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D&D 5E How are you all finding the encounter building rules working out at higher levels?

Eric V

Hero
Hello,

I am converting all my Al-Qadim modules into a sort of super campaign (anyone interested in the list, by all means, inquire:) ).

[Note: Shoutout to [MENTION=20323]Quickleaf[/MENTION] for his great documents on 5e Zakhara]

I am in the process of converting 'Dead Bearing Witness' from 'A Dozen and One Adventures' and figured the mummified head would be a demilich (in the original adventure it's a spellcasting undead head of 18th level of ability).

There are 6 PCs, and they will be 12th level by the time they encounter the head. A demilich in lair is a Medium challenge to 6 12th level PCs. Adding ONE zombie, per the rules, makes it a Hard challenge, and adding another makes it a Deadly challenge.

Although I haven't run anything that high yet, that strikes me as vastly overestimating the value of 2 CR 1/4 creatures...has anyone had any experience running high level encounters that can bear testimony to how the encounter rules work in a practical way? If they don't work well, as written, what hacks, if any, did you use?

-E
 

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kbrakke

First Post
For what it's worth, page 82 of the DM says, for creating encounter with disparate CRs "When making this calculation, don't count any monsters whose challenge rating is significantly below the average challenge rating of the other monsters in the group unless you think the weak monsters significantly contribute to the difficulty of the encounter" So it will not radically increase the adjusted xp value of the encounter.

As for how the encounter guidelines work, I have found time and time again, that minions are the most important thing you can have for a boss style enemy. Which, depending on the minion can radically increase the calculated difficulty. I also think it's important to think of magic items as effective level increases. Also if you want a fight to be hard, it's important to keep the overall adventuring day in mind. My current party is level 17 with many magic items, and they blow through any given encounter unless I make it far far above the suggested deadly. However, if I have them go through several encounters (Most recently, it was effectively 6 medium - hard encounters in a wave style fight culminating in a deadly fight) the the suggested values work out (3 players were down and the last 2 had less than half hp left). Very recently I tried a solo style boss in two phases with legendary actions, and they got low, but it wasn't very deadly. I either needed to stress their resources more earlier in the dungeon, or have more minions for the boss to split their focus.

Overall the guidelines work reasonably if taken as a whole. A single encounter can vary wildly, but if you pace the encounters, the overall day will be roughly correct.
 

bganon

Explorer
A demilich in its lair is CR 20 (24,500 xp), which is a Hard challenge for 6 level 12 PCs, but the whole point of CR is that the DMG recommends caution using monsters with CR significantly greater than PC level. In this example, I'm not sure level 12 characters can dish out enough damage to keep up with Life Drain, and a single Howl could drop half the party and render the rest nearly useless.

And the DMG unfortunately isn't real explicit, but the damage multiplier for multiple creatures is really best used for a group of creatures of roughly equal CR that can meaningfully coordinate their actions. So as mentioned, a zombie or two shouldn't even factor in.

So just adding the zombie's xp and not using the multiplier would probably be best, with the caveat that the resulting difficulty (Hard) is very likely underestimated because of the CR-to-party disparity. Poor preparation or unlucky rolls could easily result in a TPK.
 
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Eric V

Hero
A demilich in its lair is CR 20 (24,500 xp), which is a Hard challenge for 6 level 12 PCs, but the whole point of CR is that the DMG recommends caution using monsters with CR significantly greater than PC level. In this example, I'm not sure level 12 characters can dish out enough damage to keep up with Life Drain, and a single Howl could drop half the party and render the rest nearly useless.

And the DMG unfortunately isn't real explicit, but the damage multiplier for multiple creatures is really best used for a group of creatures of roughly equal CR that can meaningfully coordinate their actions. So as mentioned, a zombie or two shouldn't even factor in.

So just adding the zombie's xp and not using the multiplier would probably be best, with the caveat that the resulting difficulty (Hard) is very likely underestimated because of the CR-to-party disparity. Poor preparation or unlucky rolls could easily result in a TPK.

Interesting...any idea why when I enter the data here: http://kobold.club/fight/#/encounter-builder

...it gives me a rating of Medium by adjusting the XP by half?

EDIT: Found it on P. 82. It's considered a medium encounter, because the party has more than 5 PCs.

Any ideas on how much of a differential in CR it should be before you stop including them?
 
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DaveDash

Explorer
Current campaign is level 17.

1. Solos don't work that well at high levels, even with legendary actions. Players save their nova abilities for hard fights and can take a single creature down quickly.

2. If you start using numbers in your encounters you generally fight stuff much lower than your CR.

3. I'm still using CR5 creatures to make up numbers at high levels, and have even used low stuff like CR1/4 Skeletons.

4. When it comes to calculating difficulty I use the following formula: (mCRA*n*multiplier)+(mCRB*n*multiplier). So to figure out the budget of having 10 skeletons in the fight, you only multiply the skeletons by the multiplier for the increase in their numbers, not the whole encounter.
This means a lich and a Kobold isn't an encounter that's 1.5 times harder. It's CR21*1*1+CR1/8*1*1.
 
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Any ideas on how much of a differential in CR it should be before you stop including them?

You have to play it by feel, unfortunately (or fortunately for those like me who don't mind that).

As far as using lower level monsters with more powerful critters, here is what you do (this isn't what the book says to do, but this is what you should do):

1) Determine the effective XP of the encounter with the high CR critters, ignoring the presence of the lower level critters.
2) Determine the effective XP of the lower level critters, ignoring the presence of the higher level critters.
3) Add both of those XP values together for the effective XP of the encounter, then determine difficulty from there.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
[MENTION=6779717]Eric V[/MENTION]
Thanks for the shout-out :) Always happy to see my homebrew work get put to use.

As for your question: What sort of challenge would a demilich (CR 20) be for a party of six 12th level PCs?

First, there is the by-the-book answer (DMG pg. 82): Your party's Hard XP threshold is 18,000 and their Deadly XP threshold is 27,000. So strictly by the XP numbers your encounter is Hard. But you need to know more than just the XP numbers.

However, the DMG warns you to use caution when using a much higher CR than your party's level. And CR 20 vs. 12th levels certainly qualifies.

Second, you need to do the work comparing the proposed monster (demilich) to your PCs stats and abilities. I don't know your party's composition, but here is an example of the sort of pre-game work you need to do if you want to use an excessively higher CR monster. My litmus test if a monster is over-powered is if they could theoretically drop the party cleric on the first round of combat.

Let's say your party's 12th level cleric has 87 hit points and a Constitution save of +6. First round, let's see what happens if the Demilich focuses fire on the cleric. Be aware that a Con save +6 is generous, most likely your cleric doesn't have proficiency in Con saves and so his Con save is more like +2 or maybe +3.

Howl. DC 15 Con save. Cleric has a 40% chance of dropping to 0 hit points outright. If the cleric's Con save is +2 this jumps up to 60% chance which is probably higher than is fair.

If the demilich uses Vile Curse on the cleric first, imposing disadvantage on his saves, then that chan of dropping to 0 hit points goes up to maybe 55%. And if the cleric's Con save is +2 then you're looking at maybe a 75% chance of instantly dropping the cleric to 0 hit points - definitely hire than is fair.

Alternately, let's assume the demilich uses Flight or Cloud of Dust for defense, and hits the Cleric (and whoever else is nearby) with Energy Drain. Again the Cleric has a 40% chance of reducing his maximum HP by 10.

Now what about the Demilich's lair actions?

Well,the cleric already took 16 necrotic damage for entering the tomb for the first time assuming he is non-evil.

And the Demilich probably used one of the following lair actions, depending on how buffed the cleric is with spells/magic. If very buffed, the Demilich uses the anti magic field, but if not buffed much, the Demilich prevents healing.

So the +6 Con save cleric has a chance of still standing after the first round. The + 2 Con save cleric not so much.

That doesn't mean the demilich is going to be a fair Hard (or more likely Difficult) challenge for the party, but it means I wouldn't rule it out as fair outright. So in this case I would suggest you do your homework. Simulate a fight between the demilich and the party, and see what you discover.

My hunch is, with the Demilich's low hit points and great survivability, the stronger alpha strike the PCs can bring the less likely the demilich will prevail. However, the longer the battle goes, the more likely the odds will turn in the Demilich's favor. Generally speaking. Again, I don't know what your party is capable of. One of the deciding points may be the cleric's (or other healer's) con save
 
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A demilich in its lair is CR 20 (24,500 xp), which is a Hard challenge for 6 level 12 PCs, but the whole point of CR is that the DMG recommends caution using monsters with CR significantly greater than PC level. In this example, I'm not sure level 12 characters can dish out enough damage to keep up with Life Drain, and a single Howl could drop half the party and render the rest nearly useless.

There is a winning strategy for a level 12 party, and it's not even very difficult if the party knows what they're facing (has done their research). Here's what I'd do:

1.) (Easy way, old school) Cast Fog Cloud. The demilich's life drain only works when it can see you, and Truesight doesn't let you see through heavy obscurement, only through darkness. Similarly, stop up your ears so that you can't hear it howl. Now just kill it with cantrips--it's practically helpless against you so even if you just Fire Bolt it for 9.08 points of damage per round (+9/3d10 vs. AC 20) it will be dead after 10 rounds.

In a real game of course you'll do much better than one Fire Bolt per round; my test party would be hitting it with two Agonizing Eldritch Blasts, a paladin's Sacred Weapon, and a strafing Shadow Monk for about 70 points of damage between them if the paladin smites or 40 if he saves his spell slots. It's dead in about two rounds, and this party isn't even damage-optimized. (It's optimized for safe exploration and versatility.) In any case, the point is that without life drain the thing is toast.

2.) (Almost-as-easy way, doesn't feel as cheap as just shutting down all its attacks) The demilich has only Str 1, so it will always practically always fail Strength (Athletics) checks. If you have a barbarian or other Str-based, Con-proficient fighter type in the party, have him grapple it, reducing its speed from fly 30 to zero. Since Life Drain is a 10' range DC 19 Con 6d6 attack, and the barbarian is proficient in Con saves, it basically has a 50% chance of dealing 21 damage to him each round, healing 21 HP in the process, at the cost of an action. If you have a cleric you can Bless the barbarian to improve the odds further. Its legendary actions are basically irrelevant (Flight does nothing when you're grappled because your speed is zero, and Cloud of Dust has only a 10' range). The cleric can also Death Ward the barbarian in advance to protect against Howl. Now all you have to do is inflict 80 HP plus whatever it sucked off the barbarian, which you could do with Scorching Ray or Eldritch Blast or just by casting Magic Weapon on the fighter's bow or the barbarian's one-handed backup weapon and letting him beat the thing to death while you Fire Bolt/Sacred Flame it.

If you don't have a barbarian or similar in the party you could either summon something (mephits) or even make someone else do it. In fact, even a Str 10 wizard untrained in athletics (+0) would probably do just fine against the demilich's weakling -5, although the demilich will suck more HP out of him than it would out of the barbarian.
 

Prism

Explorer
It can be swingy.

We fought a demilich just last week. The party was made up of three 20th level characters. The demilich won initiative and all three of us failed vs the howl. Almost a TPK except one character had a save reroll so managed to survive long enough to get the unconscious members out, but not before the cleric failed all three death saves

A couple of rounds later it found us and it was just the two if us versus the demilich. This time we killed it in about 2 rounds with lots of scorching rays and melee attacks.

I'm not sure any calculations could have predicted all that but it was certainly a scary fight
 

pming

Hero
Hiya.

I guess I'll be the voice of the Great Curmudgeonly Grognard... ;)

Eh? Whats that? Encounter CR budget? What in carnations is that? ...ehhh....never mind. Probably one of those new-fangled mathmaticaly-type doo-dad rules some young whippersnapper came up with to make himself feel better about lettin' a whole party o' 12th level PC's die when they up n' run inta'a demi-lich in it's lair or sum'mn'.

Yeah, back in my day...er, wait...I still do this to this day so can I even say "back in my day"? Anyway, I've never used any formula, CR math, or XP budget for my games. I'm a DM who "builds" encounters without regards to the PC's well-being other than a general "this is their level, so I'll keep things about their level". In other words, I wouldn't put a demilich in a cave for their 12th level PC's to fight. Too much of a difference.

That said...IF the party heard of "Oh, don't go to the Cave of Whispers! The long-dead lich Mogg was slain a decade hence, but everyone says his evil was so great, and his desire for power so consuming that his head still haunts his lair!"... and they still choose to go get 'em? Well, in the immortal words of one E.Gary Gygax, I "Let the chips fall where they may".

So, if they, as a group, have knowledge or at least serious contention that a demi-lich is there...go ahead and build away. I'd go with the demi-lich, one vampire "aid", and perhaps a pair of sexy female ghoul twins just to spice things up a bit. Would I be worried about a TPK? Nope. Not my job to worry about a TPK...that's the players job. If I say "You open the door, revealing a 40' square room with a 30' heigh ceiling. The far wall has a 5' wide ledge up at about the 20' mark. On that ledge you can see a pedestal with an old, purple, velvet pillow with gold tassels on the corner. On top of it sits what looks like a mummified head with gems for eyes and teeth. All along the ledge on either side of it is treasure, almost spilling over onto the ground. On the ground directly below it is an ornate coffin. To either side of the coffin, two obviously female ghouls slowly rise to their feet and smile at you. As one they speak, 'Our masters have been waiting for you...'.; ...so, what do you guys do?".

If the party replies with "We attack!", then I've done my job as DM and wash my hands of any responsibility for the outcome.

Conclusion: Play it by ear and base it on internal campaign logic and consistency FIRST; PC capabilities come a fairly distant SECOND. Use your knowledge of your players PC's overall toughness and set that for your 'gut-feeling foundation' for creating your adventures...but don't be afraid to put something significantly tougher or weaker against them, as long as they have reasonable suspecian about that tougher/weaker encounter.

The whole CR thing starts to break down (rather quickly!) the moment your PC's start to fall outside the norm upon which it is all based. For example, if your PC's have magic items...the CR creaks a bit; you are using Feats in your game...the CR groans noticeable; your players party makeup is two paladins, a druid and an edritch knight...the CR visibly cracks in multiple places. Now, toss in a group of players that work well together and are adept at tactics "outside the box" (like being really good at using normal equipment and terrain together to gain a significant advantage over their foes), and ker-BLAMMO! The CR system is now mostly moot. So you definitly have to take the "overall level" (character level, player level, power level, etc) of your group and use that as a base; just trying to go by the numbers will work less and less the more and more your players and their PC's fall outside the "norm" upon which the CR system is designed.

For the record...virtually every single game I've ever played has had a group that is falling "outside the norm"; some only slightly, some vastly. This has taught me one thing: the CR "system" for building an encounter is only remotely useful as a "baseline generalization". If it takes you ten minutes to whip out your calculator and do a bunch of math to figure out the 'correct power level' of an encounter, and at the end of it you are thinking "Hmmm...that doesn't see right..."...then chances are it isn't right!

My suggestion for your situation? Add more zombies and skeletons, but make sure the Players can find out that "the demilich is guarded by a dozen or more skeletons and zombies!". Notice I said can find out and not do find out? Yeah, if the Players just rush into things like fighting a demilich and his undead retinue when they are only 12th level...well, IMHO, there are no stupid players with 20th level PC's for a reason. ;) (or at least, there shouldn't be...*sigh*... ).

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Elric

First Post
Although I haven't run anything that high yet, that strikes me as vastly overestimating the value of 2 CR 1/4 creatures...has anyone had any experience running high level encounters that can bear testimony to how the encounter rules work in a practical way? If they don't work well, as written, what hacks, if any, did you use?-E

The original encounter design guidelines are flawed and overstate encounter difficulty when you have monsters at different CRs, as you've noticed. The update to the DM Basic Guide from November looks much the same except that it recommends ignoring the encounter XP multiplier if the monsters have CRs that are very different. A better system would not need this step because it would already sensibly account for monsters at different CRs.

I recommend Gobelure's thread on how to modify the encounter design guidelines to fix this problem, so that you don't need an "encounter XP multiplier." http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?367697-Encounter-difficulty-how-to-fix-it The key is that in Gobelure's new tables PC and monster power scales more slowly with CR/levels, so that you don't need the "fudge factor" of a multiplier.

Here's how I described the issue in that thread:
Elric said:
It seems to me that PC and monster power doesn't scale as fast in general as the XP numbers alone would imply (e.g., a CR 5 Hill Giant worth 1,800 XP is not as deadly as 4 CR 2 Ogres worth 450 XP each). So large numbers of lower CR monsters would be too strong relative to what the XP total suggests.

The encounter XP multiplier (basic DM guide, p. 57) helps to address that design flaw. However, the XP multiplier is itself flawed (as an encounter with an Adult Red Dragon and 3 Kobolds demonstrates).

My take is that some monsters are particularly dangerous in groups (e.g., with their own kind, like Intellect Devourers, or with any melee combatant, like Hobgoblins). Those should have been handled with special guidelines in their stat blocks (CR varies based on group composition), and XP should have simply scaled more slowly as CR increased (with the corresponding decrease in the XP budget encounter guidelines), thus obviating the need for a multiplier.
 

The key is that in Gobelure's new tables PC and monster power scales more slowly with CR/levels, so that you don't need the "fudge factor" of a multiplier.

I think you're misstating the logic behind multipliers. Fundamentally they exist because of the artillery equation: two hobgoblins will inflict three times as much damage as a single hobgoblin before dying, and the multiplier reflects this. Multipliers break down in the presence of heterogenous CRs, but that's an implementation flaw, not their reason for existing.

IMO it's best to mostly just ignore encounter guidelines, because they straitjacket the play experience and give bad estimates anyway. I drew a little map today of three vampire spawn and twenty zombies scattered around a building and one vampire inside--then realized that I have no idea how you'd compute the XP for it, because it all depends how many encounters you divide it into. I'd just call it one encounter since they're all within one or two moves of each other (the building is 150' long, it's actually my apartment building), which makes it worth about 90K XP IIRC kobold.com's figures. But as a player I'd attempt to divide and conquer the small groups, making it worth only about 20K total. Which is it? I don't have to care! But I think someone designing by DMG guidelines would have co-located all the monsters automatically, out of habit, instead of putting five zombies around a corpse here and two around the corner and a vampire in a tree, etc., in order to avoid the question.
 
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Quartz

Adventurer
I'm not familiar with the original adventure, but are the PCs expected to fight the demi-lich or talk to it? If the former, do they have the ability to find out about it before encountering it?
 


Eric V

Hero
I'm not familiar with the original adventure, but are the PCs expected to fight the demi-lich or talk to it? If the former, do they have the ability to find out about it before encountering it?

It's an Al-Qadim module, so parley is almost always an option. :) The original mod called for a floating undead head with the capacities of an 18th level spellcaster, so demilich (especially as described in the 5e MM) seemed to make more sense.

As for discovery, they could scout ahead, or if they don't kill the Great Ghul they encounter before, they could interrogate it to discover more information.
 

Elric

First Post
I think you're misstating the logic behind multipliers. Fundamentally they exist because of the artillery equation: two hobgoblins will inflict three times as much damage as a single hobgoblin before dying, and the multiplier reflects this. Multipliers break down in the presence of heterogenous CRs, but that's an implementation flaw, not their reason for existing.

If this were true, then Gobelure's system would be unable to replicate the results of the regular encounter system when applied to creatures of the same CR, since it does not use an encounter XP multiplier. But this is not true, and one way to see this is that Gobelure's system does (pretty closely) replicate the results of the regular encounter system (with the multiplier) when applied to creatures of the same CR. His post lays out the math underlying why this is true: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?367697-Encounter-difficulty-how-to-fix-it
 

What I say below is not intended as any kind of slight to Gobelure (or Elric), because Gobelure's key insight ("monster CR in 5E scales roughly as a 3/2 power of HP/DPR, and so does assumed player capability") is quite valuable. But the implications of that insight aren't what Elric is claiming they are.

If this were true, then Gobelure's system would be unable to replicate the results of the regular encounter system when applied to creatures of the same CR, since it does not use an encounter XP multiplier. But this is not true, and one way to see this is that Gobelure's system does (pretty closely) replicate the results of the regular encounter system (with the multiplier) when applied to creatures of the same CR. His post lays out the math underlying why this is true: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?367697-Encounter-difficulty-how-to-fix-it

TLDR: It is unable to do so, and more importantly it diverges not just from the DMG system but from actual expected damage as number of monsters increases.

Gobelure's math isn't saying what you think it's saying, and it is in fact unable to replicate the results of the DMG system when it comes to scaling. (It's not even designed to do so! Gobelure's focus is on solving the "three rats and a lich" problem, not the "three liches" problem.) It does not scale with the artillery equation. Illustrative example:

1 brown bear vs. 4 2nd level PCs: Easy (200 XP/800) under DMG system, Easy (2 TMEL/6 TPEL) under the EL system.
2 brown bears vs 4 2nd level PCs: Hard (600 XP/800) under DMG system, Medium (4 TMEL/6TPEL) under the EL system.
3 brown bears vs 4 2nd level PCs: Very Deadly (1200 XP/800) under the DMG system, barely Deadly (6 TMEL/6 TPEL) under the EL system.

You'll see this divergence any time a multiplier boundary is crossed. E.g. EL and DMG both agree that two demiliches at a time is Hard for 5 20th level characters, but EL says only one Demilich is Medium and DMG says it's Hard.

So when you say it "replicate the results of the regular encounter system (with the multiplier) when applied to creatures of the same CR", you're misunderstanding what problem Gobelure's system is trying to solve as well as the results it gets. It works pretty well, better than the DMG system, for creatures of different CRs, but for creatures of the same CR the DMG system is IMO more accurate. Although neither system is very good at predicting actual results because they're both based on CR, which is a poor summary statistic of deadliness even before you toss it into simplistic equations. E.g. it values ranged and melee capabilities the exact same, doesn't account for mobility at all, treats abilities like regeneration as simple static HP inflation even for creatures with the smarts to use those capabilities tactically.

More importantly, not only does Gobelure's system diverge from the DMG system, it diverges even more from expected reality than the DMG system does. Take all those brown bears against, for simplicity, a party of four identical Str 18 2nd level Fighters with AC 18 (chain and shield) and battleaxes (+6/d8+4) who don't spend any Action Surges during the fight.

Accounting for crits, a fighter's expected DPR against the bear's AC 11 is 7.03, so it should take 5 fighter-rounds to kill a bear. The bear's expected DPR against a fighter is 3.63 for the bite plus 4.75 for the claws, so 8.38.

1 bear: The bear will inflict 8.38 on the first round, and then maybe (25%) inflict 8.38 on the second round depending on initiative, so 8.38 * 0.25 = 2.09 is the expected damage. About 10.5 damage will be inflicted on the fighters.
2 bears: Two bears will inflict 16.76 damage on the first round, then 1.25 bears will inflict 10.47 damage on the second round, then 0.5 bears will inflict 4.19 damage on the third round. Total damage inflicted is about 31.5, three times as much as the 1 bear fight. This is the reality which XP multipliers try to reflect.
3 bears: Three bears inflict 8.38 * (3 + 2.25 + 1.5 + 0.75) = 62.85 damage on the fighters over the course of four rounds. Three bears is twice as deadly as two, and six times deadlier than one bear. The DMG system gets this basically correct (it breaks down a bit due to rounding at larger numbers of bears) by saying it's six times as much XP value but the EL system thinks deadliness scales linearly in the number of bears, so it's off by a factor of two when it says it's only twice as much EL.

Gobelure's system does what it is designed to do over a narrow range, but any time you scale number of monsters up significantly it will break. This would be more obvious if the DMG system weren't also scaled over a very narrow range, but any time you scale up from one monster to two or three the results will diverge from the DMG system because of that lack of multipliers, and it will diverge even more from the actual combat results.
 
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Wolf118

Explorer
I drew a little map today of three vampire spawn and twenty zombies scattered around a building and one vampire inside--then realized that I have no idea how you'd compute the XP for it, because it all depends how many encounters you divide it into. I'd just call it one encounter since they're all within one or two moves of each other (the building is 150' long, it's actually my apartment building), which makes it worth about 90K XP IIRC kobold.com's figures. But as a player I'd attempt to divide and conquer the small groups, making it worth only about 20K total. Which is it? I don't have to care! But I think someone designing by DMG guidelines would have co-located all the monsters automatically, out of habit, instead of putting five zombies around a corpse here and two around the corner and a vampire in a tree, etc., in order to avoid the question.

So what did you end up doing to calculate encounter XP? My thought would be to wait until AFTER the combat was over and see how the PCs attacked the building. Was it one massive fight? Successive waves? Were they smart and broke it up into smaller encounters? Of course, the total XP is the total XP; Adjusted XP is not what the party gets anyway.

Now this doesn't help with encounter planning as much, but you could estimate ahead of time how you think the PCs would break up the encounters, and then use that in planning future encounters. Building block approach to your party's specific capabilities.
 

So what did you end up doing to calculate encounter XP? My thought would be to wait until AFTER the combat was over and see how the PCs attacked the building. Was it one massive fight? Successive waves? Were they smart and broke it up into smaller encounters? Of course, the total XP is the total XP; Adjusted XP is not what the party gets anyway.

Now this doesn't help with encounter planning as much, but you could estimate ahead of time how you think the PCs would break up the encounters, and then use that in planning future encounters. Building block approach to your party's specific capabilities.

This bold part exactly--I ran not-quite-that-but-a-very-similar encounter last night (i.e. zombies and vampire spawns around a building, minus the vampire because a master vampire doesn't fit with the story where the PCs are right now). And I didn't compute the encounter XP at all until just now, because you asked.

The players got 6400 XP out of it (divided among a 7th level PC, 8th level PC, 8th level NPC, 4th level NPC, and 2nd level NPC), but as I compute the numbers now it was technically 25,600 XP, or 3.87 times the Deadly threshold. In fact, that one encounter (fourth one of the day) was 1.32 times what the DMG says their daily encounter budget should be, all in one fight.

These PCs are not particularly optimized; they don't have a ton of magic items (a Wand of Web is all) but they do have some bio-modifications from a xixchil device (the cleric got trollish regeneration at the cost of -2 Int and -2 Cha, green skin, and a bad temper; on the other hand he only has 13 Wis, so clearly he's still not overpowered for a cleric).

They were already low on resources and the fight was quite tough for them, but the players enjoyed it all the more for that fact. They killed the zombies relatively quickly with the cleric's Turn Undead (he took some hits while waiting for them all to group up around him), while the longbow-wielding, chain mail-wearing vampire hobgoblins sniped him (with Martial Advantage for being hobgoblins) from the windows of the house.

The paladin dragged one of the vampires out into the sunlight (no regen + disadvantage to break free of grapple + auto 20 damage per round), while the vampires tried at various times to grapple/bite the cleric and the paladin and drag them up onto the ceiling using Spider Climb (so they'd fall for damage if they escaped) and the ranger NPC sniped the vampires using Sharpshooter + Colossus Slayer from a safe distance.

The cleric went down twice but came back up (prone) thanks to regen, but he lost about 30 semi-permanent HP due to life drain (can get them back on a long rest by spending 100 XP per HP) so he lost some net XP there and has a definite reason not to charge into a house with several vampires in it next time, despite feeling invincible with his trollish regeneration.

It was a complicated, interesting, fun fight for everyone involved[1] despite or maybe because of being officially way, way too deadly.

That is why I feel totally comfortable ignoring DMG encounter balance guidelines.

[1] I'm really glad I offloaded action declaration tracking and HP tracking during that fight to one of the players though. That decreased my stress level enormously and let me focus more on playing the monsters, increasing my fun.
 
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Elric

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What I say below is not intended as any kind of slight to Gobelure (or Elric), because Gobelure's key insight ("monster CR in 5E scales roughly as a 3/2 power of HP/DPR, and so does assumed player capability") is quite valuable. But the implications of that insight aren't what Elric is claiming they are.

I think it was noticed in Gobelure's thread that his system seems to indicate that encounters are a bit easier than the official encounter guidelines. And certainly it's possible that the numbers need some tweaking. Since the definition of an Easy encounter isn't constant across levels in the official system, and there is rounding involved, it's won't mimic the official system precisely. But there's no reason in principle why system like Gobelure's, but with tweaked numbers, couldn't deliver results that are comparable to the official system for even-PL groups.
 

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