D&D 5E The Adventuring Day has nothing to do with encounter balance.

Oofta

Legend
Say more - not sure what you mean by "healthy mix of the two"...
The mix of combat and non-combat is always going to vary a bit based on the group and where you're at in the campaign, but I'd say I like roughly equal role play/exploration and combat. Maybe 40% combat, I've never actually timed anything. But it just depends. Sometimes we'll have a session where everything is just RP/planning/discovery and then the next will be mostly combat. So I like to switch it up.

It also depends on group and DM because some enjoy one aspect of the game more than the other.
 

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Oofta

Legend
For all the people complaining (as always) about how bad the guidelines are, all I can say is that they work reasonably well for me. I also don't find the current design guidelines for building encounters or the CR calculations to be much better or worse than any other edition. As others have said, it just depends on the players.

At one point I was running two groups that were the same levels, same number of PCs, similar mix of classes, same options, similar encounters. One group was simply better at combat than the other. There's no way any calculation or formula is going to ever be particularly accurate, all they can do is get you in the ballpark which 5E does for me. So even when most of the things were the same there was variation. Now throw in dungeon crawls vs urban adventures vs wilderness exploration. Roll for ability scores (and how generous are you on minimums and rerolls) or point buy, do 1 encounter per long rest or 10? Do you have 3 PCs or 8? Casual newbies or power gamers?

One of the biggest strengths of D&D is the flexibility and variation of styles of games you can run. One of the biggest weaknesses of D&D is the flexibility and variation of styles of games you can run. If you want a game that can give you solid challenge threat levels every time, you'd be better off playing a board game. 🤷‍♂️
 

Voidmoji

Perpetually Perpetrating Plots & Ploys
I also don't find the current design guidelines for building encounters or the CR calculations to be much better or worse than any other edition.

When I read things like this I wonder if the poster has played 4e. The encounter design rules for 4e worked better than any other game I've played. I've not ran 5e, but from everything I have read about the CR system of 5e, they are not in the same league.
 

gorice

Hero
To get back to the OP: while I don't have a high opinion of 5e's encounter-building rules, I think the problems are a lot deeper, and probably insoluble without making big changes to the game. It's also tied to a lot of the issues that make 5e combat, in my years of experience, not very fun. In my experience:

  1. The extreme predictability of most fights (many attack rolls per turn, with damage carefully balanced so that a single attack is rarely decisive, and no results from most attacks other than damage) turns most combats into grinding wars of attrition. The PCs are favoured by design, and any initial advantage tends to tell in the end with this kind of play. And, combat has to favour the PCs, because the losing party usually has no practical way to extricate itself, the stakes for combat tend to default to 'all or nothing', and adventure modules generally assume that the party always wins.
  2. Most actions that do something other than damage aren't worth taking. On the one hand, improvised actions and grapples have a huge opportunity cost, since they mean diverting an action from the all-important damage tally, and are generally only used as DPR modifiers (i.e. to give advantage to attacks) or to fix enemies in place so they can be attacked. On the other hand, movement is fairly 'cheap' -- getting pushed around or knocked down doesn't really cost you anything except a bit of movement. So, what you see from 'martials' are lots of basic attacks with the occasional grapple.
  3. Spell slots and weird magic items (or big rechargeable abilities, in the case of monsters) are the only real wild cards in combat, and they favour the PCs. Monsters don't usually get these, with some notable exceptions, like dragons and banshees, which are otherwise much weaker than their CR would suggest. Instead, monster special abilities tend to be gated behind multiple rolls (e.g. to hit, then save), which makes them unlikely to actually do anything. The general trend is that the party with big spell slots online can pretty reliably blow up an encounter, and the monsters are either without any abilities that compete, or so flimsy that they get little use out of them.
Fixing this of this would mean reworking some or all of the following: the role of attrition; the relative costs of actions and movement (i.e. going back to 4e, or something more freeform); the stakes of combat; the very concept of the railroaded adventure module; the 'swingyness' of individual attacks; the idea of the 'simple' fighter; and caster supremacy (or, long rest vs. short rest balance, if you prefer less polemical terms).

That's a lot of sacred cows! I'll eat my hat if they ever fix it.
 

Oofta

Legend
When I read things like this I wonder if the poster has played 4e. The encounter design rules for 4e worked better than any other game I've played. I've not ran 5e, but from everything I have read about the CR system of 5e, they are not in the same league.
I played 4E for the duration of its release and ran a campaign up to 30th. A level 21 party stomped all over Lollth, who was supposed to be CR 35.

No set of guidelines have ever been perfect in my experience.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
1.) There are too many variables for us to ever get a system that prececisely balanceds combat.
Precision is relative and chosen by the designer, not an absolute dictat from on high. The whole point of statistical analysis is to take things that have a lot of variables you cannot control, and find ways to account for their variability. Dice games are inherently statistical. It is not hard to get useful results if you just do the math required. It is just so infuriating to see time after time people asserting that because perfect precision is impossible, good precision is impossible, which is simply, objectively false.
 
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Voidmoji

Perpetually Perpetrating Plots & Ploys
I played 4E for the duration of its release and ran a campaign up to 30th. A level 21 party stomped all over Lollth, who was supposed to be CR 35.

No set of guidelines have ever been perfect in my experience.
I didn't say perfect, I said better.

I've not ran or played in epic 4e, so perhaps you are right. Before that, as long as pre-MM3 monsters are adjusted, 4e gave me consistent results over many years. Far better than 3e ever did, for sure.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I played 4E for the duration of its release and ran a campaign up to 30th. A level 21 party stomped all over Lollth, who was supposed to be CR 35.

No set of guidelines have ever been perfect in my experience.
Because perfection is impossible, so we should never ever try to do anything pretty good, right?

If you can't outdo da Vinci, why do you even paint? If you aren't pooping on prime number days by age 0.7, don't even bother learning arithmetic. Perfection or bust, and since perfection is impossible, bust it is!
 

Clint_L

Legend
I think other issues that are relevant are 1) the length of the session, and 2) the impact of actual play shows.

If you are playing 8-10 hour games, or longer, like we did when I was in high school, then a bunch of encounters make sense. But if your sessions are 2-4 hours, which I think is more typical, especially as we get older, then having a ton of encounters becomes impractical, and carrying the adventuring day on between sessions, while sometimes necessary, is not really optimal. So that puts a practical pressure on how many encounters happen during an adventuring day.

Then there is the impact of watching actual play shows, which I think are increasingly influential on how many think the game is optimally played. If you watch an episode of Critical Role, there is typically one combat encounter over a 3-4 hour session. Sometimes none. The emphasis is very much on story and character, and as all of these people are entertainers first and foremost, it makes sense that combat encounters are not a priority. So this normalizes a low encounter session.

And I stand by my assertion that D&D combat is kind of slow paced and often boring. Players often tune out when it isn't their turn, and a fairly straightforward combat can still take an hour to resolve, particularly with a large group.

When I incorporate a published adventure into my campaign, the first thing I do is eliminate at least half of the encounters. Most of them are a waste of time and don't advance the story in an appreciable way. But this then absolutely impacts the degree of challenge. Usually I compensate by making the meaningful encounters more dangerous, but this an art rather than a science.
 
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jgsugden

Legend
They become tedious slogs because the battles don't really matter. Why are we fighting? Because we're supposed to have X fights per adventuring day. When the system is designed to have X number of fights, at some point you're going to run out of reasons and fights will seem contrived. In a lighter system, this isn't a problem because combat is a breeze. In a heavier system like D&D it can become a chore.
You are absolutely not getting what I am saying.

Imagine the final battle of a campaign. It has been 20 levels of adventuring in the making. A powerful spellcaster is in the heart of their base and is casting a ritual that will change the face of the world in a nightmarish way - and the PCs want to stop it. They have to get through waves of enemies just to reach that powerful spellcaster.

Option 1: The DM just has the enemy attack the PCs to kill them. Wave after way. Attack. Breath fire. Tail Spikes. Disintegrate spells. Blah, blah, blah.

Option 2: The first wave of enemies open up with a Scatter Spell to split up the party and contain them. Then, they use Wall Spells, to slow the PCs down and prevent them from getting to where they want. Enemies know the enraged barbarian can't be grappled and is essentially immune to hold monster - but he gets Banished and another PC has to track down the caster and break their concentration to bring the barbarian back.

A REALLY good DM can make either approach good, but it is a lot easier to make the second option interesting and engaging because the challenges are constantly shifting. You're not just dealing with probability and erosion of hps - you're dealing with tactics and strategy.

This isn't just a 'from the air example' - this is an actual final battle of a campaign I ran. The enemy knew that all that mattered was delaying the PCs, so all they did was delay them. They didn't try to kill them because it was too hard. Instead, they tried to slow them down. The PCs found ways to bypass the defenses, to turn my 'traps' into benefits, and eventually to get into the endzone and kill the BBEG. However, almost every round of combat as they fought their way through the gauntlet was different - and the bad guys focusing on slowing them down, rather than killing them, was noted by the players. The player that called it out said, "and it makes sense ... they know they can't kill us." In other words - the 20th level heroes felt like bad @$%es. It was a really awesome final culmination of the campaign - and no PC ever dropped below half HPs.

Think about comic books. They tells stories about heroes, too. Sometimes Spider-man gets beat up. However, sometimes he kicks butt and doesn't even get a scratch. Those are the moments that make you think of him as a competent and capable hero - and they can be fun parts of the story as well.

If you think battles with objectives other than a deadly challenge are just tedious slogs, you are absolutely missing out on great opportunities to make your game better.
 

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