In D&D 4e, an encounter's XP budget suggests one standard monster of the player's level for each party member.

Does it work well to spend the XP budget on smaller number of high level opponents, or a larger number of low-level opponents? What problems arise?

Examples for five level 5 PCs (~1,000 XP):

  • 10x Lvl 1 creature (10 x 100 XP = 1,000 XP)
  • 40x Lvl 1 minion (40 x 25XP = 1,000 XP)
  • 11x Lvl 8 minion creature (11 x 88 XP = 968 XP)
  • 3x Lvl 8 creature (3 x 350 XP = 1,050 XP)
  • 2x Lvl 10 creature (2 x 500 XP = 1,000 XP)
  • 1x Lvl 14 creature (1,000 XP)

3 Answers 3



It does not work well to spend the XP budget on a lot of much lower level opponents or a small number of much higher level opponents.

The ability to hit the creatures also matters and also greatly depends upon the level of the characters. You should attempt to keep the levels withing 3 levels of the party, otherwise you will quickly make things too hard or too easy.

Monsters or traps more than four levels below the party's level or seven levels above the party's level don't make good challenges. They're either too easy or too hard, even if the encounter's level seems right. [pg. 57, Dungeon Master's Guide]

I've honestly found 3 to be the magic number in my games, otherwise the players get easily frustrated that they are constantly missing the high level monsters. It is better to use an elite or solo monster if you want to make it a challenge.

I suggest looking at the template designs on page 58 and 59 of the DMG.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ /agree. A difference of more than 3-4 levels between the party and the monsters means one side almost always hits and the side almost always misses. This is no fun if the party is lower level, or ludicrously easy if the party is higher level. Use solos (from MM3 or later) to give the party a single hard enemy or minions to give the party a swarm of weak foes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    May 24, 2012 at 23:37


Okay. Depends. Do you think there are 1st level Adventurers or 1st level Adventures?

1st level adventurers might bite off more than they can chew and collectively agree the wisest course of action is to yell <king-arthur-and-sir-bevedere>Run Away!</king-arthur-and-sir-bevedere> -- perhaps the GM is foreshadowing the big bad or the big bad's baddest hanger-ons. Where as 1st level adventures are balanced. Story might be paramount in the former, whereas Mechanics and Balance matter in the latter.

While I generally don't subscribe to GNS theories, as it puts very subtle, broad and often catalytic gaming styles into silos (primarily for game designers not end users), others might and can possibly delve further.


Monsters more than 4 levels apart from the party level are hard to hit and make the game unfun, and 4e has a problem with single, strong enemies anyway, in that those are easy to lock down.

It's much better to use the XP budget to choose multiple enemies of around the same level. If you choose the monsters well, even a bunch of monsters two or three levels below the party can be a threat. Just make sure you choose at least one or two controllers with area effects and minions with ranged attacks. It works even better if you make good use of the environment, that is, have your monsters holed up somewhere with terrain advantage, and maybe add a trap at a critical point.


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