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    NinjaGuy

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    Default How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    I'm DM'ing for my family right now, and my kids are steamrollering Lost Mines of Phandelver, even with putting zero real thought into tactics and forgetting the Fighter's special abilities most of the time. I'm handicapped by the fact that a pair of 9 year olds are NOT going to handle a TPK in a mature fashion. (Eldest daughter, 12 years old, already doesn't want to game with the 9 year olds.) So I may not be able to take the risks you sometimes need to take to learn from failure.

    I'm new to 5E, so I'm tweaking the wrong things--I spent a LOT of time figuring out what 1st level spells would be fun to give a Wight (I thought the Wraith would be a TPK risk, since it's Resistant to almost every form of damage except for the fighter's longsword +1, so I swapped the Wraith for a Wight with the ability to cast 1st level spells. Party arranged a surprise round, combat lasted one round after that, and the Grease spell didn't hamper the PCs at all.)

    I'm having trouble hitting the spot between "too easy" and "TPK." The next encounter is a Spectator. I've maxxed out its HP, just to make sure the combat lasts long enough to let the monster get some licks in, but I still don't know if a 4th level party is at any real risk from a CR 3 monster, and if not how to upgrade it effectively.

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    ClericGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    You could drop the numbers for some appropriate tension. If you feel like an encounter isn't as challenging as you planned, make it so, don't let the monster die, reward creative thinking, punish mistakes, you can do so without the support of RAW, if you believe that it will make the experience more enjoyable.

    Maybe 2 regular spectators will do the trick, single monsters are doomed. Our DM threw a Dragon turtle to our 4 men 9th level party and we managed to survive thanks to monk stunlock and wizard hypnotic patterns. Half of the party did almost get one shot by the breath weapon tho, and it were the only encounter (except for two killer whales) of the day.
    English isn't my first language, so I will likely express myself poorly.
    Please assume that I'm arguing in good faith, and that I mean no offense to anybody.

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    Lizardfolk

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    With few exceptions, solo monsters are far less threatening than an equvilant xp worth of lower cr monsters due to action economy. I

    A simple hack to make a "boss" out of a non-legendary creature would be as follows;

    Max hp for hit dice
    Boss action: after each players turn the boss may make a single attack and move up to one-half its speed. Spells, special abilities such as breath weapons and multiattack may only be performed on the bosses actual turn.
    Boss reaction: once per encounter when the bosses hp drops to half its maximum of less, end all ongoing effects and conditions currently affecting the boss.

    This gives enough actions to keep up with the party, as well as prevents tactics like hold person + dogpile being able to completely shut down encounters on a single failed save.
    Last edited by SkipSandwich; 2018-01-01 at 08:09 PM.

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Well, assuming you have a handle on the basic mechanics and tactics heres a couple tips.

    First up, Kobold Fight Club is your friend for managing encounter CR and difficulty. About 6 easy-medium encounters with two short rests per long rest is normal for an adventuring day, at least in a dungeon or similar. Resource drain and management is one of the primary forms of difficulty in 5e (and other editions).

    Second, action economy. A party of PCs have more actions than one max HP Wraith or Spectator, which makes a significant difference in combat. Boss type creatures usually balance this out with Lair and Legendary actions, so you can tack on those or add in weaker minion creatures to the encounter. By extension a single opponent can be locked down with something like Hold Person and that effectively ends the fight, so many creatures have things like Legendary Resistance to deal with that. Other countermeasures can be as basic as distance, cover or minions/effects that disrupt concentration.

    Finally, on getting your players to use their abilities. The simplest way is to set up scenarios where PC abilities are important, and demonstrate cool abilities yourself. Goblins using their bonus action to hide and a subtle prompt may be all you need to get the Rogue to use their Cunning action, or say for example an injured ally in need of a healing potion and an enemy in need of a face-smashing to encourage the fighter's use of Action Surge.
    You can also encourage lateral thinking with more complex encounters, such as creative use of darkness, terrain, cover and traps or other hazards that discourage the straight-forward charge in and steamroll strategy. These need not be combat encounters either, a rune covered hall with specific trigger and effects that must be figured out and/or bypassed can be just as challenging as a goblin shaman covering the battlefield with enchanted caltrops.
    Last edited by Kane0; 2018-01-01 at 08:12 PM.
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    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    The DMG has a starting estimate -- as a general rule it seems to overestimate difficulty, but it's a nice starting point. A nice idea is to compare the number of actions (full actions, bonus actions, and reactions) likely to be made in a given round by the party to the number made by your potential targets and check what kind of damage is expected for an "unspecial" round. Again, that's just a guideline, though, since actions and damage can vary wildly in how much of an effect they have (heavy-hitters vs. chip damage, stunning vs. slowing, spread-out damage vs. single-target damage).

    For the DMG guidelines based on the xp/CR, this site might be useful: http://dhmstark.co.uk/rpgs/encounter-calculator-5th/ (which includes some tips!)

    Similarly, you could use random encounter generators as a starting point, like http://tools.goblinist.com/5enc and https://donjon.bin.sh/5e/random/#typ...ment=Underdark.

    Of course, the best method -- tailored to your group/kids might be to just gradually increase the difficulty (a budget of about 1100 XP was too easy? Try 1400 XP, or try having the creatures use different strategies or add abilities your kids would think are cool or dangerous). You can also play with the terrain, since that'll make your players think differently about what they can and should do, as well as what's optimal in a given context. Worst comes to worst, depending on your kids, one (character!) accidentally dies and you have some cool way to bring them back as an undead, or your kids quest to rescue the character's soul, or maybe they instead have to bargain with some deity. That, of course, depends on what your kids will think is (a) reasonable, and (b) cool.

    For the CR 3 creature and guessing the minimum number implied by the post (3 players at level 4), you can expect it to be on the more difficult end of easy encounters (medium starts at 750 XP, and this is 700 XP). If you're worried about giving more ahead of time but see it's too easy, then maybe the CR 3 monster summons a CR 1/4 monster (jumps the difficulty up to the low end of hard, but would end if Concentration is broken and means no other Concentration spells are cast if keeping track of that, both to reduce effective difficulty) or calls for that other creature as backup (no Concentration limitations in that case, unless you say the creature was Charmed in some long-lasting way). Or maybe you just give your CR 3 an extra cool ability that will seem impressive and/or intimidating (it may or may not be -- it could just be for show with no real bite!) or that will actually make it more of a threat, but potentially limiting how much it can be used on the fly if it seems too strong (e.g. use it only once, or have it be cast when the creature reaches a lower amount of HP).

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    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    A list of things I've done for my boss fights in the game i run:
    1. Add environmental obstacles.
    - cliffs where the boss can take cover and fire at the party.
    - ever changing terrain that can reposition three players unfavorably.

    2. Add conditions to slaying the boss.
    - i add phases tied to the bosses heath pool. Usually for every quarter chunk of health.
    - place special items around the battle area that are the only things that can hurt the boss. Make sure to point them out in some way though.
    - similar to the previous, place special objects around the battle area that could prevent the boss's healing factor or make it vulnerable to damage.

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    WhiteWizardGirl

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    You only have 2 players? I wouldn't worry about adjusting the encounters from the book to be harder. The low party size should compensate for the difficulties that a solo monster might have. One CR 3 spectator is already rated as a Deadly encounter against a party of two lvl 4 characters. Action economy is really important.

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    NinjaGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lombra View Post
    You could drop the numbers for some appropriate tension. If you feel like an encounter isn't as challenging as you planned, make it so, don't let the monster die, reward creative thinking, punish mistakes, you can do so without the support of RAW, if you believe that it will make the experience more enjoyable.
    I'm learning 5E along with the kids (although I'm also playing in a couple of other campaigns with another family). So I'm reluctant to use too much on-the-fly houseruling--that would be me backsliding into 3E (and some 2E) habits rather than learning the new system.) I know 3E well enough to know what I can safely dispense with and what I have to stick to. I'm still on a learning curve with 5E, the younger kids are still learning D&D in general (although this is not our first campaign).

    Maybe 2 regular spectators will do the trick, single monsters are doomed.
    This might be a good action economy answer. But looking at the spectator's abilities, I think throwing in a bunch of mooks might be a better answer. Being confused or paralyzed is a lot more hazardous if there are mooks around to take advantage of it.

    Quote Originally Posted by SkipSandwich View Post
    With few exceptions, solo monsters are far less threatening than an equvilant xp worth of lower cr monsters due to action economy. I

    A simple hack to make a "boss" out of a non-legendary creature would be as follows;

    Max hp for hit dice
    Boss action: after each players turn the boss may make a single attack and move up to one-half its speed. Spells, special abilities such as breath weapons and multiattack may only be performed on the bosses actual turn.
    Boss reaction: once per encounter when the bosses hp drops to half its maximum of less, end all ongoing effects and conditions currently affecting the boss.

    This gives enough actions to keep up with the party, as well as prevents tactics like hold person + dogpile being able to completely shut down encounters on a single failed save.
    This is good, and seems a very "5th edition" approach to boss fights, breaking out of the mold of PC/NPC transparency (which is something I got really used to in 3E, and so templating monsters gave me a very easy crutch.). But I don't know that it's the answer for a Spectator fight--the Spectator's melee attack is fairly trivial.

    And my PCs haven't been slapping a lot of conditions on enemies anyway. They've been doing just fine with the fighter tanking and doing melee damage, and the rogue, druid (produce flame) and wizard (firebolt) sniping. (In 3rd edition, I'd slap a +1 CR fire template on an ogre and see what they do with a fire-resistant/immune enemy.)
    Last edited by johnbragg; 2018-01-01 at 10:05 PM.

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    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    I second environmental obstacles and bad guy tactics. Oh bad guy tactics can be a wonderful thing that makes your monsters so much more memorable.

    You can definitely make encounters more difficult by raising AC (flavor it! ), Health, or physical stats, but the strongest stat to raise is sometimes simply their intelligence.

    Kobolds are renowned as an often underestimated or poorly utilized monster, for example. They aren't terrifying until you're one of the unfortunate adventures who stumbles into a well fortified and trap filled kobold barracks. Harried by hit and run tactics from behind walls, interrupting short rests. Assaulted by glue bombs and pointy things in the most ridiculous places.

    It's easy to tpk, you're so right. I've done it unexpectedly before. The safeguard against that is having a DM button for it. You can turn down the difficulty in an instant by removing that extra hp you added to make it more difficult, stop the random attacks for long enough to allow players to recover a bit, tune down that special ability a bit, "forget" to use that racial action, etc.

    The trick is not letting players catch on when you hit the difficulty button to turn from TPK to near escape. It is a great tool that makes them appreciate their enemies, feel the thrill of narrowly escaping their deaths, and learn to approach deceptively safe situations to deadly encounters with a more creative or tactical approach.

    Don't just make things more difficult. Make them memorable. Highlight the things that make them so tough so that it's recognizable. Add some engravings on the gnolls armor if you have him wear splint mail instead of leather. The orc that has more HP has glowing eyes and barbarian rage for some reason, you don't even have to say why! It'll make them wary of other groups of orcs.

    Give the bandit who kidnapped your employer, only to kill him before you, a noticeable twitch or habitual click of the tongue when they speak. Make them hate the reoccurring NPCs. A small npc can turn into such a favorite enemy that suddenly they're the BBEG.

    Don't like adding or removing abilities? Not a fan of fluffing dice rolls or rounding player damage up?

    That's fine. All of the hardcover adventures and AL modules encourage you to swap out monsters before combat to adjust the difficulty, or to make things more interesting. Similar monsters are usually included in the examples for published adventures. However, you're more than welcome to legitimately change the monster type entirely if it doesn't impact the story negatively. Some even say it's fine to skip or lower encounter hp to speed things along when an encounter only serves a story purpose.

    A fun way to do this is to take out a goblin and add in a Nilbog (Volos). Remove an orc and toss in an eye of gruumsh, or swap out the orcs for some hobgoblins Manning a toll bridge. That group of bandits doesn't have enough oomph? Hide a scout or two in the rafters, give them some alchemist fire!

    The only thing to be mindful of is time. Too many time consuming combat encounters in a night can make it feel almost a waste of time. Use the option average initiative option if you want, it helps a lot. Don't be afraid to "you blow a hole in it's chest!" If they do a lot of damage, even if it's actually still at a third health.

    Completing an objective or milestone is much more rewarding than spending an extra 30-60 minutes killing the four ogres.

    /End ramble

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    Tanarii's Avatar

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Check some of your past encounters that were too easy vs the DMG expected difficulties & adventuring day. See if they're getting off light with expected encounter difficulty, or getting too many rests.

    Keep in mind that the DMG guidelines are set to prevent TPKs. If they're running a full adventuring day with 3 deadly, 4-5 Hard, or 6 Medium encounters per rest, which is about what the tables work out too, good for them. If they're getting away with resting on half that, you're probably not pushing them hard enough.

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    NinjaGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kane0 View Post
    Well, assuming you have a handle on the basic mechanics and tactics heres a couple tips.
    Part of the problem is that we don't have a full handle on 5E. So I'm coaching the kids, and both sides of the table are forgetting about special abilities in the confusion. (With busy schedules, and moving houses, we hadn't played the family campaign since June 1. For the first fight today I completely forgot everything 5th edition gave to my son's Fighter (and of course he did too but he barely missed an attack, and didn't tank enough damage to be in real danger). On the other hand, I also forgot the tactics I had planned for my zombies to use, so the party got to deal with the zombies and the poison fungus as basically separate threats.

    I've written up index cards for the Fighter's 5th edition abilities, which will help him remember to use them.

    I didn't worry much about the wonkiness of the CR ratings in 3rd edition, because I just used 10 encounters per level rather than really doing the math (with double XP for HArd encounters and half for Easy Encounters).

    First up, Kobold Fight Club is your friend for managing encounter CR and difficulty. About 6 easy-medium encounters with two short rests per long rest is normal for an adventuring day, at least in a dungeon or similar. Resource drain and management is one of the primary forms of difficulty in 5e (and other editions).
    I"m growing more and more dissatisfied with the Phandelver module. There are plenty of rooms with one entrance and exit, where the party can rest comfortably. But there IS an ochre jelly in the dungeon, and that door isn't going to stop an ochre jelly....

    Magmins would be good for encouraging the PCs to vary their tactics (favorite cantrips are Produce Flame and Firebolt ). I'd like to find a low-CR earth-elemental type, something that could swim through stone and prevent the PCs from resting at their leisure.

    Second, action economy. A party of PCs have more actions than one max HP Wraith or Spectator, which makes a significant difference in combat. Boss type creatures usually balance this out with Lair and Legendary actions, so you can tack on those or add in weaker minion creatures to the encounter. By extension a single opponent can be locked down with something like Hold Person and that effectively ends the fight, so many creatures have things like Legendary Resistance to deal with that. Other countermeasures can be as basic as distance, cover or minions/effects that disrupt concentration.
    I need to learn how 5E treats boss monsters, Lair and Legendary Actions. For now, I think throwing Skeletons into the room with the Spectator--6 of them would make up the XP deficit for a Medium Encounter. On top of that, I think maxxing out the Spectator's HP to start, and then any round where the Spectator takes 20 damage, he loses an eyestalk. (I can always reverse the extra HP if the party is having their butts kicked.)

    Finally, on getting your players to use their abilities.
    Step one is to set up systems to remind the players that they have them. Action cards for the fighter and druid (the 9 year olds) before next session. (The 12 year old has a decent handle on her action options.)

    The simplest way is to set up scenarios where PC abilities are important, and demonstrate cool abilities yourself. Goblins using their bonus action to hide and a subtle prompt may be all you need to get the Rogue to use their Cunning action, or say for example an injured ally in need of a healing potion and an enemy in need of a face-smashing to encourage the fighter's use of Action Surge.
    Mostly that's a matter of remembering that this is 5th edition, and the fighter has options besides "which dude should I murder".

    You can also encourage lateral thinking with more complex encounters, such as creative use of darkness, terrain, cover and traps or other hazards that discourage the straight-forward charge in and steamroll strategy. These need not be combat encounters either, a rune covered hall with specific trigger and effects that must be figured out and/or bypassed can be just as challenging as a goblin shaman covering the battlefield with enchanted caltrops.
    The 9 year olds kind of need things to kill to stay interested.

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    Tanarii's Avatar

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Yeah, part of the problem may be the module. I've not heard very good things about it, in general.

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    Kane0's Avatar

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by johnbragg View Post
    I"m growing more and more dissatisfied with the Phandelver module.
    Our group really liked LMoP when I ran it. We usually do non-book adventures, so it was a different experience for them. Their favorite bits by far were bypassing the challenges and the interconnectedness. Best example I have is when they got to Cragmaw they decided to wait until dark to try and get in, but I didn't want to have nothing happen for 6 hours so I used the returning hobgoblin raid at the end of the chapter. They ambushed them, took the second-in-command hostage and brokered a deal with him to get them into the castle unmolested in return for killing big-old-ugly and leaving him the head honcho. They skipped right to the boss + doppelganger + guards, then promptly getting kicked out by the upstart when that was done.
    Then next session they came up against the green dragon and instead of trying to fight it they got real devious and suggested a much better lair: a castle hidden right in the middle of the forest, complete with its own staff, just waiting to be taken...

    But I digress. Every session is what you make it I suppose.
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    NinjaGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by PhantomSoul View Post
    The DMG has a starting estimate -- as a general rule it seems to overestimate difficulty, but it's a nice starting point. A nice idea is to compare the number of actions (full actions, bonus actions, and reactions) likely to be made in a given round by the party to the number made by your potential targets and check what kind of damage is expected for an "unspecial" round. Again, that's just a guideline, though, since actions and damage can vary wildly in how much of an effect they have (heavy-hitters vs. chip damage, stunning vs. slowing, spread-out damage vs. single-target damage).
    No, that's a great rule of thumb. Most often, the party is running two fighter attacks (TWF), rogue wizard and druid sniping (arrows and cantrips). So, against low-AC foes with bad tactics, they're DPR'ing close to 40 a round without using any specials. They never roll quite that well, but it's a solid estimate once the fighter starts to actually use his bonus actions and maneuvers.

    For the DMG guidelines based on the xp/CR, this site might be useful: http://dhmstark.co.uk/rpgs/encounter-calculator-5th/ (which includes some tips!)

    Similarly, you could use random encounter generators as a starting point, like http://tools.goblinist.com/5enc and https://donjon.bin.sh/5e/random/#typ...ment=Underdark.
    Of course, the best method -- tailored to your group/kids might be to just gradually increase the difficulty (a budget of about 1100 XP was too easy? Try 1400 XP, or try having the creatures use different strategies or add abilities your kids would think are cool or dangerous). [/quote]

    Yeah, I was relying on the module to provide reasonable challenges, and that's not happening. I was tweaking for coolness and avoiding boredom. (Room with poison fungus? Yawn. Room with poison fungus which you can avoid, but you have to avoid it while fighting zombies and skeleton archers. Yes.)

    You can also play with the terrain, since that'll make your players think differently about what they can and should do, as well as what's optimal in a given context. Worst comes to worst, depending on your kids, one (character!) accidentally dies and you have some cool way to bring them back as an undead, or your kids quest to rescue the character's soul, or maybe they instead have to bargain with some deity. That, of course, depends on what your kids will think is (a) reasonable, and (b) cool.
    They're not there. In the last campaign, I overdid it with the colorful explanation of an ogre's greatclub (log with three swords hammered through it), and there was crying when PCs went down.

    For the CR 3 creature and guessing the minimum number implied by the post (3 players at level 4),
    4 players. Mom's playing too.

    you can expect it to be on the more difficult end of easy encounters (medium starts at 750 XP, and this is 700 XP). If you're worried about giving more ahead of time but see it's too easy, then maybe the CR 3 monster summons a CR 1/4 monster (jumps the difficulty up to the low end of hard, but would end if Concentration is broken and means no other Concentration spells are cast if keeping track of that, both to reduce effective difficulty) or calls for that other creature as backup (no Concentration limitations in that case, unless you say the creature was Charmed in some long-lasting way). Or maybe you just give your CR 3 an extra cool ability that will seem impressive and/or intimidating (it may or may not be -- it could just be for show with no real bite!) or that will actually make it more of a threat, but potentially limiting how much it can be used on the fly if it seems too strong (e.g. use it only once, or have it be cast when the creature reaches a lower amount of HP).
    I like doing stuff like that, but it hasn't really mattered when the PCs are smarter than the half-mad undead and can arrange a surprise round. It really didn't matter what cool first level spells I gave the Wight when he didn't last long enough to cast more than one spell.

    Quote Originally Posted by PloxBox View Post
    A list of things I've done for my boss fights in the game i run:
    1. Add environmental obstacles.
    - cliffs where the boss can take cover and fire at the party.
    - ever changing terrain that can reposition three players unfavorably.

    2. Add conditions to slaying the boss.
    - i add phases tied to the bosses heath pool. Usually for every quarter chunk of health.
    - place special items around the battle area that are the only things that can hurt the boss. Make sure to point them out in some way though.
    - similar to the previous, place special objects around the battle area that could prevent the boss's healing factor or make it vulnerable to damage.
    HAve you been reading AngryDM? One of the best fights of the last (modded 3.5) campaign was against a giant spider in the forest, who turned into a spider swarm when he got killed.

    Quote Originally Posted by baticeer View Post
    You only have 2 players? I wouldn't worry about adjusting the encounters from the book to be harder. The low party size should compensate for the difficulties that a solo monster might have. One CR 3 spectator is already rated as a Deadly encounter against a party of two lvl 4 characters. Action economy is really important.
    4 players. I hadn't mentioned Mom, because she's a veteran roleplayer.

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    NinjaGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kane0 View Post
    Our group really liked LMoP when I ran it. We usually do non-book adventures, so it was a different experience for them. Their favorite bits by far were bypassing the challenges and the interconnectedness. Best example I have is when they got to Cragmaw they decided to wait until dark to try and get in, but I didn't want to have nothing happen for 6 hours so I used the returning hobgoblin raid at the end of the chapter. They ambushed them, took the second-in-command hostage and brokered a deal with him to get them into the castle unmolested in return for killing big-old-ugly and leaving him the head honcho. They skipped right to the boss + doppelganger + guards, then promptly getting kicked out by the upstart when that was done.
    Then next session they came up against the green dragon and instead of trying to fight it they got real devious and suggested a much better lair: a castle hidden right in the middle of the forest, complete with its own staff, just waiting to be taken...

    But I digress. Every session is what you make it I suppose.
    Yeah, the earlier phases of the module are more sandbox-y, the actual mine/dungeon is pretty basic.

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    NinjaGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tanarii View Post
    Check some of your past encounters that were too easy vs the DMG expected difficulties & adventuring day. See if they're getting off light with expected encounter difficulty, or getting too many rests.

    Keep in mind that the DMG guidelines are set to prevent TPKs. If they're running a full adventuring day with 3 deadly, 4-5 Hard, or 6 Medium encounters per rest, which is about what the tables work out too, good for them. If they're getting away with resting on half that, you're probably not pushing them hard enough.
    This. I'm used to 3rd edition, where I could build a boss encounter (or tweak and rebuild one through templating and HD boosting and adding class levels and maybe items) to give the party a hard enough time where I felt they'd earned a good rest. I'm going to have to come up with things that fit the module and fit the changes I've made that prevent resting-at-leisure in single-exit rooms behind secure doors.

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    I think that's because it's an intro adventure. You can always spice it up with overturned furniture, spilled braziers, makeshift traps/alarms, etc.

    On resting, it doesn't have to be an in-game reason even. Just say that you cant benefit from a short rest more than twice per long rest. You won't save the day having smoko every half hour, son!

    Oh, neat trick i like to do every now and again: when a creature is reduced to half or 0 HP they can use their reaction to take one action. If its the attack action they only get one, and this canít be done twice by the same creature. Makes for some nice death throes and such.
    Last edited by Kane0; 2018-01-01 at 11:20 PM.
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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Not to change the subject, but as a helpful tip a TPK doesn't necessarily mean "everybody dies". The characters could wake up tied up by goblins, or in the home of a mysterious NPC who decided to save them, or maybe on a TPK they're greeted with a voice that offers to restore them to life... but it will remember, and need a favor later.

    You have some options, if character death is your major concern.
    Walk boldly, and discover a world of wonder...

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    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Remember that unconscious =/= dead. Getting KOd is tense and scary and feels close to death, but the 5e system is very forgiving unless the DM decides to have monsters attack the downed parties.

    Make a rule for yourself, but don't tell the players: if somebody gets reduced to 0HP, enemies leave them alone. If a player asks about it, say they're going after more pressing targets. It keeps combat tense while not actually making it very lethal.

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    NinjaGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kane0 View Post
    I think that's because it's an intro adventure. You can always spice it up with overturned furniture, spilled braziers, makeshift traps/alarms, etc.
    I've been doing that, just not well. I changed what the Forge of Spells does (temporarily enchant weapons) to create monster "eggs" that stink of conjuration, enchantment, binding and evil. Which gives me fluff to put any monster at all anywhere in the dungeon, and also explains why this is a power source worth fighting over that won't turn the PCs into superheroes when they control it.

    I screwed up my tactics in one room--my zombies should have held back so the PCs had to risk setting off the poison fungus, rather than lumbering forward and getting chopped up.

    I read the list of resistances on the Wraith, and didn't consider that it was set off by pretty low HP compared to the party's damage output. So I swapped it for a Wight with some 1st level spells, and between the +1 longsword and a chromatic orb, the Wight was finished before he could cast more than one.

    On resting, it doesn't have to be an in-game reason even. Just say that you cant benefit from a short rest more than twice per long rest. You won't save the day having smoko every half hour, son!
    Problem is the Wave Echo Cave dungeon is practically designed to give long rests at the party's convenience. Unless of course there's another wraith about--incorporeal creatures are not fazed by your puny barricaded door.

    Oh, neat trick i like to do every now and again: when a creature is reduced to half or 0 HP they can use their reaction to take one action. If its the attack action they only get one, and this canít be done twice by the same creature. Makes for some nice death throes and such.
    A 3E inspired trick for undead bosses--borrow the Complete Divine/ Pathfinder channel divinity feature, dealing d6 negative energy (necrotic, I suppose) damage per HD or CR and healing the monster by the same amount.

    Quote Originally Posted by Armok View Post
    Not to change the subject, but as a helpful tip a TPK doesn't necessarily mean "everybody dies". The characters could wake up tied up by goblins, or in the home of a mysterious NPC who decided to save them, or maybe on a TPK they're greeted with a voice that offers to restore them to life... but it will remember, and need a favor later.

    You have some options, if character death is your major concern.
    It's not that they're that attached to their characters, it's the losing in general.

    Quote Originally Posted by polymphus View Post
    Remember that unconscious =/= dead. Getting KOd is tense and scary and feels close to death, but the 5e system is very forgiving unless the DM decides to have monsters attack the downed parties.

    Make a rule for yourself, but don't tell the players: if somebody gets reduced to 0HP, enemies leave them alone. If a player asks about it, say they're going after more pressing targets. It keeps combat tense while not actually making it very lethal.
    You still have the death spiral effect, though. The same action economy that usually favors the players starts to turn on them at that point.

  21. - Top - End - #21
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    Imp

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by johnbragg View Post
    A 3E inspired trick for undead bosses--borrow the Complete Divine/ Pathfinder channel divinity feature, dealing d6 negative energy (necrotic, I suppose) damage per HD or CR and healing the monster by the same amount.
    5e Undead are not healed by necrotic energy.

    Quote Originally Posted by johnbragg View Post
    You still have the death spiral effect, though. The same action economy that usually favors the players starts to turn on them at that point.
    If it's a recurring problem, remove one monster from the encounter (if there is several small ones) or give them minimum HP for one of their HD (if it's a big one).

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    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Try sending monsters in waves, let's you adjust difficulty up or down as needed.

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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by johnbragg View Post
    I"m growing more and more dissatisfied with the Phandelver module.
    Can you say why? I've run/played LMoP multiple times and myself and my friends have always thought it's one of the best starter modules out there.

    In any case, for difficulty, there's some great suggestions already. In addition, if you're looking at spells, go for the hard crowd control spells that affect multiple people. I'm specifically thinking of Hypnotic Pattern, but there's a ton of other spells that will work. Hypnotic Pattern is a save or suck, but it does allow for unaffected PCs to shake the affected ones out of their stupor, which encourages outside-the-box thinking.

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by johnbragg View Post
    Problem is the Wave Echo Cave dungeon is practically designed to give long rests at the party's convenience. Unless of course there's another wraith about--incorporeal creatures are not fazed by your puny barricaded door.
    What he's talking about it modifying rests so they're not tied only to in-game time spent. Making them more a game rules conceit. It doesn't matter how much time players spend sitting around if they only get rests at a specific pace relative to encounters, or when you determine they're appropriate, or a maximum number of times per something or other.

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    Flumph

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Add about 5-10 creatures with 1 HP, that deal 1d4+1 damage with 3+(half PC level) Attack.

    Literally Grunts and Mooks, make a few of them share initiative to make it easier on you (so like half goes on 1 initiative and half goes on a 2nd initiative)

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    NinjaGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by Oramac View Post
    Can you say why? I've run/played LMoP multiple times and myself and my friends have always thought it's one of the best starter modules out there.
    It's mostly the Lost Mine section. A lot of the rooms that are supposed to be challenges just aren't, as written. The fungus room (room 8 on the key), as written, is very meh--walk across the room, roll a saving throw. The players don't have any real choice or agency there. I rewrote the room so that there was fungus in spots, 2 skeleton archers and 3 zombies. So the players can make a semi-educated choice whether to go forward or turn back.

    Then I had a complete brain fart and had the zombies advance, rather than use the poison fungus as chokepoints. (In plot, those zombies are there to prevent anyone getting past the fungus room. So they shouldn't have shambled mindlessly towards their targets--they should have loitered in/around the fungus.) Players and zombies alike were happy to follow the railroad to mindless easy combat.

    Then I screwed up again--I switched the Wraith from the module for a Wight. The Wraith would have been a good encounter for the party. I panicked at the list of Resistances (I suspect I saw them as Immunities) and thought an incorporeal would TPK the party (3rd edition thinking). I gave one of the zombies a backpack with a copy of the MM "wight" page. (I'm teaching the 9 year olds how to play, and we're all learning 5E, so I thought that was a nifty piece of "treasure" with good plot logic--they're not the first heroes to come through here, and the guys before them did their homework but still got killed and zombified.)

    They steamrolled the Wraith in 2-3 rounds, and the spells I added on (grease, hellish rebuke, plus more it didn't get to use) didn't make much difference--their DPR took care of the Wight (+1 longsword, chromatic orb, plus the action economy even working at half damage).

    In any case, for difficulty, there's some great suggestions already. In addition, if you're looking at spells, go for the hard crowd control spells that affect multiple people. I'm specifically thinking of Hypnotic Pattern, but there's a ton of other spells that will work. Hypnotic Pattern is a save or suck, but it does allow for unaffected PCs to shake the affected ones out of their stupor, which encourages outside-the-box thinking.
    I was looking through the first level spells--I gave my Mormesk the Wight hellish rebuke, grease, silent image, burning hands, command and dissonant whispers. But the party waxed him in 2-3 rounds, so he just got off Grease (druid fell down, everyone else saved) and a hellish rebuke.

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    NinjaGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tanarii View Post
    What he's talking about it modifying rests so they're not tied only to in-game time spent. Making them more a game rules conceit. It doesn't matter how much time players spend sitting around if they only get rests at a specific pace relative to encounters, or when you determine they're appropriate, or a maximum number of times per something or other.
    Ah. A little 4E-ish, but I see. MEta-meta-gaming, that would mean a lot more resource tracking between infrequent game sessions--if we don't play for a month or more, I'm much more likely to call a long rest and have everyone start fresh. And then we plow through 2-3 fights, the PCs really aren't worn down, but the players are done after 4-5 hours.

    (Maybe 3E is more adapted to our situation--I can totally deal with the party nova'ing an encounter that the party barely gets through, then pulls back to heal up before we play again in a month or two. Meaningful attrition is harder to manage with an irregular game).

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Steamrolling a solo Wight in 3 rounds sounds about right for part of 4x3rd level characters, especially if they have magical attacks to bypass it's resistance to non-magical physical attacks. Especially if he's using spells instead of multiattacking with his longbow from behind cover at range. That's a little bit beyond a medium encounter, and 3-4 rounds for a medium encounter is about right, a little lower if it starts at close range and the opponent can't use much in the way of tactics.

    Also 40 dpr can't be right.
    TWF fighter puts out .H*13 (2 shorts words, Dex 16)
    Rogue puts out H*10 (shortbow, sneak attack, Dex 16)
    Wizard puts out H*5.5 (fire bolt)
    Druid puts out H*4.5 (produce flame)

    That's Hit chance * 33, or typically about .6*33 at low levels, for a total of ~20 DPR on average.

    Edit: yes, doing rests that way can feel a little 'metagamy', because they become a meta game only resource. if you don't want that, better to provide incentives for players not to rest. If you can. I mean you always can, but the question is how much you want to change the module, and how much the players will feel like you're just doing it to get them.
    Last edited by Tanarii; 2018-01-02 at 10:49 AM.

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    NinjaGuy

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tanarii View Post
    Steamrolling a solo Wight in 3 rounds sounds about right for part of 4x3rd level characters, especially if they have magical attacks to bypass it's resistance to non-magical physical attacks. Especially if he's using spells instead of multiattacking with his longbow from behind cover at range. That's a little bit beyond a medium encounter, and 3-4 rounds for a medium encounter is about right, a little lower if it starts at close range and the opponent can't use much in the way of tactics.

    Also 40 dpr can't be right.
    TWF fighter puts out .H*13 (2 shorts words, Dex 16)
    STR 20, One longsword +1 for d8+6 (10.5) , one shortsword for d6+5 (8.5)
    Rogue puts out H*10 (shortbow, sneak attack, Dex 16)
    DEX 20, 3d6+5 (15.5)
    Wizard puts out H*5.5 (fire bolt)
    Druid puts out H*4.5 (produce flame)
    So 19 + 15.5 + 5.5 + 4.5 = 44.5, actually.

    That's Hit chance * 33, or typically about .6*33 at low levels, for a total of ~20 DPR on average.
    The module is throwing out a lot of low AC opponents, and everyone's to-hit is at least +6, so almost everything hits.

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    Default Re: How to upgrade encounters in 5E without chancing TPK.

    Quote Originally Posted by johnbragg View Post
    The module is throwing out a lot of low AC opponents, and everyone's to-hit is at least +6, so almost everything hits.
    So that's a variant human level 8 Fighter, and a level 8 Rogue? Given one has Dual Wielder Feat plus a 20 Str, and the other a 20 Dex.

    edit: oh, okay, (good) rolled stats instead of standard array. In that case, you're on your own for balancing.
    Last edited by Tanarii; 2018-01-02 at 11:19 AM.

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