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For all my D&D scenarios, my players decide to gang up on one or two monsters at a time.

Most of the time I have six or more players, all level 12. The reliable party consists of 2 Barbarians, a Sorcerer, a Druid, a Paladin, and a Cleric. I try to keep the monsters around their level. The players are at that level where attacks of opportunity come more easily.

How do I deal with my players to stop them from doing this? Do I beef up the monsters or do I have a lot more smaller aggravating monsters? I already use a lot of open battlefields but it doesn't seem to help.

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Theik, JP Chapleau, Oblivious Sage, Szega, Pyrotechnical Jul 12 '18 at 15:16

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why exactly do you consider this a problem? Ganging up on one target at a time is something basically everybody does in every RPG / video game. One dead monster and 2 living ones is better than 3 damaged monsters. What is your goal? Should each player be fighting their own monster? Should they be splitting up? This is really hard to answer if we don't know why this is a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Jul 12 '18 at 12:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ What stops the monsters from doing the same to the PCs? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jul 12 '18 at 13:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was hesitant to vote to close, but I think it's appropriate. My answer below makes several assumptions that are likely better vetted via comments: An expansion on exactly what you've tried so far (if anything) and how it's been countered by the players; the nature of what is making OA more common; what you mean exactly by keeping the chosen monsters around the level of the players; the prevalence of magic items; what's meant by open battlefields exactly, does that mean open areas with lots of terrain features or big empty rooms. Clarifying these assumptions will yield you better answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jul 12 '18 at 15:20
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Have them turtle up.

It's entirely legitimate for players to focus-fire on one target. Earlier editions of the D&D rules actually encouraged it (D&D 4th edition's Player's Strategy Guide). It doesn't match up with the traditional movie scene of each hero facing off against a single opponent, but outnumbering your opponent is a military tactic as old as written records of warfare go.

The standard way for a DM to deal with this is to simply accept that your players enjoy optimal tactical play.

However, a creature being surrounded by enemies may decide to focus entirely on avoiding attacks. The way to do this in D&D 5th edition is the Dodge action (Player's Handbook p.192). You can only do this on the creature's turn, and it takes the creature's entire action, but it gives attacks against the creature disadvantage, and they make Dexterity saving throws with advantage.

Another way is to use solo creatures; that is to say creatures which are designed to be fought singly, like dragons. Don't over-use these, though.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Earlier editions..." I'd argue that the current edition's rules encourage it, too. As long as combat effectiveness is a binary then progress toward one's combat goal is only measured in "enemies downed," which favors focusing fire. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 12 '18 at 12:37
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It sounds to me like you're missing the point of combat encounters.

Combat is about players solving the problem in front of them. This can be done in many ways, including non-violent measures. When making an encounter, you should consider how many players you have, how your players will behave, and how the environment will help or hinder both your players and your monsters.

Remember, a CR12 monster is intended for a party of 4 Level 12 adventurers.

If you have between 6-8 party members, you will need either more monsters of around that challenge rating (2 CR12s generally being considered a medium challenge), many more weaker monsters (such as a horde of goblins), or to introduce a monster of a higher challenge rating (likely between CR18-CR21 if you want it to be somewhat of a fair challenge).

When in combat, there are various strategies people use.

Kill off the weakest monsters first, kill the strongest first, every one split up and focus on X number of monsters, etc. are all valid strategies for players to use. If you want them to diversify their strategies, you need to create situations that force them to mix things up. If they are used to teaming up against a single monster until it dies, take advantage of that opening. Just because there is one target they see doesn't mean there can't be others around to attack while they aren't looking.

When it comes to the environment, you using open areas actually makes it easier for them to use gang-up tactics.

Try using uneven areas, booby-trapped rooms, and narrow tunnels. If they have to be cautious of where they step or don't have room to surround the target, they will have to come up with other means of attack. The open-area environments work best for if you are using a bunch of smaller enemies to attack your players. While good players will be able to work around the environment, the fact you made that something they must consider when acting will play a big part in giving your monsters a fair advantage.

Of course, none of these on their own is all you need to keep in mind.

Without keeping all of this in mind, you can expect your players to keep steamrolling your enemies. If they can win by ganging-up on a couple of the monsters before taking out the rest, why wouldn't they? Give them a reason not to go right for that strategy. Don't be afraid to throw them into tough situations where that kind of action can actually put them in greater peril or where it may not even be a good idea to try.

Are they in an open clearing surrounded by forests? Have a bunch of monsters attack from behind the leafy veil. This puts their melee fighters at an immediate disadvantage and, because they can't see their enemy easily, they won't be sure which enemy to gang up on. Are they in a building? Have the hallways be one or two squares (5-10 feet) so that they have to better coordinate their movement, but have the monsters readied at either end of the hall ready to attack the players from both sides as well.

Additionally, you may be letting your party rest too often or may be using monsters they are too well-equipped to take on.

That is not to say you shouldn't let them rest, but make sure to adjust your encounter frequency around that detail. Additionally, if you check out Page 267 of the Dungeon Masters Guide it offers a variant rest rule called "Gritty Realism" which changes the lengths of Short and Long Rests. It may be worth checking out, depending on your campaign's specific needs, but it is better to start a campaign with these implemented as opposed to adding them mid-campaign.

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This play style is a natural artifact of of D&D's "you're fine until you're down" hit point system.

Let's say you have five PCs and five NPCs, each NPC has 10 hit points, and each PC and NPC can do an average of 2 HP of damage per round. If you go for a one-on-one pattern, each NPC takes five rounds to down, and the PCs take 50 HP of total damage. But if the PCs gang up, one NPC can be dropped each round, so damange from NPCs is 10 + 8 + 6 + 4 + 2 — only 60% of the damage taken doing it the other way. So of course the PCs do this.

One solution is to use an optional rule where characters and monsters who are damaged are less effective. A simple way to do this is to apply disadvantage to attacks and skill checks when to characters down to half their total possible hit ("bloodied", to borrow from 4E, or as suggested under Tracking Monster Hit Points in the DMG). Or you can come up with some more complicated scale — you could, for example, follow something based on the exhaustion scale, starting with disadvantage on ability checks at a small amount of damage.

I played in one short game which used the "disadvantage at bloodied" idea. It did change the tactics, and also gave a lot more of a "gritty" feel (which was the intention). Overall, this is a pretty big change to core assumptions in D&D combat, so I'd check with your players to see if this is even interesting to them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a cool suggestion. I honestly believe OP has more critical issues with what is going on, but I can see this as being a benefit to other players. My only question would be this: How exactly would you recommend the distribution of negative effects? \$\endgroup\$ – Sora Tamashii Jul 12 '18 at 14:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ are all monsters going to attack at disadvantage after they get below half HP? Slow combat down, increase DM bookkeeping. I don't disagree that it can add a certain flavor and grit to the system, but it also adds to die rolls and length of combat. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 12 '18 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Yeah — that's part of what I meant by "big change". I haven't really played with this rule in effect long enough to know for sure, but my sense is that it works best in combination with opponents who are prone to flee or surrender, rather than fight to the death. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jul 12 '18 at 15:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Got it, and like the answer. Do you want to add another caveat, or are you happy with were it sits? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 12 '18 at 15:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll add some more when I get a chance. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jul 12 '18 at 15:52
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There are few ways to help you, but I wanted to parse out some elements of your question since they seem to be causing you issues:

The reliable party consists of 2 Barbarians, a Sorcerer, a Druid, a Paladin, and a Cleric

A lot of these classes are good, direct damage dealers. You're placing them in situations where they need to deal damage, so they are opting to do this in the most efficient way possible.

I recommend that you consider alternate tasks that can occur during combat. Complex traps requiring understanding of magical theories (trained in Arcana and/or Religion) to create complex skill challenges within the combat can draw the attention of about half that party, reducing their direct fire damage, while retaining their significant contribution to the battle. For example, the battle occurs upon a pentagram that has been ritually empowered and is slowly opening a portal to the underworld that is likely to pull through a Balor (or bring a Balor to an innocent village 5 miles away if you're worried the players will view that as a fun challenge). Arcana/Religion checks to understand the pentagram and it's effects, Dispel/Counterspell checks on the 5 points of the pentagram to reduce the power, and maybe some other check all give those classes something to do besides shoot.

The players are at that level where attacks of opportunity come more easily.

Not every monster has to be stock out of the book. I was thrown for quite a loop when one of my friends ran a combat with some modified monsters that had a useful feat or two like Mobility.

In addition, for your BBEG, don't be afraid to make them legendary creatures with the associated resistances and actions and put them in lairs with interesting effects and actions.

I already use a lot of open battlefields but it doesn't seem to help.

Stop that. Open battlefields almost always work to the players' advantage.

Fill your battles with debris that creates cover angles forcing long ranged creatures to move around. Have your enemies prepare the field when they feasibly could, nothing like a good Spike Growth spell to make the periphery a dangerous place to be. They're 12th level, take this into 3 dimensions and have enemies in parapets shooting down on them. Go the exact opposite route and force them to fight in narrow corridors now and then; don't forget that trying to shoot through a line of people grants cover benefits to the attacker.

Most of the time I have six or more players, all level 12. I try to keep the monsters around their level.

I'm assuming that in addition to this, you've been handing out magic items that improve the players' combat ability. 5e sort of breaks the previous mold in that magic items aren't required for player balance.

Review how you perceive the players level with regards to their magic items (if applicable), I would not be surprised if the players are perhaps closer in power to 13th or 14th level characters, in which case you need to adjust your monsters to compensate.

As for the numbers issue, the DMG provides some guidance on this within the section regarding scaling encounters. I recommend following that guidance.

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