69

Telegraph the problem in advance It sounds like the real danger here is that the group might communicate sincerely with the spymaster, and this could lead to the spymaster killing them all. You can avoid this by letting the group discover evidence that the spymaster is treacherous -- perhaps people they talk to can complain that the spymaster is using ...


67

CR and Encounter Building are not an exact science If you find that your group is too effective (or too ineffective) in dealing with enemies, you will have to improvise and adjust the difficulty. Homogeneous groups share weaknesses Shambling Mounds lack ranged attacks and are slow. A single character able to attack at range can defeat any amount of ...


63

Absent Extenuating Circumstances, Yes According to Kobold Fight Club, which gets its information from the DMG, a party of two level 4 characters would consider 250xp worth of monsters Easy, 500xp Medium, 750xp Hard, and 1000xp Deadly. Furthermore, they should not encounter more than 3400xp worth of monsters in a single day (between Long Rests). A CR 12 ...


61

Build a criminal network as your BBEG I have had success over the years in using the Organized Crime family model (an example is mentioned here) to provide scalable challenges to parties of good, neutral, and evil/chaotic alignments. The emphasis is on rivalry as the tension builder between your PCs and their nemesis. What are the advantages of doing ...


60

Try it yourself If you have a copy of their character sheets, run the encounter by yourself a few times playing both sides. You should get a decent idea about how outmatched the PCs might be.


55

Carcer and I can independently verify that all your math checks out. That said, take a deep breath. I doubt this question was prompted by your lack of faith in your own math and reading skills, but instead by your DM's insistence that this encounter wasn't deadly, and this much bold formatting and all-caps in a question (prior to style edits at least) makes ...


47

For Druid + Rogue at level 1; combat is not necessarily required. Focusing on the rogue's DPR is, IMO, you as DM viewing this party through a very narrow lens. I suggest that, since (1) you only have two players, and (2) neither of them is from a warrior archetype, the adventures that you run for them until they get to second level should focus more on ...


45

Don't waste a valuable resource These are 5th level characters. As pawns they are well above the norm. When they confide in the Spymaster, rather than kill them, she uses them. Turns her considerable skills and resources into framing someone else. Someone who is a threat to her. Maybe a minor noble she can't kill directly. She helps the party find the ...


44

Don't give them a villain. Give them an antagonist. When we create stories about heroes (such as typical characters in Dungeons & Dragons), we often assume that the story must include some evil character as a source of conflict. But this is not universally true. You don't need to design an enemy NPC who is "more evil" than the PCs; in a game with evil ...


28

There are a number of answers: I speak as a current player of a 5e warlock, who has 20 cha and agonizing blast, and who does not at all feel like an overwhelmingly dominant force on the battlefield. I manage to do my part, but "trivialize" would not describe. Melee troops getting up close and personal with the warlock. If you're standing next to an enemy,...


27

Evil doesn't necessarily get along with Evil. Your players want to take over the world. Okay. That means that anyone they recruit is going to have to be okay with the idea of the players taking over the world. A lot of evil types out there won't be okay with this. Some of them might wish to destroy the world, some of them might wish to slaughter all ...


25

My idea is that there is a hidden pirate witch on board that can get a lightning bird to attack once a day, or something, but that she needs to burn incense as a consumable part of the spell. This is actually exactly just what you need already. Monsters and adversaries in 5E do not need to follow exactly the same rules as PCs, and in fact in many cases ...


24

You were just over "1 day's XP budget" (five minute adventure day) In the Basic Rules p. 166/DMG p. 84, there's another table that lays out the estimated "adjusted XP" for an entire adventure day. For your party: 7th /5,000/ x 4 = 20,000. (Your adjusted XP calculation was correct at 23,400). The usual adventure day is designed with "6-8 encounters of ...


23

Don't Now, this might seems like a non-answer at first, but bear with me. The reason boss fights "need" more than 1 monster in 5E is due to the action economy. Legendary actions are supposed to offset this, but sometimes you hit level 20 and not even a Tarrasque can slow down your band of murder hobos. Paragon Creatures are your solution. That web page ...


20

He does have Wish, but maybe one of the following either has happened or will happen:1. He's cast it once, but now he's unable to ever cast it again. From the spell's description: Finally, there is a 33 percent chance that you are unable to cast wish ever again. 2. The spells fails, anytime he casts it. The GM has great latitude in ruling what ...


20

I have this exact issue in a game I'm running (and the warlock can now fly, making him even more effective!). My strategies are still evolving, but I broadly have two categories I use to provide challenges for him: hard counters and soft counters. Of those, I strongly prefer the soft counters. Soft Counters: Soft counters are anything which frustrates or ...


20

Give them new contacts and resources to make the impossible plausible This suggestion is twofold: the new contacts and resources can highlight how difficult this plot sequence is (possibly giving them a nudge to save it for later, or at least making them more cautious) and can also direct the plot in ways that won't be so deadly for the party. I use this ...


16

You need more mixing in your monster groups. Consider that a group of six Shambling Mounds is a lot like six tanks and no healers. A pair of Guardian Nagas is a lot like two caster-clerics with no tank. A naga would really like to have something large and beefy standing in front of it to absorb hits while it throws out spells like flamestrike, bestow ...


15

This may seem more like an alternative philosophical approach than an answer, but I do not design encounters with the makeup of the party in mind beyond their level & party size. If a group of players choose classes that aren't "balanced" with each other, in my opinion it's up to them to adjust their tactics, not you. They might choose to start being ...


14

It's probably okay to leave the encounter as it is There's a couple of ways to approach this question, I'll start with a crude estimation and then dial in from there. In terms of CR Goblins are CR ΒΌ creatures, worth 25XP each. Four of them add together to 100XP total, which we then multiply using the guide in the Dungeon Master's Guide (pages 82-83) by ...


14

I'm not certain that describing the fight as "Deadly" for your level is wholly inappropriate; however, there is some Math we need to knock out first. Frost Giants are weaker than their Challenge Rating would suggest In the Dungeon Master's Guide, the advice for creating custom monsters provides advice on how to stat creatures based on what their Challenge ...


13

The CR math is based on the assumption of 6-8 encounters per adventuring day You mention in the comments, in response to my question, that the party takes a lot of rests. The CR math is based on the party having to ration their resources over longer adventuring days with more encounters and a few short rests. Your party is not (necessarily) too strong for ...


13

Attacking the camp is never the only option There are a lot of factors that go into determining the balance of encounters in D&D. The CR guidelines, players skill, party composition and often the DM gut instinct all play a role. Without being in your DMs head or even at your table we can't tell you if they are stacking things against you. However we can ...


13

Get a second GM I have been in a game where there was a three-way fight. One team was the players' party. Our GM ran the second team. And our GM brought in her partner (also an experienced GM) to run the third team. There are a couple of benefits to having another person run the third team. One major benefit is that it reduces the load on you as the GM ...


12

Showing That a Monster Is Dangerous The most important thing to remember when trying to convince your players of a fact or emotion is to show, not tell. So, how to show that your monster is dangerous? You can invoke the oldest trick in the books: Surprisingly Sudden Death. Have the group be accompanied by one or more relatively powerful NPCs. Then, in ...


12

Don't use CR I don't think CR is going to solve your problems. It would be great if you could plug in all the info into a calculator and pull out a number which will tell you how challenging the fight will be. And to be fair, there are a lot of very good CR calculators around. However, the problem I have with them is that CR isn't very good from the start....


12

The athletics skill "covers difficult situations you encounter while climbing, jumping, or swimming" such as when you "struggle to swim or stay afloat in treacherous currents". This suggests to me that you should ask your group for Athletics skill checks. If you definitely wanted to have them make saving throws instead, it should probably be in Strength. ...


11

Powerful good doers. You can create your own, it doesn't need to be on the DMG. After all in most campaign players are the good guys so you can just create normal NPCs of the level you want. The city mayor can be a retired Level 10 fighter, hero of the war, while his personal guard can be level 4 fighters that he personally trains and his insepparable ...


11

Depending on what the players try to do, you could call for saving throws and/or ability checks. Saving throws are generally made to resist some consequence, and success means avoiding or reducing that consequence. Dexterity saving throws usually imply trying to move away, and Strength saving throws usually imply trying to not move. Either could come into ...


10

D&D 5e is entirely based on ability checks An ability check looks like this - roll a d201, add an ability modifier and possibly a proficiency bonus2 and compare it to a target number3 - if it equals or exceeds that number you succeed, if it doesn't you fail. WotC make this confusing by making a distinction without meaning between ability checks, saving ...


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