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The party is currently 3 level 2 PCs: a fighter, a rogue, and a wizard. They don't work well together, but that's to be expected: all of them are new to role-playing. Soon they'll add another PC—a monk, so another damage-dealing PC. The party lacks a healer, and it doesn't look like they're going to get one.

In the 3 sessions that we've had, the PCs have fought a grand total of 18 rats (12 small, 6 large); 3 home-brewed zombie rats; and 6 skeletons. They're in a sewer system right now and have only cleared about 20% of it.

I feel like I've been giving them adequate short and long rests, but I don't want the game to be all about just smashing monsters… or, at least, I don't want the players to think the game's all about smashing monsters! The players seem to be having fun, but the rogue's already been rendered unconscious once.

Am I throwing too much at them too early? How can I tell if I'm throwing too many encounters at the party?


Note: I'm a new DM and this is my first campaign. It's being run over Instant Messenger chat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have access to the DMG and have you been through the Creating Combat Encounters section? If so then can you tell us how that hasn't helped answer your question or what specifically you find confusing about it? \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey May 27 '18 at 5:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related on encounter difficiculty: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/99059/… \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron May 27 '18 at 6:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleMonkey I do have acces to the DMG, I'm just looking for some expereience based answers regarding this. I know the book says they can handle it, but not having a healer makes things a little harder on them. What the book says works, might not, due to the lack of healer. I also dont want them to get burnt out fighting the little battles I have set up for them before they get to the BBEG of the area \$\endgroup\$ – Thatguy May 27 '18 at 7:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ You may find these of use:1, 2, 3, 4, 5 \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey May 27 '18 at 8:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ In the 3 sessions you've had, sure they fought all that stuff, but how many short and long rests have they had? Without that, we can't know whether you're overwhelming them or not. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder May 27 '18 at 15:16
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Talk to your players

The number one thing you should do if you're not sure how your party feels about something is to ask them about it. They'll tell you whether or not they're satisfied with the amount of fighting.

However, since you're all new, none of you know what you like to do really, compared to doing other things at least. So here's where the fun begins.

Test the waters

If you and/or your players feel that the encounters are a bit much, you need to find out what a better alternative is. Not that you would replace all encounters, but spending more of your sessions doing something else can help balance roll-fatigue. The game can get boring if you're waiting around for your turn all the time. A better way to get everyone involved all the time is to do some roleplay. This is, after all, a role playing game. So here are a few examples that can help you get an idea for doing something new.

  • Give the players a mystery to solve. Murder is a popular one. The key here is to talk to lots of NPCs.

  • Buffer the encounters with more exploration and decision making, rather than simply having encounters back to back. This can also help build tension.

  • Force the players into a discussion in character. Our DM recently tricked us into having a long in-character discussion about how to bring justice to a group of 5 slaves who inadvertently caused the deaths of 20 slaves.

  • Spend more time in town. This is partially up to your players to know how to do something other than fight. It took us a long time to get to the point where we are happy dinking around town and doing character motivated things.

Most importantly, find out what your players want to do. What do they want to accomplish with their characters. If they don't know, they need to find out. Maybe they want to run a business on the side, maybe they want to find justice, maybe they want to play a character with a quirk or major flaw. Your players will give you pretty good ideas about how to spend your time.

All of this just takes practice. You and your players will get "better" at playing D&D over time.

Healing

Healing isn't really a thing in D&D 5e. It's most often a waste of time to try to keep people "topped off". So don't worry if your party lacks healing. What it's super useful for is reviving downed characters and curing afflictions. But the actual numbers behind the healing are usually inefficient during combat. Your healing comes from short and long rests, as you seem to have figured out. You need to tweak your encounters to fit the party anyway, so the healing is a bit of a moot point.

Caveat

Since you guys are so inexperienced, avoid wiping the party due to mistakes you as DM have made or dumb mistakes your players have made in combat. Feel it out, adjust the difficulty of a fight if it's going the wrong way. Remember, you're playing together not against each other.

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I will start with

If it ain't broke, don't fix it

In your body question, you state

The players seem to be having fun, but the rogue's already been rendered unconscious once.

If the players are having fun, and assuming you are having fun as well, things seem to be going fine.

They are at level 3 and the only thing that worried you until now is that the Rogue has been rendered unconscious once? My current group of players has 6 players and in their first fight an incredible count of four characters dropped to 0 HP and two of them only didn't die because I was being kind. And that was supposed to be an easy encounter.

The point I am trying to make here is you seem to be overthinking. The players are having fun and getting unconscious is 3 failed death saves away from actual death - just don't attack them while unconscious, if that's what worries you. (I linked a question about attacking unconscious characters.)

DMG has guidelines on it and you are following them

(You mention it in a comment that you are aware of the DMG guidelines, so I'm not stating them again)

From my experience, these guidelines are actually "easier" than they should be. A balanced party can take alot more than what the DMG states, if their encounters are regular (i.e., it's not full of surprises for enemies, enemies don't have terrain advantage, etc).

Again, don't worry too much, from what you've said until now, you're doing fine.

Healing

As Premier Bromanov already answered, Healing is not exactly a must in D&D 5e. If you are still worried about it, check Optional rules for a DM to compensate for lack of healing in party? - one additional thing that you can do, mentioned in the body of the question and usually my own approach in games where I notice lack of healing from the party, give them a little more potions of healing than usual.

The Players

Your question seems to be worried about the number of encounters from two perspectives: one is the mechanical one, where you mention that you have a poorly balanced party and the Rogue got to 0 HP. I have answered this part so far. The second part is about the feeling from the players, where you mention

I don't want the game to be all about just smashing monsters… or, at least, I don't want the players to think the game's all about smashing monsters!

For this part, Premier's answer has done a better job than I can think, so I'll just repeat my initial statement: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Your players are having fun playing what seems to be a game of smashing monsters - many people love dungeon crawling and D&D was actually born from it.

If you actually want to change it, then proceed with Premier's bullet points for creating a more role-play oriented adventure or session. We have some other questions that might help you with that as well.

  • How to get the players to care and RP more?
  • How do I get my PCs to not be a bunch of murderous cretins? (I think this is one of the most popular questions in the site, if no the most.) - This one might help you include some guilty feeling even in smashing monsters! They are living creatures as well, you know? Entering their lairs and merciless killing them is not a nice thing to do.
  • In general, reading over the [dnd-5e] + [gm-techniques] tags (Query here) helps you as a new DM. I have been DM'ing for years before knowing RPG.se and it helped me with problems I wasn't even able to identify before, but existed.
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