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I'm a DM for a 5 PC group. I think we all read the rules correctly and made the characters properly. Yet for some reason, if we're to use the monsters proposed in the player handbook, my PC's would destroy them. So I've been literally inventing the stats and adjusting as needed. I think I'm quite good at finding the right numbers to make the battle challenging but not overwhelming so "having fun" is not an issue, it simply seems weird that all that material (monster handbook) is not applicable to my situation. Is it normal to radically change NPC/monsters to fit the power of the party ?

(I will take real encounter example from my notes once i get my hands on them, at work atm) The party consist of: Ranger (ranged), Ranger(Melee) ,Warlord, Warlock and Cleric. They all have 1 stat in the 18-20, more info later.

I am/was using the xp system, now I'm only referring to it as it seemed off (maybe my fault). My party IS fighting more then 1 monster at once EXCEPT a few times with bosses with complex mechanism. (ex: one boss was throwing huge boulders, the PC had to do a check to determine where they would fall and move out of the affected zone before they would get hit)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you describe a typical combat encounter and how many of what kinds of monsters? What's your party composition? How many rounds is it typically taking them to wipe your monsters etc? We need a lot more detail here before we can help you. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Oct 27 '14 at 19:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.se! I hope you find what you are looking for \$\endgroup\$ – apacay Oct 27 '14 at 19:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not a bad question for our first go. I've offered a more system-agnostic approach to this question, but take it with a grain of salt, and you may want to listen to the more 4.0-seasoned answers before mine (I've played the game, but it has been awhile) \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Oct 27 '14 at 19:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you using the xp budget system? Are you simply matching lvl x monsters to lvl x PC's? \$\endgroup\$ – schroeder Oct 27 '14 at 20:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ One more question, which monster book are you using? MM1? MV1? MM3? If you're using MM1 are you using MM3 maths? \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Oct 27 '14 at 20:19
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4e is a very tightly balanced game, and you generally shouldn't need to modify monsters to make them more difficult as they typically provide sufficient challenge when used properly. The following is some advice to make sure you are pursuing in order to provide balanced encounters:

Monsters almost never appear alone.

4e is a squad combat game. Rarely, if ever, should your PCs fight a single monster. Make sure that most fights are against a similarly sized squad of standard monsters (or slightly fewer elites, a single solo and some minions, or a mix of all of them).

The most important things to keep in mind are the following:

  • Encounters have XP budgets, go find the table in the monster book you have. Find your PCs' level and make sure you are building your encounters to the appropriate budget
  • Use monsters of the same, or slightly higher or lower than your PCs. Don't go too high, and don't go too low.
  • Generally 4e is balanced around 4-6 encounters per day. If you're PCs aren't doing that, then make sure you occasionally send them to a dungeon where they can't rest easily.
  • Make sure your monsters are up to date. Monster math got a huge overhaul in Monster Manual 3, so make sure that you are using the damage expressions from that book (and HP/defenses numbers from there too). Both Monster Vaults and the DM kit use this math as well so monsters from there are good. If you're not using this it could explain some of your problems.

Also, it's really important to make use of the environment. Make your dungeon rooms interesting, add traps, or things that need to be interacted with along with the monsters in the room. This is an important part of keeping yourself from getting overwhelmed in later levels where monsters are much harder to run.

Lastly, don't fret too much if they are wiping your monsters, that's something of the intent of 4e. If they are doing too well, then you might add an extra standard monsters worth of opponents to some fights, but I would not tweak too much.

(very last thing, since you're new and 4e is unendingly complex, it might not hurt to make sure your PCs are built correctly and that you aren't accidentally making them more powerful than they should be, believe it or not this is fairly common).

Party specific advice section:

You've got a pretty solid party there, but it's not balanced. It's going to have a couple of big glaring weaknesses.

  • You don't have a tank in this party, but you do have some tough guys. there isn't a defender here to dish out marks so you should be able to move your NPCs around fairly easily without the typical reprisals. Choose enemies with tons of shift powers to slice and dice their way through the front lines of cleric and warlord (and 'lock if it's con-lock) to the squisy ranged ranger.

  • You don't have a true controller here, make use of minions. Some of these classes can minion pop as a secondary, but with no true controller, floods of minions may well challenge this party more than it would a balanced one.

  • Use brutes. One of the reasons they are taking down your monsters so effectively is that you have 3 characters who (if well built) can wipe out half or more of a single monster's HP in a single shot. Brutes have tons of HP and lower defenses and damage, use them to soak some of the strikers' body blows and make your other monsters more effective overall.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Isn't Warlord considered tank ? the Warlock is also very tanky due to all the shield spell. \$\endgroup\$ – user2475269 Oct 27 '14 at 19:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user2475269 If your Warlock is built to be a tank, he might be. But he's not an ideal tank. Also, a +1 to this answer for encouraging the use of brutes. Even if your fights aren't actually more challenging, having a big tough enemy for the party to focus on will make it feel more challenging to the group, especially if he's backed up by minions that harrass them during combat. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Oct 27 '14 at 19:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user2475269 they are an OK secondary tank (usually decent AC and ok HP), but they don't have a lot of the lockdown features that defenders do. They are a leader class with leader features (best use of them is to facilitate attacks for other party members, but they can heal and buff well) \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Oct 27 '14 at 19:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user2475269 The problem with running one massive battle is that there are very powerful daily powers that last for an entire encounter. With one massive encounter, players are free to use all of their daily powers and action points to quickly overpower any monsters. If there are 4-6 smaller encounters throughout the day, the players need to spread out these powerful resources and make strategic choices about when to use them. \$\endgroup\$ – starchild Oct 28 '14 at 1:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for more fights per day. A fight is an easy thing, but several fights before you have a chance to sleep is hard. They'll have to start making those resource decisions of when to use their powers. \$\endgroup\$ – aherocalledFrog Oct 28 '14 at 17:38
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I like @waxeagle 's answer as the best, but here's another perspective from someone who ran a >2 year 4e campaign.

It's OK for a fight to be easy.

In 4e a player character is powerful. Really, from the beginning they're badass. A party of them working together are nigh-invincible. Isn't that part of the point? Isn't that part of the fantasy? Don't they enjoy feeling powerful?

If every single combat encounter was a literal fight for their lives, it becomes wearisome. It's emotionally taxing to be that hair's-breadth away from the party wipe at all times. The party needs those easy fights because they're fun.

In 4e, part of the challenge in combat isn't a single fight: it's a from a string of encounters without rest, without resupplying. The early easy victories aren't a waste of time if you make the fights fun and interesting, if they have a purpose. If you're just throwing goblin gang #4 at them because you have to before you get to the actual fight, then yes, that's a waste of time. If they get jumped in the street, then rush to the alleyway because that first fight was a distraction, then interrogate a captive and get info to take them to the next fight three blocks away, then none of those fights were a waste of time. Making those fights count in your story is the most important thing, even if the story is just "What's through the next door in this dungeon". Work your way up to that great suspenseful fight at the end.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, Many of these questions mention multiple encounters a day so they have to be careful with their dailies. I like to have sequences like you describe, where they don't even have time for a short rest, so they have to be careful with even their encounters. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Oct 30 '14 at 4:24
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Let me tell you that for the same level of the creatures as your characters lvl, it's expected for them to have more than one fight "per day", so not as challenging as a Boss battle is understandable.

Remember, your characters are there not because they are common people, but because they are great, let them feel their greatness and further involve in the game.

It also happens that dices are trickier than you might expect. So don't calculate on above the average rollings.

Now to answer your question:

Is it Normal?

That isn't intended to be your day to day basis

However you can make them as challenging or un-challenging as you want/need.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ ok so 2 things 1 I feel like I'm wasting their time with battle they will OBVIOUSLY win. 2 The scene of campain is somewhat "race against the watch". Come to think of it, it probably has an impact. \$\endgroup\$ – user2475269 Oct 27 '14 at 19:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user2475269 If you chain 10 of them together without giving them the chance for a long rest, you'll find that the 10th battle will not be so easy for them. You can also give them no chance to rest at all, even a 5 minute short rest, and in that case 3-4 'easy' battles will start getting really hard really fast. This is also a pretty good way to dial the difficulty. Plan 5 battles, stop at 3 or 4 if they are clearly going to wipe on the next battle. \$\endgroup\$ – DampeS8N Oct 27 '14 at 19:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @wax Ok, edit as needed please, or let me get back home and open my books, given that it's been some time since my last 4e game. \$\endgroup\$ – apacay Oct 27 '14 at 20:07
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System-agnostic answer: Yes, as appropriate you can alter monsters to your needs.

Now, this is assuming you are providing your players with a level-appropriate challenge. As the other answers have pointed out, single-monster combat is rare in 4.0, and they should be facing more than one challenge a day based on their party level, sometimes with a more difficult 'boss' battle that really challenges the limits of their ability.

But, realistically, if your campaign doesn't call for that much combat, but you still want each encounter to be meaningful (or just one encounter to be meaningful), you can absolutely ramp up the difficulty as your party proves to be more than capable of handling it. If you (and if your party) desire more challenging combat, you're perfectly within your bounds to ramp up the challenge.

Now, this is to be done with great care, and with a keen understanding of the player's capability. You do not want your ramping-up to go from "party squashes monster" to "total party kill" in the span of a single encounter. You may want to test them first to see if they're ready for a bigger challenge, or to make sure that you're actually giving them a reasonable challenge for their level. Also note, some monsters are pushovers, and some are horrible for a party to face. Your party may just be well-equipped for the challenge you're throwing at them.

As a final caveat, you should only ramp up the challenge if you or the party (and preferrably only if BOTH of you) feel that it is necessary. If you're all having fun and don't mind the heroes triumphing over the bad guys the way they've been doing, there's no shame in continuing as-is. They may find more challenge at higher levels as their foes develop more complicated tactics, or you may find that the party's simply very good at dealing with encoutners, and that's perfectly fine for your game.

If you really feel like they could use a challenge though, or if the players themselves are itching for a bigger challenge, it is well within your power to give it to them, and even encouraged.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle Granted, I've stripped out references to CR, but I think the core of this answer is still valid, even in 4e. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Oct 27 '14 at 20:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with the text of this answer, except the 'Yes'. The question asks about modifying monster stats, but 4e has better levers to tune encounter difficulty. The math of 4e makes it risky to fiddle with monster stats. \$\endgroup\$ – starchild Oct 28 '14 at 1:58

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