Content of the article: "Help with combat balance"
TLDR: My fighter is busted strong in combat and I'm having trouble balancing encounters to make it more challenging and exciting for the party.
I'm very new to DMing, currently on my first time ever. We've been playing for a few months now and things are going well! We have a mix of new and experienced players, 2 of them have never played before but they're handling it well! My players are good at staying on task, they roleplay and strategize well, and overall I feel very lucky to be having the experience that I am having. My issue is with combat balance.
There are 5 players, all now level 5. A druid (a class I've never played or dealt with, but we're learning together as she is one of the first timers), a Paladin, a Fighter, a Rogue, and a Monk. The druid just started a few sessions ago and I haven't seen how she will affect combat, but the Paladin, Monk, and Fighter all have very high AC, and the fighter and Paladin also have very high health. They've been wise with the gold they've recieved from quests, and they rolled well on their Con stats. I try to fudge as few rolls as possible. My issue is that combat usually goes like this: I try to hit the fighter/paladin in front of the group, miss nearly constantly, or don't do enough damage, then we go back and forth with them barely scratched until my players win. Or, the rogue gets one shot, downed, then the first situation takes place anyways. I'm struggling with having creatures hit hard enough to make it challenging, but I definitely don't want to tpk them.
For reference, my fighter recently did a solo battle in an arena, and just to test out some combat balancing I had him fight a CR5 gladiator (modified a bit to make it more reasonable, slightly less attacks, damage, and AC, but due to other details I had the fight set not in his favor), and he STILL nearly killed it. I was shocked. He didn't even roll that well on damage or to hit for most of the fight, and I didn't pull any punches. I really wanted to see in an environment where if he was downed there was little repercussions besides the money lost on his bet how a truly difficult fight would go, and he still almost won rolling poorly. So…. any tips on how to better balance my combat? I want to make it more challenging, but even going way overboard his character still nearly won against something he has no business defeating. I mean if he had rolled slightly better damage or hit one more time he would have won.
How can I make combat more challenging for them all as a group, without killing them? Do I just need to up the ac and to hit modifiers, or is it something deeper than that that I'm missing? I use a combination of Kobold fight club and my own CR math to balance fights for now.
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