Dungeons & Dragons Online

5 ways to have hard fights without killing the party.

Content of the article: "5 ways to have hard fights without killing the party."

I used to pay a lot of attention to CR and building ‘balanced’ encounters. One of the biggest shifts in my DM’ing over the years has been relying less on the numbers to manage the difficulty of fights and more on the ‘fiction’ of my world.

In practise this means using dynamic elements of the world that allow me to shift gears up and down in fights – here is a list of 5 things that help me challenge players juuust enough.

  1. Redshirts – This term is used in movies/tv a lot to describe characters whose main function is to die horribly so we see how nasty the baddies are. In DnD this can mean the first volley of drow arrows hits the caravan guards or the red dragon uses its breath weapon to incinerate some villagers fleeing across the square. I use this strategy to show my players monster abilities I feel they may not otherwise be ready for so they can make tactical choices about how to respond.

  2. Monster Focus – Similar to no1. This trick let’s you put much bigger monsters into encounters without immediately subjecting the party to all their nastiness. Basically the monster isn’t interested in the PC’s it wants something else. EG The Iron Golem is focussed on breaking into the bank vault to get the thing its master wants and when it does it’s focussed on getting back to its master. It may swat at PCs that get in the way but it’s not focused on killing them. The best thing about this is that it lets you build encounters with more interesting success/failure states than “will the PC’s kill the monster or be killed by it?”

  3. They’re no use to me dead! – In this instance the PCs are very much the focus for the enemy but the intentions of the enemy don’t involve killing them. The most obvious example would be taking them prisoner (for interrogation or ransom or to feed to their dark abyssal master later when they have time to light some candles and set more of a mood etc) This way if the fight doesn’t got the parties way – the story continues.

  4. Hold the line – Here the trick is not to win a fight with the baddies, just to keep them busy for a few minutes whilst something else happens. EG Spiders stream up the castle battlements every round (forever) and the pcs job is to hold them back long enough for the gnomish inventor’s balloon thingy to fill with hot air and provide an escape. You can flip this trope and have a powerful monster kick arse for a few rounds before it’s master calls it away because it’s job of distracting the PCs has been achieved.

  5. Give them a nuke – This trick means giving the PCs some means of dealing a lot more damage or control upon the enemy than their level would normally allow. It shouldn’t be something they can easily go on using but something specific to that encounter. This dovetails nicely with number 4 with the party having to survive long enough to access the nuke. EG The sea monster is striding into the city harbour being distracted by the party whilst the wizard works to activate the giant arcane magnifying glass/laser in the light house.

Read:  More Metamagic Options

That’s all for now. There are lots of other ways to build ‘unbalanced’ but survivable encounters but these are some that I find really useful.

If you have your own approaches I’d love to hear about them.


You can use story elements to create survivable combats that go beyond what is typically considered deadly.

Edit: typos

Source: reddit.com

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