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5E How do you create your encounters?

When do you create a combat encounter, how do you do it?

  • I use XP Thresholds from the DMG

    Votes: 9 16.7%
  • I use Xanathar's Guidelines

    Votes: 2 3.7%
  • I just wing it

    Votes: 28 51.9%
  • I use/modify encounters from adventures and random tables

    Votes: 1 1.9%
  • Other, please explain in thread

    Votes: 14 25.9%

  • Total voters
    54

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I design encounters based around goals of the competing parties, who or what will be likely opponents and if there's anything that I can throw in that will move the story along. Then I take into consideration what the goals are, how to implement those and so on.

As far as what monsters to use, I start by figuring out what would be thematically appropriate, including reskinning existing monsters or creating custom ones. Finally I use a spreadsheet that calculates PEL. I generally calculate medium and hard levels, occasionally deadly (depending on goal). That means that I can easily adjust based on story demands or based on how things are going. I also take into consideration the group - some groups are just far more effective than others.
 

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I also take into consideration the group - some groups are just far more effective than others.
This is very true and always worth considering - but I think often overlooked in this kind of discussion. I mean, you've got:

1) The stats of the PCs - generous rolling can be dramatically more powerful than stat-array or point-buy.

2) The subclass choices of the PCs on an individual level - are the PCs picking highly mechanically effective subclasses, or just cool ones?

3) The synergy between the classes/subclasses in the group or lack thereof. If the party is all-melee or light on casters generally that can make a huge difference to what they can cope well with.

4) The type and amount of magic items the PCs have - a party with even a handful of the charge-based items can be significantly stronger than one without, and if you have a ton of items but they don't work with what the PCs are doing, or the PCs just don't use them, then that can matter.

5) The tactical acumen of the players themselves, and how well they work together.

All of which can combine to make Deadly encounters pretty doable, or alternatively, in the other direction can make Hard encounters, well, definitely hard.
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
This is very true and always worth considering - but I think often overlooked in this kind of discussion.
A little while back I was running two groups at the same time. Same number of people, almost all with no experience, similar opponents, same rules and so on.

I had to throw far more at one group than the other to challenge them. What was a medium encounter for one would have been deadly for the other.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I agree. Not everyone builds optimized characters, and not every party has the standard mix of melee and control. Also, sometimes there's a Gnome Paladin.
Well, there is no fighting awesome, so sometimes you just have to be like water going around a rock. If it's an entire party of gnome paladins, just throw up your hands and surrender. It will be less painful. :p
 

Why assume similar encounters would play the same for different groups. These are free thinking people. Yes. Different people play in different ways.
 

A little while back I was running two groups at the same time. Same number of people, almost all with no experience, similar opponents, same rules and so on.

I had to throw far more at one group than the other to challenge them. What was a medium encounter for one would have been deadly for the other.
Yeah I've seen similar myself. Even with the same players, so similar tactical acumen and level of individual optimization, synergy can make a huge difference. I'm in two groups with largely the same players atm (as a player), and one of them just works drastically better mechanically, because the characters/abilities synergize with each other so much better, and because even the personalities of the PCs result in far fewer situations where the group is somewhat split up or the like.
 

MarkB

Legend
I start with what sort of encounter, featuring what types of opponent, I want to create, and come up with a base composition. Then I run that through Kobold Fight Club as a sanity check, tweaking the composition if it looks like it'll be too overwhelming or too trivial. I also check over individual monster abilities - what @Oofta mentioned above about groups of PCs also applies to groups of monsters, and sometimes you can find that what seemed like just a cool-sounding selection of critters turns out to actually synergise really well, tipping a balanced encounter towards being really deadly.

And, conversely, the opposite can be true - what seemed like a cool set of monsters may actually have capabilities and preferred tactics that step on each others' toes.
 

I also check over individual monster abilities - what @Oofta mentioned above about groups of PCs also applies to groups of monsters, and sometimes you can find that what seemed like just a cool-sounding selection of critters turns out to actually synergise really well, tipping a balanced encounter towards being really deadly.

And, conversely, the opposite can be true - what seemed like a cool set of monsters may actually have capabilities and preferred tactics that step on each others' toes.
Yeah this is also true - I'm particularly leery of grouping monsters with strong snare/root/restrain/slow-type abilities with even decent ranged attacker enemies, because unless the group has some way to break out of that, or shut the enemies down completely at range, that can be extraordinarily deadly.
 

MarkB

Legend
Yeah this is also true - I'm particularly leery of grouping monsters with strong snare/root/restrain/slow-type abilities with even decent ranged attacker enemies, because unless the group has some way to break out of that, or shut the enemies down completely at range, that can be extraordinarily deadly.
Indeed - and that's another factor. Beyond some parties being just more capable than others, different parties will have different specialisations and vulnerabilities. Some will be really good at focusing damage on a single target, but may get overwhelmed by more numerous, weaker opponents - or vice versa. Some may have excellent ranged capabilities but be unable to tank heavy damage dealers, while others may be so melee-focused that they can be flummoxed by even a relatively weak flying opponent.
 

werecorpse

Explorer
I use donjon encounter size calculator, plug in the number of characters and levels and find out how many CR x creatures equal a deadly or hard fight. Say it’s 3 CR 5 or 4-6 CR 3 or whatever.
Then I look at the list of monsters and look at the CRs around the ones suggested. In the above example I might decide to use two CR 5 as 2/3 the value and 2 CR 3 as the other 1/3. I know there’s some math about multiple monsters = higher danger but I don’t worry about that.
So I got a Hill Giant a troll (2xCR5) & 2 Bugbear chiefs (2 x CR3)
Once I have the cast of bad guys I come up with a story. Why are they there? The Bugbears have been sent by their tribe to pay a tithe to the Hill Giant clan. They sent a couple of chiefs because they were a cunning pair and they heard adventurers were in the area and they want to get them to attack the Hill Giants. They will try and surrender immediately a fight starts or try and do whatever they can to give the impression the Giants are rich and poorly defended (they arent). Them I look at that and decide the Bugbears aren’t really a threat to the PCs given they will surrender so I give the hill Giant an ogre slave and a couple of dire wolf Pets.

So it starts out looking at the numbers then goes off on a tangent focussing on the story.
 

Larnievc

Explorer
DMs and adventure writers, when you've got to make a combat encounter, what is your process to do so? If you've used different tools, which do you find most helpful?
I just wing it. If the baddie side could down the goodie side’s tank in three rounds or less it’s too hard.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
First couple of encounters for the campaign, I start with DMG (though I'll try Xanathar's next campaign) and see how the party does. I get an idea of what's a fair fight for the party, and then use that knowledge (to give them unfair fights). i reference it as they level up and we go from fantasy Vietnam to heroes, but actually use it less and less.

I get rather good ad judging what this specific party is good at dealing with and what they are not and adjusting - instead of winging it, call it "extensive practice tailoring to this group". I won't say that any encounter will be reasonable for another party, but that's not my goal. Might be too easy, too hard, have elements another party can't deal with, etc.
 

cbwjm

I can add a custom title.
When I first started playing I used the DMG encounter guidelines. 2nd session I think I dropped them and just went with whatever felt right for an encounter.
 

Tonguez

Hero
I use the 5 room dungeon structure to design encounters around a ‘theme’. I’m not so concerned about power levels (some monsters will slaughter the PCs in a fight - the challenge is for the PCs to NOT fight them)

Anyway the Encounter structure goes
1 Intro -Skill or Social Challenge that foreshadows the threat and sets the theme for the rest of the Encounter (even if its just a perception check, or a climb over the outer wall of an abandoned orchid)
2 Guardian - use a minion or pet of the BBEG, a Trap or a Red Herring
3 Set back - whatever wasnt used in 2 with the intention of wasting PC resources
4 The Boss Lair - take account of the ‘Boss’ Threat AND Lair Terrain AND Tactics (Lair Actions). The Boss can always be overcome in multiple ways (PCs dont have to kill it To beat it)
5 Cliffhanger - Reward, Revelation and Plot twist that leads to the next ‘Entrance’
 
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I’m a bit surprised at how prevalent an answer “Wing It” is.

From the DMG, I like to have an idea of what the XP budget is for the Adventuring Day, and also the XP budget for Hard and Deadly Encounters.

I have this information typically on post it notes, or written in my DM notebook as a guide in case I have to “Wing It” due to unexpected events.

The other DMG formulas I typically ignore, but consider the impact of terrain and other circumstances.

Quickleaf’s process sounds very similar to my own.

For Medium and lower encounters I just use the XGE tables. Past 3rd level, a Medium combat encounter is pretty easy, unless you have monsters ideally suited to the situation.

Due to this, a Medium encounter for me is often a Roleplay challenge, Riddle, Puzzle or other oddity.....something that is solvable by the players using clever play, but something that could also be bypassed or solved by 1-2 spells.

in 3e and 4e,(RAW 4e), I felt that Encounter curation was required to around 14th level, and then after that the PCs could handle anything, even if that meant fleeing.

5e, is more forgiving.....I find at around 9th level, a modestly effective group can handle most reasonable encounters.

Reasonable, however is going to be dependent on multiple variables, of course.
 

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