D&D 5E It's Official! Most of my encounters are "Deadly" (now updated with info through the end of 2022!)


Moderator Emeritus
So recently in another thread, I mentioned how I never bother to determine encounter level or difficulty, and only use CR as a rough estimate of appropriate challenge for a party of PCs. Mostly it is just laziness and not really working with how I think through an encounter. I am a "by feel" guy, especially since I find the conditions of a combat can make it a lot more difficult or easy - and potentially deadly, than just the opponents. I run opponents with reasonable intelligence comparable to what they are supposed to be (a dire rabbit vs. a town guard), strong instincts for fighting and how a fight is going if fighting is something they are expected to do regularly, and valuing their lives in balance with other motives they might value more (protecting young, nationalism, religious fervor, etc).

Anyway, I guess I am not that lazy because I then went on line and found this 5E Encounter Calculator and punched in the various encounters I've had in my Ghosts of Saltmarsh game and discovered the following breakdown:

Total # Encounters​

Yes. Out of 38 encounters, significantly more than half were technically deadly. (For the record, no PCs have died in this game yet).

So anyway, below I go through all the encounters in the order they were. .. um. . .encountered, with notes about how they played as compared to the technical threat level. I am starting with the first two "adventures" (or at least the first two points at which I awarded XP) and will post the others to follow in the next few days.

A Wizard's Fate (from Dungeon #37 [1992] - converted from 2E)
Encounter #Monsters (#)# of (N)PCs/LevelCRsDIfficulty
Skeletons (4)3/11/4Deadly
Giant Centipedes (4)4/11/4Deadly
Spiders (5)4/10Trivial
Bugbear Skeleton (1)4/12*Deadly
Guardian Knight (1), Guardian Warriors (2) - tapestry constructs4/11 and 1/8Deadly
Iron Cobra (modified)4/11Medium
Imp (1)4/11Medium*
Skeletons (8)4/11/4Deadly

Notes: Neither of those skeleton combats were remotely deadly. In the first, the three PCs present made quick work of the skeletons in about three rounds. In the second, they heard the armored skels marching up a hill and the party was already at the top, so they got behind cover and got a surprise round. It kind of blows my mind that what seems like a routine first encounter (a few skels) would equate to "deadliness" for 1st level characters. The real complication here is the Imp, apart from the first and last encounters, he was present for most of the other encounters, using hit-and-run tactics, causing trouble while invisible, and just enjoying being a potentially deadly pest as is its nature. Not just straight out fighting. He made any of those fights harder and the PCs did struggle, but I didn't fudge once. *That bugbear skeleton might really have been CR 1 (I'm guessing on that one), in which case he'd be a "Medium" threat. The party took a long rest after encounter 2, encounter 4, and encounter 7.

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh pt 1 (from Ghosts of Saltmarsh)
Encounter #​
Monsters (#)# of (N)PCs / LevelCRsDifficulty
Swarm of Spiders (1)4/21/2Trivial
Swarm of Spiders (1)4/21/2Trivial
Stirges (6)4/21/8Easy
Bandits (3), Scout (1), Ned (1)4/21/8, 1/2, 1Hard
Bandits (2), Scout (1), Hobgoblin Merc (1)4/21/8, 1/2, 1/2Medium

Notes: This represents just the first part of the adventure. These difficulty ratings seem more accurate, except the stirges fight was at least "Medium." Encounter #12 was made harder by the party being betrayed by an NPC. I granted XP after this part of the adventure b/c the party left the house and decided against going back but they did not hit 3rd level. Encounter #13 represents smugglers from behind a secret door the PCs did not discover trying to get the drop on them at the end of a short rest they took on the upper level. It was a protracted fight with people climbing through broken windows, curtains used for cover, the druid playing scout in ratform, and multiple attempts by one side to draw the other into the open. So it felt harder than "medium" but everyone had a blast!
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At that time they were Gnome Bard, Tiefling Ranger, Half-Orc Barbarian, Human Druid. The bard and ranger would later multiclass.
Moon druid? I ask mainly for the level 2 assessment. There is a common belief around the boards that the moon druid is very OP at level 2 (when it first gets wildshape). This tends to smooth out around level 4, and especially 5...but levels 2-3 it can be pretty darn good, so I'll be curious what your experiences with it.


Moderator Emeritus
In my experience, encounters which are just edging into Deadly are perfectly fine for a well rested party. It's only when you string several together and drain the party's resources that they start seriously risking taking someone out.

This makes me wish I had a record of the rests the party took between those encounters, if any. I could make a good guess based on memory and notes, but it I prefer real data. :cool:


If you want a laugh start testing how far you can keep pushing things & wait to see how many levels above the party that you need to take the deadly before they start really struggling.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
We need a context to evaluate this - can you group by between long rests? Deadly is assuming it's one of a series - if it's the only battle during a day it's far from that. Heck, even if it's just an early battle surrounded by easy ones. On the other hand, four deadly battles in a row is more meaningful.

Also, I do notice that the DMG calculations tends to put too much focus on multiple opponents, especially weak ones with a boss, that artificially shows harder than it is.

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