Room to Move
So in my redesign process of A2, I thought I would just limit the fort and dungeon portions to the tournament sections. However, some of the non-tournament sections are important on the story development end of the module, which is pretty important to work in. So I fairly quickly decided to leave in most of the extra bits. I may cut the madman's quarters out, but he could be fun if played right.
I am also beefing encounters up. The fort makes heavy use of hobgoblins and gnolls, but most of these patrols and bands, both as written in the dungeon itself and in the wandering monster tables are far too soft for my party. I have a party of seven fairly healthy 7th level PCs with a decent selection of magic items and spells. Challenging them has at times proven difficult. I have found that higher level monsters alone or in small numbers are not nearly as powerful as I would like them to be. Therefore, I have beefed up both my humanoids in number and strength as well as relying on more powerful groups such as trolls--it is the in TrollBark after all.
But even this has not been my biggest frustration. It used to be, but I am gradually getting a handle on 5e mechanics and design theory to mitigate nerfed encounters. No, what I am really struggle with is room. Room to move and conduct encounters and allow for more than a simple frontal assault in most dungeon environs. We do use minis and a mat for battles and often to guide exploratory sessions. I have always been more of a theater of the mind kind of DM, but as I've mentioned before my players really prefer minis and maps. They have gotten better about mapping on their own, and I usually just draw the immediate relevant environ on the battlemat. But what I've found is that the five foot square is incredibly limiting.
And take a look at the picture at the top of today's post. Granted it's an artists rendition, but you also get the idea that five feet steps might be a bit too wide if you get my drift. In real life things are apt to get a lot more crowded and dynamic than what the artificial 5 foot grid allows or replicates. for instance, here are some other examples:
One more quick example. Let us take the rather medium sized room above of 25' x 35' and consider what kind of spacing we have available. We have a total of 35 squares to work with. If the room has three items of furnishing we are down to 32. If there are 8 in the party we are down to 24. Let us say we have an equal number of foes in the room to the party (if we are designing a combat challenge) we are now down to 16 unoccupied spaces. That seems like sufficient, but you start having players moving around as well as monsters in an effort to engage and be strategic things start to seem very crowded and limited. When in actuality, though such a room is considered crowded, a fight you might have half of the critters in the room bunched up in a 10' x 10' space battling for their lives. And thus seems alot less crowded.
So, what's the solution? Obviously using minis with a base designed for 5 foot grids is not going to easily allow us to implement some kind of a different combat arrangement. We could go with theater of the mind and allow for closer combat and more dynamic actions and thus not feel constrained by the artificiality of the five foot grid. However, minis have their use, and players seem to like them to clarify what the DMs description my not clearly outline, or that their imagination is not quite able to conjure in enough detail.
So I have been thinking about redrawing the adventure maps and increasing the dimensions by say a factor of 1.5. But that makes the space much, much bigger. For instance a 25' x 35' room becomes a roughly 50' x 40' room. But I haven't come up with any more elegant solutions.