It’s the weekend and I am already behind in my weekend plans. Today was meant to be the day I did my end of week write-up but I got sidetracked by a game of warhammer and a visit from an inlaw.
So instead I want to touch on something that is present in every weeks write-ups, difficulty setting.
Now there is a fine line to toe between a creator of challenging adventures and being labelled a Party Killer. I am proud to be a DM that hasn’t had to deal with a TPK, yet, let alone a player death in recent memory. But there has been moments where the fight has been that challenging that the party only manage to barely scrape by. To make this possible I look at encounter balancing as both a science and art.
The science behind it is relatively simple for dnd.
Each character has as XP threshold on which they can comfortably handle that much combat in one day. A party of adventurers have a daily party xp threshold base on number of players and the character levels.
Typically this is 3 deadly encounters a day, 4 hard encounters, 6 medium encounters or 12 easy encounters.
The theory is that the party would spend some of their spell slots, or one per long rest class features in one or each of the fights during the day so by the time that they reach the final encounter they are running on fumes or bare basics. This method makes for a volley of low intensity, low risk encounters still can make for an entertaining day.
For example look at the below three xp thresholds for a party of 4 )evel 1, 2 or 3 characters. As always my favourite tool is featured. Kobold+ fight club
Inversely what I call the art approach is picking a selection of creatures that you believe the party would enjoy fighting and what you believe your party would be able to fight. This is only really effective if you know your party.
Knowing my party I know a single creature would not create an enjoyable encounter. The general format I have for my encounters is several weak (significantly so) creatures to attack the party head on, one or two to flank and try and get around the armoured beef cakes up front then something stronger and menacing to join the fight after one or two rounds.
This is so everyone in the party gets to fight, use their class features or magical items and feel as though they have made an impact in the battle.
The true method I use is a hybrid, xp thresholds (bordering on high hard/deadly) with things for all players. Any one of my players characters could take a 108 hp dragon from full hp to 0 in two to three rounds. The paladins reliably dish out 30/50 damage a turn, the sorcerer probably the same if not more in an area and the Cleric can deal between 3d8 + 6d8 damage over two rounds with healing and buffing thrown into the mix.
Knowing your party and what they are capable lets you balance on that cusp of “wow, I thought we were gone there. That was so cool how you hit those 12 ghouls with thst lightning bolt” and “well. Thats it. We’re dead. Again…”.
For me the enjoyment of the risk vs reward thrill of combat for my players is what I seek every session and what drives me to think of new ways to test their resolve, their strategy and their ability to think outside the box.
Thanks for jumping on for the weekend ramble. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow with the adventure writeup and close of the weekend.
Let me know what you do for your players or what you think your DM does for you. Do you calculate every encounter on some formular or do you have a go and adjust based on prior encounters with your party.
As always, don’t forget to roll with advantage,
The Brazen Wolfe