D&D: The Tiers of Play for DMs

I made a post about the different tiers of play in Dungeons and Dragons. I mentioned that as the PCs progress in power, so do the monsters.

Today, I want to talk about how the tiers of play affect the Dungeon Master.

Contrary to what some people might think, the DM’s goal is not to kill the PCs.

The goal is to almost kill them.

Remember that scene in the Return of the Jedi where the Death Star is operational, the deflector shield is still up, Han and Leia are captured, and Luke is with the Emperor? The Emperor taunts Luke describing how deeply the Rebels’ plan has failed.

That’s the point the DM wants to get to with their players. Where all seems lost and only a sliver of hope remains. And then the PCs are miraculously delivered from their despair, defeat the villain and save the day.

The perfect encounter in D&D will incapacitate about half the players before the foe is defeated.

Designing challenges at the low and middle tiers is easy enough. A bunch of Orcs, a Troll or an Ogre. There’s plenty of simple bad guys that provide credible threats to the party.

With multiple enemies it’s easy enough to modify an encounter to get just the right challenge. If the PCs are having an easy time of it, reinforcements arrive. If the encounter looks as if it may overwhelm them, perhaps the enemies retreat. After all, the PCs have surely slain a few of their foes and those who remain may not be willing to die for their cause.

At the high tiers, encounters become a little more difficult to design. Most anything in the books can be thrown at the PCS, dragons, devils, giants,you name it. But it’s difficult to gauge exactly how challenging a monster will be.

At any tier it’s okay if an encounter is too easy, but the advantage of high tier play is that it’s okay if an encounter is too hard as well.

The monster kills two of the PCs and they have to retreat? That’s okay, they can just bring the PCs back from the dead, research the monster’s weakness, and return two days later to slay it.

Epic tier challenges have even more problems as the players can often just wish the encounter away. The DM needs to be firm about what can and cannot be wished away to prevent all future challenges from being trivialized.

As powerful as the wish and miracle spells are, they usually won’t entirely invalidate playing D&D beyond 17th level.

The DM’s job is to limit the scope of what the wish and miracle spells can do through careful interpretation. Additionally, the in game mechanics give severe consequences to using the spells. Finally, the players may limit their usage themselves as they don’t want to take the fun and challenge out of the game either.

Regardless, epic level challenges still need to feel different than the previous tiers. I’ve been DMing at the epic tier for awhile and have designed a few encounters that should hopefully prove useful for others in the future.

But I’ve reached the end of this blog post so I’ll talk about the design of those encounters another time!


D&D Tiers of Play

D&D tracks your character’s progress using levels. Anyone who’s played an RPG is familiar with systems like this.

You defeat monsters and other challenges. Your character gains experience, learns new skills, gets new equipment, and becomes stronger. Nearly every game in existence focuses on this basic principle.

A gross overgeneralization is that “numbers go up.” RPGs have numbers describing actions under everything and as you level up, all your numbers go up.

The number of hits you can take goes up, your sword skill goes up, your speed goes up, your flower arranging ability goes up, EVERYTHING GOES UP!

But that “EVERYTHING” also includes the enemies you face. Continue reading

Hearthstone Economy

The different items you can have in Hearthstone: cards, packs, gold, and dust.
The different items you can have in Hearthstone: cards, packs, gold, and dust.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the different types of currency in Hearthstone.

All the forms of currency are essentially funneled into getting more cards.

The first currency the game introduces is gold.

Gold is essentially interchangeable with real world money. Both can be used to purchase card packs or arena tickets.

Arena is a game mode similar to gambling. You create a deck and then try to win as many games as you can before you accumulate 3 losses with that deck.

After finishing an arena run, the game awards you a pack and a few other things as seen in the picture above.

Gold and real world currencies can only be used to buy packs for 100 gold ($1.50) each or arena tickets for 150 gold ($1.99) each.

Each pack contains 5 cards. Cards come in 4 degrees of rarity, common, rare, epic, and legendary.

The average pack has 4 commons and 1 rare. The card won from the arena run pictured above is a common card.

Unlike other CCGs there is no way to trade your cards with other players in Hearthstone.

Instead, cards must be traded with the computer at a bad exchange rate.

Card exchange is mediated through the dust currency I mentioned earlier.

The exchange rate is pretty bad as shown in this table. It takes 8 dusted common cards to get 1 common card that you want. 5 rares to make 1 rare. 4 epics or legendaries to make another epic or legendary.

Rarity Crafting




Common (White) 40 5
Rare (Blue) 100 20
Epic (Purple) 400 100
Legendary (Orange) 1600 400

A pack is worth 100 gold and that sets up the exchange rate for other things in the game. The value of an arena run is always compared to what you would get if the 150 gold cost for the arena run had been spent on a pack instead.At one point I wondered what the exchange rate between dust and gold should be.

So an average 100 gold pack gets you 4 commons and 1 rare. The above table shows that the average pack is worth 40 dust.

I’d say that number is slightly higher as occasionally more rares show up and epics and legendaries can pop up as well.

I’d estimate the value of a pack to be at 50 dust. So the exchange rate is 1 dust = 2 gold.

So if you’re new to playing and are disappointed when an arena run give dust instead of gold like I was, don’t be that way.

Dust is a good thing! At least in Hearthstone.

-Mister Ed