[RPG] How to run an open-world game with vast power differences, without resulting in constant TPKs


I would like to run a game with an open world, where the party can explore unconstrained. I would like to do it in D&D 5E, but the power differences are very stark between levels. How can I make the world realistic, without scaling everything up as the players advance their levels (so, first only goblins everywhere, then suddenly orcs, etc.). On the other hand, I don't want a TPK every other session, just because the players misjudged the danger.

I am familiar with making open world campaigns in other games, where the differences in power level are less stark (and you can decrease the power gap by smart, tailored tactics and planning), but I am vexed as to achieve this in level-heavy game as D&D.

Best Answer

The way I've been on the receiving end of campaigns like this, it starts from the central conceit that home base is safe—i.e., no combat.

Then you scale encounters by distance to home base. You tell your players from the outset that they will run into trouble the further they push, but the rewards are also sweeter. You can sprinkle the odd higher level encounter in the starting zone, but make sure to "warn" the PCs.

It is not an easy job, and what you might want is to only flesh out certain specific encounters, and then create an encounter table like so to generate the rest:

  2|Wolves |2d4  
3-5|Goblins|1d4 archers, 1d6 regulars  

and so on, noting that this table is weighted towards the middle.

Taking inspiration from Tomb of Annihilation might give you a quicker start, by the way.

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