D&D 5E has been great for modifying situations to fit my needs as a DM.
OK…it might not technically be a ‘mod’ in the contemporary gamer sense.
I am running a group through the campaign that comes with the Starter Set: Lost Mine of Phandelver. The people in this group had never played D&D before, but they had been playing in a Star Wars RPG that my son Josh has been running for years. As they were feeling their way into the game world in the first session, I did what DMs do and fudged a couple of die rolls in their favor. (Nothing can be demoralizing faster for new adventurers than dying right out of the gate.) It quickly became clear that this group could handle the challenge, and the fudging stopped. Then it became clear that this group was competent, and they were getting through the challenges as presented in the published adventure pretty easily. I do not see this as a drawback to the Lost Mine of Phandelver, by any means. It is supposed to be an introductory module for people who might never have played an RPG before. It fulfills this role well, and it even maintains the interest of more seasoned players, as well.
I wanted to tweak an encounter and see what would happen. Anticipating an encounter with orcs, I decided to beef up that challenge. (And I think I can illustrate this without giving too much of the campaign away for people who haven’t played it.)
First, I added a few orcs to the raiding party. The player party encountered a band of orcs as wandering monsters. Instead of making this a totally random band, I decided to make them from the same raiding party the group needed to defeat. I also added some ‘grunt’ orcs to the main raiding party at the encampment.
Second, the published adventure actually named the orc leader…Brughor Axe-Biter. The only thing that made Axe-Biter stand out from the other orcs as published was that he had more hit points than the ‘grunt’ orcs. I got to thinking…an orc leader with the name of Axe-Biter did not get to be a leader by being an ordinary orc, and it probably wasn’t just by being tougher than the rest (i.e., more hit points).
I decided that this orc had earned the name Axe-Biter, and at some point in his life been smashed in the mouth with an axe…and lived. He came out of that encounter with scars across his face from the corners of his mouth. When I described the orc to the players, one player said, “You mean he looks like The Joker?!” Yup! That’s exactly what I meant!
I made one more tweak to this orc. This was not yer average orc. At this point in the campaign, the party was all second level, so I thought it was reasonable to give Axe-Biter the skills of a second level fighter. I actually thought about making him third level, but with the extra ‘grunt’ orcs, plus the other orc ally already in the published adventure, I didn’t want to push things too far too soon, so I stuck with second level. That means that this orc had Great Weapon Fighting, Second Wind, and Action Surge in addition to the orc’s natural ability of Aggressiveness. Heh, heh, heh. In AD&D, there wasn’t much I could have done to modify the orc other than increasing HP and improving it’s THAC0.
Oh, yeah. Orcs normally have hide armor for an AC of 13. Axe-Biter, being the bad-ass that he was, had chain mail for an AC of 16.
This made for a great encounter. The adventuring party was really sweating this one out, and had their moments of doubt about the outcome. And a good time was had by all!
For beefing up the orc encounter, I also increased the XP awarded for the encounter. It was only fair.