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D&D 5E Help me balance encounters for Magic Items and Feats

I could use some help with the encounters in my campaigns. I've been using Kobold Fight Club, and while it has helped me engineer some fun mixes of monsters, I'm finding that the players are just trouncing even "deadly" encounters.

I have read before that a DM should adjust encounter calculations to balance for Magic Items and Feats. My campaign has both. I honestly enjoy running games in which the characters feel empowered and powerful. But I also want to provide more of a challenge in my combat encounters.

So how do you adjust encounters for characters with Magic Items and Feats?

For some clarification, I'm running a campaign for 5 players with Level 6 (almost 7) characters.
 

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J-H

Adventurer
5 is 25% more than the design spec, so you'll need to up the # of enemies and possibly their HP.
Class & abilities play into things a lot. If you have a twilight cleric and a peace cleric (Tasha's subclasses which are banned at my table) they are going to be a lot harder to challenge than if they have some of the more balanced subclasses.

Neither feats nor magic items particularly unbalance things, until you get to magic items that substantially change their capabilities (my 14th level party ALL have brooms of flying now, because they're uncommon and thus cheap and they have an artificer...but it's ok).

Make sure you include multiple monster types (ranged, blasters, buffers), not just a pack of Bigger Ogres. Include terrain and battlefield obstacles... enemies shooting from trees, ledges, fortifications, swamp, quicksand, kiting, flanking, etc.

If you'd like some more specific help, please post your party composition by class and favored tactic (Fireball wizard vs. Hypnotic Pattern wizard) and a few of the encounters that you were unhappy with.
 

Nitrosaur

Explorer
In my experience, feats haven't impacted encounter calculations, but magic items have. For example, now we are playing a very modified SKT, full of giants, and a player got ahold of a giantslayer weapon, and the rest of characters have similar items as well. I found that considering the party 1 level higher tan their actual level makes the trick, they generally hit harder, but as I don't give defensive magic items, I don't have to go overboard with the calcs. If they have strong defensive items as well maybe it would be warranted to make it 2 levels, I dunno, and I ain't going to test it.

Also obligatory check, you spread a nice ammount of encounters over the day, right? I've found that, if it was the only fight of the day, the players could take on encounters at least twice as deadly as their deadly threshold, even taking into account the extra level in the calcs (a CR 20 homebrew monster one time, and like 6 frost giants at once in a somewhat defesible position for them at level 9 (true level 9, 10 for calcs)).
 

Larnievc

Explorer
I could use some help with the encounters in my campaigns. I've been using Kobold Fight Club, and while it has helped me engineer some fun mixes of monsters, I'm finding that the players are just trouncing even "deadly" encounters.

I have read before that a DM should adjust encounter calculations to balance for Magic Items and Feats. My campaign has both. I honestly enjoy running games in which the characters feel empowered and powerful. But I also want to provide more of a challenge in my combat encounters.

So how do you adjust encounters for characters with Magic Items and Feats?

For some clarification, I'm running a campaign for 5 players with Level 6 (almost 7) characters.
I eyeball it by having encounters with a mix of few monsters that can down the toughest single PC in three rounds if it hits with every attack or many monsters that the tank can down in two rounds if it hits with every attack.

That’s worked for me for years.
 


NotAYakk

Legend
For every tier-optimal attuned combat item (or equivalent non-attuned item, like a optimal magic armor/weapons), add +1 to the PCs level.

Add up the PCs levels after doing that adjustment.

Add up the monster's CRs (if you have masses of sub-1 CR monsters, or T1 PCs, this needs adjustment).

The monsters adding up to:
1/5 is easy
1/4 is medium
1/3 is hard
40% is deadly
give you a decent result.

5 level 6 players, Assume 2 T2 quality magic items each, so 8*5 = 40 total player levels of power.

Easy: 8 total CR
Medium: 10 total CR
Hard: 13 total CR
Deadly: 16 total CR

The quickest adjustment under CR 1 monsters is:
CR 1/8 -> 1/6
CR 1/4 -> 1/3
CR 1/2 -> 2/3
which is a slight boost, but it matters in large numbers.

(You can also boost CR 1 up a bit, but that matters less).

The above assumes enemies get to be in a tactically reasonable position.

If you want to build multiple scenes of encounters, give each encounter points. Easy is 1, Medium 2, Hard 3, Deadly 4. Every 10% of party power over deadly is another point (you know, to be a least a LITTLE bit fair).

Multi-wave fights are counted as separate encounters. If they are medium-fast waves (ie, previous wave is mostly still there), you can fudge that up a tiny bit.

Easy Scene: 3-4 total points
Medium Scene: 5-6 total points
Hard Scene: 7-8 total points
Deadly Scene: 9+ total points

I assume after a scene you can take a short rest.

For an adventuring day, again assign each scene points (1 for easy, 2 for medium, 3 for hard, 4 for deadly, +1 for each 2 points past 9 for super-deadly).

An adventuring day difficulty is:
Easy day: 3-4 total points
Medium day: 5-6 total points
Hard day: 7-8 total points
Deadly day: 9+ total points

If you have 3 medium fights, this is a medium scene. If you have 3 medium scenes, this is a medium day. Medium fights in this roughly correspond to (after adjustment for items) medium fights using DMG building rules.

(Because XP is non-linear in CR, simply adding up CR is a really good approximation for adding up XP then doing the encounter size multiplier.)
 

First of all, take a look at the encounter building equations from XGtE, which is much, much better than what's in the DMG. Since these assume a Medium encounter, add a level or three to the party for more difficult encounters.

Second, realize that all encounters are assumed to be beatable, with Deadly only providing "a chance" of a PC death. I've thrown out Deadly x3 encounters at a high tier 2 party, watching them obliterate it with ease. I've also had a Hard encounter at the same low tier 3 party kill 2 PCs (which were raised later) because their tactics and die rolls didn't go well.

Third, use 6-8 combat encounters per long rest, which is vital to the encounter design assumptions of 5E! I know this is unpopular, going against what the majority of groups enjoy. However, 5E combat was designed assuming a constant loss of resources over the adventuring day. If you're going to run fewer combats, you have to make them worth the full daily allotment of XP in the DMG, plus it's going to greatly increase the effectiveness of long rest classes.

Fourth, looking at XGtE again, see how many and what types of magic items you've given out. Many magic items are just more powerful than others within the same rarity. XGtE breaks the DMG magic items down into minor and major items, with minor items being far, far more common. Additionally, it assumes that from levels 1-20, that the entire party would collect a total of only 100 magic items. Most DMs love handing out magic items, and players love getting them, but since 5E is designed assuming the party has no magic items, each one you hand out is going to unbalance the equation.

Fifth, don't let your players pick their magic items. There are some very game breaking magic items, and I simply refuse to have them be found. A +x Shield is a huge boost to AC, especially when combined with +x Armor, making said PC almost unhitable. Gauntlets of Ogre Power can be really useful in a build that expects to receive it at early levels (allowing for a really low strength at creation). If the players don't know what to expect, you can give out carefully chosen items that won't unbalance the game.

Beyond that, it's going to severely depend on your group. Casual players are not as likely to need much balancing, since they won't generally find abusive/optimal combos based on feats or magic items. Serious players are going to see obvious stuff (the really good Feats, for example) and figure out better uses for magic items. Some players are going to min/max the hell out of everything, in which case you are going to have balancing problems even without feats and magic items! Good luck!
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I could use some help with the encounters in my campaigns. I've been using Kobold Fight Club, and while it has helped me engineer some fun mixes of monsters, I'm finding that the players are just trouncing even "deadly" encounters.

I have read before that a DM should adjust encounter calculations to balance for Magic Items and Feats. My campaign has both. I honestly enjoy running games in which the characters feel empowered and powerful. But I also want to provide more of a challenge in my combat encounters.

So how do you adjust encounters for characters with Magic Items and Feats?

For some clarification, I'm running a campaign for 5 players with Level 6 (almost 7) characters.
Part of the problem with fixing the problem that wotc created in 5e is that those two things were created to give noncasters a step up to catch casters. In 5e they still offer that functionality except that casters are still pegged to the no feats no magic item martial characters. Warcaster might be good for casters sure, but it doesn't hold a candle to a fighter with GWM getting +10 2-4x/round.

It's not just a disparity between feat options though, take the sidebar
1623449160660.png
Classes like the ones in that highlighted bit are balanced against the idea that the other classes need them for that & they are largely incapable of benefitting much from magic weapons compared to the classes without magic weapons would be.

Because of all that any kind ofcorrection needs to be made specifically for your group & will be more complicated than it would have been to just give the fighter a flametongue or something. What is the class & level makeup of your group?
 

I could use some help with the encounters in my campaigns. I've been using Kobold Fight Club, and while it has helped me engineer some fun mixes of monsters, I'm finding that the players are just trouncing even "deadly" encounters.

I have read before that a DM should adjust encounter calculations to balance for Magic Items and Feats. My campaign has both. I honestly enjoy running games in which the characters feel empowered and powerful. But I also want to provide more of a challenge in my combat encounters.

So how do you adjust encounters for characters with Magic Items and Feats?

For some clarification, I'm running a campaign for 5 players with Level 6 (almost 7) characters.
Existence of Feats is less important than level of optimisation. Martial characters tend to be reliant on feats to distinguish and personalise their characters, let alone optimise, but most casters optimise without needing feats for example. Additional choices is always more potential for power however.

What is your party makeup, and what sort of adventuring day is typical? Do they have any unusually powerful magic items for their level (Rare+)? Were the party's magic items randomly generated, or tailored for/chosen by the players?

One thing I've done fairly often at the beginning of a game is to ask the players if they want the game to include Feats. As a balance to allowing feats, I will allow monsters additional proficiencies. Players have always chosen to have feats so far.
 

I could use some help with the encounters in my campaigns. I've been using Kobold Fight Club, and while it has helped me engineer some fun mixes of monsters, I'm finding that the players are just trouncing even "deadly" encounters.
How many encounters [are you giving them/ are they having] per long rest as a median?

Just the median figure please. An average.

I'll bet you a six pack of beer this is where your problem lies.
 


The bet contains a clue. ;)
You just KNOW the OP doesn't average more than 3 encounters between long rests.

I'd go so far as to say he also likely just gives them a long rest after every session, and has [long rest] and [end of session] conflated.

It's the cause of the problem in thread like this literally every single time.
 

The argument invariably goes like this:

DM: 5E is to easy, the PCs are steamrolling my encounters!
Everyone else: How many encounters are they getting between long rests?
DM: Huh? Why does that matter?
EE: Well DnD is a resource management game. Mechanically speaking. Long rest resources are expected to last around 6 encounters before being expended. If your group are dealing with less than around 6 encounters per long rest (with those encounters XP totals adding up to roughly the figures given in the DMG under the 'XP per adventuring day' table), then of course they're going to steam-roll your encounters. The can nova the crap out of them, dumping all their potent resources and button mashing.
DM: But I cant fit 6 encounters in the time I have during a session, the best I can do is 1-3 per session.
EE: Long rest recharges of resources have nothing to do with 'session length'. They're an arbitrary amount of time in game between long rests.
DM: But my stories pacing doesn't support that kind of encounter/ rest ratio. Six encounters in a single day is bonkers!
EE: The DMG literally gives you several options to alter those encounter/ rest ratio, including the 'gritty realism' variant that spaces those 6 encounters out over several weeks of game time, with a long rest in that variant taking entire week of downtime to happen.
DM: But my players just keep resting whenever they want.
EE: You're the DM. Why are you (and their adversaries and the story) letting them? Why is there no time pressure or environmental reasons stopping them? Random encounters and doom clocks.
DM: Whats a doom clock?
EE: A time limit on the quest at hand. You know: stop the ritual by X or else bad thing Y happens.
DM: That doesnt fit my narrative of my game.
EE: OK then, alternatively tie resource replenishment to session length.
DM: My players would never buy into that.
EE: They already have been; you've been averaging 1-3 encounters per session in your games, and giving them a long rest every session at the end. Instead of a long rest, just give them a short rest at the end of every session with the third such short rest, instead being a long rest.
DM: NO! (Rage quits).

Every. Single. Time.
 

You just KNOW the OP doesn't average more than 3 encounters between long rests.

I'd go so far as to say he also likely just gives them a long rest after every session, and has [long rest] and [end of session] conflated.

It's the cause of the problem in thread like this literally every single time.
Well I'm about to break your heart.

I tend to plan out my adventures with 6 - 8 encounters per long rest. The characters definitely have to earn their long rests - I have random encounters and environmental effects that they must overcome.
 

Here's the party composition:

Goliath Barbarian Path of the Ancients
Gnome Artificer Alchemist
Aasimar Cleric of Death
Kenku Rogue (I'm blanking on subclass)
Tiefling Warlock of the Divine

What's interesting about this composition is that there is a LOT of healing going around. So the characters are usually going into each combat with full hit points.

The Barbarian had the Sentinel Feat, which locks down Big Melee guys.

And for some reason the Cleric always rolls max on Inflict Wounds. That's obviously something I can't control for.

This group really loves to try and find noncombat solutions to encounters, so out of my six to eight they will often solve two or three with roleplay!

Honestly the players are having a fun time. I just want to make sure that when I plan out a tough encounter, it's actually tough.
 

Well I'm about to break your heart.

I tend to plan out my adventures with 6 - 8 encounters per long rest. The characters definitely have to earn their long rests - I have random encounters and environmental effects that they must overcome.
Can you give me an example of your most recent adventuring days worth of encounters?
 

I think my big takeaway from this thread is that I can look more quantitatively at the amount of damage and hit points of my enemies and use that to calculate how much of a threat the enemy will be. For example, if I want a big melee enemy to last three rounds, I should give it enough HP to withstand three barbarian attacks (extra attack plus a Dancing Sword) for three rounds.

I can then support that with mobile or ranged enemies, but I should make sure their damage output is enough of a real threat to draw fire away from the barbarian's target.
 

I think my big takeaway from this thread is that I can look more quantitatively at the amount of damage and hit points of my enemies and use that to calculate how much of a threat the enemy will be. For example, if I want a big melee enemy to last three rounds, I should give it enough HP to withstand three barbarian attacks (extra attack plus a Dancing Sword) for three rounds.
Dancing sword and Rage both use a Bonus action to activate remember.

So two attacks round one, and three on 2 and 3.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Here's the party composition:

Goliath Barbarian Path of the Ancients
Gnome Artificer Alchemist
Aasimar Cleric of Death
Kenku Rogue (I'm blanking on subclass)
Tiefling Warlock of the Divine

What's interesting about this composition is that there is a LOT of healing going around. So the characters are usually going into each combat with full hit points.

The Barbarian had the Sentinel Feat, which locks down Big Melee guys.

And for some reason the Cleric always rolls max on Inflict Wounds. That's obviously something I can't control for.

This group really loves to try and find noncombat solutions to encounters, so out of my six to eight they will often solve two or three with roleplay!

Honestly the players are having a fun time. I just want to make sure that when I plan out a tough encounter, it's actually tough.


I've had a group like that before that went to about 13th or 14th level, about the only way it can get worse is if the warlock takes a couple levels in sorcerer for extra spell slots. Pretty much anything shy of death by massive damage is certain to get someone casting healing word/warlok's divine light. Shy of getting rid of death saves & making it so 0 or -10 is instant death rather than just dropping them till someone can toss their weakest (preferably ranged) heal using the bonus action they probably were not going to use on the very next round it's not going to matter what you do.

The other thing you can do is always have a bunch of ranged attackers that shoot+interrupt anyone casting a heal spell/using divine light or regularly use antimagic fields & such. Throwing armies to the party that turn combat into a slog can help. None of those are good solutions & it becomes extremely obvious triggering an arms race escalation of player vrs GM over time with frustrated players winding up feeling like they are forced into it. The rogue & barbarian have such high damage compared to the cleric & artificer that it generally won't matter what the rogue/cleric do as long as they immediately stand the others up. The warlock is not too far behind the rogue & bararian so sifts from doesn't matter+ heal fallen allies with an unused BA.


If you look at the math, the damage disparity is so bad that you can literally just give cleric & artificer specific illusionist's bracers from ggtr, just make sure that the warlock can't use them with eldritch blast. From there scale things with something more meaningful than resistant to nonmagical b/p/s damage used by nobody & sometimes old style DR so at least casting that heal has some opportunity cost. Making healing word a level 3 or so spell will also give healing word a cost but do nothing about the warlock's divine light

You can also do things like raise ac by 4-5 on everything & cut hp by 40-60% as works best.


I was never able to find a good solution I was happy with without treading towards heartbreak territory but IMO & IME WotC set you up to fail in this situation and considers you viewing it as a problem in need of addressing about some kind of abhorrent killergm type badwrongfun not worth even admitting might be a problem at some tables.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Also, instead of direct threats to the PCs, think of indirect threats.

1. Things that the PCs want to protect. NPCs, objects, whatever.

Hostages, citizens, whatever. Good old rampage. Roll dice to see how many civilians die.

2. Enemies that are buying time for something bad to happen elsewhere.

Maybe a BBEG is running away, or executing their plot. This fight is chaff, and so is the next one.

3. PCs buying time for something good to happen elsewhere (or even here, like reinforcements), up against an escalating and infinite horde of foes.

Start with 50 zombie points. Each round roll 2d6 and add to the zombie points; if you roll doubles, roll again ("explode"). Whenever you roll a 6, a wave of zombies arrive equal to 1 for every 10 zombie points (round down).

Wave size is 5 + .82 per round.
On average 0.39 waves/round.

They can't stand against it forever. The longer they last, the more refugees escape.

4. Crazy amounts of enemies the PCs can engage whenever they want, but the foes are on the move towards targets.

A tarrasque, a pit fiend with dozens of devils, 1000s of bezerkers, a naval invasion with 100+ ships, a dracolich with a kobold cult, and a dozen mind flayers are all going to attack a city in various ways. Their attacks arrive in 5-10 days. What do you do?

In every case, you don't need a "fair" fight capable of dropping a PC every round for there to be risk and danger. This is T3, they can pick their fights. Odds are they can beat a number of the above, the question becomes how efficiently can they do it?
 

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