D&D 5E [+] How do you make 5E more challenging?

Well, I didn't start my brewing that early, but I have the pdfs covering 5 years of brewing now... and still going strong (just like my coffee!). Yum! :coffee:😋
Well there are individual brewers such as yourself, and then there are places such as EN World where everyone gets to stir something new into the RPG. ;)
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Quickleaf

Legend
Whew, this is a huge topic. I have 3 overarching types of intervention to make it more challenging:

1. House Rules Specific to 5e
  • Campaign Resting changes rest structure to slow down healing and encourage seeking safe sanctuaries.
  • Dangerous Resurrection injects some uncertainty & tension into coming back from the grave.
  • Pernicious Poisons makes poisons do ongoing damage.
  • Spell Tweaks to address broken/OP spells.
  • System Shock.
  • Underwater Rules involve more ways to lose your held breath.
  • Wounds Near Death.
I have lots of house rules besides these that have a neutral effect or positive effect for players, just these are the ones that make 5e more challenging. @OB1 I do like your "dazed when downed" house rules – that's a pretty slick approach!

2. Monster & Trap Tweaks Specific to 5e

I absolutely hack monsters and traps to pieces and go crazy with what they can do. I've shared bits and pieces of my approach on ENWorld. I wish I had a cohesive system for this that I could share with you, but mostly it's creative sorcery. Yeah, it's a very "devil in the details" kind of approach. Always happy talk specifics about a monster/trap you're planning or to answer specific questions though.

3. General Design Principles (not specific to 5e)

Long list of things ranging from "include multiple and/or changing objectives" to "force them to move more" and even "present something they think they know (but don't really)." I'm not sure if these are relevant to what you're looking for, however.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
Want to really shake up a boring encounter? Give the bad guys a cantrip.

I was running a low-level group through a classic "ancient tomb" adventure, with the usual skeletons and zombies. And it was fun, but it started to get kinda dull and predictable after the first half-dozen battles. So to mix it up, I gave those skeletons the Eldritch Blast cantrip instead of the bows they were using, and the zombies all got Chill Touch instead of the same old slam attack. It was a LOT more fun, on both sides of the table.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Want to really shake up a boring encounter? Give the bad guys a cantrip.

I was running a low-level group through a classic "ancient tomb" adventure, with the usual skeletons and zombies. And it was fun, but it started to get kinda dull and predictable after the first half-dozen battles. So to mix it up, I gave those skeletons the Eldritch Blast cantrip instead of the bows they were using, and the zombies all got Chill Touch instead of the same old slam attack. It was a LOT more fun, on both sides of the table.
It also works to simply reskin the monsters’ attacks. You can keep (most) everything the same, but call it something different. Throw on a condition and/or swap the damage type, and suddenly a boring encounter comes alive.
 

Raiztt

Adventurer
I use a house rule that failed death saving throws do not 'go away' until you've taken a short rest. Pop-up healing is very annoying to me as a DM and as a player, and this encourages people to try and never go down in the first place.
 

Environment

A fight with goblins in a cave is OK.
A fight with goblins in a cave crisscrossed with unjumpable chasms is harder.
A fight with goblins in a dave crisscrossed with unjumpable chasms belching vision-blocking smoke is harder still, especially if the smoke moves from round to round.
Add in some wolves that can jump across the chasms to harass the PCs.
Add in a couple of really big goblins who attempt to Push the PCs into the chasms.
Add in an earthquake dropping rocks on everyone's heads.

Now it's challenging.

The same also applies to the Social and Exploration pillars.

An appointment with the Baron is easy to get, but add in a quarantine due to plague and in the worst rainstorm in history, and now things are challenging.
 

SlyFlourish

SlyFlourish.com
Supporter
A topic near and dear to my heart. I have a few things to suggest.

Work with the dials of monster difficulty and tweak to suit. Add monsters, add attacks, add damage, add hit points.

Use monsters from the Level Up Advanced 5e Monstrous Menagerie. Paul did an outstanding job making sure they stay on par. It's way better than the 2014 Monster Manual.

I humbly submit Forge of Foes for your perusal. You can download a free sample that includes a "monsters by CR" chart with better math than most monsters or you can look at the 5e Monster Builder reference document to gauge your interest. The book has tons of advice for building better encounters as well.

Jack up your encounter building baseline using the Lazy Encounter Benchmark.

Here's a new angle I'm toying with for figuring out a simple loose benchmark for a hard / edge of deadly encounter at each tier of play:

  • Level 1 – 1 CR's worth of monsters with no monster higher than CR 1/2
  • Level 2 to 4 – 5 CRs worth of monsters with no monster higher than CR 4
  • Level 5 to 10 – 20 CRs worth of monsters with no monster higher than CR 15
  • Level 11 to 16 – 40 CRs worth of monsters with no monster higher than CR 20
  • Level 17 to 20 – 80 CRs worth of monsters with no CR upper limit

    This is obviously an extremely loose gauge. Tweak to suit based on:

  • the number of characters
  • how well rested they are
  • their magic items
  • the experience of the players
  • the synergy of character classes
 

Retros_x

Adventurer
I try to avoid most homebrews that are just there to make the combalt more difficult. The more special rules me and my players have to remember the more complicated the game gets + they are often not playtested well enough. To run more difficult combat I do the obvious I am surprised to have not read a lot in this thread: I make the encounter itself more difficult? Either by design (environment, tactics etc.) or by math (calculate CR against a virtual party level that is higher than the actual party level). Works quite fine for me.

Some stuff I do doesnt effect difficulty directly: Increase monster dmg, but lower HP. In my games many fights take too many rounds because monsters are often hp bloated while making not a lot of damage. Easy fix I do on the fly is adjust both by 20-30% rate, whatever is easier to calculate in my head as a rough estimate.

Also I like to try out different resting rules, like gritty variant or safe haven. They are not affecting difficulty per se, but make the adventuring day actually viable outside of dungeons.

I never saw the need to adjust difficulty outside of combat except setting the DC of a check itself. I set the DC dependent of narration and the world, but indiependent of players abilites (wizard has the same DC to open a door like the barbarian). its 5=trivial, 10=easy, 15=moderate, 20=hard, 25=very hard, 30=almost impossible.
 

Horwath

Legend
exhaustion rules:

-1 to all d20 rolls, -1 to AC, -1 to all DCs
-5 ft speed per 2 levels, round down
max 10 levels, dead if you gain another exhaustion level after 10.

being knocked out gives 1 exhaustion level, this level goes away after short rest or being healed to 50% of max HP(might be 75% max HP if you want it even more gritty).

if a critical hit lowers you to less then half HP, gain 1 exhaustion level. goes away in the same rules as above.

having no available highest level spell slots as a spellcaster gives you one exhaustion level. removed on short rest.

short rest is 1min long but taking more than your proficiency bonus times per long rest gives one exhaustion level. this can only be removed by long rest.

having 0 HDs left gives 1 exhaustion level, removed when you regain any HD.


taking voluntary exhaustion levels:

if you suffer critical hit, take 1 exhaustion level to turn it to normal hit.

if you fail saving throw, take 1 exhaustion level to re roll the save. Once per short rest.

when you take Dodge action, take 1 exhaustion level to gain benefits of a short rest. No exhaustion levels are removed by this version of Short rest, but it still count as number of Short rest before exhaustion kicks in.

if you make melee hit, take 1 exhaustion level to turn it into critical hit.

Action surge, take 1 exhaustion level to take 1 extra Action on your turn. Once per short rest.

Blood casting: when you cast leveled spell, you can take a number of exhaustion levels equal to spell level. you cast the spell without using spell slot. Cannot be used on spell slots higher than 5th.
 


Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top