Thursday, April 19, 2012

How Hard Should It Be?*

Another excellent article by Chris Perkins.  This week he tackles encounter balance, and specifically the question of whether a DM should throw over (or under) leveled encounters at his players.  For most of 4E's life I've adhered to the encounter-building guidelines in the DMG, and I'm starting to question the wisdom of that.  In my TOR game Grimwine's player has consistently refused to run away from combat (incidentally he's the only one who has almost died twice), and it's been bringing to mind the philosophy of "oh, the DM wouldn't put it here if we couldn't beat it."  Ultimately, I think that breaks immersion because the characters would be completely unaware of any encounter-balancing mechanics, and should behave with their own survival in mind, without constantly being the most powerful presences around.  Obviously with "all balanced encounters" being the norm a DM needs to be explicit up front about his intentions to populate the world with all manner of threats, some of which the PC's cannot reasonably expect to defeat.  It's also important that the DM always keep in mind alternative "outs," whether those be escape routes or motivations for the over-leveled threats that makes the PCs more valuable alive (captured) than dead.

Another interesting anecdote is that while all of the published 4E stuff is balanced for the party's level, there have been several combats in the published TOR adventures that assume the players will run away.

*That's what she said.


  1. Sorry for the semi-Necroposting, just found this blog and boy is it fun.

    I'm still trying to wean my Players off the balanced Difficulty, but so far I've been fortunate enough in sense that they've met at least 1 Encounter (all custom) from me where they've decided to Diplo their way out of (two PCs died that session), followed by another Encounter where the "Enemy" literally let them walk away. I'm sure they were smart enough to realise that if they had pushed on, there was a 50-50 chance he could have wiped them on the floor. Admittedly, these Encounters only came about because they did some really, really, really stupid things in the game.

    That said, I like to give Players some idea of when a "Hard" Encounter is coming up, by dropping hints. On some occasions Players have tried to assess NPC's capabilities, and I have given a rough measure in sense of "You think he's probably less experienced than you." To date I haven't planned much in detail into them, but there are a few Encounters where Hopelessly Outmatched comes to mind (Faction Bosses). I also offer "free" Insight Checks in the middle of a hard fight if I think they don't understand what they're up against.

    This weekend I'll be putting a DM screen up and see if it can cause Morale Failures.;) wish me luck.

    Meantime, noticing your Domain Name - are you in Singapore?

  2. No problem necroposting, sometimes it's interesting for me to re-read articles I've written a while ago.

    I agree that dropping hints about an encounter's difficulty is a good idea, at least when it should be relatively obvious and/or when PCs specifically ask about it.

    Nope, not in Singapore, what makes you say that? I'm in the U.S.

  3. Just wondering about the location, since its at
    I don't really look forward to D&D Next and thought it might be nice to go around the Web tying up 4E Enthusiasts.

    Thanks for your reply :)

    1. Well that's odd, it shows up as for me. I'm not well versed enough in computers to explain that one!