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I have been GMing for a group for a few sessions now and I have had a lot of trouble balancing encounters. I go by the rules that it should be the xp the party needs to level as a "balance" and you can spend that balance on different CR monsters. The problem is it seems to be completely random. I threw an "easy" encounter at them and they all almost died, then they absolutely destroyed the "deadly" encounter with the boss. Basically none of the fights so far have reflected their intended difficulty.

Could this be attributed to bad luck/rng? Or will I need to wait til the DM Guide comes out in December to see how to actually balance encounters?

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There are two components to building an encounter, I'm going to reiterate them even though you seem to have them, just so we make sure we're on the same page. These rules are laid out in the DM guide document of BD&D and should be much further expanded in the DMG.

  1. CR only sets the maximum (not minimum, lower CR critters are designed to challenge in increasing numbers as you level) value for which a party should be facing. Generally you don't want to throw a CR 4 monster at L3 PCs (though you might on occasion if you want an especially deadly encounter).

  2. the XP budget for the encounter type and number of characters is your primary source for building encounters, you take the appropriate budget number for each of your PCs and add them up (so for 4 L4 PCs that need a moderate challenge, your budget is 600). Make sure to factor multiples of the same monster as an adjustment to the XP budget (so if you wanted your PCs to fight a horde of goblins at 50 XP each, you'd need to factor that in. (you don't want them to fight 9 goblins, you want them to fight 4 or 5).

If you're doing those two things, WOTC thinks that you'll be balanced. However, this definitely does not mean your party will not wipe what supposed to be a hard fight easily and struggle with what's supposed to be an easy fight. In fact I expect them to.

The reality is that some encounters are simply a bad fit for your party composition, or a bad fit in general for that level of character. Other times encounters are an excellent fit and you've got an easy one on your hands.

The important thing, ultimately, is to learn the capabilities of your group and to identify the types of monsters and challenges that are hard for them and that they can overcome easily. This is obviously a lot more work than WOTC's advice on the subject. However, every group is different and it would be quite hard to give advice that works for everyone.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good answer. One thing I want to ask is clarification of the budget you are allowed. If I have 3 party members at level 3, should the budget be 2700 since that is the amount needed to level? \$\endgroup\$ – Bigern Oct 23 '14 at 12:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bigern there are a couple of different budgets to worry about. There is the per encounter budget, which sets the challenge level of an encounter (namely easy, moderate, hard or deadly), and then the budget per adventuring day, which is what you should put your characters through between long rests. You can concern yourself with the level budget, but I'm not sure how much it's going to gain you. I think you'd be better off focusing on the per encounter and per day budgets \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Oct 23 '14 at 12:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't even heard of the per day budget haha. I'm honestly not familiar with any of the systems too much so a lot of this is new to me. Do you have any links or resources that set all this stuff out? \$\endgroup\$ – Bigern Oct 23 '14 at 12:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bigern absolutely. I'll add a link to my answer, but this document has 2 chapters on the subject: media.wizards.com/2014/downloads/dnd/DMDnDBasicRules_v0.1.pdf \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Oct 23 '14 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I completely forgot that existed and just assumed it was all in the PHB. Thanks for all your help, will definitely give that a read through tonight. \$\endgroup\$ – Bigern Oct 23 '14 at 13:02
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You may want to take a look at the encounter xp multipliers on page 57 of the 5e DM basic rules if you have not already factored this in.

This is a big difference from 4e as simply adding up monster xp per character and expecting a moderate encounter will not work. You can easily create a deadly encounter with a total xp budget of 200 for a party of 4 level 1 PCs in 5e. If you don't take the xp multiplier into effect for the number of monsters in the encounter this will almost certainly occur when your encounter contains multiple monsters.

I also believe the multiplier is based on a party of 4 PCs if my memory serves me, so you may need to adjust it up or down depending on the size of your party. This may be detailed in the DM basic rules as well.

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