D&D General Tier 2 and 3 combats

GreyBeardDM

Explorer
Hello. Our campaign rumbled ever onwards. PCs are level 8 and after next week get to level 9. This is usually where my campaigns start to wobble for me.

This is down to the wealth of abilities and talents from the 4 PCs that my combats seem trivial.

Current party

Level 8 Ranger
Level 2 rogue/ level 6 wizard
Level 2 sorcerer / level 6 fighter
Level 6 paladin / level 2 sorcerer.

Standard party attack is paladin in and smite and the rogue/wizard hiding and pinging spells and hiding again.

So I am wondering if anyone has any good articles or blogs or just plain advice for making combat encounters more fun.

Just to point out I don’t want to nerf the PCs but do want to make combat last longer than 2 rounds !!
 

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GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Hello. Our campaign rumbled ever onwards. PCs are level 8 and after next week get to level 9. This is usually where my campaigns start to wobble for me.

This is down to the wealth of abilities and talents from the 4 PCs that my combats seem trivial.

Current party

Level 8 Ranger
Level 2 rogue/ level 6 wizard
Level 2 sorcerer / level 6 fighter
Level 6 paladin / level 2 sorcerer.

Standard party attack is paladin in and smite and the rogue/wizard hiding and pinging spells and hiding again.

So I am wondering if anyone has any good articles or blogs or just plain advice for making combat encounters more fun.

Just to point out I don’t want to nerf the PCs but do want to make combat last longer than 2 rounds !!
1) Can I join as another ranger or sorceror/fighter? Their jobs sound easy!

2) Keep tabs on character sheets. Specifically, the PC's most powerful abilities. You can expect these to come out for problem solving.

3) Attack in numbers. The paladin can smite only one at a time.

4) Weaknesses are a thing. It's fair for at least one, different, PC ability to be all-but-useless in a fight. Just don't make it the same one several times in a row. (Unless the PCs knew about it and went in anyway.)

5) 2 rounds is, if I may, a really good duration for non-boss fights.
 

GreyBeardDM

Explorer
Thanks for the replies


  1. Encounter - forest path, and a single Chimera , was doing a swooping attack, until wizard cast something that reduced its movement to 0 so fell out of the sky
  2. Encounter - Ruins with lots of uneven terrain. Enemies were a Gorgon, 7 soldiers and a giant type, some charm spells and plant growth ( great plan ) and again I caused little damage and the creatures were destroyed
  3. Encounter - different jungle path, 8 lions and an enhanced golden lion.
 

GreyBeardDM

Explorer
1) Can I join as another ranger or sorceror/fighter? Their jobs sound easy!

2) Keep tabs on character sheets. Specifically, the PC's most powerful abilities. You can expect these to come out for problem solving.

3) Attack in numbers. The paladin can smite only one at a time.

4) Weaknesses are a thing. It's fair for at least one, different, PC ability to be all-but-useless in a fight. Just don't make it the same one several times in a row. (Unless the PCs knew about it and went in anyway.)

5) 2 rounds is, if I may, a really good duration for non-boss fights.
of course you can join, we meet on Thursdays :)
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
First, it is okay if some or most battles go quickly, let the PCs feel like heros. But it is good to scare them and given them an unexpected challenge now and then.

Check out the Monsters Know What They Are Doing blog and books:


MCDM's Flee! Mortals has some cool mechanics that can spice things up and make things more challenging without just adding HPs and minions.

Beyond that, the biggest thing you can do to both make combats last longer and make them more interesting is change up the terrain. Smart creatures are not going to take on powerful characters out in the open. Go Tucker's Kobolds () on them.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Hello. Our campaign rumbled ever onwards. PCs are level 8 and after next week get to level 9. This is usually where my campaigns start to wobble for me.

This is down to the wealth of abilities and talents from the 4 PCs that my combats seem trivial.

Current party

Level 8 Ranger
Level 2 rogue/ level 6 wizard
Level 2 sorcerer / level 6 fighter
Level 6 paladin / level 2 sorcerer.

Standard party attack is paladin in and smite and the rogue/wizard hiding and pinging spells and hiding again.

So I am wondering if anyone has any good articles or blogs or just plain advice for making combat encounters more fun.

Just to point out I don’t want to nerf the PCs but do want to make combat last longer than 2 rounds !!
My rule of thumb is: Add ~1 twist/complication to most combats per tier of play. Change up the twists/complications you use to keep it fresh.

For example, 1st twist, what if your group faced a combat where some/all enemies are across a chasm or up a ledge? Might be hard for paladin to get into melee-smiting range immediately.

Or if that doesn't tickle your fancy, a different 1st twist, what if the enemy has an illusory double or disguised decoy to soak the paladin's alpha strike?

Then a 2nd twist, what if the cover (that sorcerer would usually hide behind) is dangerous or disintegration (like the Nothing from the Neverending Story)? Might require some different tactics from the spellslinger.

Or if that doesn't suit you, a different 2nd twist, what if the enemy is invisible? That'll require a different palette of spells to deal with.

Twists/complications can be anything. One of the villains wanting to switch sides or seeming ambiguous mid-fight. The floor collapsing and dropping everyone / scattering the party in the ruins below. Water flooding the room. The villain everyone should be focus-firing on revealing in dramatic fashion that the paladin PC's nemesis from their backstory is actually the villain's henchman in the fight.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Thanks for the replies


  1. Encounter - forest path, and a single Chimera , was doing a swooping attack, until wizard cast something that reduced its movement to 0 so fell out of the sky
  2. Encounter - Ruins with lots of uneven terrain. Enemies were a Gorgon, 7 soldiers and a giant type, some charm spells and plant growth ( great plan ) and again I caused little damage and the creatures were destroyed
  3. Encounter - different jungle path, 8 lions and an enhanced golden lion.
I love that @J-H asked this question and that you responded.

To look at these combats through my lens of "1 twist/complication per tier", these are all non-complicated combats. There are no twists, maaaaybe a hint of a twist in #2 but not really. These are combats designed through a low-level play paradigm.

EDIT: Quick examples of adding 2-3 twists/complications to each of these encounters...

1. Chimera swoops down on the forest path...
  • Twist #1 "Help us!": The encounter begins seeing smoke and flickering orange light ahead, where a wagon has been knocked off the trail and set aflame along with the tops of some pine trees. The pines trees crackle. As PCs get close they can hear sounds of people needing aid.
  • Twist #2 Blazing pines/Smoke fire: The chimera was out chasing down the cowardly wagon driver or the horses that got away, and its swooping back low over the party. It's not too smart so maybe it does a strafing run with its fire breath that either doesn't reach deep enough or PCs have cover/three-quarters cover against. But the real threat is the super-heated pine trees, wherein sap / pinecones start exploding over their heads... creating a blanket of smoke that makes it hard for wizard to get line of sight to chimera.
2. Battle in ruins against Gorgon, 7 soldiers, and a Giant...
  • Twist #1 Labyrinth below: The ruins are crumbling and have unstable sections. Blasting magic, intense violence involving slamming creatures into the walls, or very heavy beings like a paladin decked in armor, a giant, or a gorgon, may cause parts of the floor to collapse, dropping into a labyrinth 40 feet below.
  • Twist #2 Cover, cover everywhere: Due to the layout of the ruins there are ample places the intelligent foes (soldiers & maybe giant) can get total cover against snipers/casters. Fortunately, it's old stone and the cover is destructible. Unfortunately, see twist #1 above. Hehehe.
  • Twist #3 A light wind blows from the east: Storm clouds are on the horizon. At start of second round, a light wind blows, causing the gorgon's petrifying gas to drift twice as far!
3. A pride of 8 lions & a golden lion deep in the jungle...
  • Twist #1 Motivation: The lions are unusually agitated because of recent humanoid intruders that wounded some and scattered the pride. This can be learned with speak with animals, if the golden lion can talk and they try to speak with it, or if a sleuth PC pieces clues together. There might be a way to avert violence!
  • Twist #2 Ambush: Lions will try to spring an ambush, preferentially pouncing on any surprised PCs in pairs (for Pack Tactics). This isn't guaranteed against well-prepared PCs, so I have one more twist up my sleeve...
  • Twist #3 On a slippery slope: It's the jungle! It's wet and the terrain ain't flat! Anyone knocked prone (e.g. by a pouncing lion) immediately slides down the muddy slope (along with the lion) 1d6 x 10 feet. This creates some distance between PCs and added tension.
 
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Mix it up!
Which is really the gist of what everyone is recommending.

Adversaries (most of them) are smart or at least cunning and know how to survive. They didn't live this long by luck. Ambushes, retreating to fight another day, and surrendering can all be possibilities.

Also, change what defines victory. Sure, killing everything works, most of the time. But what about saving the children? Obtaining the McGuffin from overwhelming odds or even from non-evil humanoids?

Some other twists; hazards like molds, lava, collapsing roofs/bridges/etc. Anti-magic zones (the party wants to cross a chasm that is occupied by (ranged or flying non-magic creatures) and magic doesn't work here. Or wild magic or chaos, which can affect more than just spells, any power or ability acts differently. Make up a random table for each of your PCs limited powers and have them roll each time they try to use them (double damage, no damage, affects randomly, multiple targets, heals, etc)
 

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