I'm running a campaign for a group of 6 level 8 characters. Last session, they went shopping, and I let them buy about 2 magic items each. On top of this, I let them each start with an extra feat and a free magic item when the campaign started (at level 8).

(Selling magic items to my players was a lot of fun for all of us! My question is not about whether that was a good idea - I believe it was the right call.)

Given how many nice things my players have, I'm thinking about balancing my encounters as though they were for a party of level 9 characters instead of level 8. Is this a reasonable approach for me to take?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Answerers should remember to support their answers by citing relevant evidence or experience, per Good Subjective. (Good question!) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Mar 7, 2019 at 4:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ For a well-informed answer it would be helpful to know the specific items. Including the benefits of each item would be convenient. Otherwise respondents will have to look up 18 magic items. \$\endgroup\$
    – lightcat
    Mar 7, 2019 at 4:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @lightcat makes a good point, though perhaps only include details for combat relevant items. Bag of Holding is a useful item but it unlikely to significantly effect combat difficulty. (Barring very clever play) \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Mar 7, 2019 at 4:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, I don't remember all of the specific items I gave my players. Most of them are definitely combat-oriented, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Mar 7, 2019 at 5:36

4 Answers 4


In part it depends on the magic items. Did you give them magic items that were useful in combat? Like, have they mostly got +3 plate armor or have they mostly got sovereign glue?

Broadly, the answer to your question is yes: it's probably appropriate to give them more difficult encounters because they have nice stuff. But, especially at higher levels, the encounter tables are a very loose guideline anyway. You'll have to get a feel for what your group can handle.

Here is what I do when I'm uncertain: I start with an encounter that I'm expecting to be fairly easy, and then if the players seem to be winning too hard, I tell them reinforcements are showing up and I add more monsters of the same type.

The good news is that most players don't really want or need you to give them a super-difficult-but-still-survivable battle. If you give them a battle where everyone gets attacked once, and everyone gets to show off their cool abilities or items at least once, generally they'll be happy.

(source: I run a lot of games and this is what I do)

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    \$\begingroup\$ As an aside, don't underestimate sovereign glue. My party has gotten into some sticky situations with that stuff. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 7, 2019 at 10:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @anaximander Our chaotic rogue: "I use sovereign glue on our warrior and stick our mage to him while they're asleep." rolls natural 20 on the check Me: "Well, I guess the mage will have to stick with the warrior for the rest of this game [session]..." \$\endgroup\$ Mar 7, 2019 at 10:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Even at low levels the encounter tables are suggestions: I have a party of 4 very experienced players at level 2 and they just downed a CR 5 boss encounter without losing anyone (it was, however, sufficiently challenging - near the end half the party was unconscious). I generally have to uprate encounters at least 1 level to provide them with any sort of challenge: they mop the floor with encounters at their level. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 7, 2019 at 19:33

I think I have to answer this question with a question:

Are your current encounters challenging the players appropriately?

If yes, then there's no need to increase the difficulty. If they're already getting close to dying in every fight they get in, or if they're blowing all their abilities just to stay alive, then there's no need to make things harder on them.

If no, then you should definitely think about making your encounters harder. I'm in a similar situation with my players. I have been particularly generous with magic items, possibly a little too much. Each player has more items than they can attune to, and our paladin had an AC of 23 at one point. As a result, when they were level 10, they were blowing through CR 11 encounters without breaking a sweat. I had to start using action economy more to my advantage, giving boss monsters additional abilities and Legendary Resistances, and coming up with better tactics for monsters.

Remember, 5e is balanced around the players having no magic items at all and still being able to take on threats at their CR. Players having more magic items than usual is a good a reason as any to make encounters more difficult. Depending on how good these magic items are, you might need to treat them as if they were level 10 or higher - although I'd work up to that, and not just drop a Beholder in their lap with no warning.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Worth noting that "appropriately" is going to depend heavily on the playstyle that both the DM and the players prefer. Some groups like a high degree of challenge. Others enjoy laughing while they cleave through hopelessly outclassed orcs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Mar 8, 2019 at 14:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden Absolutely. And some DMs prefer not to adjust difficulties at all - it's just a fact of the world that the CR 20 Red Dragon lives in the mountain, and the CR 1/2 Orcs live in the desert. If they want to not die, then it's up to the players to find this out and avoid the mountain. \$\endgroup\$
    – user23801
    Mar 8, 2019 at 16:26

Don't increase the difficulty. Let the players do this.

The players have some new item. Thus they grow in power. 5e assumes no (to few) magic items (as better answered here). Eventually, more magic items in a group means the power of a group grows.

However, keep in mind the players just bought new items. They want to use them. They want to feel powerful. They want to have an encounter and notice how they don't just survive, but how they survive more easily and can obliterate a group they struggled with previously.

You want them to grow more confident. You want them to feel that their magic items help. The reward they got for struggling and adventuring is a true reward; they can now tackle problems they couldn't before. It will bolster their confidence, and now you know you can give them harder enemies.

My key point is: If you always perfectly compensate for the increased power the players have, they will never move forward. You end putting the players in a Red Queen's Race.

If I buy a Shortsword +1, and afterward every enemy gets buffed by +1 AC just because I bought the new sword, then my purchase doesn't matter. I end up at the same spot; the effects are canceled out.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good point. You want the power curve of the enemy to be staggered in relationship to the players: before they hit a major upgrade, milestone, or magic item, things should be starting to get tough. After they get it, things should be easy for a while. Let them feel badass with their new items. Then, bring the difficulty up to match until their next milestone. \$\endgroup\$
    – user23801
    Mar 7, 2019 at 15:10
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    – V2Blast
    Mar 7, 2019 at 18:44

5e's balance system is very, very rough.

When it works, it gets you in the right ballpark, and it attempts to give you the tools to understand how much harder a larger encounter is, so you aren't suprised.

But 5e's balance system is not nearly tight enough to distinguish between a fight where everyone has to stretch to win, and one where the entire party is wiped. Or even between a routine fight and a stretch fight.

So regardless of how much gear you give players, you must experiment with how combat capable your party is. If they win an EL+3 encounter without a single character being KO'd or significant daily resources being burned, you'll know that EL+3 isn't super-hard encounter for them. On the other hand, if they burn almost all of their daily resources and most of the party is KO'd during a EL+3 encounter, you'll know EL+3 is a super-hard encounter for them.

Make sure you aren't getting the math wrong (5e encounter math is a bit fiddly), throw EL+0 encounters at them, and then throw a +1 or +2 and see how they do. If those are still easy, throw +2 or +3s at them as "hard" encounters. If those are still easy, throw +3s or +4s as the hard encounter (mixed in with +0s still).

A bunch of good magic items can make a difference, but the character builds and skill of the players can make a larger one; as can the DM's tactical choices when running team monster. A party that leaves squishies exposed, uses weak combat builds, wastes daily resources, and a DM that viciously expoits team-PC flaws will have a much larger balance impact than a full set of +3 gear. So simply stating "X magic items means CR goes up by Y" doesn't work well.

Now, in a few cases, I've wanted to have a really close fight. For example, a duel between a Paladin and an Arch-foe. I've actually gone and simulated the fight to determine how close it will be, as I didn't want a blowout in either direction. Even a simple technique, like tracking each sides at-will DPR against a simple foe model, can be used to ensure a fight won't be a complete blowout.


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