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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    ClericGuy

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    Mar 2019

    Default I'm having a hard time balancing encounters

    Hello Playground!

    As always you have been of great help! Thanks in advance and sorry for my bad english.

    I'll try to be as clear as possible, so I will split the informations:

    The context:

    I'm DMing (for the first time, actually, in our campaign wich have been about for a year and a half now (we play monthly or so) ) and the party consists of a Druid, a Warlock, Rogue, Swaschbuckler and Warblade.

    Everything was fine until now, we played without incident, the monsters are ok, treasure and experience are ok (I roll drops from MIC), the encounters and everything, ok.

    What I [used to] do:

    The usual guideline is that four level 8 players would be a level 8 party, right?
    So, as they are 5 players, it would be a little more thant that.
    Since the warblade are kinda of a "addict", and have a pretty solid min-max build, and the SB always crit (sheer luck and now she got a Keen weapon to get thing worse XD ), I always considered adding like 2 points in the party level.

    This strategy always worked, they've been able to fight CR 6 monsters at level 4, 7 or 8 at level 5, and so on.

    The problem:
    After lvl 7, things got weird...

    I tried encounters with more lower level enemies, and this takes the combat to a drag, like, the round takes forever because how many enemies... Also, they wipe weaker creatures pretty fast, so the combat always feels like a "chore", like when you are level 80 at skyrim and there's some level 12 orc "hey this is my bridge you have to pay the toll"
    :rolleyes:

    Then I tried encounters with less enemies, but powerfull. And it works (almost). I try not to see the monsters as a punch bag, I always bring some "intelligence", always moving and changing targets, because otherwise they willl just mob the monster and slice it up...

    My hard time with stronger enemies is because I feel that when they have a decent defense and attack, they usually have not so high HP (Enemies A )
    and if I pick a even stronger one, with enough HP to really fight my players, the monster usually will have real high AC and insane attacks. (Enemies B)



    Since "Enemies B" would just be "unbeatable", for now what I'm doing is make encounters with "Enemies A" and doubling their HP , adding some DR or something, but I feel like I'm clearly doing something wrong... What can I do so I wont have to "cheat" on my monsters?

    My players don't know this, and they are happy and having fun, they love the encounters, etc.
    But can someone offer some insight on this?

    Sorry for the long post

    Thanks

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    GreenSorcererElf

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    Jul 2016

    Default Re: I'm having a hard time balancing encounters

    I have had similar issues in the past.

    It's around this time you need to start throwing special abilities at the party. Tricky spells, dimensional travel, summons, ranged attacks from long distance, an invisible summoner...

    It's time to employ serious tactics rather than simply bags of hp and ac. Frustrate your players with enemies who get away, who require cleverness and planning to beat. Force them to retreat a time or two so they can come up with ways to win the next time.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Hall View Post
    So, your roleplaying guide is pretty much "Live Fast, Die Young, Leave a confusing corpse"?

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    ClericGuy

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    Mar 2019

    Default Re: I'm having a hard time balancing encounters

    Quote Originally Posted by LaurindoRC View Post
    I try not to see the monsters as a punch bag, I always bring some "intelligence", always moving and changing targets, because otherwise they willl just mob the monster and slice it up...
    Yesterday's session: The party picked two rumors in the town, bandits are destroying a forest, kidnapping Feys to sell in black market and stuff, and the daughter of the Baker run away with her lover, a travelling man (i made this rumor on the go because a player made a joke about it)

    The party went to the forest, followed footprints searching for the bandits, and find the runaway couple camping.
    So, when they say "careful in the forest, there's bandits about", i'm like PLOT TWIST TIME BITCHES!

    They backtrack to the road, tracked more prints and found the band, whose leaders are no less than the man and the girl, so everyone is like " :O "

    So, the band was the mage (girl), the warrior on a horse with a spear ( the man), the rest of the band was two rangers ON TREES shotting the party and seven "default warriors", but the warriors would always charge and/or flank the heroes and they spent great effort to get rid of the rangers.

    The mage and knight I had to totally, completely, entirely make on the go, especially the mage. She used anti magic field, displacement, fireball, invisibilty, ice storm and whatnot.

    And when the warblade emerald razor - power attacked her, dealing insane amounts of damage (as per usual), I had to just "ignore" the mage's HP and said "yeah, she felt that, visibly, but she's still standing", and keep the fight going a little more.

    Don't get me wrong, it's hard by i'm ok doing it, and my players and I are having fun (which is all that matters, right?).
    Maybe the real question is if this is supposed to happen, or if I am missing something

    Thanks!

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: I'm having a hard time balancing encounters

    Try this as a starting point: http://www.d20srd.org/extras/d20encountercalculator/ . You might also want to grab some dice, the monster entries and your players' character sheets and try a couple mock rounds to see how it goes. To make sure it's not too overwhelming or underwhelming. Also many foes are weak unless you use their special strategies. Especially stealthy or deceptive foes.

    Try reading the suggested strategies in the monster entries. Generally you want foes to sneak up on the party and try to ambush them. Or stand watch but have an alarm system to call friends over. Whether that's mechanical or simply shouting "Hey, enemies are here!" Which then means the party will figure out they can scout for enemies, sneak around themselves, create distractions and have fun with that. Foes that take 1-5 rounds to arrive are also easier than fighting them all at once, if not an entirely separate encounter with its own encounter level (if they take too long to arrive). Meaning you can add a larger number of interesting foes without it getting too difficult or slowing down play too much. Play foes intelligently and it will be even more fun. If they see anyone obviously in robes or who already cast a spell they might also ready actions to disrupt casting with ranged attacks. Even melee foes often have a ranged option. Which is also helpful with other tactics like ambushes, or to counter PC tactics that inhibit monster movement or make PCs more mobile. Or use their monster special abilities to aid with ambushes or other tactics. Some more advanced tactics you might play with are here: http://www.d20srd.org/srd/combat/specialAttacks.htm . These are especially good with large strong foes, whether or not they have the appropriate feat. To counter PC strategies try everything mentioned so far, plus monster special abilities (look them up in advance), plus simple listen checks to find invisible PCs (though listen doesn't negate the 50% miss chance): http://www.d20srd.org/srd/specialAbi...m#invisibility . Generally it's a DC 0+20=20 to find an invisible PC's square who is fighting or casting (casting must be done with a strong voice). Or as given in link for a quieter PC. I know it can be overwhelming so start with just a little strategy at a time. I hope this makes fights more fun, and I hope you don't give yourself too much work all at once. It's great that your party is having fun already.

    It's totally fine to fudge fights a little but if you do it a lot then PCs will catch on. Mostly you may want to do it if you accidentally didn't plan the difficulty right and you want a mulligan rather than expecting planning to be perfect, which seems to be what happened. But try not to do it too often otherwise. Yeah tome of battle adds some complication too, as you saw with the touch attack power attack trick. Huge damage numbers like that can lead to rocket tag where foes either lose with ease or employ their own nuclear strat. Which then might accidentally drop a PC, or be fully immune to the tactic and kill his fun. Try finding other ways if possible, like additional foes to kill. It's fine as long as you are ready for it and other party members are just as strong. If it's only 1 player with ToB and not everyone likes ToB (including yourself), then you may want to limit it. Otherwise read up on ToB and start thinking of reasonable counter strategies. And yes there are absolutely many other nuclear strats besides high damage and ToB that require the same treatment, but those don't change the fact that the other nuclear strats are still hard to deal with.
    Last edited by ericgrau; 2019-09-22 at 02:05 PM.
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  5. - Top - End - #5
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Lizardfolk

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    Default Re: I'm having a hard time balancing encounters

    Advice: If your players are having fun, stop worrying about it.

    Insight: That's the whole point of the game. I know there is stuff in the DMG and other books, and lots of talk from certain publishers about racking up a body count with tough encounters and everything, but after 40+ years of DMing, I tell you that the whole point of the game is the players having fun.
    Yes, you should have fun too. And as long as you do not get "attached" to favorite monsters or what not, you should be - as long as you accept that it is in fact you providing the awesome story that is letting the players have fun.
    And yes, all of this is supposed to happen, you are not missing anything but boring technical stuff, you are doing it right.

    Deep, Hard, Number Crunching Insight: Yeah, the system sucks like that, and starts breaking down at 7th level, going into catastrophic fail sometime around 12th level, turning into crazy rocket tag. With SEVERE control of treasure and item access you can squeak another 5 levels out of things, and with massive, intrusive, near-total "this is what you get and no you cannot trade it" level treasure control you might keep things stable past 15th level, but that's takes a lot of experience and a lot of group trust, and a lot of downtime effort to plot and plan everything.

    So yes, if you set up a ton of low CR grunts the fights can drag on, and if you use a big boss monster you face either action economy advantage from the players still overwhelming everything or boss advantage rocket tag going straight to TPK. That's pretty much standard. Designing an encounter with just enough grunts to give the boss just enough cover to get off just enough attacks to make the players bust out some cleverness so they feel awesome about the victory without getting gratuitously knocked off, or making any PC death in the process feel like a noble sacrifice and an awesome ending to a story, is way harder than it looks, and beyond any mathematical calculations. You just have to feel your way through it.

    As for "cheating" and giving monsters extra hp, or "fudging" hits and damage to make a fight easier (one of my favorite techniques has always been allowing players to "volunteer" to take a crit for another PC - lots of core noble heroism inherent in letting them choose when to risk it all for each other) - so?
    You are the DM.
    Your game. Your story. Your table.
    if your players are having fun, see above - you are doing it right. Everything else is below tertiary to that.
    Remember, as the DM you know everything about the PCs. You can always pick that one monster with DR they cannot overcome. You can always add that one template that makes the monsters unbeatable. TPKs are the easiest thing in the world. Not killing the PCs just "because" is the hard part, so if you are not doing that, then you are already ahead of the curve. And at that point, tossing a few extra hp or other boosts on the monsters to make the PCs work a bit harder, incidentally making the victory all that sweeter, then it is cheating yourself and them of the experience not to do it.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Nov 2008

    Default Re: I'm having a hard time balancing encounters

    One trick I like is to have some plot thing granting enemies minor (or not so minor) buffs or abilities in exchange for their allegiance to certain factions.

    You could make one-shot protection an actual enemy ability, something like this:

    Second Life (Su): 1/day, when damage would reduce this person below 1 HP, it's reduced by enough that they have 1d6 hit points left. If the die roll is higher than their HP before the damage, the Second Life doesn't trigger.

    Produces a red flash when it triggers, or a red flicker when the person falls below 6 HP without triggering it.

    That way, the party figures out pretty quickly what to expect from a Lieutenant of Guidas (or whatever.)

    ----

    If you wanted to increase the difficulty of that encounter further through tactics, you could've had a couple of warriors acting as interceptors; they ready an action to intercept anyone moving towards the mage. Building them as trippers helps, but they just needed to get in the way and buy the mage time.
    Last edited by Bucky; 2019-09-22 at 06:34 PM.
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  7. - Top - End - #7
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    GreenSorcererElf

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    Jul 2016

    Default Re: I'm having a hard time balancing encounters

    Quote Originally Posted by LaurindoRC View Post
    Yesterday's session: The party picked two rumors in the town, bandits are destroying a forest, kidnapping Feys to sell in black market and stuff, and the daughter of the Baker run away with her lover, a travelling man (i made this rumor on the go because a player made a joke about it)

    The party went to the forest, followed footprints searching for the bandits, and find the runaway couple camping.
    So, when they say "careful in the forest, there's bandits about", i'm like PLOT TWIST TIME BITCHES!

    They backtrack to the road, tracked more prints and found the band, whose leaders are no less than the man and the girl, so everyone is like " :O "

    So, the band was the mage (girl), the warrior on a horse with a spear ( the man), the rest of the band was two rangers ON TREES shotting the party and seven "default warriors", but the warriors would always charge and/or flank the heroes and they spent great effort to get rid of the rangers.

    The mage and knight I had to totally, completely, entirely make on the go, especially the mage. She used anti magic field, displacement, fireball, invisibilty, ice storm and whatnot.

    And when the warblade emerald razor - power attacked her, dealing insane amounts of damage (as per usual), I had to just "ignore" the mage's HP and said "yeah, she felt that, visibly, but she's still standing", and keep the fight going a little more.

    Don't get me wrong, it's hard by i'm ok doing it, and my players and I are having fun (which is all that matters, right?).
    Maybe the real question is if this is supposed to happen, or if I am missing something

    Thanks!
    That is a terrible caster. Instead have her cast fly and invisibility. Then have her rise up and get far out of range. Then it's fireball from 400 feet away. Summon some elementals and just rain death from above.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Hall View Post
    So, your roleplaying guide is pretty much "Live Fast, Die Young, Leave a confusing corpse"?

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Kelb_Panthera's Avatar

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    Oct 2009

    Default Re: I'm having a hard time balancing encounters

    So here's the thing: 3.5 has several paradigm shifts; points where the fundamental assumptions that the game runs on change. You just ran face-first into the first one at around level 7.

    CR 7+ enemies are gonna start having and requiring special abilities that you just don't see, except in limited forms, before that point. Incorporeality without being undead, teleportation effects with a range beyond a few squares. Bonus points: if the druid looks closely at his list, you might find that overland travel hooks simply stop being relevant as long-range, safe, rapid travel options become available and one or two spells can negate the need to seek food, water, and shelter altogether.

    __________________________________________________ ______________________

    Don't let the apparent power of ToB spook you. It seems like a bit much at first blush bit it's actually not all that far out of line with what warriors can do anyway. It does far more for improving their mobility than their power unless you're really bad at making warriors. The only wild standouts are white raven tactics (take two turns, back to back) and divine surge (8d8 at level 7? Who approved this?) Also, figure out how you want to interpret iron heart surge. It's horribly vague and can vary in power from virtually useless to apocalyptic, depending on how you decide it works.

    __________________________________________________ _______________________

    For the particular topic at hand:

    You're at the point where the "Ivory Tower" starts to rise out of the muck. Characters that are well made will start to stand out substantially, and even moreso against poorly built characters, while the classes with greater ease of use will start to stand out from the more complex characters. A well built warblade is gonna stand out -massively- against a poorly built rogue or druid, for example.

    This can make encounter design a bit tough. The trick, as you've already started to discover, is to have moderately powerful foes surrounded by mooks.

    The mage girl thing was on you. A squishy caster's first priority is to stay as far from being hit as she can and have ways to negate hits when she can't. Antimagic field is awful for doing either. AMF is for gish vs full caster fights and even then as an ace-in-the-hole, not a priority tactic. Gotta improve your tactical accumen more than anything, IMO. The Warblade saw his opportunity and took it, that should be rewarded rather than discarded, IMO.

    As for fudging combat results, I -loathe- the practice. If I catch on with a new DM that they do it regularly, I'll quit the group. Plot is secondary to the game elements for me. It's a close second, but it -is- secondary. That may or may not be true for you and your group. Sufficient system mastery and tactical accumen can overcome just about everything in the game so resorting to what is, in my mind, cheating simply isn't acceptable.
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  9. - Top - End - #9
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    ClericGuy

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    Mar 2019

    Default Re: I'm having a hard time balancing encounters

    Thanks for the advice :D

    Is not even about the mage XD used AMF just to fool around with the magic items of the warblade when he charged against the mage, was worth it just for the look on his face

    Gonna focus more on the quantity of foes. My players like to role play but they rather spend time in combat, however 10+ turns on a round sometimes feels exhausting both to me and the players.

    Thanks guys!


    P.S.:
    About Iron Heart Surge, we had a fight early on about the maneuver, ended up agreeing in:

    - If you cant take standard actions you cant use it
    - Only cure stuff that have explicit duration in rounds (so it cant remove ability damage)
    - If he can only take standard actions (e.g slow spell), when he uses it the turn ends (he doesn't get back the move action)

    We didn't get in AOE spells, but I guess will only stop affecting him or something,

    Again, thank you guys, you are incredible,as always

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    RedWizardGuy

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    Oct 2013

    Default Re: I'm having a hard time balancing encounters

    I tend to use more monsters myself. But then I like combat to bog down.

    But don't be afraid to put blockers on the field. Even if they all die in one hit, until they do, they prevent the party from getting to the actual monster and one-rounding it. And give the boss flank bonuses, punish shock troopers for tanking their AC, chew up Mirror Images, CdG downed party members, etc.

    I tend to give bosses max hp (slightly inferior to a clean double). And give them some buff potions/totems/tattoos. A few points of natural armor, stoneskin (which may not work on the fighter, but it works on the summons and animal companion), or minor resistance to the caster's favorite energy type gives them more durability without adding to the loot pile.

    Your boss mage getting 1-shotted. It happens. But those are the epic moments your players will remember. They aren't failures on your part, they are TTRPG victories.
    You can fudge the boss's hit points in a drawn out battle when you want him to live another round. But don't block the lucky x4 crit that obliterates him in the first round.

    For the really BBEG, go all out. Have something in the prior room run away and warn him. And then buff him to high heaven.

    My group just got to the end of RHoD. L9 and 10, 6 characters. I'd built Azarr into a serious CoDzilla (L11 cleric), dedicated to defense, and they let an earlier monster get away and warn him so he could buff up. His AC was 39, 41 vs good, plus miss chance, mirror images, and a couple save rerolls. When they came in, he dispelled a bunch of their buffs, and the room Silence plus a Ring of Spell Battle loaded with a Dispel and his own SR kept them from doing the same to him.
    The first 7 rounds they accomplished basically nothing (maybe 50 damage total, which he healed almost as fast as they dealt it out), while half the party got taken out. Then his 1rd/lvl buffs started expiring (didn't give him Persist), and the Crusader and Warblade started landing effective hits. When he Healed himself, I saw the edges of panic. But even more buffs were down, so they stayed in it and went through his second hitpoint stack much faster.

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Pixie in the Playground
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    Feb 2015

    Default Re: I'm having a hard time balancing encounters

    Ive run games between level 1-10

    Near the high end of that level range, solo encounters get one shot by *something*. For most encounters it tends to not be HP damage, it's oops it got grappled to death and everyone else prevented it from doing anything so it was tactically a 1-shot. One of the Save-or-Loses hits after a bunch of misses. Giving them extra HP or insane defenses can work, but it can make their weakness you forgot to address make them a non-obvious puzzle monster.

    Instead giving the boss helpers that arrive over time is a good way to make battles fun. There aren't too many creatures in the scene at once so it doesn't slow down too badly. Also, 1 fireball doesn't destroy the entire squad of level 1 pikemen helpers.

    One thing I do is instead of "Each creature has an initiative roll", I make it so the enemies have 2-6 places in initiative. This prevents the enemies 100-0ing a character because they all moved at once, but doesn't slow down everything having Orc #6 take his move separately from all the other Orcs.

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    ClericGuy

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    Mar 2019

    Default Re: I'm having a hard time balancing encounters

    Maybe it was my poor english, sorry.

    To clarify: the mage was an example, she didn't got 1-shotted. She WOULD have, because the warblade used his combo with his MageBane greatsword. Hence the AMF, as I said, it was absolutely worth it, for the look on his face the moment I told him "no, you fell you sword numb down, you won't be rolling those extra dice" XD

    So I made the AMF, and she kept retreating and casting damaging spells at the party he left behind when he charged. He felt punished, I guess XD

    I had to "fudge" not the rolls, her HP so he wont mow her down, but then again I guess any mage my warblade can touch will probably be one shotted because he's kinda designed the character for that. So the mages will always be invisible and/or fly away and stuff.

    Also that fireball at the end got him at -8 so I guess they'll start thinking twice :P


    Again, thank you all!

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