D&D 5E Finding 5th edition too "safe".


That's a little disingenuous since ToH was made specifically to be deadly. ToH was a reaction to notable players saying they could beat any challenge and, which...hey, is just like this thread, only Gygax responded with more demi-liches and less gum flapping then we are here.

Well, that line was a bit tongue in cheek, but it doesn't change the fact that in AD&D, a house cat can kill a level 1 PC, and a 1 HD poisonous snake has a 50% chance of killing a 9th level PC in one hit. And that's not even getting into things like level drain or spells like disintegrate.

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This is what happened in my game, two players ended up dying.

One had previously stabilised but then got struck by the enemy bad guy which started the death saves again and ended up killing him. The other player first rolled a 1 on the death save which counted for two failures, and failed another roll. I think he succeeded on a single death save, was not enough.

Our DM set up a scenario for the next game which let them get ressed although we were in debt for the cost of the spells and now owe the local priesthood a huge favour.

People also forget that hitting someone who is unconscious is automatically a crit, and crits count as 2 failed death saves.


Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
Why give up all the other improvements that have been added to the game since 2nd Ed, when you can just easily adjust the game to make it more lethal?

What improvements? The magic everywhere? Alignment not mattering? Hardcodded flavor? Poor playing agency? Escalating complexity? The only innovation I can't live with is the sorcerer, and the 5e version is nothing to write home about.

In most editions of D&D it's crazy-easy to jack up the lethality with a minimum of work.

If you want 5e to run more like 2e, I would suggest the following houserules:
1) Remove HDs completely.
2) Change overnight healing to only 1 HP per long rest regardless of character level.
3) Remove death saves: characters automatically die when they reach zero HPs.
4) Being raised from the dead causes your Con score to drop by 1 each time it happens.
5) Remove Ability Score increases from all the classes.
6) Change the MM's life drain ability from reducing max HPs on a hit to requiring a save to avoid losing a level.

But ASIs are an element of balance. What do you give to the poor fighter?


Guest 6801328

Larger encounters?

Smarter monsters?

Monsters tailored for party's weaknesses?

More wandering monsters during attempted rests?

More traps to whittle away at their resources?

Or, yeah, different game if you really dislike 5e as much as it seems.


But ASIs are an element of balance. What do you give to the poor fighter?

Nothing. The list was suggestions to make 5e run more like 2e. Fighters fall behind as the campaign goes on. That's how 2e works. 2e has its own version of balance by making some classes better at early levels and some classes better at higher levels. It's not what I prefer, but if one is looking to make 5e run more like 2e, that's part of it.


On a serious note. Yeah, 5th starts out rough, but then gets pretty "safe". One of the things I really liked about 4th was hitting character with loss of Healing Surges, either through physicallly demanding skill challenges, or special circumstances/traps/events. This was way more scary than hit point damage for the players, IME.

Reducing 5e Hitdice in a similar manner should put a little fear in their hearts.


If your campaign is safe, you aren't challenging your players.

I agree 100%. I put my players in mortal danger on a regular basis and it's not unusual for there to be one or more unconscious characters during a battle some time during the game session.

I don't personally think you need to kill PCs to make it a challenge, but if that's what your players want it's easy to accomplish. Double the monster damage if you need to or simply be a mean and evil DM by having multiple waves of enemies show up and hitting people when they're down. Focus fire and go after the squishy wizard first. Have an evil cleric banish the party's cleric, or encase him in a wall of force. Give the bad guys the home field advantage. Give the monsters a particular hatred of the PCs so that they have advantage on their attacks and do extra damage on crits. Don't let them rest, do 6-8 encounters without a long rest. Etc.

Also remember that the encounter guidelines in the DMG are just that. Guidelines. So throw the rules out and throw the kitchen sink at the players.

I do try to switch things up now and then as well by having some easy encounters and some hard ones. It's ok to let the PCs feel like heroes, but if they aren't challenged I don't think switching editions is the answer.


I put my players in mortal danger on a regular basis
To echo [MENTION=518]JeffB[/MENTION], I'm not sure that's a game I want to play in!

If your campaign is safe, you aren't challenging your players.
And to also be more serious - it might be good or bad to have the main stakes of the game be whether the PCs live or die, but that is certainly not the only way to have a challenging game.


I think your memory is a bit clouded. A 12th level PC still failed on a 7-9 or lower. That's still a great chance to instantly die, even at high levels. A 9th level (and name level meant something in AD&D*) PC still had roughly a 50% chance of missing their save or die.
in AD&D, a house cat can kill a level 1 PC, and a 1 HD poisonous snake has a 50% chance of killing a 9th level PC in one hit. And that's not even getting into things like level drain or spells like disintegrate.
Here are the AD&D saving throws for 9th level PCs:

       Poison, Paralysation, Death    Petrfication, Polymorph        R/S/W       Breath Weapon    Spells/Magic
Cleric          7                             10                      11              13                  12
Fighter         8                             9                       10              9                   11
MU              13                            11                      9               13                  10
Thief           11                            10                      10              14                  11

So for most 9th level PCs, once rings/cloaks of protection, periapts of proof against poison and the like are factored in, the chance of success on a save vs death or poison will often be quite a bit better than 50/50.

Saves against breath weapon and AoE spells will often be being buffed by armour or DEX; and other saves may be buffed by WIS.

I think you're slightly exaggerating the difficulty of making saves in high level AD&D.


Seriously, though, it's about the pattern I found in AD&D, also. Low level, sure, it's deadly, but you quickly grow out of that. The monsters never get that badass. Once you get out the other end of the 'sweet spot' it's as 'too easy' as 5e could ever claim to be. Maybe 5e gets too easy too soon? You could try increasing the exp to level.

+1 to this idea. My current campaign (four weeks old now? Six?) requires 10x XP to level up (so 2nd level is 3000 XP), with 50% reduced XP from monsters if you don't kill or permanently dispose of them, and additionally reduced XP if the monster's CR is lower than your level. On the other hand, you do get XP for spending gold offscreen on character goals (like wooing a love interest or saving your home village) on a 1:1 basis--basically you can convert gold to XP. So, if anyone ever earns the 3,550,000 XP necessary to get to twentieth level it will almost certainly be from spending treasure and not from killing monsters.

As I said, it's a new campaign, but so far the advancement pace is working really nicely. Everyone is still 2nd or 3rd level, and four Shadow Demons are a really scary threat, and even regular orcs are something that the players are cautious around.


If your campaign is safe, you aren't challenging your players.

That's not necessarily true. If your campaign feels safe, you aren't challenging your players. But players can be "challenged" by the perception of danger, even where it does not really exist. When your players come across a dead frog floating in the pond (http://hackslashmaster.blogspot.com/2012/05/on-missed-treasure.html), it does not matter whether the frog was full of slaad tadpoles or magic swords as long as the players think it might be full of something horrible and avoid it. I actually dropped this exact floating frog into my encounter last night, and it was awesome. The players refused to drink the water too even though they were starving and dehydrated to the point of exhaustion.

Li Shenron

Reduce the amount of healing Hit dice you can have/spend, reduce how fast you get them back, remove overnight full HP healing, remove revivify and perhaps healing spells that have a range... that should help.

I would go a very different route, because IMHO the abundance of healing is not the problem.

It's not so much how easy it is to bounce back to full health, but rather how really dangerous it is when your health is low, and it isn't very dangerous. IMO if you slow down healing, all you get is that the PCs will try to withdraw and rest more often. The main result is that you'll get less encounters per day, but lethality won't increase much.

So then you would need to force more encounters, or use bigger monsters, but this you can do already, without the need to house rule HP/HD/healing.

More and bigger monsters certainly helps to push the PCs towards the "danger window", but compared to older edition IMO that window is not as dangerous. The main reasons are (1) death saves, (2) options to stabilize, (3) revivify. In addition, the whole 5e is remarkably (4) lacking save-or-die spells, and even (5) save-or-suck spells often offer repeated saves every round. Finally there are (6) no "death spiral" effects such as level drain and ability score damage.

So if I wanted an overall more lethal 5e, I would consider tinkering with those, maybe change just 1-2 of them at a time and see how it works.

If your campaign is safe, you aren't challenging your players.

This is much more in line with my (relatively limited) experience of 5e. As 1st and 2nd level characters, we got pasted several times, and my character did in fact die (but was revived via a combination of DM lenience and the other players being good sports). 5e combat was extremely brutal, to the point of putting us in mortal danger literally every single fight--although I can't say 100% for sure, I'm *pretty* sure we didn't have a single combat go by without somebody hitting 0. Often multiple somebodies.

5E is plenty deadly; it just becomes next to impossible to kill a PC in one shot after 3rd level. The worst that happens is they drop to 0HP and have a few rounds to either stabilise or die.

I like this about the game.

I suppose if you want to one shot your PCs more often, all you need to do is bring back AD&D/ 3E's -10 HP rule and do away with death saves.


First Post
It's easy enough to house-rule, in any number of ways. Variant rest and recovery, increasing CR for encounters, changing or eliminating saving throws, ruling death at 0hp.

If you're players want 5e to be more deadly, make it so.


To the OP
Granted everyone's play experience is different, but just to give you an indication what has happened at our table - we have had 2 deaths, 1 banishment as well as two PC's being turned (vampires) and this is only within an 18-month period.

Personally it requires more work to fix 2e, than to make a few house-rules to make 5e more lethal. Do not get the logic of going back.

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