5E Encounter difficulty: how to fix it.

Psikerlord#

Explorer
I believe the best way to balance encounters is not to balance them at all - use whatever feels appropriate - BUT you must have a good "flee" mechanic (that stands apart from the combat rules), so that PCs have an option to retreat/flee etc.

The 5e chase mechanic is ... ok. It is too hard to improvise however, which is fundamental to a practical flee mechanic.
 
I believe the best way to balance encounters is not to balance them at all - use whatever feels appropriate - BUT you must have a good "flee" mechanic (that stands apart from the combat rules), so that PCs have an option to retreat/flee etc.
13th Age's "Campaign Loss" option was an interesting take on that. It's very abstract though. The players just kinda go "OK, we can't handle this, we give up." They automatically get away, but suffer a significant story stet-back. Maybe a little meh unless the DM handles it well.
 

Psikerlord#

Explorer
13th Age's "Campaign Loss" option was an interesting take on that. It's very abstract though. The players just kinda go "OK, we can't handle this, we give up." They automatically get away, but suffer a significant story stet-back. Maybe a little meh unless the DM handles it well.
Yep that was exactly what I had in mind - the 13th Age mechanic, or something similar. Then the DM can let loose with monsters, and allow the game world to feel more wild/alive/less "balance" driven.

edit: sorry yeah i agree the auto flee might be a bit too easy/meh, but something along those lines. I think some kind of check, and/or a chase scene (depending on the circumstances), would work better.
 

ThirdWizard

Visitor
13th Age's "Campaign Loss" option was an interesting take on that. It's very abstract though. The players just kinda go "OK, we can't handle this, we give up." They automatically get away, but suffer a significant story stet-back. Maybe a little meh unless the DM handles it well.
Interesting! That reminds me of the FATE system where you can concede an encounter, which basically does the same thing you described except instead it's on a character instead of party level. In FATE, it is basically an action to concede, so you have to do it before things get too bad. If you get taken out between turns, then you lose the opportunity to escape. Of course, in FATE, you also get Fate Points for conceding (to help prepare for next time) and the GM can take advantage of it as well with an NPC (or more) can concede and the GM can bank some Fate Points.
 
edit: sorry yeah i agree the auto flee might be a bit too easy/meh, but something along those lines. I think some kind of check, and/or a chase scene (depending on the circumstances), would work better.
It all depends on the group & style. For a story-oriented set, it might be great, the DM could do a 'cut scene' that shows the campaign loss, even if technically the characters aren't aware of it, or at least not so directly aware of it - other groups would hate that. On the 'gamist' side, it might be OK, or some mechanics to escape with a different 'loss' depending on how you do escaping might make more sense - depending on the tone of the campaign, such a 'loss' could still include the possibility of a TPK...
 

Psikerlord#

Explorer
Interesting! That reminds me of the FATE system where you can concede an encounter, which basically does the same thing you described except instead it's on a character instead of party level. In FATE, it is basically an action to concede, so you have to do it before things get too bad. If you get taken out between turns, then you lose the opportunity to escape. Of course, in FATE, you also get Fate Points for conceding (to help prepare for next time) and the GM can take advantage of it as well with an NPC (or more) can concede and the GM can bank some Fate Points.
Ahhhh so Fate has something similar too. I will have to check that out!
 

NotAYakk

Adventurer
So I independently worked out similar math for 5e over here, but the differences make me think one of us has made an error (and I hope it was you!)

4 level 1 heros should find a CR 1 monster to be a moderate challenge. your math makes it half way to easy.

When I graphed monster stats, I got:


CR
11
21.5
32
43
54
65
76
87
98
109
1110
1211
1312
1413
1514
1615.5
1717
1818.5
1920
2023

Which differs a bit from yours.
 

Larnievc

Explorer
First, I would like to stress that I love the way 5E is going up to now. A lot of effort was put to provide a game that is both rich in possibilities and at the same time simple to run. Well done ! However, when it comes to encounter building, there is a huge level of complexity which gets added and it is almost impossible to handle it without a computer. Even if there are really usefull apps already available, I want to be able to run a game offline, just with pencil and paper. The game is easy to run, and encounter building should be as easy. Fortunately, after some thought I came with a simple way to implement this.


But first, an important disclaimer : already with previous versions, encounter balancing was more an art than a science. My impression is that with 5E it is even more true: depending on the PCs tactics and on the monster synergies, a single number representing the encounter challenge can at best be indicative. CR is not the ultimate truth, so please don't complain if on a given encounter for a given group you find it way too easy or too hard. That's just 5E life !


In the following, I will assume that the DMG Basic rules for encounter building are providing the best guess, and I only will tweak the math to achieve two goals. The first one is to make it simpler. The second is to cure the "3 rats and a lich" bug, which basically says that a CR21 lich in company of 3 rats is as tough as a CR24-25 monster. So, for pack of monsters of almost the same level, my system will retrieve the difficulty rating of official rules, where it will improve it for wildly different CR mix. Plus: you forget forever about encounter XP mutipliers.


The simple way to compute encounters challenge


Philosophy of the method is :
1. Forget XP for encounter building, only use power equivalent levels (or PELs)
2. Compare PELs for PCs and PELs for monsters and deduce the lethality of the enounter.


Player Characters PEL :
PC equivalent level is almost player level, with only a few exceptions. Use the table below



Player levelPEL
11
21.5
32.5
43
55
66
77
88
99
1010
1111
1212
1313
1414
1516
1618
1720
1822
1924
2026


Monsters PEL :

Convert each individual monster CR to it's EL using the following table




Monster CRPEL
01/3
1/82/3
1/41
1/21.5
12
24
36
48
511
613
715
818
921
1024
1128
1232
1336
1440
1544
1648
1752
1856
1960
2064
2176
2288
23104
24120
25136
26152
27168
28184
29200
30216

Encounter challenge :

a. Sum up all PCs PELs get the Total Party Equivalent Levels (TPEL)
b. Sum up all monsters PELs to get the Total Monster Equivalent Levels (TMEL)



Encounter is easy(*) if TMEL ~ 40% to TPEL
Encounter is medium if TMEL ~ 60% to TPEL
Encounter is difficult if TMEL ~ 80% to TPEL
Encounter is deadly if TMEL ~ 100% to TPEL


(*) Assuming Easy is 25% of XP with respect to deadly… The table provided in the DMG preview has however an inconsistent definition of easy across levels. Not a big deal, you can just ignore it. What matters is to have a TML lower than the TPL. The lowest, the easiest.

Summary PDF

Dnddungeoneer made an awesome PDF out of these table. Check it out !
Player Level Charts.pdf

Example :

A CR21 lich and 3 rats is PEL 76 + (1/3)*3 = 77, so basically… a lich !



The math behind the scene :

This section is only meant for math-oriented people.

[sblock]
What did I do here ?


First, I realized that the Encounter XP scales as the number of monsters to the power 3/2.
Indeed, XP for 4 monsters is 4 times the base XP, times 2 for 4 monsters. Total : 8 times the XP, which is 4^3/2. It also works approximatively for other numbers of monsters.


Second, I checked that the strength of a PC group scales with the number of PCs to the power 3/2.
If I have a deadly encounter opposing 4 PCs and 4 monsters, it means than the individual monster XP is half that of the PC deadly scale (4 times deadly scale divided by 8, see above).
Then, a deadly encounter for 2 PCs will be 2 such monsters. It seems just logical, but let's check : 2 monsters is twice individual monster XP, and the multiplier is 2 as I have only 2 PCs : total multiplier is x4, which makes the encounter deadly for 2 PCs. Hurrah, the system is consistent.
As PCs strengh with number scales as monster strength, it is fair to assume that the power of PCs scale as their number to the power 3/2.


At the same time, it means that the XP value for a PC is the half the deadly encounter XP !


Now, is is just a matter of rescaling: saying that A N^3/2 = B M^3/2, is equivalent to state that A^2/3 N = B^2/3 M. In other words : instead of taking some crazy math according to monster numbers relative to PCs numbers, just do simple addition, and precompute the corrected XP scale to make it fit.


The formula I used for my tables above is thus PEL = (XP/49)^(2/3), approximated up to 10% to get numbers easy to remember.

[/sblock]
That seems like a lot of hard work.

What I do is ask if the attack routine will kill the tank in four rounds and can it render powerless party members.

Given all that, if the dpr guys can’t kill it in four rounds it’s probably too tough.

That’s seen me right for ages.
 

Stalker0

Adventurer
People keep saying there is some embedded scaling for groups of monsters but I am not seeing it. As far as I can tell, 1 CR = 2, 2 CR 1s = 4, 3 CR 1s = 6. Its a linear progression, there is no adjustment for groups that I can see.

People are saying this one tends to require more monsters for equivalent challenge compared to the base system, to which I respond....yes!! Once you hit 5th PCs are ridiculously hard to kill, I think all of the standard encounters are over CRed in base.
 

NotAYakk

Adventurer
People keep saying there is some embedded scaling for groups of monsters but I am not seeing it. As far as I can tell, 1 CR = 2, 2 CR 1s = 4, 3 CR 1s = 6. Its a linear progression, there is no adjustment for groups that I can see.

People are saying this one tends to require more monsters for equivalent challenge compared to the base system, to which I respond....yes!! Once you hit 5th PCs are ridiculously hard to kill, I think all of the standard encounters are over CRed in base.
If you follow the DMG encounter building system, you get 2 CR1s is roughly a CR3, not a CR2.

The OP (and I) deconstructed the DMG XP system and we think we found a different scale than CR. In that scale you can just add.

The big differences is the CR 0 to 3 range.

CR 1/8 is 1/6 of a point
CR 1/4 is 1/3 of a point
CR 1/2 is 2/3 of a point
CR 1 is 1 point
CR 2 is 1.5 points
CR 3 is 2 points

After that, from 4 through 15 or so, you get 1 point per CR. I and the OP disagree how to best fit in a relatively unimportant way.

From 15 to 20 we reach 23ish points. After 20, we get like 5 points per CR.

In this "point" system, adding works.

The difference is that addinc CR will have 5 CR 3 monsters be CR 15, but adding points makes them CR 10ish.

For CR 1 monsters, the results are similar after the first 4 or so (CR will disagree by 1 or so).

For sub-1 CR monsters, there is lots of divergence; adding CRs will result in lower total CR than using points/the DMG guidelines.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Wish I knew how to attach excel spreadsheets directly, here's a link to a simplified spreadsheet. It uses the same basic PEL calculation.

I've been using this since shortly after 5E was released and it works well for me. Given the normal disclaimers of different groups and options.
 

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