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What is a good scaling ratio for parties with more than 5 player characters?

I've seen the effects in another 4e game of "force multiplier" effect that 7 players have, so the straight scaling from 5 PC's - 5 monsters to 7 PC's - 7 monsters isn't valid, i.e. the players breeze through the encounter

Has anyone got suggestions on suitable scaling factors ?

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3 Answers 3

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The answer depends entirely upon how cleverly the monsters coordinate their actions and abilities, and the same for the PCs. For example, if one side applies focused fire (i.e. everyone on one side attacks one member of the other until that individual goes down, then switches to the next one), they will be able to take down groups of similarly strong opponents that are ~40% more numerous than themselves (in the absence of healing). If one side has entirely area-of-effect damaging spells, then doubling both sides will quadruple the damage output of the AOEers; to retain parity, the non-AOEers will have to increase their size by the square of what the AOEers do (e.g. twice as many AOEers vs. 4x as many non-AOEers). AOE healing is less effective but still quite potent (to the 3/2 power, approximately; 4x more AOE healers vs. 8x non-AOE healers is approximately a match).

Given these sorts of major effects, and other clever tactics that work well in combination (e.g. paralysis works well in combination with low-level area damage-over-time effects like walls of fire) that you cannot necessarily predict on the part of the players (even if they're available, the players may not realize to use them), the only thing you can do is see how effective they actually are and adjust. You have to do this anyway with small groups; the variability between well-executed strategy and complementarity, and poor strategy and complementarity, just increases.

Until you have recalibrated yourself to the players' effectiveness, you are probably best off designing encounters where you can adjust the number of opponents to fit. (Just keep in mind that doubling the number of monsters approximately quadruples the difficulty, since they have both double damage output and double hit points to get through (unless your players all do only AOE damage, which would be very weird), so if 7 players have an easy time with 10 monsters, they may well be utterly overwhelmed with 20.)

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Thanks for the response, some very good points there. I especially like the idea on having adjustable numbers of opponents –  SteveC Apr 10 '12 at 7:40

Unfortunately you need to up the challenge rating if they are all fighting at full scale. Things like spells and poisons that reduce the stats might bring them to a more suitable level, or creating bottlenecks which turn a fight into a meat grinder, but otherwise I'd suggest having multiple tasks going on at once. Have a thief disarming a trap with a timer on it, such as the wall closing in so the strongest character has to try and hold back the wall while the others clear the monsters. Not only that but because the room is closing in (slower thanks to the [probably] fighter) there is less space to fight.

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in 4e its all about the encounter's XP budget. Determine the XP budget for your encounter (normally normal moster level XP * number of party members). This will create an even level challenge, you can tweak this up or down as desired, and to fit the narrative structure.

Then choose monsters that work well together and make sense together and add their XP rewards together until you have enough to meet your desired XP level.

If you're still having trouble up the XP budget a bit, or choose harder monsters within the XP budget. Also with that many PCs, especially if the have good synergy, you may well have to play your monsters smarter. A lot of times good monster strategy can be just as hard on PCs as harder monsters.

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Appreciate the response ... I've been playing in a party of 7 which is now up to 15th level and the "standard" XP budget doesn't seem to take account of the synergy effect that arises from the various players players ... the whole is greater than the sum of the parts –  SteveC Apr 9 '12 at 14:34
    
@SteveC yes that seems to be a real potential problem, try higher level monsters in the same Xp budget :)...they are harder to hit so they shouldn't mow through them quite as fast –  wax eagle Apr 9 '12 at 14:39
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@SteveC I'd just take that as permission to pick out monsters with their own synergies. :) –  Allen Gould Apr 9 '12 at 17:42

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