When Adventures Are Too Easy

From Roleplaying Tips Weekly #477 by Johnn Four

When Adventures Are Too Easy
by Kate Manchester

You spend hours planning and mapping out your adventure and sit down to begin the game session. An hour later, your PCs have managed to breeze through your carefully crafted encounters and handily win the day. And to add insult to injury, one of your players look at you and says, "that was too easy!"

So how do you make things more challenging for the PCs without designing a deliberate TPK scenario? Here are few ideas to help you plan your next adventure.

1. Know Your Players and PCs

Know your players. If your players are known for coming up with outside the box solutions, try to come up with a few yourself when planning your adventure. For example, if your PCs are the sort to thoroughly examine a room in an attempt to look for hidden treasure, then throw in a poison needle trap in the trigger for the secret door.

Make no assumptions. If a player doesn't specifically say their PC is doing something like checking doors for traps or scanning their surroundings, then don't assume they are.  Yes, this could potentially mean the party is unaware of the goblin sneaking up behind them, but what's an RPG without a little danger?

Know your PCs. Back when I ran an ongoing campaign, I kept an updated copy of each player's character sheet on goldenrod paper. By having a copy of the sheets, I had access to the PCs' stats and equipment. If, for example, I knew that Thorgar the Magnificent has the ability to jump 10 feet without making a die roll, then I might use a 15 foot pit trap instead of a 6 foot one.

Use the PC's weaknesses. If you're running a game where PCs take disadvantages to gain advantages at character creation, then by all means exploit them, no matter how odd the flaw. For example, a player in a LARP took a phobia of chickens thinking it was a cheap and safe way to gain extra build points.  Imagine the player's surprise when a rogue group of chickens showed up at a game session and became part of a continuing minor storyline.

2. All's Fair

While life isn't always fair, it doesn't mean the adventure can't be fair to both parties involved.

If the PCs have a particular power/feat/etc., there's nothing stopping a GM from assigning those same powers to NPCs.

For example, in a Star Wars campaign I played in, my PC had a handy power that allowed her to disarm an opponent, which she used to destroy a Sith's lightsaber. During a later encounter, one of the bad guys used the same power to disarm one of the other PCs, resulting in that PC's capture.

If the party can obtain weapons or equipment with minimal effort, there's no reason why your NPCs can't also get them.
In fact, in some cases, the NPCs might have access to better equipment due to superior contacts or resources.

If the NPCs have it, they can use it. If the adversaries you're throwing at the PCs have treasures of a special or magical nature, they should be using the items, not just leaving them in a dusty chest or weapons locker.

So have the NPCs strap on that +1 leather armor or keep that combination flame thrower/grenade launcher at the ready. And while this strategy might lower the item's value (through depletion of charges or damage to the object), it can also serve as an incentive to the PCs to attempt to end future encounters faster.

Use the players' own strategies against them. If you're sending intelligent adversaries after the PCs, then allow them to utilize commonly known adventuring strategies and tactics.

For example, "Kill the mage (or cleric) first" is a strategy commonly employed by adventurers. Why then wouldn't the NPCs also employ it?

3. Make Tougher Monsters

Tough monsters are tough for a reason. If an adversary has multiple attacks or special abilities, by all means let them be used. If, for example, you throw an ancient spell-using dragon at the party, that dragon should be using their spells along with their claws, teeth, breath weapon and tail. These creatures are fighting for their lives.

Raise the enemy's stats. If you typically throw enemies of the same or slightly lower level at the PCs, then consider increasing this to a higher ratio (highest party level + 3 levels, for example). In the case of a non-level based game, you might want some or all of the NPCs to have better stats than the most senior party member.

Not all monsters collect treasure. Some adversaries aren't motivated by the lust for treasure. Some are simply hungry monsters, or human(oids) trying to survive in their little patch of ground. Therefore, some NPCs might attempt to destroy a party member's weaponry or armor or use equipment damaging traps like acid or hungry rust monsters.

4. Use Trickier Traps

Make traps harder or more lethal. Make a pit deeper or give a trap the ability to adjust and adapt.

For example, in the movie Resident Evil, the main characters had to go up against a deadly laser. The first person that hit it was beheaded.

The next person was a bit more clever and managed to avoid its deadly attack several times until the laser "learned." It then went after him using an inescapable grid pattern which diced the character just before the others were able to turn it off. Ouch.

Another example of a difficult and ingenious trap is one that consists of a teleport spell that always goes first and sends the unlucky soul 15 feet above the illusory ceiling of the room so that they drop, taking damage. This process repeats until the creature triggering it is dead. The barrier is designed to disintegrate dead flesh into dust, so the only unusual thing about the room the PCs might notice is an exceptionally thick layer of dust.

Two traps are better than one. If you put a trap in a given room, why can't you put a second one in the same room? No reason besides accepted convention. So go ahead and put another trap into the room.

5. Location is Everything

Take a fresh look at the adventure. Set it aside for a while (two weeks or more) and then re-read the adventure and re- examine any included materials - maps, handouts, etc. Try to see (or create) potential locations for ambushes and full cover available to both the PCs and their adversaries, along with any potential hazards.

Don't forget about home court advantage. The PCs are usually venturing into unfamiliar territory. Adversaries typically have been living or defending the area for quite some time, so they should be able to find their way around under low light conditions, and know the location of traps, secret passages and potential hiding places.

Use the environment to your advantage. If you're setting your campaign in the desert, don't forget to remind the PCs how hot it can be to wear body armor (or full plate). Watery environments can be hard to move in while encumbered by armor, equipment and treasure, and at times rather difficult to cast spells in. Muddy forest floors can also hamper movement, while the presence of dried fallen leaves can make it hard to use Stealth to sneak up on the party of orcs 50 feet ahead.

6. On-The-Fly Solutions

If you're running an adventure and you realize it's a cakewalk for your players, here are a few quick ideas that might help:

  • Add more monsters. Sometimes pregenerated adventures are too easy for a gaming group, especially if it's not stated what level characters the adventure is for. If you realize the encounters are too easy, bring in some reinforcements.  Combat of any length will typically generate noise, bringing the curious (or hungry) to come investigate.
  • Toughen up the adversaries. Change the stats on the fly by adding extra hit points, raising the armor class or giving them extra abilities.
  • Add more encounters. Many games have wandering encounter tables. Put these tables to work for you by selecting the most difficult encounters or combining one or more events.  If no tables were provided, make up an encounter on the spot.
  • Last but not least, call for a break. Your players can get up, have a snack, use the bathroom, etc. while you attempt to re-work the adventure. If possible, separate yourself from the players so you can have some alone time to rework the adventure. If you're at a good stopping point for the session, feel free to avail yourself of the opportunity and use it.


Overly easy adventures can and do happen to many GMs.  Hopefully, these tips will help you make things a little more challenging for your next gaming session.

Copyright 2010, Johnn Four, RoleplayingTips.com

All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with Permission

e-mail: johnn@roleplayingtips.com
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