I recently DM'd a module. It seems the characters were easily able to get through encounters that the DMG considered “Deadly,” even without factoring in the “encounter multipliers” for multiple monsters. After the first encounter, I realized the party seemed to be beyond the “very strong” party indicated by the module, so I beefed up the encounters. After running the module, and calculating the XP, I was incredulous as to how the party got through it all rather unscathed, so I double checked the DMG encounter experience rules.
253 HP AC 18
Immunities: necrotic, (fire or as per base giant)
Str 32(+12), Dex 13 (+1), Con 20 (+6), Int 12 (+1), Wis 20 (+5), Cha 25 (+7)
3 x +10 (4d6+18) sword attacks
Circle of Death (recharge 5-6, can be used in lieu of one attack on same round),
Unholy Aura, giving them AC 22 (concentration), takes action to cast.
Flame Strike, can be use in lew of 1 attack on same round
Reaction: DC 18 Con or 1d6 constitution drain to melee attacker that hits it
*If you go down to 0 hp within 10 ft of Death Giant, you instantly die, and require Resurrection, not Raise Dead.
This was more or less based off suggested stats for CR 16 creatures in DMG—offense was cr 19 (120 avg dmg over 3 rounds), and defense was 13, average=CR 16.
(Update: After playtest, this monster is great btw. For a stronger party, or you just want to use one or two, consider adding 50hp or +2 attack and still call it cr 16. )
The party consisted of:
- 16 Barbarian
- 16 Paladin
- 16 Barbarian
- 16 Cleric
- 13 Rogue
- 13 Paladin
According to the DMG, I calculated the encounter XP threshholds as:
Easy: 8600 = 1600+1600+1600+1600+1100+1100
Medium: 17200 = 3200+3200+3200+3200+2200+2200
Long Rest Threshold: 64000=16000+16000+16000+16000+13,500+13,500
The cleric casted Heroe's Feast previous, so they all had advantage on Wisdom saves, which are my #1 way to beat the party, with Mass Suggestion, Hypnotic Pattern, etc. But they had no problems getting DC 20 saves with their advantage.
So the party killed 3 of the death giants, with two 15 cleric support enemies, a 12 Wizard casting Fireballs. They underestimated the 30 skeletal archers the first two rounds so that got me in 150 dmg there.
Then 3 death giants with three support casters and a supposed "legendary" vampire.
In the next combat, versus “legendary” daemon, I just couldn't do enough. I added a Goristo, a pair of Glebrazu, and several vrocks.
Eventually I had the gnome archmage come in flying the Chronotyrn (18th level sorcerer/timestop casting bird that can cast and concentrate on two spells at a time), and casted Time Stop --> Mirror Image, Force Cage (I could get two of them), and then Prismatic Wall (as a sphere), but as they came out of the sphere to cast their spells (and retreat back in), I realized both enemies would be dead in a round or two(from readied actions), and they already blew their slots. Meteor Storm seemed not worth it. The chronotyryn gated in an Elder Storm Elemental which did a 8d6 thunder + 21d6 lightning 60' blast. Most people took 1/4 damage.
Then the cleric made his divine intervention roll on one shot, and I allowed the remaining demons to be banished(so just the wizards and elemental remaining.)
The fourth combat against a CR 24 daemon lord was admittedly cheesed somewhat, as I rushed it.
The PC’s had resistance to just about everything, advantage on just about everything, immune to poison and fear, some had resistance to all spells, resistance to fire and cold, two had cloaks of displacement (although not much use against the multiple attacks of the giants, they certainly helped.)
So totaling up the string of 4 encounters, with no rests at all, the XP total was 346,400.
So I am aware of the following mistakes on my side:
- I should have had the wizard use his Wish to dispel the Heroes’ Feast.
- I should have made use of the spell Maze, as everyone in the party had low intelligence.
- I should have added Dispel Magic and “Cast a spell” to the legendary action options of all enemies, and will do so from now on.
- To mess up the PC’s readied actions for the gnome and Chronotyryn coming out of Prismatic Sphere to cast a spell and retreat, I should have used Major Image or Programmed Illusion, to create an illusion of the gnome coming out of the sphere.
- I should give all higher level casters several 8th and 9th level scrolls—it would make sense in game that 18th level wizards would have such scrolls.
- I should have added a new spell to the game, Mass Dispel, which does a Dispel Magic on everyone in a 30’ radius: (did 5e really get rid of any way to cast a Mass Dispel?--I had two wizards cast dispel on them, but just so happens randomly it was the 13th level ones).
- I should have realized casters are pretty nerfed in 5e, they aren't the challenge I thought from previous editions,
- Use sorcerer's with scrolls instead of wizards(for the metamagic and damage potential.)
Initial Misconceptions about encounter difficulty
I also realize my initial misconception: Before I read this section of the DMG, my assumption was a “Deadly” encounter had the probability of TPK, but here it just says it “could be” lethal for a couple players.
Hard. A hard encounter could go badly for the adventurers. Weaker characters might get taken out of the fight, and there's a slim chance that one or more characters might die.
Deadly. A deadly encounter could be lethal for one or more player characters. Survival often requires good tactics and quick thinking, and the party risks defeat.
The two 13th level players did go down multiple times, requiring a raise dead and resurrection from the cleric, but only once did one 16th barbarian reach 0 hp.
If I raised the DC's arbitrarily, they will complain. If I just had 7 5th level wizards coming in and casting Dispel Magic, it would be cheesy. In Pathfinder, I could get away with nudging up enemy DC's a number of ways, increasing size categories, etc., but in 5e it is like sacrosanct not to do that. In Pathfinder the wizard could have had a number of spells going at once.
In my mind, these were four “hard” encounters. According to the DMG, these were four encounters way beyond “deadly (as per DMG definition),” in fact each encounter was beyond the parties “adventuring day” XP.
Questions I ask myself are: Was I doing something wrong, and not playing the monsters to their potential, was the party way beyond their abilities, or was it the fact the party was not balanced and had mostly melee classes, or is there something wrong with the DMG encounter calculations? Should I not have allowed the cleric to cast the Heroes' Feast from the get-go? Did the 5e idea of a "deadly" encounter change from previous editions?
Core Question: Given that the PC's gained 346,400 (5x adventuring day, and close to 10x a deadly encounter), each encounter was twice the deadly XP, and 50% more than the adventuring day xp, is there something wrong with the calculation method in the DMG?