log in or register to remove this ad

 

D&D 5E Encounter Building - It's not Deadly, its Epic!

dave2008

Legend
This probably old news to some, but today I stumbled across this article from DMDave: How to Create Epic Encounters and I thought some people might find it useful. It begins with a short rant / description of how "Deadly" encounter are not intended to actually be Deadly (neither the description nor the numbers suggest they are truly deadly) as they only account for roughly 1/3 of your daily XP budget. He then goes on to describe "Epic" encounters as ones that use 50-100% of the daily XP budget - serious battles that could be a TPK if your not on your game. He then provides a great table to wraps this idea of Epic Encounters with solo monsters:

Epic Solo Monster Challenge Rating
1630529654896.png


I think this table is great and clearly shows that a creature of much higher CR than the party's level is needed to make a truly deadly solo battle in 5e. I have kinda know this for a while (I've often said once you hit 10-12th level you need a monster with a +10 CR to be a solo challenge), but it is nice to see it backed by some numbers analysis and put into a table.

Interesting notes:
  • A CR 24 Ancient Red Dragon is an Epic encounter for (4) 14-15th lvl PCs
  • There is no CR appropriate solo monster for a group larger the (4) PCs at level 20 - I imagine we need some mythic monsters then! Maybe Fizban's can fix that.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad


BookTenTiger

He / Him
That's a really good guide to keep on hand! Thanks for sharing!

I've been giving all my "solo" monsters legendary and / or lair actions. Since most characters are going to target a big solo monster (since it's fun to do so), giving them extra actions or lair effects really increases the amount they get to do, and thus makes the fight a lot more memorable.

One easy way to get some lair action ideas is just to steal from Spells. A giant otyugh in an ancient library (he's been eating the books) used two lair actions: creating a tornado of old pages (fog cloud), and jumping really hard to knock shelves down on people.

The otyugh only lasted two rounds (the big guy was a magnet for critical hits), but it was a very fun fight!
 


robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
It’s my understanding that the difficulty levels in the DMG are floors rather than ceilings and this is why things generally seem easier than expected.
 

dave2008

Legend
It’s my understanding that the difficulty levels in the DMG are floors rather than ceilings and this is why things generally seem easier than expected.
The larger problem, as I see it, is the encounter builder gives poor guidance on how to adjust the encounter for different size parties or what the difficult rating means in relationship to the adventuring day. A combat that barely reaches the "deadly" rating will not feel so at the beginning of the adventuring day; however, it could if it arrives after 2-4 other fights.
 
Last edited:

Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
It should also be noted that benefits and drawbacks are situational, not universal, and they adjust the difficulty setting of the encounter.

For example, if the game starts with ogres 300ft away against a party completely of sharpshooters and spellcasters, even if the ogres count as a "hard" encounter, the difficulty will be lowered to "medium" because the players get free shots.

Same for drawbacks. A party of all melee characters fighting a fast flyby-type creature goes from medium to hard or hard to deadly.

Having easier fights but with situational drawbacks are fun for me because its less swingy yet it requires strategy to avoid taking more damage than needed.
 


toucanbuzz

Legend
Last session my group of 5 5th level characters nearly defeated a solo CR16 Mummy Lord that it accidentally summoned using a bag of beans. So that chart is dead on. They should have won, but I rolled (on table where they can see) absurdly high damage on one spell that did a couple characters in. Had it been average damage, PC victory that round.
 


Back when we were running 3.5 multiple times a week, a lot of us who DMed started to transition from running the recommended amount of daily encounters to just going one big one per day. It ended up making things a lot more dramatic, more often. We either had a social or exploration day, or one with an epic battle.

It's interesting to see people running 5e drifting that way again. The DMG says that a group can typically handle 6 to 8 medium to hard, or fewer if they're even more difficult, but it might be worth it going balls-to-the-wall for one big one.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Back when we were running 3.5 multiple times a week, a lot of us who DMed started to transition from running the recommended amount of daily encounters to just going one big one per day. It ended up making things a lot more dramatic, more often. We either had a social or exploration day, or one with an epic battle.

It's interesting to see people running 5e drifting that way again. The DMG says that a group can typically handle 6 to 8 medium to hard, or fewer if they're even more difficult, but it might be worth it going balls-to-the-wall for one big one.

We do that extremely often, because our tables are much more roleplay and story than combat, but you have to be very careful, because at that level of difference, 5e becomes extremely swingy, especially if you have optimised glass canons for PCs.

It also has the disadvantage of not taking into account the rest periods of various classes, and to allow some classes that can nova to do so because they think that it's going to be the only fight of the day.

Having only one adversary also makes the action economy tricky even with legendary and lair actions, so it's much easier to have multiple monsters than just a big one, which makes the fight even more swingy.

Finally, you have to be careful, the DMG recommendation is based on standard PCs without options, and therefore without feats and multiclassing, and therefore without the tools that make optimisation really powerful. So it and the table above still need a lot of adjustment compared to the power of the party. Not mentioning adjustment due to circumstances, surprise is not as deadly as in 3e where buffs are everything, but it is still very powerful.
 



dave2008

Legend
If i read this correctly : 3 level 4 or 4 level 3 Phandelver PC can go and fight Venomfang (CR 8) and the fight will not be "epic" ("epic" starts at CR 9) ?
Does this feel right to you guys ?
If you read the article linked, you will note that what he calls "epic" is anything over 50% and up to 100% of your daily XP budget. This table only captures one point within that range. So what is considered "epic" is actually not so rigid. This table is just a "rule-of-thumb" approach for a quick check.

Now, I would also like to point out that CR and XP comparisons don't make a battle "epic" either. They are just a tool to get you in the ballpark. The DM needs to provide the rest of it.

Finally, this table doesn't, IMO, take into account the difference in PCs at low levels vs mid to high levels. Low level PCs are much more squishy and will likely be much more challenged by these "epic" encounters because there is a higher likelihood of instant death.
 

Stalker0

Legend
Low level PCs are much more squishy and will likely be much more challenged by these "epic" encounters because there is a higher likelihood of instant death.
This is a very important note.

The difference between 4th and 5th level characters can be MASSIVE. Many characters DOUBLE their offense at this level (through extra attack). Suddenly spells like fireball are options on the field.

Further, I also find 5th level is generally where PC hitpoints are high enough that the chance of dying outright from a single attack drops markedly, aka generally only a really powerful crit still has a chance.

Its telling that on the chart, the CR of solo monsters increases by full 5 points comparing a 4th level party to a 5th level one.
 


This is a very important note.

The difference between 4th and 5th level characters can be MASSIVE. Many characters DOUBLE their offense at this level (through extra attack). Suddenly spells like fireball are options on the field.

Further, I also find 5th level is generally where PC hitpoints are high enough that the chance of dying outright from a single attack drops markedly, aka generally only a really powerful crit still has a chance.

Its telling that on the chart, the CR of solo monsters increases by full 5 points comparing a 4th level party to a 5th level one.
And it is the point, where any single classed character beomes about twice as powerful:
- spellcasters gain level 3 spells which are way better than lvl 2 spells and cantrips double their damage. The bard gets the lowest power leap, but gets short rest inspiration which does not help too much on a single fight, but still allows you to use them without hestiation.

- barbarian, fighter, monks, rangers, paladins gain extra attack and the latter two also gain level 2 spells. The monk gets stunning strike amd the fighter 4 attacks in a nova round.
The barbarian probably gets the lowest jump, but fast movement does get in handy.

- that leaves the rogue, who "only" gets 1d6 more sneak attack damage offensively. But uncanny doge more or less doubles the hp. Also expertise skills will go up two points which make dex based skills a lot more reliable (they are usually at +10 by then, which often is an auto success).

That leaves the artificer, but besides two classes having extra attack and second level spells, the other two have potent cantrips and some other tricks at their sleeves. So yes, overall they are probably twice as powerful as 4th level characters.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top