D&D General Why Unbalanced Combat Encounters Can Enhance Your Dungeons & Dragons Experience

Enrahim2

Adventurer
Another way to think about it is that "story" is a byproduct. We play adventurers boldly confronting deadly perils in worlds of swords and sorcery, and whatever happens while doing that is "the story." A character dying along the way is just part of that "story." As it says in the PHB:

"Sometimes an adventurer might come to a grisly end, torn apart by ferocious monsters or done in by a nefarious villain... The group might fail to complete an adventure successfully, but if everyone had a good time and created a memorable story, they all win."

If the DM sets up the game in such a way that The Point is to experience a given plot with the same characters that began the campaign, then it's best to just take death off the table in my view. Otherwise, death is just another turn in the emergent story.
My bolding. This is not a free pass to murder PCs. Preventing a random player character death from being a serious blow to having a good time and the overall memorable shape of the story is a tricky art indeed. More often it tend toward stories most involved rather want to forget.. Rare are the occations where even a heroic character death is fondly remembered.
 

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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I still think it's good enough, and the fact that it can be eyeballed is a point in its favor, not a criticism in my view.
There is a very big difference between

"it can be eyeballed," meaning you don't need to use precise tools to get a reasonably accurate reading, but it certainly helps

Vs

"it doesn't matter whether you eyeball it," meaning there's no benefit gained from using the precise tools and in fact you may get more benefit by NOT using the precise tools.

Because the latter is exactly the advice I have seen. Repeatedly. It's not, "oh you don't have to worry about using the formulae, it's all really intuitive." Instead, it takes the form, many times over, of "DON'T use the precision tools, they actually have a higher chance of being wrong than just going with your gut on how difficult an encounter is expected to be."
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
There is a very big difference between

"it can be eyeballed," meaning you don't need to use precise tools to get a reasonably accurate reading, but it certainly helps

Vs

"it doesn't matter whether you eyeball it," meaning there's no benefit gained from using the precise tools and in fact you may get more benefit by NOT using the precise tools.

Because the latter is exactly the advice I have seen. Repeatedly. It's not, "oh you don't have to worry about using the formulae, it's all really intuitive." Instead, it takes the form, many times over, of "DON'T use the precision tools, they actually have a higher chance of being wrong than just going with your gut on how difficult an encounter is expected to be."
I would not agree with the advice you've seen then. Eight years into playing, I think they're good enough, not always 100% accurate, with a greater chance of inaccuracy if the group has very experienced players with tactical acumen. For those groups - who are not the majority, surely - it's a useful benchmark from which to build encounters. I still consult challenge rating calculators before finalizing my prep, despite having very capable players, just to make sure my eyeballing is at least somewhat in line. For everyone else, it's as close to correct as can be achieved in my view. That's a reasonable place to sit for something that is so complex as I see it. The "precision" you seek is likely not possible. The closest I've seen for that was D&D 4e and even that wasn't always reliable.

But, hey, you can either create a time machine and go back to rewrite the game or you can publish your own CR system and sell it. Or I suppose you can keep complaining about it. Whatever works for you.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
But, hey, you can either create a time machine and go back to rewrite the game or you can publish your own CR system and sell it. Or I suppose you can keep complaining about it. Whatever works for you.
This argument would carry more weight if we weren't currently in the middle of a playtest period, where convincing others of a particular course of action might actually have some impact on the final result...
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This argument would carry more weight if we weren't currently in the middle of a playtest period, where convincing others of a particular course of action might actually have some impact on the final result...
It's not really so much an argument as it is a suggestion about potentially more productive courses of action as far as the discussion in this thread is concerned. As well, there's a separate forum for One D&D that will likely have more eyes on suggested changes, relatively speaking, than here. If impacting the "final result" of the playtest is, in fact, your goal.
 

I'm playing in an open world version of the 5e Strahd book. Since it's open world, we hear about things much more powerful than us, and have even met Strahd himself briefly on a couple of occasions.

We have a paladin in the party, and even he knows better than to attack Strahd.

But we also have been in a situation where a hag was taking children from their parents. We knew there was a kid in her cart. We knew she was too powerful for us. NPCs had warned us. She was a legend in this city. We were level 3. But we attacked anyway. The child was freed, she downed two party members in three rounds and we were able to get enough attention from townspeople that she didn't want to look bad and made her easy escape.

Goal accomplished, but with sacrifice, we felt pretty good.

Until we learned that we now had a whole coven after us, nightmares every night for the two members who were downed, and accompanying fatigue... the child was returned to the hag by their parents, and now we're on the run.

Real consequences have made our characters feel afraid and paranoid, but have made our players feel heroic and determined.

***

I think this thread is an interesting discussion of the merits and pitfalls of unbalanced encounters, but I think, more importantly, it's key to acknowledge that they are tools. Tools that can be used well or poorly, depending on the expectations of both the players and the DM before a campaign, and also the competency of both the players and the DM.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
I love unbalanced encounter! That being said, D&D lacks a proper retreat subsystem to allow the sudden realization of « oh naughty word, we’re way above our head here! Fall back! ». With little guidance (or even hope) in retreating, players often go all or nothing because there is little hope in retreating within round-by-round combat rules, and little guidance for DM to decide when combat stops being combat and becomes a chase.
 

Clint_L

Legend
I would argue that 5e includes quite a few handy "retreat" spells and abilities, but they tend to be undervalued and often ignored or only thought of offensively because players seldom have to worry about retreating. If retreat was more of a constant concern in a campaign, players would be more inclined to prepare for that eventuality. For instance, a spell caster might always make sure to save one spell slot for darkness, various wall spells would be mandatory, etc.
 

In that same campaign I just mentioned, I keep misty step and vortex warp memorized and in reserve for exactly this reason.
In another campaign I'd probably have chosen more offensive spells.

EDIT TO ADD: Which, in a way, makes the difficulty level even harder. The need to have retreat spells in reserve means less offense, which might mean retreat is more necessary.
 

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