D&D 5E Making Challenging Combats?

Retreater

Legend
Remember that 5E is largely about resource depletion, so to challenge a party of strategic players, you have to use a lot of encounters in a day to wear them down. This runs counter to the way most groups play, which is only a few more challenging encounters, in which case you've got to throw the kitchen sink at them.
Which unfortunately isn't how I'm running the campaign, which is based around short, episodic sessions due to our schedules.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Mark1733

Explorer
Great thread. I am glad this explained a lot, because I have pulled back on some encounters I had in mind (for my first 5E DMing experience) thinking that I was heading for TPKs based on the encounter builder. I will be less afraid to challenge the party. Great question. Great responses.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Which unfortunately isn't how I'm running the campaign, which is based around short, episodic sessions due to our schedules.
Not that anyone is to blame, but that is a mismatch between your chosen system and the style for this table. The encounter match isn't designed that way, and the balance between at-will classes and long-rest-recovery classes definitely is absolutely thrown off doing that.

Try cutting every daily usage in half, round down. Half number of rages, half number of slots per spell level, etc. That would be a rough way to match their design calibration and your playing style.

Alternately try another RPG. 4e can handle whatever length you want to run. Many game systems don't put resource attrition front and center like D&D does as a major point for encounters. But with D&D you can't escape it.
 

What do you do? Like, do you stage 16th level challenges for such a party?

Beware that at these level (15+) all the warnings expressed in this thread are compounded. The PCs are entering the "borderline impossible to challenge" area.

I witnessed once a CR-appropriate challenge at level 20 that ended with the party having lost 9 HP. Across all of them.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Coming back to 5e after some time in other systems (WFRP, OSE, PF2), it's hitting me that I'm having some trouble building challenging fights. I have five 6th-level characters (paladin, ranger, cleric, wizard, and monk), and they are easily handling battles that are considered "Deadly" by the encounter building guidelines (12th and 13th level fights).
Is there a rule of thumb that you use to present a decent challenge for a standard fight? I'm certainly not looking to TPK the party, but just enough where they have to use some tactics and sweat a little during a battle instead of the group being basically unscathed with most of their resources remaining.
And yeah, I know I can add complications to the fights (monsters who can't be grappled, battles underwater, combats that require navigating creative obstacles and traps), but this design would be exhausting for me to prepare for every fight and would likely get frustrating for the group.
What do you do? Like, do you stage 16th level challenges for such a party?
This is surprising to me, honestly.

The biggest issue with 5E is PCs can deal out SO MUCH damage so quickly that one or two foes die too fast.

A very simple change you can try is this: max out the HP of the creatures they are fighting so they last a bit longer and the PCs have to use more resources. It helps a lot IME.
 
Last edited:

And yeah, I know I can add complications to the fights (monsters who can't be grappled, battles underwater, combats that require navigating creative obstacles and traps), but this design would be exhausting for me to prepare for every fight and would likely get frustrating for the group.

I mean, you shouldn't do it for every fight, just a substantial chunk of those fights which you want to have be actually challenging. You can still have other fights for plot reasons, setting ecology reasons, or just to give PCs a chance to steamroll enemies with their awesome abilities and feel cool.

But when you have a big set-piece battle there should be environmental complications of some sort the majority of the time. It need not be the sort of ultra-frustrating "underwater combat" levels of complications, just the sort of space where a melee character probably at some point has to spend a turn dashing to get where they need to be or where the ranged character probably has to do a held action to hit an enemy using cover at some point. Basically things to ensure that most PCs have at least one turn where they don't get to exploit the action economy to the absolute max, because, unless you are a past-master at every D&D monster they usually end up not quite exploiting the action economy to their maximum potential every round, and this is ultimately a lot of why the game ends up so balanced in favor of the PCs.
 

aco175

Legend
I like to have waves of bad guys. Last night we had a fight with the 5th level PCs fighting some dragon cultists. I had a CR5 leader and a CR3 caster which is easy for the PCs. I added 4 base cultists to the room at CR1/4 each and had another 4 circling around the PCs to get to the rear of them. That is 10 bad guys but 8 of them tend to die with one hit from the fighter or barbarian. The PCs kicked in the door and met the first 4 mooks and began to press into the room. One of the PCs noticed the other 4 coming around to the rear of the PCs and went to take them 4 out leaving the other PC to go into the room. At the same time, the barbarian failed his save and is now held. Now there is 3 PC in the room and the 2 boss bad guys after the other mooks died.

Now the rogue is trying to attack the bad caster, but does not have help so dealing like 7 damage with no backstab. The cleric steps up and is dealt lots of damage by the CR5 leader after taking a lightning bolt and part of a fireball. The cleric drops about the same time the barbarian breaks the hold. The gut in the hall kills the last of the mooks and gets to come back in to the main room. The bad caster cast a mass cure and now a couple of the mooks stand back up to attack the mage PC who cast fireball. In the end, the rogue managed to get the cleric a healing potion and the rest of the PCs now had a 5 on 2 advantage that quickly turned to 5 on 1 leaving the CR5 guy dying the next round.

The fight was challenging and tough enough with the dividing the party and spell saves needed. In the end, things went fine for the PCs but was a bit hairy for a while.
 

Retreater

Legend
Not that anyone is to blame, but that is a mismatch between your chosen system and the style for this table. The encounter match isn't designed that way, and the balance between at-will classes and long-rest-recovery classes definitely is absolutely thrown off doing that.

Try cutting every daily usage in half, round down. Half number of rages, half number of slots per spell level, etc. That would be a rough way to match their design calibration and your playing style.

Alternately try another RPG. 4e can handle whatever length you want to run. Many game systems don't put resource attrition front and center like D&D does as a major point for encounters. But with D&D you can't escape it.
Yeah, I know. But there's only so much a DM can do when their group wants to return to 5e after having tried several other systems and found it to be their "sweet spot."
To the antithesis of this example, I'm also running a game for another group (with 2nd level characters) that manages to feel challenging, exciting, and varied each session. It's just that the very principles of the encounter design are already so different by 6th level.
Examples:
Assassin is poised on a shadowy rooftop. Monk does a shadow step up there as a bonus action, grapples the guy. Paladin grows wings for a minute, flies up there and smites the guy repeatedly until he's paste.
A crowd of enemies stand between the ranger and his quarry. A quick bonus action of Zephyr Strike, and the ranger can do laps around the foes for no consequence and can easily get to the boss.
Want +10 to Stealth, that's Pass Without Trace. Need to see in the dark without a torch? The monk can spend a ki point (which she gets back in a short rest) and see for 8 hours.
Magic weapons make (nearly) all damage resistance pointless.
The PCs in my group typically have 18-19 AC (with the exception of the wizard). Monsters rarely hit and can't keep up with the damage output of ki flurries, paladin smites, and the ranger's two longbow attacks a round.
 

Stormonu

Legend
This is surprising to me, honestly.

The biggest issue with 5E is PCs can deal out SO MUCH damage so quickly that one or two foes die too fast.

A very simple change you can try is this: max out the HP of the creatures they are fighting so they last a bit longer and the PCs have to use more resources. It helps a lot IME.
This is something I used to do in older games - tend to give the enemy 3/4 max hit points, and bump subbosses/bosses up to max hit points.

P.S.: You can also do the reverse for "minion style" enemies - give them 1/4 or minimum hit points, depending on how quickly you want the PCs to mow through them (Sometimes it's good to feel like a powerhouse and not always be on the recieving end of getting swamped by "superior enemies").
 

dave2008

Legend
According to the DMG, that's a 15th level fight, but within the realm of "deadly" category for their level not considering the multiplier for a number of enemies.
What do you mean by "a 15th level fight?" The DMG doesn't design encounters by level. The are designed based on difficulty and XP budget / character level. Saying it is a "15th level fight" has no meaning as far as I can tell in the DMG. So what do you mean by it?

EDIT: Notice that an XP budget per PC of 1400 is an "easy" fight for 15th level PC, a "deadly" fight a 6th level one, or an "epic" fight a 4th level PC.
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top