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Building Adventures
Mike Mearls

I f you're lucky enough to live near a Wizards Play Network store that participates in our early release program for D&D, you probably already have your hands on the Starter Set. If you're as crazy as I am, you might have even already completed Lost Mine of Phandelver, the Starter Set adventure. What's next for you? Well, we've heard a number of calls from DMs for a preview of the guidelines for designing and balancing encounters, so let's take a look at those rules this week. You can use these guidelines with the monsters in appendix B of Lost Mine of Phandelver to continue your campaign or create new adventures.

Warning: These are not final rules. Although they've been playtested thoroughly, you can expect some adjustments before they debut in the Dungeon Master's Guide in November.

To start with, remember that these are guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Challenge ratings and XP budgets are tools to help DMs judge the difficulty of a combat encounter or an overall adventure. But there are so many variables involved in D&D that it's impossible to perfectly balance everything. Experienced DMs often run their campaigns simply by eyeballing difficulty, or by placing creatures and threats based solely on the needs of the setting or adventure.

In other words, treat this like any other piece of DMing advice we offer. Use it if it improves your game. Ignore it if it gets in the way.

Challenge Rating: A monster's challenge rating is a guide to its overall power. As a general rule, monsters with a CR higher than a party's level pose a significant threat. They might have abilities that easily outclass the characters, or so many hit points that they can wear the characters down even in a straightforward battle.

Unless you're looking to create an intentionally difficult—or even deadly—encounter, it's best to focus on creatures with a challenge rating less than or equal to the average level of the characters in the party.

Experience Point Value: You can judge the difficulty of a battle by comparing the total experience point value of the monsters to the party's level. Here's the current state of the experience point budget table. Multiply the XP value listed on the table by the number of characters in the party to determine your total budget. That budget gives you a guideline for the total XP value of creatures in the combat.

Level Easy Moderate Challenging Hard
1 20 50 100 150
2 20 70 140 210
3 40 110 220 330
4 50 150 300 450
5 70 200 400 600
6 80 250 500 750
7 100 300 600 900
8 120 350 700 1,050
9 130 400 800 1,200
10–11 150 500 1,000 1,500
12–13 200 600 1,200 1,800
14 250 700 1,400 2,100
15–16 250 800 1,600 2,400
17 300 900 1,800 2,700
18 350 1,000 2,000 3,000
19–20 350 1,100 2,200 3,300

Challenge Rating Versus Experience Points: It's important to remember that challenge rating and experience points work in tandem to help you balance a combat encounter. A creature with a CR higher than the party's level might easily fit into the budget, but such a creature could present a deadly threat to the party. For example, an ogre is worth 450 XP and is a CR 2 threat. A party of five 1st-level characters should expect to face about 500 XP worth of monsters for a challenging fight. Sounds like the ogre is a good fit, right?

However, the ogre is a CR 2 creature because its damage is enough to drop most 1st-level characters in a single hit. That doesn't mean you shouldn't ever throw an ogre at a 1st-level party. (One of the most memorable games I played in featured a running battle between 1st-level characters and an ogre.) But it does mean you should be ready for a tough fight—one that requires a mix of good luck and smart play for the heroes to emerge victorious.

The Monstrous Horde: Sometimes outnumbering the characters gives monsters a big tactical advantage. If you're creating an encounter with monsters that have a relatively low XP value compared to the XP budget for the party's level, you might end up with twice as many monsters as characters. However, if you looked at our preview of the hobgoblin, you'll have seen that even lower-CR monsters can become more dangerous when they fight as a group. As such, large numbers of monsters can skew the balance of an encounter.

To account for this, multiply the XP value of an encounter by 1.5 if the monsters outnumber the adventurers by two-to-one. If the monsters outnumber the characters by three-to-one, multiply the XP total by 2. For a four-to-one advantage, multiply the XP total by 2.5, and so on.

The Adventuring Day: As a rule of thumb, the game assumes that characters of a particular level can defeat a total number of creatures with an XP value equal to two hard encounters before needing to take a long rest. That's not a perfect measure, since the adventuring day is subject to strategic considerations that can swing encounter difficulty from overwhelming to trivial, and back again. As a guideline, though, it's a good way to gauge when you can expect the party to start running out of resources.

Winging It: This system is designed to help DMs gauge combat difficulty. It's not an assumed part of the game, in the sense that we don't expect DMs to follow these rules in building adventures the same way that players follow certain rules when creating characters.

In my own games, I tend to use only challenge rating to gauge monster power, then wing it from there when designing encounters. Players with a bit of experience with the game know to avoid fights where the characters are outnumbered, and to keep a low profile around creatures that they know are out of their league. I've also converted adventures by simply replacing original stat blocks with their fifth edition versions, using the indicated number of creatures and not worrying about CR or XP budget. I ran a successful play-through of The Forge of Fury this way, and found the action to largely mirror my experience of running that adventure in third edition.

You might find that you'll use this system of challenge rating and XP budgets to familiarize yourself with fifth edition encounters and combat, then slowly dial it back as your intuitive sense of the party's strengths and your own personal DMing style take over. And as with any tool, you might end up using these guidelines in ways that their creators could never have predicted. Have fun, and make the rules your own.

Now, let's see if anyone manages to use this article and the material in the Starter Set to hit 20th level by GenCon . . .

Mike Mearls
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.
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Exactly how is this meaningfully more difficult (or even substantially *different*) from the 4e system? I've got the DMG opened to page 56 right now.

1. Choose difficulty of encounter
2. Derive the level of the encounter from a number relative to the party's level
3. Consult a value on a table and multiply by number of characters in party to derive XP budget
4. Spend XP budget buying threats and consult guidelines to make sure threat levels are right based on level of party and desired difficulty of encounter
5. Follow some guidelines and good DM skills to split up roles when buying threats.

1. Choose difficulty of encounter
2. Consult a value on a table and multiply by number of characters in party to derive XP budget
3. Spend XP budget buying threats and make sure no challenge rating is higher than party level
4. Follow some guidelines and good DM skills to determine how XP budget increases if party is outnumb... (see all)
Posted By: Sword_of_Spirit (7/12/2014 3:11:22 PM)


My problem is more with the way monsters are set up based on CR. In 3e, CR = Party level was an average encounter for 4 PCs. In 4e, the base assumption was 5 even leveled monsters was an average encounter for 5 PCs (and then you replace one with some minions, or replace two with an Elite, or vary up the levels slightly, or what have you). In 5e, A CR 1 encounter is a moderate encounter for 4 level 1 PCs, but a CR 2 encounter is somewhere between a moderate and a challenging encounter for 4 level 2 PCs, as is a CR 3 encounter for level 3 characters. A CR 4 encounter is only slightly less than a Challenging encounter for 4 level 4 PCs, and (since we don't have numbers for 5-7, but we can assume they lie somewhere in between) a CR 8 encounter is slightly less than a Hard encounter for 4 level 8 PCs. It's not easy to just look at the CR numbers and make an encounter based on those.

Also, it's not as simple in the way varying encounter difficulty works. Rather than just setting u... (see all)
Posted By: BringerOfLocusts (7/14/2014 10:29:51 AM)


The thing I will miss from 4e encounters were the minion monsters--they were useful for harrying the PCs and making the encounter exciting without forcing the PCs to spend too much time or effort on them. They were like the old red-shirted Star Trek away team members: they were just enough of a threat to make the combat a little more daunting, a little more challenging, and not giving away a whole lot of XP. I think the minion role could have still been useful in this new edition.
Posted By: TheFounderPrime (7/9/2014 2:18:54 AM)


So if I read that chart right, I can send 5 Level 10 easy creatures against a party of 5 level 1 characters?
Posted By: ZaranBlack (7/8/2014 7:43:37 PM)


What? No, I don't think you're reading it right. That chart says nothing about creature level or numbers, just total XP budget.

For a party of 5 first level characters, you can expect an encounter with 100 XP of enemies to be easy, with 250 XP of enemies to be moderate, 500 XP of enemies to be challenging, and 750 XP of enemies to be hard.

Additionally, you should multiply the XP by 1.5 if the party is outnumbered 2:1 (eg. 10 goblins at 50 XP apiece make a 500 XP encounter--normally a challenging level of XP for this party, but because of the relative numbers, the encounter should actually be worth 750 XP and considered hard).

If the CR of any creature in the encounter is higher than the party's level, the encounter might be very swingy (as most people seem to call it). A few lucky rolls from the party could take it down quickly, but some unlucky rolls (or lucky rolls from the DM) could take out one or more characters very quickly. So you should only... (see all)
Posted By: SCSimmons (7/9/2014 2:19:01 PM)


Five hobgoblins, perhaps, but not 5 wolves (both encounters considered "Average" according to the 091913 Bestiary & DM Guidelines files; see below).  The superior speed and stealth of wolves make them very dangerous to low-level characters, at least in the woods where they have concealment.

This illustrates that neither CR nor XP is perfect as a guide to encounter difficulty (maybe wolves' now have a higher XP value, or will in the Monster Manual, or maybe DMs who have them concentrate their attacks on the weakest-seeming party member are just bad people).  As in previous editions, the ability to peg a couple of targets at range makes a big difference in the outcome of their ganging up on you.
Posted By: RadperT (7/9/2014 4:18:14 PM)


Simple and intuitive with enough flexibility for ingenuity. Keep up the good work! Also great job on the female art from the starter set, no gratuitous boobs! Glad to see the fantasy genre can have women in it without having to be sex objects.
Posted By: h347h50 (7/8/2014 1:57:26 PM)


I wish I could look at the Starter Set, but we didn't get it yet here.  I always thought Vadania was hotter than Mialee; maybe the new art is intended to reflect the more mature sensibility of older players.  To judge by the transgender language in the Basic Rules (p. 33), Wizards is trying to satisfy a more sophisticated audience than in the past.  Just as Milla Jovovich was a sexy Joan of Arc, though, I think we should recognize that art enhancing the physical attractiveness of both male and female protagonists is a staple of the genre, and necessary to bring in the young, hormonally driven men who form the core of the market this product needs to appeal to to continue to grow and thrive.
Posted By: RadperT (7/8/2014 4:36:34 PM)


I disagree. I think young hormonally driven men aren't going to pick up this book, just because there are scantily clad women in it. More likely, you'll just dissuade other demographics from buying it, since they can tell, based on the art, that the books are clearly not catered towards them. They're better off courting a broad range of demographics. They'll always get their adolescent male demographic, but your women, your twenty-somethings, and other demographics who roll their eyes at cheesecake-for-the-sake-of-cheesecake art are demographics they could easily expand to, just so long as they don't come off as, well, their usual selves, with regards to ridiculous, oversexualized female art.
Posted By: BringerOfLocusts (7/14/2014 10:41:32 AM)


Looks a very good system, no problem with the fact that it is loose. I have been reading a lot of literature about the days when Gygax and Anerson were testing players in the dungeons below Castle Greyhawk and Blackmoor. Players had to assess their opposition quickly, some encounters required retreat, it was not perfectly balanced, I would imagine sometimes the DM was not totally sure if the encounter was too difficult or not and had to throw an encounter together on gut feel....where is the problem with that?
Posted By: FirebanDM (7/8/2014 4:41:50 AM)


Boy, no mater what the designers do people are going to complain. I think the xp budget and cr values are a good way to loosely gauge encounter building. I think it is a smart decision to point out that it is a loose guide line too, since there are always a number of factors when playing and running a game's encounters. People need to relax! Besides if you don't like how things are done, the simplest answer is this: do it your way. No need to leave caustic remarks. I'm so sick of the negative attitudes from some of the posters in these forums.
Posted By: Sands666 (7/8/2014 12:05:11 AM)


Yeah! It's not like designers are public figures and grown adults! They must be protected from the results of their posts, Tweets, blogs, etc.! - John
Posted By: Seanchai (7/8/2014 11:23:07 AM)


While this system is a huge (vast!) improvement over the 3e version of CR, it still suffers from being unintuitive. Say what you will about 4e's monster levels, they were very intuitive and building an appropriate challenge was a breeze.

My preference would be for monsters to have both a CR and a level. A CR to show how tough they are for a party to fight and a level to show how tough they are compared to a single PC.

A level value also makes it easy for DMs to create 4e-style set-piece battles with a balanced action economy rather than always relying on 4-or-5-on-1 "dragon fights" with legendary and lair actions.

If CR is telling the DM that "your PCs must be this level or higher to ride this monster (ew)", then Level could tell the DM that "your PCs must be this level or higher to be outnumbered by these monsters".
Posted By: Sailing_Pirate_Ryan (7/7/2014 7:08:25 PM)


I'm not sure what you find unintuitive about it. Here's your XP budget, use monsters that add up to about that number, here's a couple of scenarios you should handle with care. Seems pretty simple and, in fact, not much different from 4E.

I certainly don't see how your idea of having two different numbers that measure what seems superficially to be the same thing is *more* intuitive. People would be forever confusing them. It was bad enough with CR and EL, and in that case one was (somewhat) straightforwardly derived from the other.
Posted By: jeff-heikkinen (7/7/2014 10:01:22 PM)


It looks to me like a good compromise between the simplicity of the 4E system (which, whatever else was going on with that edition, had by far the best encounter building setup of any edition up to that time) and the flexibility of the 3E system. I don't see it as especially compliated, especially if you stick to the Moderate to Challenging range, which is conveniently a doubling.

Eg. your planning for a party of 5 2nd-level characters. Your normal encounter budget will be 350 to 700 XP, and you want to avoid having more than ten monsters and monsters above CR2 (450 XP). Some simple collections are:
1 CR2 monster (possibly with up to 5 CR 1/4 minions to make a Challenging encounter)
2 CR1 monsters (or 3 or possibly even 4 to make a Challenging encounter)
3-4 CR 1/2 monsters (or 6-7 for Challenging)
6-7 CR 1/4 monsters, or 9-10 for a Challenging fight (10 CR 1/4 is worth 750 XP rather than the normal 500 for this party because they only have 5 characters)<... (see all)
Posted By: SCSimmons (7/9/2014 3:00:48 PM)


And of course, I forgot to multiply the XP by the higher numbers for the large numbers of very low CR creatures. But anyway, the general point is valid.
Posted By: SCSimmons (7/10/2014 10:29:51 PM)


I hope the DMG will include some kind of rules for building 4e-like Skill Challenge encounters. Skill Challenges were a great system for creating non-combat encounters, and the basic rules packet was underwhelming in that respect.
Posted By: Noirsoft (7/7/2014 6:57:57 PM)


I've endured skill challenges through two DMs and they must be doing something wrong.  Both came across as asking the players for a list of skills at random, with no consideration of cooperation or cumulative effort among the characters, and the order in which we selected the skills seemed to have no sensible relation to the task at hand.
Posted By: RadperT (7/8/2014 9:54:26 AM)


RadperT: The skill challenge rules were concerned how to decide on the difficulty and number of challenges and how to award XP for completing them. Making the skill challenge make sense was entirely up to the DM's skill, as it should be. I can arbitrarily decide to award XP for doing some skill rolls in any edition, but I much prefer D&D when it gives solid and balanced rules for the numbers and lets the DM decide the flavor.
Posted By: Noirsoft (7/9/2014 3:44:53 AM)


Fighting & killing monsters has always been my favorite thing, but it seems obvious that one should be able to get experience for solving puzzles and getting around challenges (as is definitely the case for outmaneuvering your opponents).  The only remaining criticism I have is of the number of individual challenges, which in addition to giving the impression of requiring a scattershot solution, made both of my DMs rush through the description of the challenge's resolution, rather than grind the narrative down by elaborating every aspect of each character's successes and/or failures.
Posted By: RadperT (7/9/2014 3:55:46 PM)


I think the big problem with 4e skill challenges was that they were presented really badly. I still don't exactly like them for many types of non-combat resolution, but even places where they work well, weren't very well presented in the DMG. It felt like it was supposed to straight-jacket non-combat situations, and reduce them down to rolling dice, and hoping for a certain number of successes.
Posted By: BringerOfLocusts (7/14/2014 10:50:54 AM)


I've been running games since 2nd ed and have never taken more than a casual glance at the encounter building rules of any edition. They are useful to keep in the back of you mind, but I design encounters with a purpose. Everything I need to know should be in the monster stats and flavour text. If a monster can take out a single PC in one or two hits and requires the PCs to roll 18+ to hit then I know there has to be some escape routes for the party. I'd also figure out a highly unlikely but possible option to help defeat or trap said monster if a plan is executed to perfection (ie no failures on rolls).
Stuff like this article are good for new DMs to help gain an eye for encounter design but should be dropped once DM experience increases.
Posted By: Rartemass (7/7/2014 6:30:08 PM)


Every one of us has a calculator with us nearly 100% of the time now days - it's called a cell phone, quit the complaining already. The system is close to the same as 4th edition with a few extra multipliers for increased accuracy. DMing is an art not a science, and no table can balance encounters perfectly and always. I ditched the table in 4th edition when I realized i couldn't challenge my players with its suggested xp allotment, I had to "wing it" most of the time for various reasons, but that table was far from perfect as well. This system will work just as easily as any before it, and if your afraid to think and figure out that math, well that's a another issue all together.
Posted By: tirwin (7/7/2014 5:06:53 PM)


I'm surprised to see that so many people loved the 4e encounter building, to me it was my biggest frustration as a DM. With the way encounter powers and healing surges worked I had to fine tune every single encounter to be a life or death situation or it wasn't worth it as it basically had no long last effect. One of the first things I liked about 5e was that I could have the party stumble across something like 2 goblins, sure the party was gonna win but the gobbos might get a few hits in and with the way healing dice and spells are in short supply at low levels that extra few points of damage might be important later.
Posted By: Drayven27 (7/7/2014 3:54:07 PM)


These guidelines make sense to me. I have to see the math in the DMG, but at least it helps get DMs started.

I find it interesting that it's the 4e aficionados that seem to think the math is tough or clunky. I'm rolling on the floor laughing! 4e wasn't DnD. This is. Kudos Mike and team!
Posted By: Neptune0923 (7/7/2014 1:50:58 PM)


Wow, edition warring. How original. 3E apparently *was* D and D and the math on encounter design was broken and unusable. Two campaigns taken up to level 25+ taught me that. At least 5E has tried to create a degree of mathematical rigor in encounter design. The fact that we have to modify the XP value of humanoids over a certain number tends to show that the much touted"flat math" of the new edition has issues that are not readily apparent at first glance. While it's certainly fine to "wing it," as it were, I think that all DMs should be advised to at least look at the encounter building guidelines in 5E lest they unintentionally create encounters that are more potent than intended.
Posted By: Clansmansix (7/7/2014 2:34:29 PM)


Sorry. I didn't mean to start an edition war. I actually like 4e a lot. It was just a very different game.
Posted By: Neptune0923 (7/7/2014 10:20:02 PM)


Yes DnD 3.x E was really buggy at 25+ heck the game was made up to level 20 not 25+, those epic levels rules were made as an addon, and they even said that everychange they made was to hold the change pace, and put it more linear to everyone, cause it will make everything even more unbalance.

DnD 3.x E there is a curve in the power by level system between the classes, where the magic users started low and the martial ones are high in the power level, then at the level 15 - 20 (or so) the magic users surpasses the martial ones.

CR is constructed by the same as to Tressure, if you were gonna put a vampire the players should have the treasure per level needed for going against that vampire. A magic sword against undead or a silver dagger, etc. something that it is in their T/E table etc.

Levels 21+ playing beyond those it is at your own risk, cause after that the system start to fall apart, the game was not made to go that far. They just made it if you w... (see all)
Posted By: Isifth (7/7/2014 3:06:25 PM)


Yeah, the CR system tended to be useful at lower levels, and the higher level the PCs got, the more it began to break down. By level 15, it was useless. Especially with a wizard, a cleric, and a druid in the group.
Posted By: Clansmansix (7/7/2014 10:15:52 PM)


By the way, the real test of the system is going to be how it plays at the upper levels. In this game level 15+.
Posted By: Neptune0923 (7/7/2014 10:33:27 PM)


I've heard the only playtest of Third Edition was the reaction which resulted in the development of 3.5.  It certainly is a relief that magic items in Fifth Edition make the combats easier, rather than the situation wherein if your character isn't carrying an optimal amount of buffing equipment from the treasure table, it's practically impossible.
Posted By: RadperT (7/8/2014 9:43:04 AM)


Having played the first section of Lost Mines of Phandelver, I must say that this encounter / adventure design system is basically spot on for 5e. The flexibility that was lacking in 4e's more rigid framework is a welcome change. I like that even following along with these guidelines you can still end up with wildly differing challenges depending on how the players approach a scenario. Ambushing the orc war party works much better than simply charging in for a straight up fight.

I'm not sure what people were expecting for encounter design guidelines given what was in the playtest and the stated design philosophy in any number of articles over the last year, but this is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks, Mike.

Btw, great job with the Starter set, my whole group is loving it.
Posted By: Kormyr (7/7/2014 12:27:53 PM)


Hey, someone discovered you can give something half a star! Good for them! I don't see anything in here that deserves half a star, but at least its a change from the one-star trollish behavior... - John
Posted By: Seanchai (7/7/2014 3:28:16 PM)


Well, it wasn't me.  I'm really jealous of anyone who's getting to play Fifth Edition.  I would (and probably will) click some more stars on Kormyr's comment, but at the moment I wouldn't want people to wonder what you're talking about.  Remember that they go away faster when you ignore them, John.  Kormyr, if you were trying to say anything deep you probably would have referenced Mearls' multiple articles trying to reconcile the five-minute workday.  I'm glad you were able to ambush the orcs, I felt sorry for Sands666's party that klutzed up the goblins.
Posted By: RadperT (7/7/2014 8:49:16 PM)


I don't see why people are complaining. The party size, level, and number-of-monsters multiplier give you an XP budget, and then you spend it, keeping an eye on CR. Simple.

A system like 3E's where you can calculate EL by adding and subtracting numbers when you add creatures (2 CR X's are EL X+2...) and then compare it to the party's level and size (EL of party level +2 is a challenging encounter for a party of four...) would be a bit more convenient that way, but if the math didn't work out I'd rather have a balanced system than trying to shoehorn things into an innacurate system just for simplicity.
Posted By: Scottbert (7/7/2014 11:40:56 AM)


@ QuestorTelloc

QuestorTelloc wrote: "They're more what you would call 'guidelines' than actual rules." -Barbossa"

Aren't *ALL* rules guidelines? Nobody's going to bust into my home and knock the dice out of my hand if I change something that isn't explicitly labeled a guideline, right? - John
Posted By: Seanchai (7/7/2014 11:22:47 AM)


Monsters have a CR and an EXP value and encounters have a level and exp value and you can have x amount of xp per encounter modified by level and also there is a total amount of xp per day based on leve, summed up across all encounters. Simple, right?

The lookup table posted here shows how poorly thought out this was. Levels 10-11, 12-13, 15-16 and 19-20 share exp values? Not only does that look sloppy and arbitrary like you just couldn't be bothered to do any more work, but it also implies that there is no appreciable character growth between those levels??
Posted By: manaknight69@hotmail (7/7/2014 9:54:13 AM)


It's a work in progress, but since fighters get an additional attack, rogues another die of precision damage, and the spellcasters their first third-level spells at 11th level, I think that one obviously merits a line to itself.
Posted By: RadperT (7/7/2014 11:27:31 AM)


Oops, I mean sixth-level spells. A little late for an edit.…
Posted By: RadperT (7/7/2014 8:16:21 PM)


I agree with others: when you need a lookup table AND a calculator, that's a complicated design. No two ways about it: this is clunky. However, balancing encounters has always been a tricky business - 4.0 included - and getting the math to work out nicely usually leads to poor rule systems. And by the time the DMG comes out they may have done a bit more "rounding" to make the math less complex.

Either way, the main point seems to be that tables and calculators can only get you so far, so get used to the idea of "eyeballing" it. The Barbossa quote earlier seems to be the best summary.

My favorite news in this article though is the 2-fight-per-day guideline. That's WAY more realistic, especially if you still like random traveling encounters and things like that (which can easily get stretched into two separate fights). That alone may do more to "balance" relative class power than anything else I've seen to date.
Posted By: nukunuku (7/7/2014 9:06:01 AM)


Hopefully they will clean up the XP budget issues by the time the DMG is completed and ready to be printed. I mean, it's *workable* as is, but could definitely use another round of polishing.
Posted By: Clansmansix (7/7/2014 2:40:49 PM)


I'm actually less than pleased with the 2-encounter per day guideline. While it reduces the 5 minute workday problem (since workdays are already designed around being 5 minutes), it makes . At upper level 3e or 4e combat speeds, I might buy the necessity of 2 fights per day, simply not to bog down sessions, but with 5e's super quick fights, there's no reason to do that. It makes time sensitive adventures much more difficult to pull off. Say I want to have the party rescue an NPC before they are sacrificed to a demon lord. Do I just make all the encounters trivial, so that they can get through it in a reasonable amount of time. Do I just cut it down to a couple encounters, and make it so there's really no suspense at all?

I hope, at the very least, they include options in the DMG to have a longer work-day. If not, my house-rules will probably end up being something like increasing the number of HD a character gets, and allowing all casters to get back some number of spells in... (see all)
Posted By: BringerOfLocusts (7/14/2014 11:16:35 AM)


I don't get some of the complaints in here, how is this complicated?

You have an XP budget which takes all but 6-12 seconds to figure out at most, then you spend that XP budget on creatures. To me it couldn't get more straight forward then that.

Anyway, thanks for posting this, now I have a guideline for building encounters in my own Sandbox.
Posted By: Gwathir (7/7/2014 8:31:15 AM)


I'm bummed about this decision. I to was the 4e encounter rules that gave me the ease and freedom to develop my DM style. The CR system is too cumbersome, especially hard to. Stance with my small groups. 4e always seemed just right.
Posted By: Slaader (7/7/2014 7:13:23 AM)


I ran the first part of Phandelver this weekend. First encounter had the goblins surprise the party and drop two of the four party members to 0 hp (both fighters) in that same surprise round. This got some shocked an disgruntled responses from my players but they carried on. The goblins got lucky and crit twice and did almost max damage on those crits. I didn't hold back either as a DM. Later in another encounter that I won't spoil, the pcs came close to another TPK. In the end the pcs managed to win but just barely. We ended up liking the lethality of the game. Old school. It is definitely nice to see info on how to gauge challenges here though. Btw Lost Mine of Phandelver is an AMAZING adventure to run. I absolutely love it and I got into role playing all of the personalities that appearin town. This role play was further energizer by the players getting into the roles presented on the pregenerated characters in the boxes set
Posted By: Sands666 (7/7/2014 6:05:15 AM)


Encounter design in 4E was imho easier because of how the game mechanics worked. With Next being much more aligned with 3E it is logical that encounter design moved back to that direction.

Like Mike said, designing an encounter is more art than rules and while they can give guidelines, it still is necessary for the DM to verify right before the encounter that the player resources -at that moment- are in line with what was planned and -adjust- accordingly.
Posted By: Plageman (7/7/2014 6:00:14 AM)


I have to agree with the posters here. 4e was easier. Evidently, the final judgement must wait for the final version of the game. But if the "challenge system" ammounts to "these are rules we think might work, but if they don't, wing it", then that's bad design. Gauging encounter difficulty is an -essential- part of DMing, and if the system is largely dysfunctional in that regard (as the CR system was in 3e), then its more workload on the DM.

4e had many flaws - but this was not one of them.
Posted By: Vinicius_Zoio (7/7/2014 5:12:27 AM)


4e was easier, made much more sense, didn't involve as much DM-end math, and also worked as 'guidelines' which you could take or leave.

I'll need a calculator to make interesting semi-balanced encounters in 5e, according to this.

In 3e and 2e I just winged it (as there was no real, working system for gauging encounter difficulty). I don't like winging every encounter; because that leads to some being way too easy, and some being way too hard. That makes me want to use the DM screen, so my rolls are hidden. By hiding my rolls, I can fudge them to keep the battle interesting, or avoid a TPK. I don't like the DM screen. It creates an unnatural barrier between DM and PCs.

So, I can use this overly clunky encounter-building system, or 'wing it' and sometimes lie about rolls to my PCs.


Too bad you guys didn't learn much from how well 4e worked, especially from the DM end. I know; it wasn't popular, apparently. But it was the be... (see all)
Posted By: seti (7/7/2014 2:21:19 AM)


A good preview of the rules to come! I'm not sure why people think this is "clunky" or "kludgy". It's a simple table with additional advice that says every time the monsters outnumber the PCs, the XP is increased by 150%. I don't know how they could possibly make it any easier.

I love how CR is a quick and dirty measurement of "how powerful is this monster?" And then the XP values let you really get specific. You could build encounters by spending an XP budget....or you could eyeball encounters with CR and then determine what the XP is after the fact. Or you could even completely ignore these things and level up the PCs as the story permits.

These are easy rules that accommodate all styles of DMing. Great stuff!
Posted By: Ramzour (7/7/2014 2:20:31 AM)


Sounds like a good set of guidelines with flexibility built in. Thanks, Mike!
Posted By: aaronil (7/7/2014 2:10:51 AM)


The Character Advancement table in the Basic Rules has characters leveling up from 1 to 2 at 300 xp, and from 2 to 3 at 900 xp. A 500-xp fight gets them past level 2 and more than halfway to 3! Is that rapid pace intentional?
Posted By: oznogon (7/7/2014 1:52:37 AM)


@oznogon: Remember that the total xp for the encounter is divided amongst the party. So, for that 500-xp encounter, each character's only going to get 100 xp. But, actually, yes, the accelerated pace of the first two levels was a design consideration. They wanted characters to "grow into" their roles, but they didn't want it to take too long. So, it's accelerated, but not as accelerated as you were thinking.
Posted By: thewok (7/7/2014 2:20:00 AM)


Good analysis.  I love running around as a low-level character, but not everyone loses themselves in the roleplaying that way.  When I ran the playtest some of my players were ready to revolt the second session they found themselves in the same kobold dungeon, and I was mixing it up with giant frogs, troglodytes and lizardfolk!  I don't know if their impatience arises from the frustration of the frenetically multitasking society all around us, or some more selfish antecedent of consumerism, but speeding up first level is a reasonable way to deal with it.  I DON'T like the drive to lower the bar for second level, and I think providing some guidelines for non-combat oriented experience awards would have made it possible to have higher thresholds for advancement.
Posted By: RadperT (7/7/2014 11:15:52 AM)


"They're more what you would call 'guidelines' than actual rules." -Barbossa
Posted By: QuestorTelloc (7/7/2014 1:29:41 AM)


Not as clear cut as the 4E system, in my opinion--seems needlessly clunky in spots--but I'm reserving judgement until I have the finished product.
Posted By: DramoxTheIronLord (7/7/2014 12:46:47 AM)


Instead of throwing huge numbers at my 7th level party , I just hulked up a few with some flavor and double hp. It gave some roleplay opportunities and kept the knolls under a dozen.
Posted By: tiles (7/7/2014 12:44:06 AM)


Well, it looks workable. It's a little kludgy dealing with groups of humanoids, and not as simple as 4E's encounter design rules. But, considering the fact that the concept of the "adventuring day" is taken into account, it seems like it will do well in addressing things beyond a single encounter. That is an improvement over 4E, at least in the context of resources all being handled on a daily basis. And hey, it's downright brilliant when compared to the non-functional CR system of 3E!
Posted By: Clansmansix (7/7/2014 12:26:30 AM)


Forge of Fury was one of the only 3e WotC Adventures I liked. I've ran it a few times in a few different systems. It's pretty good.

These rules are about what I expected. Thanks, Mike.
Posted By: FitzTheRuke (7/7/2014 12:20:23 AM)


Well, you strove for elegance and I think you found it. Nice one.
Posted By: pauldanielj2 (7/7/2014 12:12:52 AM)



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