I made a key dungeon mastering mistake during last week’s near total party kill in my Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition campaign. I share it here as a warning to those who follow.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m using Harley Stroh’s Dragora’s Dungeon in my home campaign; for the most part, it’s been a great success. I have, however, had recurring challenges of information management. Sometimes related encounter areas have key pieces of information in different sections of the book that don’t reference each other.
In the wandering monster portion of the module, there is a stat block for an elite mad wraith that caught my eye. I didn’t want to use it as a truly random encounter because I don’t think it’s a good idea to let the dice decide encounter details, unless it’s related to a skill check or challenge. When combined with a couple of the hastati zain-kin minions running around, a mad wraith encounter would be big fun that effectively conveyed the constant threat of life in the city.
As a part of my normal prep, I enter monster defenses and hit points into an Excel spreadsheet for tracking. Each has its own tab that I slide around to match initiative order. I use a simple formula to calculate hit points, because I hate doing math on the fly. I had entered this information several weeks ago, using the module’s stats. As I prepared for last week’s game, I started using the Monster Manual as a reference for the encounter. The module only has a stat block, the MM has lore and tactics.
When I calculated the experience point budget for the final version of the encounter, I used the MM, non-elite version of the creature. It hadn’t occurred to me that Stroh, would have added the elite template to the wraith. I didn’t even really understand the difference. At this stage of my DMing life, I shy away from adding templates or changing monsters beyond adding or subtracting a level or two.
As a result, I thought I was giving my players an encounter that ranged from very easy, with one wraith, to low level normal if they fought all three. Instead, it was high level easy with one wraith, and very difficult if they fought all three. It’s no wonder they wiped.
The obvious lesson is to always double check stat blocks when switching between sources. What mistakes have you made as a DM? What did you learn from it?