I (newbie GM) will be running the 1st episode of HotDQ for a party of 6. While the intro states that the difficulty of the encounters can be adjusted for parties != 4, it offers no guidelines to do so (except for one encounter much later in the game, where they instruct the GM to add a berserker for each player above 4).

We're all very new to 5E (didn't read anything or test until it came out), so, while I do want to challenge the players (no pampering!), I don't want to make the encounters so challenging that they don't have the resources to handle them (i.e., I don't want them to blow their daily resources for fights that should be manageable without those).

I read a few answers that applied to 3.5 and PF, but those offered more general advice--was hoping for some insights with 5E.

Thank you :).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Q: Have you downloaded the free Basic Rules PDFs that include the DM update from Wizards of the Coast's website? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 18:58

2 Answers 2


There are guidelines for increasing the difficulty of an encounter. Basically, you calculate the XP budget for 6 characters. So instead of 100 XP for an easy encounter at L1, the XP budget is 150.

However I would not do anything at all with the encounters at first. Wait until your PCs are consistently breezing through them. Most groups need some time to get their feet under them, and the HotDQ part 1 encounters are not cake walks for parties of 4 PCs. Let them roll the encounters in part 1 if they can. Note you may want to use milestone leveling instead of actual XP for at least this level since they may not earn enough XP to advance this way.

That said, if you're looking for the actual guidance on leveling up the encounter, you'll need to deconstruct them a bit before you start. Take the monsters and recalculate the award XP, then figure out what you want to add. Use the chart from page 57 of the BD&D DM book to note what the difficulty multiplier for specific monster groups is (for instance if you have 2 monsters, the difficulty of their XP is multiplied by 1.5).

So let's take our encounter of 6 kobolds. Kobolds are worth 25 XP each that means our base encounter level is 150, however, with 6 of them that gives an encounter difficulty XP of 300. That's a medium encounter for 4 PCs. So if we want to up this by adding more kobolds, we'd need to change our difficulty modifier (since 7 is the next level). If we know our encounter budget is now 450, then we can divide that by 2.5, which gives us an actual budget of 180 XP, dividing this by our Kobold's 25 XP, we get 7.2 which tells us we need to add just one extra kobold.

This does leave us in a bit of a lurch when it comes to advancement XP. Since we add 50% more characters, but only ~15% more XP. This will be corrected by most encounters not needing this kind of scaling (use groups of different monsters more often than not). But can also easily be corrected by introducing the optional level up rules that ignore XP (what I'd recommend).

One other thing I've played around a bit with and haven't had enough time (or diverse enough groups) to do a full play test on is the idea of playing with the average HP and damage of the monsters. Basically, I always use the average HP and damage numbers for my monsters. This provides a different kind of difficulty tweak than adding extra monsters. Basically you could adjust the HP and damage up a bit (take 2/3 of the die instead of half, or more) and automatically make the encounter more deadly. I've mostly played with this the other way, reducing difficulty without changing numbers for a 3 person party. It worked pretty well, but may prove much more deadly if you raise the damage too much and find yourself oneshotting PCs.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, especially for the detailed numbers/XP analysis. I was thinking I could stick to the milestone mechanic, combined with making some monsters a bit tougher (say, out of the 8 kobolds, have 2-3 be Winged Kobolds, for example; or +1 to hit/damage). My only worry with the milestone mechanic (in general, when I read it the first time) is that reckless groups who end up fighting several XP-worth of encounters might get shafted. On the one hand, I don't want to reward groups for being reckless; but on the other, if they do overcome these many encounters, they should reap the XP benefits. \$\endgroup\$
    – Khashir
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 2:36
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Khashir I'd up the treasure a bit to compensate (I'd do that anyways with a larger group). I also just added a paragraph about something I've been playing around with a little bit in my game for guys here on the stack. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 2:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, thanks. I remember you discussing that in one of your answers (maybe the one about surviving w/o cleric/pally, how the avg damage tended to be too brutal..>) \$\endgroup\$
    – Khashir
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 3:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ So, I was re-reading the module, and realised that with 6 players, the number of wandering encounters goes from 0-2 to 0-3 (so, already a 50% increase) \$\endgroup\$
    – Khashir
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 18:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Khashir that makes sense (since you have to make up the XP budget somehow). But there are also time constraints to consider. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 18:22

I would add monsters until you are inline with the XP restrictions set forth on page 57 of the Basic DM Guide

For example, with 4 people, the initial encounter of 8 kobolds is 500xp, or 25 XP * 8 kobolds * 2.5 for a group of 8.

As a result, this encounter is pretty deadly at level 1. That said, the players should be helped out by the woman with the spear, and they should have a surprise attack.

To modify this for 6 people, increase the experience by 1.5, or 750. This comes out to 10 or 11 kobolds.

But why isn't it 12 kobolds? - When adjusting the size of the encounter, be sure to pay attention to the XP modifiers put forth the in basic rules. That is, when you have 7 - 10 creatures, they gain a 2.5x modifier, but when you have 11, they gain a 3x modifier.

So, 10*25 = 250XP * 2.5 modifier = 625 XP.

But, 11*25 = 275XP * 3 modifier = 825XP.

With that in mind, I'd choose the smaller amount at least initially. You may find that your group works incredibly well together, but it also will likely take some buildup to that. If they are breezing through your encounters, consider erring on the side of more difficult in the future.

That said, in general consider buffing the monsters as opposed to simply adding more. Just adding more monsters creates a drawn out combat, especially if they are hordes of creatures. Things like giving 2 kobolds an additional hit die, or swapping some out for a homebrewed variant like Kobold Leader (+1 to hit, +1 to damage) might make combat equally as hard, but also keep the speed reasonable.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you mean a winged kobold? or is there a "leader" template that confers those benefits? \$\endgroup\$
    – Khashir
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 21:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ (I searched the pdf and the DM guide, I don't think I saw it). Or is it a house-rule/brew/prev. ed. concept? \$\endgroup\$
    – Khashir
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 21:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind that when you add additional monsters of the same type, the effect XP budget increases dramatically faster than the actual XP budget. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 1:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Khashir Sorry, it was an entirely homebrewed / house-rule concept. Just something that makes them a little better, and also introduces minor monster variance. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 13:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle Good point, I'll show the calculations for the increased number to emphasize that \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 13:29

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