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How We Made Our Fillers More Filling

Posted in D&D 4E by ERJHolton on November 28, 2010

It happens to all campaigns. People aren’t able to make a session. The Dungeon Master is feeling burnt out. Players want to do something different (but still play D&D) after a particularly intense session. So, it’s time for a filler game.

This happens regularly with the group I play with; we’re all 30- and 40-somethings, with jobs, families and other responsibilities. Often when we aren’t playing in either of the two campaigns we’re happy to play Dominion, Space Hulk, or some other game, but as often as not, we’ve turned to delves to get our fix of fun.

The delve format was one of the niftier ideas Wizards came up with for fourth edition. A self-contained adventure in three encounters; short enough to be run in one evening, long enough to allow exhaustion of daily resources and with an all-important milestone before the capstone fight.

Delves can be dropped into existing campaigns as an interlude, or they can be run as a one-off. As the latter they’re a good venue for players to try out classes, builds and options they might not otherwise consider, and running one can give a new Dungeon Master (or a rusty one) a chance to become familiar with the technical aspects of the role without having to worry about world building or what kind of story consequences Thrud the Barbarian will incur for eviscerating the mayor’s son with a rusty spork. WotC has published quite a lot of support for the format, including a hard-cover release dedicated to them and numerous delves in other books and Dungeon magazine.

For us, though, one of the fun parts of D&D is the feeling that you’re progressing a character and, while our regular campaigns give us that satisfaction, our schedules do mean that we’re slower at that than other groups – in two years we’ve gained six levels in one campaign and eight levels in the second. There was obviously potential there for a custom campaign rule-set that would give us entertainment during off weeks as well as give us another advancement-based campaign. We exchanged some emails and discussed it over a couple of lunches, and we came up with the following:

The campaign is story-light and combat-heavy. We’ve got the two main campaigns for more role-play and story-based entertainment. Delves use a plot hook to create a thematic link between the three encounters, but there’s nothing to say we have to link each delve to the last (or the next).

Each character advances separately. Not everyone is going to make each delve session by definition, and this opens up some interesting ideas around having a (modest) spread of levels.

Each player can have multiple characters, but only one is played on a given week. This allows players to be able to choose a play-style according to their mood and have options available no matter the level of the week’s adventure.

There will always be five characters going into a delve. We created generic “filler” characters, one for each role, to fill in gaps in party composition. They’re usually rotated between the present players in a given session, take full shares of the treasure, and will be given simple but effective builds.

The role of Dungeon Master is not fixed to a single player. One of the points of the filler game is to give the regular Dungeon Masters a rest, and to give players who haven’t gone behind the screen before a chance to do so.

Advancement is accelerated. Each delve is three encounters. Bonus XP is granted at the end equal to two more encounters of the level of the delve. Two such delves should gain a character a level. Additionally, five treasure parcels are apportioned as well, to make sure characters don’t fall behind on expected equipment levels.

Retraining is made slightly less restrictive. With the potential for delve sessions to be a fair amount of time apart, and with an expectation that new content would be published for the classes in those intervals, we made it so that players could rebuild characters almost from the ground up once per tier.

House rules would be kept to a minimum. This was to keep tracking them relatively simple.

We can try out some unusual ideas. While this appears to contradict the point above, this does give us an opportunity to try some interesting ideas we’ve had. One such is the idea that the magic item economy can be at least partially driven by the PCs, although we’ve not done enough sessions yet for that to get off the ground.

We’ve had a few sessions of this so far, and it seems to be working out quite well. We’ve got one player interested in Dungeon Mastering for the first time, and we’ve already had one session with some characters at level one, and others at level two going through a slightly modified level two delve. We’ve not quite got to the point where the PC magic item market can get going, and we’ve yet to decide what impact the recently introduced magic item rarity system will have on it, but we have high hopes for that.

If you’re interested in looking at our public record of our campaign, then please feel free to browse it on Obsidian Portal at

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