Content of the article: "Bad Encounters and How to Improve Them"
I had a great time playing in a session my group had yesterday, but it ended on a bad note at the end of an 80 minute combat encounter. I'd like to discuss the encounter our new-ish DM threw at us, point out the problems and suggest on ways to run a similar encounter, but better.
The Setup: After about 3-3.5 hours of roleplay, the party was looking for a fight. We're on the way to a pirate king near Waterdeep, and get attacked by another ship. After we buff each other, the battle map gets drawn:
Two large rectangles with a pointy side are drawn on the battle map (the two ships).
Nothing but open space, no mast, no cannons, no hatch below deck.
17 Sauhagin are placed on the boat, along with 2 sea hags and a Sahaugin caster, all monsters have Homebrew stat blocks.
No visible way to cross from one ship to another, 25ft. distance between the ships, we are told to roll initiatives.
How the encounter progressed: the DM is frantically typing out stuff for record keeping while the group tries to figure out what to do in-character. We don't get any answers and wait while the DM gives up on rolling initiative for the enemies and tells us we'll all go first. The barbarian asks how he could get on the enemy ship, and 2 goliaths proceed to chuck everyone onto the pirate ship.
- Notes: tell your group to take a 5-10 minute break while you set up an encounter. With large numbers, roll in groups and avoid stacking all the party members and then all the enemies in initiative order. Combat encounters should have some terrain features to enable tactical positioning.
The barbarian goes full Leroy Jenkins and decides to land in the middle of the ship, the other three of us land near one end and we attack a bit and cast some spells. Now it's the enemy's turn and this is when things fall apart.
There were 20 enemies, and they all had triple attack and advantage on anyone not at max HP. New DMs, take note: the action economy here is fcked! 20 enemies vs 4 PCs, no choice of staying on our own ship and letting them come at us, and 203*2 (enemies, attacks, advantage respectively) meant the DM was rolling ~120 d20s per turn. On top of that, about half of the advantage attacks hit, all the hits were 2d8, so roughly 40-60 d8s were rolled in a turn, we wait about 25 minutes in between our turns.
- Obvious note: This takes way too long just to roll the dice, and none of us could attack 3 times in a turn. 60 attack actions vs our 8 just wasn't fun, if you want to run a horde against a party, give each monster 1 strong attack instead of 3 medium attacks. Again, rolling in groups would've greatly sped things up.
The rest of the fight: The barbarian kept lamenting he was about to die while surrounded by 8 creatures (he did Leroy in). We weren't killing them quickly because we couldn't AE blast at a distance as lamenting barb told us we would kill him. So we do the dumb thing and just slugged it out. For some reason our fighter didn't get attacked once, while the barbarian, paladin and hexerer are all with 10% of their life. A twin Poly turns the tide and 60 minutes later there's still 6-7 Sahaugin while 2 giant apes are finishing them off. Tired of the encounter that we now were obviously winning, I asked the DM if the Sahaugin would surrender at all. He said no, some moaning and groaning ensued and the session ended abruptly.
- Notes: Credit: The Angry GM for this bit of advice-when a fight is clearly over, don't force your players to hack down every last enemy! Once the question: "Will the adventures succeed?" is answered, gauge the interest of the group. If your party is gleefully massacring the enemies, let them enjoy it! If interest is low, narrate the end of the fight. Whether that's skipping over the last few kills or having the enemies surrender/run away,
If you're the DM, avoid saying "you guys should've done X!" Whether a player doesn't know that was an option, or someone just went with it because that's how the DM wants to run the encounter doesn't matter. If you want your players to do something, make it obvious.
Don't be afraid to end a fight early if the fight has been won, unless most of your players are enjoying it.
Don't create terrain where you could grapple+shove some off, but not allow that to happen.
Don't let your session run too far over the estimated time, once people get tired, people tend to get cranky/crabby.
TL;DR: Horde combat encounter went horribly wrong mechanically. Wanted to organize my thoughts and hopefully offer solutions rather than rant. Feel free to share your own experiences, good or bad, or any advice about difficult encounter mechanics! Thanks for reading!
- Legal RAW, but too cheesy? (Swallowed barbarian)
- My party is doing too much damage relative to enemy hit points.
- 5e Flanking House Rule Concept
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