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


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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I actually like the idea of hill giants hiding in ambush. Probably 2 hiding and one in the road with access to cover. The one in the road throws rocks, then ducks behind cover. The distracted party is then ambushed by the two hill giants in hiding which quickly beat down 1 PC. That fits the definition of deadly.
It is true that is one side is really prepared for a fight and the other isn't, the prepared side has a huge advantage. It doesn't matter if the "side" is the PCs or the monsters. That can very much so mess up the expectations/difficulty of a fight.

But this isn't what happened in this encounter. Neither side was "well prepared".
 

Mort

Legend
Yeah legendary monsters get trashed just like all the others, but doing a few more "and now its baaaaaaacck" might help.

This WORKS.

Recently participated in A Wild Sheep Chase
. The final encounter has a villain that "rises back up" as something entirely different.

Since much of the group applied a "smoke 'em if you got 'em" philosophy to the "final" boss they were in for a bit of a shock when there was a "final, final" boss and had a bit of a hard time. My only regret is I KNOW the DM pulled her punches HARD on that encounter (I know the monster involved and it should have been MUCH more difficult) and I wish she hadn't! The fight would have been so much more meaningful if we'd legitimately won or lost.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Yeah legendary monsters get trashed just like all the others, but doing a few more "and now its baaaaaaacck" might help.

That, and different attacks/attributes at different levels. Basically the big bad has different attacks at 2/3 HP and 1/3 HP as they switch things up and become more desperate. Another thing I do is that legendary actions and resistances are set to number of PCs - 1. Then again, I've never seen soloes work all that well in most cases for any edition.

Some of my other tactics are to just add significantly to attack bonuses and double or triple damage for relatively low level monsters and then throw a lot of them. Easy to kill, but they hit really hard and they hit often.

If you want a limited number of encounters, you have to rely more on illusion, deception, flanking, sending in waves of attackers and using the environment against the PCs.

A much longer version of how to make fights more difficult that I've done that I wrote up a long time ago:

  • Use better tactics. Take advantage of cover and environment. For example small foes can use small tunnels with tiny openings that are too small for medium size creatures to go through.
  • Send waves. At higher levels wizards can do a lot of damage, so don't send all the foes at once.
  • Flank. Related to sending in waves, have weaker foes run in from the obvious direction while the real foes come around the back
  • Illusion. That BBEG? Well it's an illusion. The real BBEG is hiding around the corner. Note if a target isn't legitimate for a spell, I don't make the caster expend a spell slot. So if they try to banish the illusion it doesn't work but they also don't use the spell slot.
  • If fighting animal intelligence monsters, they're likely just looking for food. After a PC is knocked unconscious, take them off into the bushes to be eaten in quiet.
  • Number of combats between rests. It really does help to have 6-8 encounters with only 1-2 short rests. I use the alternate rules where a short rest is overnight and a long rest is a week or more because it works better for my campaign pacing. But if you have multiple fights, the wizard is going to hold off on that meteor storm until it's really effective. We also frequently have multiple game sessions without a long rest - people do need to take notes of where the left off.
  • Obstacles/goals other than killing stuff. Too often it's go there kill the bad guy. What if you have to instead save the prince? What if your could survive but the prince is squishy? How do you protect him.
  • Use custom monsters. Follow the guide in the DMG to make new monsters, they're frequently much tougher than what's listed in the MM. Or depending on budget look at 3rd party books like Kobold Press's Tome of Monsters.



Specifically for higher levels, things that I do are (I mix and match the below a lot)
  • Monsters have advantage on a regular basis. I justify it multiple ways, or just secretly roll it.
  • Do more damage. Not just more damage, but more types of damage. Particularly useful for my wife's half-orc character that has resistance to weapon damage. The BBEG has a sword made of lightning.
  • Attack more. Bonus actions or just multiple attacks.
  • Attacks that do more than damage. Taking people out of the fight is boring, but restraining them with a giant tentacle that is slowly crushing them? Go for it.
  • Transformations. This one is a little trickier (and to do justice would take more time than I have) but instead of making monsters big bags of HP, have them change at certain points. At a 2/3 of their HP they lose some AC but start blindly flailing getting more attacks at a bonus. At 1/3 their HP their acidic/demonic blood is spraying everywhere causing automatic damage (or constitution save for half). When they die they explode.
  • Spiritual allies. Instead of giving a monster minions that can be killed, they send out spiritual allies (inspired by a cleric's spiritual weapon) that can attack as a bonus action
  • Counterspell. This one can be annoying if overused, but give the enemy casters counterspell. If you really want to be mean, the enemy caster is a sorcerer that can cast without verbal or somatic so their counter can't be countered.
  • Ranged attacks. Almost all creatures have effective range attacks or can get to people that are flying away.
  • Different saves. I make up a lot of monsters. So sometimes it's going to be strength saves, sometimes it's going to be intelligence and so on. I don't pick on individuals, but I do try to vary what I'm targeting.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
But the characters weren't optimized. They didn't get to pre-buff, they didn't get to set up an ambush or situation advantageous to them.

And again, this encounter would rate as deadly for level 11 characters, FOUR levels higher than us.
Well, first, I ignore the multiplier for multiple monsters myself and use a slight variation of the calculator, which just barely makes it deadly for me.

Even with that, on average an 11th level wizard PC could be knocked out by the 3rd round based on the assumptions:
  • Wizard has Con 12, average HP for 42, 11 base AC with 16 AC because they're casting Shield every round. The giants still hit on an 8 or higher.
  • All 3 hill giants focus fire on the wizard throwing rocks the first round, closing in subsequent rounds.
  • All 3 hill giants survive to the second round, so by the second round the wiz has taken around 34 points of damage.
  • Only 1 hit has to land the 3rd round for the wiz to go down.
The calculations don't assume the wizard being able to cast their highest level spells, or monk stunning. They don't assume there's a cleric in the party.

Do the base assumptions work for every group? Of course not. That's why we have DMs.
 

dave2008

Legend
It is true that is one side is really prepared for a fight and the other isn't, the prepared side has a huge advantage. It doesn't matter if the "side" is the PCs or the monsters. That can very much so mess up the expectations/difficulty of a fight.
Yep, same as so many other factors. Once you embrace this it become very liberating. I never worry about encounter difficulty when I design for my group. I just do what makes sense for the world around them and the chips fall where they may. Very freeing and leads to much more interesting encounter IMO.
But this isn't what happened in this encounter. Neither side was "well prepared".
OK, is there a reason you brought this up?
 

dave2008

Legend
Yeah legendary monsters get trashed just like all the others, but doing a few more "and now its baaaaaaacck" might help.
Legendary monsters are good if you use them at "epic" difficulty instead of "deadly." They are better solos than 4e solos IMO. They are not without there faults, but legendary monsters are one of the best takes on solo monsters IMO.
 


Mort

Legend
I bet your table only does one encounter/day. That's how people play now days.

I certainly don't. At least not "normally." I try to run a mix - precisely because I have no desire for most encounters to be a "Let's throw everything we have at this guy!" (Nova) situation.
 




ad_hoc

(he/they)
I bet your table only does one encounter/day. That's how people play now days.

That seems to be the way many people on forums play.

I doubt that is the norm in typical games.

Published adventures (except the overland travel bits) are designed around having many encounters per long rest.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
That seems to be the way many people on forums play.
I doubt that is the norm in typical games.

I don't know, we've played that way for decades, and lots of people that I've seen play around the world play that way too. Still no statistics but for me a good indication nonetheless.

Published adventures (except the overland travel bits) are designed around having many encounters per long rest.

True, but then how many people play the published adventures exactly as written ? For example, our DMs make a lot of adaptation about this, because they know we're going to try and find shortcuts through the "dungeons" of the adventures, if not skip them completely.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Yep, same as so many other factors. Once you embrace this it become very liberating. I never worry about encounter difficulty when I design for my group. I just do what makes sense for the world around them and the chips fall where they may. Very freeing and leads to much more interesting encounter IMO.

OK, is there a reason you brought this up?

Yes.

If you read this thread in its entirety, you will note that there is a lot of "well, the encounter guidelines only work with these base assumptions, so of course if condition 1, 2, 3, 4, etc weren't met they won't work!" . A lot of people assumed what happened, instead of asking or reading the OP. What I'm doing is pointing out that most of these conditions were met.

You were talking about a basic but effective giant ambush that would make the encounter deadly. I was pointing out that this did not happen, and should not be "expected" to make the encounter work "as it should".

Incidentally, I do agree with your design paradigm as a GM, but it is one you must clearly communicate with your PCs, otherwise players who expect balanced encounters all the time will get into fights they should have avoided.

That was aimed at the OP.
The next encounter was 7 stone giants
 



jgsugden

Legend
Let's just remember a few things here. Three 7th level PCs - if not overpowered, you're likely looking at 40 to 50 hp each, and the capability to deal about 30 damage a round. The hill giants have over double your hps, and the capability to deal more damage per round than you, and fairly reliably.

One critical hit from a giant is real bad news if the giant is an appropriate foe. Giants can be a TPK if they get in some good blows to start a combat. I've seen my share of encounters where the PCs were down a PC before any PC went.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
In the end, it's all down to the fireballs, I think. if the Hill Giants are already down 2/3 of their hit points because the configuration of the fight allowed it without collateral damage to the PCs, it's a different story altogether.

But once more, it's one of those parameters that I defy anyone to take into account into an encounter difficulty calculator, because if the parties start only 30 feet away, it's just having the initiative that makes all the difference. If the PCs have it, it's one fireball and the giants are already down quite a bit. If it's the other way around, it's probably one PC down hit by three giants simultaneously. I don't exactly understand the second fireball, though, we would need more details.

That being said, it would be really interesting to be able to have a look at the PCs...
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I think all this story goes to show, other than questioning how the PCs got off two fireballs and the giants only got in a couple of attacks, is that D&D is by nature and design unpredictable to a degree. Sometimes fights that on paper look difficult are not really a threat, other times encounters that look easy are a challenge.

I think that's part of the fun and I don't think any calculation is going to fix that. In addition you can't please everyone.
 

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