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So I'm going to be starting the starter set "Lost mines of Phandelver" shortly but I am only going to be having three players. I've used some calculators online that say the first encounter can be "Deadly" to them.

I know there are ways of changing the difficulty and most seem to be to reduce the number of enemies, but I feel that this will not have the same effect as the first four goblins.

Is there another way to reduce the difficulty and make it a little easier on them to begin with? I'll then know how good they are in combat and can adapt for upcoming fights.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any materials besides the starter set, such as the Dungeon Master's Guide? I would hate to give advice you can't use. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Nov 9 '16 at 0:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have the DMG a little, but I haven't had time to study it. I understand that you can use the monster table thing but I want to stick with the encounters and monsters that the starter set provide the first few times that I DM. \$\endgroup\$ – Inhandable Nov 9 '16 at 1:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ related: Is the first encounter of the starter set really “deadly”?. On scaling down, this question is related: How to scale down Princes of the Apocalypse for a 3-adventurer party? \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Nov 9 '16 at 1:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ By not just reducing the number, what do you hope to achieve? What "effect" are you trying to recreate? \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Nov 9 '16 at 1:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the real problem that you absolutely want to reduce the difficulty of this encounter, or just that you don't know your party's capabilities (but are happy adjusting encounters on your own once you do know them), as your last sentence indicates? If it's actually the latter I suspect there might be very different answers that would also be helpful to you. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Nov 9 '16 at 14:52
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Without reducing the number of enemies, you can make the fight easier by manipulating the following factors:

Surprise

With 4 Goblins and only 3 characters, getting a surprise round will swing the direction of the encounter wildly, depending on who's surprised whom. As the goblins are waiting in ambush, it is highly unlikely that the PCs can surprise them so the best you can do is make sure you communicate the dangers well. Ask for Perception checks instead of using Passive Perception, if a PC's passive perception is really bad (less than the Goblin's stealth roll). I know this isn't RAW but you should be lenient with such a small party.

This is important because a Goblin can shoot down most characters (especially a spellcaster) with a hit and a good damage roll (let's leave criticals out because reasons...) If the goblins gets an extra round to shoot their arrows, it's going to result in a bloodbath for the PCs.

Terrain

Another factor that the DMG doesn't take into account when calculating an encounter's difficulty is Terrain. Make the terrain in favor of the PCs and less favorable to the Goblins. Perhaps the dead horses can provide cover, perhaps the supply wagon are in between the party and the goblin archers negating the ranged threat while the PCs kill the goblins in melee. Though the Goblins can hide as a Bonus Action, make them stay within reach of the party, 30 feet from one member should be enough for that party member to move without having to use an Action to Dash (except if he/she has less than 30 feet of movement).


This is the part where I spout some unconventional wisdom. The above already covers some good points and you can use that to make the encounter bearable already.

Increase the PC's starting level

If you plan on going through the whole starter set with just the 3 players, consider increasing their starting level to 2. It doesn't do much for the game except make the first dungeon crawl and the first encounters a bit easier (but still pretty difficult, mind you). This way, you do not have to scale down each and every encounter in the Goblin Hideout to accommodate the reduced party size.

You may also want to check out my answer to this question. I also outlined some alternative ways to strengthen the PCs there, you can use all those except number 2 (well, that depends on you if you want to give them magic items at the start) in the starter set, too.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You might consider citing DMG 84, "Modifying Encounter Difficulty" \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Nov 9 '16 at 2:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I could if OP wanted to actually do it. Since I think he doesn't want to modify the difficulty of the encounter, I didn't. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Nov 9 '16 at 2:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I admit I'm confused. That's exactly the section in the DMG that recommends tweaking encounter difficulty with surprise, terrain, visibility, movement, etc., which seems to be the bulk of your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Nov 9 '16 at 3:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh so that's what you meant. Eh, I covered it, as you said, I don't think I need to add the DMG's very limited list of ideas to tweak the difficulty. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Nov 9 '16 at 3:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would also add that "Not using a goblin's special abilities" also makes the fight easier. As does throwing the goblins into melee. Mechanically, Goblins excel as ranged skirmishers...constantly moving, hiding, and staying out of range of melee enemies. An ideal turn for a Goblin is "Shortbow Attack, move to cover, Hide as a Bonus Action." Barring that: "Disengage (bonus), Run away, Attack" Goblins are fragile, have mediocre AC, and pretty awful saves. Send the goblins into melee, and they'll be a lot easier to deal with. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Nov 9 '17 at 18:57

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