CRs/ELs -- apparently the designers don't read the rules they talk about (old thread)

Quasqueton

First Post
From "Design & Development" 8/27/07
According to the rules, a 1st level party could face a single Challenge Rating 1 monster, or an Encounter Level 1 group of beasts. That seemed reasonable, until I started designing adventures. The rules presented the following possibilities:
One gnoll
One troglodyte
Two orcs
Two hobgoblins
Four goblins

None of these really excited me. Four goblins on the map might be fun, but a fighter with the Cleave feat put that thought to bed. I wanted Keep on the Borderlands and the moat house from Village of Hommlet. My dungeons felt boring because I couldn’t fit many monsters into each room.

Admittedly, 3rd Edition brought some sense and standardization to encounters that other editions glossed over, but that didn’t change a simple fact—I wanted lots of humanoids running around my dungeon rooms, and 3rd Edition said I could do that only if I wanted a TPK.

Over the years, my initial frustration with the game never faded. By the time the party was of a high enough level to handle a fight with six orcs, the poor orcs’ AC and attacks were too low to pose much of a threat. In the end, I just fudged my encounters to create the excitement and variety I was. Despite what the game told me, a low-level party could take on three or four orcs without a massacre (for the PCs, at least).
I know this is a month old, now, but it has bothered me ever since I first read it. It bothers me because apparently the designers don't understand the very rules they've written and are tinkering with.
According to the rules, a 1st level party could face a single Challenge Rating 1 monster, or an Encounter Level 1 group of beasts.
Actually, "according to the rules" (DMG page 49), a 1st-level party could expect to face a CR/EL 1 encounter only 50% of the time. Of the other half the time, 20% will be higher than CR/EL 1.

An encounter equal to party level is considered "Challenging" -- "The average adventuring group should be able to handle four challenging encoutners before they run low on spells, hit points, and other resources."

I wanted lots of humanoids running around my dungeon rooms, and 3rd Edition said I could do that only if I wanted a TPK.
The D&D3 DMG says a TPK will "almost certainly" happen if the EL is 5+ over the party level. For a party of 1st-level PCs, that's EL6

- 18+ goblins

- 24+ kobolds

- 12+ orcs or hobgoblins

- 6+ gnolls

For a 1st-level party, EL2-5 is considered "Very Difficult" -- "One PC might very well die." That's not a TPK.

- 4-12 goblins

- 6-18 kobolds

- 3-8 orcs or hobgoblins

- 2-4 gnolls

By the time the party was of a high enough level to handle a fight with six orcs, the poor orcs’ AC and attacks were too low to pose much of a threat.
Judging from his earlier comments about party level and encounter level, I presume he means when the party is 4th-level, because 6 orcs is EL4 (by the book calculations). Um, how about putting better armor on the orcs? Instead of studded leather, how about chainmail or breastplate (2 points more AC)? Maybe add in another couple orcs for an EL5 encounter?

Four goblins on the map might be fun, but a fighter with the Cleave feat put that thought to bed.
So now the Cleave feat "puts to bed" every encounter with 4 goblins? Please. If that is true, maybe the feat is too powerful? Or maybe put an extra goblin or 2 in the encounter? No. Complain that "the rules" of D&D3 actually *prevent* you from making good encounters.

I wanted Keep on the Borderlands and the moat house from Village of Hommlet. My dungeons felt boring because I couldn’t fit many monsters into each room.
To start with, both those adventures were designed for a party of double the size that D&D3 assumes. A party of eight 1st-level PCs can surely handle more than a party of four 1st-level PCs. Duh. Is the larger party twice as powerful? Three times? More?

Keep on the Borderlands (for 8 PCs):

Orc Lair 1
4 orcs = EL3
4 orcs = EL3
12 orcs = EL6

Orc Lair 2
9 orcs = EL5
6 orcs = EL4

Goblin Lair
6 goblins = EL3
6 goblins = EL3
10 goblins = EL4

Note that the eight-member party outnumbers over half these encounters. Eight D&D3 PCs could handle these encounters just as well as eight BD&D PCs could. (Probably even better, considering D&D3 PCs get max hit points at 1st level.)

If you want encounters to have a number of opponents like what is found in the Caves of Chaos, accept that you are designing for double the number of PCs assumed in the D&D3 encounter level calculations.

So, what are the designers going to do? Are they going to weaken the goblins and orcs? Are they going to strengthen PCs? Or are they going to design based on an assumption of 8 PCs instead of 4?

This whole article just irked me, greatly. I'm not making any statement on 4th edition -- I don't have a care about it until it actually is released. I'm talking about D&D3, and how the designers know it. What bothers me about this article is that a D&D designer is so completely skewing the rules and facts. It's like he doesn't know or understand the rules of the game he's working with, and then he's misrepresenting things.

Now, I'm not saying the CR/EL system is perfect. I just saying it doesn't say or do what the designer here is saying it says and does. I swear, reading that article was like reading a thread here on the forums: Supporting a point with misunderstandings and misrepresentations. I expect more from a WotC designer article.

Quasqueton
 
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What's wrong with cramming a room full of monsters, allow the players to exercise some judgement on whether or not they're over their heads or figure out some way to whittle down the numbers to something they can handle?
 

Geron Raveneye

Explorer
The_Gneech said:
3E is badwrongfun now, didn't you get the memo? ;P

-The Gneech :cool:

Nah, not just now, but apparently for a few years already. People, especially WotC designers just weren't allowed to speak up about it. But now that 3.X is in its death throes, the chains have fallen, and we all can be regaled by tales how 3.X has so many flaws and hooks and clunky bits.

Corp speak...got to love it. :p
 



Brachna

First Post
Quasqueton said:
...
Judging from his earlier comments about party level and encounter level, I presume he means when the party is 4th-level, because 6 orcs is EL4 (by the book calculations). Um, how about putting better armor on the orcs? Instead of studded leather, how about chainmail or breastplate (2 points more AC)? Maybe add in another couple orcs for an EL5 encounter?
...
Quasqueton

Not to mention that it's not at all difficult to add in some character levels to one or more of those orcs to make them even more interesting for a 4th (or higher) level party.
 

dmccoy1693

Adventurer
Brachna said:
Not to mention that it's not at all difficult to add in some character levels to one or more of those orcs to make them even more interesting for a 4th (or higher) level party.

Make them 4 orc barbarians, one a ninja and the last a psion. The players won't have a clue where that curve came from.

Its almost like the developer is taking the perspective of the a total noob DM to make his case. But then they talk about how they can customize the stats based upon whether or not they're a fighter (or whatever the word is) or something else. Can't we do that now with classes and racial hit dice?
 

Arkhandus

First Post
Err, just to note, Quas, but the designer's sentiments were from early 3E years, right? And in 3.0 rules, standard goblins have a CR of 1/4th, and standard kobolds have a CR of 1/6th.

Edit:
Also, for my own little anecdote, my very first game of 3E (3.0) was when I ran a little 1st-level homebrewed adventure in my first homebrew setting.......in which the PCs had to deal with a clan of kobolds that were kidnapping people, robbing them, and eating them..... I didn't have any trouble challenging the PCs in that campaign.

The PCs fought gangs of average kobolds, smaller groups of more-experienced 2nd-level kobold warriors, and the occasional 1st-level, 2nd-level, or 3rd-level kobold sorcerer mixed in (no big damage spells though), as well as an encounter with a kobold ranger and his pack of trained badgers and dire rats, and at the end an encounter with the kobold king's guards (half a dozen kobold fighters of 1st-level I think it was), a 2nd or 3rd level kobold shaper-psion (throwing astral constructs at them), then a 2nd-level kobold cleric and the kobold king himself (a 3rd-level kobold warrior using a +1 short sword). By the time they reached the kobold king (after a couple of days at least), some of the PCs were 2nd-level (not everyone showed up consistently to the game).
 
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Quasqueton

First Post
Err, just to note, Quas, but the designer's sentiments were from early 3E years, right? And in 3.0 rules, standard goblins have a CR of 1/4th, and standard kobolds have a CR of 1/6th.
Mea culpa, on that item. I should improve my reading comprehension skill.

But, that just means the number possible for a goblin and kobold encounter go up for what he is talking about. The complaint is weakened even more.

Quasqueton
 

WayneLigon

Adventurer
Given that CR- and EL-based encounter creation is as much an art as it is a science, I'm pretty sure they know more than most what makes an acceptable encounter at such and such a level, and that the numbers convey the normal amount of wiggle-room in the system.

Then, too, remember that for months - in some sense, years - they've basically been playing 4E, and when you do that your rules mastery of previous editions slips. For a casual blog post, ballpark figures are going to be the norm and doesn't really indicate 'OMG the designers don't know the game they wrote'.
 

freyar

Extradimensional Explorer
WayneLigon said:
Given that CR- and EL-based encounter creation is as much an art as it is a science, I'm pretty sure they know more than most what makes an acceptable encounter at such and such a level, and that the numbers convey the normal amount of wiggle-room in the system.

Then, too, remember that for months - in some sense, years - they've basically been playing 4E, and when you do that your rules mastery of previous editions slips. For a casual blog post, ballpark figures are going to be the norm and doesn't really indicate 'OMG the designers don't know the game they wrote'.

The problem is that these weren't ballpark figures but a systematic exposition of only EL 1 encounters, completely (and some might suspiciously say intentionally) ignoring the fact that you are told in the DMG to send higher ELs at your 1st level party.

BTW, I like a lot of what I hear about the 4e mechanics, especially as I think more about it. But I think that some of the "complaints" about 3.X are a little disingenuous.
 


Khairn

First Post
Quas, that's a good call. Unfortunately (IMO) this type of example is apparently becoming more typical of WotC's attempts to explain how the developers are creating "fun", while what we've been enjoying for the last few years has clearly been badwrongfun.
 


MoogleEmpMog

First Post
Good spot. That's just bizarre.

To be fair, this seems to be one of the most persistent myths of 3e D&D. You see it over and over again in complaints from all sides, despite the fact that it directly contradicts the encounter design guidelines in the DMG.

Does SWSE, for example, facilitate large groups of mook enemies better than D&D 3.5? Yes, I'd say it handles and assumes about 1.5x to 2x the number of mooks on average. But that average goes up more than anything because their individual actions process faster, so the game runs smoothly even with large numbers. The bonus 1st level hp for PCs are almost an afterthought.

The comparison with Keep on the Borderlands is particularly interesting, though. :)
 

Yalius

First Post
Dude, it's marketing. What do you expect them to say? "Well, really, last year's product was just as good as the one we're producing this year, but buy our new stuff anyways, 'cause I've got a kid in college, an 11-year-old with braces and an $800-a-month payment on my Navigator?"

I mean, that's business 101. Emphasize the old product's flaws, even exaggerate them, to make the new product look better. And honestly, they're gonna sell a boatload of 4e to a lot of people, including about 80% of the naysayers. Because it will probably be a pretty good product with a little more polish and some improvements over 3e, and it'll be priced at what the majority of players can afford without wincing. Why is that so bad?
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Please note that this is Mike Mearls, D&D Fan, talking about his first experiences with D&D 3e.

Not Mike Mearls, experienced d20 System designer.

The way that the CR/EL system looks on first sight is as he describes it. And it also is very, very wonky once you start adding multiple opponents (more than 4) to an encounter.

Cheers!
 


Gentlegamer

First Post
Pardon me as I chuckle just a little bit . . . now the 3e fans are feeling what fans of older editions felt in 1999; that is, you're being told by the designers that the edition you like has crappy rules (as they are misinterpreted and misapprehended by those designers). :)

I'm reminded of the episode of Futurama where they unfreeze the "80s Guy," and elect him to run Planet Express: "As my first order of business, I blame all the company's problems on the guy before me."
 

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