Category: 4e DnD

Every DM should run a game of Dungeon World

Dungeon World is a fantasy take on a narrative RPG system under the Powered by the Apocalypse umbrella (coined from Apocalypse World, the first game which used these rules). PbtA has your typical players and GM type of setup, but the game is highly narrative driven. Action is pushed forward by PC choices and outcomes from their die rolls.

Not to get too deep into the rules, but generally each player describes what they want to do and the GM chooses the appropriate move (action) that they will test for. Pretty much just about like any other RPG out there. The tweak is the simplicity and the potential outcomes. Players roll 2d6. On a 10+ they succeed. On a 7-9 they are successful but at some cost. While a 6 or less is a failure. Simple.

Immediately what you find playing this is that mixed success results become the norm. Additionally players will also get a slew of failures rolling sixes. As dice outcome probabilities go, results of 6-8 will be common with 7 being a typical roll. This pushes the GM to drive the players into interesting situations, layering on complications and forcing the players to make hard choices, especially when they fail.

When they fail outright on a 6 or less, the GM has control of the narration. They can introduce more baddies, cut off expected routes or resources, and in short drive the story in another direction. While players have a lot of agency with this system those failures allow the GM to throw a big wrench into the works. Nothing like having players expect to rest and recuperate from a long dungeon expedition, only to return to the local village and see it burned to the ground from a goblin raid.

Running PbtA games can stretch your GM chops. You have to learn to be adaptable and improvise more. Continually finding mixed success outcomes is especially a wonderful way to strengthen skills for running RPG games. Your typical D&D game can slip into binary outcomes. Either you succeed or you fail with an ability check. Having to constantly think of that ‘success BUT…’ with a mixed 7-9 dice roll result in PbtA really can help you find ways of using it in other games.

Say you’ve got your thief trying to break into a merchant’s room, eager to steal off something valuable to get some useful information. They make their check to open the door. Make a stealthy move around the room. Possibly a perception roll to find any important information. Pretty much they will either succeed or not. Cut and dried.

Throwing in the mixed success suddenly adds more outcomes and a more engaging experience. Roll a 7 trying to open the door? That thief has successfully gotten inside, but accidentally knocked over a brass candlestick. They hear guards approaching to investigate. Do they make a run for it? Do they instead make a frantic check through the room first? As a GM you might leave a hint of a small chest on the floor, or a table with several papers scattered about. They could likely have enough time to get either the chest or the papers, but not both. On their way out, maybe they sneaked away successfully, but left the door slightly ajar. The guards begin a search through the keep, ramping up future complications.

We like to think we run our D&D games like this, but with so many rolls of that d20 I would expect most sway back to those ruts of just having a pass/fail result. While Dungeon World instead has this type of outcome in the structure of the rules. Yes you can get a fantastic success, or potentially get a disastrous result, but commonly your get what you want at a price. The mechanics of PbtA games push for more complicated outcomes.

This actually fits well with fifth edition. The advantage/disadvantage and inspiration rules allow you some tools to introduce mechanical benefits to the game as well. Having a poor outcome for an ability check might not mean that the PC fails outright. Instead they might be thrown off their feet, with their next check being at a disadvantage regardless of what ability/skill being used. Make a wildly successful check? Consider throwing the player an inspiration token. If a player just barely makes that check to avoid falling over a cliff edge, they might instead lose some critical gear, weapon, or ammunition which falls into the chasm.

So I highly recommend if D&D is your bag to give Dungeon World a stab as a one shot. It’s easy to run and get characters generated. There is a lot of free material out there. In fact likely before getting into the rule book too deep, I would consider looking at the Dungeon World Guide first. As a fan-made resource it picks apart the base rules of PbtA system and gives you a firm understanding of how to interpret dice rolls from your players and what types of checks/moves are appropriate, making that first game much smoother to run.

A more common kind of evil in your game

Evil PCs and NPCs have been on my mind as of late. For villains most DMs seem to go with the typical kick-a-puppy type. You’ve got a baddie and they are mean. Occasionally you’ll dabble in the Mr. Freeze type, a villain that thinks they have moral justification for their evil actions. But for the most part you’ve got villains running around doing really bad things to good people.

Thugs, bandits, warlords, necromancers, you can pretty easily sketch out what drives that type of evil. But if you broaden your definition of evil some. You start to see how easily it can be a label placed on many NPCs, organizations, and even for the players.

What I define as evil in much of my campaigns is a lack of empathy and selfishness. You’ve got a merchant that scraped their little store together from nothing. They’ve been ruthless against competition and unyielding with their prices and policies. Want to get something on credit? Sure, but you pay hefty interest. They’re the kind running a company store for mining claims. They are evil.

Think of a wealthy merchant that built trade empire on white lies and uncaring adherence to the law. They never busted heads or threatened anyone with violence, but they sure got signatures for contracts through pure browbeating and other underhanded tactics (cutting off water rights, undervalued offers for land, etc.) that would make a fictional character like There Will Be Blood’s Daniel Plainview seem mild.

If anything Lawful Evil would be a fairly common description of most the evil NPCs in my game. While they might not outright break laws, they certainly bend them and find loopholes. Even more so they’ll also unerringly seek to enforce laws that play to their advantage. The most important characteristic they share would be lack of empathy and being selfish. They are a literal embodiment of ‘F&*K you. Got mine.’

It’s their family, loved ones, and kin that might get an expression of kindness or caring. Everyone else might get a furrowed brow of concern at the most. After all, they can’t give away all they have to help everyone in the world. And this logic is used to cloak themselves from shame when turning their backs on strangers in need. When you adopt that type of mentality for evil NPCS, you begin to see these types of people can be found everywhere in your game.

Alignment isn’t an absolute. Those good villagers might be distrustful of strangers, and circle more around those that they know. But they can be goaded into doing the right thing. However for my evil NPCs I see them doing good deeds as a way to adhere to quid pro quo. Yes, that evil noble will donate to an orphanage but it isn’t an act of charity or compassion. They know they are getting something from it. They know it helps seat them in power and sway the peasants to his banner. He is using that act of charity to further his own selfish goals.

This is easily something that can be adopted for your players. The evil PC is going to get theirs, no matter what. Tasked with clearing out a warren of goblins? Okay. But the village is going to pay. The PC will get a reward AND keep a share of treasure found, no matter what. It’s literally a mercenary way of thinking. And when this type of motivation is expanded some, ensuring a PC gets compensated sufficiently for every ‘good’ deed that is done, your game opens up to playing evil aligned characters.

I would argue it’s the Neutral characters that are the most difficult to play. I see these types more akin to zen-like monks that see the value in letting the universe just be, and not align with any particular moral force. These types seem to hardest to properly stoke motivation in navigating through potential story lines and adventures.

In the past I’ve put my foot down on having players helm evil characters. More from my laziness in not wanting to wrestle with thinking up the right type of adventure hooks and lures to get the group going in a particular campaign direction. But lately I’ve reconsidered acceptable motivations for PCs that swerve into more selfish territory. Once you allow the notion of evil being acceptable for PCs, you’ll also start seeing it a more common NPC personality trait too. It can add more complexity and depth to the type of interactions your group has with denizens in your campaign, and something worth exploring around the table.

Running the Game: a DM tutorial series

I’ve got a player eager to take the helm running a D&D game periodically. I’m super excited to see them flip to the other side of the screen and be a DM. They freely admitted struggling some with thinking up an appropriate way to kick off the game, and the decision to dabble in making up their own world or run something pre-made. They also wanted to know if I had any advice. So I pointed them over to Running the Game, a YouTube series about being a DM.

It’s done by Matthew Colville, a writer that also works in the video game industry. The videos he creates run between 15 to 30 minutes and commonly cover a specific RPG topic. Some address a specific issue most DMs will face at the table or when planning out their session. He also has a series that covers his own game more in detail and the problems he occasionally has when playing.

Now a big caveat with the advice is that what he will regularly state the tidbits he throws out are his opinions and how he likes to run his own games. Your mileage might vary with his advice, and he’ll freely admit his approach might not be for everyone. Another point is that much of the series is about running D&D. I think if you were a GM for other game systems a lot of his advice would still be great but you are going to get some chunks of content not quite applicable to a non-D&D game.

This last point touches on a few episodes. One is related to the Deck of Many things (which dragged some for me), and if not playing D&D or including that magic item in your campaign, much of the video will be not helpful. However you might pick up some interesting tips and ideas handling a similar powerful, legendary magical item in your own game. The concept of using a few props to spice up your game is great and I particularly like the idea of a little sleight of hand to make players think they have full agency (when in reality you are guiding events some).

Another ding with the video series is the speed that Matthew speaks. He talks fast. You might want to slow down the playback speed at little. I think especially if English wasn’t your mother tongue you’d have a hard time keeping up. I enjoy his rapid fire dialog and find it engaging and quippish, but keep in mind he speaks at a fair clip.

But these are quibbles. You’ll find his videos a great resource. I especially like that he also talks about things that fall flat at his table. We tend to just spout off the things that work in our sessions and not dwell on the times when things just didn’t work. I agree with his opinion that sharing stuff that failed can also serve as helpful advice.

In the end you have a fantastic introduction to being a DM. Seriously, for the uninitiated wanting to sit down and try their hand at running a game, this is a great series. The first four are especially solid tutorials for DMing your initial adventure. There really are some golden tips covered in them. It’s such a helpful and entertaining bunch of tutorials. I really can’t recommend it enough to new DMs, and if you’re a bit long in the tooth as a GM, give a few videos a watch. You’ll either be nodding your head in agreement or picking up a few good ideas for your own game.

Jumped off the deep end of miniature Kickstarters with Reaper Bones

ReaperBones3I’ve avoided the siren’s call of Reaper Kickstarter campaigns of past. But the temptation to pick up a slew of minis is just too much. Their current Kickstarter campaign wraps up in less than 3 days. As usual, you get a ton of plastic minis. The bonus for me is that you don’t need to prime them.

I prefer to use tokens for my RPG sessions over using minis. But I am pretty deep into miniature gaming and been taking a gander to some different systems as of late. Pulp Alley looks neat and Frostgrave is certainly on my radar for something to pick up. As a back up, there is always Chain Reaction which is generic enough for a variety of light arms skirmish games. Yet, I’ve heard some cool things about Songs of Blades and Heroes too for fantasy melee. Yeah…. guess I’ll have plenty of games to run with these KS goodies.

Expeditions of Amazing Adventure: The giant battlegrounds of Gormthal Peaks

Far to the southeast lie the Edgeworld mountains. The furthest range east, south of the gap claimed by the Karagan-Shale dwarven clan is the Gormthal Peaks. This harsh landscape of stone and lava has long been a home to both fire and storm giants alike. For centuries, the giant clans held a loose alliance against the stalwart dwarves that clung to old holds at the base of the mountain range.

However, such a tepid alliance was sundered when the widowed king of the fire giants stole away the storm giant king’s eldest daughter. Such a brazen act, without consul from the father for a blessing (and more importantly, a sizable dowry) was deemed an irreverent insult to the storm giant clans. A great war was taken up that raged on for years. Decades later it still goes on, but no longer are great battles fought. Instead small skirmishes continually break out among their borders, primarily from young giants seeking to make a name fighting their enemy kin.

Such a war among these great beings has taken a severe toll on the landscape. Gormthal Peaks was always dappled with volcanic rock. However now the mountain stone is gouged with deep burning slashes and lava exploding into surrounding soot-choked air. As an answer to the continual gouts of flame and lava, ever rolling dark clouds billow above, arcing lightning and expelling frequent bouts of acrid rain.

What forced the fire giant king to do such a reckless act? None can state with any authority. Some claim that the storm giant princess was claimed without her consent and is still a prisoner within his fiery halls.

Other more bardic tales weave one of forbidden love. The princess knew that her father would never bless their marriage and no dowry would ever satisfy her father’s greed, so she herself spirited away to her lover. So enraged was the storm giant king, that he struck out at the fire giants, claiming he was wronged. Better to fight a war than admit the wounding of his pride, that his very daughter sought true love over family honor.

With war brings opportunities for some. Those willing to make the long trek and face the harsh wilds teeming with vile monsters may find some employ among the giants. Each side is always in dire need of reports of troop movements and activities among the respective war councils. Such efforts of espionage is best done with smaller folk and outsiders. While wary employers, known for wicked deceitfulness, some mercenaries with more neutral philosophies have found work aligning themselves with one giant faction.

Such open employment is looked down on very harshly from the neighboring dwarven clans. However the dwarves have been known to also recruit outsiders to play the part of mercenaries for the giants. Adopting this facade some have done greater acts of subterfuge within the giant holds, most secretly pass information to the Karagan-Shale clan on the activities of their giant enemies. This work is a dangerous game, not only risking the perilous wildlife within the mountains, but also the wrath of the giants if such a betrayal is discovered.

DM Tip: Intimidation isn’t always bad cop, worse cop

This always seems to happen. You’ve got a NPC refusing to offer some assistance or key information. Then a player grabs a d20 and tells you they are cuffing the guy across the face and demanding something, rolling off using their intimidation skill. It’s at a point like this where I might turn the NPC into a gibbering heap, spouting snot, tears, and nonsense, completely worthless for offering any help. That demonstration of physical force and the threat of more has rendered the person panicked in utter fear, unable to act. Or alternately, I might even push an NPC into responding with violence as they feel they have no doubt the player means them harm.

I always viewed intimidation as more than just physical threats against someone. I see intimidation almost like insight, but keyed in on sensing weakness. They are able to read that weakness and then use it as a tool to force someone to their whims.

It can certainly be a physical aspect but it doesn’t have to just be a warrior hefting a weapon threateningly. It could be a stare or a physical presence that instills doubt. We’ve likely all experienced this before. You’ve met someone that just carries themselves in a way that projects threat.

Take the crime drama, Knockaround Guys. There is a scene where Vin Diesel gives a beat down on a local thug in a bar. His dialog at the start of that scene is great. It’s just him talking about wanting to be a tough guy and figuring as a kid 500 fights was the number needed. He describes his reasoning and simply starts taking off his jacket. You can see the steam and ego of his opponent just deflate. The local thug has overstepped the line. In front of him is a legitimate tough and all of this is achieved through words and an imposing physical presence.

Intimidation is the key ability to know what threats will work and what will sting the most. It’s an ability to read the social standing of someone, and likely what they hold near and dear. Threats don’t have to be physical. They can target a NPC’s character and their standing with the law, or maybe a threat to dishonor them in society or to family (think Francis Urquhart/Underwood from House of Cards).

Someone with a high skill in intimidation can also likely read when a threat is serious or not. It’s staring right through a facade of a violent display and recognizing it for being just chest thumping and bluster. So PCs with this skill could read certain threats and certain social situations much like insight would.

Unlike diplomacy, that seeks a common ground and tries to build cooperation through good will, Intimidation is all about manipulating people through threats (real or perceived). Not all of these threats have to be physical. When you look at intimidation as a means of seeing weakness in someone, and being able to capitalize on that, you open the door for a lot more opportunities and a variety of means to use the skill. Consider letting your PCs explore intimidation being more than just the ability to get answers from someone by knocking out teeth.

Expeditions of Amazing Adventure: The puzzling portals of Pomdaria

The Pomdarians were an ancient race of lizard folk that created a great empire of arcane marvels. Thousands of years since their demise many of their mysterious monuments still litter the southern jungles. Some legends say that they fell into warring factions, wielding powerful magics that resulted in the destruction of their race.

Other legends speak of a great religious movement which rebelled against their affinity of the arcane, choosing instead to worship primal gods. This divergence in philosophy was so pronounced it actually split the lineage of the Pomdarians into two races, the primal lizardmen and the magic-touched dragonborn (although few historians would be foolish enough to bring up such a topic in earshot of either race).

Still others claim that the great network of portals created by the Pomdarians lead to their downfall. Use of these portals weakened the normal boundaries of the physical world and that of the great beyond. Horrible aberrations slipped into the known world and brought down their great civilization, likely explaining the origins of many monstrous creatures in the world today.

No one can state the real reason for the fall of the Pomdarian empire. What cannot be refuted is that this grand civilization reached an epoch, and in the matter of a few years slid into obscurity, utterly wiped from world existence. One part that remains of their enigmatic past is the sparse number of standing portal gates scattered among the deep jungles.

Many times there have been attempts to map and categorize the portal doors by the League of Imperial Arcanists. Still to this day their efforts have been in vain. One simply knows that you enter the gateway, and emerge from another random portal gate. Most of the gates have been discovered and are within the boundaries of many towns or cities, however the discovery of another portal ruin is not unknown. What compounds the complexity of categorizing these portals is the inexplicable length of time one can enter another gateway. Once a person enters, they cannot reenter a portal gate for up to a week. And when they can do so, it inevitably will lead them to another location.

A few steely merchants are willing to make use of these portals. The gamble is that such merchants will not know where they land and what are the desires of their potential customers. Hence, usually they ply staple goods that will sell in just about any city. What makes this journey even of more risk is that some gates lead to ruins deep within the wilderness. Even darker tales circulate of merchants that enter the portals never to be seen again. Either they arrive at some other gate buried in some deep cavernous ruins, surrounded by foul monsters, or they slip out of this world entirely.

Such rumors are fodder for many companies of adventurers. Stout hearted heroes willing to step into the shimmering ruin gateways in hopes of landing at some undiscovered location. If one found lost ruins of the Pomdarians at some previously unknown destination, clearly there could be riches, or at least find the League of Imperial Arcanists willing to pay handsomely for any maps and proof of such ruins existing.

‘Bring the salt’ – Superstitions in your game

My wife is Korean. Last year there was a death in the family and I was unable to travel to another city for the funeral. Late at night my wife returned and from the parking lot downstairs she called me, ‘Come downstairs and bring the salt.’ No clue why she wanted it but I comply with the wishes of my CO. As I come to her car she steps out and grabs a palmful of salt tossing it over herself and then tossed some over the top of her car. Walking up to our apartment she called back over her shoulder, ‘To ward off evil spirits.’

Four is a big no no over here. Four is a number aligned with the same word for death and loss so it’s avoided. Giving cash gifts (a common practice) you never give away increments of 4. 30,000 and 50,000 won is okay, but 40,000 is an insult. It’s so pervasive you can’t even find an option to take out 40,000 or 400,000 from ATM machines.

Now as an American I sometimes roll my eyes at stuff like this, but I realize Americans do similar things too. Next time you are in an elevator for a highrise office building, see if you can find a button for floor 13. Once when it was pouring here in Korea I walked in with a dripping wet umbrella. My coworker took it from my hands and opened it up out in the hallway. For a brief instant I thought about bad luck, then I realized how clever it was to allow the umbrella to dry quickly exposing more surface area (rather than being bunched up when it is closed). Cultures have superstitions, and it’s amazing how pervasive they are.

For RPGs, superstitions are a great way to add some local color to a city or people. Further it’s something that can go beyond religious beliefs, being part of the culture for a group. Maybe every doorway holds a simple wind chime to ward off spirits. Maybe for every cup of ale one drinks in the local tavern, you dip in your thumb and press it on the table while you take the first draught. These small details can bring a lot of life to the fantasy world you create and even better, allow for some local flavor from town to town rather than it being another nondescript village.

Superstitions are also ripe for adventure fodder. In a world of fantastic creatures maybe there is a hint of truth to every dark superstition. It’s quite possible that a village hovel that doesn’t mark its doorway with a sigil might have some foul creature come at nightfall. Maybe players failing to follow a superstitious ritual are shunned, or given dire warnings (with ghostly consequences if they don’t follow a local custom). Not all superstitions have to be in place to ward off evil but could be done to avoid mischievous spirits.

Special events can also provide a backdrop for adventures. Festivals and a customary dinner revolving around a ritual can work too. While the players might be included as friendly participants, maybe they are considered outsiders and not welcome as part of the festivities. Maybe petty jealousies among villagers could lead to one fouling an offering or superstitious ward of a neighbor, bringing about some unforeseen horrible fate. Consider our Halloween and the Jack-O’-Lantern. What if a rival decided to smash his neighbor’s pumpkin in spite to bestow a bit of bad luck? Instead of some slight misfortune, the neighbor’s child is spirited away to the Fey. This could be a great setup for a one-shot adventure.

So the next time you describe a small village, consider looking at superstitions. They can offer an easy means to add some interesting detail to the locale and people, breathing a small amount of life into your world. They might even be a great source for a session’s adventure.

Abilities vs skills

I occasionally get this being thrown around in different gaming conversations with how folks lament that skills are just awful in D&D. That it’s so much better just sticking with ability scores. That skills ‘limit’ roleplaying and finding solutions. I consider it poppycock and have been a champion for skills in D&D.

Skills and life experience just make sense, they help add another realistic layer to resolving tasks. Take a theoretical physicist. I’d garner that would translate to an above average INT score in D&D terms. Then take a normal Joe that graduated from high school (regular INT score) that works construction doing welding. Now give them a task of cutting through a locked metal door. Both could very well get the job done eventually.

Now throw them into a sinking ship and give them that same task of cutting through a locked metal door (much like what would model a typical RPG scenario). I think that regular Joe would get through the door in record time, while the physicist would be sleeping with the fishes. It’s not just raw abilities, we also make the use of skills and life experience all the time and even more so in pressure situations.

What also blows my mind is that 4E (and 3E before it) already does this! Skills are based on ability scores. So right off the bat that high charisma PC would likely have a silver tongue, and their diplomacy is above some regular person. It’s not a complete dissociation of ability scores and skills, but rather skill training that compliments natural ability.

I love this idea. It allows for greater flexibility with characters. You are not just a pile of raw ability stats, you can branch out and be good at other things. You can reach beyond just relying on how strong or smart your PC is. If you want to be a learned barbarian with knowledge in the arcana, you can do that and not be saddled if your intelligence score is somewhat average.

Not all skills fit the situation, however I liked the trend that 4E took with making skills be applicable in a broad number of situations. As a DM I think it’s better to remember the importance of pairing up a skill depending on the ability type it’s based on.

As an example in a Gamma World game I had a player trying to focus one of his ranged mutant powers in gravity to pop open an exploding barrel of goop. It was a tricky shot, something as a gut check I would say be based on dexterity, so I called out for an acrobatics check. I got this blank look for a moment. It didn’t register that acrobatics was a skill based on DEX. A dexterity check alone could have worked, but if a player had additional acrobatics skill they could get a bonus. If anything, it was a potential boon to the character depending on where their skill training lay.

I never saw this as a problem in the game. If anything it would encourage players to try different things and round out their character more than dumping everything into a skill or two. The broader the applications a skill could have, the more adept they would be at handling different situations. If anything, they were more confident of trying things rather than sitting back and letting the high charisma player do all the talking.

I’ll admit skills are not perfect for all systems. Savage Worlds has a big divergence between skills and traits. While it’s easier to pick up skills if you have a high strength, you actually need training in fighting to be good at it. However this isn’t seen in D&D.

In 4E particularly, the constant level bonus is sort of silly. Especially as the DCs are continually shifted up. I never quite liked that and felt it better to have just stuck with the idea of paragon and epic penalties that were in the DMG. If I run 4E games in the future, likely I’ll just have a bonus every 4 levels and keep all DC’s at level 1 (with appropriate tier penalties).

DnDnext has some nifty ideas. Most task resolutions revolve around ability scores, but there’s a bonus if trying to do certain tasks based on a skill mastery. It’s pretty close to what is in 4E right now. Still I wish skills were more prominent in DnDnext, but I guess that label of skills chafes at people.

So I encourage folks to not get mired down with terminology. Instead look at the mechanics underlying checks. It’s all based on ability scores you just have the added bonus of being able to train in specific skill sets. Allow that in your game. It’ll give the players freedom to work out a PC that is more unique than a set of six stats.Half-OrcWillingham

Awful controllers? It’s the DM’s fault.

It seemed that controllers always had a hard time finding a place around the 4E table for most folks. As an archetype, it was a bit at odds with the other combat roles. Defenders had tools to soak up damage. Leaders were able to crank out the buffs and heals. Strikers poured out the damage. All three of these roles worked in just about any combat encounter.

The controller required other factors to shine, unfortunately meaning certain environmental layouts and monsters were needed to show their effectiveness. Sure they could get a few heavy hitting attacks, but smaller bursts of AoE damage were more common. Even more so, with slows and obfuscating/hindering terrain effects, they needed the space and the right positioning of creatures to really strut their stuff.

I expect that was part of the reason wizards always seemed to under-perform. It’s just that other class types could do things in combat that would work in just about any type of fight. Meanwhile, the wizard was more situational. Sadly, that meant they were really dependent on the DM to provide opportunities to allow them a chance to fully express their abilities and powers. So what are a few things a DM could provide in a fight for a wizard in the party?

Lots of minions – A core aspect of many controller powers are area of effect attacks that do a small pip of damage. Having plenty of targets and more importantly, some clustered up a little, is a decent boon to your party controller. While I don’t use lots of minions in every fight, sometimes it’s good to really fill out the ranks and give that controller plenty of targets to pop.

I try to play the opposition smart, but having those minion types more keen on keeping ranks than spreading out is something I also employ once in awhile. Usually I’ll give that third minion a chance to stick with another creature when I move them around by rolling a d6, just a simple 2 in 6 chance to have a few cluster up. So a few encounters with lots of minions (and the occasional gang of baddies clumping up) is a decent way to give a nod to the party’s controller.

Foes coming in different directions – Having simple battle lines where players can close ranks can make for some solid tactics. But continually allowing this can quickly mean the players can easily manage the engagement and the use of a controller diminishes. When you’ve got multiple monsters piling in from different directions, it’s a great opportunity for that controller type to hinder movement of some targets, giving the other party members time to engage one side first.

Creatures needing to close in – I usually like to mix in ranged attackers in most of my combats. I like to ramp up the threat so that folks not in hand-to-hand still need to worry some. However I lean towards making the melee monsters the more resilient types. And when rolling out creatures in waves, I make sure it’s those melee monsters needing a turn or so to move into the fight. It’s a means to allow the controller to do their stuff and hinder movement of creatures charging in. By tying up one or two targets the group can focus on other monsters first. The group plays smart and everyone has a chance to do something cool.

Traps and hazards that affect both foes and friends – Layering on a wall effect, or some area power hindering movement can add to it’s effectiveness if plopped down next to a few squares of hazardous terrain. Effectively you are adding another 2-3 squares of area under a wizard’s control effects. Give them a chance to do so. A small burst area with flanked by a spiked pit now provides a larger area that’s been locked down.

Sometimes it might lead to monsters preferring to chance a hazard over a spell effect. Does the goblin jump off an elevated platform risking a serious injury? Or do they sit by and let a flaming sphere roll over them? Likely they’ll take the 20’ jump and take their chances. Either way it’s a win/win for the controller.

Take a peek at the PC’s character sheet – Give a look over their powers. Think of some environment that would show off that power. Knowing the abilities of your players can allow you to occasionally craft some fights that allow these powers to be used effectively.

Not every fight has to utilize there tips, but I’d seriously consider giving at least one encounter in a typical delve a few of these characteristics if you’ve got a controller-type in your group. Controllers really need a few wrinkles in your typical encounter makeup to shine. So once in awhile, try to oblige and allow them to enjoy that choice they made playing the wizard.