So as a devote redditor, I have many times heard, that combat at high levels is off. But until recently (whwn I got the chance to try it) I had no idea how off it actually is.
In the past I usually used the encounter rules set in the DMG (pg. 81) using some online tool to do the math for me. In my previous games (mostly tiers 1 and 2) it seemd to work fairly well, with me being just a little brave with challange rating.
A few weeks ago however, I offered to DM a shorter story (planed as a one-shot, but I kinda overdid it, so it'll likely end after the next, 3rd, session). All the players wanted to try higher level characters (our main camapian rests around the middle of tier 2 and what came in between started back at lvl1) so we agreed to have 14th level characters. Also, as it is recommenden for tier 3 characters in the DMG, I handed out extra gold and magic items (for a high magic setting, becuse normal seemed not enough, which seems to be a mistake in retrospect) and I restricted the amount and rarity of extra magic items they could get for their gold. (I tried to be cautious, but it seems, I wasn't cautious enough.)
Both the default style of the group and the module I prepared is rather solcial/exploration heavy, so one fight per session is all I could cram into the mix. (It's probably here I should declare, that non of the PCs are particularly much min-maxed.)
First session, I put up a fight for them that was supposed to be a stronger deadly difficulty by 5eTools' standards. They brushed it off easily.
Next session, I went bolder and put a larger amount of higher CR enemies in there, pushing up the encounter into the absurd category (still by 5eTools) eventhough I tried to push it no further than a little above the limit. That proven as more of a challange for them, but at the end of the fight, it seemed more like it was a medium or hard encounter, judging by the amount of resources they were left with. They also sligthly (but, I must addmit, rightfuly) complained, that the fight was too sluggish and crept on too long.
I'm feeling rather helpless here. For one thing, I want to be able to provide them with a challenging and exciting boss fight for the last session of this short campaign, and also, I want to make better sense of the situation, what causes what to go wrong, and how could I improve/avoid mistakes the next time I DM higher levels.
I gathered a few things I think contributed to this ultimate problem, and possible solutions I see for thos problems:
- Encounter math is simply off, monsters/encounters need to be amped at higher levels. I doubt anyone would argue with this, and this is the only point I was clear about form the begining. But it seems it is not enough on its own.
- D is for Dungeon. While 5e can be used for a multitude of differently syled adventures, its main focus remains crawling trough dungeon after dungeon. This means that character classes are optimesed to be put up against multiple fighting encounters per long rest, slowly exhausting themselves, thus making the final boss fight a challange, rather than having one VERY BIG fight per rest. I know that having a long rest at the end of each session is not necessary, but when most of an andventuring day is spent not-fighting, it'll pass by any reasonable logic before a "sufficient" amount of fighting would occour. I assume that fiddling with resting time (like DMG pg. 267) could help somehow, but in my experience, even in that case, you have to keep your players under constant pressure in order for that to work. I tried it once, and it just caused everyone to be super cautious and retreat to safety for long rests all the time, seting the IG distribution of time to around 90% downtime 10% adventuring (ok, I might exaggerate the numbers a bit) but had no other effect.
- High level means high HP. Nothing scales with level/CR like hit points. While form some angle I can understand this design choice, it makes fights waaaaay slower (and I do not mean longer) than it's supposed to be. And again, without designing something completely new (like giving unique actions/bonus actions/reactions/legendary actions for NEAR EACH INDIVIDUAL ENEMY CREAUTRE) the only relatively safe bet is increasing the monster's offensive CR while decreasing its deffensive CR. While this works to speed up combat, it makes every NPC an effective Assassin style character comepared to the PCs, which (I'm affraid) would make fights schematic in the long run.
- Magic items are OP. Even more OP than one would think at first. I'll be sure to be very ungenerous about non-consumable magic items, in later campaigns. I might just restrict the amount of gold a character gets, or as a solution I fancy more, make magic items very rare, and generally unattainable by ordinary means. (So you'd need to do a quest fot the archmage, or wrcek the tomb of a king to get one.) I also like the idea of giving out very few, but very personalised artefacts, that grow at their own milestones, giving a more personal experience for the player, but that requires a lot of designing skills.
All in all, I'd really like to hear the opinion and advice of those who have more experience with this.
Any response is appreciated! 🙂
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