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How challenging should encounters be?

How challenging do you like your encounters?

  • 25% chance of success...Bring it on!

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 50% chance of success...Tactics are important!

    Votes: 8 36.4%
  • 75% chance of success...I'll win unless I do something stupid!

    Votes: 4 18.2%
  • 99% chance of success...My pc is a special angel!

    Votes: 1 4.5%
  • Other...I'll explain below.

    Votes: 9 40.9%

  • Total voters
    22

was

Explorer
As a player, how challenging do you like your encounters to be?


...heh, my first poll :cool:
 
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Saelorn

Hero
I picked 99%... but I'm not happy with the way it's described.

It's not that my PC is special, because she really isn't, but it would be phenomenally stupid to go into any sort of fight where you might lose. If there was only a 75% chance of winning, then no campaign would make it past the first day.
 

was

Explorer
but it would be phenomenally stupid to go into any sort of fight where you might lose. If there was only a 75% chance of winning, then no campaign would make it past the first day.

...Challenging encounters employ the basic risk vs. reward concept that rpg games are founded upon. It's why every DMG has a section detailing how to design encounters of varying difficulty levels to challenge pcs. Designing an encounter with a 99% chance of success is not one that does a good job in challenging pcs.

...IME, campaigns where you are guaranteed to win every encounter are quite boring and are quickly abandoned.

...IMO, encounters with no risk of failure carry no real rewards in defeating them.
......To quote the current DMG (p.81), "An encounter has one of three possible outcomes: the characters succeed, the characters partly succeed or the characters fail. The encounter needs to account for all three possibilities, and the encounter needs to have consequences so that the players feel like their successes and failures matter."
 
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Saelorn

Hero
Designing an encounter with a 99% chance of success is not one that does a good job in challenging pcs.

...IME, campaigns where you are guaranteed to win every encounter are quite boring and are quickly abandoned.
I didn't say there was no risk of failure. I just said that the chance of failure is substantially less than 25%. If you have a game where the PCs have a 25% chance of failure in every encounter, then you have a game where - on average - no party survives more than four encounters. Going by the suggested guidelines, you would suffer two TPKs every day, and nobody ever makes it to level 2.

......To quote the current DMG (p.81), "An encounter has one of three possible outcomes: the characters succeed, the characters partly succeed or the characters fail. The encounter needs to account for all three possibilities, and the encounter needs to have consequences so that the players feel like their successes and failures matter."
In this case, "partial success" would be success with a cost - the party doesn't die, but they have to expend one or more spell slot or Hit Point. Most encounters would fall into that range. Each partial success increases the chance of failure over the course of the day.

Total failure means everyone in the party dies. If you're using some other metric for what counts as a failure, then it would be possible to maintain a failure rate higher than 1% and still have some sort of lasting campaign, but you should really define your strange conditions beforehand.
 

was

Explorer
I didn't say there was no risk of failure. I just said that the chance of failure is substantially less than 25%. If you have a game where the PCs have a 25% chance of failure in every encounter, then you have a game where - on average - no party survives more than four encounters. Going by the suggested guidelines, you would suffer two TPKs every day, and nobody ever makes it to level 2.

In this case, "partial success" would be success with a cost - the party doesn't die, but they have to expend one or more spell slot or Hit Point. Most encounters would fall into that range. Each partial success increases the chance of failure over the course of the day.

Total failure means everyone in the party dies. If you're using some other metric for what counts as a failure, then it would be possible to maintain a failure rate higher than 1% and still have some sort of lasting campaign, but you should really define your strange conditions beforehand.

...Not strange at all, but maybe we're not communicating effectively. The whole poll is simply a question of how tough players like their encounters. Some like them very challenging, others do not.

...A 25% chance of failure per encounter is challenging. However, it's not a cumulative factor ensuring a failure every four encounters. Arguing that successive encounters weaken characters is beside the point, proper encounters are designed with that reduced condition in mind. Assuming that the successive encounters fall on the same day.

..Fleeing an encounter is also a failure. It's extremely limiting to state that death is the only option to define failing an encounter.

...If adventurers are guaranteed a 99% success rate in every encounter, a failure rate of 1% or lower, you effectively create encounters in which no pc can ever lose or die. Such campaigns do not last.

...IME, it's a good idea to find out how tough players like their encounters. Which is what I am trying to do, in a more general community sense, in this poll.
 
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Saelorn

Hero
...A 25% chance of failure per encounter is challenging. However, it's not a cumulative factor ensuring a failure every four encounters. Arguing that successive encounters weaken characters is beside the point, proper encounters are designed with that reduced condition in mind. Assuming that the successive encounters fall on the same day.
Even if you didn't get weaker as the day went on, a failure rate of 25% is still way too high. Even if you abstract the whole combat out to a single die roll - just roll 1d4, and on a roll of 1 the party loses - then that roll of 1 would still happen eventually. When it takes 8 encounters to gain a level, it's unlikely that anyone would get to level 5, and fully 25% of all parties would die in their first encounter.

Maybe it's a problem with the narrative, but it would seem contrived if those random skeletons decided to not kill you, or the hungry owlbear didn't eat you. That's D&D, though. In order for the game to continue, the PCs have to survive every fight, which generally means they have to win. If you don't know that you're going to win, then you shouldn't engage; if the encounter is forced, then you win by running away.

...IME, it's a good idea to find out how tough players like their encounters. Which is what I am trying to do, in a more general community sense, in this poll.
Maybe you're asking the wrong question. If you can't come up with hard rules for what even counts as success or failure, then maybe you should ask how hard the players should need to work for their win: can you win by charging forward? or do you need some reasonable tactics? or do you need a good plan and a lot of luck, because one or the other won't cut it?
 

75% chance of success (meaning a 25% chance of failure).

But it's extremely important to note that "fail" doesn't mean "die".

Edit: It's also worth noting that I'm less enamoured of the "I'll win unless I do something stupid" tag on the poll. IMO either bad luck or bad play should be enough to trigger failure. With average luck and average play, I'd peg them at 75% chance of success; with very good luck or very good play then it should be a gimme - and, indeed, they may not even face the encounter at all!
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I voted "other" - challenge difficulty is, in essence, a question of adventure pacing. Some should be hard, others easy.

I think most of us will find that we succeed *way* more often than 50% of the time. Are your PCs dying or running away every other encounter? No? Then they have more than a 50% chance of success.
 

Janx

Hero
I voted "other" - challenge difficulty is, in essence, a question of adventure pacing. Some should be hard, others easy.

I think most of us will find that we succeed *way* more often than 50% of the time. Are your PCs dying or running away every other encounter? No? Then they have more than a 50% chance of success.

I think that's related to the point Saelorn's trying to make.

25% success rate would mean most of the adventure was a fail-fest. Either dying or running away. Certainly not advancing the ball to the end zone.

Further, any PC who looks at the oncoming encounter, smells that it only has a 25% chance of success, should be backing away. Humans aren't entirely great at estimating risk, but when the perceive the risk is high, they avoid it.

Now somebody might say "that's the point of sacking up and being heroic!" but really, that's playing stupid. A smart player is going to find a way to mitigate that risk to give them an advantage (and thus change the % of risk). If the players can't change that risk %, they aren't going to make it as adventurers.

Thus, what I believe Saelorn's angle was, his PC is going to try to setup the encounter so he has a 90% chance of success if he can. He's going to avoid or runaway from an encounter that he smells a low % of success.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Thus, what I believe Saelorn's angle was, his PC is going to try to setup the encounter so he has a 90% chance of success if he can. He's going to avoid or runaway from an encounter that he smells a low % of success.

Which points out that the chance of success includes some assumptions.

Many years ago, a friend of mine was developing a major adventure for his (2e) D&D game. I wasn't playing in the game, so he used me as a tester. I ran a party through the adventure, twice. First case was brute force - be stupid, don't investigate more than is required to get the next door open, see how long you survive. The second case I was to play it as smart as I could (it was assumed that I have one brain, and the real player group had many, and that my smart playing would be a lower-bound on what they would be a le to accomplish). As we might guess, my party survived much, much longer when I played smart.

So, upon which style of play is that % chance to succeed based? Smart or stupid play? An encounter that has a 50% survival chance with dumb play may be no risk at all to smart play!
 

steenan

Adventurer
I think encounters in my games have success ratio somewhere in the 50-75% range. There is no fixed ratio I aim for - there is a mix of easier and harder ones.

The hard encounters are often set up in such a way that if the PCs behave in the obvious way, they will be beaten, unless they have a lot of luck. They have to change the rules, surprise the NPC and/or exploit their weakness to turn the tables.

In games I use death is not the default result of a lost combat. PCs are often forced to run away, taken prisoners or beaten and left for dead. Winning all encounters definitely wouldn't fit the playstyle we aim for.
 

Balesir

Adventurer
...A 25% chance of failure per encounter is challenging. However, it's not a cumulative factor ensuring a failure every four encounters.
Ensuring failure, no. It means about a 70% chance of at least one failure in four encounters, however. One "adventuring day" in three you get to not either die or run away. Sounds like a blast... but count me out.

Arguing that successive encounters weaken characters is beside the point, proper encounters are designed with that reduced condition in mind. Assuming that the successive encounters fall on the same day.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with weakening characters or reducing resources - it's just a consequence of the way stacking probabilities work.

..Fleeing an encounter is also a failure. It's extremely limiting to state that death is the only option to define failing an encounter.
So, what percentage will be "death"? One in three? One in four? That would make your 25% failure case a world where the average life expectancy of an adventurer is ~2-4 days (8-11 encounters), depending whether it's 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 failures = death. By "average life expectancy" I mean that each character has around a 50% chance to last this long.

...If adventurers are guaranteed a 99% success rate in every encounter, a failure rate of 1% or lower, you effectively create encounters in which no pc can ever lose or die. Such campaigns do not last.
Well, pretty obviously, campaigns where characters have an average life expectancy of under a week do not 'last', in the sense that it's a bit marginal to call them "campaigns" when the list of PCs is that unstable.

As for "never losing", this is incorrect, to put it politely. In a game (story arc, mission, adventure series, whatever you wish to call it) of 100 encounters, a 99% chance of success gives a ~37% chance of at least one failure. 99% is an exaggeratedly high figure to use, but even then to say it gives "no chance of failure" just flies in the face of probability theory.

...IME, it's a good idea to find out how tough players like their encounters. Which is what I am trying to do, in a more general community sense, in this poll.
Then here's some advice:

1) Make your agenda at least slightly less transparent. Your biased wording and selection of "success chance" points makes the view you want to push abundantly clear and your motives thus suspect.

2) Be clear about what you actually mean by your question. Poorly defined terms not only invalidate the answers you get (because nobody knows quite what question they are answering) but also make it look very weaselly when you start squirming about what the terms mean when challenged. It's far better to be clear about what you mean from the get-go.

3) Think in advance about what the options you are offering actually mean, and why they might be attractive. This links into (1), above, in the sense that you can only describe options neutrally if you first have some idea as to why such an option might be attractive to voters. If there's genuinely no way it could be attractive, as far as you can see, don't offer it as an option. The comments might show you that some folk do, indeed, like options outside your range - but the lack of a poll button means they might tell you why they do so (and thus educate you).
 
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Schmoe

Adventurer
I enjoy knock-down, drag-em-out fights with tough odds of winning, somewhere between 50-75% odds. However, you can't make a living with those fights, because you just won't make any progress. Typical fights in a typical campaign should be much closer to 100%. There should only be a few encounters with higher challenge than that per adventure, otherwise very few groups will be able to actually finish the adventure.
 

Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Epic
Other - if I come away from an encounter having had fun and I enjoyed it, I don't care if it was challenging. No all encounters are about lose of life and death.
 

Zhaleskra

Adventurer
I don't want to breeze through a fight, I don't want to only hit on a natural high/low number, and I don't want it to take too long.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
...If adventurers are guaranteed a 99% success rate in every encounter, a failure rate of 1% or lower, you effectively create encounters in which no pc can ever lose or die.

That's not how statistics work. If there's a 99% chance of success, that probably effectively means that someone is almost certainly going to die at some point. Here's how:

You have a 99% chance of success. You normally breeze through encounters. You don't have to work hard. But, each time you do that, you roll the die. Eventually, you roll that 00. You have a failure. And, since you are no longer expecting it, when that failure comes you don't see it coming, you're overextended, you don't run, and someone gets pasted across the wall. Players with very high success rates will tend to get sloppy, and if you're sloppy on that one in a hundred, it won't end well for you.

Such campaigns do not last.

For you, maybe. I have played in long-running campaigns where it was *guaranteed* that nobody would die unless they chose to. As part of the game rules, death was off the table entirely, except by player choice. But the game ran for five and more years, and only stopped as people moved across the country.

Do not confuse your preference to what can actually happen in the world.
 

Janx

Hero
I think the whole matter of risk and failure is a complicated question.

Not everybody even recognizes failure as failure. There are some positive thinking folks who just don't see a loss as a loss.

Consider a PC fighter, entering a room guarded by a robot that just happens to have the exact same combat stats as the PC.

If the 2 just go at it trading blows, the fight is basically a 50/50 chance the PC dies or the robot dies.

If the player is smart and does something like flood the floor, so the robot short circuits and freezes, or suffers penalties, then the PC's chance of success is obviously higher (what a rational player would desire).

If the PC rolls poorly during the straight fight, I don't think there's a rational player who would not run away, rather than die (especially if the PC was higher level).

Is this retreat a failure? Not exactly. Sure there's no XP or gold reward. Yet. The PC can regroup, try something different. Come back later. Find a different way around.

Consider if this robot encounter could be entirely bypassed? How is it a failure to run away from the robot and find another way around, when an alternative path could have been to avoid contact with the robot in the first place. The outcome is relatively the same. Even lost hit points come back, so it's not really a big deal to get hurt and run away.
 

Johnny3D3D

Adventurer
I believe that encounter difficulty should reflect what makes sense given the in-game story situation rather than a formula.

I also believe that tactics which make sense given the situation (as opposed to tactics which only make sense because of metagame assumptions built into a system) should be rewarded.

(I've found that a desire for both to be true as much as possible has guided me toward particular systems.)
 

Balesir

Adventurer
I believe that encounter difficulty should reflect what makes sense given the in-game story situation rather than a formula.
An in-game story that is created by you, the players (collectively or as a dictat by one - doesn't really make a difference). In making this story you have some criteria and guidelines, even if you don't consciously acknowledge what they are, for what is "acceptable" and what isn't. Thus, a "formula". The idea that "story" or "game reality" is somehow meted out by an independent force is frankly risible; the only agents present are the players (including the GM), so the source of anything in the game is - guess what - the players.

I also believe that tactics which make sense given the situation (as opposed to tactics which only make sense because of metagame assumptions built into a system) should be rewarded.
Oh, hey - do you have a source for what those "tactics which make sense" are? I would be agog to discover it if you do. So, I imagine, would all the world's military leaders, several generations of martial artists and every writer on military history who ever lived. Because I read a lot of stuff written about combat and tactics by such folk and I see no firm concensus upon this matter whatsoever.

Of course, you might alternatively be using what you imagine to be what makes sense - which is what many, many folk do in this situation. Which is just as "meta" as a set of game rules, when it comes down to it, but suffers from the enormous disadvantage that only you are privy to its rules. Which is even less suitable for roleplaying than a "metagamy" set of written rules is, since it implies that characters - even supposedly expert fighters - who have lived all their lives in the game world have no real evidence or information upon which to base their own mental model of how the world works...
 

NewJeffCT

First Post
I think the best encounters are the ones where the PCs go into them thinking they're all going to die/there's no way we can win - and, in the end, the PCs pull through by the skin of their teeth through a combination of good tactics and good rolling. I had a really big group before as DM and encounters took so long at higher levels that almost every encounter had to be critical to the story, so I had to throw one big encounter per session at them. I got to be really good at coming up with those "Oh My God, We're All Gonna Die!" encounters - i.e., after that Balor dies and explodes in the middle of the party, the lich that gated it in walks into the room, fully buffed and ready to rumble... and, it has a grudge against the party.
 

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