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

Oofta

Legend
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.
PCs in 4E were a lot more homogenous and predictable in my experience. Even then, the rules weren't great; solos never really worked for example. A level 21 party should have at least broken out in a sweat when they took on Lollth instead of it being a cakewalk. 🤷‍♂️ But if you followed the standards you knew exactly how much magic people had when and so on.
 

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FallenRX

Adventurer
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.
You can pretty much just use the rules in the DMG,
just change the encounter modifier to 0.75 if the party outnumbers the monsters by 1 or 2
0.5 if the party outnumbers them 4 or more.(This part is actually in the DMG)
It gives you pretty decent results about how difficult an encounter is for the party. That is pretty accurate.
 
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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
PCs in 4E were a lot more homogenous and predictable in my experience. Even then, the rules weren't great; solos never really worked for example. A level 21 party should have at least broken out in a sweat when they took on Lollth instead of it being a cakewalk. 🤷‍♂️ But if you followed the standards you knew exactly how much magic people had when and so on.
Again--5e isn't THAT much different. Yes, a Fighter "can now do damage"* etc., but the vast, vast, vast majority of characters are going to fall within reasonably predictable ranges. Because most people aren't interested in weirdo tricksy "I literally cannot do damage ever" builds or the like. Things would be looser, but they wouldn't be useless.

And I think you seriously overplay the problems with solos. They were harder to balance than other things, yes. The same is true of 5e--to the point that they had to kludge in getting several "nope, that didn't happen" points (Legendary Resistance) and other such things. If problem A is present either way, but problems B-F all get addressed in one way or another by method 1 and not by method 2...well, you do the math.

*They never couldn't. Roles as straightjackets has always been a pernicious myth. But people cling to it nonetheless, so some lip service to their false beliefs is warranted.
 

Haplo781

Legend
Again--5e isn't THAT much different. Yes, a Fighter "can now do damage"* etc., but the vast, vast, vast majority of characters are going to fall within reasonably predictable ranges. Because most people aren't interested in weirdo tricksy "I literally cannot do damage ever" builds or the like. Things would be looser, but they wouldn't be useless.

And I think you seriously overplay the problems with solos. They were harder to balance than other things, yes. The same is true of 5e--to the point that they had to kludge in getting several "nope, that didn't happen" points (Legendary Resistance) and other such things. If problem A is present either way, but problems B-F all get addressed in one way or another by method 1 and not by method 2...well, you do the math.

*They never couldn't. Roles as straightjackets has always been a pernicious myth. But people cling to it nonetheless, so some lip service to their false beliefs is warranted.
Anyone who thinks 4e fighters "can't do damage" has never played a 4e fighter.
 


ad_hoc

(they/them)
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.

Especially when you have a lot of monsters.

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.
AFB but what I remember is that 'deadly' just means that there is a non-trivial chance that a character could die not that it is likely.

I also find people just read 'deadly' and get upset that it doesn't mean what they think it means. And they are right that the categories could be better named but the system still works as intended.

It isn't that it is wrong for a DM to fudge (though I personally don't like it) but it is wrong to blame the game for being too easy because the DM is fudging.
 

dave2008

Legend
And I think you seriously overplay the problems with solos. They were harder to balance than other things, yes. The same is true of 5e--to the point that they had to kludge in getting several "nope, that didn't happen" points (Legendary Resistance) and other such things. If problem A is present either way, but problems B-F all get addressed in one way or another by method 1 and not by method 2...well, you do the math.
IMO, 5e legendary monsters try to tackle the issues 4e solos had and are generally better for it.

IME 4e solo issues:
  1. Action economy. This was somewhat solved by MM3 and later solos with "instinctive" actions that allowed a solo one off turn action on initiative count +10. However, 4e monsters were still severely out gunned when it came to the numbers of actions. 5e Legendary actions are an improvement on this concept IMO and typical means a legendary monster can get 2-4 actions in per round.
  2. Status conditions. A couple methods were used to combat status conditions, but the eventual generic solution was again instinctive actions. Legendary saves are the 5e response; though effective, I think the 4e response was better as it mitigate the effect without completely eliminating it. LevelUp's "elite recovery" is a good translation of this in 5e.
  3. Hit Points. 4e solos was standard monster x4 HP which was to much for many. Many complained 4e solos were a grind because of this + issue #4. 5e "solos" have significantly less HP. A true challenging solo in 4e was level +4-5 which also meant a solo monster had a bit more HP than the whole party. In 5e a true solo is a legendary monster with a CR equal to lvl +8-10 and will have HP typically a but less, some times a lot less, then the whole party.
  4. Damage. 4e solos didn't do enough damage (particularly at high levels). The had 4x the HP of a standard monster, by only 2x the actions (typically) and used the same damage by level tables as the standard monsters. So they didn't necessarily do any more damage than a standard monster. 5e improved on this somewhat by pushing solos further out from the PC level (and this higher up the damage tables), but didn't really tackle this problem, particularly at high levels.

Finally, I do want to be clear that I really liked 4e monster design in a lot of ways. However, I like a 4e influenced 5e monsters even better. And with 5e adopting the mythic trait (essentially an improved version of 4e's elite monsters) I think 5e solos have gotten even better.
 

Oofta

Legend
Again--5e isn't THAT much different. Yes, a Fighter "can now do damage"* etc., but the vast, vast, vast majority of characters are going to fall within reasonably predictable ranges. Because most people aren't interested in weirdo tricksy "I literally cannot do damage ever" builds or the like. Things would be looser, but they wouldn't be useless.

And I think you seriously overplay the problems with solos. They were harder to balance than other things, yes. The same is true of 5e--to the point that they had to kludge in getting several "nope, that didn't happen" points (Legendary Resistance) and other such things. If problem A is present either way, but problems B-F all get addressed in one way or another by method 1 and not by method 2...well, you do the math.

*They never couldn't. Roles as straightjackets has always been a pernicious myth. But people cling to it nonetheless, so some lip service to their false beliefs is warranted.

Solos have never really worked in my experience. In my home game, I threw Lollth, a CR 35 solo brute, at a group of 6 level 21 PCs. The spider queen never stood a chance. So they may have worked for you, in my experience they did not.

I have no problem challenging parties most of the time but any guidelines will always just be a starting point. Oh, and even my "mostly solo" monsters have a sidekick or three.
 

jgsugden

Legend
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.
4E and 5E are massively different. 4E was designed to have uniformity to a ridiculous extent - to the point where people commented that a wizard, fighter, rogue and cleric all felt very similar in play. 5E restored differences, and in doing so made it harder to balance.
 

Voadam

Legend
I mostly played 4e but I took the 4e monster role concepts and applied them to monsters in my 1e Pathfinder games and a little bit of elite and solo concepts in my 5e games. For elites I generally gave double hp and had their attacks affect two targets instead of one (twin spell effects, two rounds of attacking in one round, two weapon fighting, whatever). For Solo's I generally give hp x the number of party members and have a normal monster's attacks affect multiple people at once (whirlwind attack style melee, turn a single target effect into an area of effect, etc.) and sometimes a reaction style thing to give more dynamic action to the fight.

It worked great in Pathfinder and it has worked well for me in 5e. I did this with a displacer beast, a boss ghost warlock, an ettin, and a boss necromancer that I remember in 5e.
 

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