Hi there, I'm about to run a Strange Aeons campaign for 5 new players and 1 veteran player, I'm wondering if I should up the strength of some encounters by increase HP or numbers or am I best to just leave them as is.
Far Strike Monk (Ranged)
I suggest that you carefully and gently increase the numbers of adversaries to deal with the far greater action economy of a 6-player party over a 4-player party.
Alternatively, you can try using improved tactics and use of terrain by adversaries. That can also be a force multiplier.
At the end of the day, you're going to need both methods, especially since so many of your players are better at range. And with a summoner in the crowd, your 6-player party will quickly become an 8-player party.
Running a game with 6 players can be tricky, and it takes some planning and forethought to keep things interesting for 6 players all at once. Bring your A game.
I suggest increasing the number of ennemies instead of buffing them. If they play smart or use SoS spells the lack of ennemies will be a problem (especially with that summoner).
In the kingmaker campaign i'm playing we have 5 PC instead of 4, so the GM increases the number of ennemies and it works nicely : they're not stronger so we're not frustrated because we actually hit our attacks/spells, but we still have to play smart or else they take us down quickly.
I’ve been running Feast of Dust with a table that has gotten up to 8 players and have had success with both of those strategies.
Two other things I have done a lot is 1) to find the upcoming low CR fights and running them together and 2) run combats in quick succession (lots of walls collapsing, fog clearing, daemons shifting planes etc).
A thing we have done once with great success is to divide the table into very small groups and run the same dungeon at the same time between groups. I’d suggest trying it if your party seems interested, perhaps with a guest GM to run the other table.
Depending on the encounter, you can add a couple of NPC's, simply bump up hit points, or on occasion add a level to some of the NPC's. Those are usually the easiest ways.
If the party is rolling over everything far too easily, the occasional surprise random wandering encounter can also help. (Just as the party finishes up their ambush of the NPC's, the fight has drawn the attention of a curious xxxxxx)
Using unusual tactics and terrain as mentioned above can help.
Also, when the encounters are intelligent or know of the party ahead of time, the NPCs can target the weaknesses of the party (like closing in on ranged characters, staying at range for melee only, using darkness for those with regular vision, etc) and plan for what to do for them.
My group has about 7 characters in it (when everyone can show) so doing those has been essential at times.
Just make sure not to add too much early on when the party is more susceptible to being overwhelmed easily by a bad roll or two.
Increasing the number of enemies is the safer and more controlled way of increasing the difficulty, but it will also increase how long it takes for a person's turn to come back around. And players not able to act for minutes of time can lead to a lack of attention and excitement.
Increasing the hitpoints is probably the easiest way of increasing difficulty. It will make the total combat last longer, but won't increase the time per round.
Personally, I prefer increasing hit points for normal fights and if there is a notable enemy, give it the advanced template so it gets a chance to do something memorable. By notable enemy, I mostly mean anything that has a name or is encountered by itself, but I don't have a real consistency about it. Sometimes a combat just doesn't need to be challenging. Let filler be filler.
I had a group of 6 for Rise of the Runelords. Early on, I tried putting in more enemies, but that mostly just made combat take much longer. After that, I tried giving the enemies max hit points, and that worked much better. They're down to 5 players now (one moved away), and I haven't had to do any adjustments.
I had Foeclan's exact issue running RotRL:AE with six PCs and two companion animals. Combat rounds can take a long time with even one or two extra combatants. Additionally, the maps are often crafted to fit four PCs and the written NPCs; adding additional bodies to the mix means some players are going to twiddle their thumbs from time to time. Hit point adjustments are a bit dissociated but aren't a bad solution, especially if the players understand that's how the game is being adjusted. Once save-or-suck/save-or-die really starts to come online, though, it will only do so much.
With a large party and a summoner you're going to have a lot of things on the combat field already. So adding more combatants will probably not make things more fun. But it's a balance.
With my groups when I run them, the players are pretty optimized and we often have 4 to 6 players. I do the following things in this order until I reach the level of challenge I think is appropriate:
1) Max HP per hit die
2) Increase HP by 50% (after already maxed)
3) Apply the advanced simple template to all creatures, basically everything increases by 2. It's easy to do on the fly.
4) For things that have class levels, increase it by 1 or 2 levels
5) Add more combatants
All pretty good suggestions, but remember to keep it simple. You, ideally, want to be able to do it on the fly. So what I do is add 1-2 creatures to the encounter (whatever the lowest level things are in the neighborhood so you already have the stats That or the Advanced Creature Template (link). It's basically +2 to everything and +10hp. Simple, easy to remember, and not such a large increase that it makes a huge difference - just adds a little challenge.
Sometimes I do one, sometimes the other, sometimes both. Just depends on my parties strengths vs the encounter upcoming.
Rather than calculating maximum hit points, you could just double the usual hit points. The totals are fairly similar.
A future issue to look out for is the equipment shortage. The party is splitting everything by 6 instead of by 4. So, instead of getting 25% of the loot, each gets more like 16.67% of the loot. This can actually be a helpful factor for limiting the party's power in future levels. But if you are doing this, you need to be very careful about the wealth you give future new characters, because it could far outstrip where the rest of the party is. I recommend using no more than half the wealth by level for any new characters that come into the party later on, such as by character death or rotating players.