Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Encounter Balance

Rise to the challenge: how do you balance encounters in your system?

Encounter Balance is a much more important feature in my 4e game than it is in my old school games. In 4e there’s the expectation that the PC’s are “Heroes!” able to overcome nearly any challenge. “Heroes!” don’t run from dangerous monsters, they face them, usually head on!

This takes some work, but because my players are so good at character building, I usually have to make things harder than they are as written in the adventures that I've been running them through.

In my old school games… there are things that are best run away from. Many of them. They can be overcome, but not usually by running in like a hero. Careful planning and preparation is the way to go if you want your characters to survive.

That isn’t to say that I’m just going to drop an ancient red dragon on my players without any warning. I mean, it isn’t like an ancient red dragon is going to sneak up on anyone… They tend to make an impression on the local area. The same holds true with lesser monsters too. Ogres, orcs, goblins, and just about every other monster out there will mark their territory in some way. The PCs just need to pay attention to the signs, and then interpret them correctly.

It’s up to the PCs to balance their greed with their ability… If they want to take on a dragon, that’s up to them!

The flip side to this is that even a lowly goblin with a rusty knife, when the blood moon rises, and the constellation of the lady of luck is in the shadow of the dark cloud, and the DM's dice are hot, and the players are not... Encounter balance doesn't mean a thing.

This post is #13 of the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge

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  1. I kinda support encounter balance by using the dungeon level paradigm where things get tougher deeper into the dungeon. That doesn't mean there aren't 30 goblins somewhere on level 1 or there isn't a Medusa or Troll on level 2, they just wouldn't be typical encounters. My current campaign had a vampire and itks medusa lover on he 2nd level of a dungeon, the players managed to beat both in seperate encounters by planning, tactics, and luck with 1st level characters. There were warning signs the players recognized that made the initial encounters survivable. A lot of balance comes from players learning how to pay attention and running when necessary.

  2. Encounter balance got a lot easier for me when I started running 4e.

    After about two years of playing and running 4e, I took a good, hard look at the math (average hit points, average damage, average attack bonus, average defense) and made some tweaks to ensure the same level of "danger" present at 1st level stayed consistent to level 30.

    Most of the monsters I run use the same stat block (with different numbers) at 1st level that they do at every level, and the differences are based on their "role" -- modified to draw from PC roles, which are more consistent and effective than the default monster roles -- and whatever themes or challenges I want present in the encounter.

    It worked so well that I took the same concept and applied it to 3e monsters. I was surprised to learn that it works there too! If I played 1e/2e, I'll bet it would work there, as well. :D