GM's Guide to Creating Challenging Encounters


Advice

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Double A Battery: yes you should blog. I've enjoyed this guide and put it to good use. I had a zombie fight I wanted to be a challenge, so I made their heads detachable and made their heads into beheaded. Also thinking of doing something similar with zombies filled with swarms; alchemical swarms, spiders, or whatever.

It's also come in handy with the size of my group. I have 5 fairly-optimized combatants at my table so even at APL 1 a 400 xp reefclaw isn't going to be any kind of a threat. Following your guide however I see that 750 xp worth of monsters is considered an APL +1 challenging fight for these guys which in gameplay is more realistic.

What was your first village backdrop for RSP? I may have to go do some shopping :)

Anyway if you can fit it into your sched please blog it out. Yes sometimes your grammar or mechanical sentence structure might be slightly askew, but who cares. My brain is hard-wired to read right through most of that anyway. Keep on writing man, and I'll keep reading.


I second the blog idea. You can also pimp out your other work. I got a lot out of the read and use the table you made several times a week. I would love to see some comments on what it means go over you budget some but not enough to reach the next CR.

As a note, I just learned the lesson that mooks should not cast fireball. I had 6 in my last encounter and the only reason they did not TPK was that I played them defensively instead of having them blast the whole party. They set up several ice walls and 2 PCs ported past and got dead but the rest of the party saw this and went nova on them. An APL +
3 encounter is usually only one PC death not 2 PCs dead along with a cohort and an animal companion.

Burning arc would have had the right scare level without hitting every one and hiding from it is easier.


This guide is stupendous!

I had struggled with understanding CR, and as such really had difficulty creating enjoyable battles for my PC. Just ran a really fun Ghost Ship encounter with my PCs based on what I'd read here, and the players really enjoyed it. Thanks so much for sharing this!

Liberty's Edge

A blog is a fantastic idea!

Contributor

@Mark Hoover: My first Village Backdrop for Raging Swan Press was Vulgruph's Hollow. In a nutshell, its Romeo, Juliet, & Grays. I sent the turnover for my second Village Backdrop to Creighton about two weeks ago; I imagine it'll be published in April or May.

It looks like this is a popular idea, so I'll get sketching.

Scarab Sages

Alexander,

Have you considered addressing encounter building for larger parties? After about 6 PCs, the APL/CR system sort of begins to be less useful due to action economy, etc. I would love to see your take on this topic.

I have a group of 9 players and I have to get really creative to challenge them without TPKing them. The only articles I have ever found that addresses the subject are a series of blog posts by Monte Cook, so I would welcome more insights from encounter builders.


Split the party up and have multiple events in each encounters. Take a gatehouse and hold the drawbridge simultaneously or something like that.

Contributor

redcelt32 wrote:
I have a group of 9 players and I have to get really creative to challenge them without TPKing them. The only articles I have ever found that addresses the subject are a series of blog posts by Monte Cook, so I would welcome more insights from encounter builders.

I'd have to really think about this; I once GMed for a group of 8 players and it was the most excruciating gaming experience I can ever recall putting myself through because of the action economy and the inherent difficulty in keeping all nine of the players relevant.

I'm fairly certain James Jacobs actually split his party of nine into two smaller groups for this same reason. Sure, its possible, but its not really all that fun. Especially at high levels.


I used this for my group in a module to test it out.
Level 1 module:
2xCR1--A) 8 bat, commons (CR 1/8), B) Don't remember the second encounter.
2xCR2--C and D) Don't remember encounter 1 or 2.
1xCR3--16 bat, commons(CR 1/8)
1xCR4--6 Four Arm Mudra Skeletons (CR 1/2)
1xCR5--16 Kobolds(CR 1/4)
1xCR6--1 Werewolf fighter(CR2), 1 Elf Wizard(CR2), 1 Human Barbarian(CR2), 1 Human Cleric(CR2).

The 16 kobolds (CR 5) were in an advantageous position, but they did not hold it. When someone walked into the room they were in they were on a platform 30 feet up. The surprise round was 16 sling attacks against the person who went in first. Out of the 16 sling attacks only 2 or 3 of them hit. The rest of the kobolds believed that their numbers would give them a major edge and the used their grappling hoods + ropes to rappel down the sides of the fortification to try and kill the PCs with their spears. The battle took a good long while, but since the Kobolds essentially die in 1-hit the PCs managed to kill them off with only a few people being incapacitated a few times.

The last encounter (CR 6) was the one that was the most dangerous.
The Wizard fell first, followed by the Barbarian, then the Cleric. The werewolf was unkillable, so the PCs were given an out.

Overall I'm happy with the entire dungeon since I spent about 2 hours building it (our new DM [who thought 4 CR 1s equaled a CR 1 encounter] just played the ranger I had made for her game) after her game. It was a kick-down-the-door dungeon, but it tested the CRs. The PCs were able to rest once.

Contributor

So I've decided to go ahead with the blog idea. I spent the weekend brainstorming and writing articles for the blog, and I'm confident enough to say that the blog's first article will launch one week from tomorrow, on February 10th.

Until then, I have a small "State of the Blog" post up that'll explain the type of content that I am going to post and direct anyone interested in submitting blogging ideas to where you can submit those ideas. (Hint: Its the comments!)

Let's get this party started!

Contributor

Alexander Augunas wrote:

So I've decided to go ahead with the blog idea. I spent the weekend brainstorming and writing articles for the blog, and I'm confident enough to say that the blog's first article will launch one week from tomorrow, on February 10th.

Until then, I have a small "State of the Blog" post up that'll explain the type of content that I am going to post and direct anyone interested in submitting blogging ideas to where you can submit those ideas. (Hint: Its the comments!)

Let's get this party started!

Update: I added the days this month that the blog will be updated as well as the titles of those articles.


Liking the blog already A-squared! Looking forward to the GM's Guide posts yet to come.


Dot


Cant wait for the blog to get started with articles


Wow, signing up for WordPress is a pain. Tried posting a comment a couple times and kept getting "Sorry, this comment can't be posted" not sure what I was doing wrong.

Anyway, I was curious how you're going to handle the hot-topic issues? Are you going to be posting your opinions of such issues, analyzing the pros and cons, the stances of both sides, or some mixture of it all?

For the Iconic Design, are you going to be outlining level by level builds, or general themes and recommendations? Will there be alternatives? As an example, there are multiple ways to build a duelist style character. Also, will you be taking inspiration from other builds or characters? Like, for example Ravingdorks Character Emporium or the Guide to the Builds? Maybe posting tips or builds over the levels as examples of strategies or tactics to use at various levels (as some don't come together until mid-to-late levels)?

Personally, I'm most looking forward to the GM's Guide blog posts so I can forward them to my GM. I'm trying to help him improve, but he's still kind of locked into the idea of 'one big bad guy' instead of 'bad guy with mooks' or something along those lines. I've been trying to collect helpful encounter design blogs, posts and guides I've encountered over the years and forwarding them to him (including your GM's Guide) and I'll definitely be adding your blog to the list. That, and I can always learn more tricks and tips as a GM myself.

BTW, "Wait and see" is a valid answer to these questions :P

Contributor

@Tels

Sorry you are having trouble signing up for WordPress; I'm trying to get everything running smoothing on the site. Thankfully I have a week or to try to figure things out.

Worse to worst, you can join the Facebook group I created for the blog (you can find the link at the bottom of any page on Everyman Gaming). I've programed the blog to automatically post to Facebook whenever a new blog post goes live from here on out, so that should help.

Tels wrote:
Anyway, I was curious how you're going to handle the hot-topic issues? Are you going to be posting your opinions of such issues, analyzing the pros and cons, the stances of both sides, or some mixture of it all?

I just updated the About Page with an F.A.Q. answering your question. To summarize, there will be different articles. Mythcleaving articles (the ones where I tackle hot-button issues) will be unbiased and discuss the merits of each side of the issue. Wednesday Raves, on the other hand, will just have be spouting off my opinion because its an opinion that I'm so passionate about that I can't separate myself from it.

To give an example, both the Crane Wing fiasco and the Rogue class will be Mythcleavers at some point in the future (likely March). The merits of multiclassing, however, is a straight-up Wednesday Rant.

Quote:
For the Iconic Design, are you going to be outlining level by level builds, or general themes and recommendations? Will there be alternatives? As an example, there are multiple ways to build a duelist style character. Also, will you be taking inspiration from other builds or characters? Like, for example Ravingdorks Character Emporium or the Guide to the Builds? Maybe posting tips or builds over the levels as examples of strategies or tactics to use at various levels (as some don't come together until mid-to-late levels)?

Answered on the About Page effective immediately.

Basically, they will be outlines of builds that look at options chosen at each stage of the game; early game (1st through 7th), mid game (8th through 14th), and end game (15+). The article tells you what to grab at that block and why, but it doesn't tell you what order to take it in. Basically, it looks at the end of each block and allows players to make informed decisions about what abilities to select.

Also, mythic and templates is included when appropriate.

Quote:
Personally, I'm most looking forward to the GM's Guide blog posts so I can forward them to my GM. I'm trying to help him improve, but he's still kind of locked into the idea of 'one big bad guy' instead of 'bad guy with mooks' or something along those lines. I've been trying to collect helpful encounter design blogs, posts and guides I've encountered over the years and forwarding them to him (including your GM's Guide) and I'll definitely be adding your blog to the list. That, and I can always learn more tricks and tips as a GM myself.

Those articles are a lot of fun to write; I especially like them over the Google Drive formate because they allow me to be a lot more focused in my topic / discussion.


Looking forward to the blog so far, man. I've shared your guide with a number of people kicking off as a DM.

A few concerns regarding the header and graphic: I haven't tried it on different resolutions, but I imagine there are instances where the black bars are going to collide with the title. Since they're the same color (black bars and black text) this has potential for conflict. On my monitor it comes quite close.

The logo/header space is also fairly large, forcing a user to scroll to begin reading.

Best wishes on the blog and looking forward to seeing it.

Liberty's Edge

Excellent, definitely following the blog. Great work! And fun to read even when not currently GMing.

Contributor

Ruggs wrote:
A few concerns regarding the header and graphic: I haven't tried it on different resolutions, but I imagine there are instances where the black bars are going to collide with the title.

Yeah, that REALLY bugged me too. That's why I switched over to having the title imbedded into the Image. I'm still perfecting that image because I'm none too thrilled with it, but what I've got will suffice for the time being.

Quote:
The logo/header space is also fairly large, forcing a user to scroll to begin reading.

I'm not sure if Wordpress will let me mess with that or not. I'm still very new to this "Blogging" thing.

But I'm guessing because this thread hasn't been posted in for about a month or so, most of the people who were posting in it have been following the blog. So ... oops for the Thread-Necro? :-P


May be a Necro, but all that does is bring attention to the thread, getting the blog into further circulation.


Love the original guide and the blog looks like a quality piece of work as well. Spread the word folks.

BUMP for the attention this effort deserves.


sorry for not browsing the thread to see if this has been asked, but question: im getting some conflicting results on calculating CR for creatures with less than 1 CR--for example, a medium skeleton is CR1/3, so one would assume that you could 'package' three together for a CR1 encounter. this flies in the face of the CR equivalencies chart for multiple monsters, which says that 3 medium skeletons would be an effective CR3&1/3 encounter.

or does each pack of three skeletons count as a single monster for determining CR (so 9 medium skeletons would be a CR4 encounter)?

anyone know?


Since someone else has already brought up the thread to the front page, I'll go ahead and post as well.

Is the original guide still available, or just the blog? When I attempt to click the link to the guide, I get a "page cannot be displayed" error message.


AndIMustMask wrote:

sorry for not browsing the thread to see if this has been asked, but question: im getting some conflicting results on calculating CR for creatures with less than 1 CR--for example, a medium skeleton is CR1/3, so one would assume that you could 'package' three together for a CR1 encounter. this flies in the face of the CR equivalencies chart for multiple monsters, which says that 3 medium skeletons would be an effective CR3&1/3 encounter.

or does each pack of three skeletons count as a single monster for determining CR (so 9 medium skeletons would be a CR4 encounter)?

anyone know?

An encounter's CR is found by adding up all the xp from all the enemies in an encounter, and seeing what CR a creature worth that much xp would be, then add modifiers.

So 3 medium skeletons are each worth 135xp.

135xp*3=405xp

Which is a CR 1 encounter. This thing works better when using CR 1/n where n is an even number, as opposed to here, where rounding makes the math strange.

Grand Lodge

The guide mentions that due to a recent ruling, any attack action that requires a full round is also considered a full-attack action. Could someone point me to that ruling?

The remainder of this comment is directed at the author directly.

I loved this guide to pieces, even as a player I found it enlightening. I'm a PFS player, and it has been troubling how many scenarios end in encounters with a single boss NPC (often APL+2) that is taken down before it gets an action. Now I know how to design my own to avoid that pitfall.

I do have a few notes, though I wouldn't go so far as to call any of them criticisms.

1) Could you add a section on dealing with 'maneuver masters'? I have met many a GM who struggles with high level brawlers and tetoris. The tactics for defeating them are relatively straightforward, but doing so without the player feeling as if encounters were designed explicitly to make them useless does take some finesse.

2) To that end, your advice on Munchkins I thought was good, but I think may benefit from a note about avoiding becoming a 'Munchkin GM'. What I'm referring to is a tendency in a few GMs I've met to design encounters that, while still mathematically within APL+4, were explicitly designed to screw over one or more players. The best example of this I can come up with is a story told to me by a friend being GMed by his brother.

My friend was playing a vivisectionist, and the GM placed quite a few additional restrictions on the things he was allowed to do to prevent him from Munchkining. Not a huge problem, the alchemist built himself as well as possible within these parameters, resulting in a character that would qualify as viable, but certainly not optimal. The trouble came when EVERY encounter negated his strengths. If he became good at grappling, suddenly everything was Huge and had 8 legs. If he bought and resonated a clear spindle, suddenly the Dominate casters were neutrally aligned (literally was changed in the middle of the encounter), if he tried to backstab everything suddenly had tremorsense, all-around vision, or ludicrously high Perception scores + scent.

I'm not suggesting that GMs not adapt their encounters, but I think a balanced approach should be strived for. I personally do this by making the creatures first as if I knew nothing of the party, and then adjusting things that the creature in-character could do if they knew about the party. Speaking of which:

3) Bosses pre-buff too.

Preventing players from pre-buffing is a good idea sometimes, not in others. A strategy I like is to determine when the enemies became aware of the party's presence, and what they do with their time before the showdown. Casting long-lasting pre-buff spells (and leaving a short duration one like haste readied) is elementary, but there are many other tactics that can be accomplished as well. I've seen monsters make illusory beings that would be a good boss were they real, while making themselves invisible and casting from high above. I've seen traps be set up or activated. I've even seen AoE effects used through walls when it was known where the party was. This also encourages circumspect behavior in the players, rather than 'dungeon crashing' that is usually noisy and glosses past key information in the dungeon about how to deal with its occupants.

Bosses that were aware of the party's interest in them with a lot of advance notice will prepare to deal with the party's members specifically, paying special attention to whoever they believe to be most dangerous to themselves. They may even hire outside assistance, or make quick modifications to their lair.

Once again, wonderfully designed guide. I hope my suggestions were valuable.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Any chance you ever come back to this guidebook and update it


A most excellent guide, though the link to the blog seems to be broken.

I went ahead and saved a copy for myself.

Also,
"Your players want treasure? MAKE THEM DIE FOR IT!"

Great quote.

Liberty's Edge

Can someone hook me up with the correct blog link? I tried searching through the Know Direction page but couldn't find the encounter design-specific advice.

Grand Lodge

Where does it actually say "an encounter should only drain roughly 25% of the an APL 4 party’s depletable resources"?


Bump for those in need.

Die, pugwumpie, die!!


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Bump in hoping for an update to a great document


This is indeed, a great document that every GM should read.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

This is quite nice. Even if I don't want to make my encounters challenging, I can still use this to gauge a lower challenge fight. It gives solid guidelines for determining appropriate CR for an encounter.

I also noticed that 9 people were viewing the document, which is impressive for such an old document. Cheers, thanks for the great read.


Pathfinder Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Bump Forever


Great guide, I have found that wealth and equipment are a exponential, so make use of lots of consumables for the NPC instead of magic items.

Lesser Talisman from Occult adventures are very, very useful for the humanoid NPC bosses, specially against a grappling character/pet.

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