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D&D 5E Fixing Challenge Rating

mearls

Hero
Hey everyone! Like a lot of DMs, I've struggled to get CR to work reliably in my games. Unlike a lot of DMs, I can honestly claim that it's my fault.

5e drafts heavily off of 3e's core mechanics, so it made sense to recruit its encounter building tool. Rodney Thompson and Peter Lee both pushed to do something else, but we already had a small budget, a tiny team, and lots of work. I locked us into CR because it fit with our timeline and was a tool that our existing DM base already understood. Looking back, I think I made the right call as a producer, but it wasn't a great call from a design point of view.

Over the past two weeks I've been tinkering with an alternate approach to encounter building, one inspired by games like Warhammer 40k. It assigns a point value to characters and creatures. A balanced encounter has equal points on both sides. If the characters' point value is below the monsters, it's a tough fight. If the reverse is true, it's an easy fight.

EDIT: System tested and found wanting. Replacement up:

https://github.com/mikemearls/5e_point_encounters/blob/main/challenge_points.md

Here's the old version for memory's sake:
------------------------------------------------
I've put the bones of the system up on GitHub:


The math is still early, so expect changes as I spin up some code to run a deeper analysis of the monsters and characters in the 5e SRD. Hit me up here with any questions or comments.
 
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Quickleaf

Legend
Happy New Years, Mearls! Great to see you here again and good luck with the coding!

I've leaned into the "art" side of combat design (I'll attach the cheat sheet I use for guesstimating difficulty of fights), but I always appreciate it when someone takes a hard look at the numbers. I'll definitely watch for what you come up with.

Are you committed to defining difficulty by % HP loss expected? Or did you consider including other resources expended there? I know I've had a conversation with my players after a combat where we had differences of perspective about how difficult the fight was and it came down to me as GM focusing on HP loss / downed PCs, and the players being a bit more focused on other resources expended.
 

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mearls

Hero
Are you committed to defining difficulty by % HP loss expected? Or did you consider including other resources expended there?

HP loss is a starting point, mainly because it gets us a sense of whether the party wins or loses. I'd like to fold in other resources once I have a good sense of how to model how spending resources shortens up encounters.

Not to get ahead of myself, but the class design I'm working on is built to make tracking this easier by using a spell point-style system, specifically to make it easier for devs to understand how burning resources relates to encounter difficulty.

Love the encounter flow chart you appended - I chuckled when you called out creatures that circumvent hit points. It's funny that we have hit points as our health measure, but a lot of design effort is spent finding ways to hit other parts of a character (conditions, battlefield obstacles and so on). Capturing that in a tool is tricky.
 

Hey everyone! Like a lot of DMs, I've struggled to get CR to work reliably in my games. Unlike a lot of DMs, I can honestly claim that it's my fault.

5e drafts heavily off of 3e's core mechanics, so it made sense to recruit its encounter building tool. Rodney Thompson and Peter Lee both pushed to do something else, but we already had a small budget, a tiny team, and lots of work. I locked us into CR because it fit with our timeline and was a tool that our existing DM base already understood. Looking back, I think I made the right call as a producer, but it wasn't a great call from a design point of view.

Over the past two weeks I've been tinkering with an alternate approach to encounter building, one inspired by games like Warhammer 40k. It assigns a point value to characters and creatures. A balanced encounter has equal points on both sides. If the characters' point value is below the monsters, it's a tough fight. If the reverse is true, it's an easy fight.

I've put the bones of the system up on GitHub:


The math is still early, so expect changes as I spin up some code to run a deeper analysis of the monsters and characters in the 5e SRD. Hit me up here with any questions or comments.
Will you be doing other design work now that you don't work with WotC, such as picking back up on Psionics and so on? I was really enamored with your Happy Fun Hour streams, and the version of the Psion that was based off amplifying cantrips with points was something I felt had a lot of potential.
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Supporter
G'day, Mike! Nice to see you again!

It's a very challenging problem to set point values to. It's probably worth while doing a lot of calculations based only on fighters & brutes (e.g. orcs) first to set the baselines of point values. I have a suspicion that relative levels of play mean point value slippage, so the more there's a difference between the levels of the monsters and the characters, the more the point values become inaccurate.

(I keep thinking back to OD&D where all damage and hit points were using standard d6s, and it was easier to get your head around the mathematics!)

Interesting. I'll keep an eye on how things are going.

Cheers,
Merric
 

mearls

Hero
Will you be doing other design work now that you don't work with WotC, such as picking back up on Psionics and so on? I was really enamored with your Happy Fun Hour streams, and the version of the Psion that was based off amplifying cantrips with points was something I felt had a lot of potential.
Yes, with a caveat. Work I did for WotC is owned by WotC, so I can't take it up and expand on it. However, there's tons of empty space beyond those bounds that I want to explore.

Things like psionics, new character class structures, and so on, are high up my list, with DM tools my top priority for now. I'm also building out a world to set all this stuff in, but I think it will be some time before I have anything to publish.
 

mearls

Hero
(I keep thinking back to OD&D where all damage and hit points were using standard d6s, and it was easier to get your head around the mathematics!)

This is a vastly underrated strength of 1970s D&D - the d6 standard was useful!

One of the appeals of 40k-style points is that we can also adjust specific values up or down over time, based on play experience. In 40k, the points are a constant work in progress. The metagame shifts as new stuff comes out. I like the dynamic it creates between players, DMs, and game devs.

Power becomes a dial rather than a switch that is set to right or wrong and requires new game design to adjust (rather than a re-costing).
 

Yes, with a caveat. Work I did for WotC is owned by WotC, so I can't take it up and expand on it. However, there's tons of empty space beyond those bounds that I want to explore.

Things like psionics, new character class structures, and so on, are high up my list, with DM tools my top priority for now. I'm also building out a world to set all this stuff in, but I think it will be some time before I have anything to publish.
Will you be working with others, or open to chats with other designers? I'd love to pick your brain!
 

Stalker0

Legend
I think any realistic CR system has to include the PCs. A PCs level is just a terrible metric for what a specific party can bring to the table. What you really want is for each PC to be run through the system (AC, average damage utilizing their "normal" attack plan, etc), and then they get a PCR number.

From there you can match Cr to PCR to get a better approximation of challenge to THAT specific group of players, which is the real goal of the system.
 

FallenRX

Adventurer
HP loss is a starting point, mainly because it gets us a sense of whether the party wins or loses. I'd like to fold in other resources once I have a good sense of how to model how spending resources shortens up encounters.

Not to get ahead of myself, but the class design I'm working on is built to make tracking this easier by using a spell point-style system, specifically to make it easier for devs to understand how burning resources relates to encounter difficulty.

Love the encounter flow chart you appended - I chuckled when you called out creatures that circumvent hit points. It's funny that we have hit points as our health measure, but a lot of design effort is spent finding ways to hit other parts of a character (conditions, battlefield obstacles and so on). Capturing that in a tool is tricky.
How do you gauge the balance and point power of spells vs martial stuff, how is a 3 attacks equal to a 5th-6th level spell. I assumed at least looking loosely at the math that you kinda loosely gauged it based on average damage of spells with like 6 attacks using action surge being about a 6th-level spell, but not 100% certain that is the route yall went there.(I remember Jeremy talking about this "Virtual Damage" method here a long while ago, and the whole game seems to consider it)

If not, how did yall go about it and how will it apply to the design of this new encounter system?
 

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