5E Encounter difficulty: how to fix it.

This system solves the problem of estimating difficulty for encounters with monsters of both low CR and high CR. Here's a quick comparison of the BASIC D&D guidelines, and the EQUIVALENT LEVEL guidelines:

In both scenarios assume the DM wants to present a difficult encounter with hobgoblins to a party of five 4th level PCs.

BASIC D&D
XP encounter budget maximum: 1,875

2 hobgoblins (CR 1/2, XP 100)
1 hobgoblin captain (CR 3, XP 700)

900 * 2 (# monster multiplier) = 1,800

EQUIVALENT LEVEL
Player Equivalent Level (15 * 80%) = 12

4 Hobgoblins (EL 1.5 * 4) = EL 6
1 Hobgoblin Captain = EL 6

I think most DMs would consider the first encounter as a Medium difficulty, and the second as Difficult.
 
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Hannerdyn

Explorer
So I'm not suppose to just pick monsters I think look cool and throw them at my PCs? Let me as you this; why do you hate fun?

Seriously, this is good information if only to have the math behind the numbers identified for me.
 

Joe Liker

Visitor
I guess I just don't see much value in fine-tuning encounters to such a degree. Was the impetus behind this a desire to more closely match the challenge level to the party, or to calculate more "accurate" XP rewards?

I'd personally rather just design encounters that seem reasonable and let the players decide if they think it's too dangerous. As for XP, I often end up granting quest XP rewards (read "fudging") to make the party level up when I think it's time, so this level of precision isn't needed for me.

Not to belittle the hard work done here! The analysis uncovered some interesting points whether I use it or not.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
So I'm not suppose to just pick monsters I think look cool and throw them at my PCs? Let me as you this; why do you hate fun?

Seriously, this is good information if only to have the math behind the numbers identified for me.
I don't think anyone here hates fun, but we do like a rough idea how many of a monster might be a waste of time or too deadly.
 

Psikerlord#

Explorer
jesus christ, just wing it baby, and be flexible with hp either up or down, depending on how the party fares. encounter building couldnt be easier in 5e.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
So I had two encounters tonight. One was supposed to be a moderate encounter of 3 CR 3 creatures for 7 level 5 PCs (that is the encounter difficulty; the party was actually 6th-level). Both systems listed the encounter as moderate difficulty, although XP budget was in the middle of the range while PEL just barely made it over the easy threshold. The second encounter was supposed to be a moderate encounter of 5 CR 3 creatures for 7 level 7 PCs (they had hit the end of a chapter and leveled up). XP budget listed it as moderate (it was right on the threshold) while PEL listed it as slightly over the threshold and into hard territory.

In both cases both systems were reasonably close to each other. I would say that tonight's encounters were both solidly in the moderate territory. What surprised me was that the PEL actually applied more weight to multiple enemies than the XP budget did.

Both systems are pretty close together in the situation of creatures with the same CR. I have an encounter coming up next week that is supposed to be moderate for 6 9th level PCs. The party is still 7th-level, so this encounter is rated as hard. However, since this is one CR5 creature with a dozen CR0 creatures, it will be interesting to see whether the encounter ends up closer to the hard of the XP budget or the Easy of the PEL. I will keep an eye on this.
 

Gobelure

Visitor
Thanks to all for your comments (and noticing the typo), and especially to Dnddungeoneer for the pdf, it's just awesome ! I'll link it in front page.

Perhaps I shall have said that the math is not here to prevent the cool. Just to help the DM figure out how well (or how badly) the PC may handle any given challenge. Sometime it is worth figuring it out in advance.

Dont see how this is any easier or quicker than adding up the monster XP and referring to a chart?
Of course everyone is entitled to use their preferred system to build encounters, from the official rules to plain DM intuition, I respect that. So if you are happy with official rules, good for you.
I think it is however easier to remember a table with simple numbers and almost logical progression, forget the parties sizes factors, and cure the "lich and 3 rats" issue. This is of course a matter of taste… Just give it a try ;)

Now to answer specific questions : yes, NPC should be treated according to their CR, not their level. If you look at the NPC mage of 9th level casting ability in the Basic Rules, she is quoted as a CR6. Well, CR6 is PEL 13, but a level 9 PC is PEL 9, so I assume that the table are not meant to be used for PvP. A deadly encounter doesn't mean that the monsters are exactly of the same strength as the PCs. Experience will tell exactly what "deadly" means. And perhaps the DMG will come with a formula to assess CR to PCs. For the moment, I limited myself to the material available in the Basic Rules.

A single giant is much, much easier to take down than an equivalent number of goblins, and is far less likely to KO one or more party members.
Let's take this one as an example, and let's assume a party of 4.
A hill giant is CR 5 - 1800 XP (*) - PEL 11
A goblin is CR 1/4 - 50 XP - PEL 1
How many goblins do I need to get a challenge equivalent of a Hill giant ?
My method: 11 (this is straightforward)
Official method: the number of goblins will be 1800 / 50 / fudge factor. But fudge factor depends on the number of gobelin. So N = 36 / f(N). Now we can only resort to gut feeling go guess the initial range of N
Let's try a party of 7-10. Encounter multiplier is x2.5, so the number of goblins will be 36 / 2.5 = 14; Oops.
Let's try a party of 11-14 then. Number of gobelin is then 12 !

You can see how simple is my approximate method with respect to the official one. It brings the same answer, up to the advertised accuracy of 10%. And my gut feeling is that against a dozen of goblins, the real challenge will be much more affected by the encounter condition (ambush, …) than by one goblin missing the show.


Even if I don't have time to address all comments, I really welcome feedback, including (and especially) from real tabletop situations.
 
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Joe Liker

Visitor
Let's try a party of 7-10. Encounter multiplier is x2.5, so the number of goblins will be 36 / 2.5 = 14; Oops.
Let's try a party of 11-14 then. Number of gobelin is then 12 !
I don't understand what you're saying here. What do you mean by "let's try a party of X?" Are you talking about the number of PCs? The number of goblins? The level of the PCs?

When I calculate using the official method, I get 14. I don't understand the magic that happened for you to get that down to 12. By my calculations, a party of 4 PCs against 12 goblins (outnumbered 3 to 1) is only (12)(50)(2) = 1200 XP. That falls well below the hill giant's 1800. Your 11-goblin team is even worse, at 1100 (by the official method) -- and that is generously saying that 11 vs. 4 is a 3:1 ratio. The total for 11 goblins should actually be slightly less.
 

Elric

Visitor
I don't understand what you're saying here. What do you mean by "let's try a party of X?" Are you talking about the number of PCs? The number of goblins? The level of the PCs?
He means the number of goblins.

When I calculate using the official method, I get 14. I don't understand the magic that happened for you to get that down to 12. By my calculations, a party of 4 PCs against 12 goblins (outnumbered 3 to 1) is only (12)(50)(2) = 1200 XP. That falls well below the hill giant's 1800. Your 11-goblin team is even worse, at 1100 (by the official method) -- and that is generously saying that 11 vs. 4 is a 3:1 ratio. The total for 11 goblins should actually be slightly less.
The key is that you can't easily figure out the number of goblins that is equivalent to a giant in the official encounter XP multiplier system because you have to try out multiple numbers of goblins and see if the XP per goblin * the number of goblins * the multiplier equals the XP for the giant. You can't simply divide 1800 (the giant's XP) by 50 (the goblin's XP). And a group of 11-14 monsters is x3 XP, which is how he gets the answer of 12 goblins. 50 * 12 * 3= 1800.

Encounter XP Multipliers
Number of Monsters XP Multiplier
Single Monster —
Pair (2 monsters) × 1.5
Group (3-6 monsters) × 2
Gang (7-10 monsters) × 2.5
Mob (11-14 monsters) × 3
Horde (15 or more monsters) × 4
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
I don't understand what you're saying here. What do you mean by "let's try a party of X?" Are you talking about the number of PCs? The number of goblins? The level of the PCs?

When I calculate using the official method, I get 14. I don't understand the magic that happened for you to get that down to 12. By my calculations, a party of 4 PCs against 12 goblins (outnumbered 3 to 1) is only (12)(50)(2) = 1200 XP. That falls well below the hill giant's 1800. Your 11-goblin team is even worse, at 1100 (by the official method) -- and that is generously saying that 11 vs. 4 is a 3:1 ratio. The total for 11 goblins should actually be slightly less.
[MENTION=6780929]Gobelure[/MENTION] was referring to the size of the monster party. 7-10 is the range for a 2.5x multiplier, and 11-14 is the range for the 3x multiplier. 12 goblins x 50xp x 3 multiplier is 1800.

Spreadsheets rule the day here. I can get these calcs done in seconds. Even without the spreadsheat, I don't agree that PEL is any easier at all. Having to look up a CR12 creature for 8400xp versus a 32 PEL is a wash. The lookups are the same, the maths are the same (adding everything up). They only thing that is different is the multiplier.

And that is where PEL might shine. While the xp budget has hard steps in its multipliers (why is goblin 14 worth only 150 XP while Goblin 15 is worth 900 XP?), each goblin is worth a constant increase in both base XP plus some built-in multiplier. The methods line up at the middle of the XP budget multiplier ranges, but they separate where the multipliers change (i.e. 14 to 15 monsters). The other spot where this diverges a little bit is in the easy, moderate, hard and deadly thresholds, where the XP budget method is not fixed percentages of deadly.

I am not sure about whether PEL works well with mismatched groups of monsters (high CR plus low CR) because I have not run much in the way of those mixed monster groups. Although I will be running one next week.

As a suggestion to [MENTION=6780929]Gobelure[/MENTION], is there a way to get the results in the normal XP budget numbers? The thing that really shines in this method is the ramping up of monster difficulty. Since the party is only supposed to get the base (not the multiplied) xp of the monsters could you apply your multiplier to the XP required by the party and the XP given by the monsters (i.e. pull the PEL numbers out)?
 

Joe Liker

Visitor
The key is that you can't easily figure out the number of goblins that is equivalent to a giant in the official encounter XP multiplier system because you have to try out multiple numbers of goblins and see if the XP per goblin * the number of goblins * the multiplier equals the XP for the giant. You can't simply divide 1800 (the giant's XP) by 50 (the goblin's XP). And a group of 11-14 monsters is x3 XP, which is how he gets the answer of 12 goblins. 50 * 12 * 3= 1800.
Are we all reading the same guidelines? The article I've been using says if the PCs are outnumbered 3 to 1, it's only double the XP.

If there's been an update to that, it's no wonder I'm confused!
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
Since the Basic DMG specifically says that this is a work in progress, I will be interested to see what the final guidelines look like.
 

Joe Liker

Visitor
EDIT: Ohh. Those guidelines look complicated and stupid. I think my real issue is with the update.

That's preposterous! Why would a more difficult encounter not result in a higher XP reward?! "Work in progress," indeed!

I will be using the July 7 guidelines, thank you very much.
 
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Tormyr

Adventurer
EDIT: Ohh. Those guidelines look complicated and stupid. I think my real issue is with the update.

That's preposterous! Why would a more difficult encounter not result in a higher XP reward?! "Work in progress," indeed!

I will be using the July 7 guidelines, thank you very much.
We are all working off of the Basic DMG which is available from a link on the right side of the main page of enworld. On page 57, on the right side, it mentions that the multiplier is only used to gauge difficulty of the encounter not as the basis of the reward. The XP reward stays at just the value of the creatures/ traps/ etc.

EDIT: Wow, ninja edit. I replied to a completely different post.

I would suggest you use the tables and multipliers from the Basic DMG (or PEL) as it may more closely resemble difficulty in actual play. I know plenty of people who think you should be awarded the xp for the difficulty of the encounter as a whole. One thing that giving just the monster xp gives you is a slowing down of PC progression through levels. Use the base xp for a longer running campaign. Use the increased xp for a campaign that will finish more quickly.

And then in November it may all change again.
 
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Joe Liker

Visitor
We are all working off of the Basic DMG which is available from a link on the right side of the main page of enworld. On page 57, on the right side, it mentions that the multiplier is only used to gauge difficulty of the encounter not as the basis of the reward. The XP reward stays at just the value of the creatures/ traps/ etc.
Right, like I said, that's absurd. I'm not using those rules.
 

Boarstorm

Visitor
That's preposterous! Why would a more difficult encounter not result in a higher XP reward?! "Work in progress," indeed!
I think it's to prevent the PCs from gaming the system.

If you gave increased XP via these guidelines, then the players are incentivized to find hordes to crush as opposed to seeking out threats of an appropriate CR. It's metagaming, sure. But I think that's what they were trying to circumvent.

Edit: Don't use those rules if they don't make sense to you. More power to ya! But they're a reality of the system as of right now, so those of us who are using them have to take them into account.
 

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