Dungeons and CR's. why is my party always winning?


Homebrew and House Rules


Hey i really need some help with this... I don't know what to do! My party seems to be trouncing on every CR encounter i give them. Just this last weekend i set up one of my best dungeons yet in my opinion, (to me who has only been playing pen and papers for a year) It was a watery cave with multiple paths to take through the entire encounter, and our merfolk anti-paladin was happy to be able to use a mixture of water and land to traverse the entire dungeon (They are pirates). Shut up! i thought it was clever!

I'll tell you the party and then the encounters and id like to ask how i could have improved it.

The party: (all 5th level)
1) Anti paladin (Two handed, Sunder specialized)
2) Fighter (TWF, Disarm specialized)
3) Rogue (unoptimized, skill monkey, her weapons are a cutlass and a pistol, Duel wielded at the same time ish)
4) Bard (Net and Trident, Support)
5) Alchemist (Stink bomb)
6) Ranger (Sable Company Marine, Musket and flying mount)

its safe to say, my party has A LOT of control options against weapons and anyone who gets too close, and stink bomb keeps ranged foes at bay and separates melee combatants in early initiative. They have a lot of team work which i LOVE seeing in a party, but its so strong! i want to give them a challenge so i thought i would send them against some "higher CR encounters" which they trounced.

APL is 5 + 1 for having 6 players, then an additional +1 for challenging. So i was looking at CR 7 at a minimum for these encounters.

Encounters:

First encounter
4 Advanced Troglodytes (CR 2)
1 Troglodyte (Druid 3) (CR 4)
So in total this was a CR 10 fight, i thought it would have been a pretty epic fight- but the players won initiative and took out 2 troglodytes before they could attack, the other 2 missed nearly all of their full attacks (with a +4 they didn't have that great chances of hitting anyway) and the druid troglodyte only got a chance to cast Burning disarm on the ranger, Heat metal on the fighters armor and Soften earth and stone (causing a small cave in). The fighter dipped pretty low in health but the bards happy sticks (wand of cure light wounds) kept him healthy after the fight

Second Encounter:
3 Bat swarm (CR 2)
I had assumed that the party would find swarms hard because of their lack of magical damage output, too late did i remember the alchemist when he 2 shot all three of the swarms in the crowded cave, passing his saves to not be distracted.

Third encounter:
2 executioners hood (Cr 2)
1 Gelatinous Cube (Cr 3)
The point of the encounter would have been for the players to stumble onto the hoods in a dead end, then the gelatinous cube would walk in from behind, his large body cutting off any escape. This was probably the most successful of the encounters, as it caused a good amount of confusion and some funny RP moments.

Fourth Encounter:
2 Advanced Troglodyte (CR 2)
1 minotaur skeleton (CR 5)
The minotaur was a nerfed version of "Scarwall Guard" i thought DR 10 and 2 attacks was a little much, but then the minotaur was disarmed and had nothing to fall back too except his claws.

Fifth encounter:
1 Troglodyte 6th level cleric (CR 7)
4 Skeletal Troglodytes (Cr 1)
Honestly making the troglodytes skeletal nerfed them, going from 18 constitution and better HD they lost a lot of health for just a little DR. The cleric got one channel negative energy out and then his divine focus was sundered. He cast enough to incap the warrior, but the whole dungeon had been a beating for him anyway. while the rest of the party was relatively safe.

Sixth encounter: Final encounter
1 Dark Naga (CR 8)
This was the one time the party was actually somewhat scared. They couldn't identify the naga and were crazed when it started pin pointing their weakest targets (Namely the fighter, using its detect thoughts) casting lighting bolt after lighting bolt. He incapped two of the players and set another to sleep with its poison, but was taken out by the consistent touch attack damage of the alchemist and ranger.

I think the dungeon went really well and showed me a bit, but it brings me to my point- CR?! every single encounter was above their CR (Save the bats) but it took multiple high level CRs to even dent the confidence of my players. But it seems that CRs don't really mean... anything to them. Maybe i'm just playing the NPCs badly or i have too much of a soft spot and don't want to kill my players (Such as AOEs on incapped players) but over all i can't get a balance of challenging and fun without running the risk of TPKing my party.

Scarab Sages

Yeah, if they're even remotely optimized, they're gonna breeze through those encounters.

What I've started doing is considering my group's power, and just increasing the average CR by 2 or 3... for a group of 4 players. For a group of 6 players at level 6, I'd consider throwing two CR 7 monsters at them at MINIMUM. That's a lot of firepower and control, and they'll likely be able to blow through the monsters pretty quickly. Remember, it's not just about CR, but high enemy health and defense is.

Let's take, say, your 2 Advanced Trogs and Minotaur Skeleton. The Trogs may be advanced, but the party can likely two-shot them at this level. Maybe three-shot them if they don't have great damage ability. With 6 party members, those trogs get dropped instantly. Then it's a 6 v 1 fight with the Minotaur, a CR 5, and that's just said.

Instead, consider something like a small pack of Minotaur skeletons (CR 8), each of which is tougher overall than your two advanced trogs, and likely has higher defenses.

Basically, when looking at your party, especially a large party, an Equal CR opponent is gonna be a cakewalk. Groups of lower level opponents will be, too. You wanna look at groups of equal CR opponents, or opponents of a MUCH higher CR to challenge them (Groups of 3+ CR6s/7s, or a single CR 10 for a challenge).


CR = APL should be a fairly easy encounter. The PCs should spend around 20-25% of their resources.

CR = APL+1 to APL+2 should be challenging encounters. The PCs should spend up to 50% of their resources on these.

CR = APL+3 should be a very hard encounter. The PCs should spend around 75% or so of their resources, and one or two PCs may end up dead.

CR = APL+4 is a fight that runs a near 50/50 chance of being a TPK.

***

Also, several of your encounters have CR below their APL:

The bat swarm encounter is a CR 5 encounter.
The hoods+cube encounter is midway between a CR 5 and a CR 6 encounter.
The 2 troglodytes + skeleton encounter is a CR 6 encounter.

So it stands to reason that the party would breeze through those.

Sovereign Court

In all honesty, they are suppose to succeed. There shouldn't be a "player vs. GM" stigma.

However, if you're only concerned with challenging them... and not killing them or forcing them to "lose," then I feel that's a fair interpretation of how things should go.

As for your players: six 5th level players? I think the APL is based on 5-player parties. For each additional, you should be increasing the APL by +1.

Your players' party should, if I'm understanding things properly, be at an APL of 6. Any encounter that's CR3 or lower should be a cakewalk for them, as opposed to a CR9 being epic in difficulty.


Hi!

Whoops, CRs can be tricky. I can see where you're running into problems, though, and it's actually the way you're calculating them. Open up this page of the SRD with me and let's run through your encounters.

Quote:

First encounter

4 Advanced Troglodytes (CR 2)
1 Troglodyte (Druid 3) (CR 4)

You have four CR 2 creatures (correctly totalled to CR 6) and one CR 4. On the "Experience Points Awards" table, it shows you that CR 6 = 2400 exp, and CR 4 = 1200. When you add these together, you get 3600 exp, which is just barely above CR 7's 3200 and well below CR 8's 4800.

Your first encounter was actually CR 7, which is "challenging" according to the Encounter Design chart.

Quote:

Second Encounter:

3 Bat swarm (CR 2)

CR 5, "easy."

Quote:

Third encounter:

2 executioners hood (Cr 2)
1 Gelatinous Cube (Cr 3)

2 CR 2 creatures = CR 4. CR 4 is 1200, plus CR 3's 800, gives you a total of 2000, in the middle between CR 5 and CR 6. Still "easy" per the chart.

Quote:

Fourth Encounter:

2 Advanced Troglodyte (CR 2)
1 minotaur skeleton (CR 5)

1200 + 1600 = 2800, in the middle between CR 6 and CR 7, making it an "avegare" encounter.

Quote:

Fifth encounter:

1 Troglodyte 6th level cleric (CR 7)
4 Skeletal Troglodytes (Cr 1)

3200 + 1600 = 4800 is CR 8, a "hard" encounter per the chart.

Quote:

Sixth encounter: Final encounter

1 Dark Naga (CR 8)

CR 8, also "hard" on the chart.

WITH THAT SAID: CRs are not an exact science. If you feel like making the trogs skeletons nerfed them, treat them as CR 1/2 instead of CR 1, which would make that encounter closer to a CR 6.

Also, because your party is well built and they work well together, feel free to act like their APL is another one higher than it actually is. When you're making encounters, if you feel like CR 7 is "average" for them these days, treat it like it is.


Standard encounters aren't necessarily the place to kill characters.

Boss encounters on the other hand should be memorable. Even if acting like you are playing for keeps can go a LONG way to this. Also I think the recommended CR is APL+3(or 4) for boss encounters.

Also are you sure on the CR values of your encounters? they seem off to me...

NOTE: Every campaign I run bears a "This campaign will be hazardous to your character's health." warning. If they make it to Lvl. 5 before a PC dies I have failed. Though I refuse to give them an unremarkable death. Every death must be memorable to at least the Player of the fallen character. Luckily I have succeeded every time. It is their goal to beat me. And it has been that way for 50 campaigns in the past (almost) year. I used to say 2 years until someone pointed out it hasn't even been a year yet.

P.S.: sorry for the rant.

Sovereign Court

Question #1, did they have fun?

Sovereign Court

All of this aside: having easy encounters can be really positive for player morale too. Having exceptionally challenging encounters relentlessly can become discouraging. It's okay to let them feel like heroes, so don't feel bad about things seeming easy once in a while :)


Baroh Steelcleave wrote:
All of this aside: having easy encounters can be really positive for player morale too. Having exceptionally challenging encounters relentlessly can become discouraging. It's okay to let them feel like heroes, so don't feel bad about things seeming easy once in a while :)

I agree with this actually... only I feel it should have the last for words bolded and italicized...

Silver Crusade

Every battle need not be a "close call." With some folks going down during the "final encounter," it sounds like the whole dungeon provided a decent challenge. Also sounds like your players had fun (funny RP moments, etc.)

CR also may depend on how many build points you gave. For example, with 20pt builds and a smart (optimizing) party, I always assume a +1 CR.

Sovereign Court

Baroh Steelcleave wrote:
All of this aside: having easy encounters can be really positive for player morale too. Having exceptionally challenging encounters relentlessly can become discouraging. It's okay to let them feel like heroes, so don't feel bad about things seeming easy once in a while :)

This is so very true. If every encounter is life-or-death, they get scared and don't want to explore or do risky things. Also, it can be a morale drain.

For example, I'm in a Battletech campaign and every battle is a knock-down, drag-out fight, with at least one of our mechs being destroyed each time (we only have a handful in the merc group we formed). I'm thinking of calling it quits because it is just no fun to get kicked around all the time.


CR is iffy. Between optimized and non optimized there is a vast difference of at least +1APL. Also having 6 well build PCs is usually worth more than just +1APL.

So in your case I would set this party at least at APL7 which means they will breeze through a CR7 encounter - which they did.

Also I find that you can usually decrease the CR of a group of opponents that is below the number of party members unless the opponents have special defenses (such as Invis, favored terrain...).

Take your fifth encounter. If the party wins the initiative it can kill the Priest before it can even act.

So, in short, you need to find your own adjustment to the APL (and of course heed Anetras advice).

Sczarni

Consider low level traps, they might add little to CR but increase difficulty significantly. A simple boulder which activates might close the way for them and split party to 2-4 persons. A simple CR 7 encounter might even prove fatal for those who got split.

Consider that bosses can prebuff with potions/spells if they know that PCs are coming.


well, to give a little more history in this group they started at level 3 and since have gotten 2 KOs in their progression. It seems that lower CR monsters have little to no chance of beating their 24+ ac, and "boss" monsters are either focused down relentlessly or are magic casting classes with spells that can 1 shot a player if they get good rolls. One thing that i don't like about having magic users as bosses is that it encourages you to use all of your high level spells in one fight, this is not realistic in many cases.

Let me rephrase- this was a good dungeon. with a good ending, KOing 2 of my players at the end. I feel that all of the players had a good time. The problem was that i felt that the CRs were drastically higher than i thought they should be. My calculations were off it seems, but some of them i don't generally understand. I've heard multiple different ways of giving CR to creatures with class levels, i've been using 1 level = +1 to CR, but i know i've read somewhere a different interpretation.

"3 monsters = CR + 3", so the bats were CR 5 i can understand that now but they have VERY little magical damage and i didn't think they had a good way of dealing with swarms until i forgot the alchemist- so it was a little mistake on my part.

Edit: Also a little about traps; i never know how to implement them, i've had my party complain to me that they don't want to "Roll dice every step" and that "Adventurers are watching their step all the time, so they should get automatic perception checks" Well thats fair enough for a couple members of the party with high wisdom, but every trap in just about every one of my encounters before has been discovered. and i don't know how to put traps into combat, other than just putting them on the ground randomly and hoping the players will run into them.


VDZ wrote:
I've heard multiple different ways of giving CR to creatures with class levels, i've been using 1 level = +1 to CR, but i know i've read somewhere a different interpretation.

In the Monster Advancement section of the Bestiary, you'll find a section with the heading "Adding Class Levels" which explains how to add class levels to your monsters, and how to calculate their CR once you've done it.

Basically, though, how well the monster meshes with the class will impact how the CR is calculated. If the creature has a high STR and CON and you're adding fighter levels, for example, you add 1 to the CR for each class level... if you're adding wizard, though, you add 1/2 CR per class level until the number of class levels meet or exceed the initial CR.

For example, take a Minotaur. He has high STR and is all about the bashing. A Minotaur with 4 fighter levels would be CR 8 (adding 4 to his existing CR of 4). A Minotaur with 4 cleric levels, on the other had, would be CR 6.

Liberty's Edge

If you have problems with high AC the solution is generally spellcasting. Hitting the fighter with some nice WillNegates debuffs like fear or hold person will shake things up and reward your bard if he spent a spell known or carries a wand to counter the condition, while also eating one of the bards actions.

If you dislike the Sunder/Disarm combo, turn to monsters with devastating natural attacks. Like a pack of Advanced Dire Wolves. Now thats gonna scare them. Trip is the best type of PC control.

The underground dungeon filled with water was a good move, seriously. You yourself said the merfolk enjoyed being able to use his aquatic skills. Letting a player play to some of his more unique strengths is a good thing.

The rogue will fear damage with his low AC and low health. If the entire group of enemies target the rogue, that will force the entire party to shift into a defensive position, allowing you to actually damage the paladin and fighter, most likely.

If theyre so Sunder happy, you can always pay them back. Sunder the alchemists backpack and suddenly his kit is all over the floor. Then tell him he needs to spend a move action to drop prone if he wants to mix anything, then he spends the standatd action to mix it, then he needs to spend a move action to stand up and a standard action to throw his bomb. Cuts his actions in half, basically. That will really devastate him


Enemy spellcasters don't need to load up on Save-or-Die spells, either, you can cast debuffs on the party to kick down their ability to quickly dish out damage. Spells like Bestow Curse, Slow, Crushing Despair and Waves of Fatigue can slow your party down without knocking a player completely out of the fight.

Spells that hold, fear, and poison the party are great to use if they have someone to reverse the effects -- if the bard has Remove Fear on their list of spells known, targetting other combatants with fear effects will make the bard into a superstar when they can undo it and get their teammates back into the fight, and you can cost them a round of damage while they get it reversed.


VDZ wrote:


Edit: Also a little about traps; i never know how to implement them, i've had my party complain to me that they don't want to "Roll dice every step" and that "Adventurers are watching their step all the time, so they should get automatic perception checks" Well thats fair enough for a couple members of the party with high wisdom, but every trap in just about every one of my encounters before has been discovered. and i don't know how to put traps into combat, other than just putting them on the ground randomly and hoping the players will run into them.

For traps in combat, if the monsters set up the traps and know they're there, they can lure the PCs into position and set the traps off intentionally. Or set up a gauntlet of trapped ground your melee types have to cross to get to the ranged enemies.

Sczarni

VDZ wrote:


Edit: Also a little about traps; i never know how to implement them, i've had my party complain to me that they don't want to "Roll dice every step" and that "Adventurers are watching their step all the time, so they should get automatic perception checks" Well thats fair enough for a couple members of the party with high wisdom, but every trap in just about every one of my encounters before has been discovered. and i don't know how to put traps into combat, other than just putting them on the ground randomly and hoping the players will run into them.

Problem is action economy. They have 6 players so trap is doomed to be discovered even with high perception checks.

But biggest problem is that they shouldn't receive automatic perception checks. There are class abilities which grant this feature already. If they wanna pass near the trap, they have to work for it. You can make a cover of some traps (for example a bush) and claim that if they want to receive perception check that they should have first checked bellow the cover. Sometimes(rarely), simply activate a trap, don't bother for perception checks. Tell them they are missing alot if they detect every possible trap. You can even use illusions to cover them up.


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It's also important to note that the composition of the encounter is critical.

Some creatures put together have great synergy and as such can end up being a much more difficult encounter than the total CR would suggest. For example, a Shambling Mound (CR 6) coupled with a group of 4 Shocker Lizards (CR 2) should be a CR 8 encounter, but it's probably closer to CR 9 based on difficulty rather than just XP.

Also, the number of creatures is a huge factor. One big creature of greater CR can sometimes work. Sometimes it ends up being overkill while other times the action economy of the party will destroy it with no trouble. On the other side you could use a bunch of creatures with a CR six below the party. For example, 8 creatures of CR 4 is a CR 10 encounter, so you'd think the action economy of 8 would benefit the creatures against a party of Level 9 PCs and be a challenge but it's actually not much of one. The problem on this end is the creatures often end up being too weak to injure the party so the number of attacks don't matter as much.

There is something to be said about a critical mass of creatures that can be effective. I find grouping two to four creatures together of about equal CR to the party or one to three CR lower at max. So if the party is APL 6, then you could try two creatures of CR 5 (total CR 7) or four creatures of CR 3 (total CR 7). There are other similar combinations but these combos seem to be the sweet spot for average or challenging encounters.

Note, I find that's the sweet spot for average or challenging; hard to epic encounters can have a completely different design.

Anyway, to sum it all up: encounter design is an art and something you learn over time. That's the important part - that you're learning. Keep it up.


Malag wrote:
VDZ wrote:


Edit: Also a little about traps; i never know how to implement them, i've had my party complain to me that they don't want to "Roll dice every step" and that "Adventurers are watching their step all the time, so they should get automatic perception checks" Well thats fair enough for a couple members of the party with high wisdom, but every trap in just about every one of my encounters before has been discovered. and i don't know how to put traps into combat, other than just putting them on the ground randomly and hoping the players will run into them.

Problem is action economy. They have 6 players so trap is doomed to be discovered even with high perception checks.

But biggest problem is that they shouldn't receive automatic perception checks. There are class abilities which grant this feature already. If they wanna pass near the trap, they have to work for it. You can make a cover of some traps (for example a bush) and claim that if they want to receive perception check that they should have first checked bellow the cover. Sometimes(rarely), simply activate a trap, don't bother for perception checks. Tell them they are missing alot if they detect every possible trap. You can even use illusions to cover them up.

If the party is traveling cautiously they can all get perception checks automatically and it's really only fair to give them. The alternative is for the players to remember to say, every time, "We're going down the left hallway, looking for traps" and screw them the first time they forget. If they want to make it standard procedure, let them.

Those are active Perception checks and take a move action, so they'll be moving at half speed, which is the key. Trap Spotter lets a Rogue get reactive checks. If they're chasing someone or charging an enemy, they're not going to be moving slow. If the sounds of a fight in one room have alerted nearby enemies, they'll have more time to prepare and alert others.


VDZ wrote:
and i don't know how to put traps into combat, other than just putting them on the ground randomly and hoping the players will run into them.

Traps in combat are really cool if done well. Don't just drop them randomly - have a rationale for why they exist where they are and how they are tied to the combat part. Usually the trap going off will gate to a combat scene, or a combat scene will end with a trap, instead of the trap going off in the middle of the fight. Examples:

1) A falling block trap crushes 1 (or more) PCs for some damage. It leaves a hole in the ceiling, and swarms of bats fly down into the room. Roll initiative!

2) The party gets in a fight with some trogs, and mows down the minions. Without his meat wall to protect him, the evil cleric leader flees down the corridor. He knows a specific path that avoids the pressure plates tied to a variety of traps along the length of the hallway... but the PCs aren't so lucky. Chasing after him, they trigger one - likely stopping their pursuit to avoid blundering into further nastiness, and allowing the cleric to find more minions and buff them up for a climactic engagement (or just escape to become a recurring villain).

Sovereign Court

Baroh Steelcleave wrote:
All of this aside: having easy encounters can be really positive for player morale too. Having exceptionally challenging encounters relentlessly can become discouraging. It's okay to let them feel like heroes, so don't feel bad about things seeming easy once in a while :)

It can also make them smug and over confident, for when the BBEG shows up.... to make them sweat a little.

Still sometimes its ok for the party to feel like they got the better of an encounter... especially if their strategy works, and they're rolling/doing well.


The other issue with CR is the break points. According to the GMG guidelines at APL+5 abilities start appearing that the players may not be able to answer. Like DR they can't penetrate at standard WBL or AC that only the glassiest of cannons can hit with any reliability.

This means if you feel you need to use an APL+6 boss to challenge the party you should probably instead use an APL+3-4 boss and pad out the CR with minions.

Sovereign Court

Also break the room, monster, fight, loot, next room dynamic... like round 1 encounter 1... the monsters take off in different directions alerting the rest of the dungeon...


my tips:
don't use too many monsters that use weapons or equipment, there are plenty that don't.
Do not let them discuss tactics in combat except short phrases, normally it's someone with an extraordinary talent for tactics that makes the difference.

Get bigger monsters. Elementals and Golems are my favorite.
Use the environment to your advantage, they don't have a wizard and can hardly control anything magical.
Every mundane fighter will fall, but perhaps they would enjoy a group of water elementals with their nets and disarms or even sunder attemps.

Also you've got an evil group, they can reduce pretty much any non-combat-challenge, to a combat-challenge.

So in short, bigger, tougher, meaner, ennemies with magic.


Meat wrote:
Also break the room, monster, fight, loot, next room dynamic... like round 1 encounter 1... the monsters take off in different directions alerting the rest of the dungeon...

That essentially compresses the dungeon into fewer encounters, possibly just one or two if the denizens are smart about things. It's safe on the breakpoints, but it risks the CR hitting absurd levels if the dungeon is well populated and has organized denizens. It also makes medium duration buffs more efficient which eases the issue somewhat, but it's probably harder to design a dungeon for organized resistance at the right challenge level than individual rooms. Marathon fights are also fatiguing to play through and if your play time is bounded can run late without leaving good stopping points.

It's a good idea, but it's probably not suitable to someone who is having trouble making the CR system work and is probably only really suited to marathon sessions or groups that use software to track stuff and can save the battlemap, spell durations, initiative order, and such to file.

Sovereign Court

You can certainly increase the tension if monsters try to run away to alert the rest of the dungeon, or if the noise from the combat attracts some other creatures investigating what's going on (and since they're on the outskirts of the combat, those creatures stand a good chance of withdrawing to gather help). Do this once with not too strong creatures, returning with frighteningly superior numbers, and the party suddenly wants combat to be a quiet scuffle instead of a loud brawl.

Traps are mostly there to slow people down. If the party pursues monsters, they can't check carefully for traps. If they're taking a long time to check everything for traps, they spend a long time in the dungeon, increasing chances for the denizens to notice them and raise the alarm.

---

Anyway, I agree with the earlier advice that at a certain point, low-end monsters even in large numbers have a hard time being a threat. They can still try to mob you using Flanking and 8:1 odds (try disarming that!), but to really threaten a party it's probably better not to go too far below APL for the individual monsters. In that respect I just don't think the paizo formula really works for large CR/APL differences. I mean, +/-3 is where it starts groaning and after that it breaks down.

All in all I like your encounters, they could've been tougher but the form is imaginative.

It's a funny party. Alchemist is basically the ideal anti-swarm class, so don't expect those to do much, except perhaps underwater swarms, since I don't think his bombs will do a lot underwater. Have you checked out the Leech Swarm? It's terrifying.

Lots of disarming/sundering going on. Suddenly having only natural weapon opponents would be cheesy, but mixing it up looks necessary. I like the earlier suggestion of Sundering the backpack; it's not destroying a treasured item, but it's funny and quite effective.

Consider monsters with a backup dagger, or shield bash (since shields are hard to disarm); can still be Sundered, but it does help the players distinguish between what those two characters are good at.

Against the effective range attacks, maybe you could test their mettle with smoke bombs and creatures with blindsense? That can get pretty hairy.

---

All things considered, you can amp it up a bit, but it's kinda fun feeling like The Man kicking butt, so it's good that most encounters are easy; having a good mix of easy and hard helps keep things in perspective. Enjoy :)


The main factor I've found with large parties, I run 7 player parties on a regular basis for years, is action economy. 7 PCs with PC gear vs 1-3 guys with NPC gear means that the NPCs are going to be destroyed by how many actions can be done in a round, with the PCs having better tools too.

Adding low level minions doesn't aways work too well. If you have AC monkeys in your party (as I do) they are only 5 percent effective at attacks, if you have charm masters (as I do), they are 95 percent likely to get shut down with a mental effect. If you have blasters (as I do), they are 100 percent likely to be shot down with AoE damage. If they have a controller (as I do), they are 50 percent or higher to get shut out of the encounter. And if you have the damage spiker (as I do), they get ignored to take out the boss in 1-2 hits.

So what to do? Rethink what makes encounters challenging. Add environmental effects, like difficult terrain, water, lava, flying combatants. Give the enemy the ability to move, while restricting the PCs. Take away their options, make their action economy get wasted on fighting the conditions. A spring attacking earth gliding enemy makes everybody ready actions, what happens when the enemy does something else? Wasted PC turn, monster gets ahead in actions (assuming action was relevant). Same thing goes for flyby/ride-by attacks. Put an enemy archer behind cover, with difficult terrain between. Have him stand up, fire an arrow, then drop prone.

Lastly, make the minions you do you spam conditions. Dretches are nasty little things, casts stinking cloud, but the DC is lowish, and they are mostly weak. But add that to an existing encounter... Suddenly some of your PCs are in the corner throwing up, and the other PCs now have to face the BBEG down a couple of players. AoE save or suck spells vs large parties are more likely to work at least somewhat due to so many dice being rolled.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

Yup; As folks have mentioned, the majority of encounters in the game SHOULD be things that your PCs succeed at. An encounter of a CR equal to the average party level should be something that a group of four PCs can take on 4 to 5 times before they really start to get worried about resources and the like. If you have more than four players... that number increases quickly. The best way to bolster up encounters for groups of six is to have lots more foes in an encounter or to simply maximize enemy hit points so it takes longer for them to go down. Simply adding higher CR foes is a dangerous way to "balance" for large parties, since the individual characters aren't more powerful and facing higher CR foes increases the chance of sudden character death.

Sovereign Court

The funny things about dretches is that they're immune to poison themselves, so they can fight inside the cloud with no trouble. If it's attacking people trying to stumble out, that's nasty.

Contributor

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Short answer: the game is rigged in favor of the PCs. You want the PCs to win, because if they lose, the campaign is over.

A CR-appropriate fight for 4 PCs is APL+0. That's a fight against one PC at APL+1 (frex, 4 4th-level PCs vs. 1 5th-level NPC). That is not a fair fight.

A fair fight would be 4 PCs against 4 PCs of the same level (frex, 4 4th-level PCs vs. 4 4th-level NPCs). That would be an APL+3 fight. That's a tough fight, a fair fight.

You have 6 PCs instead of 4 PCs, which means they're having an easier time against a fair fight (APL+3) for 4 PCs.

It's okay if most of the fights are easy. They're the protagonists of the story, they're supposed to hew through the mooks and have a big cinematic fight against the "boss."


VDZ wrote:
well, to give a little more history in this group they started at level 3 and since have gotten 2 KOs in their progression. It seems that lower CR monsters have little to no chance of beating their 24+ ac, and "boss" monsters are either focused down relentlessly or are magic casting classes with spells that can 1 shot a player if they get good rolls. One thing that i don't like about having magic users as bosses is that it encourages you to use all of your high level spells in one fight, this is not realistic in many cases.

Have you considered guns, alchemy weapons (acid flask, alchemist's fire, flask weapons), flame blade scroll (touch attack), etc.

Like Kobold Grenadiers (using flasks) hit touch AC (and have low CR).

The Exchange

Sean K Reynolds wrote:

Short answer: the game is rigged in favor of the PCs. You want the PCs to win, because if they lose, the campaign is over.

In my opinion, the game is way tooo mind numbingly easy after about level 3. Our local group is fairly heavily optimized, and good at teamwork. If we the encounters aren't CR+3-4 it isn't interesting.

It isn't simply a question of APL - boosting the APL merely results in greater treasure and the cycle repeats.

It would be interesting if there were a champion line of modules perhaps in the same setting - but where the encounter levels were boosted, and the rewards lessened.


Your dungeon actually looked really fun first of all and it seems that you have a natural talent for encounter building. That being said you have very specific focused people in your group:

1. You have two people who specialize in antiweapon combat. Although you don't want them to feel useless you should probably focus more on enemies that don't rely on them. So in a 8 encounter dungeon have 3 encounters with enemies with weapons and 5 without...of course you can tweak that to have a werewolf boss using a greatsword and his 4 wolf pets as well to differentiate. The key would be finding a balance where your enemies can actually use their attacks and your players can still used their specialized abilities. Another thing is that once they reach around lvl 9-10+ the CMD of opponents will increase dramatically making your life a little easier. So if you really have to just hang in there and prepare fun times when you get to use monsters with really awesome abilities!

2. You have two people who are focusing on ranged touch attacks. Throw some enemies at them that rely on their dex for AC instead of natural armor or normal armor. One of them is only a 3/4 BAB and will all of sudden notice that hitting things is difficult. Also they are probably in the back of the group usually so have something come out of a secret door behind them and all of sudden the back line support is on the front line...a surprise round of that will terrify them for the rest of the encounter and will be paranoid for the rest of the dungeon...which will then let your monsters (if they have a decent Int. and/or actually "live together" in the dungeon instead of just a hodgepodge of creatures) prepare themselves for your party with readied actions and pre-buffed.

3. I would not recommend using anything less then two enemies at once and if, as was mentioned, the enemies sync well with each other it can make the fight much more challenging without actually raising the CR. I personally like the area-control beatstick tank (drag, reposition, trip) combined with a necromancer,glass cannon or area control spellcaster. An issue I have noticed in my own group (we have been playing together for about 5 years now) is that when you have a party of 6 you can just completely overpower a single enemy and have very little fear of being taken down unless the monster is WAY outside the party CR.

4. Something that will hinder your alchemist (and a problem i just recently ran into playing one) is put flammable loot around (like paintings). This will make him a lot more careful with his bombs!

Besides those suggestions I have made the rest of the suggestions on the thread are great as well (I really like the maximize HP as that would be an easy way to let a monster of the right CR last an xtra round or 2). Good luck and remember that the players AND YOU are supposed to be HAVING FUN.

(WOW that became a long post!)


The guy above (Lord Phrofet) nails it on the head.

The whole point of a Campaign is that it is an adventure (albeit, supposed to be a dangerous one) for the heroes (which is the players) to successfully accomplish and acquire gear and provisions for their future adventures and the rest of their days.

The GM is supposed to make the game fun and challenging; if every fight is "You're gonna die unless you're this smart and powerful", and the threshold for those statistics are very difficult for the party, the game loses a great portion of its sense of fun, in that it forces the party to either behave in a specific way most of the time, or that it removes enjoyable, unique opportunities for the heroes to shine. I know that as a player with my Mobile Fighter, taking Cleave as a Fighter Bonus feat and not using it because there were no opportunities or acceptable risks whatsoever to take it, made the feat useless and I was a fool to take it; but when I switched it for Bodyguard, I used that feat on the very first encounters of the campaign (after I leveled up, that is), and it saved our Ranger a couple life-threatening claws to the face. (Granted, I got swarmed instead and had Con damage dealt to me, I'm a tank and that's the role of a tank, so Bodyguard helped me perform my job better than an offensive feat that I didn't even get to use.)

However, it's a double-edged sword. If the encounters are too easy and are "Oh hey, some random Goblin wants to try and punch you in the face with his +1 to hit compared to your 23 AC," it also becomes dull and boring, because the PC's don't have any memorable or worthwhile adventures. It's too easy a career, and they are more likely to retire when all they face is the usual Goblins or Skeletons or whatever.

It's all about Balance, Balance, Balance. As the GM, you need to make encounters that are not only challenging and difficult (which forces the players to hunker down and play smart), but also entertaining and enjoyable (which allows the players to try some new tactics and/or fun playstyles). With this in mind, the mutual enjoyment of both players and GM will come to fruition.

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