PDA

View Full Version : An issue with Encounter Levels.



Jergmo
2009-07-22, 03:47 PM
Alright, say I'm pitting my players against 3 gnolls without class levels. Each gnoll is CR 1. The players are a typical party of 4, with exceptional attributes, while the gnolls have the non-elite array and 75 gp worth of equipment, the average result of a level 1 warrior, which is what their monster entry gives them. (speaking of which, the treasure results are just silly, as a Standard CR 1 creature has 300 gp apiece.)

The problem is, the encounter calculator equates that to a CR 3 encounter vs. a Party Level of 1. Yet...the encounter isn't that difficult. So, what the heck? :smallconfused: It's listed as a "Very Difficult" encounter!

Darcand
2009-07-22, 03:55 PM
the CR system isn't designed to determine a fair fight, it is based around a fight that will use up roughly 1/4 of the party's resources for the day (spells and hit points) 3 gnolls will in all likelyhood kill one of your players.

Epinephrine
2009-07-22, 03:58 PM
Much of any encounter's difficulty is how it is played. Gnolls that don't gang up on a single player, but spread their attacks around won't be dangerous.

3 gnolls can easily cause a player death, against a level 1 party, without even rolling a critical hit.

Cicciograna
2009-07-22, 03:58 PM
This is one of the reasons for which the first time I DMed, I didn't compare CR to average party level, but ELs: the three gnolls should have an EL of about 3 of 4, just like a party of 4 1st level adventurers, so comparing the EL this should be a normal encounter.
The truth is that CR/APL doesn't work very well with low level character (and neither for very high level ones)...

Jergmo
2009-07-22, 04:03 PM
I sincerely doubt they're going to kill one of my players when even the wizard will on average have 18 AC due to Mage Armor, the fighter also has 18 AC and all 16's for physical/etc...

I also use a system for penalties from taking damage after 50% health, and since the players will likely hit the gnolls before they succeed on their attacks, they'll end up being handicapped from the damage they take unless they get lucky right off the bat.

A single gnoll would be EL 1, and it wouldn't come close to denting their resources.

Frosty
2009-07-22, 04:12 PM
It's the exceptional stats that are helping your party a lot.

Irreverent Fool
2009-07-22, 04:40 PM
It's the exceptional stats that are helping your party a lot.

This. Remember that the game assumes the results of a 32-point buy. Also, the CR system is completely out of whack anyway. A party of 4 ogres is supposed to be EL 7, but a 7th-level party can probably blow through them without breaking a sweat or using up any real resources.

Edit: I can't count. It is fully possible for a character to have 16s in all their physical stats in a 32 point buy. In this case I would suggest throwing a couple reflex or will saves his way once in awhile.

Edit Edit: Ignore me. I don't know what I'm talking about.

Bear in mind, too, that any of the treasure these creatures have can be used by the creatures themselves. Granted, it can be a pain to sort out the unique equipment for every monster and adjust their stat blocks, but if a creature is rolled up with a potion of cure light wounds, it is reasonable to assume that he may use it if wounded.

Additionally, humanoid monsters can be especially deadly not due to raw power but due to intelligence. Something with an INT of as little as 10 is going to be able to use ambushes, deception, guerrilla tactics, traps, cover, and so on. A gnoll could leave a wounded animal (or other victim) in the road to lower the PCs guard and place them in the right position. You wouldn't be playing unfairly either if the gnolls were to focus on the weakest-looking party member and hold him for ransom or kill him on the spot (though dead PCs are generally less fun to play, moving on when a character is incapacitated should be enough).

Finally, fighting to the death is something most intelligent creatures do not do. Most creatures are more concerned for their own lives than they are for wounding the PCs. While a routed enemy usually counts as 'defeated' for purposes of XP gain, you can control the amount of wealth that the PCs gain by having the enemies flee for their lives (or by having them keep it at a nearby lair). This gives the PCs a chance to pursue the enemies and gives the DM a chance to lure them into another ambush that may be more challenging.

If nothing else, escaped monsters have learned something about how the PCs fight and can resurface later to use that knowledge to their advantage.

I've digressed a little. Ultimately, don't fret if an encounter is too easy. It lets the PCs feel like the heroes they are generally supposed to be and you can always fudge a roll or two just to make sure these critters take a chunk or two of the fighter's hp.

obnoxious
sig

AslanCross
2009-07-22, 05:22 PM
My players, without even having optimized their characters, usually walk all over a "Very Difficult" encounter. Take the annotations with a grain of salt and try to depend on the monsters' tactics to make the encounter more challenging/interesting.

lsfreak
2009-07-22, 05:33 PM
Some things about CR:
- It's broken, broken, broken. A well-played dragon will wipe the floor with a party, while many higher-CR enemies are jokes. There are some CR1 or 2 monsters that are all but impossible to kill until higher levels.
- Well-played enemies make things harder. Hit-and-runs, attacking from range, spreading out, ambushes, traps, and intelligent (non-blasting) spellcasters will all make things much harder.
- Single, unsupported enemies aren't usually worth their CR. One action a round versus the entire party isn't enough. (But then, there's dragons and batman wizards that can take out a party in a couple rounds without retaliation...)
- Waves of mooks usually aren't worth their CR. They have too few hit points and too low of saves to last, and their attack bonus is usually too low to hit the PC's. The exception is a well-played spellcaster who uses his resources well in order to screw with the PC's while they're busy with other mooks (especially battlefield control and no-save-just-suck). If they don't come in waves (see Tucker's kobolds), they are a much bigger threat.

Yakk
2009-07-22, 05:52 PM
I sincerely doubt they're going to kill one of my players when even the wizard will on average have 18 AC due to Mage Armor, the fighter also has 18 AC and all 16's for physical/etc...So the Mage is using a level 1 spell that lasts an hour? And it just happened to be up? (if the wizard cast it, that takes an action and a good chunk of resources)

And Mage Armor is +4 AC. Does the Wizard also have 18 dex? How did the wizard hit 18 AC?

Note that Gnolls, in their tactics block, are said to use ambushes. Did you ambush the party?

I also use a system for penalties from taking damage after 50% health, and since the players will likely hit the gnolls before they succeed on their attacks, they'll end up being handicapped from the damage they take unless they get lucky right off the bat.... and thus throw out how Gnolls are supposed to work.

Also note that the fighter only has a 50% chance of hitting a Gnoll.

A single solid blow from a Gnoll could take out a less than d10 HD character. 3 of them... could hurt.

A level 1 fighter, in order to hit 18 AC, would need to use a shield. Equipment is expensive at level 1.

Low level 3e consists of 'miss, miss, KO' style combat, due to low HP totals and relatively high AC.

Epinephrine
2009-07-22, 06:00 PM
- Well-played enemies make things harder. Hit-and-runs, attacking from range, spreading out, ambushes, traps, and intelligent (non-blasting) spellcasters will all make things much harder.

This. 3 gnolls, played as warrior-types who know about ambushes and hunting, should drop have a good chance of dropping a level 1 character if they get the surprise round.

If the PCs have strong stats, feel free to use the non-elite array on foes; 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8. It doesn't even change the CR, but it can add a few HP/damage/to hit bonuses. That puts the attack bonus to +4, and 1d8+3 damage with typical battleaxes. If they surprise they can deny dex, and if they flank they get a +2 (and they should be aiming to flank). The mage's 18 AC (really? an 18 dex mage?) is reduced to 14, or to 10 if he can't pre-buff, and they should easily hit him. 1d8+3 will drop a 1d4+Con hit point wizard just fine.

Lamech
2009-07-22, 06:07 PM
Here's some suggestions for very difficult encounters in the future for a level one party:

A shadow - remember it can hide in the ground until it attacks, and then when they cast a magic weapon spell return there to wait a while.

A wight - Hide +8 and move siliently + 16 make sure to get a surprise round.

Three kobold adepts all level 4 - make these dragonwrought, and have at least one age catagory. Put everything into wis and they get two level 2 spell slots. For feats they will need some flaw so they can take sudden maximize. Go invisible and open with scorching rays. If the party is tightly clumped burning hands works too.

For the fourth encounter use three paragon pseudonatural troll petitioners. Those are CR 1.

These should all be ECL 3! And all be very difficult.

Anyway CR is borked.

Jergmo
2009-07-22, 07:04 PM
Elf wizard. +3 from Dex, +4 Mage armor, and he decided a 5% spell failure chance was safe and is wearing padded armor.

Also, they only have a +3 attack roll with their bows, so they don't have much of a chance of hitting them on the surprise round. They have a 30% chance of hitting them in melee, with their +4 to attack with the battleaxe. And assuming my players are as smart in this situation as I know them to be in a non-gaming situation, they will do something to minimize the risk of a flanking attack, such as fighting back to back.

The cleric is a tank, the fighter is a tank/damage dealer, and the rogue is a damage dealer. The cleric and fighter can keep the gnolls off the wizard while the rogue is flanking them.

And I am using the non-elite array instead of 10's and 11's for them.

ericgrau
2009-07-22, 07:24 PM
With exceptional attributes your PCs are almost level 2. Well, normally I'd say level + 1 but that probably doesn't apply with level 1 HP. CR = party level + 1 is hard but probably won't kill anyone. Dunno about this specific fight though. Like I said, harder to gauge with level 1 HP. I think the normal monster entry already uses the non-elite array, so that doesn't really change anything. Elite array should only be for special monsters anyway.

The exceptional stats are gonna make the party level faster. IMO redo stats to typical values (having standard heroic stats isn't end of the world, despite what some people say), just accept the faster leveling (maybe that's what you want), or give out XP as if the encounters were 1 level lower (EL 2 in this case).

Sstoopidtallkid
2009-07-22, 11:20 PM
Elf wizard. +3 from Dex, +4 Mage armor, and he decided a 5% spell failure chance was safe and is wearing padded armor.Mage Armor and Padded Armor don't stack.

BobVosh
2009-07-22, 11:32 PM
This. Remember that the game assumes the results of a 32-point buy.

It assumes a 28 point buy, hence why it is called "normal." Or is it 25? In any case it is better than those.

Also 3 gnolls can easily tpk if done right.

Saph
2009-07-22, 11:39 PM
This. Remember that the game assumes the results of a 32-point buy.

25-point buy, actually, so it's even more extreme than you think.

So yeah, if all your PCs have 16s and 18s in their stats, you've going to have to boost the monsters way up to compensate. At a minimum, add +2 to all the monster stats (this translates into approximately a +1 to everything). If +2 isn't enough, try +4.

Sstoopidtallkid
2009-07-23, 12:28 AM
It assumes a 28 point buy, hence why it is called "normal." Or is it 25? In any case it is better than those.

Also 3 gnolls can easily tpk if done right.25 is called normal, but actually rolling(4d6b3) averages out to 27 pt-buy, IIRC. Which is actually lower than normal rolling, since re-rolls are pretty common in my experience. And higher point-buys are better for in-party balance, though they make it harder for DMs to balance encounters.

Saph
2009-07-23, 12:34 AM
25 is called normal, but actually rolling(4d6b3) averages out to 27 pt-buy, IIRC. Which is actually lower than normal rolling, since re-rolls are pretty common in my experience.

Out of the standard options, 28 point buy is the closest to 4d6 rolled - the re-rolls push the average up.

However, note that if you roll stats, you usually won't get exactly what you want, and some of the points will be 'wasted' ones like odd numbers in stats you won't use. So a 28 point buy should on average be a little stronger than a 4d6 character.

For my games I usually go for 28 point buy, or 4d6 rolled, player's choice. However, I make it clear to them before choosing that if they roll a mediocre set of stats, they're stuck with it. If you want predictability, you should have picked point buy in the first place. :)

tyckspoon
2009-07-23, 12:57 AM
Also, they only have a +3 attack roll with their bows, so they don't have much of a chance of hitting them on the surprise round. They have a 30% chance of hitting them in melee, with their +4 to attack with the battleaxe. And assuming my players are as smart in this situation as I know them to be in a non-gaming situation, they will do something to minimize the risk of a flanking attack, such as fighting back to back.


If they get a surprise round and at least part of your party doesn't, those party members don't get Dex to their AC during that round. The Wizard's AC would drop to 14, and most Rogues would also have a pretty big drop. +3 to hit against 14 is quite respectable odds, especially when there's three of them- Gnolls may not be 'disciplined', but I'm pretty sure they can figure out "everybody shoot at the one not wearing big metal plates." And they'll probably get two shots before the cleric and fighter can close with them and force them to switch to the battleaxes- 1 range increment for a shortbow is 60 feet, and the gnolls have no reason to politely wait until the party closes to ~30 feet before opening fire (if they do, they have probably secured 'advantageous terrain' that prevents their victims from just charging up to them.) If the gnolls win initiative on that second round, those attacks are also against Dex-less ACs. 6 attacks focus-fired on any level 1 character has pretty decent odds of killing him, and will probably leave him severely wounded regardless.

TheThan
2009-07-23, 01:53 AM
I look at the CR system as a rough gauge for how dangerous any particular monster.
Since the difficulty of an encounter is not necessarily set in stone, I find that it works alright when you take into consideration all the various options that exist.

I ask myself several questions when designing encounters for 3.5.
They go something like this:

How many people are in the party?
What sort of tactics do they tend to use?
What sort of environment are they going to encounter in this encounter?
What sort of magic spells does the party have access to?
What sort of magic gear do they have access to, and how much of it?
Are there any special circumstances that need to be met in order to overcome this encounter (such as the ability to fly)?
About how often can they be expected to make a fort, will and saving throw?
About how much damage can they be expected to take before dropping?
Is there anything else Iím missing?

Skorj
2009-07-23, 01:58 AM
Out of the standard options, 28 point buy is the closest to 4d6 rolled - the re-rolls push the average up.


I'm, currently playing the old Icewind Dale, which use 4d6b3, re-roll untill you like it. My characters all have 3-4 18s and no dump stats. With no limit on the munber of re-rolls, there's no limit on stats. :smallwink: But that's why point-based systems are used in almost every modern game: rolling was always a bit silly.

Saph
2009-07-23, 06:08 AM
I'm, currently playing the old Icewind Dale, which use 4d6b3, re-roll untill you like it. My characters all have 3-4 18s and no dump stats. With no limit on the munber of re-rolls, there's no limit on stats. :smallwink: But that's why point-based systems are used in almost every modern game: rolling was always a bit silly.

3.5 is not Icewind Dale. You can only re-roll if your stats are below a certain (pretty crappy) minimum. Like I said, I let my players do if they want to, but if they do, they take your chances.

Even knowing it, though, several of my players still enjoy rolled stats more than point buy. Unpredictability can be fun.

- Saph

Kol Korran
2009-07-23, 12:22 PM
a few things, some of them allready mentioned:
1) your players have high stats, the game system assumes the 25 point by (or elite array). adjust accordingly. Saph's suggestions is a solid one- just add a +2/4 to each attribute.

2) low level encoutners can be totally easy, or totally hard. that depends on a few things:
- rolls. one lucky roll can make all the difference in low levels. i think the CR system is trying to include that.
- tactics: surprise is far more importent usually at low levels (though it can be curcial at high levels with the proper caster). also terrain, high ground ans such play a greater role.
- gauging the resistence: if the party doesn't gauge the opposition right, they might go for simpler tactics, more dangerous maneuvers, or expend less resources ("bah! thos are just gnolls! i'm going to stay at the back, and save my mage armor for later!"). this could prove fatal. you'd be amazed how often this happens. (i once had a party of 3-4 level meet a few shocker lizards. they seemed "cute" to them, but they guarded a bit of treasure... yep, that turned up badyl)
there might be something else, but all of this taken together, and especially since the characters are level 1, you can't realy underestimate deadliness of battle.

on the whole, i prefer to plan low level adventures on the premise of "battle only if neccesery, avoid if possible"

3) as an aside- it was mentioned before- the padded armor and mage armor don't stack... also- i think your mage need a proficiency to use it? (haven't played 3.5 in a while , so i might be mistaken). also- i'd suggest you tell your fighter to trade his 16 dex for other attributes (if possible), as full plate won't aloow him to use most of it. though it could be handy for some things.

4) The CR system counts a normal encounter as costing the party 20% of their resources, and it also assumes that there are about 4 normal encounters per day... also it was basically built when only the core rulebook was used and there were far less possibilities to optimize (though clerics, druid and wizards still rocked). note that using a mage armor can be considered as a hefty party resource...
all that said, the sytem is fairly screwed up, and not that well built. to me, the rule that twice the monsters= +2 CR to be realy badly made. i use that only with monsters that can combatthe party solely (dragons, beholders and such), for other monsters is use a +1 rule.
use the system as a guideline. however, don't forget that smartly played, or well prepared encounters should have a CR increase usually.

5) my way of dealing with experience: i use CR as a guiding measure only. what i do is i assign EXP reward for "accomplishments". i won't get to the whole deal, but in general i see what is the most likely route the players can take (note: "most likely") and check the challanges in it. the total becomes my reward for the challange. if the players muck things up, they face greater challangees for the same XP (and use more resources- most importent in this method are expendable ones- potions, scrolls, wands, one use items and so on). if they act smartly, they face less challanges for the same XP. (smae thing about resources). this has two advantages:
- the first is that it encourages players to be smarter, and more tactfull other than "what spells to memorise, what buffs to cast".
- the second, more pertaining to the matter at hand, is that it tends to balance XP awarded over different encounters- one goes bad, one goes good, but all in all- the players feel they got what they desreved.

hope this helped, a bit winded, but still.
Kol.

TheThan
2009-07-23, 12:38 PM
The problem with point buy is that you can assign your stats anyway you wish. Which means you can easily put your highest stat in the score you need the most. While most people do the same thing with dice rolls, its still a little more random.

For instance if I was a character with a 16, I can still put an 18 in the score I need the most, by picking a race that gives me a bonus to that score. Oddly enough you can only do this to str, dex and con (strictly core races). Int, wis and charisma arenít represented, even though there are plenty of races to do it in core.

I would never call shenanigans on someone for doing this its sort of a no brainier. But then again if you really want random stats, roll and put them in order. Or better yet, assign them randomly.

Jergmo
2009-07-23, 01:25 PM
Ehh. One issue I'm having is the levels of NPC's they encounter. They're assigned levels based on age and life experience. Based on what we're using to determine it, a guy in his 20's with moderate life experience is level 2, for example. With an NPC class, that's CR 1. (I've got another type of encounter set up for a bandit patrol, comprised of two level two warriors and a bloodhound.) In order to pit them against level 1 NPC's, they'd either have limited experience or they'd be like 14-17 years old. Although, considering the time period, might that be more likely in some cases?

Yakk
2009-07-23, 01:50 PM
So ya, you feed the gnolls an elite array (to make up for the higher PC stats:
+4 Str +2 Con -2 CHA -2 CHA
Str 15, Dex 10, Con 13, Int 8, Wis 11, Cha 8
->
Str 19, Dex 13, Con 16, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 6

Effect: +4 HP, +2 Fort, +1 Reflex, +1 AC, +1 Will, +2 Melee damage and to-hit, +1 Ranged to-hit.

Elite Gnoll: (medium humanoid)
HP: 15
AC: 16 (11 Touch, 15 Flat Footed)

Melee Attack:
Standard: +5 @ 1d8+4 (x3)
Power Standard: +4 @ 1d8+5 (x3)

Ranged Attack:
Standard: +2 @ 1d6 (x2)

Skills: Listen +3 Spot +4
Feats: Power Attack
Grapple: +5
Saves: +6 Fort, +1 Ref, +1 Will
Attributes: Str 19, Dex 13, Con 16, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 6
Special: 60' Darkvision
Speed: 6 squares
Initiative: +1

---

Next, the 3 Gnolls are in an ambush. There is difficult terrain between them and the players. They will get 2 rounds of bow fire, the first one from surprise.

If they target the wizard (AC 14 flat footed), they have a 50% chance of hitting each. So the wizard takes, without crits, an average of 5.25 damage on the first ambush round. He probably goes down.

Now the cleric gets to pick if he wants to heal up the wizard, or attack the gnolls.

The gnolls probably get 2 or 3 hits as the party charges them. Once at the ambush spot, the gnolls could retreat to another prepared position. Then get another volley of arrows off.

At that point, they engage in melee: ideally they will arrange to be the first to attack. They now have a 40% chance of hitting, so they do 10.2 average damage per round, even on an 18 AC target.

In 2 rounds, they could drop a fighter. And as they are picking the place where the party chases them to, they will have a bottleneck they can 3-on-one them.

The rogue might take an extra round to flank around the place the gnolls are 3-on-oneing the fighter in order to flank. At that point, gnolls start going down, and the cleric arrives.

But now you have KO'd the wizard, burned healing spells to keep the fighter up, and in general drained a good 1/4 of the parties resources .. on average. If the gnolls got good rolls, they could have killed the wizard on the ambush round. And the fighter (already wounded) when the fighter arrives at the choke point.

If the players disengage, the gnolls can continue to pester them with arrows.

Note I didn't take into account "you suck at 50% or under HP". But the arrow fire that the gnolls did could easily cause a player to dip under 50%, further making life suck for the players.

Remember: Gnolls ambush. That is what they do. It is an essential part of their tactics.