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D&D 5E FeeFiFoFum *splat* goes the giants

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
We had an encounter. 3 PCs at level 7: a Psi Warrior, Shadow Monk, and Divine Sorcerer/rogue (5/2). 3 hill giants are harassing the road and we have to deal with them. Solid characters with good stats and equipment, but no powerhouses (the psi warrior is a dex-build shield and board fighter, for example).

We weren't given a chance to ambush them, be clever etc - just a straight clash of arms.

By the DMG, our XP budget is 1700/PC for a deadly encounter. Hill Giants are worth 1800 XP and there were 3 of them, so multiply by 2. This would have been a deadly encounter for level 11 characters.

Now you are going to say "hill giants are dumb and have bad saving throws, eaaaaasy". And you are correct (I ran a game where one hill giant ambushed a level 5 party, they defeated it in one round with a fear spell and it ran off). However, our sorcerer has next to no control magic, just fireballs. So we did this "the hard way" by fighting them.

And... that was a medium encounter. maybe hard (the sorcerer did toss a few fireballs).

I knew that the encounter building method was off but... this is ridiculous.

Edit: some quick clarification: I was a player in this encounter, not the GM. I wondered "how hard is this "in theory" vs how hard it was on the table" and cracked open the DMG. I'm not blaming the GM here, just... astounded by the result.
 
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Uni-the-Unicorn!

Adventurer
We had an encounter. 3 PCs at level 7: a Psi Warrior, Shadow Monk, and Divine Sorcerer/rogue (5/2). 3 hill giants are harassing the road and we have to deal with them. Solid characters with good stats and equipment, but no powerhouses (the psi warrior is a dex-build shield and board fighter, for example).

We weren't given a chance to ambush them, be clever etc - just a straight clash of arms.

By the DMG, our XP budget is 1700/PC for a deadly encounter. Hill Giants are worth 1800 XP and there were 3 of them, so multiply by 2. This would have been a deadly encounter for level 11 characters.

Now you are going to say "hill giants are dumb and have bad saving throws, eaaaaasy". And you are correct (I ran a game where one hill giant ambushed a level 5 party, they defeated it in one round with a fear spell and it ran off). However, our sorcerer has next to no control magic, just fireballs. So we did this "the hard way" by fighting them.

And... that was a medium encounter. maybe hard (the sorcerer did toss a few fireballs).

I knew that the encounter building method was off but...
We had an encounter. 3 PCs at level 7: a Psi Warrior, Shadow Monk, and Divine Sorcerer/rogue (5/2). 3 hill giants are harassing the road and we have to deal with them. Solid characters with good stats and equipment, but no powerhouses (the psi warrior is a dex-build shield and board fighter, for example).

We weren't given a chance to ambush them, be clever etc - just a straight clash of arms.

By the DMG, our XP budget is 1700/PC for a deadly encounter. Hill Giants are worth 1800 XP and there were 3 of them, so multiply by 2. This would have been a deadly encounter for level 11 characters.

Now you are going to say "hill giants are dumb and have bad saving throws, eaaaaasy". And you are correct (I ran a game where one hill giant ambushed a level 5 party, they defeated it in one round with a fear spell and it ran off). However, our sorcerer has next to no control magic, just fireballs. So we did this "the hard way" by fighting them.

And... that was a medium encounter. maybe hard (the sorcerer did toss a few fireballs).

I knew that the encounter building method was off but... this is ridiculous.
How is it off? You have explained nothing of what happened.
how is it off? You have explained nothing of what happened.
 

ninjayeti

Adventurer
The encounter building guidelines state that they are based on an 6-8 encounter day. So run the same encounter 6 more times with a couple of short rests and you have a solid data point.

But yeah, the encounter building guidelines are bad if you aren't actually following the guidelines.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
The encounter building guidelines state that they are based on an 6-8 encounter day.

It's not exactly what it says, it just says that the daily budget corresponds to 6-8 medium to hard encounters.

So run the same encounter 6 more times with a couple of short rests and you have a solid data point.

But yeah, the encounter building guidelines are bad if you aren't actually following the guidelines.

Indeed, which includes standard array characters without options like variant humans, feats or multiclass, so basically, as soon as you have a build, you are tinkering with the computations.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Oh, we have feats, magical items etc, that would make the encounter easier, of course. But this is supposed to be a deadly encounter for 3 level 11 characters. So it's a deadly +4 encounter, so to speak. But it wasn't even close to be deadly.
 

dave2008

Legend
Oh, we have feats, magical items etc, that would make the encounter easier, of course. But this is supposed to be a deadly encounter for 3 level 11 characters. So it's a deadly +4 encounter, so to speak. But it wasn't even close to be deadly.
What is your definition of deadly? The definition in the DMG is definitely not what I would consider "deadly." You have to look less at the word and more at what it is measuring:

"A deadly encounter could be lethal for one or more player characters. Survival often requires good tactics and quick thinking, and the party risks defeat."

Deadly by definition is nothing close to TPK, there is only a possibility that it might be lethal to one PC. And this is in a game that assumes no magic items. You add magic items and it is even less of a threat.

Now, I do think the monster multipliers are bit off as they are not related to the number of PCs.

So I would not expect it to be what I would consider "deadly"
 
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dave2008

Legend
@Ancalagon, for a better measure of what I think most people consider deadly you would need closer to 100% of your daily XP budget in one encounter. So for your 3 7th lvl PCs that would be a 15,000 XP encounter, so closer to 5 hill giants (with your assumed level of magic gear)

Also, hill giants are a bit low CR monsters for lvl 7 groups (if you want it to be deadly)
 
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Stalker0

Legend
@Ancalagon, for a better measure of what I think most people consider deadly you would need closer to 100% of your daily XP budget in one encounter. So for your 3 7th lvl PCs that would be a 15,000 XP encounter, so closer to 5 hill giants (with your assumed level of magic gear)

Also, hill giants are a bit low CR monsters for lvl 7 groups (if you want it to be deadly)
I'd say more like 4. 5 hill giants is 18000 xp, 4 is 14,400 (so within rounding range).

I think the thing to remember here is that was not actually a deadly encounter (and no I don't mean hard to win). For this party, this was 2.1x deadly.

Aka this is TWICE as deadly as what a normal deadly encounter is supposed to be. If 15000 xp was the daily budget, that means that the party should be dragging ready for a long rest after just one more of these (as that would be 5k over their daily budget)....and it sounds like they are still fairly fresh.

But at the end of the day this is nothing new. We all have our battlelines drawn as to whether you think 5e encounter design is well balance or not, and we aren't going to change any minds with this example.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I'd say more like 4. 5 hill giants is 18000 xp, 4 is 14,400 (so within rounding range).

I think the thing to remember here is that was not actually a deadly encounter (and no I don't mean hard to win). For this party, this was 2.1x deadly.

Aka this is TWICE as deadly as what a normal deadly encounter is supposed to be. If 15000 xp was the daily budget, that means that the party should be dragging ready for a long rest after just one more of these (as that would be 5k over their daily budget)....and it sounds like they are still fairly fresh.

But at the end of the day this is nothing new. We all have our battlelines drawn as to whether you think 5e encounter design is well balance or not, and we aren't going to change any minds with this example.

Thank you.

And yes, I knew already that the encounter building system was not great, but I never bothered with it as a GM. I hadn't realized how bad it was.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
And yes, I knew already that the encounter building system was not great, but I never bothered with it as a GM. I hadn't realized how bad it was.

No, sorry, it's not bad. You are using it in a very twisted fashion, so how can you expect to get results that are even close to "right" ? I'm not saying it's perfect or precise, because 5e does not work that way anyway, you need experience to give you the right hints in any case. But once you understand that you are using it in a twisted way because your characters in particular are extra-powerful, but also the number of daily encounters that you plan, then you can plan for it in the tool and get reasonable hints.

And, in the end, all CR 7 monsters are not equal, and even a given encounter can be extremely easy for a specific party composition and really hard for another one. Don't expect results coming out of a tool that can only be fuzzy to be perfect, build your experience.
 


Lyxen

Great Old One
The challenge doesn't take into account dice rolling either.

Even more importantly, it does not take into account things which are more important than the CR, and which every edition has failed to take into account - although it's not a criticism because it's impossible to do in a formal system:
  • Synergies (or lack of them) between members of a side of the fight (e.g. a tank clearly protecting a melee damage dealer)
  • Synergies (or lack of them) between members of opposite sides (e.g. a sorcerer specialised in fire against devils)
  • Synergies (or lack of them) between combattants and the environment (e.g. devils in an area where lava spouts and burns everyone constantly)
  • Circumstances of the fight, like preparation, surprise, etc.
And I'm sure I'm forgetting many others, but with the above, you can turn almost any fight into a massacre for one side if it has all positive conditions and the other only has negative.
 



AtomicPope

Adventurer
This is not really telling us anything other than the fact that you whooped up a trio of Hill Giants with 7th level characters. Not to mention, it says nothing of the dice rolls. In my own epic campaign (20th level with lots of boons) an easy fight with two Fire Giants turned deadly because I scored two 20's in one turn. It was over 125 hit points of damage when the third hit landed. What was supposed to be an easy fight to "kill the gate guards and move on" turned into a laugh fest as the 20th level fighter with a 25 AC was getting slapped around. The other PCs were laughing and joking, "do you want us to jump in or you got this?" I had to bring up scene in "The Naked Gun" when the police chief took off his badge to fight a criminal, and they pan away. Then Leslie Neilsen says, "Alright! He's had enough" and they carry off the police chief.

I guess what I'm saying is Giants, especially the upper tier Giants, have lots of potential depending on their situation and how the dice fall. At the same time, the party itself has strengths and weaknesses that can inflate or deflate the CR as it pertains to that encounter. Finally, if you don't add a few points of for the party's CR for magic items you're not really taking into account their effective combat level. A low level wizard with a Wand of Fireballs just got a whole lot nastier. That should be worth at least a level.
 

dave2008

Legend
This is not really telling us anything other than the fact that you whooped up a trio of Hill Giants with 7th level characters. Not to mention, it says nothing of the dice rolls. In my own epic campaign (20th level with lots of boons) an easy fight with two Fire Giants turned deadly because I scored two 20's in one turn. It was over 125 hit points of damage when the third hit landed. What was supposed to be an easy fight to "kill the gate guards and move on" turned into a laugh fest as the 20th level fighter with a 25 AC was getting slapped around. The other PCs were laughing and joking, "do you want us to jump in or you got this?" I had to bring up scene in "The Naked Gun" when the police chief took off his badge to fight a criminal, and they pan away. Then Leslie Neilsen says, "Alright! He's had enough" and they carry off the police chief.

I guess what I'm saying is Giants, especially the upper tier Giants, have lots of potential depending on their situation and how the dice fall. At the same time, the party itself has strengths and weaknesses that can inflate or deflate the CR as it pertains to that encounter. Finally, if you don't add a few points of for the party's CR for magic items you're not really taking into account their effective combat level. A low level wizard with a Wand of Fireballs just got a whole lot nastier. That should be worth at least a level.
I agree with you completely, but I will agree with @Ancalagon about the encounter building lacking in that they don't really cover any of this (what your talking about) in the encounter / adventure building in the DMG. I don't have any issue with the guidelines really, but I do wish they included advice on how to adjust them for:
  • groups with magic items (and how many)
  • groups with good tactical skills
  • terrain / environment
  • number of encounters per day
  • DM tactics / match-ups
I find group dynamics and equipment have big impact personally. I had one group where the guidelines worked very well as is, and another where they didn't. I know why and I could adjust because I am an experienced DM, but advice for new DMs on how to do this would be good to have in the DMG I think.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I agree with you completely, but I will agree with @Ancalagon about the encounter building lacking in that they don't really cover any of this (what your talking about) in the encounter / adventure building in the DMG. I don't have any issue with the guidelines really, but I do wish they included advice on how to adjust them for:
  • groups with magic items (and how many)
  • groups with good tactical skills
  • terrain / environment
  • number of encounters per day
I find group dynamics and equipment have big impact personally. I had one group where the guidelines worked very well as is, and another where they didn't. I know why and I could adjust because I am an experienced DM, but advice for new DMs on how to do this would be good to have in the DMG I think.

You are asking for the impossible, there are far too many variables between the one that I have listed and the ones that you list, not even mentioning the ones that we miss. And what does "group with magic items" mean, how many, of what type, do they affect the combat, do they synergize with the characters and the party ?

Honestly, if you start your party at level 1, it's not that complicated to have the first encounters correct, the worst that can happen is that they are too easy, and then is that really a problem ? And after that, as the characters grow in level, you will forge your own experience and learn how to create encounters that fit your party.

As the designers say in the SAC about rules: "Many unexpected things can happen in a D&D campaign, and no set of rules could reasonably account for every contingency..."
 

dave2008

Legend
You are asking for the impossible, there are far too many variables between the one that I have listed and the ones that you list, not even mentioning the ones that we miss. And what does "group with magic items" mean, how many, of what type, do they affect the combat, do they synergize with the characters and the party ?

Honestly, if you start your party at level 1, it's not that complicated to have the first encounters correct, the worst that can happen is that they are too easy, and then is that really a problem ? And after that, as the characters grow in level, you will forge your own experience and learn how to create encounters that fit your party.

As the designers say in the SAC about rules: "Many unexpected things can happen in a D&D campaign, and no set of rules could reasonably account for every contingency..."
I think you are misunderstanding what I am suggesting (and I really didn't explain it well I guess). I am not saying there should be a table that list these things out and how to adjust XP budgets in fine detail. What I am suggesting is a simple acknowledge that X, Y, & Z things can and do affect the challenge of an encounter. Then probably a suggesting to slide up an down the difficulty scale based on your experience. So it could say:

If you find that your group is routinely breezing through hard encounters, move the encounter difficult down a step (so hard becomes medium, medium becomes easy, etc.). Continue to adjust your encounter difficulty until it matches the abilities of your group.

Or something simple like that. I mean, that is essentially what worked for me (at least before I stopped caring about building encounters and figuring XP)
 

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