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5E Urban Campaigns and Challenge Rating


R.G. Wood
I'm running an urban campaign and I'm finding my players aren't finding my encounters too tricky.

In an urban campaign, where resources and opportunities for rest are plentiful, should I up the challenge rating for encounters?

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You could certainly increase the challenge rating a bit, if your group is just going back home and resting immediately after every encounter.

Another trick is to make the adventures time-dependent. Sure, they could go back home to rest after that encounter, but by then the McGuffin will be securely in that guarded vault, or the enemies will have time for back-up. Or heck, some other adventuring group comes in and saves the day. Make it clear that they have limited time to deal with whatever threat they're facing.

I wouldn't make large moves up the dial. Maybe add an additional opponent so a 1on1 contest becomes 5on4 or such. Make slow shifts to see how your players are reacting to things.

I know I only do hard, deadly or very easy (usually random to provide setting flavor) encounters. That leads to a different resource use rate than the standard assumption. Your players will adjust.


How about removing the opportunity for rests? Make objectives time sensitive or have the baddies bring the fight to them before they can complete their rest and replenish health, spells and resources.


First Post
One of the tricks I used was to have a part of the adventure occur in the sewers. The players need to find something there and the sewer collapses behind them, forcing them to go forth and complete the "Dungeon" before resting.

Another trick is to have the objectives time dependent. They must find "insert-item" before dawn or the curse can never be broken, they must find proof of innocence before the execution or perhaps the gates of hell open at sunset unless they manage to find and stop the evil cult leader are examples.

Third trick is to constantly disturb the players if they rest, have them hunted by a group of thieves or something :)

Increasing the CR can kick back as you might have a premature fatality.

Hope this helps.


To add to the advice already given by the others above, which I agree with all of (assuming no one posts between akr71 and myself), there is one other thing that I find helps in keeping each encounter that takes place at my table more entertaining from a challenge point of view:

Never let your players be certain that they know how many encounters are happening before their next long rest. Mix up days, have some with next to nothing to spend resources on, and some with tons of stuff to spend resources on, and do so with as unpredictable a pattern as you can manage.

Eventually the players will start to limit their resources expenditure in any given encounter, making it more likely that each encounter feels like a challenge, just so that they can be sure that if today is a busy day for their characters they aren't going to face an encounter without any limited resources remaining to help them overcome it.


With urban campaigns, all of the above is good.
As an example, from TV, the series 24 could be used as a template, where things all take place in the span of 1 day, revealing new leads but accumulating in a definite end for this particular event. Background info
they come across however are tie ins for further single day events several days away.
Or, yes, they fight, find out the MacGuffin is being moved after a tough battle and give em the choice, track it down now, or start looking the next morning, but it's out of the city (locked away) and they need to track down those who know where it was headed. ...

I'd agree with this estimate. Slowly ratchet up the difficulty, rather than just jumping ahead to Dark Souls levels of challenge. That way you can find the sweet spot without TPK'ing the group.

I wouldn't make large moves up the dial. Maybe add an additional opponent so a 1on1 contest becomes 5on4 or such. Make slow shifts to see how your players are reacting to things.

I know I only do hard, deadly or very easy (usually random to provide setting flavor) encounters. That leads to a different resource use rate than the standard assumption. Your players will adjust.


Elder Thing
My campaign is currently based in a city, so urban encounters are something I deal with fairly often.

One method I've found works is to up the deadliness of the encounters (as others have suggested). My logic here, though, is as follows: the time players spend recuperating after each fight means fewer encounters in a given adventuring day. Since the encounter guidelines assume a level of resource depletion across the course of a day, what might count as "deadly" after three earlier fights might only rate as "mildly bothersome" to a full-strength party.

Could you be more specific about why your encounters aren't too tricky? Is it a resource thing (as it seems most of us have assumed) or something else?


First Post
Regardless of the setting, combat CR is only accurate if the group is having to fight "6 to 8 medium or hard encounters in a day." Mechanically, the term "day" should be considered the same as Long Rest. So if your group is doing 2 encounters, then heading home to sleep, you have a few choices.

1. Use the optional "Gritty Realism" rule in the DM Guide that makes short rests take 8 hours, and long rests take a week or so. This allows you to keep a slower combat pace between long rests, so that encounters are as challenging as they should be according to the CR. The downside to this is you'll possibly get pushback from players who don't like the idea of waiting a week to fully recharge their spells and abilities, no matter how much you try and explain that it makes no difference, mechanically.

2. Throw higher CR encounters their way. The problem with this method is that if you go just a few CR higher than you should, you start open the possibility of character deaths via one-shot crits and things, because the monsters are "balanced" with the assumption that players are higher level (thus have more health and defenses). The other downside is that those monsters themselves have more health, which means even if the offensive side of combat isn't too OP, it can still mean having several rounds where people are just hacking away at too many HP.

3. Balance encounters "as written" based on the normal CR calculations, but make a few key changes. When doing this, I generally drop the HD by a few points, increase the attack bonus by 1 or 2, and remove any special defenses that the party has no way to deal with (such as immune to normal damage, and the party is still level 3 or something). This is quick, can keep combat fast, and lets the monsters hit a bit more reliably, but their damage potential is still the same.

4. Use "legendary" templates for solo encounters. Lots of monsters in the MM have legendary abilities. The whole point of those rules is to address the imbalance of Action Economy where you have a group of people beating on a single monster. Legendary (or Lair) abilities essentially let the monster do more stuff in a round, and partly scales with the number of players. The abilities themselves don't have to actually sound "legendary," but they can be stuff like "make an extra attack" or "heal 1d8 wounds." Since they happen at the end of each player's turn, it can make combat feel much more like a good boss fight.


First Post
The other thing I would say about running an urban campaign is that actions have consequences. You can't mow down a group of bandits in the middle of a village and not expect to have either the local law enforcement or associates of the bandits become aware of the party's presence. This could include up to tracking them to their resting place and torching it.


R.G. Wood
Could you be more specific about why your encounters aren't too tricky? Is it a resource thing (as it seems most of us have assumed) or something else?
It's a mixture of high opportunity for rest and the fact that a lot of what happens isn't combat-based, so PC resources aren't drained.


With urban encounters, it's context that is key.

In most cities you cannot kill people without the local authorities dumping a ton of pain on you before your inevitable stretch on the gallows.

In most urban areas, the challenges will be social (albeit at different levels) - from the manoeuvring of the nobility to the cut-throat aspects of guild trade deals to fencing goods in the thieves quarter.

Most lethal stuff is done in secret, and the best way to keep it a secret is to ambush and kill fast, then hide the bodies. Have your NPCs use mob tactics and lots of sneak attack bonuses. Use poisons or drugs, seduction and sleeping draughts, kidnapping and having characters chained up in a secret temple in the sewers awaiting their own sacrificial executions...

Cities etc. are not dungeons without a lid on them, they are much more complex, and the challenge ratings of opponents must inevitably include the calculations related to traps, ambushes, favourable ground (whose temple are you in and what is their level of political autonomy from the crown?), the ability to call reinforcements (a noble calls for guards) and the need to keep things non-lethal so as not to end up being guillotined by the Duke's magistrate.

Also, don't forget that very high level NPCs live in and visit cities and can 'just happen' to be walking by when stuff kicks off. It's easy to modify the parameters of an encounter that has lead to violence etc. with the proximity of others who might decide to get involved when they see what's happening. You wouldn't be able to justify their appearance and involvement in a dungeon, or in the wilderness far from anywhere, but in a city, everyone is in much closer proximity to each other, and anything within reason can come out of the nearest alleyway.

Resting in a city may also prove dangerous if you have enemies there. If you do nothing all day while the enemies do a lot, you will lose.
Another thing is, that if you attack an enemy base in the city, you need to do it in one go. Maybe a short rest break is possible, but a long rest is not.

Instead of increasing encounter difficulty, yo6 should chain encounters. Have enemies flee and bring reendorcements. Let your fights attract more enemies.

Have your fight attract the town guards!
Have rules in the city against unauthorized weapon and magic use.

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