Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Encounter Building Rules Outlined

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Encounter Building Rules Outlined

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Wizards has revealed D&D 5th Edition's encounter-building guidelines.

In his latest Legends & Lore column, D&D 5th Edition Lead Designer Mike Mearls outlines the not-yet-final guidelines on building combat encounters in the latest iteration of the tabletop classic. Every monster now has both a Challenge Rating and an XP value, and monsters with a CR higher than the party's level are considered very dangerous to the player characters. Encounter difficulty is separated into four groups (easy, moderate, challenging, hard) based on monster XP totals per level, and adventurers are expected to be able to handle the XP equivalent of two hard encounters before taking a long rest.

The system, overall, seems fine - no more or less complicated than 3.5's or 4e's encounter building system - though it does lead me to question why the developers feel the need to change the system with every iteration of the game. The guidelines on how to handle great numbers of monsters are unpleasantly complex and explained in text rather than in a table, making them appear especially cumbersome.

Overall, the tone of the article feels apologetic and overly cautious, and the impression I get is that Mearls isn't at all confident in the balance of the system. In my opinion, he is leaning way too much toward playing the rules fast and loose - he reiterates multiple times that these are simply rough guidelines and that DMs needn't really follow them.

With respect, I'm not sure that encouraging new DMs to go with their gut is a good idea. Providing balanced combat encounters is a difficult task, and new DMs should be encouraged to stick as close to established guidelines as possible. With experience comes the ability to stray from rules, and that is what should be encouraged:

"As a DM, you'll start to develop a feel for what kind of encounters your players' party can handle. At that point, feel free to rely more on your own judgment than the numbers in these tables."

But, hey - what do I know?

Regardless, I'm still optimistic about 5e. I just hope this encounter building system can be tightened up and made balanced before the Dungeon Master's Guide releases in November.

Source: Wizards of the Coast

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Eh. The impression I got was that CR is a vague system at best and should be used as a guideline to used when useful and discarded when not. You're boiling down an entire character (the monster) into a single number to toss at a party. A CR 11 Mindflayer and a CR 11 Orc Barbarian are CR 11 for very different reasons. Depending on the plot, the PCs and the resources available to them, CR becomes very malleable.

JamesBr:
CR 11 Mindflayer

And the CR 11 mindflayer would be a very different challenge to a party of lvl 11 RP builds in a low-magic world than it would be to a party of mix-max lvl 11s in a monty haul campaign.

Guideline only is fine with me.

The encounter system is probably not the place I most like to see it, but in general I tend to see "not entirely balanced" as something of a good sign. A little bit of unbalance is a lot more flavourful than what we end up with a lot of the time when people try to achieve a really well balanced system.

You seriously think that 5E's system is at the same level of complexity as 4E?

4E was dead simple. You have one chart that tells you the standard XP per adventurer of a given level. Multiply that by the number of adventurers you have, and you have a final budget. Spending that budget to make a good encounter is the tricky part, but at a basic level you know that a "standard" amount of XP will give a decently challenging fight.

You want to throw a swarm of zombies at them? Buy a ton of minions, and none of the worry of 5E's "multiply the cost by X if they outnumber the party by Y". Need a Load-Bearing Boss? Grab a Solo. 4E had it's faults, definitely, but designing good encounters was not one of them. The various types of enemies (soldiers, lurkers, etc.) can help on the DM side if you want to design a particular feel of encounter, but you can ignore that line in the statblock and still have a good time.

5E brings back CR, which is a system I've always disliked. As Caffiene points out, measuring the relative power of a monster is extremely difficult for WotC to do because what the party composition is and what the world is like changes things drastically. If you don't have magic weapons, an insubstantial being is much more dangerous than it would otherwise be (if you're in FR, for instance, where magic weapons are everywhere). CR is trying to put numbers around the 'gut feeling' DMs develop about how challenging a given encounter will be, and that's not ideal for new DMs. It's better to have one clear set of numbers to follow (the XP budget, which when done properly is unambiguous) than two competing sets, leaving new DMs to wonder about whether they should aim for an appropriate XP, appropriate CR, or something else.

As you mention, CJ, Mearls encourages the DMs to play fast and loose with the rules for designing encounters- not a good thing to hear from the designers of a game that they haven't even released yet.

Rhykker:

Overall, the tone of the article feels apologetic and overly cautious, and the impression I get is that Mearls isn't at all confident in the balance of the system. In my opinion, he is leaning way too much toward playing the rules fast and loose - he reiterates multiple times that these are simply rough guidelines and that DMs needn't really follow them.

Previous 5E news has essentially been Wizards bowing over repeatedly saying "GOD WE'RE SORRY FOR MAKING 4E, PLEASE FORGIVE US ALREADY." This continues the trend.

The "guidelines" remarks have been standard Wizards fare since forever - in fact the 4E books said an awful lot about how you could customize your games and bend the rules for the sake of fun. Of course, people somehow missed all that and bitched incessantly about how 4E was impossible to homebrew, so now Wizards is overreacting by talking about homebrew in every article and making it the pitch of the whole system (even if it means that the system feels completely nebulous right now, and will remain so until the books come out.)

The system is basically 4E's XP budget with the added value of CR, which will hopefully eliminate those "wait why did this perfectly budgeted encounter go tits up" new DM situations. Huzzah. I'm still not convinced about a system that will cost 150 dollars.

 

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