Re: Encounter mechanics help!
The best way to not kill a level 1 party is to not actually attack them.
Just have them make skill checks, or attacks to keep the group at bay which they have to succeed to get out of the press, or they take x bludgeoning damage a round until they do something to suppress the crowd or get away...
Don't have the crowd be a, yaknow, monster. Have it be scenery, like smoke or fire or whatever.