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Dungeons & Dragons: Find the Balance

by Mackenzie Tittle 4 months ago in product review
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Exposition vs. Action

If you’ve played Dungeons & Dragons for enough years, with enough different players/Dungeon Masters, then you probably experienced those adventures that feel like “hack-n-slash” action games, as well as those campaigns where you spend so much time hearing descriptions of ruined towers and disgruntled townspeople that you find yourself staring off half asleep.

So, what’s the right balance?

Obviously, the balance shifts based on your players — their preferences & experience with the game, as well as your own preferences and strengths as a Dungeon Master. Still, I want to offer up some general guidelines that I think might help all of us to create balanced campaigns that are fun & engaging for as many of our players as possible.

1. Who is Telling the Story?

The Dungeon Master is the facilitator of the campaign, but he/she is not the author — or at least not the main author. The DM provides a setting, sets the scene, fleshes out the supporting cast and then allows the spotlight to shift away (and mostly stay away) onto the characters that make up the story. Most players don’t want to feel like pawns waiting to be moved by an omniscient narrator — they want to strike out and forge their own paths.

Sure, the DM can’t just take a nap and let the party run around the town causing havoc without consequence, but at no point should it feel like the players are just part of a pre-written script.

2. Dialogue with Purpose

Dungeons & Dragons takes hours… and hours to play. I recommend being intentional with that time as often as possible. Dialogue is an essential part of playing D&D, but I do feel that dialogue should have a purpose (at least the majority of the time). What do I mean by “have a purpose?” Dialogue should, in some way big or small, either:

a. Help progress the plot/narrative of the story.

b. Help develop one or more of the characters in that story.

3. Design Encounters that Won’t Last 50 Rounds

If it take 4 hours to complete the random encounter walking through the forest on the way to the dungeon… then it’s probably not going to make the list of “Best Adventures Ever!” I’m not saying that every encounter should be over before it begins, but again — there has to be a balance. The party is 30 play sessions in and they finally reach the climax of the campaign — sure that encounter can last a long time. The pack of wandering wolves that have nothing to do with the rest of the campaign… you’ll probably want to adjust that encounter if it looks problematic ahead of time. Something like:

a. Adjust AC & AB so that the wolves are easier to hit and more likely to hit the characters in the party.

b. Adjust Hp & Dmg so that the wolves are squishy but deadly.

Obviously there are parameters to this advice. There’s a reason why Ogres hit harder than Rats. But, a little tweaking can go a long way towards finding a balance that works best for your players/adventure.

4. Encounters with Purpose

Let’s get controversial! I’m not a big fan of random encounters — occasionally, sure. But I’ve been on adventures where I spend 3 hours fighting random creatures that have nothing to do with the actual campaign, before I even make it to the start of the “dungeon.” It’s rather droll in my opinion. So, let’s choose encounters with a purpose:

a. Does the encounter prepare the characters or players for the future encounters that they will find later in the campaign?

b. Does the encounter further or enhance the plot of the story?

c. Is there something fresh, unique or challenging about the encounter?

Players get tired of fighting hoards of goblins, who use the same items and fight with the same tactics and die in the same fashion. Mix it up!


Every group of players is different. Figure out what your group enjoys most — and in what ratio they prefer it. Then, design adventures/campaigns that support that balance, without dictating the entire narrative of the story. Hope this helps! D&D fans can also check out one of my other D&D stories:

D&D: 5 Tips for Players

D&D: My Real Life Stats

D&D: 5 Spells for Real Life

If you enjoyed reading this, then please consider supporting Mackenzie Tittle’s writing and gain access to all of the thousands of articles written across by subscribing here.

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About the author

Mackenzie Tittle - Creator & Writer

I write about Chess, Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, Gloomhaven & Soccer.

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