villain: When stunned, this creature instead loses a standard action this round. When dazed, this creature instead loses a minor action this round.
This ensures your fancy boss won't lose all his chances to act should he be repeatedly dazed and stunned.
With some careful consideration, a good DM can learn how to scale a 4th edition game for added players. Take some time and special attention and you'll end up having just as great a time - if not better than you would with a group of five.