D&D 5E So, I figured out why 5e's encounter building is broken(and how to fix it)

FallenRX

Adventurer
While I've never been that interested in the encounter guidelines (my first campaign averaged Deadly x2), but I've found the quick matchup in Xanthars to be excellent. I've been using it during the 1D&D playtest, and I've had little issue.
That is surprisingly less accurate i found
 

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jgsugden

Legend
Party composition (especially with regards to what strengths the party has versus what weaknesses), player skill, environment, etc... all have a massive impact on determining how difficult an encounter will be for the PCs. To that end, any simple system designed to be a universal guide to balanced encounter building that provides any level of precise guidance is going to fail.

For example, 2 Manticores (CR 3 each) against 5 4th level PCs is a hard encounter.

In a dungeon, most 4th level parties will have an easy time with this combat. In a closed environment, they're about as tough as many CR 2 beaters.

However, if you put those Manticores out hunting on a massive plain and the PCs in question have no ranged attacks that can go beyond 80, that Hard encounter can be impossible. The Manticores fly faster than PCs move, they get 48 ranged attacks without possibility of counterattack (6 per turn at +5 for ~7.7, or about 23 damage actually dealt per round with AC 17 being typical) and then can close in for melee combat to finish off the remaining PCs if there are any still standing. While not brain trusts, they should be smart and wise enough to kill off healers first if they see healing magic. This hard encounter rises to a likely TPK against that group.

To that end: A simple encounter design system is best, but you need to supplement it by thinking through likely first rounds of combat to make sure the PCs are well situated ... if you can to balance for the party. Which I don't.

I create a world and let the PCs explore it. They have to be careful about encountering something beyond what they can handle. I put those threats in the world and they need to use their scouting, intelligence and guile to make sure they don't get in over their head. Their PCs live in a world with fearsome monsters - and the risk that they might encounter one before they are ready for it if they are not careful gives the setting more weight, realism and thrills.
 


ad_hoc

(they/them)
I use an alternative I got on this forum years ago that completely ignores the numbers multiplier. Still works reasonably well. I may try the method(s) mentioned above, but I just plug in numbers and I'm good to go.

But the main thing? No calculation will ever be 100% accurate. There will always be variation from group to group, along with types of creatures, how many encounters the group has had prior, environmental factors. Just as important? How effective is the group at combat and, of course, how effectively the DM runs the monsters. I've run for two different groups of the same level with the same options at the same time and one group was simply able to handle far more than the other.

I've adjusted my expectations for my group based on experience and it works pretty much as expected at least 80% of the time. Sometimes the dice are hot, sometimes I set up the environment to be a little too advantageous to the enemy or optimal tactics would simply be boring. So nothing is perfect, but you can get pretty close.

From what I've read of people's complaints on forums I see 3 major factors that mess things up for people.

1) parties of 6 or more. The game is just not designed for this and it would take a lot of page space to account for it.

2) DM combat skill. Each player is only in charge of what they're doing. The DM is not only needing to make decisions for all monsters in a fight but also needs to be thinking about other factors in the world that might come up. It's easy for player skill to outmatch DM skill even if the DM would be comparable to the players in a regular setting.

3) The DM "fudges" and makes things easier if the enemy creatures go on a lucky streak. This ensures that encounters can only be steamrolled and never go against the party in unexpected ways. Takes all the danger out of combat.
 

Oofta

Legend
From what I've read of people's complaints on forums I see 3 major factors that mess things up for people.

1) parties of 6 or more. The game is just not designed for this and it would take a lot of page space to account for it.
The rules seem to assume 4 person party of newbies with minimal magic. That, and a "deadly" encounter doesn't mean you're going to kill of a PC or two, just that it's fairly likely.
2) DM combat skill. Each player is only in charge of what they're doing. The DM is not only needing to make decisions for all monsters in a fight but also needs to be thinking about other factors in the world that might come up. It's easy for player skill to outmatch DM skill even if the DM would be comparable to the players in a regular setting.
Especially when you have a lot of monsters.
3) The DM "fudges" and makes things easier if the enemy creatures go on a lucky streak. This ensures that encounters can only be steamrolled and never go against the party in unexpected ways. Takes all the danger out of combat.
It's a tough balance. A TPK typically ends a campaign.

I get a feel for how deadly the group wants combat to be, and go from there. I don't fudge die rolls (I roll in the open) but I do sometimes use less than optimal tactics or don't use an ability that has recharged. I can always design encounters (even with encounters that are theoretically not deadly) that will kill one or more PCs by adjusting the environment.
 

Voadam

Legend
I wish there was more official advice on how to judge encounters for bigger parties.

My face to face group has 6 players, so the baseline is not quite where you want it to be.

For my four PC online group three of them have pet type things for action economy purposes which seems to throw off a bunch of calculations.
 


EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
To that end, any simple system designed to be a universal guide to balanced encounter building that provides any level of precise guidance is going to fail.
It worked incredibly well in 4e. 5e isn't so massively different that it should result in guaranteed failure to do a similar but not identical thing... which is exactly what the OP is proposing.
 

Haplo781

Legend
Considering it literally, explicitly did use he XP budget as the encounter building math, you're exactly right.

I will never understand why they abandoned such a clearly functional structure.
For real.

1 level X monster is a match for 1 level X PC. Elites are a match for 2, solos 5. 4 minions are equal to 1.

Want to know what a higher lower level monster is worth? Look at the XP value.
 

A lot of people factor in to encounter difficulty low CR monsters who are significantly weaker than the other monsters in the encounter (when the rules tell you not to factor them in).

An encounter with 6 Hobgoblins and a CR 8 Demon is not a '7 creature encounter' for example.

A lot of people also conflate CR with = to a challenge for a group of PCs of that level. That's not what it means in 5E.

A solo monster needs to be roughly 5 CR's or so higher than the Party level to be a Hard encounter for that party. A single monster whose CR = the party level is an Easy encounter at best.
 

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