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I'm a new DM (and a relatively new player as well) and I'm leading a pretty large (6 players) group of newbies. We've done a few demos and whatnot just to show them the basics of combat, but now we're going to start our first adventure (crypt of the everflame).

In the party we have a cleric (sun/healing), bard, wizard, druid, ranger and barbarian. A little light on the tank side of things, but I suppose that's alright.

What I'm worried about is the cleric's channel energy. Sun domain makes the will save higher and does a bit more damage as well. Healing means she can also cast an extra cure light wounds to do even more damage to undead. I know clerics are supposed to be awesome against undead, and I want her to feel powerful and have lots of fun.

But will the other players get bored? I'm thinking of making all of the dungeon rooms larger and adding some bad guys, but if she walks into a room full of skeletons and instantly does 7 damage (1d6+cleric level from sun domain) then that's it for the encounter. On the other hand, if I make the enemies even stronger then I run the risk of overwhelming a group of newbie players.

How do you guys handle this kind of situation?

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For a first-time DM, I recommend staying very close to the original module. (You'll probably have to add 50% more monsters or 50% more monster hp, because you have six players instead of four, but otherwise try not to add new types of monsters or make other changes.) Your players won't be upset if the encounters are too easy, but they'll be really frustrated and unhappy if the encounters are too hard.

Your cleric has a limited number of channel energy uses per day, and every use that goes to blow up undead is one fewer use that goes to healing the party. If she goes all-out to blow up all the undead in one room, just smile and congratulate her on being awesome, and let the party move on to the next room.

If the players really seem like they're unsatisfied by the combat difficulty, here's what you can do: ask for Perception checks, and tell the character with the best Perception roll that they've noticed the monsters are getting reinforcements. Put some duplicates of the monsters they've already killed in a hallway, and have them run in and join the battle next turn. This is a pretty safe way of increasing the encounter difficulty, because you're adding more monsters of a type they've already proven they can handle.

What most players want out of combat is to spend 3-4 rounds showing off how badass all their combat abilities are. If they get that, they'll be happy. It's usually not necessary for a combat to really threaten or injure them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel it is important to mention that, while the DM should probably compensate for the 2 extra players, adding more of the same monsters can easily make an encounter tedious. In one of my Pathfinder campaigns, we experimented with rotating GMs. One my fellow group members wasn't that great at GMing to start with because he would always make encounters that are filled with tons of the same enemy -- this quickly got tedious. OP may consider replacing a couple of the monsters in an encounter with ones that are one CR higher, or simply using non-undead leaders (human necromancers). \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas Leblanc Nov 5 '15 at 21:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ My view of combat: what players really want is to spend 3-4 rounds showing off how badass all their combat abilities are. If that's true, then fighting many copies of a single monster should not be tedious; the interesting part is the character, not the punching bag. The number of monsters should be however many are needed to make the battle last 3-4 rounds. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Nov 5 '15 at 21:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also would add that it's really dangerous to swap higher CR monsters for lower ones. The CR numbers are only a rough approximation of the monster's true difficulty. As one example, as monsters go up in CR, their AC can get higher; if you accidentally swap in a monster that has so much AC that the characters can't injure it, you could cause a retreat or a party wipe. As another example, even a first-level human necromancer has an AoE attack (channel negative energy 1d6) which deals damage even on a miss; this is much more dangerous than a skeleton. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Nov 5 '15 at 21:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's true, it's kind of a sticky situation in my opinion. I have not looked into monster templates in 5th. Are they available? If so, that might be a good option for the DM -- just apply the template to one or two of the monsters in an encounter just to make him a bit tougher. The plus side is that it doesn't add any of the dangerous abilities that are a problem when you start swapping in higher CR monsters, but you still get tougher monsters, and (more importantly) slightly more varied monsters. \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas Leblanc Nov 5 '15 at 22:06
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You could mix in a few monsters in the encounter that are not undead.

An example: add a low level evil cleric (or magic user) who might have a connection to the undead, and one or two mortal bodyguards.

This spreads out the challenge.

The other thing to do is not worry about it: against the undead, a cleric tends to shine. In other encounters, another class will shine more brightly. So don't just throw undead at the party in subsequent encounters.

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Most easy thing to do to chalenge cleric with insane turn undead capability is to introduce undead in waves. Ok, there goes the six ghouls, the next six just stumbled into the corridor and are lumping toward you.

I once got my party into old temple, taken over by undead monkey horde. Each monkey zombie had just 1 hp. The party killed a few of them staggering around, arbarian smashig one to bits (20+ damage to 1hp monkey) then cleric used turn to clean the room. Suddenly there was wailing all over the temple complex. More monkeys turned up at the entrances to the hall they were in, several more jumped down from upper levels. Cleric did second turning. More monkeys appeared in their turn, including from the entrance, blocking their retreat way. Cleric did turn and destroy again. And again. And again. And then he turned to party and said, guys, that's it for today, im out of channels. And there still was wailing and monkeys kept coming.... Of course, with burning hands, with swords and maces, they finally prevailed. It was as it should be for party level 6 meeting cr 1/8 monsters. But they are respecting undead now. especially if there's many of them.

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Channel energy is very powerful against groups of low hp undead. If you want to make the cleric less effective while preserving overall difficulty, try using fewer undead each with more hp, while having similar ac and damage.

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In any effort, it's hard to make modifications sensibly without a baseline. This is especially the case with a highly modifiable game like D&D. My best recommendation would be to stick as closely to the module as possible, and take copious notes, especially on when the party had to rest, or were overwhelmed. I'm not familiar with this adventure, but hopefully it has the challenge ratings so you should have some idea. In any case, with Pathfinder, you can use the total xp to find challenge ratings later.

This way, you can come back and look at what was easy, what was hard, and make changes in the future based on real metrics. I would not recommend making encounters more difficult yet. It's easy to throw an extra enemy near the end of a session to spice things up, but it's nigh impossible to keep a story believable when you are fudging rolls and trying to weaken encounters at game time. A monster coming out of the shadows is much more plausible than one in plain site disappearing :)

Challenge ratings are far from perfect, but they will give you a starting point. Tactics and teamwork can have a dramatic impact on player survival and encounter outcome. You want to encourage this, but it may take time for new players to learn to take advantage of situations.

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My old DM used to talk about 'rule 0' (Basically, as the DM, you are God) if you find that your cleric is running roughshod over your encounter, force some of the creatures to survive the cleric, just so they can interact with the party. You don't need to explain or justify your actions, just move forward.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While rule 0 exists, I don't think this is the point where you should use it. There are other ways to let the other characters shine that do not involve arbitrarily shutting down the cleric while he is doing what he's doing best. \$\endgroup\$ – MrLemon Nov 3 '15 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ 'Arbitrary' is not the word I would use. Especially since the situation I was speaking of, and the issue I was addressing, was that the cleric was overpowering the rest of the party, to the negative impact of the campaign, and the experience of the players. \$\endgroup\$ – Zane Nov 3 '15 at 20:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zane The thing is that the cleric, namely the "cliche" Sun/Healing Cleric (of Pelor, when the flagship setting was still Greyhawk), is specifically designed to kill undead. Assuming they have any genre knowledge or did any reading beyond plain rules, the Cleric's player will expect to be able to kill undead more easily than other classes. It's like telling the Fighter with 18 strength that he just can't kick down a wooden door even though he's passed the check. Like, what? Maybe I should just roll up a new character then? You should have other scenarios for the other classes to shine. \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas Leblanc Nov 5 '15 at 21:09

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