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    Pixie in the Playground
     
    WhiteWizardGirl

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    Default Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    Hi all!

    So long story short: I'm a long time DM in an old system, but now i'm converting to using 4th edition. I have a carefully worked out story/plot, gathered a party, and on the first encounter... well, to use a quote my enemy's crumpled like a Tissue paper golem. Even my 'boss' who had class levels and was higher level than the PC's was ripped to shreds like nothing.

    I'm looking for any advice or suggestions on how to make sure the combat encounters give enough of a challenge. Is there a rule of thumb or something to go by? For my first game, the players were level; I had the 'easy' enemies be level 1, standard enemies be level 2, and the two bosses be level 4.

    My next one shot will have the players be level 5, and then they will jump to around level 8, if that helps any.

    As an aside, what monsters/enemies get you excited to fight, the ones that just make you "ohhh" over. What monsters do you dismiss out of hand as they must be weak?

    Any help is appreciated!

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    NecroRebel's Avatar

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    The books' suggestion on how to make a level-appropriate encounter is fairly good; use the xp-values from the tables and monsters whose levels are within a certain range. The levels are slightly off, though, in my experience; DMG1 suggests that a L+0 or L+1 is about the right level of difficulty, but I've always found such battles too easy, for instance. I usually aim to have most battles be in the L+1-3 range, with boss fights at L+4 or L+5, and L+0 or less battles are used only for the most trivial things.

    You should usually use monsters in the L-3 to L+4 range. Solo creatures, particularly those designed before MM3, are abnormally weak for their xp-value, so I avoid using those most of the time. Minions tend to either die instantly, making them far too weak for their xp-value, or deal disproportionate amounts of damage, making them too strong for their xp-value. Their swinginess in power level makes me avoid those as well. I thus strongly prefer standard and elite monsters for my encounter makeups.

    Generally speaking, the more monster roles you have in a given encounter, the harder the encounter will be, and the harder it will be for you as DM to keep track of. 2-3 roles, or even just 2-3 types of monster, tends to be a pretty good mix with varied enough tactics to be interesting. If you use exactly 1 role, make it Lurker or Skirmisher; their typical ability to constantly disengage makes them much more interesting tactically than other monster types, and many Lurker-role monsters have some way to make themselves difficult to impossible to reengage until they themselves choose to.

    Really, though, if you read over pages 56-57 of DMG1, you'll find very well-thought-out guidelines for encounter building that work very well. Most monsters are pretty well-designed as well, especially those from MM3 and after where the math was redone. The only really scary monsters that I can think of off the top of my head are the Fire Beetle (L1 Brute, MM1), whose rechargeable AoE fire blast power makes them very dangerous to low-level parties in close quarters, and the Needlefang Drake Swarm (L2 Soldier, MM1), whose ability to knock enemies prone and free high-damage attacks against prone targets make them very dangerous and whose swarm-based resistance to single-target attacks makes them nearly impossible to kill for parties without tons of bursts and blasts.

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    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    SamuraiGuy

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    Quote Originally Posted by Odessa333 View Post
    Is there a rule of thumb or something to go by? For my first game, the players were level; I had the 'easy' enemies be level 1, standard enemies be level 2, and the two bosses be level 4.

    My next one shot will have the players be level 5, and then they will jump to around level 8, if that helps any.
    Assuming moderate, but not heavy, optimization, an equal number of monsters of level equal to the PCs is an easy encounter in 4e. If you're using the first Monster manual, it's even easier. The players are expected to win this without casualty, and possibly only superficial expenditure of resources (eg 25% of their front line's healing surges, no need for daily abilities).

    L+2, in equal numbers, is moderate. You should expect to have at least one PC go down, but not necessarily stay down. The PCs should still win, but it should cost them a bit (some daily abilities, 50% of their front line's surges, probably some of the back line's as well)

    L+4, in equal numbers, should be a tough fight, but still an expected win. The PCs will likely only win with some of their number still standing, and have expended many daily/limited resources. If the PCs don't work together, or hold back on using their daily abilities, or simply have bad luck, they could lose this fight.

    Bosses, especial in MM1 and Mm2, can't fight alone: they will die easily. Make the 'boss fight' center on the boss, but have many more combatants than just him (eg a dragon with several kobold 'worshipers'). Also, MM1 and 2 tend to have too many HP, and not enough damage, which leads to simple damage slogs without much danger. MM3 is much better in this regard. A simple fix for the earlier monsters is -30% hp, +30% damage.

    In my opinion, the XP table is a bit off, but close enough. I tend to use these rules of thumb:
    1PC ~= 6 minions
    3PC ~= 2 elite
    3PC ~= 1 solo
    2 Level N monsters ~= 1 (level+3) monster

    NecroRebel's advise on multiple roles is good. I like to think of it as "build the monster parties like you build a PC party". Someone on the front lines to block their heavy hitters, someone to hit heavy for your side, someone in back to take down their support, someone to shape the battlefield to your advantage, and someone to keep you fighting longer. Just like PC parties, sometimes multiple roles can be filled by the same body.

    And if the boss fight is still too easy, remember: every BBEG has a group of reinforcements ready to come in from an unexpected direction right as the battle seems a certain win for the PCs.
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    ClericGuy

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    One of the best things to do to make encounters more "difficult" is to try and work in terrain. Artillery are much more threatening when getting to them requires a sizable jump check, and controllers can take advantage of "traps" (such as a Daggerthorn Brair; DMG p. 90).

    (Of course, PCs can use terrain too, but that's still awesome!)

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Crasical's Avatar

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    How much higher than the PC's level would you recommend going with individual monster levels? +3? +4?
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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    NecroRebel's Avatar

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    Quote Originally Posted by Crasical View Post
    How much higher than the PC's level would you recommend going with individual monster levels? +3? +4?
    +4 is pretty much the highest I'd recommend.

    Remember that increasing the level of a by 4creature doubles the xp-value of that creature, and making a creature elite also doubles the xp-value of that creature. That is, a L4 standard costs 175, while a L4 elite or L8 standard both cost 350. The higher-level creature would be frustratingly difficult to hit, though, would hit far more often, would deal more damage, but would go down easier. Overall, it would just be less fun. L+4 creatures are usually alright to use, but instead of a L+5 creature, consider a L+1 elite. It'll be just as threatening but more fun to fight, which is better encounter design.

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Yakk's Avatar

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    Avoid level+3 and +4 soldiers, because that over-rewards accuracy-optimization (and massively punishes anyone who doesn't do it).

    Avoid monster manual 1 and 2 level +3 and +4 solos and elites out of the box for the same reason. Avoid monster manual 1 and 2 solo and elite soldiers.

    Prefer monsters whose source is "Monster Vault" (any iteration) or "Monster Manual 3", they are better designed.

    As an example, an elite level 9 brute (MM3 or MV) against a level 5 party makes a good "center" monster for a fight, with a bunch of relatively normal monsters thrown in. If you want the fight to be hard, don't make an individual combatant hard, make the entire fight hard as a sum.

    If you want "flow" between encounters, try to avoid a massive chain of flow. If you have a fort with an alarm system that causes the entire place to attack, that is one huge encounter that they can make easier by picking off some creatures on the edge. Balance it that way.

    Multi-phase encounters are slightly easier than all-at-once encounters. If your encounter has N phases or waves split by 3-4 rounds, you can multiply your total encounter XP budget by about sqrt(N). (This is extremely rough)
    Last edited by Yakk; 2012-11-13 at 12:37 PM.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    Quote Originally Posted by Odessa333 View Post
    I have a carefully worked out story/plot, gathered a party, and on the first encounter... well, to use a quote my enemy's crumpled like a Tissue paper golem. Even my 'boss' who had class levels and was higher level than the PC's was ripped to shreds like nothing.
    Can you unpack this? Class levels? 4e monsters are outcome based - they don't have class levels.

    Also what monsters did you use from which books, and what sources were the PCs using?

    I'm looking for any advice or suggestions on how to make sure the combat encounters give enough of a challenge. Is there a rule of thumb or something to go by? For my first game, the players were level; I had the 'easy' enemies be level 1, standard enemies be level 2, and the two bosses be level 4.
    I'd have made the bosses Elites. And what types of monsters.

    My next one shot will have the players be level 5, and then they will jump to around level 8, if that helps any.

    As an aside, what monsters/enemies get you excited to fight, the ones that just make you "ohhh" over. What monsters do you dismiss out of hand as they must be weak?

    Any help is appreciated!
    Oooh: Anything from Monster Vault or Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale. Dismiss out of hand: Anything from the MM1 or MM2. Seriously, MM3 raised the damage output and by the time of Monster Vault, WotC had 4e monster design down to a fine art - and the two Monster Vaults are IMO the best monster manuals for any edition of D&D - both for fluff and crunch.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    BarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    First off, I've been using THIS Encounter Builder for close to two years now. Simple. Easy to use. Love it.

    My history with building encounters in 4E kinda mirrored your experience so far. And I guess my recommendation mirrors what everyone else is saying. From the perspective of the games I DM, I'll say this:
    • LVL+2's have been consistently EASY for the group. They walk away from these claiming "Pfft, too easy. What else ya got?"
    • LVL+3's seem to be the sweet spot. They are usually quite challenging. Dailies get used, the Cleric blows through most if not all of his heals, and somebody gets close to or even into single digit HP's (before the Cleric reels 'em back in).
    • LVL+4 has a decent chance of killing someone. A group wipe is unlikely, but possible if the dice go cold at the wrong time. As mentioned, I go with a LVL+4 (or higher) for those final boss fight showdown's. All or nothin'.


    The caveat to all this is the enemies you're using. I review all the Powers and damage numbers of my mobs fairly carefully before I give them the green light. Even so, sometimes they get by me. Generally it's not something you gotta be TOO worried about.

    Then again, two weeks ago; we they had a near group wipe and the Cleric died.

    It was a LVL+3 encounter. Let's just say that four Wraiths are WAY more powerful than their level of 5 might indicate. Throw in a couple Mad Wraiths, who were even worse than the regular Wraiths (by far), and a Mummy Guardian... Well, within three rounds of the fight starting, somebody did a pretty good impression of Hicks from Aliens when he screamed back at the Fighter (Weaponmaster) trying to cover their retreat "Drake, we are LEAVING!".

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Troll in the Playground
     
    CarpeGuitarrem's Avatar

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    Quote Originally Posted by Ashdate View Post
    One of the best things to do to make encounters more "difficult" is to try and work in terrain. Artillery are much more threatening when getting to them requires a sizable jump check, and controllers can take advantage of "traps" (such as a Daggerthorn Brair; DMG p. 90).

    (Of course, PCs can use terrain too, but that's still awesome!)
    This. Terrain is an often-overlooked part of 4E combat. Put obstacles in the middle of the battlefield, force PCs into chokepoints, place usable shortcuts throughout, set up traps, etc., etc.

    Doubly so if the enemies control the turf. If they know that somebody might be coming after them, they're going to stack the deck. Set up walls for the snipers to fire from, force enemies to come after the big boss through a labyrinth of traps (which the monsters all know how to avoid), have them set up kill zones to annihilate opposition.

    Then let the PCs come up with creative solutions, especially using their powers. Never pit the monsters in a straight-up arena fight against the players. That won't go well for them, and it's less interesting.
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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    First, I'm going to agree with the following points already brought up.

    • Monsters in the Vault & MM3 are much better designed.
    • Solo & Elite monsters from MM1 and MM2 do not work as advertised.
    • With decent optimization, the PC's should generally be facing monsters between Level+1 and Level+3, inclusive.


    Here are a couple of others.
    • At the lowest levels, be especially careful about ranged minions as they can be a lot more dangeorus than they look.
    • Be careful about monsters with the Skirmisher type. One of the toughest fights my PC's faced before the Vault/MM3 was against an equal number of a group of skirmishers. I forget the particular name of the monster, but it had a nasty "attack, shifting 3 squares before or after the attack" power.
    • If the only thing you're considering are the monsters, you're doing it wrong. You need terrain! Traps! Special circumstances! Your NPC's have spent years guarding that trap chest in the 10ft by 10ft room, what preparations would YOU have made in all that time?


    Edit: amusing mistake is amusing.
    Last edited by TheEmerged; 2012-11-19 at 02:02 PM.
    • Sometimes, the knights are the monsters
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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Yakk's Avatar

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    I think you mean 'guarding that pie'.

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    Actually I meant "chest", but I suppose the effect is the same.
    • Sometimes, the knights are the monsters
    • The main problem with the world? So many grownups, not enough adults.
    • Pain is nature's way of saying you're not dead and the other guy is.
    • Current Project: Sky High, the superheroic High School campaign. The school's name isn't the only thing I borrowed...

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Yakk's Avatar

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    Bah, everyone knows that Orcs guard Pies in 10' by 10' rooms.

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    obryn's Avatar

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    My own finding is that encounter levels "slip" a bit. By 15th level, I'm finding that 17th-level encounters are still fairly easy. What I tend to do is build my combats for 6 players, even when I'm expecting 5.

    I generally recommend using monsters pretty close to the party's levels. You can get away with lower-level Artillery and higher-level Brutes, but generally I'd stay around the -2 to +3 range. Anything beyond that is likely some kind of climactic conclusion to a story arc - or something the PCs shouldn't have tangled with in the first place.

    I prefer to increase encounter difficulty by adding more monsters than by raising their levels. While I love including an Elite in the mix, they suck up a lot of that XP budget and I'm starting to move away from them on a regular basis.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Leolo's Avatar

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    Default Re: Requesting help on making encounters 'level appropriate."

    One important point (additional to the "equal level encounters are supposed to be easy" point) is that 4E balancing works by group synergies and tactics. And not only the synergies of the player characters! Your monsters are also supposed to work together.

    So when you choose a monster for the encounter try to ask yourself how this monster could help the other existing opponents.

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