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I am a first time DM and have just finished running the Dripping Caves.

My party went in, guns blazing, and were almost wiped by the ogres. Moving forward, the encounters are well over the deadly encounter range from the DM's guidebook.

I want to lower the difficulty but I'm worried that I will overcorrect and create a new problem of fights that are much too easy.

How can I judge the correct difficulty for the fights they are going to have without making them too easy or too hard?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Brandon, and welcome both to the site and to GMing. I'm sure you'll get some good answers to this good question, but I wanted to let you know that Role-playing Games Chat can also be a good resource for advice, too. You'll need 20 reputation before you can join in the conversation, but you'll probably get there pretty quickly with this question =) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Oct 15 '16 at 22:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Would you share a sample calculation for how the fights are over the deadly threshold? Unless they're supposed to be tough boss battles, that's not usually the case in published adventures. Also, it may be easier for the community to grapple with this question if you focus on a single fight you're worried about; the specificity may spark people's imaginations in ways that also apply to other encounters. \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Oct 16 '16 at 2:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ >! At level 5 my players will each take control of an npc on top of their characters for a battle against three frost giants and two winter wolves. Even with the extra bodies, that seems like way too much to go against. I have four PCs playing and a deadly encounter would be more like one frost giant and four winter wolves. \$\endgroup\$ – Brandon Whitby Oct 16 '16 at 18:41
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From my reading the Storm King's Thunder, it seems not all of the encounters can be solved by brute force. Giants themselves are meant to be formidable and difficult to take down foes. And multiple encounters actually encourage the PCs to run away.

While you can adjust the difficulty of encounters in a number of ways (reducing the number of foes, spacing them out over multiple rounds, etc.), I would instead encourage the players to thinking of alternate means or strategies for achieving success.

Furthermore, you might look at these early encounters as good training, and a way of learning through experience that brute force will not always work. Later encounters are extremely difficult if alarms are raised and multiple other enemies join in.

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Encounter scaling can happen in many ways. I'll try to cover as much as I can, but I'm sure I'll be missing some.

  • Upgrade the Party's Gear: Simply upping their damage output might not be enough, along with weapons, give them upgraded armors, and other misc items that boost defenses and offensive potential. (The Dungeon Master Guide will help you here)
  • Train the Players: This can be many things, from ensuring they're utilizing all of their abilities, to discussing tactics or planning out battles in character. This would also include party dynamic, which would be specific to the groups characters, and can be difficult to work though with new or experienced players.
  • Enemy scaling: Take those deadly encounters, and half the enemies, then during the fight if it seems like the players are kicking butt, add back in some of the enemies as reinforcements. And if it's becoming too deadly maybe that last 'difficult to kill' enemy was already injured or something and goes down after the next attack (even though he might still have HP left)
  • Do Nothing: You may see these encounters as "overly deadly" but I'd say if party members aren't dying then the difficulty is probably just right.
  • Talk to your players: Get their input on the game and how they feel the encounters are going. As long as everyone is having fun, I think you're doing it right. And if they are having issues, see what their insights might be. Maybe one of your players or all of them have something specific that they are like "If I could do this 1 thing better I'd be awesome" and work with them to find a solution.

The goal for most encounters are to be dangerous but possible. If you have 4 players and by the end of the encounter 2 are knocked out but not outright dead, then you're probably not too far from having things right. Those types of encounters can't happen over and over, but Player death should be possible and if not then the players are likely to take advantage and take risks that really shouldn't be taken.

There are more options and more specifics, but hopefully this helps.

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    \$\begingroup\$ RE: "Train the Players": This is important. A small group of experienced players will fare much better than a larger group of less experienced players. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeP Oct 17 '16 at 21:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly, and as Imaginary said in his answer, I would include "Running away" as in the category of "Train the Players", D&D is built to lean toward fighting, but non-combat, even to the point of pacifism can work. \$\endgroup\$ – John Grabanski Oct 18 '16 at 12:44

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